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

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