Sunday, 13 June 2010


On Sundays the beggars congregate outside the white painted church in the grounds of the Salesiano College. An hour or so before the beer hut on the corner has closed and the last few drinkers have weaved their way home through dawn´s watery light. Steady rain falls on Recife and though it is hardly cold there is the hint of damp chill in the air for it is winter in the nordeste. In June two opposing cultural poles battle for supremacy - the distant glitz of the World Cup, lent a certain local spice by the knowledge that in four years recifenses will be lucky enough to savour the charms of South Korea v Greece and Slovenia v Algeria at close hand, and the boozy joys of São João, an almost entirely nordestino shindig (barely celebrated in the gloomy south and south east) where older traditions are swamped by beer branded commercialism and raucous (and awful) modern forro.

It is important to look around and to remember that one stands on the north eastern shoulder of South America and not in Lewisham or South Belfast because after five years here the wonder of Brazil has entirely gone. This is not a bad thing or a strange thing but it is curious how we adapt and how things become normal – on the bus home from a day of watching football in As Republicas Independentes Da Boa Viagem I see a pickup truck with two small ponies strapped in the back and one of the ponies has his (or her) mangy tail and mane dyed bright pink. They look out at us with sorrowful longing but for me nothing in the scene is remarkable at all. The terrible slowness of everything – bank and supermarket queues, for example - ruffles scarcely a feather, and Brazilian africantime, where social engagements are publicly scheduled according to the clock but privately arranged in order of where they stand amongst all the other things one has to do – while I´ll meet you at three might well turn out to mean I´ll meet you at three it may equally mean I´ll meet you after I´ve done the shopping and had lunch and a bit of a nap which might be about three but also might be quite a while later – now seems perfectly normal and even admirable. It is even nice to think that I am now a person who is more accepting of the foibles of others and no longer believes that my time is so remarkably important that any hindrance to the spending of said time in exactly the way I choose must be met with boiling frustration and rage. And for this I must thank Brazil.

Equally the good things in Recife life no longer seem worthy of much celebration – I no longer comment on warm weather and towering blue skies, because after 106 of such days in a row I now expect every day to be equally perfect. Friendliness and garrulousness have become entirely normal and it is now hard to understand the silence of Northern European society – don´t people enjoy talking to each other? At the same time while everything here has now become almost entirely normal I remember that other ways of life still exist – I feel a twinge of sympathy for the somewhat shell-shocked Brazilian I meet on Saturday night who has come home after spending the last sixteen years living in America Do Norte and Switzerland. It´s so noisy here, he cries, holding his head in his hands.

And so feeling nostalgic I leaf through the pages of my award winning novel* Your Life is An Impossibility, written at a time when my life was full of the wonder of living in a country as vibrant and different in Brazil. I skip to the last page and read.

Brazil is a place that makes the rest of the world seem small in the same way that she made everyone else I had ever known seem small. In Brazil, as in her, are all the world´s troubles, all the world´s problems, all the world´s beauty. Brazil is a place that makes the rest of the world – the older world, with its fussy sense of order and its belief that to accept the smallness of your allotted life and to live that life as well as you can represents all that is possible – seem petty and ridiculous. In the midst of all Brazil´s chaos and corruption there is a sense of great freedom, a sense that life will never end but will keep on growing, keep on changing, keep on giving and taking.

And while I no longer believe all of these words it brings a great sense of peace to read them now and to recognize in them still today the country where I have chosen to live.

*Best Book Written By Me 2008

2 comments:

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Dazinho said...

Not sure if I'm looking forward to the end of bank/supermarket rage, will need to find a replacement!