Sunday, 5 February 2012
Back when Your Life Is An Impossibility was a strapping young buck of a blog, and not the shrivelled, empty husk you see before you today, the suggestion was mooted that all this wandering around in search of so-called “real life” (drinking in dingy bars in downtown Recife, risking life and limb on lunatic footballing jaunts across the country, involving oneself in relationships with the womenfolk of a string of nefarious ne’er-do-wells) was all a bit of a waste of time, and that the only thing you really needed to do to understand the beating heart and soul of a place was to tune into local FM “yoof” radio.
YLIAI now feels pretty ashamed about writing such foolishness. Of course listening to local FM “yoof” radio is no way to really grasp the cultural identity of a country or city. What is, however, is TV.
TV! Funny, really, how our lives, our histories, are shadowed by TV. For example, and speaking of ashamed, YLIAI, had his Neighbours years, several decades ago. Then his Brookside years. Then, when he finally wised, up, his Cheers years, and his NYPD Blue years, and his ER years, and his Sopranos years, and his Mad Men years. Each of these programmes, if YLIAI concentrates hard enough, conjures up a time, a place, a job, a living room, a sofa, someone on the sofa for company (or even better, blissful solitude).
Now, it seems, after ducking it for the best part of six years, YLIAI is living through his Brazilian TV years. More specifically, his Globo years. And branded into his mind forever, probably, will be the place, Goiania (sob), and the someone(s) on the sofa for company, Francis Begbie and Flup, the idiot Pekingese.
First up is that world of hard hitting social drama, the Brazilian novela. Fina Estampa, to be exact, which involves a dizzying array of people (all of them upper middle class if not filthy rich, most of them fairly physically attractive, perhaps the novelas single saving grace) involving themselves in shenanigans of a sexual, financial, familial or criminal nature. It’s a bit like Dallas or Dynasty remade for the 21st century, without the gritty realism.
But wait. That’s not entirely fair. Fina Estampa, in fact, contains dollops of gritty realism. Only it’s gritty realism of an upper middle class Brazilian stripe, and therefore not immediately recognisable as such.
Exhibit A: The middle aged, though still relatively glamorous, psychiatrist Danielle goes to a party in a motorbike shop (why is not really explained). There she is approached by strapping hunk Enzo (who serves no particular purpose other than being a strapping hunk). Danielle rejects Enzo’s advances, and heads for home. Enzo follows Danielle, and in the street, tries his luck again. Danielle tells him firmly where to go. Enzo tells Danielle that “he knows what she needs”, and forces a rather aggressive kiss on her botoxed lips.
Danielle flees to her office, nearby, to compose herself. Visibly shaken, after a moment’s reflection, she realises that despite being an intelligent and successful woman, what she really needs to fill the gaping hole in her life is a bit of Enzo action. She rings down and releases the door to the building. The rather cocksure Enzo, lounging against a nearby tree, springs into action and rushes upstairs. Steamy lovemaking in the style of 1980s Hollywood blockbusters featuring Michael Douglas or Alec Baldwin ensues. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: if she says no, pin her against the wall in a dark alley and force yourself upon her. She’ll soon realise that she really wants it.
Exhibit B: Plucky lower middle class (she is described in the publicity material as "poor", but isn't really) heroine Grizelda wins the lottery. She then buys a nice house in an upper middle class gated condominium complex. The neighbours in the upper middle class gated condominium complex make it very clear that people of Grizelda’s ilk are not at all welcome as neighbours. Also, Grizelda’s teenage daughter, Amália, is almost burnt to death in a house fire, before almost dying in a car crash because someone has planted a snake in her car. Grizelda’s son Quinzé is poisoned and falls into a swimming pool, where he almost dies. Grizelda falls in love, then has her heart broken, by dashing restaurateur René. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: Poor folk, know thy place. Social mobility is A Very Bad Thing.
So much for novelas. What could provide a better snapshot of modern Brazilian social mores than Big Brother Brasil? Not much, as long as the modern Brazil you’re looking to discover does not involve any part of the norte, nordeste or centro-oeste of the country – apart from one, lonely, mato-grossense, trapped amongst all the southerners, and referred to continually as “the hick”, and a token Baiana, who didn’t last longer than the first few weeks.
Big Brother Brasil is also prohibited by federal law from including any of the poorer 90% of the Brazilian population, as the ever alert Globo quickly realised that whenever poor Brazilians were allowed in, they tended to win any public votes by a landslide, as well as generally looking a bit scruffy among all the sleekly beautiful people in the house.
There was a black chap on the show for a while (it is not known how he sneaked past security) but he was expelled from the house following a rape scandal, during which, while paralytically drunk, he seemed to be enjoying himself a little too much under the covers with a sleeping, and also paralytically drunk, toothsome female housemate. The case looks destined to end in court, although it seems that Globo, who supplied the copious amounts of alcohol imbibed by the pair, and a single bed for them both to sleep in, as well as asking the female contestants things like “do you like sex? Do you? How much do you like it?” during the first episode, will not be on the stand. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: By God things would be much better in Brazil if everyone was white, upper middle class and from the sul and sudeste. The rest of you are just bloody savages.
The problem is that YLIAI doesn’t have much interest in what playboyzinhos and patricinhas from Florianopolis, Curitiba and São Paulo get up to in their scanties (well he does, but that’s another story for another time). But wait. What’s this? A Justiceira De Olinda, a drama about love and betrayal, from Pernambuco, and starring Juliana Paes? What fun!
The epically bosomed Janaína is married to Anderson. She spots Anderson cavorting in the kitchen of a blonde neighbour. Horrified, she proceeds to cut off Anderson’s penis with a big knife. It then transpires that the blonde neighbour was in fact Janaína’s friend (played by the genuinely wonderful Leona Cavalli, star of YLIAI’s favourite ever Brazilian film, Amarelo Mango) and the pair were merely planning a surprise party for Janaína’s birthday. Janaína and friend rush Anderson to hospital where his penis is sewn back on.
A few weeks later, Anderson is ready for action. And imagine our couple’s joy when they discover that Anderson’s rather puny member has been accidentally replaced by a much bigger piece of equipment! The final scene shows another woman, in another bedroom in Olinda, discovering that her husband, presumably also back from the hospital, now has a much smaller penis. That this couple are black is surely mere coincidence. What a hilarious mix up, etc. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: In the nordeste, the only thing that people really worry about is booze, football and cuckoldry. Also, all black men have really big knobs.
YLIAI feels sad. He wanted to like Globo, he really did. But he has no choice. He’s going to have to change channels. Things will be better on the other side, he’s sure of it. What’s this? O Melhor do Brasil with Rodrigo Faro, on Record? Looks like fun. Seems to be a man, blacked up in Black and White Minstrel Show fashion, dancing the Rebolation. He is surrounded by dwarves, also blacked up, also dancing the Rebolation. YLIAI starts to feel a bit sick.
Still, over on Band, there’s some proper crime reporting going on. This should be good. Brasil Urgente, with José Luiz Dantena. And it is. All manner of bloody corpses are dragged across the screen for our viewing pleasure. Mr Dantena is apoplectic. What kind of a country is this? and What barbarism!, he roars over and over. He also, finally, provides just the kind of philosophical sustenance that YLIAI’s troubled soul has been seeking.
Reporting upon the murder of a woman by her businessman husband, who then killed himself, in Minas Gerais, Dantena ponders the meaning of life, the universe and everything. What barbarism! What kind of a country is this? I mean, if you’re going to kill yourself anyway, what’s the point of killing the missus first? It’s not like she’s going to bother you anymore, is it? You’ll be dead anyway, you muppet! Next time, leave the missus alone, and just top yourself!
Quite right, says YLIAI.
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
While Noise Noise Noise Noise Muito Noise (Pernambuco Gypsy et al, Caravan Press, 2011) has become the established work on the subject of the deafening bloody racket that is an essential part of life in modern Brazil, a number of recent developments make a further study of the topic worthwhile.
To begin, while there are many that believe the growth of the Brazilian economy is a good thing, in that it has, in theory at least, reduced poverty, meant that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians no longer go to bed hungry, and allowed increased social mobility for members of social classes C and D, Your Life Is An Impossibility does not agree. As far as YLIAI can see, the only real consequence of the improved financial status of millions of Brazilians is that every bastard in the country, glorious or otherwise, can now afford to pack their jalopies with several thousand watts worth of amplifiers, tweeters, woofers, sub woofers and super woofers. In Goiania that can only mean one thing – the blasting of weepingly awful musica sertaneja at teeth rattling, window shattering volumes, 24 hours a day. Ordem e progresso this is defiantly not.
The experience of co-habiting with Francis Begbie has provided further insight into the troubling relationship between Brazil and din. Francis Begbie is Brazilian. Francis Begbie likes to watch television. Which means YLIAI also has to like to watch television. Which is fine, except that Brazilian television is very loud. The choice of programming includes:
Sub Ant and Dec style entertainment shows, which almost always involve drag queens, midgets (chucked or otherwise), a bellowing presenter, a screaming audience and a continuous, terrible musical assault upon the ears (O Melhor Do Brasil is a fine example);
Films, generally sired by Hollywood, almost always of the action genre. Nicholas Cage, Steven Seagal and The Rock appear a great deal on Brazilian television. YLIAI imagines TV Globo executives in their content acquisition meetings, running a finger down their list of essential requirements. Deafening explosion every 30 seconds? Check! 15 tyre-squealing car chases per film? Check! Repeated use of machine gun fire? Check!
Even that staple of Brazilian television, the novela, is no exception. Aside from the endless swooping violins that tell the audience whether a scene is intended to be (a) dramatic, (b) sad, or (c) happy, there will be at least two or three characters in the novela who spend most of their time shouting, presumably for theatrical effect (Tereza Cristina in Fina Estampa is the current leader of the pack). They are, for some reason, usually the villains, which is perhaps in itself a lesson: happy people don’t shout.
YLIAI wonders what the effect of all this noise is. To be sure, it is part of that admirably vibrant, chaotic Brazilian oral culture, where everyone talks all the time, and when they talk at the same time they talk over each other, and barroom arguments are won by whoever can shout the loudest for the longest. This is not such a bad thing, really, though it can often feel like it to sensitive gringo ears.
But maybe there is a negative side too. For in the midst of such a cacophony it is hard not to feel as though someone with rather rough hands and unmanicured nails is squeezing very hard on the sides of your head. As the sertaneja and the novelas and the Michel Telós (and wherever you are in the world, prepare yourself, because it’s coming your way soon, if it hasn’t already) and the explosions and the machine gun fire and the squealing tyres and the screaming audience and the bellowing presenter all rage around YLIAI, it strikes him that of all the corners of God’s, or Bono’s (whoever’s winning these days) garden, this might not be the best spot for introspection, profound thinking, philosophical study or the writing of great works of literature.
Maybe it’s not everywhere. Maybe it's just YLIAI’s current flat in the not entirely salubrious surroundings of Vila Nova, Goiania. Rivers of seemingly formless conversation and a selection of odd knocking noises rumble down from the apartment upstairs. Packs of wild dogs howl in the street. A car roars past every 2-5 seconds. The electric gate leading into the garage whirrs open and clangs shut, whirrs open and clangs shut. Francis Begbie turns on the television.
YLIAI puts his hands over his face and opens his mouth wide in a long, silent scream.
Monday, 2 January 2012
Your Life Is An Impossibility`s New Year’s Eve is spent in the only way New Year’s Eve should be spent – in torrential rain, watching a duplo sertanejo, in the main square of the otherwise picturesque town of Goiás Velha. Hunger spasms wrack the YLIAI belly – all the bars and restaurants closed at 10pm, meaning the only food on offer now is grilled cat kebabs served by men with blackened fingernails. Things look up when YLIA finds a booze stand flogging whopper shots of Johnny Walker Red Label (what passes for fine whiskey in these parts) for the pittance of R$7. But the allegedly straight Johnny Walker Red Label smells of oranges and tastes like one of those radioactive mixed fruit citrus drinks that make children’s skin turn yellow. YLIAI suspects that the virginal status of the whiskey bottle may not have survived the journey from distillery to booze stand intact.
Still, Francis Begbie is a fine companion for this or any other occasion, and the patter fairly pelts along. The local radio DJ up on the sodden stage thanks someone called Vilas Boas for his part in organizing the show. YLIAI amuses Francis Begbie by telling her that the manager of Chelsea Football Club is also called Vilas Boas, but as a Portugeezer his name must be pronounced Vilash Boash. Francis Begbie hunts for paper and pen so as to prevent this pearl from ever slipping from memory. The influence, or otherwise of Shakespeare’s sonnets on the lyrics of current Brazilian smash hit Ai Se Eu Te Pego (delicía, delicía, assim você me mata, ai se eu te pego/ooh baby, ooh baby, you’re driving me nuts, oooh when I get my paws on you….) is analysed in some detail.
Eventually shelter is taken from the storm behind the kiosk of the corrupter of young whiskeys. The only other punter there is a snail the size of a pony, leaving plenty of space to watch the self-dubbed most shameless duplo sertanejo in Brazil, Cesar & Alessandro. It’s an impressive title, given that even being a duplo sertanejo in the first place surely requires one to be sem vergonha in spades. YLIAI can recommend C&A tune Posto Da Gasolina, or Petrol Station, about why a petrol station is a really good place to pick up chicks.
The New Year is greeted in typical style by the kind of magic and miracles that even YLIA’s godless heart can appreciate, or in other words, fireworks. How original, YLIAI scoffs at the beginning, as he always does, but soon he is oohing and aahing with the best of them, the charms of a bounteous harvest of leggy goianiense youth squeezed into their best, most spray-painted-on, reveillon glad rags forgotten, just for a few moments.
And what of the centro-oeste? First impressions, after almost three months, are not entirely favourable. Not that the jewel of the mid-west, Goiânia, is such a bad place. Nowhere where the eating not only of breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also of jantinha, or little dinner, is compulsory, can be entirely bad. It is a middle-class-ish kind of city – few vertiginous favelas, none of Recife’s river or swamp side shanties. On an evening stroll out to the village-in-upstate-New-England charms of Jaó, Francis Begbie takes a wrong turn, and our pair end up in a grotty neighbourhood down near the abandoned railway line. This is one of the favelas, whispers Francis Begbie, eyes even more saucer-like than usual, which is saying something. Gadzooks, cries YLIAI, if this was in Recife it would be the most expensive square on the Monopolio board! An exaggeration, to be fair, but it’s true to say that even the very worst Goiânia has to offer remains more Jardim São Paulo than Coque.
The red earth of the dry season has turned into red mud now the rains are here, and Goiânia has a muddy feel to it in every sense. This may be a nicer place to live than Recife, in some ways – better roads, less flooding when it rains, less harum scarum street kids hanging off buses, less people getting shot every day. Goiânia boasted a new personal best in 2011, with 444 murders by November, a figure that again had Francis Begbie reeling in extra-wide-eyed horror, while YLIAI chuckled at the feeble efforts of the sertanejo loving baddies: until the admirable progress of the last couple of years, 4,000 homicidios would be a quiet year for the Recife death toll.
But, and herein lies the rubber bullet, Goiânia is not an exciting place to live. When the Dark Lords of the Sith at TV Globo go spinning around Brazil for their New Year’s Eve round up, there’s Avenida Paulista up on the screen, and Copacabana, and the Farol da Barra, and Boa Viagem, and a stage in front of some charmless chunk of Niemeyer in Brasilia, and even Praça Da Estação in Belo Horizonte, but no Goiânia. When the World Cup winning tickets were handed out, the aforementioned usual suspects were all there, slapping each other on the back, along with Porto Alegre and Curitiba, Natal and Fortaleza and Manaus, and even bloody Campo Grande, for Dilma’s sake, but no Goiânia. Come carnaval, Brazil will flood to Olinda and Salvador and Rio and Ouro Preto and the rest, while Goianienses abandon their capital in droves.
There are works of art here, to be fair. The public transport system is a marvellous recreation of last century pre-privatisation slackness: buses are late, ancient and always packed. A plus is the food, which knocks Recife’s namby pamby fishiness into a cocked hat – feijão tropeiro is a marvel of Brazilian culture the equal of any of Machado De Assis’ scribblings or Tom Jobim’s noodling. A negative might the people, though of course it's very, very, very wrong to generalise in such a way. But what the hell. The locals are a guarded bunch, compared to the nordestino's back-slapping chuminess, and on the surface at least, slumped outside bars while the ever present musica sertanej bawls from a nearby car stereo, unlikely to be forming any centro-oeste Algonquin round tables in the near future. The countryside outside the city is pleasanter than the bumpy agreste of Pernambuco, though not as haunting as the sertão. Historic towns such as Goias Velha and Pirenopolis are fine, romantic places to spend a weekend. And, of course, there is the leggy goianiense youth…
But there is nothing to take the breath away, nothing to make the heart soar. Nothing as exhilarating as Arruda filled with 60,000 lost souls, nothing as goosebumping as all those people and all that booze streaming up and down the ladeiras of Olinda during carnaval. Nothing as poetically evocative as the sun setting behind the church in the Patio Santa Cruz, or the view from a bus careering over the bridge into Pina. Goiânia, Recife’s frumpy and better mannered cousin dressed in smarter clothes, is nice, and there’s nothing much worse than being nice.
The problem was, YLIAI thought he’d had it with Recife. Thought four years was enough. Thought it was time to settle down into a life of quiet, goianiense boredom. Turns out he was wrong. Turns out absence really does make the cock grow harder, as YLIAI’s new literary hero John Cheever would surely have said (metaphorically speaking, and with apologies to more sensitive readers). Only where, now, will it all end?