Friday, 3 December 2010


In Recife, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, langourous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems.* While Rio burns Pernambuco fiddles with its unmentionables, and it seems that no ill could exist in such a place. Wrong, wrong, wrong, of course: while the death count in our beloved state capital is down 39% in the last two years it’s still enough to make an Iraqi wince.

The vengance wrought by a YMCA-esque trinity of 12,000 policemen, sailors and soldiers in Rio not only brings back sweet memories of a blissful Irish childhood – look Ma there’s a tank in the middle of the street – but also has a biblical air about it which makes one think of religion. Not the my church is better than your church kind of religion but the old fashioned fire and brimstone thou shalt not do this that and the other type of religion. Such foolishness is grist to the mill of the idle mind responsible for this blog and segues nicely into a new series of occasional articles entitled The Ten Brazilian Commandments, with Faustão as Moses/The Voice Of God, Luciano Huck reprising Yul Bryner’s Rameses and Dilma Rouseff as Nefertiti.

Number 1 (adopt Faustão style Voice Of God) - Thou shalt not trust anyone else, ever.

Over in As Republicas YLIAI is struck down by bird/pig/summer flu and the world of Brazilian education must struggle wearily on alone for a few days. No major problem here – a couple of days sweating in bed (the only type of sweating done in this bed for quite some time, more’s the pity) and he´ll be right as a tropical rainstorm. And he is and all is well, and he returns to work the conquering hero, passed from hand to hand over the chanting masses assembled outside the gates.

Only what he doesn’t know of course, is that to get paid for any sickness related absence in Brazil you need a doctor’s note, whether it’s one day off or 365 days off. This is a cultural sticking point – anyone from Norn Iron (or even the weak sister Dirty South) grows up knowing that the best cure for a broken leg is to walk it off, whereas the average Brazilian runs squealing to the hospital when he or she breaks a fingernail.

Independent research (mine) has shown that this puts great strain on an already creaking and underfunded national health service. Further argument – that YLIA knew it was flu, that it would pass in a few days, and that going out in the noon day sun to stand in line at the health centre (afroth with tropical bacteria) might possibly make things worse rather than better – cuts no ice. If you don’t get a doctor’s note, how do I know you’re not lying, runs the logic, because of course: thou shalt not trust anyone else, ever, particularly when one of the parties is employer and the other employee.

It doesn’t take a Melvin Bragg radio programme to work out why – the first employers were our old friends Mr and Mrs Casa Grande, and the first employees their escravos, and the escravos were probably out to half-inch the family silver, and let´s face it, not much has really changed, has it?

This is why supermarket check out girls get any discrepancies deducted from their wages, and why the good burghers of As Republicas live in fear of being robbed by their domestic help. I had my first whiff of this a few months ago when a well-heeled acquaintance offered the loan of the famed Dona Maria one day a fortnight (don’t look so surprised – who would have the time to produce all these literary wonders and clean the bathroom too?). She’s a pessoa da confianca, stage whispered well-heeled acquaintance, accompanied by much raising of eyebrows and covering of mouth with hand, there aren’t many of them around. Or in other words – she’s trustworthy, and that’s hard to find, 'cos most of them are bloody crooks.

It’s not hard to find more examples. Check it first, growl the office managers who pay YLIAI in cash. That´s nice, he thinks, counting the money carefully, they want to make sure it’s right. Only they don’t really, or at least not entirely, they just want to make sure you’ve said it’s right, because then you can’t come back and say it wasn’t later.

Things came to a head recently when Brazilian pin-up Juliana Paes made the news after she signed an autograph and was then invited by her admirer to accompany him down to the local cartorio to have her signature authenticated. She declined, of course, but the fan argued successfully that a signature is worth nothing in Brazil unless it’s authenticated at a government registry office. Our Juliana was forced to get the number 57 bus down to the nearest cartorio to have her signature stamped by a titular councilor seventh grade who had matched it with the copy of the signature that the office had on record.**

So where does it all come from? Can it really be the fault of the sweaty Portuguese and their mustachioed wives all those centuries ago? That’s the theory – everyone started off by robbing everything they could get their hands on, and it’s pretty much continued that way ever since. Throw in a healthy seasoning of masters and servants and the educated rich and the sweaty thieving dishonest masses and there you have it – Brazilian society in a nutshell.

And in closing if religion is to be discussed an honourable mention must go to The Ex-Girlfriend, who recently informed YLIA that she is to become an evangelico, the hardest core of Brazil’s many hardcore churches, whose members must not drink, smoke, wear skimpy clothes or use make-up, listen to rock music or have sex before marriage. This either means that The Ex-Girlfriend has already stamped her first class ticket straight to hell, or she means to renounce her old ways, which will make it a sad day for manufacturerers of figure hugging, organ revealing shorts and tops (BC is the term in these parts, with B meaning beira (border or edge of) and C standing for, well, cu, a rude word that translates roughly as, um, asshole) the world over.

Lastly, following inspiration provided by the state bank number 3 sponsored art exhibition currently touring the capitals of Brazil, the artwork above is Independência, a 1969 work by the late Rio painter Di Cavalcanti.

* With apologies to Richard Ford.

** Not strictly true, this part.

1 comment:

Dazinho said...

Commandment two - On pain of death, thou shalt not be early or on-time for any pre-arranged meeting.