Monday, 19 April 2010
Time passes both slowly and quickly and the only thing really certain is that it passes one way or the other and we grow older and more forgetful, which is a roundabout way of apologising to anyone who might care for the epic lack of fresh material in recent weeks.
But I have good reason, for some serious thinking has been done and some weighty decisions made. I have decided, like all things good and bad, that all of this – that is to say, my time here, in this most exotic and sundrenched and quixotic of places - must come to an end. I gave it a pretty good shot, I think – it lasted a hell of a lot longer than the scant months that most predicted in the beginning. But in the end the place where I chose to try and begin a new life – this place - was just too different, too alien. We try everything, don´t we, to integrate – we date, or even marry, a local girl, we learn the language, we even imitate dialect and slang, we stake out our favourite places, memorise maps. All to help us try and fit in. But sometimes you have to hold your hand up and say – I tried, I gave it my all, and it didn´t work. No shame in that.
I don´t know what it was, finally, that broke this camel´s back. The people here are different to what I am used to, that much is for sure – a little more obtuse, slower of thought and even deed, more in synch with the rising and setting of the sun, the shadows of the late afternoon, the ebb and flow of the tide (at times the world seems to stand entirely still here – I can leave my house and return a few hours later and the same neighbours will be leaning on the same garden gates, or talking in the shade of the same mango tree).
Though really – and this is the crushing truth of the matter - it is not any one of people, culture, or language that has brought me to this decision. It is a combination of all these things, and most of all the knowledge that I am not from here and I never will be.
And so, finally, I will go home, back to people and places I know and cherish. Back to familiar things – bustle, roaring buses, frenetic activity. Ironic enough, of course, because when I left I rejected all of these values and sang the praises of a more pastoral life. But perhaps this is how we learn about ourselves – through lying and self-deceit. I tried to tell myself that I could adapt to life in this new place, and by doing so attempted to fool myself into thinking that I am a different person to whom I actually am. But truth will get to you in the end. There is sadness too, as I back my bags, though the sadness is lightened by the thought of seeing those who once were close to me and who I have not seen now in years.
And truth be told, of course, it´s not all that far. A twenty minute bus drive, really, from Olinda to downtown Recife, though it´s miles and miles, spiritually and psychologically. It´s not that there´s anything wrong with Olinda. It can be a wonderful place. But Olinda is not a city – it is a town, with an achingly beautiful historic old neighbourhood on a hill, and some great restaurants and bars along the beach. Recife – with its gaggle of football teams and thousands of seamy bars and teeming, raucous downtown – is a city. And is there anything more thrilling than taking a dog for a walk along deserted city streets, still wet with rain, as the dawn breaks and the only activity is a few hardy street traders setting up their stalls? The dog loves it here, of course, for she is a keen sniffer of detritus, and there can hardly be many places with pavements more pungent (or fetid) than downtown Recife. The Argument too, loves it, for even though downtown might not seem to represent a great leap in social standing, Boa Vista was once one of Recife´s more nobre areas, and there are pockets of leafy, faded glory to be found, if you know where to look.
And so it is back to where I once lived, an odd experience in itself – how strange to see the same girls working in the supermarket and the bakery, the same three brothers running the sweets-and-fags-and-newspapers-and-everything-else stand where I will buy overpriced palavras until I get myself a bike (and the necessary courage) and start to cycle into the Coelhos favela, where palavras can be found at a more reasonable price. This maybe, is memory – external memory, where the world provides the visual stimulus to jog our own tired mental circuit boards into life, long after our own lembranças of the past have withered and died (or been dulled into oblivion by booze).
Downtown is, as has often been mentioned, a wonderful, exciting place, full of crumbling old buildings and dripping gutters and odd, lost souls. I will buy my cheese at the Mercado Boa Vista, and maybe have a drink or two there too, under the trees, on a Saturday lunchtime. And speaking of drinking, there can be few better places in Latin America to drink than downtown Recife – from the Praça Manuel Pinheiro with its human flotsam and jetsam to the Patio Santa Cruz where a few neighbourhood kids started O Mais Querido ninety five odd years ago, and on to the Beco Da Fome and Cadu´s and all the rest. It is a writerly place too, with all human life teetering on the doorstep, and for this writer, at least, urban inspiration might, in the end, count for more than restful breezes and bucolic vistas. And hope too then, for the readers of this blog, because let´s face it things were far more interesting in the old Boa Vista glory days, what with the Ex-Girlfriend and pei-pei-pei and all that, than they were in Olinda, where the most pei-pei-pei things ever really got was when a particularly large mamão fruit fell into the garden from the tree next door.