Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is of the general opinion that the pleasanter the climate, the less productive the race, something that has been neither proved nor disproved during six years in Brazil. What is unquestionably true is that the baking swelter of the midwestern flatlands is not encouraging of great industry. At times, in fact, it is all this Oblomov of the centro-oeste can do to crawl out bed.

Not having very much to do, of course, breeds not doing very much. Oblomov rises early enough, mainly because he doesn`t have much choice, what with the traffic frantically racing by outside the window and the Lord Of The Flies style pre-class ritual beheadings going on in the public school next door.

Though rises is perhaps the wrong word. Oblomov, of course, has no job and no friends in the centro-oeste, and is, like our original Russian hero, entirely free to do as he pleases. So Oblomov of the centro-oeste wakes and stares at the ceiling for a time. His companions, Francis Begbie and Flap*, a Pekinese with severe learning difficulties, slumber on. Eventually Flap stirs and begins to snuffle at the door. Oblomov props himself up on his elbows for a while and surveys the room from this new, encouraging perspective. Then, however, he starts to feel drowsy again and lies back down.

Launch attempt number 2 at least sees Oblomov sitting up. He dangles his feet languorously over the side of the bed, feeling for his slippers (flip-flops, if truth be told). Said slippers are nowhere to be found. The exertion has made Oblomov perspire slightly. Another lie down may be in order.

Eventually, Oblomov rises, perhaps even semi-permanently, this time. He makes his way to the bathroom, feeling sluggish, and bathes, even more sluggishly. Afterwards he sits on the bed for another few minutes, thinking about what clothes he should wear (such intense mental activity can be taxing, and so occasionally an additional few minutes of rest will be required).

With enough concentration, breakfast can be stretched out to an hour or so. Breakfast is a very Oblomovian sort of meal, prolonging, and even avoiding, as it does that terrible moment when the day must truly begin. So Oblomov cuts no corners – coffee, juice, fruit, toast, honey, cheese and ham are all on the menu. Oblomov probably expends more energy preparing his breakfast than he does doing anything else.

After that, perhaps Oblomov will partake in a few desultory rounds of the block with Flap. It should be pointed out that Flap is not a bad dog by any means, and in fact the pooch`s complete lack of vitality or mental spark makes him just the kind of sluggish partner-in-crime that Oblomov requires.

Such tasks, all told, should bring us to almost midmorning. At which point arise the great questions of the day. What should Oblomov do? Should he read? Write? Seek gainful employment? He considers his options.

Reading is pleasant enough, but what good can a man get out of reading, at the end of the day? For the problem with reading is that there are always more books to be read. There is no end of sight. Reading one book means embarking on a task that will last a lifetime. Reading one book means there will forever be a book lurking somewhere, on a shelf or on a table, casting reproachful looks at Oblomov, making Oblomov feel guilty. All in all, in this smothering heat (midday is approaching and the centro-oeste is growing hotter still), reading feels far too much like hard work.  

Which makes writing even more of a chore. As the original Oblomov said - to think of being continually engaged in writing, in wasting one`s intellect upon trifles, in changing one`s opinions, in offering one`s brain and one`s imagination for sale, in doing violence to one`s own nature, in giving way to ebullitions of enthusiasm, and of being forced to go on writing, writing, like the wheel of a machine – writing tomorrow, writing the day after! Just reading such a paragraph has exhausted our Oblomov. Imagine, then, what it would be like to write such a beast!

A nap before lunch then, seems like the safest option. But going back to bed at 11am is surely wrong, even for Oblomov, so he instead decamps to the sofa. In a few minutes Francis Begbie will rise. Perhaps she will bring Oblomov a drink or a snack. Perhaps she will amuse Oblomov with some of her observations on life, such as, What`s the point of making the bed? You`re only going to get back into it later on (in its own way expressing a very Oblomovian sentiment), or, He`s from somewhere in Africa, I think, Jamaica, or somewhere like that.*

But Francis Begbie must work, such is her lot, so Oblomov will be deprived of her company soon enough. And Flap is not much of a conversationalist. After lunch, which can realistically only be stretched out to last an hour, what will become of Oblomov then?

Oblomov feels the need to do something. To not waste the day entirely. Correction - to not waste yet another day entirely. What passes for a burst of energy, of vigour, courses through his veins. Sweat breaks upon his brow. A limpid battle for the Oblomovian soul commences. Perhaps a few pages of a book could be read? Perhaps a paragraph of a little piece for some blog or other could be scribbled out?

Yes! Oblomov rises. He seeks out his book. On his way to the bookshelf, he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. His colour is palid and unhealthy. His skin sags. He has become flabby and heavy jowled. He sighs.

Eventually - and it is quite a struggle - he finds his book, Italo Calvino`s If One Night A Traveller. Realising he is closer to the bed than the sofa, he observes that the return journey would be entirely wasteful. He slumps upon the comforts of his bed, still warm from the nocturnal stirrings of Francis Begbie. To the womb, again, Oblomov!

It has been sometime since Oblomov last picked up If One Night A Traveller. He reads a few pages. But he finds he can no longer recall which book he is supposed to be following – is it the book within the book, or the book within the book within the book? And even worse, it appears that he, the reader, has somehow become a character in the book. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino`s new novel, If One Night A Traveller, runs the first line. Oblomov is appalled. He did not ask to be a character in a book! Being a character in a book surely involves work, effort, movement, force, the expending of energy of some kind, all anathema to the Oblomovian soul. 

But Oblomov, undaunted, stoic, reads on. The book improves greatly. Relax. Concentrate. Let the world around you fade. Outside the window the heat builds, as though a thunderstorm is approaching. The trees feebly rattle their leaves. Sweat breaks once more upon Oblomov`s brow. But the thunderstorm never comes. Instead it just gets hotter. Oblomov reads a few more lines. He feels the most incredible weariness come over him. The book drops onto his chest. Oblomov`s mouth falls open. His eyelids creep shut, with imperceptible slowness… 

* Names have been changed to protect innocent pekineses with learning difficulties.

** This is not of course to imply that Francis Begbie, who is probably a genius and can pick out a Mondrian inspired book cover at a 100 paces, suffers from the same learning difficulties as her dog. Rather, it is that things as concrete, real and unmoving as maps and geographical location are far too unimaginative and tedious to be paid much attention. And who`s to argue with that?   

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Your Life Is An Impossibility is now three weeks away from Recife, three weeks in the flatlands of the mid west, where all the cultural heartbeats seem to be Man A`s Name and Man B`s Name. Victor and Leo, Bruno and Marrone, Zeze Di Camargo and Luciano. Country music the way the greats – Garth Brooks and Shanaya – used to do it, only more melodic, more romantic, and more awful. No Laurel and Hardy, Cannon and Ball or Morecambe and Wise, more’s the pity. It`s enough time, anyway, for some rudimentary observations on life’s rich pageant, as it’s lived here and there.

There is very little rubbish in Goiania, which makes a pleasant change from Recife’s endless bouquets of trash. It’s safe enough to walk the streets, though YLIAI always thought it was safe enough to walk the streets in Recife too. Try again – it`s nice to walk the streets in Goiania, whereas it wasn’t always nice to walk the streets in Recife, where the pavements are too cracked and fissured, the shade too sparse, the sun too scalding, the traffic too rampant. The traffic’s calmer in Goiania, and the shade more plentiful, and the pavements neater.

There’s no beach in Goiania, but there are parks, and there are no parks in Recife, apart from Parque 13 de Maio, downtown, which is a bit too parched to offer much pastoral relief, and Parque Da Jaqueira, which is full of power walkers and spandex-clad joggers, and doesn`t allow dogs, which makes it a piss poor excuse for a park in YLIAI`s opinion.  The parks in Goiania are bucolic bliss, with ponds and pleasant shady spots to sit and everything, though even here lies a hidden danger. Goianiense parents appear to care not when their darling offspring teeter up to the edge of the lakes, and three times YLIAI has had to hook a stray toddler under the arms and spirit him away from a watery grave. It makes relaxing with an ice pop and a good book a challenging experience.

YLIAI had thought it impossible that any group of people could be more cheerily rude than recifenses, but goianienses manage it, only without the cheery. Miserable and monosyllabic, the locals make YLIAI’s heart weep for the kindergarten ruckus that is interpersonal relations in the nordeste. You know you’re in trouble when getting on a bus is several hundred times rougher play than this.

At least the food is good, and YLIAI can look forward to a comfy, obese dotage with Francis Begbie feeding him pão de queijo, and feijão tropeiro, and torresmo and other such fine fare. As for the music, while duplos sertanejos make YLIAI`s brains seep painfully out of his ears, they can hardly be worse, and indeed might be a few rungs better than, Naughty Wesley and his satanic bastard cronies.

Football might be the deal breaker, because Goias is to football what Norn Iron is to sumo. Which is odd, because on the face of it there are three big teams here, the same as in Recife, and unlike Recife, at least one of them plays in Serie A. But the thing is that nobody seems to care, and people get much more excited when São Paulo or Corinthians are on the telly. Though a long time ago YLIAI promised he wouldn’t talk about football here, so if you want more, you’ll have to read this.  

In the end, despite the odd difference, what's striking is that after a few weeks it becomes clear that whether it’s Recife or Goias, it’s still the bizarre, Alice through the Looking Glass, world of Brazil. YLIAI is comforted, for example, to discover that in an uncertain world at least one thing can be guaranteed, namely that whatever anybody promises to do the following day, or week, or month, you can be sure that will be the one thing they won’t do.

If Mr. Da Silva says I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, for example, then you will know that Christ may return and walk among us, or dinosaurs may rise again from their prehistoric graves, or nuclear death may rain down on us as soft and silent as cherry blossom, but that the one thing that will resolutely not happen is that Mr. Da Silva will call you tomorrow afternoon. If Mrs. Fonseca says she will deliver your chocolate layer cake a week on Monday, then you know that horses may eat themselves, brush fires may rage across the cerrado, Ricardo Teixeira may say do you know what lads, I think I`ll take a break now and give someone else a chance, but what will surely, definitely, irrevocably not happen is that Mrs. Fonseca will deliver your chocolate layer cake a week on Monday.

Simple, day to day business transactions remain as reassuringly convoluted as possible. The other day YLIAI went to buy a fridge, an oven and an iron. He was immediately approached by a fetching young salesperson. YLIAI described his requirements. Oddly unconcerned with high profit margin items such as the fridge and oven, the fetching young salesperson dragged YLIAI over to the irons. Some hard bargaining ensued. YLIAI chose and paid for his iron, a process that took about twenty minutes, then asked the fetching young salesperson if she might care to assist him with the fridge and oven. Oh I don`t care about those things, said the fetching young salesperson, it`s not my department. You’ll have to talk to someone else about them. If YLIAI had been a cartoon character cartoon steam would have come out of his ears.

Affairs of the heart are little better. On a futebol jaunt to the neighbouring field after field after field state of Mato Grosso, YLIAI makes a new pal. The new pal lectures YLIAI on the wisdom of finding yourself two Francis Begbies instead of just one. One`s no good. You`ll get bored with one. And if she doesn`t know about the other one, then she won`t even mind, will she?

Upon his return to Goiania, YLIAI tells Francis Begbie about his new pal and his philosophy of love. Francis Begbie is not best pleased.

What kind of friend is he, telling you to find yourself another woman? Is he married?

YLIAI informs Francis Begbie that his new pal is not, to the best of his knowledge, married.

So she`s just his girlfriend? I suppose that’s alright then, replies a placated Francis Begbie.

!!!!!, says YLIAI, before going on to query if Francis Begbie really means to say that it’s ok to have a bit on the side if you’re in a long term relationship with someone who is merely your girlfriend or boyfriend, but not ok if you’re married. And, subsequently, and just out of curiosity, what exactly is the relationship status of Francis Begbie and YLIAI?

We`re living together, says Francis Begbie, it`s different.

Different how, asks YLIAI.

Somewhere in the middle, says Francis Begbie, a little too enigmatically for YLIAI's tastes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, thinks YLIAI, tipping an imaginary cap to Alphonse Karr (and Jon Bon Jovi), reassuring himself with the knowledge that whether in Recife or Goiania, at least a Brazilian bar stool (or plastic chair, to be more accurate) is still the most comfortable place on earth to sit. And, often, the hardest to leave.