Sunday, 5 September 2010


A momentous week in Brazil – it is Independence Day on Tuesday and today marks the publication of the 100th article/entry/bit of nonsense on Your Life Is An Impossibility. Anyone who leaves a nice comment wins a Your Life Is An Impossibility pen and t-shirt pack, though you´ll have to come to Recife and get it.

I had thought to write something else this week but then sometimes days of national celebration give pause and make us look inward and back and so I thought I would jot down a few scribblings about the last five years and what Brazil has come to mean to me.

We might start with the cast. To name just a few: The Ex-Girlfriend, Celine, The Louth Media Mafia, Antonio Conselheiro, Mr X, The Argument, Inferno Coral, Joãos 1+2, Mother Sururu aka A Gata Do Bairro, Miss São Luis, Guinness The Dog, and of special importance today of all days (see http://www.seeadarkness.blogspot.com/ for further information) Brasão. All (with the exception of Celine, who is Canadian, The Louth Media Mafia, who is from Louth, and Mr X, who doesn´t exist) are people the like of which I would never have met had I not flung drunken half-baked chat up lines in the direction of a decidedly non-plussed Brazilian girl on a late night train from London Victoria to Beckenham about six years ago. All have made my life richer and all have taught me things (especially Guinness The Dog) I would not otherwise have learnt.

And that is what I give thanks for today and every other day (or at least when I remember). Brazil made me intelligent, said Fernand Braudel, and Brazil has made me intelligent, and more patient, and more open and considerate and even caring.

Compare and contrast - (1) during large chunks of my time in Brazil I have given up quite a lot of my time to voluntary work in poor neighbourhoods. In London I worked for Ministry of Sound (2) in Brazil I no longer get too worked up about long queues and things not always working the way they should. In London I once threw a shoe at a London Underground employee because the tube I was waiting for was delayed and wouldn´t arrive for about 9 minutes* (3) in Brazil my objective is to work as little as humanly possible so as to have more time to write, and I am quite happy for my standard of living to suffer as a result. In London I once spent more than a year campaigning for my job title to be changed from Business Affairs Assistant to Business Affairs Manager, and I once bid more than the asking price for an apartment because I was an acolyte of Ministry of Sound´s demonic and despotic leader James Palumbo, and Palumbo and Ministry´s business strategy was called Total War and involved paying over the odds for everything in order to blow the competition out of the water.

I have thought about things here that I would never have thought about had I continued my happy enough but emotionally and intellectually limited life at home – history, social inequality, politics and corruption, justice and policing, racism and prejudice.

I have seen things I would never have seen – great bursts of verdant tropical undergrowth bursting between derelict buildings, a million stars in a velvet South American night sky, the earth stretching to a horizon so far away that it is impossible to imagine – and heard things I would never have heard – hundreds of crickets chirping as soft evening melts into night, church bells chiming in front of my window, ten thousand young people singing songs from their grandparents´ time during carnaval, hissing pounding drums at football stadiums, the voice of Milton Nascimento and the songs of Chico Buarque.

Brazil, oddly for a country where there is so much that is wrong, has come to represent everything that is right. There are many foolish laws but not many recently passed laws have been foolish – when the government banned humorous attacks on presidential candidates recently it was a shock because it did not seem a very Brazilian thing to do.

Now when I read The Economist (have I mentioned that I read The Economist?) I read about what Brazil has done to reduce poverty while in the UK section there are arguments about how people´s rubbish should be divided up and incomprehensible marketing/political vocabulary such as “Big Society”, whatever that might be. Brazil is a country where things are markedly becoming better where other countries seem staid and bored and with not much left to think about anymore.

Brazil has taught me that it is nice to talk to people (though it is less nice to talk to people from As Republicas) at bus stops and on street corners, whereas in London I would cross my fingers and toes that the seat next to me on the bus would remain vacant until I reached home. Brazil has made me envious that I am not Brazilian in that I am not really friends with my cousins (with one honourable Canadian exception) and there are not regularly seven or eight people at my house for Sunday dinner, even though I would hate this, but I would hate it because I am not Brazilian, and if I was Brazilian I would like it.

Brazil has shown me hospitality and generosity that has made my eyes water and my heart swell. Brazil has shown me that there is beauty in the ugliest places and happiness where people have least reason to be happy.

And so it is Sunday and I wake today before six and the sun is shining and the sky is an endless blue. I take Guinness The Dog to the beach and throw a ball for her to chase. There are palm trees waving spindly fingers and a few lonely joggers and women setting out deck chairs at the beach bars. Then I go home and make pineapple juice and scrambled eggs and listen to Chico Buarque De Holanda**. Now I am writing this and in a couple of hours I will have lunch with The Argument and then I will catch a bus to Arruda where I will join a raucous throng of 50,000 or more to watch Santa Cruz play a football game in the bottom division of the Brazilian championship. I will meet some friends there and we will drink too much cold beer in little glasses by the side of the rotting canal. We will feel the sun on our backs as we drink and there will be fireworks and car stereos blaring and grilled meat on spits. After the game I will catch the bus home and maybe have a last drink in Cadu´s or somewhere like that and I will think about the day and then I will go home to bed.

* A note to new readers – every entry on Your Life Is An Impossibility will contain at least one example of artistic licence. But while I might not have thrown a shoe, I did get very cross indeed. Nowadays if a bus or other form of public transport arrives or leaves only nine minutes late I am deeply grateful and give a short prayer of thanks to Brasão.

** I know this sounds like I´m laying it on a bit thick, and I don´t really listen to Chico Buarque very much, but a sunny Sunday morning is the perfect time to listen to Chico Buarque or Elis Regina or João Gilberto, so.

3 comments:

Don said...

yay.. 1st comment. Congrats from your Canadian readership on reaching this milepost in blogdom. I have to say I love your writing style and dry humour. I manage to escape the canuck winter and spend 3 months a year in Brasil courtesy of a generous relative and have enjoyed Carnival in Recife for the past . I far prefer the beaches of Pernumbuco to those of RJ and SP and the friends I have made there are the most genuinely nice people I have encountered anywhere. I am becoming a futebol fan but so far I have no team of my own and instead will cheer for whatever them that the friend who takes me to the game is supporting. Sorry to say that In Recife, that means Sport and in SP, Palmieros.

Anyways, when I am back in Recife this winter/summer I will make a point of dropping you a line so I can get a copy of your book and maybe buy you a pint or two of something as small compensation for the enjoyment and insights you have given me.

Cheers,

Don

Zack said...

hhmmm - a pen and t-shirt for a cheerful, encouraging word, a deal I cannot pass up.

So.....

"Brazil has shown me hospitality and generosity that has made my eyes water and my heart swell. Brazil has shown me that there is beauty in the ugliest places and happiness where people have least reason to be happy"

This is such a gentle, simple and sweet statement. I return again and again to your blog to read such things.

You know, I think very few gringos connect with the Brasilian psyche, spirit, soul. I think you do.

My best to Guiness, I would very much like to meet him someday.

100 more please..............zack

James Young said...

A free t-shirt and pen await you both, and offers of pints are never to be snubbed....