Friday, 5 March 2010


Among these palm trees and vines, in this bush and jungle, the white man is a sort of outlandish and unseemly intruder. Pale, weak, his shirt drenched with sweat, his hair pasted down on his head, he is continually tormented by thirst, and feels impotent, melancholic. He is ever afraid: of mosquitoes, amoebas, scorpions, snakes – everything that moves fills him with fear, terror, panic.

While Recife in 2010 might not quite be Ryszard Kapuscinski´s Uganda in the 1960s, given that I don´t give much thought to amoebas or snakes, and in mixed chocolate, caramel and vanilla ice cream Brazil the colour lines might not be so clear cut (though oddly I´ve met very few non-white gringos here), the rest of it – pale, weak, shirt drenched with sweat, impotent – certainly fits the bill, given that it´s 35 degrees most days and 30 most nights. Even the newspapers have given up reporting anything else – it´s really hot! – screamed a headline last week. Though actually, that´s not quite true. They´ve given up reporting almost everything else. The big story in Recife these days remains the jaw-droppingly salacious murder of a young German tourist – who it turns out, was murdered not by the usual random gaggle of black or brown skinned teenagers (©the Brazilian media), but by her Brazilian-Italian husband and his adoptive Italian father in law, who turned out not to have been real father and son but in fact lovers, the father having adopted the son in Italy in order to secure him a visa, and the son, as is so often the case, being not just the apple of daddy´s eye but also his favourite male prostitute. Caralho, as they say in this neck of the woods.

Though murderous or otherwise the effects of such heat are punishing enough. One is tired almost all the time. Travel, even within the city, becomes a question of military planning – can my journey wait until the sun is a little lower in the sky, is there much shade to be found along the way? And driving to work one day I am assaulted by a smell of burning meat. Peckish, I look around for the barbecue stand, only there´s none to be seen. It´s only when I tuck my arm inside the car, out of the sun, that I notice the smell goes away. Was it always so hot? I read back through my blog entries over the last few years. There isn´t that much mention of the heat, other than the rather smart line that Recife these days feels a bit like running a hot bath in a very small bathroom with the door closed. Could it be that things are actually getting hotter? Caralho de novo.

Anyway. If nothing else living in such climes gives one the chance to observe, close-up, some fascinating wildlife. My species of choice is that peculiar tribe known as the Brazilian upper-middle class. Whilst small in number compared to the overall population of the country, this sub-set carry extraordinary power and influence. And what a pleasure it is to watch them in their natural habitat! I hate the heat, and the beach, someone says to me in Boa Viagem Uber Alles, you´re so lucky to come from somewhere with a climate like Ireland or England (actually she doesn´t say Ireland or England, it´s all just Europe here), and I try to picture someone who actually lives in Ireland or England feeling lucky about their weather, and to remember how often I slapped myself on the back while living there, grateful for my good fortune in not living somewhere sunny. A teacher is appalled by a new gringo produced grammar book that arrives at school. Each chapter, and the vocabulary in it, is linked to a country. Brazil gets fruit. There is an accompanying comic strip in which brown and black Brazilian children show off different types of fruit. What, she says, do they think that Brazil is full of brown and black people? There is genuine shock in her voice, though I suspect her own personal sample group may be the planes that ferry hundreds of Recife´s more privileged (and therefore exclusively white) youngsters off to Disneyland every year. I am cheered when during a quick survey of adolescents one tells me that, yes, he is planning to go to one of the big carnaval events (the rest are heading to their beach houses). Which one?, I ask. Galo? Olinda? Recife Antigo? No way, he says, Armin Van Buren´s DJing at Cabanga Iate Clube on Friday! And so I sleep easy that night, knowing that the traditions of the Recifense/Olindense carnaval are in safe hands. It must be odd, I think, to feel so ashamed of (or at least removed from) your own country that you dream solely of adopting the culture of other, supposedly more sophisticated places, especially given that you´re probably doomed to fail in your objective of living in one of such countries and so must live out your life in some odd kind of Americanised limbo of shopping malls and McDonalds and Subway restaurants, removing yourself from any kind of public life in your own country (public transport, carnaval, football matches, city centres), all the while neither one or the other. It reminds me off a news story a year or so back, which talked about clearing the street traders out of downtown and housing them in a mini-shopping mall somewhere. The point being was that the mini-shopping mall somehow represented progress (albeit a particularly American view of progress) while the street trading (part of traditional Brazilian life) somehow represented neglect and shame. Curiouser and curiouser, how things work.

Other than that, life goes on. I get off the bus at night and the first thing I see is a cat walkng slowly along the sea wall. The moon is covered by clouds. It´s steamily hot. The boy who sells pirate DVDs is sitting on the same sea wall, counting his takings. People are drinking in Marola, the lovely though rather expensive bar that sits on a rocky outcrop. As stated before, nothing between my feet and Africa except miles of ocean. I decide on a drink at the corner bar (experienced readers will remember RK´s dictat that such heat makes night time drinking obligatory). I sit, and I wave lazily at Manoel the bar owner, and in a few seconds, though I haven´t ordered anything, he appears at my table with a beer, a glass frosted from the freezer, and an ashtray. I wonder should I worry at such prescience. And I don´t know why, but I think back to an accidental, and very brief, friendship I made with a garota da programa a couple of years or so back, while living downtown. At the time I even, for a few minutes at least, wondered if it would be possible to sustain a relationship with a girl in such a situation. I think that I decided that it probably would, not being the jealous type, but things moved on, I found myself in the second chapter of The Ex-Girlfriend saga, and the moment was gone. Anyway, I wonder now where this girl might be, and what her life might be like. Happy and safe, I hope. I suppose the point of mentioning this is that there is sometimes an innocence and a sweetness to living life in a foreign, and younger, country than the one where one was born, and that allows me to think positively and openly about such things and not judge people the way I might have done a long time ago when I was more limited in my outlooks.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I was reading your article and it's seems quite familiar to me, and I thought:what a coincidence!
I think that sometimes we never know until you look the life through other people's eyes.
It's dificult because there is an unique story behind every life but at the same time is amazing and wonderful! All around us are places, people, cultures and emotions! Places we can go, people we can meet, emotions we can discover or fell again.
Have you ever thought about other places that you would like to go? Start imaging a complete different world that you could live, without lose your own essense.
Here we have the heat, the "calientes" beach, the carnival, but outside where my eyes can't see and I just imagine, maybe in Ireland or England (or just Europe), they're lucky about their lives, or weather.
Spending a day walking in the park, reading a book and having a a blueberry muffin, as a picnic. Spent some great time in frot of a fireplace with someone that you love. Dancing in the snow.
So as I said before sometimes we never know until you look the life through other people's eyes.
See you!

請吃飯 said...

感謝分享好的作品~~........................................