Tuesday, 6 October 2009


The alcoholism of the pen were five strung-together words I thought of the other day, and go some way to expressing the need to write something even when one doesn’t have much to write about. Especially when one (and what’s with all this calling oneself (aaargh!) one? Christ if I’d used one this much when I was a Belfast school kid I’d have been hanged from the lampposts for being a pompous English nancy boy) realises that one (ouch!) has a huge audience of up to 53 readers. Even if about twenty of those “readers” are the author revisiting his own work, and probably two or three other odd souls visiting the author’s work ten or so times in order to get to the end of one of these interminable blog entries at work during brief intervals when the boss is on the crapper.

Funny though how a blog can take over one’s (ooof!) writing life, even when there is the 2011 Booker Prize Winning Novel to be completed and several contenders for the Best American (or Irish, or British, or whoever will take them) Short Story to be polished up, and of course an epic study on the theme of migration, exile, memory and gringoism to be getting on with (as per previous interminable entry).

Anyway. So proving the theorem that one (gads!) must write even when one (uurk!) has nothing to write about - occasionally a young man’s thoughts turn to love, and while mine haven’t, walking of a morning, and then again of a night, with Guinness The Dog up through the old town of Olinda puts one in mind of the romantics and ol’ Wordsworth (in a funny way) and daffodils and lonely clouds. In a recifense fashion, of course.

So with nothing to do or say on a Friday, and no-one to do or say it with, I decide to passear with our cachaça swigging friend once in the morning and then take another, buy-one-get-one-free clone walk in the late afternoon/early evening.

And how different everything it is as the sky grows dark, how different from the brilliant blue cupola of the sky, and its heat, in the morning. The air now is soft and smoky, and there is more traffic, but not that much, and the cars rolling up the hill climb slowly and quietly. In front of the big blocky Igreja Da Sé the chummily menacing tour guides are waiting for the tour buses to arrive (though they seem never to really come) and there’s a juicy hint of marijuana hanging in the air. The crickets are chirruping up a racket and the electric light bulbs strung up over the tapioca stands are on, and everything behind them fades into dark greens and browns and blacks. Small groups of people stand and sit around, talking quietly and eating and drinking. Further up, in front of the old Saint Gertrude’s College building, we stop and look down on Recife – the black river snaking down towards the city, the streams of cars heading home, their lights red and yellow pinpricks in the gloom, the dark ocean to the left. Far away, downtown and in Boa Viagem and the middle class neighbourhoods around Aflitos and Espinheiros, the lights are coming on in the apartments and the houses and the bars and restaurants, and all I can think of (apart from oooooh that’s nice) is Bonnie Prince Billy singing Gulf Shores - and soon the restaurants will open up, and soon the bars will light their lights, something something something something, lonely things will come tonight.

In the nordeste there is a sweetness and a light to the air, a kind of tapestry of warmth and illumination, thick with the smell of the mata atlântica and the sea and maybe the wood and the paint of the old houses and food cooking somewhere and a bonfire burning leaves and the soft wind off the ocean, that makes it unlike any other air, any other light, that I have seen. And as I stand there I think how interesting (or not) it is that early pioneers chose where they might settle on just such a basis - soft air, sweet sunlight, fresh water – whereas today we so easily discount such things. True – we don’t really need sunlight and fresh water and good soil to survive, at least physically, for we can easily pipe the water and ship the products of the soil and catch a plane to get closer to the sunlight – but don’t we need them, at least a little, for the chirpiness of the soul? I’ve come to think that maybe we do, or at least that it’s easier to be happy when you are surrounded by all this than when you are not.

Moments like these, sunsets like these, bring memory rushing back into brightly lit relief, and things, places long past now flash through my mind – utterly random yet slightly linked – long bus journeys across Minas and Bahia and points north, drinking beer on the balcony of a cheap hotel in São Luis and looking out over the river (or is it the sea?) at the lights of the town, the Santuário Caraça near Belo Horizonte, where I once spent a weekend watching the priests feeding the wolves down from the mountains and guzzling cheap red wine alone in my room/monk’s cell, the way the light ebbed away over the scrubby dirt football pitch at the end of the street in sweetly ordinary Bancarios in João Pessoa, where I lived with two people who were and are even now friends but, still, felt very much alone (perhaps because João Pessoa is a place which might make anyone feel alone) - yet strangely happy. I remembered a few people, too, friends, family, the usual plethora of Ex-Girlfriends of every stripe, but that was missing the point. For the connection between the past and now was the quietness of the moment and of being alone, and how for the most part, really, that’s when I’m happiest and when everything feels the rightest and when my thoughts flow the freest.

And then it’s time to wander home, only we take a different route, because as everyone knows you should always take a different route home, and we go down past the Casa De Noca macaxeira and carne do sol restaurant (though I am aching for a palavra* or two in the Bodega De Veio) and along a narrow little street where there are children playing in the half-dark, and up the steps towards the college and then down towards home, and in front of us the great space of the sea shines black and silver.

And that’s it – no pei-pei-pei, no Inferno Coral, no comparing God to an Ant King, just a bit of whimsy and self-indulgence. But can’t an old man (or is it a young man? I can’t always remember) just take a walk with his dog every now and again?

It’ll get better next week, I promise.

*Palavras of course meaning beers - such excellent wordplay courtesy of the esteemed Jaime, owner of Jaime’s Bar, a hovelly little slot in the wall in Santo Antonio, Belo Horizonte, where Jim Jones of Jonestown Massacre fame allegedly once drank and which is maybe the greatest bar in the world - and mention of which is long, long overdue. Why the greatest bar in the world? A clientele made up entirely of obstreperous old men, cheap and nicely chilled palavras, homemade cachaça doled out liberally when the moment is right, scratchy MPB tapes and CDs (and even the radio sometimes) for a soundtrack. No big TV screens and no bloody food, because as any serious drinker will tell you food with beer is like a game of darts while making sweeet luuurvin´ to yo´ woman – an extremely unwelcome distraction. Brylcreemed, effusive, wizened and not very tall Jaime’s memories of Mr. Jones? That of all unsuspecting neighbours commenting on surprise serial killers and leaders of mass suicide religious cults discovered living next door – nice bloke, didn’t say much, kept himself to himself. So I try hard to be friendly to my neighbours now, just so they don’t say the same thing about me.

1 comment:

alegremistica said...

Olá james. Bela imagem. como estas?