PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1985 - DECEMBER
Wednesday 4 December
Apart from a few days when the temperature climbed to a muggy 35, we have not yet been subjected to the horrors of summer. Indeed, today is grey and grizzly much like England’s weather. I appear to have become grey and grizzly myself. I find no inspiration to write here in my journal, it is almost a foreign act I’m performing now. It is difficult to proceed. I must have become somewhat mindless and have lost all depth of thought or imagination. Yet I cannot explain why that should be, unless the game of squash I played last week with Rik Janvier damaged me mentally. It is possible that the ugly headache I contracted after the game and couldn’t lose was the overdose and suicide of millions and billions of brain cells. Rik is very good and stretched me to my limits, as Julian does; whenever I play such a hard game I invariably develop a headache which then hangs around destroying my concentration all day.
Sitting around this morning, I thought more and more about the retainer business with World News, and got more and more angry. Fortunately, I found a point on which I felt 100% justified - the rest I just let hang out in a point-by-point telex. I have to fight off phrases like ‘I’m sorry to bother you’ and ‘I know this is a bore’, and I have to fight my pride as well. So much easier to let things ride. But $100 a month is a lot of money for me. Even so, it is more the feeling of having been treated shabbily which brings out the fight in me. Interestingly, I find myself always communicating well with Jeff in Sao Paulo. He is an arch bullshitter, and hasn’t lifted a finger on my side since I’ve been here, yet I can’t see why he should. I certainly want to remain above the shabby petty squabbles that arise among the stringers. Thus, after sending a thunderbolt to Rik about the chemical stories - a one shot try - and then talking to him about it, I’m happy to carry on in my own sweet way. I certainly hold no resentment over the situation here (even if I do let Rik think I do) but it doesn’t stop my short sharp shots of ‘I think I’ve been wronged’.
There is something else. I get a sense of being appreciated by Ryser for not involving him in the petty, and Ryser may well be useful to me in the future. Let Rik whinge around and moan and groan. Every now and then in my telephone conversations with him, I couldn’t help giggling at statements like: ‘Sure, I’m hungry, I’ve got another kid on the way, but I don’t expect you to care about it’. He sounds like a little man who has climbed to the top of a little mound and is willing to fight anyone off his territory without realising there are plenty of other mounds, hills, mountains to climb. With Jeff I moan about the nuclear mags. He decided to involve himself in the business following a call from Rik Kessler in BA about the Alfonsin-Sarney meeting. What a panic. The Monday before the meeting, Jeff asked me to find out all I could about the possibility of a nuclear pact between Argentina and Brazil, as Rik was likely to blow up the Argentine side. Every source led nowhere, but I managed at least to discover that it seemed highly unlikely that Brazil would be talking mutual inspections. I filed my notes to that effect. The meeting took place amid lots of publicity. There was a nuclear pact - a very sober one - and one of the papers carried a story to the effect that Brazil had declined Alfonsin’s suggestion of mutual inspections. That Monday I called everybody again, again everyone was largely in the dark, but I filed a composed story this time (without input from Jeff, who was meeting with a foreign ministry adviser).
Tuesday 10 December
I go for a walk into Urca late at night. When I return there seems to be some strange activity outside the building. It is very dark and I have almost arrived before I’m aware that it may be dangerous. I back off and join a small group of people watching from a distance. A gang of men dressed in black are robbing the apartments in this building and filling a lorry or truck with the goods. Slowly, the crowd builds up and so does the traffic, which passes the robbers’ truck in either direction. As casually as I can I walk to a public telephone (although in real life there isn’t one in this stretch of Avenida Portugal) and ask two girls who have just used it for the number of the police. However, when I start to dial I notice a young man suddenly behind me and am scared he is working with the robbers. I retire again to the crowd. It surprises me how long the gang continue to ransack the building with so many people onlooking and so many car drivers waiting patiently. It is astonishing they can do exactly as they like. I, of course, am super-anxious about my flat and I’m afraid they’ll have broken in, but I’m glad I was out, for should I have been in I would certainly have opened the door to a single ring. Finally, when I get back to the building, it appears more like one of the many ruins I’ve explored, glass and wood splinters scattered on the stairs. I try the back stairs first but they lead nowhere, the front stairs . . . (but I don’t recall if I was robbed or not).
Where to start, how to begin? The fuller the life, the sadder I become. How often do I think of Bel? Last night I dreamt of her; a woman I met at a party asked me really what was special about her, and I remember finding difficulty in answering. It always came back to some kind of internal beauty, shining through into her face and movements, and her way of being. Here I am now with two women, falling in love with me, and they barely touch me (metaphorically!). Bel rang last week, we talked for too long, she said she had been telling someone on the phone that she was no longer communicating with me, then immediately had to communicate with me. That she has a boyfriend perhaps may have been the real reason, but she would tell me neither his name or any other detail. I don’t believe I will ever find such a trust and love again. Also this week, I received a parcel from Mum - tea, socks, books, chocolates - and one from Bel too - Bertrand Russell’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’. Dad has written of his horse failing to take the tape on his birthday, and his company profits being a little down this year. This morning, Raoul rings finally with news of his baby son Jack - though he sounded restrained and unwilling to talk about the birth and Caroline. This week I also got another letter from Julian - the post can be so quick when it has a mind - ‘I received your long letter today and felt inclined to reply quickly.’ I send cards to Jenny, Vonny, Luke, Andrez, Judy and Rob, Angela, Annabel, Andrew via Max.
I suppose I can account for the blank pages [two blank pages], unwritten days, in three ways. First of all a young Englishman by the name of Max has camped here for 10 days, although he was mostly out during the day. His presence tended to fill gaps in which I might normally have written. A nervous man, not yet a man, still a student. He met Pat at Portuguese classes and she introduced him to John, with whom he spent a lot of time. I liked him actually, affable, well-to-do bearing, a little spoilt, but certainly much abler at handling social situations than I ever was at that age. There wasn’t any sort of click with him - he likes Marquez demais for example, and carries two hair dryers in his baggage even though his hair is an inch short But, he was reasonably sensitive around the flat, paying for shopping one day, and giving Maria a tip as I suggested. I teased him a lot about not making it with the women, he seemed always so anxious to find himself a Brazilian girlfriend. At the end, there was a Danish girl he saw every day until finally at the last meeting he made an advance, only to be declined in favour of a boyfriend that wasn’t arriving until next week. Now I think about it, I may have mentioned Max before because of the Westminster School connection with Phil. With him, I sent back presents (steamers of all things, steamers with legs) to Bel and Julian, a t-shirt to Melanie. I raced around for hours trying to find something for Mum without success. Hopefully I can find a present this week and send it with John who is also leaving.
Secondly, there is a Yamaha 180 DT trail motorbike which zips me to the Reuters office in under ten minutes, to Copacabana in under five. It’s a noisy brute (Vic Peeke rang this week and said it was a fart-fart machine, which does describe it well) but has zip. Before buying a ‘moto’ I checked around; a 125, people said, is too slow to get out of trouble, now I see how slow and sluggish they seem. The 180, being a trail bike, has thin wheels and a high degree of steerage control, this makes it more like a bicycle. I have to confess I love riding it. The exhilaration of the speed and the bare body taking the full force of the wind, the eyes blinking to keep out the dust, the hair blown back, the shirt collar flapping, the cheeks blushing. Although I have no problem with the balance, I am still an amateur with the clutch/gear control. In theory, they are similar to a car, but the practice is very different. It takes a while to see, to understand even which gear I am in. It has also not helped not knowing how the machine works. I don’t even have a manual. I didn’t know where the tools were kept, for example. Yesterday Neco showed me, to my surprise. He was surprised also to find all the tools there, including a smart pair of pliers. A good seller, he said, because usually a seller keeps the tools. Later I had confirmation from the garage that it was a good buy. The mechanic confirmed, by the power in the engine, that it might well have done only 7,000km, as the seller had said (he had replaced the milometer, so it was impossible to prove). (You, we, one, anyone can’t say kilometer for a meter that clocks kilometres for obvious reasons!). I will put the bike in for a service on Monday, and a change of the kick-start which appears to have almost broken. But, I am very pleased indeed to have it - what shall I call it? Jack, after Raoul’s son?
Thirdly, there is Emiliana, who lies naked sleeping on the bed. We met just two weeks ago at a party given by Fabiola, the friend of Frederica. It was a very casual pick-up - I was in a cool and attractive mood; by chance we got talking and almost didn’t stop. I questioned her desire to travel, but liked her defensive spirit. Then I told her I had no car, she pointed hers out through the window. I asked for a lift, she accepted an invitation to ‘come up’, and we made love very nicely thank you. Then, later in the week we met again for dinner, seemingly all this without the slightest trace of tension, and again made love quite beautifully - I don’t remember ever moving so in rhythm with a piece of music, veritably it was a dance to Shostakovitch’s 9th Symphony, with its quiet places and climaxes, its growing concerns and Shosty trills. How surprising also to climax almost at the end then within a few seconds to hear the applause of the live recording. Yet, yet, two weeks into the relationship I am badly dulled. Is this because her body is less attractive, less smooth, less young, less well-shaped than I am accustomed to, or perhaps because her way of being in bed disturbs me now (but after so little time, this has rarely happened to me before). Yet as a person, she is easy to be with, listens patiently to all my bullshit, adores me a bit, has lots of friends, is well-liked etc. For the first time (at least that I can remember) I find myself compromised in bed!
I find myself thinking I actually like Elaine more - but why should that be. Maybe it will do me good to compromise for a while. This is horribly calculating, but, believe me, believe me, I am ready to fall - show me the eyes that would sink me.
She lies sleeping on her back, the brilliant red sheet covers only her stomach. I can see her sex, almost pornographically towards me, but I find I do not want to look there. And slowly the same is true of those searching intense eyes, somehow arriving at a place far distant from me, in an impolite way. After all, why should she arrive there without first seeing if I was journeying there too, and the imploring voice, rather rehearsed now, ‘Esta bom, meu amor?’; ‘Esta gostando, meu amor?’. I begin to want to shut my ears? Why should this be so? Do I detect a well-scripted play which has little to do with me? And - dare I confess it - I do not like her smell, it is defensively acid, not with a sweetness hidden in, inviting, promoting the sensitive touch, the delving, but rather piercing the consciousness, erecting a territorial barbed wire.
But seeing two women is not so easy. Elaine and Emiliana. I remember only once being in a similar position with Dominique and Emmanuella, moving between them, seeing them in parallel so to speak. It leaves the body little energy to feed the mind for conscious thought, speculation, or contemplation. I recall that on occasions I would visit E in the afternoon, make wild animal love, and then spend the evening bound up with D’s lanky gorgeous body while watching a TV film. It is not always possible to remember the right words and actions that fit the person. Elaine has already noticed new things in the way I make love. But readily would I throw this carefree life overboard for a wife and kids. It’s amazing how often I think of Bel. This afternoon, for example, I was writing the word ‘mount’ and just that word recalled her to me because of the place called the Mount in Cornwall which we were going to visit.
I write petty pieces today about Amazon gas, Brazilian trade deficit in the petrochemical sector, the inauguration of a coal dragline, and a longer piece about the outage at Angra 1 - four and a half months is a long time for a nuclear plant to be down. Also pending this week is a visit to the Petrobras research centre and a story about a binational biotechnology accord.
Time flips by. It’s astonishing, my two years here could be finished and I could go back to UK proudly having done my tour abroad, and for what, then what, then what? Bel will be there, perhaps a job at McGraw-Hill - the future suddenly becomes all obscure again. I am still not not not in a niche. The next step may be backwards, I fear.
Brazil begins to close down and hot up. People talk about the general climate; with the rise in temperature, so tempers rise, there is more tension in the air, more violence in the favelas, more rows in the homes. Come February, they will be ready for the carnival explosion. At the same time, business tends to quieten down, partly because of all the public holidays, but also because many people take several weeks off to escape the worst of the heat, they climb to Petropolis, Teresopolis, or travel to the spas of Minas Gerais, or further north where for some reason it never gets much hotter than 30 degrees. But for me the heat is a destroyer, most of the day I feel as though the sweat is about to pour from my brow. Some times on the moto, it is like passing through the centre of a furnace. Yet, I must confess, the climate has been much better than I expected. When the heat died down in April, and all the way through to September it was actually magnificent.
Wednesday, John leaves for the UK. He leaves me all his papers, and the little work he was doing. I do not think he will return, although Conceicao will have willed him to. But more of John in a while.
I am playing in a football match in a poorly lit indoor stadium. I am playing left back although I can’t see anyone playing upfront on the left side. As I move about I am blinded by a shaft of sunlight that pierces through the roof - a small window or crack. I have a strong sense of not being appreciated as well as a surface feeling of not playing well because it is such a long time since I played.
Such a frustrating day yesterday, mostly because I couldn’t get hold of Brazil’s biotechnology secretary and because the chief director of Salgema won’t see me till the New Year, largely, I’m sure, because of the petty PR officer who is more interested in Christmas parties. Then I had to phone NY four times, or maybe five to send bumpf on the wire, yet there was no justification, and I don’t see how I will claim the cost of the calls back. But I wanted to note that, suddenly, there is a lot of work and hard work - I’ve already proved that CW is difficult (they want photos of the people, all of them, I interview), there is an arms story I have to do for the Econ during Christmas week, and now it looks like Shell will commission me to do a feature for their in-house magazine.
Sunday evening 21 December
Life goes on:on goes life
So often in the evening I cannot find the energy to be useful. To go to the cinema or to eat in a restaurant is easy, but to read these days or write, without some necessity is hard. I just took a shower to wake me up, but the body remains sluggish. The post arrives and brings me but a copy of ‘Nuclear Fuel’ with yet another long article by Richard Kessler, another that begins with a denial. I begin to think the editors are truly blind to a reader’s perspective - what is clear is that the level, quantity and depth of information available in Argentina about the nuclear programme is significantly greater than in Brazil, but that doesn’t mean that the reader mightn’t want some of the information that IS available from Brazil. The bias becomes comical almost. The biotechnology story had a bad end also. It is worth the telling.
Jose Alexandre Viegas is Brazil’s First Secretary for Biotechnology. For two weeks, I have been calling Brasilia several times a day to talk to him. After much faffing and fluffing, his secretary allows me to call him at home in Sao Paulo on Wednesday night. At the appointed time I ring, his wife says he is not home yet, but tells me to ring later. Of course, later the phone is engaged - all the time. In the morning, I try, and finally manage to speak to him - only he is just leaving and explains that he has an interview marked with Biotechnology News tomorrow! I call Jeff in the evening and explain that my interview has been hijacked (I had called Brasilia again to try and understand how this could have happened, they admitted a confusion). He plays really thick but finally promises to talk to Rik Turner (of course it is Turner) and call me back. I get no phone call (what a real screwball Jeff is at heart). So, at the appointed hour I call the number in S.P. where the interview is going to be - for Viegas has given me the number - and explain all over again to Viegas’s assistant the story, and please let me talk to him for five minutes - he promises to call without fail. Of course he doesn’t. All week this story with the biotech secretary has troubled me, and now I have a clear reason to break with the SP office. Pure war. I shall endeavour not to telephone or contact them at all. Strangely, though, once the day was over, I felt happy and light - it troubled me no more.
Let’s hope that I place the three stories coming up - arms for ‘The Economist’; complex for ‘Chemical Week’; reforestation for ‘Shell World’. For this latter, I’ve quoted £400 to Eduardo at Shell PR, and hope for a reply. They can’t think it too much because it’ll take a week of my time, at least.
The diary is so boring at present.
Emiliana was here for much of the day (for some reason, I don’t fully understand, Elaine rang twice - once to say she was going to Barra for the day, ciao, and once to say she was back, ciao, without any conversation). And this afternoon, I began my tiredness trick all over again. What do two people do together all the time. They can’t just screw and talk. I, after a certain amount of sitting around and talking about nothing, get difficult and grumpy, and retire into a psychosomatic tiredness - it was this, I remember, more than anything else that decided me to break with Bel. I didn’t seem to be able to control it. Does it happen when I lose the energy to fill the space, and there is no equivalent energy from the other side. I can’t fall in love with Emiliana, but she is good fun, and easy to be with, it would be a shame to let her go because I can’t cope with a certain lack of intensity at times.
An unspecial day. Impossible to feel Christmassy without the appropriate climate, without being snug and secure in the front parlour of Mum’s house awaiting the present opening ceremony, without the world completely shut up - of the four shops around the corner only the butcher is closed, but he closes every Saturday afternoon and Sunday any way. The roads are less busy, but this may be a function of the weather - being a cloudy sunless day nobody is trekking to the beaches. Even the water is grey and lifeless, like a dead lake, just the returning launches disturb its calm.
I, too, am rather dull and lifeless, cooling down after a manic kind of week. I am more zipless yesterday and today - I talk about cycles of the body to Emiliana, but she doesn’t fully believe me, perhaps she confuses the idea with that of the popular biorhythms, chartable by date of birth, my computer even does it. I talk about a lot of things with Emiliana, she listens well, but rarely has any comment to make. Already she knows about M, Mum, Bel (Beauty, Wisdom, Innocence - how interesting to see them in terms of their strongest characteristics, can I learn from this then of a search within me that has led me from one to another?) I explain about normalisation in response to her talk of happiness. The theory is so simple, yet so clearly true. Last night we went to her brother’s house, Eduardo, he has a fat beard behind which is hidden the facial demonstration of his personality. I could never quite see it. He has two children, Emiliana’s nephews, who were much alive during the evening, one is dark, quiet, thin, inward, the other small pudgy and for ever gripping onto people. I wondered why this should be. (Indeed why should Sonia, Emiliana’s sister, and Emiliana be so different, the former depressive and wailing, the latter gregarious and laughing?) Perhaps, because with discipline and force from parents, children grow up along their own paths without direction. So that early traits instead of being modified and tempered or attenuated are reinforced and exaggerated, because this is easiest for parents to cope with. I even tell Emiliana about the child Bel and I thought to have; she did agree that it wasn’t a bad idea.
But seeing as how it is Christmas Day, I entered three houses this morning. First, I rang 22 Hodford Road, I hoped to catch my family after the presents, so they could tell me what they had received, but I was too early, Melanie and Julian Bull were just arriving. I had already recounted the process on Christmas morning to Emiliana but I was ahead of schedule, none of the ceremony had yet taken place. Mum said the first thing she thought of on waking was me, sweet, sweet; Melanie claimed they weren’t late for the prize-giving, and Julian talked business (the sod used some pension refund of mine to cover his bad telephone bills). Then a little while later Bel rang - that was an easier conversation. Her parents are at West Hampstead for two nights and had just gone out for a walk. I called her back, and we talked for ages about not very much. I had already been reading bits about her in old diaries, particularly I remembered the picnic in the rain on Exmoor. She promised to start writing again, when I told her that I hadn’t received a single card from a friend - only from Mum, Julian, Bel. Then, a little while later, Luke rang, which made me happy. His last day at Shared Experience was Friday - out he strikes as an independent producer. I wonder if he hasn’t moved a little too ambitiously.
I finished the feature for ‘Chemical Week’ on Tuesday morning, blow the cost, I thought, and sent it by modem [incurring high telephone charges]. This feature is important because ‘Chemical Week’ has pulled out of buying Ryser’s time in the bureau, and there will be more lucrative work during the coming year, and I must ingratiate myself. It was all a bit panicky when I thought I wasn’t going to get the interview with Miragaya, but thanks to Cesar at Petrobras who worked some magic, I got to see him rapido. It always astonishes me how connections matter so much, and also how much work it takes to suck out information. Let me be more explicit. It is the difference between rational and emotional behaviour in both cases. Either Mr X wants to be interviewed by ‘Chemical Week’ or he doesn’t. There is no room therefore for indecision. Yet the petty PR officer tells me his diary is full until New Year. I say that means he doesn’t want to see me, she says it is my imagination. We don’t quite shout. Cesar, the PR guy at Petrobras, a Beltrao chosen one, pulls strings and hey presto. (I had also tried the secretary direct.) Then once in the office of Miragaya, I expect somehow all the information I want will just fall on the paper in front of my eyes. But no, he is doing a thousand and one other things, his Portuguese is a little difficult, and he doesn’t reveal things clearly and concisely - neither is he very interested in revealing much. So I come away with very little new. But, although most of my information comes from Mireilles later that day, to have talked to Miragaya gives my article a status it would not otherwise have had.
On Monday, I lunched with Silvio. He took me to a terrible German restaurant, at least it was air conditioned and empty (I mean not-crowded). We talked explicitly for the first time of homosexuality and how hard it was to keep a partner because loving was so free and easy. He has become exclusively gay but started adulthood as a heterosexual. I didn’t discover what turned him round. There is always a smile on his handsome-though-ageing face, but health preoccupies him sometimes. This day he had a sore on his lip, the other day it was dried blood in the semen. Like so many city people here, he is chained to ways of acting and being (Emiliana is the same) so that many of the things I do or talk about find a queer response, the bicycle for example, sailing lessons, exploring in the car, swimming in the bay. Yet Silvio claims to be happy, and it is me who claims to be not. Despite all the bickering against my ways, the laughing at my stories of invented naiveness, and sarcasm at my ideas, I know I must interest him, even challenge him a bit. At least we have a free relationship now so that on leaving him after lunch I can say with feeling - keep your prick clean. (By the by, the apfel strudel and cream was fine.)
The Pope wishes the world Happy Christmas in 51 languages. The Queen says everyone should add their bit, however small, to the goodness of the world. The UK PM says to the Falkland Islands people that their right is their democracy.
At the Christmas Eve celebration there was a ham, rice, dry semolina with currants, mayonnaise salad, half peaches, pineapple slices, walnuts and hazelnuts, chestnuts, dates and currants, fried banana cake. At 22 Hodford Road they eat smoked salmon, turkey, new potatoes, chipolatas, broccoli, christmas pud, cheese. How odd that the most treasured fish, eaten especially at Christmas for example, is ‘bacalhau’ or, in English, cod.
A strange day: Mum just rang to tell me Johnnie had died. Dolly and IG begat Frederic and Michael; Frederic and Barbara begat Paul; Michael and Johnnie begat Mary. Michael and Claudia begat Martin and Michael; Michael and Roxanne begat Andrew. [There is a photo stuck into the diary of Mary and Johnnie, but Johnnie’s face is out of focus.] My brother unconsciously snapped Johnnie already fading away. This is the first time I have ever put a photo in my journal.
But more about this strange day, perhaps I shall quote from the letters I wrote: to Harvey, and the same to Luke. ‘Since Christmas Day it has been drizzling, the sort of weather to nourish nostalgia for London. It is unusual, for bright sunshine or sudden storms are more common, and whatever the weather it is rarely a miserable North Sea grey like today. But THIS Friday is weird for other reasons too. External noises are less urgent, less frequent, less sharp, as though dampened by the rain; I would say it were a Sunday. Of course much of the world is taking the week as an unofficial holiday. I had tried a dozen calls this morning, embassies and businesses alike, only to be informed by a security guard or cleaner that no one is at work. And then something else I feel, a sort of heightened sensitivity, although where this comes from I can’t tell. For example, looking out at the view across the bay, the view I have become so accustomed to, I notice all the subtle colours of the boats: usually I just see a multitude of white launches and sail boats tethered to their respective buoys and drifting to new alignments with the tide changes, but now I notice all the multifarious markings and the variety of coloured lines and stripes and painted hulls, even the tones of the wooden trimmings appear to be heightened. Perhaps, on reflection, this has all to do with the unusual dispersed grey light.’
ELAINE e EMILIANA - MOVIE SCENE
What is more, I have for the first time in my life this morning been embarrassed by the arrival at my flat of a new girlfriend, Emiliana, whilst another lover, Elaine, lighthearted and carefree, pottered in the kitchen assembling a delicious breakfast, dressed but in a sheet wrapping. The ignominy was compounded by the fact that the new arrival had spent half the morning making enquiries on my behalf concerning the complicated business of transferring the registration of a vehicle. The porter unfortunately let the lady in the main door, thus allowing her to enter the open door of the apartment without warning. Yours (inexperienced) truly ushered the surprised visitor back downstairs, enquiring pitifully why she had arrived so early.
It was, of course, inevitable that at some point I would pay for my misconduct, even though Brazilian women are surprisingly clever at protecting their own feelings and would not think to arrive without a precursory phone call. Elaine, though, is rather sly. She takes to interrogating my maid as to my movements, to leaving small territorial marks (lipstick on the sheets, rings in the bathroom cupboard) and reading the cards that are pinned on the wall. Last night she had invited me to a lively bar where she played her flute with a small group. And this morning she was tired, content and satisfied at having made her first public appearance in many months. Most of the year she has been so busy with her studies and teaching work that she would leave at 6-7 in the morning. But THIS morning, my vague hints and noticeable agitation only served to intrigue her, I had already made up my mind to ask her to leave more directly in half an hour’s time, when Emiliana walked in an hour early.
The music last night was special. The singer, Garcia, has a certain touch of the Piafs. Before the show, she looked rather ugly, over-dressed, tired, fat, but once energised by the distinctive guitar, flute and percussion music of the Northeast, she delivered magnificently. Many of the songs were by a composer called Vital Farias. They were quiet beautiful tunes with ballad type lyrics. Afterwards, Elaine told me the singer used to live with Farias, and then the depth of her connection with the music made sense.
Sunday 29 December
It wasn’t a dream but something still in half sleep, more conscious than Turiya. Emiliana curled up, obliging me to bury my head in her mass of curly hair, and there hidden I smelt something that made me contemplate on the possibility of being sexually abused as a child. A brief and rapid survey of my childhood revealed no actual information that could lead me to find a sexual assault, and I completely dismissed the chance thought. Indeed, I could only recall two events with sexual significance from my childhood. When I first went to Broxbourne Grammar School, I was 11, there was a rumour circulating, or else implanted in my naive ear alone, that the little boys were picked up by the big boys and carried to one of the round concrete bollards and dropped thereon, testicles first. The fear that this would happen to me remained for years, I suspect. Then, I recall at the back of the big garden of 21 Fitzjohn’s Avenue making the childish exchange - was is it Nicky or Caroline? - I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
After all my grumbling about Christmas cards I did receive a few - Luke, Angela, Judy and each member of my family. Angela enclosed a short letter, as always interesting. She tells me she dined with my uncle Mike recently.
Emiliana lies in her underwear reading ‘Marilia’. She is the first person to do so. I could barely find it, it was hidden under so many papers. She tells me today about her father who has already had three heart attacks and been retired. He was crying yesterday full of worry about his children and problems with neighbours. Emiliana thinks he won’t live much longer because he doesn’t want to. I told of how I would come away from a meeting with my mother crying, just for the pathos, the understanding, the feeling of pathos evident in her life. Then there is Angela’s problem: she is being retired in a few months time. And the example of B’s parents. I believe that retirement has a serious and useful function in society for workers, but for those who have spent a lifetime using their brains energetically retirement must be like a death, any activity taken on must be a pale shadow to the responsibility of work. I have written before about the poor status of retired people in the UK and that something urgently needs to be done. There is a powerhouse of social help going to waste. First instil into the population a greater respect for old people, then utilise that respect by giving aged people responsible but voluntary positions in social welfare jobs where their lifetime of experience can be put to practical use. How absurd that someone of Angela’s calibre, willingness, knowledge and experience should be facing uselessness.
A Christmas card arrives, posthumously, from Johnnie!
Emiliana went to the beach. Elaine came to talk but I sent her away. Elaine came back threatening to sit on the doorstep till Emiliana returned. We talked on the street, I said: really I don’t feel bad. Since I went to London you have known the situation. It is up to you to choose. I like you, but I don’t want to hurt you. If you can’t cope with the situation then it is better we don’t see each other. But it is up to you to decide. And I don’t call you and encourage you because I’m afraid you will become too involved. If you show me you are hurting, then I will say it is better for you not to see me. It is hard. Any moment I was expecting Emiliana. When she did come back, I explained almost all to her. This was necessary for me to clear the air after the confusion on Friday. But Emiliana is world weary, through her years with Z, she has passed all this with flying pain and colours.
Part of a letter to Judy and Julian and others: ‘Christmas was strange. the body never really believed in Noel or that the end of the year had come, and so refused to react emotionally to any degree. There were a few days of unusual drizzle which encouraged a certain nostalgia for London, but by the 25th the sun was out again, and the people heading for the beaches. The main celebration is on the evening of the 24th. Oddly, one of the most expensive and traditional delicacies served at Christmas dinner is the exotic sounding bacalhau, but it is none other than common cod! I did miss being at home, because there is no substitute for being with time-worn friends and relations with whom one has history and can thus laugh and joke in so much common reference.
But let me tell you about New Year’s Eve celebrations which were quite extraordinary, at least in comparison to our puritan-restricted traditions. As a prelude to the more spiritual activities of the evening, office workers eject from their skyscraper windows mountains of paper. Computer paper is much the best as it catches the wind and can trail down the street for hundreds of yards, but ticker tape is good too, because if you attach one end to the building, the rest flies like a streamer. I saw people emptying all their wastepaper baskets out of the window; and one enterprising secretary tied a ball of string to an empty paper bag and flew it like a kite from the window. Below you can barely see the pavement for a sea of paper, and all the trees have turned white with a cat’s cradle of streamers, computer paper, and foolscap.
Then later, but long after dusk, tens of thousands of people assemble on the city’s beaches, for it is the night of homage to Iemanja (a macumba or voodoo god of the sea). On any evening of the year, it is not uncommon to see a small arrangement of candles and flowers planted in the sand in some sheltered corner; but on 31 December the beaches become a vast religious fairground, literally millions of penitents come to the sea to make an offering of one sort or another. Even the least religious person who makes the trip to the beach brings a bunch of white flowers. If he arrives late, after 10 say, to Copacabana, he may have to fight his way to the water’s edge; the wide sandy beach is already packed with excited crowds and hoards of tradesmen who have cordoned off a patch of sand. There he takes his shoes off, rolls up his trousers, and wades into the water; before him, beyond the crashing waves he can see bobbing on the unstill water thousands of yachts, launches, hired ferries and motorboats, but ignoring the multitude of so many red and green lights, he bows his head to the incoming rush of water, perhaps already up around his knees, and one by one, or bunch by bunch, throws the flowers to Iemanja.
He watches the white crashing waverush consume his offering until it mixes and confuses with all the others, then the firecrackers catch his attention. He notices the quantity and intensity is increasing; he can barely hear the noise of the crowd for the crackles have become incessant: it must be nearing midnight.
Working his way back across the sand, he stops to take note of the other more devoted adepts. They have dug small pits and placed a candle or two to burn the night long, or may even have constructed elaborate and beautiful altars. A mound of sand, for example, with a hundred stems of flowers planted in careful patterns, or else a huge pit with a ring of candles alternating with flowers, mostly white, and in the centre a collection of items, a comb, a pocket mirror and maybe perfume, because Iemanja is a woman, a bottle of cashaca (the sugarcane liquid) a few small cuplets filled with the firewater, there may also be a small statuette or a model boat which will later be launched in the sea to seek out the god.
But now he sees an explosion of fireworks all along the four mile beach, and knows the New Year has arrived. Apart from the firecrackers few people have brought real fireworks, but the most famous hotels along Avenida Atlantica have organised impressive displays in order to out-firework each other, as it were. But the prize goes to the most modern, the most ugly and the tallest hotel which camouflages its entire frontage for a few minutes with the streams from a multitude of white roman candles fixed horizontally to the skyscraper’s roof.’
Paul K Lyons
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