PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1986 - APRIL
No one with whom to April fool last morning. I have decided to return home on 2 July for Mum’s birthday; yesterday I booked the ticket which will land me in London 3 July. This leaves me with the option of surprising her if I so decide. I have a suspicion that such a surprise will be give me more overall pleasure than she. I can savour the surprise and delight to come for weeks, even months, whereas her pleasure may be intense for a few minutes or an hour but will then settle down to be as it would have been if she had known of my coming. But, if she knows I am coming back then she too can savour the pleasure, the expectancy for weeks if not months and still have the pleasure of my homecoming which is usual. I have left it with Julian to decide (although I am fairly certain he would not be able to hold the secret very well) and I have written to Barbara too, asking her opinion. The envelope to Barbara still lies on my desk with 10 different stamps on, including birds. I have hesitated over sending it.
For many months there has been a letter truce. Barbara has decided not to write, and I have not responded. This was broken by letters that actually crossed. I sent one to her because in a dream I’d remembered that I’d forgotten her birthday, and she sent one to me via Julian. I neither replied to her letter or she to mine (nor has she thanked me for the presents which is unusual). But I have often been tempted to write or phone as this diary will testify, resisting because of a sense of what I should do for her and me. This means that we are making an attempt to forget and disunite our souls which have grown close. Perhaps I have assumed that this was more imperative for Barbara. But, in a sense, this is true for me. Now, I have written a letter which contains a passage reaffirming that she is still woven deeply into me. It is only a short paragraph, but I mention also that there is still within me an overwhelming love for her. My implication isn’t that I want to get together again, I just want her to know what I feel. But but but. In writing this here, I am thrown into doubt, as to the wisdom of this. It may be true, but it may be a very bad time to say it. If I say it, it might mean we get together in July, and who would suffer most from that? I think this is just my weakness and my arrogance mixing together, and causing problems. To send or not to send? I couldn’t be more in doubt, and I have no one to advise me.
An astonishingly empty week - one short visit from Elaine, one final visit from Pat. She returns to London today. Otherwise, I’ve spent the week on my own receiving mostly bad news. Yet, I have been at a sort of peace. I don’t know why or where from. My mood fluctuates very quickly at times, there are moments I feel close to desperate - the depression that has been growing these past months, but mostly this week I have felt calm and unworried.
Maria cooks a chicken, a rice full of vegetables, a chocolate cake, some cheese empadas. It is Saturday afternoon. I expect zero social contact this weekend. I thought about going to Cabo Frio alone but it seemed so pointless when I have plenty of writing to do here: there is work that needs to be done, there is the V story to finalise, there is the 1982 diary I am editing and typing out. A few days ago, I printed out an edited version of the summer of 1978 diary during which time I move from Madrid to Downton to Paris to Brussels to Edinburgh. But I cannot be objective. If I have a look over these writings, it, this period, will certainly be called my second adolescence, my hippy period. Yet I think it makes for light reading - perhaps I should send it to Colin.
It is the end of the summer. But today, the sun is hot and bright, and is driving people to the beaches. The bay is catching all the light, which glares at me, to blindness when I look out. In England on such days one feels so handsome, lucky, generous, but the feeling here is numbed by its normality. In the mornings sometimes I catch the emotion but it rides off quickly as the instinct learns its new climate.
Not only have there been no calls this weekend, but not one personal letter either. I think I have arrived at the point now where everybody I know in the world owes me a letter - and this despite the special restraint I place on myself to delay replies.
Out there in the world, a bomb explodes on a TWA Boeing in flight. The graphic photographs of a one-metre diameter rip in the side of the aeroplane helps the mind believe that four passengers were sucked out. Fortunately, the plane managed to land safely at Athens (en route to Rome from Cairo or vice a versa) with all the other passengers safely breathing through their masks. The one concession to the horror of these deaths is that three of them must have been each other’s closest relatives - thus alleviating the total amount of suffering left to be felt by survivors - a grandmother, mother and daughter all dying together.
China and Russia are having nuclear energy talks to the surprise of those not in the know. China recently cancelled planned contracts with Germany. (I wonder if visits to Brazil helped them decide this!) Meanwhile, ‘The Economist’, opinionated as ever, decides the world must have nuclear energy, but, in its leader article, makes no reference to renewable energy sources, whether from sugar cane or tidal power. A multi-billion pound scheme to barrage the Bristol Channel is under discussion again. The answer, I think, is for an increasing diversity of energy sources. It was a mistake for the world to plump so wholly for oil in the first place - it has learnt its lesson, now energy must be created renewably in small and local units as well as large and networked plants. Transportation of fuels must be eliminated wherever possible, and local sources matched to local needs. I had an interview with one of the directors of the Ultra Group yesterday, this was very much his message. They are trying to use natural gas as a fuel for buses, instead of diesel. Eventually, it will be piped straight from a Petrobras gasline into a compressor and into the bus tanks. Natural gas is already being used commercially in buses in New Zealand and Canada.
We were granted an interview with Dilson Funaro the treasury minister, he whom Sonia Braga kissed and to whom all Brazil is still grateful for slaying the inflation dragon. All the press were sat around the enormous National Commerce Federation table, all eager to ask the famous man their questions. Not all, but many of them were like schoolboys wanting to get their penny’s worth; and then the jiggling round at the end, perhaps to get a handshake.
It is not just once in a while any more that I see I’m in the wrong profession. But this time, I have to stick with it.
The sea water today is a glorious rich turquoise, as though it were lapping the shores of some forgotten uninhabited island rather than a huge third world city. I will swim a little later today, though the porter has wound me up by saying there’s a lot of jellyfish. I am not sure if he is teasing me. My weaknesses are so visible.
I behaved so badly on Sunday night - it is difficult to understand why. Elaine invited herself round on Saturday night, we read, made love, slept, breakfasted slowly, then, before she left, we danced a little. I demonstrated my eagerness to learn again, and we practised a few steps. I am such a difficult pupil. Even in ten minutes, we seemed to get somewhere. I suggested we go to Circo Voador at night. She agreed. The evening came. I did not have the drive to go, but Elaine rang up and wanted to go. I demurred but agreed finally. Once there, though, the difficulties began. I needed Elaine to make an effort for me. I became tired of asking her to help me out - she explained occasionally something without reference to whether I had understood. When I felt comfortable practising in a corner, she felt watched, but where she felt comfortable in the middle of the dance floor, I lost my nerve and marched off. I explained several times how difficult it was for me, appealing to her to understand and add some force to the problem, push me to do it, but she did not comprehend. I became tenser and tenser, angry at having not learnt anything, at not having spent all the time just learning and practising - we stood around a lot. I needed her to push, to push, to push me. We left after only one hour. Getting on the motorbike she asked if I was ‘chateado’. I told her ‘yes’ - then in two or three bursts on the way home I shouted at her for not helping me, never helping me learn, in a whole year she’s never helped me learn to dance. Really, the amount of bitterness that emerged out of me was astonishing, and completely out of proportion.
As part of the life revision, I promised myself to develop more on the science side. Ray Cook at the British Council had given me the name of Ismenia Guimaraes almost a year ago. Such is the passage of time. Having finally contacted her, we arranged to meet 7:30 on Monday morning. She drove me down to the two-year old research station 50km south of the city where she works. It’s an isolated place on the marshy planes behind the spit of Marambaia. The only other construction in the area is the army research station. My morning was split between Dr Marcos who runs the aroma lab and Ismenia who controls the colourants lab.
Aromas: Dr Marcos’ English was slow and stuttered but adequate. His memory for unessential details was already beginning to fade, his age and health counting against him in many ways. He had one of those bellies that seem to protrude further out than his height. His spectacles had embedded themselves in his oversized nose. Not a nose that extends outwards but rather one that has a large flatness, a largeness in two directions. The bridge of the spectacles almost disappeared in the folds of the nose side: had they actually grown over the frame? It was only right and proper that he should have a giant nose for he must have spent much of his life sniffing, working as he does in the search for the perfect aroma and the perfect process for extracting the aroma. Although Dr Marcos has spent many years in the Amazon searching for new and useful aromas, the last years with Embrapa have been spent on old and trusted plants - garlic, clove, eucalyptus and ginger (quite a treat). The idea is to develop commercially-viable processes to extract the essential oils. His team, for example, has just developed a process for garlic oil. He chuckles as he shows me some capsules made in the US where garlic oil has become a fad. They actually contain, he says, garlic oil to the extent of 0.04%, all the rest is rapeseed oil. His process, he says, will give 0.4% with soya oil. Discussions are now taking place with a Brazilian company to transfer the technology. Having explained his work he takes me to a fridge and treats me to a smell-guessing contest. Why doesn’t the smell of clove oil register against the word clove in my head? I smell various times. I know it, but I can’t name it. We have been talking about it just a few minutes earlier. It is a lovely smell. The ginger too is delightful.
Colours: Ismenia makes a strange contrast to Dr Marcos. She is agitated, nervously rushing through her papers, samples, explanations. She tells me most enquiries she receives are about annatto. I have never heard of it before. It is a small reddish tree that bears hard prickly pods which contain seeds like sweet corn but coloured a deep red. This is one of only four or five approved natural products that can be used as colourants in food without passing through complex toxicology legislation. Ismenia shows me a variety of products which are coloured by annatto: in dilute quantities it colours an orangey yellow, through grades of intensity to dark heavy red. She says it is the most widely used colourant in the world. Peru used to be the biggest producer, but nobody has the faintest idea how much is produced in Brazil. The Cacex exports figure doesn’t help because much is hidden under ‘oleaginosas’ which is a catch-all for oil-containing products. Annatto has a little oil, but is not used for that at all. Ismenia believes that the multinational food and pharmaceutical companies grow large amounts here in Brazil and export it at low prices to their manufacturing plants in Europe. Natural colourants are becoming increasingly important as legislation on food safety tightens. In Brazil there is still very little such legislation and most colourants used are artificial still. Embrapa is developing a process to extract the colourant as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Processes are possessed by large companies but they won’t divulge details. A scouring of papers and textbooks likewise reveals an obvious lack of technical clues. I don’t know what to do from here. Well, have a look at the Cacex figures and then visit Unilever. After colour extraction, the annatto waste is given to chickens to make their yolks more orange. Orange oranges in Europe probably have annatto in their peels.
Ismenia took me for lunch to one of the well-known roadside restaurants near Guaratiba. The squid muqueca was excellent, but then the fish and farofa with prawns came in identical sauces. The owner turned on his music system half way through, it must have been just for us because we were the only ones eating, the other 30-40 tables were empty. We asked him to turn it down a little, but that offended him so he turned it off altogether. Much better. They don’t have far to go to fish as the water of the river/swamp/lake laps the edges of the concrete foundations. There must be a name in Brazil for this type of water-logged area full of one sort of tree with its base below water level - like a mangrove swamp, but not mangrove.
On the way back to Rio she told me about the assault on her flat in January. Horror story. The worst of it is she and her husband didn’t tell the police, even though the three youths lifted everything of value from their flat - jewellery, watches, money, TV, radios etc everything. The same robbers did the same to five other flats in the block. All the inhabitants were under threat from guns pointed at them. After 5-6 hours they left taking two cars to carry all the goods. The police were called in because of the stolen cars (I suppose they must be reported) but Ismenia didn’t report the apartment theft because the robbers had promised to get their daughter if they said anything. (It was through the daughter coming home at 11pm that the robbers had gained access to the flats.)
That same evening we met again at a cocktail party. She introduced me to her husband who just happens to be a Petraflex director, and he promised to help me out with some export info I’ve been unable to get. Apart from Ismenia’s husband (who looked about 60, while Ismenia is nearer 50, although it is difficult to tell with all that plastic surgery about her - I wonder if there is a correlation between people who don’t go to the police when they are robbed and use of plastic surgery), I talked to a mathematics teacher called Mark who’s going to invite me for a game of cricket on Sunday, another Embrapa guy, Derek, working on trees and unusual oil-producing plants, and Rita Payne, a sub-editor with the BBC World Service World News, over here on holiday with her architect husband who is giving some lectures. Jeoffrey Payne from Oxford Polytechnic was so cool and glib he could have walked out of a novel by Malcolm Bradbury or David Lodge.
Sergio at Reuters is upset. He filed a story two weeks ago on the birth of a child to a nine year old in the north of Brazil. Supposedly the youngest birth ever. At the time Sergio asked his betters if they wanted a photo. They said no. The ‘Daily Mail’ flew a reporter and a photographer from England to cover the story. Now Reuters wants a picture. Silvio is planning a trip to London. He wants to know if it will be best to travel quickly to Scotland and then come back slowly. I tell him he could travel to Scotland and back 500 times without crossing the same stretch of road. It took a while for him to understand. There are just two ways to the north in Brazil.
I have read the first two parts of Russell’s autobiography and am now nearly through Alan Wood’s biography. It gives a better idea of the qualities of the man and attempts to explain, to the layman, the important aspects of his philosophy. Of course, Woods is a devoted disciple and though he finds reason to criticise, he does it in such a way as to promote the statue of the man - his weaknesses are only human and can be easily explained. In general, I find his politics too idealistic, but much of his understanding and his knowledge of society is sharp. I find my own ideas so much the same in some cases that I wonder if I haven’t picked them up from him in the first place. Here is an extract in Russell’s own words:
‘If I had the choice of being born again, I would rather be born in Australia than in Western Europe. The greatness of Australia lies ahead - the greatness of Western Europe lies behind. To live with the past is deadening and depressing, but to live with a vision of the future brings hope and vigour and happiness.’
‘The culture of England France is infected with a certain weariness, with the theory that everything has been done before, that the books a man may hope to write are not so good as those written in earlier times, that if he composes music it will not be so good as Beethoven, and that if he paints pictures they will not be as good as Old Masters.’
‘Beyond all this, he feels in his bones the political discouragement that comes of being no longer at the centre of growing power. If the old culture of Europe can be transplanted into the environment of an expansive economy, a new vigour and a new renaissance are to be expected.’
Some of this sounds like it could have come from my own mouth. And more: ‘But the universe is unjust. . . The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible horrible. . . You must feel it deeply, and not brush it aside.’
I am involved with one or two others in a scheme to refuel a nuclear yacht. I seem to be the organiser without knowing why or anything about yachts. I scheme to keep one man in and another man out. The one man I want is so tall and sturdy I ask him if he has poured nuclear fuel before (this must come from CP Snow’s ‘The New Men’ in which a pilot nuclear plant is built.) He tells me he has done it hundreds of times (this man might be the leader of the earth visitors in ‘Cocoon’). I am worried. I am not sure why I am organising to fuel the yacht. There is no journey organised - no trip afterwards. I go to the yacht club. There is a swimming pool and people are on their sides. One tall black-haired girl with a scarlet polo-neck sweater gets pushed in by a man who says something like: ‘That cold little part inside your pants should get even colder now.’ The girl floats on her back, but then starts screaming as the water seeps through her clothes. I find the offices at the back and enquire about how I can hire the yacht. With difficulty, I am told, but as a special favour. I see a chart with the days of two or three months marked in either black or blue. Almost all are blue indicating reserved. However, the day after the yacht fuelling is free. I remember I have other things to do the same day as the yacht fuelling. Then, as she is filling out the form, I realise this is going to cost a lot of money and I wonder why I’m doing it. I don’t even know how to sail.
Sunday 13 April
I am lodging in an old run-down unfurnished house. Juan moves in, perhaps he has bought it after searching for somewhere for a long time. I feel that he might have moved in a long time ago but for me. He is going to do the place up and already has started moving his things in. He says when it is modernised there’ll be room for me. I say I’m returning home soon, but thankyou. He also says he might need some help with his work for the ‘Washington Post’ (in fact he works for the ‘LA Times’). Mac Margolis also seems to be working in the house also.
I go to visit to Barbara. I go in the back way and ring her bell. It is very early in the morning. She cries - who is it? It’s me, I say, who else, but realise how long it is since I’ve seen her.
I am in a new home. Marieta van Oldenburgh (I talked to her on the telephone this week) is my lodger. She says we must get a television, then comes to kiss me on both cheeks.
A pretty dull set of dreams. But interesting to note that I am again writing them into the diary. When I took pills (for the fungus) in the evening, I did not write them down, now I’m taking them again at lunchtime, I do. Also the pills quite definitely affect my drive. I am without energy to do anything in the evening. In the mornings, I feel light and airy. I think I am sharper, more alert and this is why I make an effort to recall my dreams and write them down.
I read yet another C. P. Snow book, hardly stopping to breathe. They are not so exciting, but they are written with a well-controlled pace and are simple enough to skim across the pages. His strengths, no doubt, lie in his characterisations and understanding of human motivations. He catches me up short every now and then with a description close to home. He says of Winslow, in ‘The Affair’, that he has never made many friends because he is too arrogant and diffident. I read some words a thousand times without really knowing what they mean. Diffident. I look up it up - untrusting, lacking in self-confidence. There couldn’t be a better pair of adjectives to describe my relations with people. I am much alone now, so think a lot on these things. Often I say to myself - Jesus this is my life going by. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I can do nothing to better it.
I have concluded a first draft of ‘Veronica in Rio’. I don’t believe it has any merits. Interesting to see that in my 1982 diary I write about needing to start on another Vee and Veronica adventure: it has taken three and a half years.
I only seem to be productive in terms of stories when I run out of people to fill the spaces in my life. I wonder what I’ll waste my time on next. It’s extraordinary really that the whole weekend can go by without a single phone call. I suppose this has been the case much of the year. Friday night, Jim Brittijn called me out of the blue, ex-Fluidiks trader and now with BMS. He’s here working on a V.A.M. deal. We used to get on well when I was editing the Petrochemicalscan. I took him to the Garota de Urca, and we talked petrochemical trading the whole evening. All the traders names came up, one by one, where they are working, what they are doing. It’s astonishing how their characters remain alive in my memory even though I’ve never met most of them [just talked to them on the phone a lot]. Jim talks enthusiastically about it all. I think he eats, sleeps and dreams trading now. But he seems happy and in high spirits. He’s found a sort of family. Meanwhile, the group of journalists from the Urca ‘Time’ magazine office were drinking at a separate table. How is it I’ve never once gone for a drink with them in all this time. More than anything I lack a family of friends here.
Of course writing this down, it makes so much sense. We are brought up in a family. As adults we need to find this family again, one way or another. Am I scared of families because of the past? Am I diffident and arrogant, afraid of being invited in and experiencing the same damage? I am such a coward on the people front.
Gadaffi has said if the US invades he will bomb southern Europe. Reagan has sent his UN aide to Europe to win support from his allies should he need to take any action. It is difficult to believe Gadaffi will live long enough to be an old man. He has few friends, even the Arabs and Russians are not very keen on him. They will give some support though simply because Libyan terrorist actions give the Western capitalist system trouble. But, if the US decided to invade, would Gadaffi find any practical allies. Hard to know yet. NATO forces could, presumably, wipe Gadaffi out in a matter of hours or days.
Monday 16 April
There is a carnival, but the streets are narrow and sloping as in Hampstead. I make my way to a place where I’m told there will be a party next week. The streets are crowded. I enter a small shopping area and go to the lower layer. There are already crowds in some of the rooms which have not yet been fitted out for shops. And, in several rooms, the crowds are dressed alike in similar costumes, or similar colours. I see notices by two rooms which say ‘Reserved for CENPES’ (this is Petrobras’ research division) but there is nobody. Then the whole area is clear and I see Julian talking to a girl. They are saying that the whole area is ours. I talk with this girl, she is very pretty, has short-cropped hair and seems very sure of herself. I fall for her a bit. Nobody comes to the party because it is next week. Next week the girl and I by chance choose to go to a spare room, we are the only ones there. It seems too public a place, but she wants to be intimate. I walk around a corner and find myself in a bay, very small, deserted but for two couples. The two girls are lying lifeless face up in the water while their partners, who look like midgets are scampering on the surface of the water and surface of the women’s bodies touching them sexually. One of the couples is a few metres from the shore, the other has the woman chained by one leg to the rocks. All four are fully dressed.
Reagan has bombed two cities in Libya. The morning papers only ran reports of the US announcement, the obvious diplomacy that had preceded it, and isolated comments about the effect on the cities - there is no indication yet of casualties. Can a mad man be tamed? Or does he grow madder?
President Sarney takes over the media for 15 minutes to tell Brasileiros and Brasileiras what a good chap he is. Just as every word has been carefully written so has every gesture been choreographed.
There appear to have been few casualties. Accuracy of the bombs must have been good for, among the casualties, was a baby adopted by Gadaffi - two of his sons were also wounded. The Americans have said they won’t make any further attacks. Two Libyan missiles were fired at an Italian island with US communications, but fell short. Otherwise Libya’s reprisals have stuck to rhetoric - they say they shot down 20 planes, but the Americans say only one didn’t come back. The planes flew a long way round from air bases in the UK in order not to cross French or Spanish territory - both countries refused permission. Likewise most of the world condemned the US action. Only Canada, Israel and the UK supported the US. Such is the game of diplomacy.
Such is the game of diplomacy. Of course, Russia and the east bloc and other communist countries condemn the action as an imperialist fascist attack. The Arabs, to a nation, condemn - to show Arab solidarity, even though some of them hate Gadaffi. And then the European countries: Greece, Italy, Spain are all part of NATO. That speaks for itself. What is there to be gained by standing up and supporting the aggressive action. Libya has already threatened to bomb southern Europe if the US attacks. Better they keep right out of it. Besides, they are much less in line with the US Republican government (France too) than the UK’s Thatcher government. The UK is further away less vulnerable. This is not a matter of principle, but of diplomacy. Why didn’t Reagan come right out and support the UK when it attacked the Falklands? Why do it if it’s not necessary, why lose a useful trading partner and antagonise all of South America’s nations. Why is it I love diplomacy so much yet have so little diplomatic skill.
Simone de Beauvoir died two days ago. Jean Genet died yesterday. Two pillars of the French literary tradition.
Listen to a small man
It’s half past a life-time
And still nowhere to go
Sunday’s ‘Jornal do Brasil’ carried a story about a Brazilian proposal for the origins of life. I called the mathematician, named in the article, who works around the corner at the Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Fysicas, Constantino Tsallis. Basically, he and a biologist, have developed a theory that, at the moment of life being formed x billion years ago, there was a sort of microscopic Darwinian selection going on, as opposed to the single spark of life theory. They have published in the ‘Journal of Theoretical Biology’ and will present a paper to Statphys 16 (a closed group of physicists who meet triannually). This sounded like good stuff. So after talking to Constantino and arranging a meeting, I called Matt Ridley at ‘The Economist’, but failed to sell the idea to him. And shit, I felt such a fool. This really isn’t my game. You have to have a tougher skin really. I somehow manage to fight everybody off in my mind. I’m fighting Trotter, ‘Nucleonics Week’, ‘Oilgram’, ‘World Insurance’ etc.
My isolation grows worse. I have not seen Elaine for nearly two weeks (or spoken to her) nor Emiliana for three weeks. My only social contact with anybody at all in 10 days was a game of cricket on Sunday, and, no, I didn’t wear a pink shirt. Have I not played cricket even once since leaving school 15 years ago. I don’t recall so. Over there in Niteroi is the Rio Cricket Club. The pitch is no more than a football ground with a 22 yd mat laid down. Indeed, the grass hadn’t been mowed for a while: I never saw such a slow outfield. It was a scorching day which made standing out in the field a little unpleasant. Amazing how nervous I felt when going out to bat. I managed to stay in for one run and several balls, and, as the last batsman was out before me, I remained with an unblemished scorecard. I will play again if they remember to ring me. I did enjoy it, in a mindless sort of way.
The club itself is (or has been for some time) in the throws of an identity crisis. It has a cricket pavilion which isn’t quite sure whether it’s a snooker room, a library, a bar or a dining hall. To the side, there is a swimming pool, in which a few Brazilian families happily bathe away oblivious to the idiot English, Australian, New Zealand and South African whites who, every now and then, rent the pitch and play a strange game.
Of course belonging to a group of cricketers is like belonging to a family (I am returning to a discussion of a few pages ago). In the car driving out to Niteroi two of the party who were keen cricketers talked non-stop, they were part of the family and communicated like brothers. I edge along through life peeping into families but never committing (to any sort). I am looking for a fantasy family, only a perfect one will do. An exciting, adventurous, beautiful, stimulating one, a safe, encouraging, trusting, everlasting one. I suppose I’ve had some families, there was Hoddesdon SPYF group, which I gave up reluctantly on going to Cardiff, but I never found another one there; then, very loosely, I joined the travellers’ family - the family for those who haven’t got a family. And then there was Harold and Roser etc, there for the first time in years I became a family head again, it lived up, in some short term and sparky way, to the fantasy I was looking for. But since it broke up, and I hurt from losing the intimacy, I have been without a family. I made tentative second cousin connections with Roser and Andrew, and started to be the head of another family with Barbara. Of course, the whole world marries, how else does one create one’s family nearest to one’s own highly subconscious needs.
After the midweek storms and furious winds the high waves arrive in the bay battering against the rocks creating spray and spume. Usually, the water is calm with hardly a wave splash. But the air is clean, fresh, washed and the sky is a sparkling blue that seems to go on for ever. The distant mountains have never been more visible, the hills across the bay never so full of detail. It has even been chilly the last couple of days. One night I rode out on the motorbike and was physically discomfited by the cold. A strange feeling. Now the warm sun slices through the fresher air. I am tempted to the beach. There seems more point to go to the beach when it is cool in the flat, and I can’t sunbathe on the rocks because the wave crash is covering them.
I am shocked by new information about people I know.
Lincoln writes me a long letter confessing marriage was but a joke (was it? is he covering over a change with a simple trick, he knows I’ll see through?). He writes about a visit Andy made to Paris in chase of two young Hungarian girls. He made me laugh with his mise-on-scene carefully reconstructed in words for the idle letter reader. Then, towards the end of the letter, the news he carries moves from comic to tragic. There is not a trace of self-pity as he tells me he has discovered that Denise has been addicted to heroin. He says the last six months were pretty terrible, at one point he collapsed from exhaustion. They were about to split up when Lincoln demanded some explanations, to know what was really going on with her. In Lincoln’s own words: ‘PPPS I realise I have forgotten to answer the burning question on page 8. How could I not know? In fact I did. I sussed it out IMMEDIATELY and I asked the question at least 20 times at the beginning and received for an answer that I was mistaken. I was embarrassed: you can’t keep having the same scene over and over again. Also, you have to take somebody’s word otherwise there is no basis for a relationship. True to this precept I did not inquire into Denise’s comings-and-goings. I believe in freedom to do what you want and I put this into practice. Lastly, I think, on reflection there was an element of unconscious blindness: I did not want to acknowledge something that would upset my comfortable (?) routine. This is not a very complete explanation but I’ll give you the whole story the next time we meet, if you wish.’
It is not easy to decide whether Lincoln’s life would have been ‘better’ if he had not strayed from the straight and narrow: a lower middle class life, a steady job, a wife, a video, a house in Harlow or New Welwyn. It is really not easy to decide. Partly I think because he has half a lifetime still to go. His soul is in music. It is an ample enough hobby to keep him involved for life, but he will have slipped in status from the level his parents tried so hard to maintain. Fundamentally, I don’t think our problems are much different, we’re both insecure jellies who never learnt the arts of bluff and diplomacy.
On a lesser and lesser important scale, Silvio came to visit. He came after work for tea. In the year of our acquaintance, we have lunched a few times but never ventured to each others’ houses. I suppose in the last few weeks I’ve dawdled more in his office because there is actually no one else I can talk with freely at the moment. Really no one else. So I suppose I asked him round to help fill the space. But it is clear why we have never developed a friendship beyond the office. We have very little in common. Sitting in my flat, he liked none of my furnishings, especially the embroidery. He liked the plant pots (that Maria bought) more than the Maranhao ceramic, and the covered sofa rather than the wood and leather. We talked about these things for a long time. I laughed mostly to realise how different heads could be. There is nothing of the Bohemian or artist in him. He is as conventional as the next Brazilian middle class salesman, with the exception of his homosexuality.
Monday 21 April
Good morning. The clarity in the sky and the freshness of the air has faded, yet it is a pleasant day, a chill wind, a patterned sky. It is more tranquil than on other Mondays, for it is a public holiday, the Day of Tiradentes. I have no idea who or what is Tiradentes, though it sounds like a word for a quack dentist. By the external noises, I would judge today a Sunday.
A long campaign in the UK to change the law allowing shops to open on Sundays was recently defeated in Parliament. Apparently, according to a report I heard on the World Service (the jolly Beeb) there were three lobbies, powerful lobbies against the change: the church, the unions, and the conservative back-benchers - this third might be wrong, my memory fails me - who claimed a day of rest, a quiet day, was essential to the rhythm of life. I would agree with this, if it were not patently clear that allowing shops to open on Sundays would not alter the rhythm, for it is already too deeply ingrained in our Christian countries, as proved by life here. I don’t believe there is a law against opening - indeed money shops do - yet Sunday remains much different from any other day.
Despite the holiday, I shall work today I suppose. Yesterday I worked about six hours on correcting the first proof of ‘Veronica and Vee in Rio’ - I didn’t give it a title yet, and it will be ready to print out after a final read through for errors. Will it go straight on the shelf, will I ever show it to anyone?
HARE’S PLENTY AND C. P. SNOW
As a reward I took myself to the cinema. I failed to see ‘Plenty’ first time round, largely I think because of the moderately critical reviews. But, as David Hare had written the original play and the screenplay I thought it would be worthwhile. In fact, it turned out to be a more stimulating, more interesting film than its contemporary ‘Out of Africa’ which also stars Meryl Streep and gained a bucketful of Oscars. Of course, ‘Out of Africa’ is a grander spectacle, more of an epic in the film sense, and ‘Plenty’ is flawed cinematically - it is bitty, unconnected in some places. But, it has a lot to say. I should, of course, have seen the stage play, most likely it would have been more profound. It is the story of how a young woman is so deeply affected by the emotions, thrills, the importance of working for the underground resistance in France during the Second World War that she can never manage to live completely again. However hard she struggles she cannot re-find the depth of feeling. Most of the action takes place after the war and follows her through a relationship with a diplomat. But she has also made a close friend of a girl who is radical: supports women’s movements, sleeps with lots of men, smokes grass et. She is quick, fun, exciting, risky - quite the opposite of the stiff diplomat. She leaves the diplomat and tries to have a child but doesn’t become pregnant. After a breakdown, the diplomat marries her. We see her in some diplomatic posting in the Middle East; she has become monotonous, lifeless, living on sedatives. The diplomat has her under his control. The girlfriend arrives after all these years and destroys the peace. Back in England, she breaks out of the calm static he has woven. There is a last scene between them when he finally explodes saying he has spent 15 years of his life trying to help without any thanks or appreciation whatever. I thought this was so similar to Lewis Elliot’s outburst against his wife in ‘Homecomings’ that I wondered if Hare had been influenced by C. P. Snow. And then, what should I find at the end of the film but the anti-heroine using the words ‘Just so’ which is characteristic of Roy Calvert, the hero of Snow’s ‘The Light and the Dark’ which I have just finished reading. It is as if Hare has created a similar character to Calvert but given her a way out - for, in the film, she returns to the French countryside and the scenes of her youthful passion, and it, the film, leaves us with an uplifting joyous feeling, for she has found the light again. Calvert, by contrast, only finds the light through death.
I thought other things about this film. I thought how when one combines actors in a film with characters who are essentially their own personality - the girlfriend in this film is Liv Ullman playing herself largely - then the result is unbalanced. For it is like mixing cartoons with live people or having part of the screen in colour and part in black and white. I remember feeling the same about the dwarf’s part in ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. Meryl Streep is the number one star actress in the world today, she is splendid at her work, and lovely to watch, yet, by the side of bouncy Liv Ullman, she seems less real, less well drawn.
And then there is my favourite thought about normalisation. Why does this woman not normalise to the post-war plenty. This is what the play is about. Touching extremes and then judging by them. She is an intelligent woman, intellectual. She does not let the memory of the times in France fade - this is symbolised by the tokens she carries in her handbag throughout the period of the film. During the war, she has a one night affair with an operator parachuted in. He leaves his cufflinks behind when having to depart in a hurry. These are the tokens. Her intellect does not let her forget the heights she once found. This is why she struggles so in her work looking for importance, and this is why she befriends Liv Ullman who, at least, excites her. So, there is this element of self-consciousness that hacks and swipes at the normalisation process in her attempt to stay alive, alert and self-conscious. This dovetails into my theory about how we have reached an age of too much self-consciousness. We have not learnt to cope with it. Hence drink, drugs, thrills - all unconscious or semi-conscious ways of trimming consciousness or looking for ways to satisfy it.
It is 10:00am and I should do some work.
New Scientist (27 Feb 1986), Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Dr Peter Saunders, Dr Sidney Fox, Institute of Molecular and Cellular Evolution at the University of Miami: ‘One of the foundations of new-Darwinism is August Weismann’s doctrine of the independence of the germ line: the tenet that modifications induced by the environment cannot pass from the body to the cells that make sperm or egg. In the language of molecular biology, information flows only from the DNA to the organism, never in the reverse direction. Within the past five years, however, recombinant DNA research has shown that Weismann’s barrier is far from absolute. In all higher organisms, there is a frequent route of communication between ‘soma’ - the body - and ‘germline’. Messenger RNA can be converted into DNA - a process known as transcription - which is reinserted into the germline genome. [. . .] Even more striking are the changes in the DNA of the germline that can be induced by the environment within a single generation. The best-studied example is the ability of fertilisers to induce heritable changes in some varieties of flax. Chris Cullis at the University of Colorado found that the stable lines of ‘genotraphs’ that were produced differed in physical structure as well as their DNA. Molecular geneticists are being compelled to adopt the revolutionary concept of ‘fluid genome’. The DNA in the nucleus of the cells, previously thought to be static and unchanging, turns out to be at least as dynamic and flexible as the rest of the organism.’
‘The present day concept of heredity needs to be reformulated, Instead of a linear chain of command from DNA to phenotype, there is a complex of interlocking feedback processes. Nucleus communicates with cytoplasm and cells communicate with cells. During development interactions between layers of cells induce tissues to form. In relationships between the organism and the external environment, the internal processes is orchestrated and coordinated. Inheritance is a property of the whole system, not just the genes in the nucleus.’
22 April 1986
After all my scheming on friday, after all those phone calls, I did finally get to airforce base at Santa Cruz today for the celebrations of the ‘Dia do aviacao de caca’. I have difficulty translating this, something like ‘The day of bombing aviation’. But the facts are that the Brazilian airforce excelled itself in Italy towards the end of the Second World War, and this day was chosen to mark the heroics. I didn’t quite work out why today should be different from any other year, perhaps because of the New Democracy, and this time last year Tancredo had just died. In any case old Sarney was there, the US air force minister came especially for the occasion; and there were dozens and dozens of press present as well. The regional public relations office of the aeronautic ministry had me turn up at 7:00am to catch the special press bus, which didn’t leave until after 8, and then broke down on Avenida Brasil - so we had to wait another hour for a replacement. It gave me a chance to talk to Ronaldo Olive - nice surname that Olive (pronounced as though the i were a double e). Ronaldo is a gaunt chap, dark but with glaring light eyes. He likes to put on dark glasses and play the part, for, as correspondent with ‘Jane’s Defence Weekly’ he’s well immersed in the tough and secret industry.
(Today’s World News headline by coincidence is the breakup in the US of a large gang involved in illegal exports to Iran - said to be up $2,000m worth of defence equipment.)
How long have you been working for Jane’s? (He looks not over 40.) 20 years. He says he works as a teacher too, his English is superb, though he’s never lived out of Brazil, he adds. I kind of liked him, he laughed easily and was happy to share his knowledge in a quiet way. In the 1960s, he too worked for ‘Flight’.
By the time we arrived the ceremony was well under way. A central stand held Sarney, Brizola and all the rest of the dignitaries. In front of them there were lots of old gentlemen in suits (some women - were they widows?) stood in formation. Gathered behind ropes, to the sides, were families, girlfriends and employees. And, stretched along the tarmac were squadrons in formation (who, later, marched past leaving space for military aircraft to roll by). As always the journalists were like flies crawling through the old men as near to Sarney and the air minister as they could get; me too, with my Olympus (I’d put in b&w film but had brought a slide film too). I took on the fever and photographed everything in sight - including the huge aircraft hangar acting as a backdrop to the proceedings. It was built for a Zeppelin in the 30s and is supposed to be one of the biggest still maintained in the world. After various fly pasts, the AMX was brought out for show, but the throngs of people around it made it difficult to photograph properly. [This journal book has an AMX sticker on its cover.]
Swimming in the sea I find myself as far away as Gumari (where I went once with Emiliana). I am far from the beach and lose sense of where I am. Then I realise that after swimming to the shore I am getting nowhere and become frightened. It seems to be getting dark and I can’t swim strongly enough to be approaching land.
I am cooking a big pot of blackcurrants. They have stewed for a long time, there is a rich froth on top. I go to look for a recipe book to see how to turn it into jam.
I am stuck on a ledge for a very long time. There is an interesting half memory of a place I used to go often as a child I recalled this morning, the sense of climbing the outside of a house of several stories, perhaps by the fire escape, and then climbing in through a complicated manoeuvre, perhaps across a ledge and perhaps through a small window. (I can find no historical fact to back this memory. I am so sure it is real, and yet it must just be the memory of a dream.)
Yesterday was the first time I took the pills at lunchtime for 10 days. There is no doubt now of some connection with dreaming or memory.
It poured with rain most of the night. And now again. A blanket of grey descends on the bay and Botofogo. This is English weather.
Mum rang yesterday afternoon. She tells me she is quite enjoying her new job at the ‘Ham & High’ and that my family apple tree has finally been pruned.
In the evening, I went to one of the free IBAM concerts. Saxophone in chamber music. Mecenas Magno played with his alto sax, very well if a little lacking in confidence. It was a relief to see him laugh at the end, to see all that tension released. He played some pieces with a piano, and some with a violin, although I don’t think they went well together. Exciting was Alexandre Glazounov’s concerto in b flat and lovely was Granado’s Gayascos, both with piano. It is strange how, in moments, the sax sounded like a whole violin group.
Elaine slides back into the habit of visiting the apartment. Midweek she arrives uninvited, slips in through the door timidly, and we embrace tightly for a few minutes before retiring to the bedroom to make love. The need in her is more obvious than in me. Elaine reacts very strongly sometimes to my jokes about her sexual behaviour. It is so often her that starts the love-making that I make silly jokes about how much she likes sex. Obviously, this touches a chord in her, perhaps a subconscious religious revolt against sexual desire. Last night she looked pretty with a fresh blood-red blouse and her wide lips painted in the same colour. We took a pizza at the Garota da Urca, then a stroll on the Praia Vermelha; the full moon shone radiantly, sprinkling the turbulent sea with silver glitter. A few fishermen lanced their lines out a long way from the beach, they used floats with lights inside, as large as a fist, but I didn’t see one go down.
We returned to the flat to watch a much-awaited TV programme hosted by Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque together. They are two of Brazil’s most famous singers, and have been around for 20 years. So many people have grown up with their music. They are much loved, as much for their gentle stable characters, one suspects, as for their singing and composing. Personally, Veloso is too simple, too slushy, but Buarque’s compositions have a bite and a peculiar Brazilianness. As kingpins of the music scene they can invite who they like - for this show it was the best rock singer Rita Lee and Maria Bethania (Veloso’s sister) who, Elaine tells me, has flaunted her lesbianism all these years, but is finally growing more womanly.
After this show we watched ‘Ben’. ‘Ben’ is an American film I’ve wanted to see since someone first mentioned it - for it is a film about rats, intelligent rats, one of the themes of my once-upon-a-time work in progress. Of course, it turned out to be a complete disappointment. Ben, the leading rat, is shown nodding his snout once or twice in response to the communication of a child. There is no comparison with my project - the novel form allows so much more scope than a film. Is it better to sail a yacht in a sea or in a bath.
I have finished the pills today. I cannot justify taking them any more. I shall have to hope that my toenail grows fungus-free from now on. I don’t know if the pills have had a final effect on my moods. I felt utterly depressed last night, dejected, fit only to see a silly movie - ‘The Jewel of the Nile’; but today I have felt light and well. This afternoon I went to the fort to think about my next piece of writing. At least with my social life at an all time low, I can fill in some of the gaps with writing. But there is no idea uppermost. I tried to survey my past works but found it difficult to remember some. I should try and write them down.
Plays: ‘Aleister Crowley’; ‘The Brittle Rhapsody’, ‘The Vegetable Auction’; ‘The Couple’; ‘Eddie’s Eggies’.
Stories: ‘Cruel Garden’, ‘Borderlands’, ‘The Dancer’; ‘Martha Cramer’, ‘Lillian Beecham’, ‘Valerie’s Young Life’; ‘The Night Mare’; ‘The Madman’, ‘The Cemetery’; ‘Yorick’s Story’; ‘Sunshine, the Drummer’; ‘The Cripple’; ‘Hand to Breast’; ‘Emily’s Laugh’; ‘The Three Card Trick’; ‘Danilo Disappears’; ‘Marillia’; ‘The Mountain’; ‘Blue Darlings’; ‘Sparky’.
I think about my stories in the same way that I view poor and amateur paintings. I do not feel they are good enough for public consumption. But when confronted by poor paintings, they always look like the artist has no talent and it is impossible to imagine a maturing process. I thus have to say the same thing to me. I am not a writer. It is not in my education. I have neither a natural talent and style nor a memory box of facts. I could clearly go through my whole life without getting a touch nearer being good enough to publish. Yet, there is some magic in my stories, I’m sure of it. If I can develop an ability to write simple prose, clear prose, free of self-consciousness, then perhaps I can acquire some publication possibility. It is quite clear that in the last couple of years, I have lost the magic I had, lost the spark, the flare; on the other hand I do believe it is dampened but not lost. If I can return into a more inspired atmosphere - it may happen, if I’m lucky, then the result of my journalistic training and all these years of practice could produce. I really do wonder if I could arrive there - the independent writer making a living through writing a mixture of fiction and non-fiction - oh what a dream. I am itching to go back and rake through my work. See how my confidence spills over today - this time yesterday I was a moonless night.
Pacing back and forth in the fort, the silence of the wide open bay before me, the patient fishermen on the rocks below, I could not find a hook on which to cling my thoughts. They ranged back and forth, looking for a character or incident I might have stored away, trying to find a plot for a radio play perhaps - one similar to ‘Brittle Rhapsody’. But would it be based here or in the UK, what would be its message, what is it I want to say? I think of Russell, Shaw, and now Wells whose autobiography I’m reading. They were all writers and innovators too, probing and challenging convention. Nowadays, it is neither so easy or so relevant, what is needed is some form of moralising that is not moralising, some way of showing people all the blind alleys that exist these days, all the different drugs, some way of demonstrating that liberty of action, or moral, of society has to be tailored to each individual. In this pluralistic society, the individual is getting lost for want of direction. There is much need for code-building. Each has to learn his own code. We are too sentient now, too in the mind, we have to learn to cope with the depth of sensations this gives or give in to one form of drug or another. We have to write to bring living back to life, to approximate the two again.
See the manic touch in me again today. Is it the release from the pills?
Paul K Lyons
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