Saturday, Rio de janeiro

A letter arrives from my Bulgarian cousin, Martin. It is characteristically short in tone. Now his studies are finishing, he says, he has to choose between three years of military service and an assignment at the nuclear power station, computer education at the Academy of Sciences or working with a group on sea experiments in Russian ships in the Med or Atlantic. 'I hope my long silences and dry letters haven't distressed you.'


This is my life passing by. I have stayed at home all day except for a brief five minute swim. I have read most of Stephen Jay Gould's book 'The Mismeasure of Man'. I have written to Angela, and I have written John's fifth letter to Jack in my story about the mountain. I've read the papers, and now I come to take a turn in the journal.

I enjoyed my evening at Wolfgang's last night. There was Ekke Eugel, a special ensign from the German ministry of economic affairs; Muller from the German consulate; Vera; Garayeb from Nuclebras PR; Frederico, Wolfgang's sidekick with a swinging Brazilian girlfriend; and de Matta from Furnas PR.

And about Elaine. I don't believe I'm willing to commit. I think I need a more involving relationship. She is too neurotically busy, and I don't want to ask, cajole, persuade her to spend more time here because that implies greater commitment. And she has habit of asking me to do things all the time. I went to her house last night to fix the stereo. I took her some shopping, some food and things, fixed up the wiring on her loudspeakers, and rearranged her bedroom with hardly so much as a thanks or an offer of a drink. I see an egoism from solitary living.

A dream: I hurried down through the inner complexities of an underground station. There were crowds of people, and police. I saw blood and bodies, and a train waiting at the platform. I jumped on and found myself squashed in a tiny compartment. The train left immediately, and we rode through a wide tunnel with several tracks and different levels. I was near the front of the train, and saw some ape-like creatures, bulky. Some were covered in blood, others carried clubs. They were moving towards me, and then I remembered that no one had known how the bodies in the station had been attacked. Also, somewhere in this nightmare there was a plot to take over the world by some kind of orientals and some flying children with fangs.

Wednesday 5 June

A dream: I was on a tour or tourist trip at an unknown place, and was looking for somewhere to sunbathe. I decided to go on a drive to a zoo with an attractive blonde who had hired a kind of jeep with three pews of seats. Driving through a town like Pocos de Caldas, we saw groups of two or three horses sleeping with blankets partially covering them. Then we arrived at a dead end, with wire netting stopping our path. Inside we could see some gorillas. (They were dangerous and there was a hammer for hitting them on the head.) Eventually we found a way through the fencing and drove on a very bumpy surface, like a desert landscape. At one point a pink car came hurtling across the landscape at right angles. The next thing I remembered, though, is that we were trekking across snow and thin ice, then walking up snowy icy steps. Two old women passed us, one of whom was the Queen of England, Elizabeth. We arrived at a kind of style entrance. An unusual metal thimble on a chain barred our way and a notice told us to fill it with water to protect against wasps.

6 June

A dream: I went to a kind of refugee camp where old people had been living a long time. The sea was nearby. People were very kind. On the bedsheet, there were some things written about the people I was staying with. But it was I wrote them the last time I came. I thought how strange that they should still be there. I had to test packets of milk sent to me by doctors. Eventually, the plastic container on one leaked and I saw that it contained a slimy heart not milk. One Saturday morning I decided to leave, but then, half way to the bus stop. I realised I couldn't leave without saying goodbye, so I got off the bus. But then I realised I'd left left my sleeping bag, the old grey one, in the bus, and rushed back. The bus was closed and boarded up. I tried to remove the boards and the bus owner emerged out of a nearby house screaming 'thief' at me. I tried to calm him, told him I was a nice boy really.

A week of dreams and little work. When it comes to dreams I will always remember Marielle. I had to suppress my pride at her demands for silence - those indulgent mornings in Fordwych Road - but when I did it was a pleasure to lie there half asleep, still tired, the vague sounds of life in other rooms and outside, and then listen to her seductive rhythmic voice detail such colourful extraordinary dreams.

Friday 7 June

John and Conceicao arrive full of giggles and playful joys of spring, even though it's autumn. They can barely keep from hugging and kissing, the joyful lovers they are. But all the spark comes from C, she is the joker, the gameplayer; John is the supporting act, the captured, the public-school product caught in the laughter of children and love. It makes me wonder if the fun-lover, the joker always has a richer life than the intellectual - but perhaps this is only so in youth. In fact, I play more with C than John does, at least when we're together. To make Elaine laugh is a work, and to see her laugh feels like success.

J and C have gone. E has come and is playing her flute.

Sitting on the rocks beneath my apartment with the swirling sea swelling and receding around me, I got to thinking about how wild plants must contain so much information about the weather. Each plant has a fantastic history of the seasons written in its make-up - it must have evolved with the best chance of surviving all types of weather patterns, drought, cold etc. Any plant alive has, by definition, ancestors with growth and flowering patterns that have survived through every weather condition. Maybe, by computerising these growth and flowering patterns one could predict a season's weather.

11 June 1985

Tuesday lunchtime. I am struggling. I am not being very effective or indeed earning very much money. I sit at the table surrounded by press cuttings, mostly half stories, and find myself limited. I want to get on, do more, but who, where, why? The subtlety of the difficulties has taken me unawares. I think I was expecting hardships to be more apparent, more physical. Just now, I am tasting the real problem - finding enough work. And I make many mistakes still, feel naive about them. I think I must get back to yoga and exercises. I do breathe a deep sigh of relief, though, when I remember that I had a good connection with Elaine over the weekend. This takes a huge weight off my shoulders - as though I'd been afraid of my solitude and that it had infected me through to my centre.

A letter from Mum arrived yesterday. It's full of news, yet at the end of it, she says 'not much news'. The newsiest news is that Mutti, Sasha's mother, has died. I can remember so little about her - yet she's been around all my life. I wrote a brief letter to Dad saying my strongest memory was about the three of us meeting in Brussels.

16 June 1985

On occasions, I can be profoundly satisfied, almost to tears. It is a Sunday afternoon - the sea, the yachts, the distant buildings, the hills. The sun is still high enough not to have sunk into mist. It sparkles across the water in brilliance, diluting all colour except the tree top that stands guard outside my window. The air is body temperature. If the sun strikes my skin, I feel warm, if a gust of air should blow in off the sea, I feel cold. There is little traffic, but what there is doesn't penetrate my tranquility. But perhaps this peacefulness has more to do with my state of mind, or rather body - after an indulgent morning.

Yesterday was busy. My landlord, Mucio, organised some men to paint my living room. They arrived early morning, Maria was distressed because I hadn't told her. They used cheap, thin paint and the stains I wanted covered still showed through when they'd finished. The electrical repair shop rang to say my television was fixed finally. Then, in the afternoon, I went to Ray Cook's feijado. I only really talked to one person, Roberto Dieguez Galvao, a researcher at the national institute of technology. I thought him intelligent and thoughtful.

I was nearby, so dropped in on Elaine. Together we came here and then visited some friends of hers. The husband is short, kindly, middle-aged, never without a book in his hand. He was, for many years, the book critic of the Jornal do Brasil, but now works on the editorial side. His small flat is 'cheio de livros'. I must have encouraged him because he rushed off around the corner and brought back arms full of books about pre-war Berlin and the Weimar Republic - 'completamente empasionada'. One of his books had Otto Dix reproductions which I pounced on. As we left, I was caught in one of those life-and-death split second decisions about whether to kiss the wife or not. I did, but walking down the drive, I confessed to Elaine that I thought I might have made a mistake. How does a stranger know what to do? But I think I do now. I think I should take the lead from the woman - if she wants to be kissed she would lean forward, if not she would put out her hand. We went on to see 'The Hunger' - vampires and eternal life in modern-day New York. I have to admit that I enjoy David Bowie in films, but I didn't enjoy this one much. Elaine, though, liked it since it was full of things spiritual.

Friday 21 June

It is three months I'm here now. In reality such a short time, yet it feels like a year. I cannot assess properly if I'm doing well or poorly. I have so few points of reference. I compare myself with one journalist and I'm doing far better than him, but then I look at another, who gets a $1,000 a month retainer, expenses that pay for an office, a secretary, telephone, telex, papers etc, and I feel like a failure.

Monday 24 June

John had wanted us to meet at 11:30 to arrive at 1:00 for a 5:00 start. I took a jumper to sit on, a lunch box, a pack of cards, a book. John, bagless and in shorts, made fun of my bag, and in fact, he was right, since almost no one else carried a bag; and the whole world and his wife were dressed like him, in shorts and t-shirts. We didn't actually arrive at Maracana until about 3pm, and the stadium was already 'choca'; the only spaces to be seen in the huge circular arena were in the one boxed off ticketed area. It is a very basic stadium - a concrete shell, concrete gangways to get in and out, and concrete, uniform terracing. Every few hundred yards along the corridor that circles inside are toilets and basic refreshment counters - all identical. But what a sight to see, 140,000 people all lined up in rows along the terraces, neat and tidy. Every now and then a fight or tussle breaks out, and all the people in that area tense up before relaxing back into their seats. Half-full beakers of coke or beer are often thrown across the crowd. Amid thousands of yellow shorts, the eye occasionally catches a pocket of deep reds, the Flamengo club colours.

Tuesday 25 June

Well, I bolted off a second story to Paul Maidment at 'The Economist'. The story idea was given to me by James Ball at 'International Gas Report' (IGR) some weeks ago - a potential Algeria-Brazil gas deal about which he knew very little. I poked around and eventually got a good account from Julian Chacel, an economist and director at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. I then talked to Goldemberg at CESP and wrote a good story for IGR. This was two Fridays ago. I asked Maidment if he wanted the same story, and he agreed to have a look at it. Then Ball rang on Tuesday and I told him 'The Economist' was thinking of using it. He went livid. I had thought IGR would have used it already, but I swallowed my pride, and telexed Maidment to say I wouldn't be able to send the story until next week. In the meantime, of course, the story changed dramatically - an offer by Petrobras to supply Sao Paulo with gas eclipsed my original story. And so I felt sorry for Ball, because he was on his way to an international gas conference in Munich with fresh copies of IGR under his arm - and my story a front page exclusive - well not quite!. He may never talk to me again. Then, I had a crisis of conscience over whether the original story was worth sending to Maidment after all. I didn't want to send another 'can't send it' message, but neither did I want to send him a story I knew to be less valid than it had been. I reasoned, in the end, it was simply a question of writing about the situation as clearly as I could.

29 June 1985

On Wednesday morning I tripped out to Embrapa, at the rural university - an hour and a half bus ride. The Embrapa buildings are lovely, colonial, well looked after and brightly coloured orange as though this were India and some elephants were pulling lawn-mowers on the lawn. For three hours, I listened to Bob Bodey and Joanna Dobereiner tell me about their nitrogen fixation research. I have to confess I was rivetted with interest. My understanding was stretched but I stayed with it. The most exciting news - not previously known apparently - is that sugar cane fixes nitrogen from the air. They are about to submit a paper to 'Nature' or 'Science', from which the 'New Scientist' usually takes stories. So it could be a scoop for me!

The next day I was taken to Resende, by one of Nuclei's directors. I was surprised to find him taking a whole day off to drive and accompany me. Construction of the enrichment plant is virtually complete. It's spotless, gleaming, quite impressive. But will it ever work? This - the jet nozzle process - is the first of its kind in the world. Technicians were patient in explaining the processes to me. On the way back, we stopped at a German restaurant where a gang of Nazis was busted in 1978. Quite extraordinary. An enormous place, but completely devoid of customers. At one point, an old haggard woman - the wife of an old Nazi who still owns the joint - came tottering out. The kassler and sauerkraut were good.

Paul K Lyons

July 1985


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