Those wishing to understand the soul of the urban monster that is Recife waste their time reading Gilberto Freyre, seeking out cordel or trailing Mestre Brasão round Olinda’s cobbled streets.
Really the heart of any city is to be found in its witless FM radio stations, pouring out dreadful US imported pop and even more dreadful Brazilian Blink 182 cover bands. The banal yelpings of the presenters are perfectly in tune with Recife’s white middle-class youth, and as Wacko taught us the children are our future, and Brazil is turning middle-class, and so on, and so on.
The problem is that more than 10 seconds of the stuff makes your brains bleed out of your ears, and so an alternative guide is required. And where better to look than the local rag?
Newspapers reflect the identity of a city as well as anything else. Manchester’s Manchester Evening News used to be a proud, gritty journal, matching its proud, gritty home. Now it’s a vapid plate glass and aluminium Danish theme bar of a newspaper, matching the identikit Ikea urban renovation of the city. London’s Evening Standard is as infuriatingly conceited as the place itself, or at least it was before it transformed into a throwaway freesheet.
It’s the same in Brazil. São Paulo has its weighty and serious-minded Folha De São Paulo, BH its slightly less weighty and slightly less serious-minded Estado De Minas. João Pessoa is served by its appropriately mind-crushingly provincial Jornal Da Paraiba.
Recife is not much better off. Both the Jornal Do Commercio and the Diario De Pernambuco are dispiriting affairs, concentrating only on the very worst things in recifense life – people getting killed (more correctly the middle-classes getting killed, unless a poor person gets killed in a particularly salacious way, or a lot of poor people get killed at the same time), roads flooding, workers going on strike, the failings of various public service sectors, political graft. And football, of course. There are also supplements of biblical proportions dedicated to the buying and selling of cars or apartments.
They are kept company by scurrilous scandal sheets Aqui and Folha De Pernambuco, which dispense with all of the above except for people getting killed (the category is broadened to include the poor) and football. In compensation pictures of semi-naked women and soap opera gossip are included, not to mention some of the most graphic photographs of the bodies of the recently murdered you´re likely to see this side of http://www.snuffmoviesareace.com/.
Still perservere we must. Our research will include a quick scan of the front pages of JC and the Diario over the last few weeks to see if Recife’s pulse can be accurately taken.
A lot depends on what day you buy your jornal. On Monday or Thursday half of the front page will usually be dominated by the previous day’s football – The Sky is Tricolor! shrilled a recent headline after Santa Cruz had beaten Recife’s Unmentionables, Sport.
On this day it’s business as usual. A couple of shootouts in a couple of bars, the kidnapping of a business man in Muribeca that ends up with two kidnappers dead. A bus runs into a lorry out on the highway near Caruaru – three dead. There can seldom have been a country where so many people find so many different ways to die.
Any positive article will automatically be tinged with salt. A park opens up in Boa Viagem, named after Dona Lindu, Lula’s mum. No matter that it’s 917 days late, or that it’s another concrete monstrosity from the deadening hand of Oscar Niemeyer. A park’s a park, surely. Not in Recife – the newspaper runs a story revealing how you can’t buy any water inside the park but have to go outside (a walk of about 50 metres) to get some. It’s all que absurdo, screeches the war cry of Recife’s professional moaners (or in other words, almost everybody).
Recife’s papers also love stories about fear and terror amongst the general public. A few months back a wonky plug caused half of the nordeste to lose power for the night. Once again all of us are hostages to darkness, klaxoned the Diario, a night of darkness, isolation, panic and violence. Lazy jokers might argue that this pretty well describes every night in Recife, but there’s a serious side. Jittery media hysteria drives the upper middle classes further into their warrens and leaves the streets to the spooks, the ghouls, the spectres...and everyone else who’s none of those things.
Still, the papers can sometimes get it right, and last Friday the Diario De Pernambuco wrote something that, for once, touched the heart. Fourteen dead, ran the headline, and one hundred and ninety million wounded.