Sunday, 20 March 2011

Scorching heat pours incandescent from the March skies, the furies are abroad in Recife, and Brasil and the nordeste seems a long way from the shiny happy people fantasies of lore. Is it (and this has been asked before) simple jaundice? 


Four years is the longest Your Life Is An Impossibility has ever held down a job, back in the days of the Middle Sized London Record Company, and four years is fast approaching at the Palace of Swords Reversed Medium Sized Language School. Four years in Recife also looms large in the rear view mirror, and four years is a long time to live in Tombstone City (Rio Doce replacing the OK Corral). But boredom cannot be blamed for everything.

There is no doubt that Recife is a fearsome place and it seems to be getting fearsomer.  Que povo bravo, observes Saci-Pererê of the Centro-Oeste, here on a carnaval visit. And worse still is that Your Life Is An Impossibility is getting bravo-er himself. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft, says Mary Schmich (and later Baz Luhrmann, which proves that it’s only the very worst songs that stick in your head).

To which Your Life Is An Impossibility would add live in Recife once, but leave before it makes you too bravo. Chagrin oozes from the gutters, pique seethes between the bumpers, umbrage hovers like a vulture on every street corner. Raiva wafts in the air alongside the pungent whiff of the drains and the sweet fragrance of the bougainvillea blossoms.

There’s traffic raiva, of course. Slowly creeping across a junction where he has right of way, YLIAI is surprised to see a glistening, behemoth 4x4 roaring towards him. YLIAI brakes and waves a warning arm in the direction of the 4x4. The driver of the 4x4, who has two small children perched on the passenger seat beside him, twists his face into a mask of fury and extends two stiff little middle fingers. YLIAI expresses surprise. The driver of the 4x4 makes to descend from his chariot. Startled and confused, YLIAI drives off.

There’s getting a taxi to go to the game raiva. Taxi to Arruda, says YLIAI, standing with The Louth Media Mafia, The Pampas Goat, and The Accidental Tourist at a taxi rank in downtown Recife. It´s the day of the Huns vs the Visigoths, or the Santa Cruz vs Sport Recife classico. Are you crazy, says the taxi driver, I’m not going up there, not today. What, exclaims YLIAI, you’re a taxi aren’t you, what’s the problem? It’s your problem, mate, not mine, go and get another taxi. YLIAI gets angry at this dereliction of duty. Go and f*** your mother, he shouts, or words to that effect. What did you say? What did you say? Piece of shit! screams taxi driver. Chests are (almost) pushed against other chests, foreheads (almost) bumped against other foreheads, handbags (almost) swung in anger, until YLIAI and company find another taxi.   

There’s showing your age raiva. In Recife Antigo, before the bacchanal of carnaval gets under way, YLIAI and the Louth Media Mafia (I and II) and the Jam Tart go a-drinking. A group of young people are cavorting (meaning drinking cachaça from the bottle and sniffing poppers from a Coke can, something YLIAI would never, ever do) nearby. An inebriated young EMO-er slams accidentally into YLIAI. Apologies are offered and accepted. A few minutes later the same young EMO-er again slams accidentally into YLIAI. Apologies are once more offered and accepted, albeit slightly more reluctantly. When it happens a third time, the red mist descends and YLIAI picks up the young EMO-er and throws him into the gutter.

There’s walking along the pavement in Olinda raiva. Heading for a romantic dinner at the Oficina Do Sabor with Saci-Pererê of the Centro-Oeste, YLIAI finds himself in the middle of a post carnaval frenzy. Bloco follows bloco, even though it´s the Saturday after carnaval. Bah humbug, cries YLIAI, don’t these people have work to do? Isn’t two months of pre-carnaval and a week of carnaval enough?  Trapped in a narrow street, YLIAI and SP head onto the pavement, which is blocked by A Strapping Lass sitting on a stool. YLIAI requests permission to pass. Twice. Permission is silently refused. The red mist descends again. Inspired by recent events in the Arab world, YLIAI decides to overthrow the dictator. Tapping strapping lass on the knee he pushes past, dragging SP with him. What the hell’s the matter with you, roars A Strapping Lass, running after YLIAI and SP, meaty fists aloft. Soon she is joined by A Strapping Lad, shouting do you fackin’ want some, do you fackin’ want some. Clearly A Strapping Lad has spent some time on the mean streets of Bromley and Croydon. Thankfully Strapping Lad and Lass are soon trapped amongst the revellers, and YLIAI and SP can make their escape.    

And there is buying something raiva, or ordering a meal raiva, or having any dealings with any type of customer service at all raiva. YLIAI and SP order Sunday lunch at a downtown restaurant. YLIAI and SP ask for the chicken. Excellent choice, says the waiter, won’t be long. Half an hour later the waiter comes back. Sorry, no chicken, is the belated news from the kitchen frontlines. At a street corner kiosk, YLIAI tries to buy some chewing gum for r$1. He has 95c in change and a r$2 note. No-one ever has any change in Recife, so he offers the 95c, hoping to be helpful. His kind offer is refused. No problem, thinks YLIAI, and proffers his r$2 note. Sorry, no change, says the man in the street corner kiosk. YLIAI feels very crossness whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Then there is former lover raiva, about which the less said the better. Why don’t you get the hell out of Recife, YLIAI is told, this isn’t the place for you. YLIAI feels sad that it has come to this, though is starting to think the sender is perhaps right.

Here there is darkness on the edge of town and in the middle of town and in the suburbs and along the beach. YLIAI thinks he needs a new strategy. From the long ago past in Olinda comes a distant memory. A small Chinese woman. Pensioners stretched in obscene positions on blue rubber mats. A sunlit room. The smell of incense. Nonsensical chanting – onimashibaya onimashibaya (at least that’s what it sounded like) ommmmm ommmmm ommmmm. Could it be that yoga is the only way to survive life in Recife?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


There follows the third and final part of the short story 'Ocean', described by the always excellent Pernambuco Gypsy as 'saucy and well written'. Parts I and II can be found below.

Here the garden is thick and a heavy striped green and the dark leaves push noisily up against my window. It is where I came after things ended with my husband. Here is by the ocean. There was not by the ocean. After my husband, it seemed important to go from somewhere that was not by the ocean to somewhere that was by the ocean.

But being by the ocean here is not really like being by the ocean. Here the ocean is like water in a warm grey swimming pool lapping desultorily against the shore.

It is not bracing.

Bracing is what I had in mind.

Our Portuguese was coming on like gangbusters, as they say. Sometimes now I did not go to self-service restaurants but to real restaurants, and I asked for the cardapio and then I ordered picanha with arroz and feijao.

Dark lights lit the night, the streets, when we went out. Now we did not go just out, but we went out. Would you like to go for a meal, my husband would say, or, let’s go dancing on Friday, and we would go to forro clubs and watch Brazilians dancing while we shimmered palely with our drinks in the corner.

Sometimes we would not come home until five am when the sun rose and spread pink warm light along the tops of the mountains.

We tried to speak Portuguese together. At first it was like walking through long tangled grass. But then it got better. Once, we even had an argument in Portuguese.

Do you think she is beautiful, I said. We were sitting in a bar. The beer we had drunk we marked by the thick brown bottles at our feet. Of course he thought she was beautiful. I thought she was beautiful, the lustrous shank of her hair, the gleam of her midriff, the cling of her jeans.

Not very, he said. His eyes followed her thirstily as she swung through the crowd and disappeared.

Liar, I said.

Shut up, he said. Not everyone is the same as you, he said.

Fuck you, I said, and I tipped my glass over so that the beer ran across the table and fell in small waterfalls onto his lap.

Though as I walked home I thought it would be a good inscription for my headstone.

Not everyone is the same as you.

Who, really, is the same as anyone?

All of this, remember, in Portuguese.

When he came home my husband looked for me and found me. I was in bed pretending to sleep.

He rolled me over.

Sorry, he said.

I’m sorry too, I said, feeling I should.

He kissed me, and then he took off my t-shirt and my shorts and we made love.

As we made love my husband used a lot of Portuguese sex words, many of which I did not understand.

This time, I more than just liked it.

I almost really liked it. I liked it more, I think, because of the Portuguese sex words, and because I was a little drunk, and being a little drunk made my husband’s hands softer and my skin warmer and the room smaller.

Afterwards, I wondered where he learnt the Portuguese sex words.

I ask my friend Marcia what she thought. Marcia is French and therefore understands such matters.

Maybe he learnt them from his friends at work, she says.

Maybe he learnt them from a book or a movie, she says.

Maybe, oh, I don’t know, she says.

Later I found out, of course, that he had learnt the Portuguese sex words from the Brazilian girl he was fucking.

You were wrong, I told Marcia.

At first I was not angry.

My first thought was, you scored, husband, you scored, one-one!

But then I was angry.

You can’t be angry, he said. You did it too.

This made me more angry. If this was a movie, I said, and the actor said what you just said, you would walk out of the cinema in disgust.

It isn’t like stealing from the biscuit jar, I said. Even I did not know what I meant by this.

Can’t you forgive me, he said, like I forgave you?

Do you know what the funny thing is, I said.

What, he said.

The funny thing is, I said, no, I can’t.

In the kitchen I hear Paolo Two talking to Maria. Maria is the woman who cleans and cooks breakfast. Maria lives a long way from here and gets up at five am in order to get here at six am and cook breakfast. Maria has been married to her husband for longer than I have been alive. If you think of each month I was married to my husband as being one year, like dog years except twelve over one not seven over one, Maria has still been married to her husband for more years than I was married to my husband.

The smell of breakfast creeps in through the crack beneath my door, fresh rolls and coffee and eggs and sausages. Paolo Two and Maria talk for a long time. Here, people like to talk.

Sometimes they talk for hours. When I listen to them talking I try and understand but I feel like a mountaineer clinging to a ledge, and I know I can hang on for the first few minutes, but after that my grip will begin to weaken and I will feel myself slipping, falling into the chasm of not-understanding-anything.

I hear Paolo Two’s other girlfriend come downstairs. The sunlight through the tangle of green is silver and weak. A cock crows in the garden next door, strangled and throaty. It crows over and over. I had thought cocks just crowed once, and then went back to whatever else it is cocks do.

But it seems as though I was wrong about this too.

I hear Paolo Two talking to his girlfriend. I have decided I will call her the girlfriend from now on, not the other girlfriend, for I am not really his other girlfriend, and if I am not his other girlfriend, then she is not his other girlfriend either.

I am not really anything.

Still, as I lie in bed I wonder if Paolo Two is looking at my door, thinking about me, as he talks to his girlfriend.

They are laughing about something.

It starts to rain, hissing tropical through the leaves and into the swimming pool, chopping up the water. The sky turns black.

I know they will exclaim and comment on the rain, and they do. Why, wherever you are, do people always comment on rain?

I hear the girlfriend leave for work. I hear them kiss.

Eu te amo, she says.

Te amo tambem, he says.

Ha, I think.

I jump out of bed and open my door. I am wearing a small t-shirt and underwear. I stretch drowsily, lift my arms above my head. Paolo watches me. I know it. I close one eye, lazy as a cat, and say, morning.

I do not mind that Paolo sneaks into the girlfriend’s room. After all the girlfriend was here before me.

For I am unbetrayable, alone, above.

I am beyond.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Five long years living under in Brazil under liquor’s sweet balm makes for some rude awakenings when it’s finally time to (almost) sober up, particularly when the Brazil in question is not quite a Swiss finishing school for polite young ladies, or in other words, is the decidedly rough round the edges nordeste.

There may be other factors at play of course – five years is enough time for the novelty of living somewhere else to wear off, and even the previously life-saving mantra I am living perched on the north eastern shoulder of South America doesn’t cut the molho de pimenta much any longer. All the responsibilities previously shucked have returned in spades – the toad work, overdrafts, supermarket queues. Life, in other words, is back with a vengeance.

But in the main it’s the sauce, or the lack of the sauce, that done it. Like the reformed smoker the reformed semi-professional boozer soon finds himself seeing evil in the demon drink. Tut tut, thinks Your Life Is An Impossibility as he walks the dog at six o´clock on a Saturday morning and passes the sweaty cheeked all night drinkers howling at the sun in front of Zita’s. For shame, he moans while observing via the miracle of television the lasciviousness of 800,000 lager lager lager shouting hairy-chested Brazilian males dressed as babies and prostitutes at the Virgems De Olinda parade. Christ on a bike, he exclaims as he comes to realise that booze flows like rivers around Recife, and in fact is pretty much the lifeblood of the city, because everyone seems to be at it, all the time.

And it’s not just the poison nectar. This is not a place for the effete of heart. Brutality abounds - in language, for there is no poetry in hearing oxe minha gente repeated three thousand times a day, nor seeing the constant and erroneous appropriation of English words into what was and should still be a proud Portuguese language (a Boa Vista hairdresser offers, alongside the local stylistic choices, the intriguing option of getting yourself some Mega Hair). And on the roads - driving makes YLIAI want to kill himself or if not himself then most of his fellow motorists, as indicating, or being overtaken, is seen as an affront to nordestino masculinity. Music too in these parts, at least the music that bursts from shop doorways and restuarants and car stereos, is an aural hate crime as bad as anything perpetrated by Adolf and Joe, and being attended to in shops or restaurants might make one pine for the death camps. Queue jumping, elbow barging, and general slack-jawed thinking along the lines of what, there are other people in the world besides me? sap the spirit and poke needles at the heart. Carnaval is approaching, and the debauchery and the excess and the crowds and the piss stained streets and the heat and the torrents of Skol and Pitú will reach tsunami levels.

But then YLIAI remembers that probably, really, none of this matters. Meaty-headedness and inelegance is to be found everywhere, not just in Recife, and the only way to avoid it is to lock yourself away amongst gilded luxury, which is as poor a way of living your life as ever was invented.

And there is grace to be found here too, even during carnaval, amongst the giant beer stands and the smoke and bile belching trio eletricos, if you know where to look. YLIAI doesn’t, particularly, but he does remember a couple of years back sitting in the Largo Da Santa Cruz, not more than two hundred metres from where he writes now, and watching hundreds of five and six year old children from Coelhos and Coque dancing and skipping and jumping as part of a frevo competition, which poked needles at the heart too, except in a good way. Sitting in the square in the late afternoon as the sun dips down behind the church, perhaps even nursing a little drink, would seem as good a place as any to spend the day.

And this being the first day of the month it is time to turn the page on the Famous Irish Writers calendar, and Mr. March is Patrick Kavanagh, no mean drinker himself, and to whom in closing tribute will be paid: I inclined/ to lose my faith in Roda De Fogo and Bomba De Hemetério/Til Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind/He said: I made the Iliad from such/A local row./Gods make their own importance.

Which seems to sum it all up well enough.