Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Christmas in Recife is the usual tawdry affair and no amount of blink blinks draped over council offices and bridges and floating Christmas trees on the river can make up for the almost satanic lack of respect for biblical tradition – do Brazilians not know that the first thing that Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus did on Christmas Day in far away B´Town was sit down to a roast turkey dinner with sprouts, carrots, parsnips, three types of potato (roast, boiled and mashed), sausages, bacon and boiled ham, followed by Christmas pudding, mince pies, Christmas cake, cheese and biscuits, ginger snaps, and a banana? Damn them all to hell, says Your Life Is An Impossibility, who, having long ago discovered that Christmas sucks in Brazil, has decided to avoid it all together.

Which meant that the highlight of this (or probably any other) Christmas was trooping off to Marco Zero this week to see the living incarnation of Papai Noel, President Luis Inácio Da Silva, aka Lula, hang up his boots for the last time (at least until he resurfaces, Jordan (Michael, not Katie) like, in four years).

Lula is, as everyone knows, The Greatest Brazilian President Ever, or at least he is if you´re poor or working class or from Pernambuco, his home state, where he has a 4000% approval rating. Lula is also a pretty good indicator of who you are as a person – if you think he is an embarrassing peasant jester then you´re probably a monied Brazilian who once voted for Fernando Collor, if you think he is the second coming of Jesus Cristo then you´re probably one of the people mentioned in the second line of this paragraph, if you think he inherited most of his policies from chess grandmaster FHC and hasn´t done too much else apart from fuck things up then you´re likely to be a clever clogs type who just likes to have a different opinion to everyone else, and if you think he´s pretty great but didn´t do enough to improve public education or cut Brazil´s cancerous civil service dependent culture then you´re probably a fantastically talented writer on the cusp of literary stardom who writes a blog called Your Life Is An Impossibility.

What he is, undeniably, is a politician who is grippingly in tune with his people. This is a rare thing and not to be underestimated, because it´s what makes Lula great. To the unknowing witness Lula is cheese, or brega. Watching him stomp up and down the stage, sweating and beating his chubby chest with his chubby four fingered hand and shouting about companheiros and companheiras is the public speaking equivalent of listening to Frank Sinatra at Christmas. It gets you in the mood and presses all the right buttons.

Lula talks about being a filho do sertão and the crowd roars approval (I´m a filho do sertão, everyone thinks). Lula talks about o povo brasileiro and the crowd shrieks with delight and applauds wildly (I´m one of the povo brasileiro, everyone thinks). Lula wheels on an urchin from the Coque (notoriously grim Recife favela) Children´s Youth Orchestra and the crowd spontaneously combusts (I could be a child from the Coque Children´s Youth Orchestra, everyone thinks, though they couldn´t).

But what saves Lula from brega overkill is the fact that everyone knows he´s walked the walk – when he bangs on about riding the flatbed truck 2000kms down to São Paulo with Dona Lindu at the wheel you know he really did ride the flatbed truck 2000kms down to São Paulo with Dona Lindu at the wheel, and when he rails about poor Brazilians having cow pats for Christmas dinner you know he really did have cow pats for Christmas dinner. This is what the FHC mob forget – the occasionally admirable Fernando Henrique kicked off many of Lula´s social welfare programmes, but he would never have gone far enough, because as a wealthy Brazilian the poor for FHC remained a squalid, amorphous mass that had to be handled somehow, but without much hope that they could ever be humanised completely.

It´s this, finally, that makes Lula, for this writer at least, one of the great public speakers of our times, up there with such estimable company as Hitler, Stalin, Martin Luther King and Paisley. It´s the thrilling realness of it all, the knowledge that you are watching one of the few politicians who, whatever his faults, really gives a monkey´s toenail about any of it.

He even means it while he´s being as smooth an operator as any New Labour spin doctor, playing the it´s all the paises ricos’ fault card for the twentieth time tonight (guaranteed to get the goat of any gringo not from a pais rico (rich country)) because he knows it appeals to Brazilians’ them and us mentality and gets the troops on board. There´s no grease anywhere to be seen except in his stubby whorls of brillo pad hair.

And so with apologies for schoolgirl crushes on middle aged Brazilian politicians and with mixed animal metaphors dancing through the brain, it´s homeward bound, and the usual thrilling trawl up Conde Da Boa Vista, one of the few pleasures which have not yet fallen prey to your writer´s current Recife jaundice. At ten o´clock at night this is the kind of Travis Bickle’s New York urban hell that bolsa familia and the like have not really helped (the pittance paid out by such schemes has had more effect in rural areas where starvation was until recently a valid life choice) – the streets are scattered with the cadaverous bodies of the homeless, street children scavenging through rubbish bins, and malandros of every stripe.

But it is life, and you have to live it, and so you wind your way home thinking about stopping of for a palavra or two in one of the seedier bars so you can watch more of it, until you feel bad about wanting to watch more of it, because for the people living it there are, of course, no such cushy life choices to be made.

And so, with not much else to do, it´s onwards, onwards.

Art: Ciranda (1988) by Glênio Bianchetti (Bagê, Rio Grande Do Sul)

NB: For those with appetites whetted for more of the Reverend Ian, I´m happy to suggest this.

1 comment:

Stephen Coutts said...

Great read - it's not often we read of writers praising and liking a leader (ie Berlusconi's a fun figure, Cameron's a robot).

It seems he will be sadly missed when he departs.

As with the Paisley thing, takes me back - I've got to listen to that from marching season (March til end of August) at all times of the weekend (usually 8am).

Try and get the video of Paisley and McGuinness holding hands like to two boxers on their walk to Stormont (I think) - something I thought we'd never see.