PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1985 - MAY
Thursday 2 May
I can barely distinguish the buildings on the far side of the bay, a rain mist has removed all colour from the scene. Corcovado and most of his hill have completely vanished into light grey. The rain comes and goes in showers and storms. I hear the swish of tyres as the cars below drive through water pools. The air is cool, I have all my windows closed; and last night I used a blanket for the first time.
The overnight bus trip to Pocos de Caldo was not as horrendous as I had expected. I did sleep most of the way there and most of the way back, even if the sleep was interrupted by pit stops and some very scary manoeuvring by the bus driver. In a state of relaxed sleep my head was swung from side to side like a boxer's punch ball. The bus left the Rodoviario precisely at 11:10pm and arrived precisely at 7:00 in Pocos. The place is a bit of a disappointment, as it looks like an American town with a criss-cross design of streets and single story shopping fronts. Its fame rests on the presence of thermal spas and baths. There is one oldish large building - The Thermos - from another more prosperous age. It has a vast entrance hall furnished with tables and chairs and current newspapers, and a small exhibition of scenic photographs. Different types of healing waters and treatments are on offer, as are massages and electrical impulse treatment. It's a rich town, few beggars, and I didn't see any favelas. The parks are well cared for and animated with courting adolescents - there's a hugging pair on every bench and by every. One of the best hotels, The National - where the IAEA (nuclear) seminar is being held - is cheap and shoddy. When I arrived my contact, Tauchid, was just leaving for Canada where his wife's mother is/was dying. The man had promised me good information but I arrived too late, but he did introduce me to Paulo Barrego, one of the directors of CNEN, and to a Uruguayan.
Then the day went like this. I breakfasted with the Uruguayan and an Argentinian, then sat in for the first half an hour of the seminar until a van arrived to take me to the uranium mine and mill. There a technical superintendent and a geologist answered my questions, and took me round the whole site. First the quarry, a huge open pit being dug down in successive stages focusing on areas with uranium ore. From a vantage point we could see busy trucks scurrying away with a load of rocks. These rocks are taken to a series of crushers and then stockpiled depending on the uranium content. From there, a controlled mixture is sent by pipeline in slurry form to the production complex which extracts the uranium in the form of yellowcake, drums of which are to be seen in the warehouse.
I lunched in the canteen with my two hosts and was then driven into town again with the geologist. For the afternoon, I sat around the seminar room talking with Paulo and a Bolivian and a geologist from Nuclebras. I read some of the literature lying around and tried to follow an exercise that 30 or so delegates were attempting. Given a certain field and drilling data, they had to create geological maps of an area and determine where the uranium was hidden. It seemed fun, all that colouring in, and battleship-type guessing. I sat with the Uruguayan for about an hour trying to interpret his Spanish explanation of the state of uranium exploration in Uruguay. He drank a very strange maté - but didn't offer me any. Later I ate with him and the Argentinian - a delightful meal of chicken and rice soup followed by chicken and rice. Later the Uruguayan became quite manic, bouncing around, joking, making fun of the waiters, and I wondered if this was the effect of the maté or something he had smoked. I also managed a half hour with the Bolivian before catching my bus back to Rio. Despite the absence of Tauchid, a useful day
Well, I actually felt I did some work this week. I filed 1,000 words to 'Nuclear Fuel' and copied it to 'EMJ'. I filed about 250 words to 'Nuke Week' and copied it to 'Latin America Markets'. I filed about 300 words to 'IPR' and 'Chemical Week' and coped it to 'LAM', 'EMIS'. Plus I filed my South American reports. In one day, I could have made enough to live on for all of June. Plus, when I got home, the last week's edition of 'The Economist' had finally arrived, and my nuke story was there - glaring error and all.
Coming back from the beach, I found a small crowd had gathered on the pavement. A small yellow car had crashed into a tree and by the side of it a man lay lifeless - nobody appeared to be tending to him. Several Policia Militar hung around looking at their watches and intercoms (assuming they could see anything through their dark glasses and beneath their low-slanted Che-type berets). Occasionally one of them would wave the traffic by. An ambulance arrived within minutes rather than tens of minutes and bundled the 'corpse' onto a stretcher. Two young women and one young man rushed up to the ambulance and started behaving hysterically. I hate to say it, but the actions looked learn from novelas (TV soap operas). Even the wounded or dead man seemed to be faking, since he was far too lifeless to be real even without any visible sign of damage.
I feel calm and content early this Sunday evening. A Gal Costa tape plays on the cassette. The air is just too cool to be naked so I find myself putting on a shirt. Hanging on the wall is a chequered green hammock; on the stool in the corner stands a palm plant. I am revelling in these purchases from the northeast market.
This morning I woke up full of self doubt having spent last night in the company of friends. The conversation was pretty inane most of the time, but there were too many jokes against me which eventually pissed me off. I don't feel good about it and I've had to go through a whole self-justifying process, until I realised what I was doing. Remember, I said to myself, I am never going to change my personality, rather I have to live with it. I need to follow the few basic rules I've tried to set myself. I forget most of them now, but they're rules like, look people in the eye, smile a lot, don't be negative about friends etc. Yet I still had time to come to some conclusions in my minutes of self-justification. The first was that the joking against me wasn't an attack, but rather a weakness of my friends others. In general I know they like me a lot.
I also had to examine why I didn't invite my friends' (girl)friend home with me, and why I've failed to come close to finding a lover yet. It seems my nature has calmed down in recent years, and become more moral, more serious, perhaps. In the time of Harold, it was not so, and, I suppose, given the catalyst of a playboy friend, I might change again quickly. Left to my own devices, though, I'm clearly a conservative. Further to these thoughts, it stunned me to realise just how flexible my personality is. With Bel I was largely caring and faithful, and gentle (at least I think so); but how hard and unyielding can I be. This is why I am so often underestimated. There is a power in me, but it is so often dulled by the people I am with. I'm beginning to talk absolute nonsense now.
I got the camera out this morning but was too timid to use it at the market. I had chosen b&w film but at the market, of course, b&w is only good for portraits or cameos of people working and being my first time out I was afraid of drawing too much attention to myself. I would have been better off with the colour film to catch the bright sun forcing its way through the many coloured plastic stall coverings - the red hue of the air in the meat section for example.
Foster came round looking drunk, but with tiredness not drink, to deliver his wedding invitation. He's marrying Veronica, a dark-skinned girl who sounds quite amazing, but who has just landed a plumb job in Rondonia. The two of them are writing their own service and inviting everybody to a knees-up.
What a stunning letter from Angela. She proposes to be my godmother. Listen to some of the things she says: 'You have such gifts . . .' 'It seemed so clear under your nice, easy surface that this (an insouciantly secure childhood) wasn't so - poor children who are born into situations of tension, who learn to be diplomats, skating danger areas they don't understand, before they learn the more obvious skills. But I must say that, like all suffering, for those who survive and aren't deformed by it - it has a profound value making people grow that sensitivity which is the loveliest of charms and with intelligence the foundation of wisdom.' 'Somehow I feel I know you and love you far more deeply that a few meetings would justify.' 'You are dearer to me than lots of people I've known for years. I think you have wonderful potentialities. I'd like to fill some small gap in your life - perhaps that of feeling securely loved by an older person.'
I see a small fishing boat chugging its way to harbour. At the helm stand three fishermen in various poses. One wears red plastic trousers, another orange plastic trousers, and the third yellow plastic trousers. The bright afternoon sun highlights the colours against the drab browns of the boat and nets. On another day I saw a fishing boat in the bay using a huge circular net. As the men pull the net in laboriously bit by bit, I could can see it shimmering with thousands of small silver fish stuck in the netting - so much so that from a distance it looked like my antique Egyptian shawl, the one flecked with silver.
I write to Annie about how past lives become films in the memory without feeling; but look what I read in Golding's 'Free Fall' this morning, it's so much better: 'There is a threshold here, too, beyond which what we did was done by someone else. Yet I was there. Perhaps to understand must include pictures from those early days. Perhaps reading my story through again I shall see the connection between the little boy, clear as spring water, and the men like a stagnant pool. Somehow, the one becomes the others.'
There is a quiet thrill knowing I have a Golding book to read. He is such a master of language. But it is not the thrill of a new Durrell book. Durrell takes me into a rich exotic landscape and satisfies all my fantasies. I feel much in tune with Golding's ideas. He belongs to an internal world of intense truth and attempted understanding. An individual is god in his books, while Durrell deals with the dreams of intellectuals, his characters are of a modern mythology - and if they exist then they are forever out of reach.
Here are some of the opening sequences of 'Free Fall'. 'I have walked by stalls in the market place where books dog-eared and faded from their purple, have burst with a white hosanna, I have seen people crowned with a double thorn . . .' 'We are dumb and blind and yet we must see and speak out . . .' 'My darkness reaches out and fumbles at a typewriter with its tongs . . .' 'How can you share the quality of my terror in the blacked-out cell when I can only remember it and not recreate it for myself? No. Not with you. Or only with you, in part. For you were not there. . . 'And who are you any way? Are you on the inside, have you a proof copy? . . .
Because these are similar to my stories 'Cruel Garden' and 'The Borderlands' they give me hope that one day I will write something worthwhile. But sitting over there, nonchalantly on the sofa, is a scruffy American edition of 'Nexus' by Henry Miller which I know will do the opposite. Miller's writing is about living, about people being and communicating with people. He writes about the density of society and that challenges my own way of being.
Yesterday, in fact, I started writing. I've been mulling a story about a man and the mountain. I like the idea of the climber choosing different climbs according to his mood - easy one to be able to think or savour good news, difficult ones to forget the many problems back home etc. I haven't really got a rounded plot yet, but then I met Robbert's son in the street on his way to climb the mountain and I realised my story should have a son in too. A bit later, after writing a well-composed letter to Annie, I conceived the idea of a story based on the correspondence between an estranged son and his father many years later, when the son is in prison and the father is ill in a nursing home - but neither know about the other's position. My idea is that will be communicate through their memories about the mountain.
I went to the Museum of Modern Art) to the small cinema, to see 'Citizen Kane'. The place was packed to overflowing with young people sitting on each other. But print of the film was atrocious. Four times the showing was stopped to change the reel; the subtitle were often invisible; and, for a good half of the film, there was a tremendous roar at the back of the soundtrack which made the whole experience uncomfortable.
My 'Economist' article was translated and published in the Brazilian equivalent 'O Senhor'.
After being celibate for just under two months, I finally found myself touching another body again. And how pleasant, how pleasant. Elaine, the flautist, rang early Sunday evening, and invited herself round. She came and she stayed. She was soft and lovely, folding herself into my arms, resting herself on my lap without inhibition. How easy she made it for me. The evening was quite perfect - an unwinding crescendo of desire, with touches of passion, moments of fragile collusion, and intense sexuality. And then later, after much toing and froing in bed, we slept badly, our subconsciouses aware of the giant step we'd taken from strangers to lovers.
This week I am commissioned to work a couple of days for 'Chemical Week' so I'm guaranteed $150. But I'm a bit short of feedback at present because of a postal strike. I've received no mail for nearly a week.
My sweet maid, Maria, fills in some details about her life. She was married at 14 to a man of 29 who was violent and beat her. She has an 11 year old child by him who is still in the northeast. She married again and had two children, and she separated from that husband four months ago. When I asked why she got married at 14, she said it was because her father wanted her to.
Elaine comes for half an hour, dressed all in white, and peels an apple. We exchange details about our day.
I do not yet feel I'm using my time profitably. And neither do I feel in tune with the world here. It's not that my timing is out of synch but more that the quality of the temperament of timing is out of synch. I find myself livid several times a day. I'm on the wrong bus; a secretary hasn't rung back; the papers haven't been delivered when they should have been; and so on. But these livid feelings don't leave behind any impressions; I don't feel at the end of the day that it's been awful because of these frustrations. Consequently, I've concluded, these sessions of lividness must be a useful and perhaps necessary element of the day. Could I even be enjoying them?
I am reading an expose of the military at work, 'Brazil since 1964', by a Belgian. The presence of a foreword, an author's note, an introduction and then an introduction to the first chapter put me off. Generally, such a plethora of explanations is a clear signal of insecurity by a publisher or writer or both. However, I have been pleasantly surprised. The book is very readable, and is succeeding in making light of the many complex political manoeuvrings. The book recounts the evils of the first ten years of the regime, but much more than that it shows the endeavours of humans trying to do their best, trying to innovate, trying to move Brazil forward. The people he talks about are not evil power-grabbers; nobody is locking up and torturing people for pleasure (with exceptions of course). I was much impressed by President Castello Branco. He had no regard whatsoever for public relations and bulldozed ahead with his reforms. But he was a firm democrat and tried desperately - even manically - to create conditions of harmony and peace for the country and the people to prosper. He and his successors had a vision. The trouble was they couldn't realise it successfully and, frightened of popular uprisings, they tended to maltreat the rights of a small number of radicals and suspected radicals. It is also clear that Castello Branco and his less competent, but more popular successor, Costa e Silva, tried as hard to stem the flow of left-wing uprisings as they did to keep the hard right from imposing its will or organising coups. It was also interesting to learn how much of the strength of the trade union movement in Brazil in 1964 originated in the Vargas years when the government set up and funded nationwide organisations for students and workers to support Vargas's own personal power base.
Conceicao rings to say she is waiting outside John's flat - he has taken the key away from her and not returned. She is finished with him. I think of Elaine, of her dark skin and jet black hair. Meanwhile, the postman's strike appears to be ongoing and I haven't had any mail for a week. Will it end today? I read in the 'Jornal do Brasil' that a Combi van with a false bottom is steadily stealing all the iron drain covers in the city - $160,000 worth, the paper says, have been robbed so far. Watch your step!
Chris and I both fail to get into the Cultura Inglesa where a jazz saxophonist, Paulo Moura, was playing. The free entrance had been over-publicised and there were crowds on the street. We also failed to meet, so we talked for half an hour on the phone. I will meet Peter Fry, a social anthropologist, on Friday for lunch. I took Lily some flowers on Monday, it was her 80th birthday. This morning I bought yeast at the Padaria. I have everything I want now to make bread.
I am in a fantasy world. I have exciting and challenging work, a marvellous place to live, and a friend to spend time with - Elaine is proving good value. I saw her love this afternoon, and saw it fresh unused as though she were laughing for the first time in a long time. I told her so. 'Pode ser,' she said. She is not fixed in her ways, and already I sense a trusting.
There was an excellent atmosphere at Foster's wedding party, with over a hundred people. Foster was the only one wearing a suit. The wedding itself was unorthodox. It included poetry read by the Foster's brother, testimonies of love, and glass breaking as a symbol of I don't know what.
I lunched with Peter Fry, the social anthropologist, at the fort on Praia Vermelha. It is quite the most splendid lunch spot in all of Rio. You can sit on a verandah right above the beach looking out to sea, with mountains on either side and mountains and hills in the distance - no buildings. The omelettes and salad were passable. Peter's been in Brazil for 15 years, teaching mostly at Campinas University. Two years ago he came to Rio to take a job at the National Museum and since the funds for that job were cut, he's moved to become a project organiser and fund raiser for the Ford Foundation, an organisation that promotes American liberalism. He's done a lot of research on the Macumba and is some sort of expert. He has also done studies on sexuality, especially in prisons, and on the life and history of famous criminals from the past. He also talked about the roots of the Brazilian student movement.
The lights of the favelas on the distant hilltops twinkle - romantically!
Elaine was worried that her lipstick was too bright for an outside concert.
Monday 20 May
All the pleasures here - the sea and swimming, the healthy sunshine, the vista, the work - sometimes fade into insignificance compared to the joy of arriving at Bel's door and being welcomed with love. I am weeping tonight for her, my throat is thick with emotion, thinking about that last breakfast we had, and her saying - I don't want breakfast to finish! I call her. Her voice is clear and simple, musical.
I am calmer now. I've got a Shosty violin concerto going, and some cashaca down my gullet.
My April cheque from World News amounted to $761, over and above the $200 retainer
I spent the entire day at Reuters on Friday, typing into the telex machine. $200 worth of work for Chemical Week, $200 for Nuclear Fuel, $30 for EMIS, $30 for IGR, and the wire reports. My May pay should be over $1000. On a $1000 a month, I can live happily, but I'm working hard. My stringer magazines start to arrive regularly (not the post is fine again). I get The Economist, The New Scientist, Nucleonics Week, Nuclear Fuel, IPR, and Petrobras news releases.
Julian has bought Mike Westbrook's new double album and taped it for me. His letter is dated the 21st. It only took four days to get here! The post also brings a card from J, a lovely family friend who is dying of cancer. My mother's told me she will not live until the end of the year.
I'm reading avidly. This weeks crop of books include a Simenon, a Caspary 'A Chosen Sparrow', perspectives on Brazilian history, and another Golding treasure, 'The Scorpion God'. Golding's writing is difficult at times, but this is because he dares into territory unfamiliar and unwritten. He stretches the imagination. There is an Egyptian prince who does not want to become god, and a lame warrior called Chimp.
Thursday 30 May
The first three days of this week were exclusively taken up with the Baumgarten Affair, but I think I wasted all my time. I was totally taken in by the colour of the tale and the extraordinary number of corners, dark shady corners that it led into. I based almost everything I wrote on local newspaper reports, although I justified my writing a new article by interviewing the Procurado Jungueiro Ayres. The interview with Ayres at the law courts was very difficult. I took Patricia along for translation help. He was a smug sort of chap, delighting in the media attention brought by the case. But fancy me writing this story when everybody, including the man in the street, knows more about it than me. Hank, for instance, knew the story inside out but wasn't writing anything on it this time round, because the latest developments just didn't deserve a new treatment. Nevertheless, I do think I made a pretty good precis out of a hellishly complicated case. I sent it on spec to several UK papers but I've heard nothing from any of them. Here is my intro: 'Clearing skeletons out of cupboards is a must for the new democracies of South America. Brazil's Baumgarten case might not arouse the emotions of the general's trial in Argentina but its importance as a vehicle for instruction or even revenge is far-reaching. It also lacks nothing in local colour.'
As it happens it was also my birthday this week. 33. It was celebrated by Maria working hard in the kitchen cooking for a small party and baking me a strawberry cake; by Ruth ringing and having a long chat; by Bel ringing; by a card arriving from Dad; by John and Conceicao, Christine, Paulo, Chris and Demetriado coming for a late dinner. We played a game of forfeits, and the only one with any imagination or courage was Demetriado - who took all his clothes off, briefly.
A letter arrives from Rob. Judy is pregnant and already Mrs Warren.
Paul K Lyons
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