Tuesday, 4 January 2011

When terrible things happen it is time to call on Mr X, for Mr X is Your Life Is An Impossibility´s fearless chronicler of all things dark and frightening, as regular readers will know. Be warned, then – the following is not for the squeamish.

Travel broadens the mind, they say, which may be true, but what is of more importance to a worried man like Mr X is that it also limits the mind. Because when you hit the road all choice and stress and worry drops away and everything becomes the journey – a world of boarding passes and baggage reclaim and delays and airport buses and street maps. This is a welcome thing when, like Mr X, you´re feeling tired of the everyday life.

Travel also teaches you more and more about where you live, because you can´t really say much about home unless you know what at least a few places that are not home are like. A day before this trip Mr X is talking to Mrs X about falling standards in recifense customer service (they were previously abysmal, now they´re really fucking awful).

I can´t take Brazil anymore, I´ve had it up to here!, Mr X whines. Hum, says Mrs X, I know what you mean, but have you thought that it might not be Brazil that´s the problem, but Recife? The nordeste?

Mrs X may be right – Brazil more than most places is a country of wild divergence, oscilating from lives as luxurious as any lived at the court of Louis XVI to places as grim as any in downtown Mogadishu. The nordeste is not Mogadishu but it can be hard and wearying. And so Mr X resolves to travel to São Paulo, the nation´s cultural, economic and pretty much everything else except governmental, capital, to see how the other half live.*

If Tennessee is, according to David Berman, a land of club soda unbridled and hot middle aged women, then São Paulo is a land of fabulously expensive 24 hour bakeries with dog parking outside the door. Mr X is excited – he has been hardscrabbling it for a while in Recife and can hear the siren call of a bit of luxury and sophistication.

Only when he arrives, mid-afternoon on New Year´s Eve, the São Paulo he finds is as desolate and empty as the London in 28 Days Later. Avenida Paulista, the biggest and brashest street in the (Latin) Americas is closed and filled only with tumbleweeds. Where are the famed 42km traffic jams? The licence plate rodizio that permits only cars with even numbered plates on the roads on Monday and Wednesday, and only cars with odd numbered plates on the roads on Tuesday and Thursday? (Presumably Friday is a free for all of Mad Max style transit armageddon).**

But Mr X is not downheartened, because it´s early, and soon two million people will be standing on the very same spot watching fireworks and going ooooh and aaaah a lot. And they do, and Mr X says oooh and aaah a bit himself, and then when it´s all over he feels the call of the wild or at least the bar and wanders off down Rua Augusta in search of fun and foolishness.

Which would be fine, except that three hours later he is still wandering up and down Rua Augusta in search of fun and foolishness. Because Rua Augusta, supposedly the edgiest street in town, this night offers only (a) throbbing techno leather fetish bars (b) come on in sir look at the lovely girls we have waiting for you tonight style flesh pots (c) bars and clubs with valet parking (and all that that entails) and (d) unlovely dungeons filled with EMO teenagers dancing to Nine Inch Nails (or the like – who can tell these days?). Mr X accepts his fate – he is old and weary – and ends the night in Galeria Dos Paes drinking hilariously expensive coffee and feeling sorry for himself.***

He can at least amuse himself by tuning into the accents – regional twangs are always a marvellous hoot for the gringo who has been here long enough to notice them. Paulistas roll their Rs more than Rab from the Gorbals, and talk very loudly, so that a large group of them sounds like a kindergarten class full of toddlers all of whom have just been kicked hard in the shins by other, more alpha-male, toddlers.

It is a taste of things to come. Rain sets in on Saturday night, and it doesn´t stop for four days. On Sunday Mr X identifies the São Cristovão bar in nearby Vila Madalena as a fine place to eat and sup and woo some Paulista Princesses. Mr X walks four kilometres in the rain to the bar. The bar is closed, for no apparent reason. Mr X goes to another place, less nice but still thrillingly pricy, and eats some fried cod balls. The Paulistas, princesses or otherwise, remain unimpressed by his soulful gringo gazing.

On Monday Mr X decides to climb up to the Banespa building to take in what are said to be the best views in the city. But when he gets there the viewing terrace is closed because of the rain. He walks several miles amidst a monsoon that would have sunk the Ark to see the Mercado Municipal and the Catedral Da Sé. He is told he should go to the Circolo Italiano building because the view from the top there is just as good as at the Banespa building. Upon arrival he asks the man on reception if the viewing terrace is open. Yes sir, says the man on reception. He spends ten minutes waiting for the lift and then five minutes going up 50 odd floors to the top. When he gets there the lift operator says sorry sir the viewing terrace is closed because of the rain. On the way out he asks the man on reception if there is a toilet in the 50 storey building. No, says the man on reception.

On Tuesday he goes to the Memorial Dos Immigrantes out at Bresser. He checks on the internet to see if the museum is open. Only as he gets closer, walking past a homeless shelter, the whiff of urine on tarmac rising up to meet him, he says to an imaginary friend I wouldn´t be remotely surprised if this place was bloody closed too. When he gets there a security guard tells him that the Memorial is closed for a year for refurbishment. Mr X feels very sad. A couple of homeless men sympathise. Pisser, says one. Yeah, says the other, I hate it when you trek half way across the city to see an exhibition and it´s closed.

That night Mr X takes his leave of São Paulo, perhaps never to return. It isn´t that he didn´t like the place – quite the opposite. He loved it and could quite imagine himself living there one day. But for a holiday, at New Year’s, without a Mrs X to console him, in the rain...ninguem merece.

* A quote from the rarely mentioned Your Life Is An Impossibility Sr, this, who confused a young Your Life Is An Impossibility no end by driving around Belfast´s well heeled Malone Road district every now and again while shaking his head and saying just shows you how the other half live, and then repeating the trick while driving around the tough as your boots Lower Shankill, leaving young YLIAI in some doubt as to which half he belonged. A doubt that remains to this day, funnily enough, and that has not been soothed any by immersion into the maelstrom of Brazilian social class structure.

** Actually I don´t know how it works exactly, but it must be something like this.

*** He shouldn´t have felt sorry for himself at all - Galeria Dos Paes is the best bakery in the world and it´s open 24 hours, which is a truly marvellous thing, especially when you consider that the only things in Recife that are open 24 hours are the crack houses. Mr X thinks it would be nice to be a Paulista and live in Jardins and chomp on bagels at Galeria Dos Paes every day and buy his y-fronts at Ralph Lauren, until he remembers that the problem with such fantasies is that they are dependent on the tricky to manage pre-requisite of becoming really rich without having to do any work.

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