Friday, 12 August 2011


When living in a violent place, inevitably there comes a time when the shadowy threat of urban crime becomes thicker and the night grows ever darker. When that moment arrives the city landscape changes forever – gloomy corners become more threatening, sinister alleys yet murkier, posses of lumbering youth still more menacing.

Signs of violence are everywhere, in the shape of burnt out cars and glass from a hundred broken windows glittering on the pavement, and a thuggish, heavily-armed police presence ogling gangs of hulking teenagers on every street corner.

There is nothing else to do, then, except stir your courage to the sticking point, gird your loins, and head out into the streets. Face down your fears, my son, as William Bonner once said.

But that’s enough about London. YLIAI wishes he could stay in cosy, peaceful Recife until hell freezes over, or Santa Cruz win the Libertadores (the former being likely to come sooner) but, as previously mentioned, it’s time to put his pé no estribo*.

And so we are plunged once again into the netherworld of international travel.

First encounter is with the zapped silence of Lisbon airport, where some of this was written, and which reminds YLIAI once again that life outside Brazil is life lived with the mute button firmly pressed. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, of course, depends on your point of view.

An exciting moment comes when YLIAI hears last call for Angola Airlines flight 5463, and sees an advertisement for Banco Millennium in downtown Luanda, featuring the talents of Yola Semedo, who might be the Ivete Sangalo of Angola for all that anyone knows. That´s when it hits YLIAI that he is slap bang in the middle of the great Lusophone empire (or really conglomeration of a bunch of countries all of whom have not much in common except language). Still, it’s a rickety, if chummy enough axis, and so YLIAI doffs an imaginary cap to Angola, and Mozambique, and Cape Verde and all the rest.

All this though is nothing compared to what awaits YLIAI, ever the Claude Levi Strauss inspired social anthropologist, at Gate 41. There he will come across a tribe as complex and exotic as any lost children of the Amazon – the English.

It is the elders of the tribe he must confront first. Wiry, pasty folk these, though lightly toasted from days by the pool in an Algarve timeshare, or out on the links overlooking the white capped Atlantic. The language spoken is an odd, almost unintelligible variant of English, with a limited vocabulary, seemingly based around the repetition of several stock phrases, such as taking the M25 then the M4 traffic shouldn´t be too bad really this time of day and you wonder why they don’t just and can’t even get a nice cup of tea.

The younger members of the group are more fascinating still. Curiously, there appears to be very little maturation or intellectual development, particularly amongst the men of the tribe, for very long periods of time. As a result 40 year old tribesmen communicate and behave in a way that is almost identical to their 18 year old counterparts.  

Traditional tribal dress is sported constantly – a curious style wherein sexual identity is masked at all times, especially amongst females, seemingly to make the wearer as unattractive as possible to the opposite sex. Social class is similarly disguised by way of a clever trick where very expensive clothes are designed in such a way as to make the wearer resemble an impoverished, perhaps even homeless, humanities student. Plumage is another key part of the appearance of the tribe’s young – the menfolk are required by tribal custom to sport curious hair designs in the so-called boy band styling.

Finally, the day to day activities of the young of the group should be discussed. The idea of work exists here, though the word is understood differently than is common in other parts of the word, here referring exclusively to activities involving advertisement post production, assistant on Channel 4 reality TV show, web designer or new media project manager. Though despite never beginning before 11 o´clock in the morning, work is an important idea and must be talked about constantly. When not at work, the younger members of the group call work constantly, seemingly in order to feel involved with whatever activity is taking place at the office.    

YLIAI feels privileged to be able to spend time with this oddest of communities, though also bewildered – there can be no stranger tribe anywhere in all the dark corners of the world, he is sure.** 

Funnily enough, though not being born into the tribe, YLIAI spent several years living amongst them, way back in the distant past. And yet now it is a world that appears as distant and alien as any gang of green-skinned Martians.

This is because Brazil, and more specifically Recife, has so obliterated any sense of YLIAI’s previous lives, and has assumed such a strong identity in the mind, that it will, ever after, be the reference point by which everywhere else will be judged.

Prior to all this, YLIAI spent a week in the land of musica sertaneja and little cows doing just that – repeating over and over, much to the frustration of Saci Perere of the Centro-Oeste, that it’s not like that in Recife (perhaps referring to the cleanliness of a public toilet), or people wouldn’t do that in Recife (in connection with cars stopping at zebra crossings). 

And now comes the greatest test of YLIAI’s gringo stripes to date – if hurled into the silence and order and politeness of life in Europa, albeit the periferia of Europa (in other words, Norn Iron), which is after all his birthplace, will he still feel at home?

Or will he miss the sweltering crush of a summer afternoon stroll down Conde Da Boa Vista, and the din of the cars and the car stereos and the music pouring from the shops and the bars and the rumble of endless frenetic conversation? Will he pine for the sharp elbow to the kidney in the scrum to get on the bus, and the surliness of just about everybody working in the customer service industry, and the mournful tem troco não shrug of the shop assistant when trying to buy anything with a note higher than r$2?

In short, will he miss Recife? And for how long?

Yes, and forever, probably.   

* With thanks to the Poet of Arruda.

** It should be pointed out that as with many indigenous peoples The English are divided into various tribes, of which this, commonly identified as The Southerners, is only one. Other tribal groupings, such as The Northerners and The Brummies are a more recognisable, likeable crowd. 

1 comment:

EDUARDO FARIAS said...

unfortunatly I see my city in your words, I now its suitible in a lots of citys, great James we miss you!