Monday, 17 May 2010
Feet squelch in mulchy leaves, and I catch a scent of sweet autumn, only it´s 33 degrees, the sky is an aching blue, and so much for the seasons in Recife. This is the middle of autumn, such as it is, or the beginning of winter, though there is not much rain yet, and the mercury hovers defiantly high.
Cold weather, or at least slightly colder weather, or rain, if any of them ever come, are at least good for reading. Courtesy of old pal Antonio Conselheiro, I have just read Fernando Henrique Cardoso´s biography, The Accidental President. He is a tricky subject – the book is fantastically interesting on political life in Brazil during the ditadura, but queasily full of its author´s notorious aloofness and towering self-regard (general themes:(1)I saved Brazil, golly I`m clever (2) Lula made a balls of everything and the country only survived because of my previous cleverness (3) so why does every one like him so much more than they like me?). The best bit is the last chapter, when FHC lists all the famous people he has met (Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana etc) and recounts how famously they all got along (his favourite is the Queen Mum). But any book, even the worst ones (and The Accidental President is not at all one of the worst ones) might teach you something you do not know, and so can never be a true waste of time. Here I learn that 25% of Brazil´s education budget goes towards funding its free federal universities*. This might seem a harmless, even admirable statistic, but not if one considers the wreck that is public primary and secondary level education, or if it is remembered that the same federal universities are, in the main, playgrounds where well-off Brazilian teenagers collect their degrees in law, medicine and engineering before going on, gaily free of debt, to pull down whopper salaries. In short – excellent, free, tertiary level education is provided for those who need it not a jot, and very little that is excellent is provided for the children who need it the most. To criticise the federal universities, however, is to make oneself about as popular as a person who hates puppies and kittens, and so I’ll stop.
I can clumsily lurch into politic matters now as I know everything there is to know about the world because I am also reading The Economist. This costs R$25 in Recife, which is about as much as a small car, or two tickets to the cinema or a half-decent meal for two with drinks in a not overly expensive bar or restaurant. But it is worth it – I now know the difference between Antanas Mockus, Sergio Farado and Juan Manuel Santos (Colombian presidential candidates, dumb ass), I know that women are forbidden to drive in Saudia Arabia (public health measure or repressive fundamentalism – you decide**), and that South African President Jacob Zuma has had 20 children by 8 different women, leading to his recent televised AIDS test to be somewhat misinterpreted by large groups of South African males who took it as encouraging proof that you can have wanton unprotected sex and still not contract the disease. Crumbs.
What else to read? The poems of Carlos Drummond De Andrade (The tram passes, full of legs: white and black and yellow legs. Why so many legs, my God, asks my heart. While at the same time my eyes ask nothing at all) to put a little beauty into one´s heart, and soothe the raging gringo soul which from time to time can turn entirely black concerning one´s adopted country and can see nothing good at all here. *** (Brazil is much more a country of poetry than of prose). Some baseball writing, preferably by Roger Angell (Coleman (a catcher), who is eager and combative, handles outside curve balls like a man fighting bees), to make me laugh and to teach me how to write sports. And finally, the short stories of William Trevor, for which no reason or purpose is required – if you know anything at all about anything, you read the stories of William Trevor like you turn your face towards the sun (though this is not always such a good idea in the nordeste).
Apologies are probably due for this whimsical and entirely self-indulgent moment, but I will excuse myself by explaining that it is my birthday (or was when I wrote this), and that I am no longer truly young (though I cling by my fingertips to late-young-man-hood), and so that today of all days I am entitled to whimsy and self-indulgence. Not that I am sad – the sun is fading over Boa Vista, the sky is turning from bright blue to soft pastel yellow and pink, and I am put in mind of Bonnie Prince Billy´s Gulf Shores – and soon the restaurants will open up, and the bars will light their lights. In a few hours much drink will be drunk in dubious celebration, though not by The Argument, who tomorrow will battle through one of Brazil´s most Kafkaesque experiences – a public concurso, or in other words the test that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians take in the hope of bagging a cushy civil service job (no being sacked, coupled with hefty pension and benefit packages and not much in the way of work to be done). Most Josef-ish moments – no shorts, sunglasses, different coloured pens or baseball caps allowed in the auditorium, and as exam sites are based on first name, The Argument will sit the test with forty other girls also called The Argument.
Oh, and one more apology - this time for the lack of original amateur photography on this site of late. I can´t be arsed, really, so I have taken to stealing atmospheric photos from other peoples´ websites. So apologies to them, too.
*This number dates from the time of FHC´s government, and I couldn´t find out if it has been reduced or not, either by FHC himself or by Lula. Lula has increased the number of federal universities, so it might have gone up, but also increased private investment in the sector, and education spending on the whole, so it might have gone down. After toiling through a few hundred internet articles that had very little to do with the subject I gave up trying to find out more and returned to more traditional internet activity – football scores, mindless find-a-friend sites and porn. ****
** Apologies for stumble into 1970´s Bernard Manning comic gruesomeness.
*** Such dark moments are as inevitable as occasional homesickness, and also temporary – they almost always pass.
**** This last one a joke. Obviously.