Friday, 2 December 2011

One of the things Your Life Is An Impossibility misses most about the nordeste is the region`s rich sense of local pride and culture. From the myths and legends of carnaval ,to the rather farfetched idea that Recife B won the Campeonato Brasileiro in 1987, the ghosts of history, both true and imagined, stalk the land.

Even from 2000km away, one name is hard to forget – that of Lampião, the famed robber prince of the sertão. A form of nordestino Robin Hood, Lampião brought terror to the landowners of Pernambuco, Alagoas and beyond during the 1920s and 30s. Despised by the authorities for being a murderer and thief, and for the brutality of his methods, he was lauded by large parts of the population for representing local pride, bravery and honour. Lampião and most of his band of cangaceiros, including his lover Maria Bonita, were slaughtered by police in 1938. Their heads were cut off (Maria Bonita was decapitated while still alive) and paraded publicly as trophies.

But YLIAI has happy news for the good people of the sertão, and beyond. Lampião rides again! At least the robbing and thieving part. Less so, the local pride, bravery and honour.  

YLIAI first realised that the spirit of Lampião was alive when dealing with Brazil`s Leading Telephone Company and Internet Provider. The company cannot be named for legal reasons, but we`ll call them Oi. The first signs of banditry came a few months ago. YLIAI, a customer of said company for over four years and nearing the end of his contract, decided to transfer his hard earned loyalty points to another loyalty scheme, as he is apparently entitled to do. No problem, he was informed by BLTCIP. The transfer was soon complete. It was only at the very end of the process that BLTCIP put a gun to YLIAI`s fevered brow and demanded a taxa de adesão, or an administration charge, of R$20, for the internet based, fully automated transfer. As with all the best swindling, YLIAI had to doff his cap to BLTCIP`s derring-do.

Derring-do indeed. Undeterred by the thought of capture, our modern day cangaceiro was soon back at the scene of the crime, demanding further tribute. And what an inventive golpe it was. BLTCIP, when contracted as an internet provider, provide free home installation, and even a free modem. What they don`t provide (and why would they?), is free liberação, and everyone knows an unliberated internet is just no fun at all. R$15 for liberação, muttered the sinister voice on the telephone. It was the kind of voice which implied violence. YLIAI could almost feel the cold steel of the pistol on his forehead.

It was only later that a reeling YLIAI discovered that it wasn`t even BLTCIP doing the robbing! It was one of BLTCIP`s trusty lieutenants, a third party internet provider who again can`t be named for legal reasons, but who we`ll call Terra, to whom BLTCIP had given YLIAI`s number! Dastardly!

And suddenly, the charming rogues were everywhere. Another of Brazil`s upstanding telephone companies, whose proper name again cannot be used here, but who we`ll call TIM, put YLIAI very much in mind of Maria Bonita, the Juliet to Lampião`s Romeo. Unlimited 3G internet, screams Maria`s flashy blue advertising campaign. Unlimited! Caramba! YLIAI is hooked. And sure enough for the first five clicks of the mouse things zip along speedily enough. Then there comes a brring, brring sound, telling YLIAI he has received a message from Maria. Maria`s internet service is unlimited, says the message, but you`ve reached your daily limit, and so your access speed will be reduced until tomorrow. Sure enough, it takes YLIAI a good twenty minutes to open his favourite website, www.cooltinyspeedostowearatthebeach.com.br

He calls Maria, explains his frustration, and is told with chilling logic that presumably makes sense to someone, somewhere, that Maria`s 3G internet access is unlimited, and if you think about it, it`s just the velocity that might not be.

YLIAI weeps. He releases a great howl of frustration. They`ve taken me for everything I`ve got, he cries, and worse is to come. Creeping through the shadows towards him he can see the cable TV company, and the electricity company, and the vehicle licensing bureau, and….

He resolves to act. Only one man can help. Papers clutched in his sweaty little hand, he runs as fast as he can to the offices of PROCON, the Dark Night of modern day Brazil, here to protect the citizens of Gothania from vagabonds such as Lampião and Maria Bonita.

But as he gets closer he notices the streets are clogged with people, all of them weeping, all of them looking as though they are victims of crime. By the time he can see the building, the crowd is so thick that he can hardly pass. YLIAI looks around with horror, and sees there are thousands of them, all people just like him, all trying to get inside the doors of PROCON, all holding their papers in their sweaty little hands…    

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is of the general opinion that the pleasanter the climate, the less productive the race, something that has been neither proved nor disproved during six years in Brazil. What is unquestionably true is that the baking swelter of the midwestern flatlands is not encouraging of great industry. At times, in fact, it is all this Oblomov of the centro-oeste can do to crawl out bed.

Not having very much to do, of course, breeds not doing very much. Oblomov rises early enough, mainly because he doesn`t have much choice, what with the traffic frantically racing by outside the window and the Lord Of The Flies style pre-class ritual beheadings going on in the public school next door.

Though rises is perhaps the wrong word. Oblomov, of course, has no job and no friends in the centro-oeste, and is, like our original Russian hero, entirely free to do as he pleases. So Oblomov of the centro-oeste wakes and stares at the ceiling for a time. His companions, Francis Begbie and Flap*, a Pekinese with severe learning difficulties, slumber on. Eventually Flap stirs and begins to snuffle at the door. Oblomov props himself up on his elbows for a while and surveys the room from this new, encouraging perspective. Then, however, he starts to feel drowsy again and lies back down.

Launch attempt number 2 at least sees Oblomov sitting up. He dangles his feet languorously over the side of the bed, feeling for his slippers (flip-flops, if truth be told). Said slippers are nowhere to be found. The exertion has made Oblomov perspire slightly. Another lie down may be in order.

Eventually, Oblomov rises, perhaps even semi-permanently, this time. He makes his way to the bathroom, feeling sluggish, and bathes, even more sluggishly. Afterwards he sits on the bed for another few minutes, thinking about what clothes he should wear (such intense mental activity can be taxing, and so occasionally an additional few minutes of rest will be required).

With enough concentration, breakfast can be stretched out to an hour or so. Breakfast is a very Oblomovian sort of meal, prolonging, and even avoiding, as it does that terrible moment when the day must truly begin. So Oblomov cuts no corners – coffee, juice, fruit, toast, honey, cheese and ham are all on the menu. Oblomov probably expends more energy preparing his breakfast than he does doing anything else.

After that, perhaps Oblomov will partake in a few desultory rounds of the block with Flap. It should be pointed out that Flap is not a bad dog by any means, and in fact the pooch`s complete lack of vitality or mental spark makes him just the kind of sluggish partner-in-crime that Oblomov requires.

Such tasks, all told, should bring us to almost midmorning. At which point arise the great questions of the day. What should Oblomov do? Should he read? Write? Seek gainful employment? He considers his options.

Reading is pleasant enough, but what good can a man get out of reading, at the end of the day? For the problem with reading is that there are always more books to be read. There is no end of sight. Reading one book means embarking on a task that will last a lifetime. Reading one book means there will forever be a book lurking somewhere, on a shelf or on a table, casting reproachful looks at Oblomov, making Oblomov feel guilty. All in all, in this smothering heat (midday is approaching and the centro-oeste is growing hotter still), reading feels far too much like hard work.  

Which makes writing even more of a chore. As the original Oblomov said - to think of being continually engaged in writing, in wasting one`s intellect upon trifles, in changing one`s opinions, in offering one`s brain and one`s imagination for sale, in doing violence to one`s own nature, in giving way to ebullitions of enthusiasm, and of being forced to go on writing, writing, like the wheel of a machine – writing tomorrow, writing the day after! Just reading such a paragraph has exhausted our Oblomov. Imagine, then, what it would be like to write such a beast!

A nap before lunch then, seems like the safest option. But going back to bed at 11am is surely wrong, even for Oblomov, so he instead decamps to the sofa. In a few minutes Francis Begbie will rise. Perhaps she will bring Oblomov a drink or a snack. Perhaps she will amuse Oblomov with some of her observations on life, such as, What`s the point of making the bed? You`re only going to get back into it later on (in its own way expressing a very Oblomovian sentiment), or, He`s from somewhere in Africa, I think, Jamaica, or somewhere like that.*

But Francis Begbie must work, such is her lot, so Oblomov will be deprived of her company soon enough. And Flap is not much of a conversationalist. After lunch, which can realistically only be stretched out to last an hour, what will become of Oblomov then?

Oblomov feels the need to do something. To not waste the day entirely. Correction - to not waste yet another day entirely. What passes for a burst of energy, of vigour, courses through his veins. Sweat breaks upon his brow. A limpid battle for the Oblomovian soul commences. Perhaps a few pages of a book could be read? Perhaps a paragraph of a little piece for some blog or other could be scribbled out?

Yes! Oblomov rises. He seeks out his book. On his way to the bookshelf, he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. His colour is palid and unhealthy. His skin sags. He has become flabby and heavy jowled. He sighs.

Eventually - and it is quite a struggle - he finds his book, Italo Calvino`s If One Night A Traveller. Realising he is closer to the bed than the sofa, he observes that the return journey would be entirely wasteful. He slumps upon the comforts of his bed, still warm from the nocturnal stirrings of Francis Begbie. To the womb, again, Oblomov!

It has been sometime since Oblomov last picked up If One Night A Traveller. He reads a few pages. But he finds he can no longer recall which book he is supposed to be following – is it the book within the book, or the book within the book within the book? And even worse, it appears that he, the reader, has somehow become a character in the book. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino`s new novel, If One Night A Traveller, runs the first line. Oblomov is appalled. He did not ask to be a character in a book! Being a character in a book surely involves work, effort, movement, force, the expending of energy of some kind, all anathema to the Oblomovian soul. 

But Oblomov, undaunted, stoic, reads on. The book improves greatly. Relax. Concentrate. Let the world around you fade. Outside the window the heat builds, as though a thunderstorm is approaching. The trees feebly rattle their leaves. Sweat breaks once more upon Oblomov`s brow. But the thunderstorm never comes. Instead it just gets hotter. Oblomov reads a few more lines. He feels the most incredible weariness come over him. The book drops onto his chest. Oblomov`s mouth falls open. His eyelids creep shut, with imperceptible slowness… 

* Names have been changed to protect innocent pekineses with learning difficulties.

** This is not of course to imply that Francis Begbie, who is probably a genius and can pick out a Mondrian inspired book cover at a 100 paces, suffers from the same learning difficulties as her dog. Rather, it is that things as concrete, real and unmoving as maps and geographical location are far too unimaginative and tedious to be paid much attention. And who`s to argue with that?   
  

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is now three weeks away from Recife, three weeks in the flatlands of the mid west, where all the cultural heartbeats seem to be Man A`s Name and Man B`s Name. Victor and Leo, Bruno and Marrone, Zeze Di Camargo and Luciano. Country music the way the greats – Garth Brooks and Shanaya – used to do it, only more melodic, more romantic, and more awful. No Laurel and Hardy, Cannon and Ball or Morecambe and Wise, more’s the pity. It`s enough time, anyway, for some rudimentary observations on life’s rich pageant, as it’s lived here and there.

There is very little rubbish in Goiania, which makes a pleasant change from Recife’s endless bouquets of trash. It’s safe enough to walk the streets, though YLIAI always thought it was safe enough to walk the streets in Recife too. Try again – it`s nice to walk the streets in Goiania, whereas it wasn’t always nice to walk the streets in Recife, where the pavements are too cracked and fissured, the shade too sparse, the sun too scalding, the traffic too rampant. The traffic’s calmer in Goiania, and the shade more plentiful, and the pavements neater.

There’s no beach in Goiania, but there are parks, and there are no parks in Recife, apart from Parque 13 de Maio, downtown, which is a bit too parched to offer much pastoral relief, and Parque Da Jaqueira, which is full of power walkers and spandex-clad joggers, and doesn`t allow dogs, which makes it a piss poor excuse for a park in YLIAI`s opinion.  The parks in Goiania are bucolic bliss, with ponds and pleasant shady spots to sit and everything, though even here lies a hidden danger. Goianiense parents appear to care not when their darling offspring teeter up to the edge of the lakes, and three times YLIAI has had to hook a stray toddler under the arms and spirit him away from a watery grave. It makes relaxing with an ice pop and a good book a challenging experience.

YLIAI had thought it impossible that any group of people could be more cheerily rude than recifenses, but goianienses manage it, only without the cheery. Miserable and monosyllabic, the locals make YLIAI’s heart weep for the kindergarten ruckus that is interpersonal relations in the nordeste. You know you’re in trouble when getting on a bus is several hundred times rougher play than this.

At least the food is good, and YLIAI can look forward to a comfy, obese dotage with Francis Begbie feeding him pão de queijo, and feijão tropeiro, and torresmo and other such fine fare. As for the music, while duplos sertanejos make YLIAI`s brains seep painfully out of his ears, they can hardly be worse, and indeed might be a few rungs better than, Naughty Wesley and his satanic bastard cronies.

Football might be the deal breaker, because Goias is to football what Norn Iron is to sumo. Which is odd, because on the face of it there are three big teams here, the same as in Recife, and unlike Recife, at least one of them plays in Serie A. But the thing is that nobody seems to care, and people get much more excited when São Paulo or Corinthians are on the telly. Though a long time ago YLIAI promised he wouldn’t talk about football here, so if you want more, you’ll have to read this.  

In the end, despite the odd difference, what's striking is that after a few weeks it becomes clear that whether it’s Recife or Goias, it’s still the bizarre, Alice through the Looking Glass, world of Brazil. YLIAI is comforted, for example, to discover that in an uncertain world at least one thing can be guaranteed, namely that whatever anybody promises to do the following day, or week, or month, you can be sure that will be the one thing they won’t do.

If Mr. Da Silva says I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, for example, then you will know that Christ may return and walk among us, or dinosaurs may rise again from their prehistoric graves, or nuclear death may rain down on us as soft and silent as cherry blossom, but that the one thing that will resolutely not happen is that Mr. Da Silva will call you tomorrow afternoon. If Mrs. Fonseca says she will deliver your chocolate layer cake a week on Monday, then you know that horses may eat themselves, brush fires may rage across the cerrado, Ricardo Teixeira may say do you know what lads, I think I`ll take a break now and give someone else a chance, but what will surely, definitely, irrevocably not happen is that Mrs. Fonseca will deliver your chocolate layer cake a week on Monday.

Simple, day to day business transactions remain as reassuringly convoluted as possible. The other day YLIAI went to buy a fridge, an oven and an iron. He was immediately approached by a fetching young salesperson. YLIAI described his requirements. Oddly unconcerned with high profit margin items such as the fridge and oven, the fetching young salesperson dragged YLIAI over to the irons. Some hard bargaining ensued. YLIAI chose and paid for his iron, a process that took about twenty minutes, then asked the fetching young salesperson if she might care to assist him with the fridge and oven. Oh I don`t care about those things, said the fetching young salesperson, it`s not my department. You’ll have to talk to someone else about them. If YLIAI had been a cartoon character cartoon steam would have come out of his ears.

Affairs of the heart are little better. On a futebol jaunt to the neighbouring field after field after field state of Mato Grosso, YLIAI makes a new pal. The new pal lectures YLIAI on the wisdom of finding yourself two Francis Begbies instead of just one. One`s no good. You`ll get bored with one. And if she doesn`t know about the other one, then she won`t even mind, will she?

Upon his return to Goiania, YLIAI tells Francis Begbie about his new pal and his philosophy of love. Francis Begbie is not best pleased.

What kind of friend is he, telling you to find yourself another woman? Is he married?

YLIAI informs Francis Begbie that his new pal is not, to the best of his knowledge, married.

So she`s just his girlfriend? I suppose that’s alright then, replies a placated Francis Begbie.

!!!!!, says YLIAI, before going on to query if Francis Begbie really means to say that it’s ok to have a bit on the side if you’re in a long term relationship with someone who is merely your girlfriend or boyfriend, but not ok if you’re married. And, subsequently, and just out of curiosity, what exactly is the relationship status of Francis Begbie and YLIAI?

We`re living together, says Francis Begbie, it`s different.

Different how, asks YLIAI.

Somewhere in the middle, says Francis Begbie, a little too enigmatically for YLIAI's tastes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, thinks YLIAI, tipping an imaginary cap to Alphonse Karr (and Jon Bon Jovi), reassuring himself with the knowledge that whether in Recife or Goiania, at least a Brazilian bar stool (or plastic chair, to be more accurate) is still the most comfortable place on earth to sit. And, often, the hardest to leave.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

In which after a long absence Your Life Is An Impossibility revisits the sacred (and let`s be frank, not terribly good) art of cordelwith a little piece entitled “Guinness The Dog and Saint Pedro Have An Argument At The Gates Of Heaven”.

It is another long, long day in heaven. Saint Pedro stands at the pearly gates smoking a fag. His face is worn and hangdog. All that beseeching puts years on you, even for a saint. His robes are faded and his cuffs are frayed. The economic crisis has long fingers.

A small black dog with white paws approaches. The dog gives Saint Pedro an easy look.

What`s happening dog?, says Saint Pedro, stubbing out his fag. You know you can`t come in here. Bono`s rules.

Come on, Saint Pedro. Bono`s not the boss of you. I`m the best dog that ever lived.

No can do, says Saint Pedro. Don`t you remember the old Da Lench Mob song? A-to the-K-to the-4-to the-7, little doggies don`t go to heaven. Saint Pedro attempts a white-man-dances-hip-hop shuffle, but gives up after a few seconds.

The small black dog takes a few steps closer to Saint Pedro and bares her teeth.

Now you listen to me, Saint Pedro. I was born on the mean streets of Olinda, and my mother abandoned me before I could even walk. I was adopted by some people who loved me very much, first A Gata Do Bairro, then YLIAI, with a little help from The Argument.

Saint Pedro, not appearing very interested, lights another fag. Derby, of course. That economic crisis again.

And I`ll tell you something else, says the small black dog. Just try and find another dog like me. I'm more polite than half the people in there, and a whole lot more than half of the people down there. Here the small black dog makes a pointing motion with her front paw roughly in the direction of Recife. Didn`t you see me standing on my hind legs for hours on end, just like a real person? Messing about with those skanky kids in Amaro Branco? What about the time my tail got run over by that bollox of a taxi? When I stayed at the vet and didn`t complain once? All those times I played with the little fat girl and her little brother in the flat next door in Boa Vista?

I`ve heard it all before, doggy, sighs Saint Pedro. The whole I did this, I didn`t do this, routine. I helped a granny across the road, I didn`t download music without paying for it. It doesn`t make any difference. Everybody`s got a rap sheet. Except you, of course. And do you know why you haven`t got a rap sheet? Because you`re a bloody dog, that`s why!

The small black dog gives Saint Pedro a pitying look.

And who`s in there?, she says, snorting with derision. I know Bono practically runs things, but who else? John Candy? Steve bloody Jobs? Father Ted? What have they got that I haven`t got? Did they ever chase balls on the beach like I did? Of course not!

Sorry, dog, says Saint Pedro. He gives a hacking, wheezing cough. 

On the other side of the pearly gates, the small black dog sees a few doleful looking figures wandering slowly back and forth. Something mawkish by Simply Red (or just something by Simply Red) oozes from the speakers. There is a line of chairs with small white “reserved” signs stuck to them, and underneath each one, a name.

Daniel O`Donnell. Eamon Holmes. Elton John. Faustäo. Galväo Bueno.

The small black dog looks at Saint Pedro. Saint Pedro looks at the small black dog.

He shrugs his shoulders, imperceptibly. It is a look that says, I know, I know. But what can I do?

The small black dog understands. She looks at Saint Pedro gratefully.

I`ll take my chances elsewhere, says the small black dog.

I would if I were you, says Saint Pedro, lighting another fag.

In memoriam, GTD, 2008-2011

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is on holiday until October....

Friday, 12 August 2011


When living in a violent place, inevitably there comes a time when the shadowy threat of urban crime becomes thicker and the night grows ever darker. When that moment arrives the city landscape changes forever – gloomy corners become more threatening, sinister alleys yet murkier, posses of lumbering youth still more menacing.

Signs of violence are everywhere, in the shape of burnt out cars and glass from a hundred broken windows glittering on the pavement, and a thuggish, heavily-armed police presence ogling gangs of hulking teenagers on every street corner.

There is nothing else to do, then, except stir your courage to the sticking point, gird your loins, and head out into the streets. Face down your fears, my son, as William Bonner once said.

But that’s enough about London. YLIAI wishes he could stay in cosy, peaceful Recife until hell freezes over, or Santa Cruz win the Libertadores (the former being likely to come sooner) but, as previously mentioned, it’s time to put his pé no estribo*.

And so we are plunged once again into the netherworld of international travel.

First encounter is with the zapped silence of Lisbon airport, where some of this was written, and which reminds YLIAI once again that life outside Brazil is life lived with the mute button firmly pressed. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, of course, depends on your point of view.

An exciting moment comes when YLIAI hears last call for Angola Airlines flight 5463, and sees an advertisement for Banco Millennium in downtown Luanda, featuring the talents of Yola Semedo, who might be the Ivete Sangalo of Angola for all that anyone knows. That´s when it hits YLIAI that he is slap bang in the middle of the great Lusophone empire (or really conglomeration of a bunch of countries all of whom have not much in common except language). Still, it’s a rickety, if chummy enough axis, and so YLIAI doffs an imaginary cap to Angola, and Mozambique, and Cape Verde and all the rest.

All this though is nothing compared to what awaits YLIAI, ever the Claude Levi Strauss inspired social anthropologist, at Gate 41. There he will come across a tribe as complex and exotic as any lost children of the Amazon – the English.

It is the elders of the tribe he must confront first. Wiry, pasty folk these, though lightly toasted from days by the pool in an Algarve timeshare, or out on the links overlooking the white capped Atlantic. The language spoken is an odd, almost unintelligible variant of English, with a limited vocabulary, seemingly based around the repetition of several stock phrases, such as taking the M25 then the M4 traffic shouldn´t be too bad really this time of day and you wonder why they don’t just and can’t even get a nice cup of tea.

The younger members of the group are more fascinating still. Curiously, there appears to be very little maturation or intellectual development, particularly amongst the men of the tribe, for very long periods of time. As a result 40 year old tribesmen communicate and behave in a way that is almost identical to their 18 year old counterparts.  

Traditional tribal dress is sported constantly – a curious style wherein sexual identity is masked at all times, especially amongst females, seemingly to make the wearer as unattractive as possible to the opposite sex. Social class is similarly disguised by way of a clever trick where very expensive clothes are designed in such a way as to make the wearer resemble an impoverished, perhaps even homeless, humanities student. Plumage is another key part of the appearance of the tribe’s young – the menfolk are required by tribal custom to sport curious hair designs in the so-called boy band styling.

Finally, the day to day activities of the young of the group should be discussed. The idea of work exists here, though the word is understood differently than is common in other parts of the word, here referring exclusively to activities involving advertisement post production, assistant on Channel 4 reality TV show, web designer or new media project manager. Though despite never beginning before 11 o´clock in the morning, work is an important idea and must be talked about constantly. When not at work, the younger members of the group call work constantly, seemingly in order to feel involved with whatever activity is taking place at the office.    

YLIAI feels privileged to be able to spend time with this oddest of communities, though also bewildered – there can be no stranger tribe anywhere in all the dark corners of the world, he is sure.** 

Funnily enough, though not being born into the tribe, YLIAI spent several years living amongst them, way back in the distant past. And yet now it is a world that appears as distant and alien as any gang of green-skinned Martians.

This is because Brazil, and more specifically Recife, has so obliterated any sense of YLIAI’s previous lives, and has assumed such a strong identity in the mind, that it will, ever after, be the reference point by which everywhere else will be judged.

Prior to all this, YLIAI spent a week in the land of musica sertaneja and little cows doing just that – repeating over and over, much to the frustration of Saci Perere of the Centro-Oeste, that it’s not like that in Recife (perhaps referring to the cleanliness of a public toilet), or people wouldn’t do that in Recife (in connection with cars stopping at zebra crossings). 

And now comes the greatest test of YLIAI’s gringo stripes to date – if hurled into the silence and order and politeness of life in Europa, albeit the periferia of Europa (in other words, Norn Iron), which is after all his birthplace, will he still feel at home?

Or will he miss the sweltering crush of a summer afternoon stroll down Conde Da Boa Vista, and the din of the cars and the car stereos and the music pouring from the shops and the bars and the rumble of endless frenetic conversation? Will he pine for the sharp elbow to the kidney in the scrum to get on the bus, and the surliness of just about everybody working in the customer service industry, and the mournful tem troco não shrug of the shop assistant when trying to buy anything with a note higher than r$2?

In short, will he miss Recife? And for how long?

Yes, and forever, probably.   

* With thanks to the Poet of Arruda.

** It should be pointed out that as with many indigenous peoples The English are divided into various tribes, of which this, commonly identified as The Southerners, is only one. Other tribal groupings, such as The Northerners and The Brummies are a more recognisable, likeable crowd. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

And then we came to the end, wrote Joshua Ferris, though he was talking about the collapse of the global economic system rather than the end of four years in Recife. And now that it is the end it is, like the end of anything important, hard to believe that it is over.

Recife has always been a place of intense emotions for Your Life Is An Impossibility. Like with another often grim (at the time at least) northern city several thousand kilometres from here, YLIAI fell in love with Recife right from the start. And the beginning is easy to remember even now. That first bus ride down from joyless João Pessoa, then the metro ride in from the bus station. Outside the windows poverty of a depth that YLIAI had not seen before slipped past - a pond of black oily water where naked children played in black oily mud outside shacks of cardboard and plastic bags and jagged planks of wood. It was and probably is somewhere near Joanna Bezzera, though YLIAI is not sure even now.

Nervously calculating, as the train pulled in, if it would be safe to walk from central station to the R$45 a night Hotel São Domingos in Praça Maciel Pinheiro. It shouldn’t have been, really, and yet it always has been, and still is today – the Gods of Recifense street crime have treated YLIAI benevolently. 

After that the memories become blurred, because there are so many of them. Drinking, of course, and for the semi-professional drinker there can hardly be a more generous bosom anywhere in the world than Recife. In Praça Maciel Pinheiro, to begin with, in the bar with The Worst Toilet In The World, watching the golden arcs of water leap from the fountain in the middle of the square while a statue of Clarice Lispector, complete with reading lamp and book in hand, looked sternly on. 

In that noisy little square behind the big central post office on Avenida Guararapes, where on one of those first nights YLIAI was tempted, by a smile of gleaming white teeth the size of the Capibaribe, to sit nervously at a table of surly youths in Jovem Sport tops (this was a long time ago, it should be remembered, when YLIAI was a novice in the world of Recife football). The surly youths asked the usual questions a gringo gets asked (where/from, what/do, like/Brazil, mulheres/lindas) and forced food and drink down YLIAI’s throat, then refused to accept a penny for the bill. What fun YLIAI might later have had or not had with the owner of the gleaming white teeth shall remain confidential.

Later, funnily enough, there came exchanging testosterone filled chitchat with half of the Inferno Coral in the Beco Da Fome, or boozing out by the reeking canal at Arruda, or simply sitting and reading or thinking or being rejected by Recife’s womenfolk at Cadu’s. When The Ex-Girlfriend showed up, there was drinking a plenty in truly terrible pagode joints (YLIAI should really have known better) all over Boa Vista and beyond. And last but not least there was Jordão, watching the trucks rumble up the hill to deliver water to otherwise parched parts of the netherworld that is Recife’s periferia. 

There were other places too – the unforgettable horrors and delights of Cais De Santa Rita, or the all-night awfulness of Garagem in Torre, or in Recife Antigo or out in Olinda or even, from time to time in As Republicas Independentes De Boa Viagem, though all of these now seem frivolous and unimportant (except for Cais De Santa Rita, which could never be described as frivolous) compared with the real business at hand, which was drinking, and is not to be confused with things like fun or having a good time. And drinking in Recife has always, and will always, mean Boa Vista. 

Then there are the people, many of whom have populated these pages at one time or another. Pride of place goes to The Big Black, and of course The-Ex Girlfriend, who brought the ghosts of murdered traficantes and police death squads into YLIAI’s otherwise tranquil existence, and made him a richer man today, emotionally speaking, than he was before. There were a string of other Ex-Girlfriends too, though they weren’t ex-girlfriends at the time – The Ex-Girlfriend With Two Kids, The Ex-Girlfriend From A Small Town In The Interior, The Argument.  There was Guinness The Dog and Antonio Conselheiro and The Louth Media Mafia and The Accidental Tourist and The Pampas Goat. There was Celine, Mother Sururu aka A Gata Do Bairro, and Parsons, and João 1 and João 2, and Brazil’s Next Top Model, and Mr X and many more. All are gone in one way and in other ways will never be gone at all.

There have been stories too numerous to mention, but which can generally be found somewhere in these pages, particularly from 30th March 2008 onwards. It is easier to talk of places – streets and squares downtown such as Praça Maciel Pinheiro, where YLIAI has walked a thousand times and which, if you forced him to name a place which represents the heart and soul of Recife, would win the big stuffed toy, and Rua Do Progresso and Rua Manoel Borba and Patio Santa Cruz. There was the small house out in Amaro Branco, Olinda, and once again, the darkness on the edge of town that is Jardim Jordão. There is also, of course, Arruda, where all the good and bad things that ever happened in Recife are re-enacted on a regular basis on a small patch of grass and where it sometimes feels as if the entire population of the city has shown up to watch this particular reflection of their own sorry fates. YLIAI makes no apology for using the present tense for this last one as the idea that watching games at Arruda is something that has passed into memory is too difficult to even think about.

But like all great romances (or at least all great romances in YLIAI’s life, which is perhaps a larger part of the problem than he would care to admit) love winters on the vine, the heart turns cold or at least really quite pissed off, and the idea is born that perhaps, perhaps, it’s time to move on. There is never any good reason for it – and God knows YLIAI, with over 40 addresses and counting, has done it often enough – merely the sense that the moment has arrived. 

The remarkable things about Recife then start to feel less uplifting, and the bad things – of which there are many,  including excruciating traffic and potholes and the godawful service in shops and bars and the suffocating bulk of nordeste culture and so on and so on – begin to feel unbearable. The grass of other places becomes much greener – in this case the land of cows and musica sertaneja, and more importantly of Saci Pererê of the Centro Oeste, that is Goiania. Excuses are made to others and to oneself, justifying it all and explaining why it just has to be now. And then the decision is made, and everything is arranged, and before you know it, you are gone.

And so now we really have come to the end. Not of Your Life Is An Impossibility, of course, though Brasão only knows what I´ll write about in Goiania, where the plan is to have a life of such sweet middle class intellectual laziness that there will be no possibility of adventures of any kind. Before that will be two months in Norn Iron which, ironically enough, has become in the heart a destination so distant and exotic that a spell there will surely inspire some kind of Theroux-esque travelogue in these pages.

But none of that is important, finally. What is important, and what I must say before I go, before the sun sets over Boa Vista for me for the last time, is that if there is one reason for the exercise in vanity and foolishness and idleness that is Your Life Is An Impossibility, in fact if there is one reason why any of this exists at all, then it is to be a love letter to Recife.

A love letter telling everyone who reads it that, in a way that is impossible to explain or understand or justify, for at least one lonely soul trapped thousands of miles from home, Recife will, and always be, The Greatest, Most Exciting City On Earth. That it may not feel like it now is hardly the point - it felt like it once, and that is more than most places will ever be able to say.    

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as Ana Maria Braga once said. Really Your Life Is An Impossibility has never been one for revenge, because to seek it you presumably need to suffer in some way to begin with, and YLIAI, charmed life that he has led, doesn’t feel that he has suffered all that much.

Though it appears, given the events of the Sunday just past, that YLIAI has done a terrible wrong to someone, somewhere. He wracks his brains trying to think who it might have been. A baby kitten? Eamonn Holmes? Parsons? Then he remembers. Feels vaguely guilty. Remembers why he did it in the first place. Stops feeling guilty. The victim? The capital of Paraíba, geographical if not spiritual neighbour of Pernambuco, João Pessoa. The crime? Saying bad things about the capital of Paraíba, over a four year period.

As regular readers might know, YLIAI spent a miserable year living in João Pessoa, or Jampa as the locals, presumably ironically aping São Paulo’s Sampa moniker, like to call the place. During this year he had no friends, no girlfriends (Ex or otherwise), no dog, no luck, no love. He found João Pessoa, pretty as it is, to be a desolate, godless place, filled with a particularly well heeled, smug stripe of gringo, contentedly sliding into unthinking senility by the beach at Cabo Branco alongside the slack-jawed locals, who in their turn stubbornly refuse to accept even a little of the dramatic progress the rest of the nordeste is making.

It is the kind of place where people stare, open-mouthed and pointing, at the sky when a plane passes over, no doubt thinking the great metal bird has returned to punish us. It has no football, no carnaval, no teeming downtown boozers, no manic energy, no hustle, no bustle, no buzz. Two of the city’s newspapers don’t come out on Mondays. Nobody seems to know why this might be. It has only a fraction of Recife’s vibrancy. In fact it has only a fraction of Campina Grande’s, or Caruaru’s vibrancy, and it’s three or four times bigger than either of those places.  It doesn’t even have much urban ultra-violence for God’s sake, which makes it a piss poor example of a Brazilian city, in YLIAI’s opinion.

But João Pessoa has had the last laugh, as things turn out, and YLIAI supposes that this at least deserves a doffing of the cap. He should have known – the rain is biblical in the days leading up to Sunday’s trip. The rumours (which turn out to be wrong, but only slightly) are that a bridge has been swept away near Goiana, closing the BR. But in the end the journey there, and the occasion itself (Santa Cruz vs Alecrim in Serie D of the Campeonato Brasileiro, of which more here) pass smoothly enough. It is on the way home that things get interesting.

A few miles out of João Pessoa the traffic grinds to a halt. YLIAI immediately gets a mild bout of the willies and feels that this will be a bad one – up ahead there is nothing but an endless ribbon of red, blinking brake lights stretching into the darkness. And a bad one it is – two hours later the van pulls into darkened gas station, having moved all of 2km. The gas station has closed, though, for fear (unjustifiably) of being ransacked by marauding Inferno Coral gangs. This overlooks the fact that the marauding Inferno Coral gangs probably just want to get home like everyone else.

Back on the road progress continues to be measured by the inch rather than the mile. Car engines are switched off and passengers stretch their legs along the hard shoulder. One car rolls past pouring out gruesome funk. Four teenage boys sit on the roof, their legs dangling. Every so often another group of teenage boys wander past, their eyes roving, possibly – possibly – on the lookout for easy to swipe treasures – a wallet left on a dashboard by an open window, a cell phone loosely clasped to an ear. In YLIAI’s van middle class Brazilian panic is in full swing – que cara do ladrão! Feche as janelas!  and so on. In truth the boys soon wander back to their car, pockets far from bulging. It seems they were just visiting their equally face of a thief pals in another bus. Off the road the darkness is immense, immeasurable.

It is about half past ten by the time the van gets to the front of the queue, only to be told by the nice policeman that the BR, and the city of Goiana, are under a metre or two of water. There are two choices – go via Pedras De Fogo, where the road is terrible and is also flooded, and where vans can’t pass anyway, or via Campina Grande, Caruaru, and finally Recife, a detour of about 400kms. YLIAI feels very sad indeed, and is sure he can hear, way back in the distance, a city quietly snickering.

The dubious decision is made to return to João Pessoa, have something to eat, and wait it out, though no-one knows what it might be. Maybe the water level will magically go down in the space of half an hour, maybe the van will sprout wings, maybe Jampa will develop a strong sense of its own identity and a lively cultural scene. The rest of the van head off to Bob’s Burgers. YLIAI settles for a tapioca, a beer and a reviving whiskey. At about midnight the van leaves to try again. Fearing the possibility of ten hours in a cramped minibus, YLIAI elects to stay in João Pessoa and catch a normal bus back the next day.

Only – and here Jampa really has its fun – of the 16,000 tricolores who came here for the game it appears that at least 15,980 have been marooned in this Village Of The Damned and there are no hotel rooms. Anywhere. YLIAI wanders the streets for over an hour, knocking at the door of at least six hotels around Tambaú, only to be told each time, with a slightly smug shake of the head, that there’s no room at the inn, porra. YLIAI thinks he might cry, and one point starts to consider the possibility that he may very well have to spend the night on a park bench, in the rain, in João Pessoa (though he knows he probably won’t – even without hotels there are still a boatload of sex motels out on the BR that’ll rent him a room by the hour, and might even throw in a bit of female companionship at the same time, should YLIAI desire it).

Eventually inspiration strikes. YLIAI is, to his chagrin, an old João Pessoa stager, probably unlike the majority of his tricolor companheiros. Most of them will have headed straight to the better known hotels at the beach. Fewer will have ventured downtown.  YLIAI jumps into a cab and heads for the really rather beautiful Lagoã, where in a grotty side street he nabs The Last Hotel Room in João Pessoa.

And that is basically it, except that the next day there are no buses until 14.00, and when YLIAI gets to the ticket window he is told that the last ticket has just been sold to the person in front of him. So YLIAI gets the 16.30, and gets home, finally, at about 20.00, having taken around twenty six hours to complete what is normally a two hour journey. And on the bus, drooping gently into sleep, he can hear The Village Of The Damned snickering all the way.         

Friday, 8 July 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is drawn to Jordão Baixo like Sherlock Holmes is drawn to opium dens. There is something about the place – the quiet maybe, or the vaguely rural air of the place, or the down at heel simplicity. Because after all Jordão Baixo offers all that the serious drinker requires – a (reasonably) sturdy table, a chair with four legs (sometimes), a glass and a bottle, and, most importantly, the knowledge that one won’t be disturbed by such leprous intrusions as big screen TVs, musica ao vivo, leggy blondes, pushy waiters, pushy blondes, leggy waiters.

Maybe it´s because YLIAIs drinking partner in Jordão Baixo is The Big Black, and you would have to go from here to Santarém to find a finer man. After a week happily spent in the centro-oeste, all blue skies and crisp winter sunshine, and the kind of refreshing ethnic diversity (a bar that´s also a Lebanese delicatessen!) that Recife, redoubtable bastion of all things nordestino that it is, sadly lacks, YLIAI is less than happy to be turfed off the plane and into the sweltering recifense drizzle.

Particularly as his new home, playing the happy couple with The Pampas Goat, is a dingy apartment building in the middle of one of Recife’s grimmer mini-favelas, hard by the canal in, officially, As Republicas Independentes De Boa Viagem. YLIAI never imagined that he´d be disappointed not to be nearer to the heart of As Republicas, but now he is, which just goes to show something or other.

And a brief aside – whatever happened to the favelas of YLIAI’s memory, filled with happy smiling children and toothsome females wearing the kind of tiny shorts and skirts so beloved of The Ex-Girlfriend? YLIAI doesn’t know, but suspects it might all have been a trick of the easily enraptured gringo mind. That, or the happy smiling children and the toothsome females, are just plain better looking in Belo Horizonte than they are in Recife.

The Pampas Goat is a fine fellow indeed, though not without his defects. One of these is that he has a healthily Latin disregard for fussy official red tape like drink driving laws, which can be a problem when he´s driving YLIAI’s Ferrari. Another is that he´s about as reliable as  a r$10 watch bought from a man with dirty fingernails in rock ‘em and sock ‘em downtown Recife.

What happens is that the keys to the flat that The Pampas Goat has given to YLIAI don´t work. YLIAI calls The Pampas Goat. The Pampas Goat is at a party in Aldéia, a distant suburb of Recife. The Pampas Goat tells YLIAI that he’ll be home soon, slurring his words only a little. YLIAI expresses some doubt as to the veracity of this claim.

A few hours later the rain has gotten heavier and there is no sign of The Pampas Goat. YLIAI, growing weary of standing under a tree outside the dingy apartment building, decides to call The Big Black. Let´s have a drink, he says, when The Big Black answers (The Big Black always answers). Ok, says The Big Black, I´ll come and pick you up. Turn right just after the canal, says YLIAI, and I’m at the end of the street, in front of a car wash.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls. I can´t find you, he says. I went down the street on the left after the canal and there was no car wash. The street on the right, says YLIAI. Oh, says The Big Black. Ok. I´ll be there in five minutes.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls again. Nope, he says. I went to the end of the street and there was no car wash. No-one I asked has even heard of this car wash. That’s impossible, says YLIAI. Did you take the first street on the right? Yes, says The Big Black, though it might have been the second. I´ll try again.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls again. Nope, he says, no car wash. I'll never find you. I´m going home. YLIAI asks The Big Black where he is, and then walks a few hundred metres in the pouring rain to find him. They drive through rain that makes the storm in Seven look like a light summer shower, to Jordão, taking the back way in because the main road is flooded. The back way in involves crawling through tiny, twisting alleys where cars have fallen into potholes and the roofs, and sometimes the walls, of the tiny shacks have tumbled into the street, and everything is covered in filthy black mud. Imagining what it must be like to live in such a place, YLIAI resolves to never, ever, complain about anything again.

The Big Black takes YLIAI to his house, where The Big Black’s aged mother gives them both soup. A conversation starts up about being black, though YLIAI doesn’t know why. My mother was white, says The Big Black’s aged mother, who is blacker than The Big Black. YLIAI raises an eyebrow. My husband was black, she continues, and he didn’t amount to much. I wouldn’t marry a black man again. The Big Black’s aged mother is approximately 105. His girlfriend is blacker than you, says The Big Black to his aged mother. He is talking of course of Saci-Perere of the Centro-Oeste, who, as well as being the most beautiful woman this side of Beyonce’s left buttock, is indeed black. She never is, says The Big Black’s aged mother, I don’t believe it. Come on, The Big Black says to YLIAI, let’s go to the pub.

It has stopped raining and the crickets are chirping, and the sound of water being sloshed out of houses, and of water dripping from gutters and roofs, is everywhere. The Big Black and YLIAI go to a bar, and drink and talk about things. The talk is generally on the gloomy side. At about nine o´clock The Pampas Goat calls. I´ll be home in about an hour, he says, the car has two flat tyres. YLIAI tells The Pampas Goat not to worry about it, and also not to drive home, given that most of Recife is underwater, and  that The Pampas Goat sounds either very drunk or heavily sedated.

Then YLIAI and The Big Black go to another bar. At one of the tables are two men and a woman wearing Sport shirts. They are friends of The Big Black. Hello, says The Big Black. Hello Big Black, say the men and the woman. Are shit t-shirts on sale at Lojas Americanas today, asks YLIAI, which makes everyone laugh. They are clearly a generous audience, thinks YLIAI.

Everyone sits and talks and drinks. You speak Portuguese very well, lies the woman.  I don’t really, says YLIAI, and I can’t write it at all. Bet you can write it better than me, says the woman, I’m illiterate. No you’re not, says YLIAI. Am too, says the woman, proudly.

YLIAI doesn’t know what to say. He has never met anyone who has professed to being illiterate before. He opts for constructive. There are lots of courses where you can learn to read and write, these days, he says. Ah, says the woman, making a disdainful gesture with her hand. I don’t need to read or write on the market stall, and anyway I probably wouldn’t be able to understand the course anyway. Of course you would, says YLIAI. Nah, says the woman, I´m pretty stupid, though she doesn’t seem to be. The Lord gave me what he gave me, she says, and he didn’t give me the ability to read or write, so what am I going to do? That’s the way he wants it, so that’s the way it’ll be.

She nods her head a few times, as though agreeing with what she has just said, and smiles at YLIAI. There is a hint of triumph in her smile, as though she is pleased with her argument. Then it is time to go home.

In the taxi on the way home, as the rain falls and the holes in the roads grow bigger and more numerous, and the end of the world descends upon Recife, YLIAI thinks about the woman and her faultless logic. He decides he may apply it to the meanderings of his own life. Author of pointless blog scribblings instead of famed writer of classic novels, standing astride the world of letters like a titan?

The Lord gives you what he gives you, so what are you going to do?

Not for the first time, YLIAI decides he feels like a drink. And when he gets home, he finds The Pampas Goat safely tucked up in bed, snoring the snores of a very drunk man. The Ferrari, tyres and everything else intact, sits snugly in its bay under the dingy apartment building. YLIAI feels at peace with the world, and all its mysterious rhythms.  

      

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility realises with alarm that he is pushing 40. A bout of self-examination is quickly undertaken. Memory: has been an empty husk for years. Hair: thinning, but not too much. Vision: fading, but not too fast. Waistline: spreading, but not too abundantly. YLIAI feels relieved. There may be a few years of pointless wittering in the old dog yet.

And then he considers the positives. Because 40, truly, might be the best age, and is certainly the first age when you can truly say that you are no longer stupid (though there are of course plenty of stupid 40 year olds). You are no longer stupid because by 40 it has become apparent that in all probability you have failed, and worse, or better, that this failure is unlikely to change.

You learn that there are no great surprises lurking around the corner – no Bookers or Pulitzers, no Bolas De Ouro. Before 40, it is quite possible that you have maintained faint hope that all dreams will come true. Now, you know they won’t.

This is not a bad thing, of course, and other things can change – love, and its opposite number, not love anymore, can sprout like weeds at any time. The appearance of children remains an ever present threat.

But overall life may even be better after 40. Because now, free from pressure, filled with the knowledge that disappointing self-awareness brings, life can go on, better than before, the work becoming more important than whether people like it or not.

At 40, if you are lucky, you will no longer believe you are more intelligent, more able, more alpha, than the next man. You will know simply that you are you; unremarkable, average, even happy, hopefully.

Having written this YLIAI feels wiser than ever, which might be defeating the object a little. He feels, perhaps, that it is time for a new theory on Brazilian life. He believes that he might be just the man to write it. He picks up his pen (or turns on his computer) and thinks of....

Geometry, oddly enough. Recently YLIAI took a trip to Brazil’s most geometric, and also most unloveable, city, Brasilia. He waited patiently in line at the TV Tower, then rode up a hundred metres or so in an elevator. At the top, he peered out over Mr Costa's and Mr Niemeyer’s* marvellously symmetrical handiwork.

Brasilia is a masterpiece of urban planning, with only one small oversight. Mr Costa and Mr Niemeyer forgot to put any poor people in. The poor in Brasilia, with a few exceptions, don´t live in Brasilia, at least not in the Plano Piloto. Instead they´re shipped off to the cidade satélites, where, without the resources of the capital’s police force to take care of things, they’re basically left to tear each other to bits as best they can. The cidades satélites are Brazil’s new murder hotspots.

But Costa and Niemeyer (and YLIAI finds himself overcoming an almost insurmountable urge to type Neymar every time he has to use Oscar’s name) were onto something when they dreamt of a geometric Brazil. In other words, simply put: horizontal relations = good, vertical relations = bad.

If life is lived here on a simple plane, then it is a tolerable enough business. An honest day’s work will bring in enough of an honest day’s pay to afford a decent lunch of rice, beans and chicken most days, plus a few palavras at the weekend, and maybe the price of a ticket to the football too. With credit cards flying around like confetti, these days even social classes C1 or C2 might be able to afford the price of a plane ticket down to see Auntie Edicleide and the kids in São Paulo, though they´ll spend the next ten months paying it off. All so good, all so horizontal.

What you must avoid like the dengue, if you can, is any kind of vertical relationship. Our friends in social classes C1 or C2 can take a trip to the big supermarkets like Carrefour or Hyper Bom Preço like anyone else, but shouldn’t let their eyes stray over to the imported cheeses section. If they do they’ll either be appalled or amused to see that 100gs of Stilton will cost them r$379**. Stilton is not part of their reality, therefore to covet it is to desire a vertical relationship, where you are situated below the item you desire – such a relationship will only bring pain and suffering.

Vertical relationships also appear wherever someone has power over someone else. This can take many forms. In a previous life YLIAI lived in an old apartment in Boa Vista, downtown Recife (long-term readers will remember this as being the era of days spent looking over one’s shoulder in case a hired gun, out to get The Ex-Girlfriend, was lurking behind a bush). One balmy summer night thieves broke in and stole the water pump. We´ll all chip in and get a new one, the owner of the apartment building informed YLIAI. YLIAI was perplexed. Isn’t the water supply, and all its workings, rather the responsibility of the building owner? he asked. No, came the retort, and while we´re at it you still owe me for the copy of the keys I cut for you when you moved in. A better example – when vacating an apartment, it is the responsibility of tenants to paint the property, regardless of its state upon arrival. Landlords above, tenants below = pain and suffering.

Worse lies in store at work. Brazilian employers tell their employees when the employees are going on holiday, not the other way round. When fired in Brazil (a common enough experience, given that many employers still believe themselves to be living in the days of the Casa Grande and the Senzala) the shamed ex-employee must come skulking back a few weeks later to sign his exit papers and receive whatever pittance is owed to him. YLIAI knows of a case where a particular ex-employee was forced to return time and time again, as on each occasion his former employer had been called away on urgent business – a long leisurely lunch, a round of golf, a post-prandial nap. Boss above, worker below = pain and suffering. YLIAI could throw the plight of live-in nannies, cleaners and housekeepers, into the mix here, but doesn’t think he needs to – the image of his own (oh the hypocrisy!) once every two weeks cleaning lady eating her lunch while sitting on a paint pot in the spare room, because that’s what her other employers expected her to do, probably says it all.

Even in his free time the Brazilian (and even the gringo) must wade through great rivers of torment and agony. In some places, YLIAI has heard, there exists the maxim the customer is always right. Translated into Brazilian Portuguese, and then back again into English, this becomes: the customer is to be ignored where possible, tolerated when unavoidable, and fobbed off with promises never to be upheld when there is absolutely no other option remaining. Brazilian banks charge their clients when they withdraw money, when they deposit money, when they print off receipts confirming the withdrawal or the depositing of money, when they use their telephone banking services, when they use their internet banking services, even sometimes when they want to use the car park in front of the bank (hats off to Santander/Banco Real in As Republicas for this one).

They have this in common with Brazilian shopping malls, who charge hefty parking fees to people who want to buy things at the shops inside the shopping mall. Bills issued by the country’s telecommunications giants Oi, Tim, Claro, Vivo and friends are almost always often wrong, and by calling to complain the customer unknowingly enters into one of the Seven Circles of Hell, where he will be required to give his name, CPF, identity card number, address, date of birth, and explain the nature of his complaint, to no less than six different company representatives before finally being attended to in a (loosely) satisfactory manner. Quite often he will be cut off somewhere between representatives, and be required to go through the entire process all over again. Big business above, lowly client below = pain and suffering.

All this, of course, is just the creamy icing on the cake, with the real issue lurking somewhere amongst the glacê cherries, raisins and nuts that lie below. The Big Black, resident of harum scarum Jordão Baixo, has no rich or even middle class friends, and probably never will. He doesn’t go anywhere where he is likely to meet anyone from outside of his own social class. If he did, he would likely be met with some suspicion – handbags would be clutched tighter to chests, wallets secured in inner pockets.

On the other hand, YLIAI’s upper middle class friends don’t know any poor people, other than their nannies, cleaners, and housekeepers. A recent survey taken amongst a group of upper middle class teenagers showed that they wouldn´t mind going out with a black boy or girl, but that they couldn´t imagine going out with someone from a lower social class. Horizontal rules ok.

YLIAI has a friend from Norn Iron, no-one’s example of a shining example of anything, who grew up in the 1980s on state benefits in Taughmonagh, or Tintown, in South Belfast, a place where at night even the rottweillers prefer to attend to their necessisities indoors. But YLIAI’s friend, who we might call The Argonaut, is a clever chap (though not as clever as YLIAI), and did terribly well at school, and went to Oxford, and is now a big cheese headmaster at an awfully good private school somewhere in England.

If this happened in Brazil, not only would the big computer that makes up mathematics formulae based on Brazilian society explode, but someone would make a documentary about The Argonaut, and he would become a media celebrity and appear on programmes like Domingão Do Faustão and Fantastico.

YLIAI doesn’t know where he´s going with all of this, but he knows he has probably been banging on for long enough now. He also realises that none of the above is particularly new, save for the lame geometry gag. Oh well. He feels a craving for something to eat. He weighs his options, being careful not to consider anywhere situated at an angle of more than 45° above his current social position, and heads out into the night.

* Following the concrete abhorrence that is Mr Niemeyer’s latest work, Parque Dona Lindu in Recife, YLIAI would like to declare himself no longer a fan of Brazil’s Greatest Ever Architect ™. Instead, a round of applause to Mr Niemeyer’s Brasilia cohorts, top gardener (though no Percy Thrower) Roberto Burle Marx and painter, sculptor and mosaic maker (is there a better word?) Athos Bulcão, the men who humanised Niemeyer’s cement and white paint brutality.

** This, it must be confessed, is a fictitious example, because YLIAI didn´t have time to go to Carrefour to check just how much posh cheese costs, or what posh cheese is in stock. But the principle is pretty much true.