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?

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