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.