Saturday, 23 July 2011

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as Ana Maria Braga once said. Really Your Life Is An Impossibility has never been one for revenge, because to seek it you presumably need to suffer in some way to begin with, and YLIAI, charmed life that he has led, doesn’t feel that he has suffered all that much.

Though it appears, given the events of the Sunday just past, that YLIAI has done a terrible wrong to someone, somewhere. He wracks his brains trying to think who it might have been. A baby kitten? Eamonn Holmes? Parsons? Then he remembers. Feels vaguely guilty. Remembers why he did it in the first place. Stops feeling guilty. The victim? The capital of Paraíba, geographical if not spiritual neighbour of Pernambuco, João Pessoa. The crime? Saying bad things about the capital of Paraíba, over a four year period.

As regular readers might know, YLIAI spent a miserable year living in João Pessoa, or Jampa as the locals, presumably ironically aping São Paulo’s Sampa moniker, like to call the place. During this year he had no friends, no girlfriends (Ex or otherwise), no dog, no luck, no love. He found João Pessoa, pretty as it is, to be a desolate, godless place, filled with a particularly well heeled, smug stripe of gringo, contentedly sliding into unthinking senility by the beach at Cabo Branco alongside the slack-jawed locals, who in their turn stubbornly refuse to accept even a little of the dramatic progress the rest of the nordeste is making.

It is the kind of place where people stare, open-mouthed and pointing, at the sky when a plane passes over, no doubt thinking the great metal bird has returned to punish us. It has no football, no carnaval, no teeming downtown boozers, no manic energy, no hustle, no bustle, no buzz. Two of the city’s newspapers don’t come out on Mondays. Nobody seems to know why this might be. It has only a fraction of Recife’s vibrancy. In fact it has only a fraction of Campina Grande’s, or Caruaru’s vibrancy, and it’s three or four times bigger than either of those places.  It doesn’t even have much urban ultra-violence for God’s sake, which makes it a piss poor example of a Brazilian city, in YLIAI’s opinion.

But João Pessoa has had the last laugh, as things turn out, and YLIAI supposes that this at least deserves a doffing of the cap. He should have known – the rain is biblical in the days leading up to Sunday’s trip. The rumours (which turn out to be wrong, but only slightly) are that a bridge has been swept away near Goiana, closing the BR. But in the end the journey there, and the occasion itself (Santa Cruz vs Alecrim in Serie D of the Campeonato Brasileiro, of which more here) pass smoothly enough. It is on the way home that things get interesting.

A few miles out of João Pessoa the traffic grinds to a halt. YLIAI immediately gets a mild bout of the willies and feels that this will be a bad one – up ahead there is nothing but an endless ribbon of red, blinking brake lights stretching into the darkness. And a bad one it is – two hours later the van pulls into darkened gas station, having moved all of 2km. The gas station has closed, though, for fear (unjustifiably) of being ransacked by marauding Inferno Coral gangs. This overlooks the fact that the marauding Inferno Coral gangs probably just want to get home like everyone else.

Back on the road progress continues to be measured by the inch rather than the mile. Car engines are switched off and passengers stretch their legs along the hard shoulder. One car rolls past pouring out gruesome funk. Four teenage boys sit on the roof, their legs dangling. Every so often another group of teenage boys wander past, their eyes roving, possibly – possibly – on the lookout for easy to swipe treasures – a wallet left on a dashboard by an open window, a cell phone loosely clasped to an ear. In YLIAI’s van middle class Brazilian panic is in full swing – que cara do ladrão! Feche as janelas!  and so on. In truth the boys soon wander back to their car, pockets far from bulging. It seems they were just visiting their equally face of a thief pals in another bus. Off the road the darkness is immense, immeasurable.

It is about half past ten by the time the van gets to the front of the queue, only to be told by the nice policeman that the BR, and the city of Goiana, are under a metre or two of water. There are two choices – go via Pedras De Fogo, where the road is terrible and is also flooded, and where vans can’t pass anyway, or via Campina Grande, Caruaru, and finally Recife, a detour of about 400kms. YLIAI feels very sad indeed, and is sure he can hear, way back in the distance, a city quietly snickering.

The dubious decision is made to return to João Pessoa, have something to eat, and wait it out, though no-one knows what it might be. Maybe the water level will magically go down in the space of half an hour, maybe the van will sprout wings, maybe Jampa will develop a strong sense of its own identity and a lively cultural scene. The rest of the van head off to Bob’s Burgers. YLIAI settles for a tapioca, a beer and a reviving whiskey. At about midnight the van leaves to try again. Fearing the possibility of ten hours in a cramped minibus, YLIAI elects to stay in João Pessoa and catch a normal bus back the next day.

Only – and here Jampa really has its fun – of the 16,000 tricolores who came here for the game it appears that at least 15,980 have been marooned in this Village Of The Damned and there are no hotel rooms. Anywhere. YLIAI wanders the streets for over an hour, knocking at the door of at least six hotels around Tambaú, only to be told each time, with a slightly smug shake of the head, that there’s no room at the inn, porra. YLIAI thinks he might cry, and one point starts to consider the possibility that he may very well have to spend the night on a park bench, in the rain, in João Pessoa (though he knows he probably won’t – even without hotels there are still a boatload of sex motels out on the BR that’ll rent him a room by the hour, and might even throw in a bit of female companionship at the same time, should YLIAI desire it).

Eventually inspiration strikes. YLIAI is, to his chagrin, an old João Pessoa stager, probably unlike the majority of his tricolor companheiros. Most of them will have headed straight to the better known hotels at the beach. Fewer will have ventured downtown.  YLIAI jumps into a cab and heads for the really rather beautiful Lagoã, where in a grotty side street he nabs The Last Hotel Room in João Pessoa.

And that is basically it, except that the next day there are no buses until 14.00, and when YLIAI gets to the ticket window he is told that the last ticket has just been sold to the person in front of him. So YLIAI gets the 16.30, and gets home, finally, at about 20.00, having taken around twenty six hours to complete what is normally a two hour journey. And on the bus, drooping gently into sleep, he can hear The Village Of The Damned snickering all the way.         

Friday, 8 July 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is drawn to Jordão Baixo like Sherlock Holmes is drawn to opium dens. There is something about the place – the quiet maybe, or the vaguely rural air of the place, or the down at heel simplicity. Because after all Jordão Baixo offers all that the serious drinker requires – a (reasonably) sturdy table, a chair with four legs (sometimes), a glass and a bottle, and, most importantly, the knowledge that one won’t be disturbed by such leprous intrusions as big screen TVs, musica ao vivo, leggy blondes, pushy waiters, pushy blondes, leggy waiters.

Maybe it´s because YLIAIs drinking partner in Jordão Baixo is The Big Black, and you would have to go from here to Santarém to find a finer man. After a week happily spent in the centro-oeste, all blue skies and crisp winter sunshine, and the kind of refreshing ethnic diversity (a bar that´s also a Lebanese delicatessen!) that Recife, redoubtable bastion of all things nordestino that it is, sadly lacks, YLIAI is less than happy to be turfed off the plane and into the sweltering recifense drizzle.

Particularly as his new home, playing the happy couple with The Pampas Goat, is a dingy apartment building in the middle of one of Recife’s grimmer mini-favelas, hard by the canal in, officially, As Republicas Independentes De Boa Viagem. YLIAI never imagined that he´d be disappointed not to be nearer to the heart of As Republicas, but now he is, which just goes to show something or other.

And a brief aside – whatever happened to the favelas of YLIAI’s memory, filled with happy smiling children and toothsome females wearing the kind of tiny shorts and skirts so beloved of The Ex-Girlfriend? YLIAI doesn’t know, but suspects it might all have been a trick of the easily enraptured gringo mind. That, or the happy smiling children and the toothsome females, are just plain better looking in Belo Horizonte than they are in Recife.

The Pampas Goat is a fine fellow indeed, though not without his defects. One of these is that he has a healthily Latin disregard for fussy official red tape like drink driving laws, which can be a problem when he´s driving YLIAI’s Ferrari. Another is that he´s about as reliable as  a r$10 watch bought from a man with dirty fingernails in rock ‘em and sock ‘em downtown Recife.

What happens is that the keys to the flat that The Pampas Goat has given to YLIAI don´t work. YLIAI calls The Pampas Goat. The Pampas Goat is at a party in Aldéia, a distant suburb of Recife. The Pampas Goat tells YLIAI that he’ll be home soon, slurring his words only a little. YLIAI expresses some doubt as to the veracity of this claim.

A few hours later the rain has gotten heavier and there is no sign of The Pampas Goat. YLIAI, growing weary of standing under a tree outside the dingy apartment building, decides to call The Big Black. Let´s have a drink, he says, when The Big Black answers (The Big Black always answers). Ok, says The Big Black, I´ll come and pick you up. Turn right just after the canal, says YLIAI, and I’m at the end of the street, in front of a car wash.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls. I can´t find you, he says. I went down the street on the left after the canal and there was no car wash. The street on the right, says YLIAI. Oh, says The Big Black. Ok. I´ll be there in five minutes.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls again. Nope, he says. I went to the end of the street and there was no car wash. No-one I asked has even heard of this car wash. That’s impossible, says YLIAI. Did you take the first street on the right? Yes, says The Big Black, though it might have been the second. I´ll try again.

Half an hour later The Big Black calls again. Nope, he says, no car wash. I'll never find you. I´m going home. YLIAI asks The Big Black where he is, and then walks a few hundred metres in the pouring rain to find him. They drive through rain that makes the storm in Seven look like a light summer shower, to Jordão, taking the back way in because the main road is flooded. The back way in involves crawling through tiny, twisting alleys where cars have fallen into potholes and the roofs, and sometimes the walls, of the tiny shacks have tumbled into the street, and everything is covered in filthy black mud. Imagining what it must be like to live in such a place, YLIAI resolves to never, ever, complain about anything again.

The Big Black takes YLIAI to his house, where The Big Black’s aged mother gives them both soup. A conversation starts up about being black, though YLIAI doesn’t know why. My mother was white, says The Big Black’s aged mother, who is blacker than The Big Black. YLIAI raises an eyebrow. My husband was black, she continues, and he didn’t amount to much. I wouldn’t marry a black man again. The Big Black’s aged mother is approximately 105. His girlfriend is blacker than you, says The Big Black to his aged mother. He is talking of course of Saci-Perere of the Centro-Oeste, who, as well as being the most beautiful woman this side of Beyonce’s left buttock, is indeed black. She never is, says The Big Black’s aged mother, I don’t believe it. Come on, The Big Black says to YLIAI, let’s go to the pub.

It has stopped raining and the crickets are chirping, and the sound of water being sloshed out of houses, and of water dripping from gutters and roofs, is everywhere. The Big Black and YLIAI go to a bar, and drink and talk about things. The talk is generally on the gloomy side. At about nine o´clock The Pampas Goat calls. I´ll be home in about an hour, he says, the car has two flat tyres. YLIAI tells The Pampas Goat not to worry about it, and also not to drive home, given that most of Recife is underwater, and  that The Pampas Goat sounds either very drunk or heavily sedated.

Then YLIAI and The Big Black go to another bar. At one of the tables are two men and a woman wearing Sport shirts. They are friends of The Big Black. Hello, says The Big Black. Hello Big Black, say the men and the woman. Are shit t-shirts on sale at Lojas Americanas today, asks YLIAI, which makes everyone laugh. They are clearly a generous audience, thinks YLIAI.

Everyone sits and talks and drinks. You speak Portuguese very well, lies the woman.  I don’t really, says YLIAI, and I can’t write it at all. Bet you can write it better than me, says the woman, I’m illiterate. No you’re not, says YLIAI. Am too, says the woman, proudly.

YLIAI doesn’t know what to say. He has never met anyone who has professed to being illiterate before. He opts for constructive. There are lots of courses where you can learn to read and write, these days, he says. Ah, says the woman, making a disdainful gesture with her hand. I don’t need to read or write on the market stall, and anyway I probably wouldn’t be able to understand the course anyway. Of course you would, says YLIAI. Nah, says the woman, I´m pretty stupid, though she doesn’t seem to be. The Lord gave me what he gave me, she says, and he didn’t give me the ability to read or write, so what am I going to do? That’s the way he wants it, so that’s the way it’ll be.

She nods her head a few times, as though agreeing with what she has just said, and smiles at YLIAI. There is a hint of triumph in her smile, as though she is pleased with her argument. Then it is time to go home.

In the taxi on the way home, as the rain falls and the holes in the roads grow bigger and more numerous, and the end of the world descends upon Recife, YLIAI thinks about the woman and her faultless logic. He decides he may apply it to the meanderings of his own life. Author of pointless blog scribblings instead of famed writer of classic novels, standing astride the world of letters like a titan?

The Lord gives you what he gives you, so what are you going to do?

Not for the first time, YLIAI decides he feels like a drink. And when he gets home, he finds The Pampas Goat safely tucked up in bed, snoring the snores of a very drunk man. The Ferrari, tyres and everything else intact, sits snugly in its bay under the dingy apartment building. YLIAI feels at peace with the world, and all its mysterious rhythms.