Monday, 25 October 2010

YLIAI has always been a bare minimum kind of chap. Blessed (if that´s the word) with the bare minimum of charm and brains, he has throughout his life devoted the bare minimum amount of time and effort to study, work and personal betterment, and has, as a result, at the ripe old age of nineteen times two, achieved the bare minimum of prosperity and success.

He’s not complaining. In some way the bare minimum is the only road to follow, as it allows one to devote the maximum time possible to more pleasurable activites than work or study, such as daydreaming, reading, watching bad football teams, and semi-professional drinking, and not feel too bad about it.

But, and contrary to common gringo stereotypes, Brazil is not at all a bare minimum kind of place. Or rather it can be; Faustão only knows that the the country has more (far, far, far more) than its fair share of idling wastrels and vagabonds, a great many of whom inhabit the realms of the Brazilian civil service, but some of whom can even be found in the private sector - on a recent shopping trip YLIAI was somewhat affronted to find, upon asking if there were any books by little known Brazilian authors Machado De Assis or Jorge Amado to be found in the vicinity, shop assistant number 3452 slouching off to the computer to check. YLIAI wouldn’t have minded, but it was a bookshop after all, and the writers in question are pretty much the equivalents of Shakespeare and Parsons* in the Brazilian literary world. It was a bit like going into a fish shop and asking if they had any fish, and your helpful assistant of choice running off to ask.

Fans of non-sequitors will find themselves in very heaven – shop or bank or restaurant dialogues along the lines of do you have any cheese/bread/coffee/rat poison – no – do you know when you might be getting some in – no – oh – can i help you with anything else sir are more common than fruit flies.

So far, so standard Latin American amanha and siesta prejudice. But it’s not half the story, particularly amongst the young. From the study drones of As Republicas heading off to the (free, ironically) federal university to do law or medicine or eningeering, to the hundreds of thousands of lower middle class and working class worker ants doing nursing or business administration degrees at often shoddy private (and paid for, ironically) universities downtown and in the suburbs, sometimes it seems like all of Recife is hitting the books.

YLIAI doesn’t have much interest in the former, who are really only oiling the wheels of the conveyer belt to success. But what has always brought a moistness to his eyes is the sight of the bus stops of Boa Vista at ten o´clock on another steam bath of a recifense night, packed to the gills with nineteen to twenty-five year olds on their way home to Caxanga or Rio Doce or Muribeca. All have been working all day and then have been in class from six or seven to ten. Behind the high-fives and the hugs on the bus all look as knackered as Chilean miners.

It is the same with the garçons (the waiters – and what a disappointment to find there were to be no waitresses in class - waiting tables is an almost exclusively male affair in Brazil) that YLIAI teaches at a swanky seafood restaurant in As Republicas. All knock off at around one and wait for the night bus to take them to the palace of earthly delights that is Cais Da Santa Rita, where they will wait until two for another bus to take them home (all invariably live in some of Recife’s grimiest and most remote neighbourhoods). They will probably get to bed at around three, and then are up again in the watery early light (six thirty or seven) in order to make it back to the restaurant for English class.

All this is done in the hope of a better future and a better life, and all of it makes the heart swell with admiration. YLIAI should know how hard it is – in a previous incarnation he attempted to combine the responsibilities of high-flying-pretend-music-industry-lawyer-by-day with dedicated-law-student-by-night. He lasted about six months, whereupon the road forked and he ended up in Brazil and a life of quietly pleasant boozy mediocrity. Not that he’s complaining, you understand.

* See post dated 26/3/08

Monday, 18 October 2010

Even after all this time (five years certainly feels like a long time) one can find new perspectives on Brazil, or at least fresh reminders of perspectives once known and now forgotten.

These fresh vistas and reminders can be found in the strangest of places. As regular readers will know YLIAI works at a private language center in As Republicas, where he is fortunate enough to receive, on a regular basis, refreshing insights into politics, socialism and the liberal arts from colleagues and students alike. Private language centers in Brazil, occasionally and dubiously referred to as schools, are the 21st century equivalent of Australia´s penal colonies – unfortunate gringoes are shipped to Brazil in their hundreds to do penance for the sins of the past, and while the work is not as arduous as rock breaking it is only occasionally any more interesting.

The CDs used in the classroom provide a not entirely welcome reminder of how things work in the Old World (most specifically the part around London). There are people discussing what restaurant to go to (“what do you fancy dear? Oh, I’m not sure, I’m quite in the mood for a chinese”), people talking about a film they watched the night before (“the acting was quite good – Tom Cruise was in it. Oh, I do like him”!), people ruminating on their most passionate, most hidden desires (“I went out with Tom on Saturday. Oh, I like Tom. Me too. We had a really nice time”).

All of the conversations are oddly stilted and quaintly coy, which you might put down to the fact that English grammar book publishers probably don´t spend that much on the actors they use on their CDs. You would only think this, of course, if you didn’t know that this is how people really speak in certain parts of the outside (many Brazilians like to refer to the rest of the world that isn´t Brazil as a fora, or the outside, which is all very Isaac Asimov).

YLIAI’s favourite CD involves a phone call between a woman working in Milan and her friend back in London. Said friend has decided to give up his college course and move to Italy. The whole set-up, needless to say, crackles with latent sexual tension. If I do come, friend asks, can I stay at your place for a while? That´s easier said than done, says our heroine, you haven´t seen the size of my flat, and anyway I share with another girl, so I’ll have to ask her. Stick it up your jacksy, in other words. Pandemonium in the Brazilian classroom. Que mulher chata, né professor, opine the little scamps, quickly followed by cries of que amiga ruim. Yes, I say, what an annoying woman, what a terrible friend. There is considerable confusion while everyone debates why the woman won´t let friend sleep on her floor. Maybe she’s his ex and she put the horns on him, is one very nordestino interpretation. Maybe she´s a big shoe, is another, though quite why the woman’s being a lesbyterian or not would make any difference is not explained. Finally we have a winner. It’s because they´re gringoes, and gringoes are like that, says someone, which, while not always being true, seems in this case as good an answer as any. Gold stars for everyone!

Moving away from the classroom, we might turn to the world of books are great innit. Re-reading a bit of ol’ Dostoevsky, YLIAI is struck by the thought that all Brazilian society might be explained by a quick delve through Russian literature.

Gogol´s Dead Souls is an obvious opener, for what could be more poltico Brasileiro than a story about the buying and selling of the souls of dead serfs as a tax scam? The latifundiarios might have done the same thing if they’d had their wits about them, and you can run the same wheeze all the way up to the present day and Fernando and Rosane Collor´s imaginary water trucks not taking imaginary water (all not imaginarily paid for with public money) to the definitely not imaginary thirsty masses in the sertão.

The titular councillors and other elements of oficialdom so beloved of Gogol and Dostoevsky and the rest (and that was how he became Akaky Akakievich. The child was christened and during the ceremony he burst into tears and made such a face it was plain that he knew there and then that he was fated to be a titular councillor...subsequently everyone came to believe that he had come into this world already equipped for his job, complete with uniform and bald patch) are simply the Brazilian funcionario publicos transplated to another age, though the former are thrusting bull market entrepeneurs or manic pioneers compared to the latter.

And there might even be a little of Raskolnikov´s Napoleon complex in every drug overlord up on the morro. YLIAI hopes so, for the sake of the sanity of all involved, because that would at least be one way of rationalising, if not justifying, the taking of life on such a fantastic scale.

So far, so pseudo-pretentious. But really none of this is any use at all when it comes to analysing the differences between Brazil and Not-Brazil. What we need is a virgin traveller from a fora, apple of cheek and shiny of eye. Into which breach steps YLIAI´s sister, urban sofisticate of the thrumming metropolis of Dundrum, County Down, Norn Iron, and recently departed from these shores following a rollicking two week mini-break in Recife.

In her way YLIAI´s sister is as much an anthropolgist as Lévi-Strauss or Gilberto Freyre, even if the literary or scientific merit of her chosen medium, the postcard, is not always widely acknowledged. Dear Auntie Ivy, she writes, having a lovely time in Brazil. Weather nice but a bit hot. People are very friendly. Food not bad. See you soon.

And is there really anything more that needs to be said?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A whirl and flurry of activity has descended on Recife – roads are being torn up and relaid, praças given a bit of a tidy up, a fresh lick of paint on the odd council building here and there. All of which must mean it’s election time again, and the incumbents (gubernatorial downwards) are showing just how hard they’re trying – look, your tax dollars at work!

It also means a constant rodizio of campaign vans, bikes and helicopters (ok – I made the helicopters up), blaring out an endless stream of sloganeering jingles (at local level in Brazil policy is hardly mentioned and your best chance of winning is The Three C’s – a catchy name, a catchy candidate number and a catchy song).

The comedic aspects of Brazilian electioneering are manna to the average gringo blog writer and Your Life Is An Impossibility is no different. This blog’s favourite hopeful is Edmar De Oliveira (3131), who has staked his chances on getting to the Casa Civil entirely on the pena da morte (death penalty) card. His jingle is a winning adaptation of Tropa De Elite by São Paulo alternative rock band Tihuana – Edmar De Oliveira, he´s as stubborn as a bull, you raped and murdered so now you´re gonna get it too, Edmar De Olvieira, he´s got the courage, you´ve got the vote. And so on.

The song originally became famous in Brazil when it was used as the theme music to the film of the same name, though it doesn’t really have much to do with police death squads and the like. Unfortunately YLIAI couldn´t find much information about Tihuana’s views on the death penalty. Boasting as they do the requisite goatee and skater pants alternative rock look, however, means it’s worth a bet that they might not be Old Sparky’s biggest fans. When it boils down to it, though, who cares about Tihuana? They only wrote the song, after all, and intellectual copyright in Brazil is the legal equivalent of the Loch Ness monster – there have been rumoured sightings but no-one really believes it exists.

YLIAI first came across Edmar a few weeks ago, when his entourage decided to use the Colegio Salesiano car park as a meeting-up point for a pre-election roll around the city (one wonders what the priests thought of it all). There were enough blacked out HUVs to make P Diddy blanch, and standing around between the cars smoking were scrums of hulking security guard types in berets and dark glasses (wonderfully capturing that oh so difficult hard but camp look previously perfected only by Nazi prison guards (leather boots, tight pants, choir-boy complexions) and 1980s and 90s UVF marchers (sunglasses, muscle tops, big moustaches).

After a few minutes cigarettes were hurled violently to the ground and crushed under heels. Engines were revved and Edmar’s tune echoed around the neighbourhood. YLIAI felt a bit scared.

Who knows if Edmar will win or not? He probably has as good a chance as any of the other jokers (sorry, candidates) running for deputado federal. The Three Cs are all in place and his would-be terrifying entourage is certainly visible and memorable. Even better, he seems to only have one policy, which means he can’t get caught out on any tricky idiosyncracies like Marina Silva, everyone´s favourite third wheel, who gets top marks for liking trees and education but null point for not liking homosexuals very much.

And with the death penalty schtick he´s tapping into a pretty chunky percentile – half the country, it seems, is addicted to schock (and shlock) gonzo TV shows such as Bronca Pesada, a true Shakespearean bloodbath for the age, involving footage of the corpses of murder victims lying in the street interspersed by ranting man-on-the-Jordão-Baixo-onibus Cardinot shouting into the camera about how can these animals be allowed to get away with it! Because it´s Brazil, and in Brazil impunity is king!

Furthermore a recent straw poll of as many as five teenage boys* from As Republicas revealed that 100% of respondents supported life imprisonment or the death penalty for those found guilty of any crime whatsoever, including pick-pocketing. At least race wasn´t an issue – our survey revealed that respondents said race didn´t matter at all, as all criminals are black and brown anyway.

So forget wishy-washy time wasters such as Dilma or Serra**, and step aside limp-wristed pinkos like Marcelo D2 (‘o estado não tem o direito de matar ninguem’). Edmar is on his way.

* YLIA knows that you can't really take teenage boys' opinions seriously. But it fitted in well with the argument, so.

**José must have known from the outset that he was going to get whup assed – he was the only one of the three main presidential candidates to be referred to only by his last name, making him a cold fish by default (he is anyway) and not all warm and cuddly like Marina and Dilma. This, it might be pointed out, is perhaps the only time anywhere that the words "warm and cuddly" and "Dilma" will appear in the same sentence.