Thursday, 16 September 2010
It is a galling moment for someone who has spent a considerable length of time waging subtle war on As Republicas and their ilk. Your Life Is An Impossibility is outside Arruda, waiting for a bus which will take him over 1,000 kms to Sobral in Ceará to watch a football match. On the way to the meeting point YLIAI bumps into Nel, a comandante of the Inferno Coral. YLIAI knows Nel quite well, from bars and football matches, and once conducted a very amateurish but very enjoyable interview with him and a few Inferno chums.
Nel seems pleased. Vai viajar, he asks, and YLIAI tells him of course he's going to viajar. It is hard to imagine why else one would be outside Arruda on a Saturday afternoon with a backpack when there is no game that day. What bus are you on? Did you buy a ticket yet? Why don´t you come with us? YLIAI is relieved to tell him he has already secured a ticket for another bus – not that there´s anything wrong with the Inferno bus, but there comes a time when one is a bit too old and tired, not to mention too gringo, for such fun and games.
Then his chum, who we might call Derek, pipes up. Of course he won´t come with us, look at him, he´s a playboy. He´s got an apartment face! An apartment face! What can it mean? It means of course that YLIAI looks like he lives in an apartment, which subsequently means he's middle or upper middle class or even, gulp, rich, as opposed to living in a small house in Ibura or Casa Amarela, which would be the stamp of working class authenticity. It´s true, YLIAI admits, I live in an apartment. Ha, says Derek, I knew it. Look at his playboy face!
Nel stumbles rather than leaps to YLIAI's defence. He´s one of us, he says (YLIAI isn't, though sometimes he thinks he´d like to be – it looks like a lot of fun), he´s quite humble (clearly YLIAI's lower middle class gringo masquerading as working class Brazilian schtick has been effective). But Derek is unconvinced and continues to crow. Then Tom Wolfe´s little Irish donkey kicks in and YLIAI sees red. I´m a gringo, knobcheese, he rashly shouts, what kind of face do you think I should have? Am I going to have plastic surgery so I can look like I´m a See You Next Tuesday from Ibura like you? Derek’s face clouds over. He does not look happy. Nel ushers him away.
It is the start of another foolish and ridiculously long journey to an unappealing destination across miles and miles of arid desert. The first of these was from Belo Horizonte to Salvador (48 hours there and back) with The Ex-Girlfriend (still living in Recife and alarmingly single these days). Then there was Belo Horizonte to João Pessoa to start a new life (52 hours there, with no back, more's the pity) – which didn´t really go very well at all, given that João Pessoa is an elephant´s graveyard of a town where people go to retire if not to die a happy death. Then there was Recife to São Luis and then on to Belém in search of, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of skirt (40 hours (or more) there and 40 hours back). And now there is Recife to Sobral (34 hours there and back) to watch a game of football.
All such journeys are dizzyingly exciting at the outset and occasionally intoxicating during – ghostly truck stops in towns lost amidst thousands of miles of desert covered by blankets of stars and endless tropical night. Huddled villages clustered along the roadside where, again, lives impossible to imagine are being lived – glowing yellow lights shining out from tiny windows and from under rough wooden doors, children playing in the dirt along the side of the road, adults staring glumly out at the bus roaring past.
All are thrilling but exhausting and confusing to the mind – hours of driving in the dark across some of the worst roads outside Somalia make it hard to remember the hour, let alone the day. The mind warps and the belly revolts – seven coxinhas are no replacement for a proper dinner. On the outward journey Paul Auster´s tedious Invisible is read, on the way back, drained by the outward journey and drinking and defeat, YLIAI gets fifty or so pages into Conrad´s The Secret Agent. Both, good or bad, save his mind if not his life.
For it is a funny bunch on the bus – none of the sparky wit of the younger crowd that went to watch Santa in Maceió or Campina Grande. This is a dull, mouthy, middle-aged lot who clearly spend far too much time travelling much too far to watch Santa Cruz lose football games. Ciro (precocious and only reasonably reprehensible star striker of Santa´s arch-rivals Sport) says he´s depressed, opines one passenger, which just goes to show he´s a fag. Only fags get depressed.
YLIAI's seat partner refers to him as the gringo for the entire thirty four hour journey, which gets a little wearing. He only stops when YLIAI starts calling him paraibano, which is about the worst thing you can say to a pernambucano. Later, he starts telling YLIAI how the planes that hit the World Trade Center were well targeted, which shows two things (a) that he´s an idiot, and (b) that Brazilian anti-American feeling runs deep in plenty of places.
One of the drivers, no doubt (un)happily married, has brought a scantily dressed young friend with him to play I-Spy and sing Ten Green Bottles and generally while away the time in a more pleasant fashion. The womenfolk on the bus are not impressed. He´d better get us there quick, because if he doesn´t I´ll call his boss and tell him about the little piriguete he´s brought with him! And I´ll find his wife and tell her too! I hope she cuts his balls off! shrieks the one behind YLIAI, just as he is dozing into restful sleep.
Other than that there are the truck stops, shared with the Inferno - we are travelling in convoy - and at every stop everyone gets out to eat and drink and smoke and piss and sing songs. YLIAI is wondrously asked to tell his (footballing) life story to Brazilian national (footballing) television*. We roll through the spooky prehistoric sertão of Rio Grande Do Norte, and see the sun rising above the hills of Ceará, and finally we reach our miserable, baking destination, Sobral, where everything goes wrong and then it is back again, the mind narrower rather than broader, despite all the travel. Maybe Xavier De Maistre, author of A Journey Around My Room, had the right idea.
* Link available on request, though I can assure you it´s not worth the effort.