Friday, 29 April 2011

Japan and Haiti have their earthquakes, Thailand its tsunamis, New Orleans and other sweaty southern parts of os estados unidos their hurricanes and floods. No such wreckage in the balmy tropics of the nordeste, you might think, only you´d be wrong.

In place of proper natural disasters Recife, and plenty of other parts of Brazil, have their rain. Deadly, apocalyptic rain. When it rains in Recife, as its doing now and will do for the next three months or so, it really rains. And this is from someone who comes from the world capital of rain, Norn Iron.

But Belfast’s endless dreary drizzle doesn’t have much in common with rain in Recife. When it rains in Recife it rains for five, or six days without stopping. And it rains hard. If it starts to rain at 11 o´clock in the morning, a thick grey thunderous curtain, it will rain all day and far into the night.

Worse, Recife is built to withstand rain like houses of straw were designed to withstand big-lunged wolves. Within half an hour or so most of the main thoroughfares in the city are flooded to knee height, due to a combination of blocked drains (a result of prehistoric engineering practices and the recifenses favourite sport of throwing litter in the street) and the city’s altitude (or lack of), crouched as it is a few metres below sea-level.

Unfortunate pedestrians gather on street corners, peering doubtfully across the watery expanse. Just how deep is it? Are there rats under there? How many infectious diseases will I catch if I risk it? The social heirarchy is reversed. In the watery kingdom the man in cheap plastic sandals is king, while those in shopping mall bought leather moccasins are marooned.

Mammoth queues form at bus stops as the hardy wait for buses that are stuck in monstrous traffic jams several miles away. Everything grinds to a halt – stories of journeys that normally take 30 minutes turning into Odyssyean quests of five or six hours are common.

Never the most stalwart of characters, the locals soon switch into panic mode. Someone calls the radio station to report that gangsters are taking advantage of so many trapped cars and robbing drivers at gunpoint, and 200,000 motorists cower behind their steering wheels. No matter that it was probably an opportunist kid with a water pistol, miles from here.

Traffic lights fail, there are energy blackouts, houses flood, horses eat themselves. Recife goes into meltdown. Though creativity and the entrepeneurial are never far away – on Avenida Recife the locals remove the concrete blocks that separate the two traffic lanes, allowing desperate drivers to perform U-turns and head for home. Though there’s no such thing as a free U-turn in Recife – if you want to get through you´ll have to pay, R$5 for Brazilian made cars, R$10 for imports.

Not funny at all is life in the periferia when the rains hit. Recife is not overly blessed with vertiginous favelas but there are plenty of ramshackle houses perched on towering cliff tops, particularly out towards Jordão and Muribeca, and the Altos of Pascoal, José Bonifaço, José Do Pinho, and the Morro da Conceição.  After enough water has poured from the sky the earth starts to move, and mudslides and tumbling masonry and roof tiles kill dozens every year.

None of this jars well, of course, with the gringo stereotype of endless beaches and blazing sun. Interestingly enough, Recife has around 2,000mm of rainfall every year, while in the godforsaken uplands of County Tyrone the total averages out at around 1950mm a year.  So it’s official – it rains as much, if not more, in Recife as it does in Norn Iron!

Only it doesn’t really. Because it only rains, as thick and heavy as treacle, for three months at best in Recife, whereas in the Killeter Forest it rains every single day, for ever and ever. Which makes things worse for Recife – all that rain in three months is hard to stomach. During the first 21 days of April, for example, it rained 503mm, and it felt like truly the end of days had arrived.

Though maybe it’s a good thing. Pernambucanos are a blasé lot when it comes to the weather. When it doesn’t rain, which is nine months of the year, the skies are a towering, endless blue, the sun a blazing gold, and the temperature never drops below 30c, not even at night. Worthy of comment, you might think, at least to the chilly northern European. What a beautiful day, YLIAI has ventured, every now and again. Mmnnyeh, is the usual disinterested response,  which roughly translated means, is it? I hadn’t really noticed. Isn’t this what every day is like? Don’t you have weather like this where you come from?

No ,I bloody don’t, you complacent oaf, YLIAI thinks about saying. And the influence of all this good weather cannot be understated. You’re all so cold and unfriendly, runs the argument, you should be like us, more relaxed and easy-going, more friendly. To which YLIAI wants to respond, you´re only so bloody friendly and relaxed and easy-going because it’s sunny! Try living in the chilly grey murk for a year or ten, and then see how cheerful and fun-loving you turn out to be!

So when there is proper weather, the kind of weather that tears the roofs off houses and throws trees around as though they were matchsticks, YLIAI thinks happily of Flaubert, and his mutterings after a hail storm wrecked an outdoor party. Gustavinho, the eternal cynic, declared himself pleased. The sun isn’t just there to help the cabbages along, goes the gag.

So to finish- sun and blue skies encourage nothing more than flopping on the beach and sucking down Skol. Keening winds and steely blue temperatures stimulate the writing of Russian style novels. Or in other words, good weather bad, bad weather good.

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