Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Beach house! For those from sandily-challenged places such as the writer of this blog/article/diary/nonsense the words summon a parade of tantalising images - drifting in an Olympic sized swimming pool atop a Mickey Mouse inflatable bed, a pink drink by one´s side...a two hour massage from a bevvy of scantily clad and lightly oiled Larissa Riquelme lookalikes (happy ending optional)...lightly swaying in a hammock while reading The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore...and so on. Only rich people have beach houses, runs the logic, and therefore all beach houses are palaces of limitless luxury and depthless delight.

Though as Alex Higgins (RIP) once said, the dull cloth of the lives we live may not sew the same garment as the brighter cloth of our dreams. And so it proves this weekend at a beach house in Ponta De Pedras, a rickety fishing village on the north coast of Pernambuco, hard by the more glamourously named Carne Da Vaca (Cow Meat) beach. It is raining as I, The Argument and Skinny Bear head out of Recife. The road is very bad, though it is being rebuilt now and will hopefully be ready for the World Cup (not the one in 2014 - the one after that in 2054).

Dinner was a simple picnic on the porch, paper plates in laps, the only conversation a debate as to which was the better grip for throwing (horse)shoes.

We arrive at the beach house. Outside is the biggest pig I have ever seen. The pig is eating rubbish. The beach house is quite big but not luxurious at all and has beds made of concrete. There is no Olympic sized swimming pool and no Larissa Riquelme lookalike masseuses, lightly oiled or otherwise. It is five o´clock and it is raining so we start drinking. We drink for a very long time.

After dinner, the horseshoes were handed out, the post pounded in, the rules reviewed with a new rule added due to falling down shorts. The new rule: Have attire.

The reason we are at the beach house is that it is somebody´s (Middle Sized Bear´s) birthday. It is always somebody´s birthday in Brazil - if you go to a restaurant or a bar and it is not somebody´s birthday then a volunteer must step forward and pretend it is his or her birthday so that no-one that night will be denied the pleasure of singing parabens para voce. Middle Sized Bear´s mulher brings out a cake. There is Mama Bear and Papa Bear and Skinny Bear and lots of other people there and we all sing parabens para voce. Only because of the wind no-one can get all the candles to burn at the same time so we sing parabens para voce once for each candle - there are four candles, so we sing it four times.

The women smoked on the porch, the smoke repelling mosquitoes, and the men and children played on even after dusk, when it got so dark that a candle was rigged to balance on top of the post, and was knocked off and blown out by every single almost-ringer.

Someone - Papa Bear - drives his car round to where we are drinking and opens the boot and turns up the volume. The boot is full of speakers. The music is as loud as four 747s taking off at the same time, with a ship´s horn blaring in the background, interspersed with a construction company drilling the foundations for a 24 storey building. We play a game - someone is chosen to be dragged underneath the cold-water shower in the garden. I am chosen fourth. I decide not to accept my fate and a minor fight breaks out. The result is that I am forced to roll in the mud before I am forced to stand underneath the cold shower. Then we play dominoes and drink some more. I hate dominoes.

Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women good night, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women´s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought: stay.

In Ponta De Pedras the women do not think stay, they think, I feel sick I am going to bed. Papa Bear and Middle Sized Bear and Skinny Bear do not go to bed - they keep on drinking. At three o´clock the cigarette cupboard is empty. Someone volunteers to go and get some. But where? Everywhere in the village closed around five in the afternoon. João Pessoa? someone suggests. João Pessoa is about 100kms away. A pack of cigarettes are found - crisis averted.

And in the morning we go to the beach and swim - the sea is murky grey and it is chilly and it starts to rain again. The Bears eat arrumadinho and drink beer and cachaça. It is nine o´clock in the morning. Then we go home - driving miles across the coastal plain, passing through village after village filled with the inestimable sadness of rural poverty, nothing but small houses and shacks and gangs of shirtless, shoeless young men sitting by the side of the road, watching the traffic drive past with a dull blankness in their eyes. Many of them will never visit Recife or João Pessoa, let alone Rio or São Paulo. They have no jobs because where they live there are no jobs and it is impossible to imagine how a job might come into existence - there are no factories or shops or libraries or municipal buildings of any description. As the car slows to avoid potholes and puddles my eyes meet theirs, and though there is no unfriendliness I have to look away, for I who have been lucky enough to live a different life cannot imagine what it is like to live their lives.

* Extracts in italics taken from Weekend by Amy Hempel.

2 comments:

Zack said...

Your writings is getting better and better, in my opinion. Except for the ones on football, but that's probably just my opinion of the subject.

James Young said...

thanks for the kind words zack, much appreciated. don´t worry - football will soon be moved to another, less pseudo-literary home (name undecided as yet). all the best