PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1986 - JUNE
It was not an auspicious start to my 34th year. Neco had kindly drunk with me past midnight on the 27th, and Silvio bought me lunch on the 28th. But, during the evening, I became acutely miserable. I was sure somebody would telephone - oh so sure. Mum or Julian or Barbara. But no one did. I thought Elaine might break the silence and visit too, but there is still no sign from her. It really wasn’t pleasant being here all alone. I received not a single present (except perhaps Stan ‘phoning asking me to sail on Sunday) and two cards only - now, a few days later, cards have also arrived from Dad and Julian, and Mum sent me a package of books, tapes and chocolate. How odd that the only acknowledgements of my birthday in the post should both come from Belo Horizonte. Claudio wrote me a kind a letter, and the hotel where I lodged there also sent me a card - they must have taken my birthdate from the identity card.
It is a windy changeable day, every few minutes fire crackers burst in the air with their shotgun sounds. Traffic is unusually heavy below but within an hour or two, I imagine, it will quieten down dramatically - for Brazil plays its first World Cup match today, against Spain. The waiters at the churrascaria last evening were betting 3-1, 2-1, 2-0 with the goal scorers specified. Our group was marginally more unbiased with Bobby betting on a 1-1 draw, and I myself gunning for a 2-0 victory to Spain. But I was hardly allowed to mouth my guess being so unpatriotic as it was, but my feelings were and remain that a Spanish-speaking country will win, (if Brazil were a good side then I would bet on them) simply because of the situation. The atmosphere is all important. And I don’t think Uruguay or Argentina have it in them this year. Mark my words, Spain will win.
The invite to go sailing with Stan was very welcome. But it followed on so long after the first trip that anything I might have learnt about the boat had virtually slipped from my memory. It was an 8:00am meet for a 10:00am start. The weather was foulness itself - a full mist and a hard rain. Two of Stan’s friends who knew the boat best were there as last time - Paul the farmer from Niteroi and Denys the gentle, soft-spoken man I like. The other three crew were people I didn’t know - two English offshore engineers, Richard and Terry, and an American full of yacht tales.
Although the weather was lousy, the wind was fine and strong at least until the start. Only six yachts turned up. But, five minutes after we started and near the rocks at the entrance to the bay, the wind vanished and all six boats were left to a standstill, moved only by the waves and tide. And the rain came down with a cold air - it seemed so crazy. And even crazier later on, for once we were moving, the cold wind, the rain and the wetness combined to make me feel highly uncomfortable. I was also feeling sick so I couldn’t escape from the cold into the cabin because it only exacerbated the discomfort. This time, too, I was the most useless crew member, and managed to pick up very little. Despite have practised the bowline knot the previous evening, the one opportunity I had to tie one, I couldn’t pull it together quickly enough before one of the others showed me how. (In fact, the E.B. had its first practical use - for without it I would not have known how to tie a bowline in the first place.)
So, there we were, seven sailors battling against the high swells, the squashy wind and our own growing discomfort. It seemed somehow impossible that I could be sitting in perfect comfort in my flat reading a book, drinking coffee or whatever. It was such a leap in experience. Such battles of the body against pain of whatever form, in contest against other man, or against nature give an easier peace in the more normal waking hours of shallower experience. It does indeed add a tremendous sense of living. I don’t know how the others felt but I was truly in pain, my body would not stop from shivering and I lost all energy in my muscles. And there is no escape from the weather - it is necessary to sit against the keel of the vessel taking the weather in the face. Sat there, my bare legs hanging overboard and my arms wrapped around the wire cordons, my head down on my hands, I tried to establish exactly what pain/discomfort was.
Monday 2 June
I could not establish with my brain what indeed pain/discomfort were. There was the acknowledgement of discomfort in various parts of the body - the sick feeling in the stomach, the shivering of the thighs, the cold chest. But there was no information deeper than that. However, by trying to establish something more empirical about the feelings, I found that the pain itself was dissipated. This is the kind of religious thinking one finds in the east. It has always been known by spiritualists and tricksters that when walking on hot coals the pain is only a superficial symptom - it is a signal to the mind that the body is in danger. By concentrating, over-concentrating on the pain - what is this I am feeling, what is it really - I short-circuited the signals leaving them unconnected to the translators in the mind that generate the feelings. This is evidence of the extraordinary power of the mind that I, in particular, and we in general, haven’t the faintest idea how to utilise. Once the brain organ has developed sufficient feedback mechanisms from conscious will it is no longer malleable, formable. Is this inevitable? Would feedback from conscious will cause absurd chaos - does it happen in some cases - chess prodigies?
So, Brazil beat Spain - although a perfectly valid goal by Spain was annulled which would have given them the game. Both teams played like Chinese amateurs. The games between Canada and France and Argentina and Korea were more lively. It is impossible not to feel a little sorry for the Mexicans when we see the stands almost empty. Really, third world countries can do without losing money on such ventures.
I become so needy - not for sex - but more for cuddling, the touching, the tight embrace, and so visit Elaine late on Sunday night. This is the first time we have met since mid-April I think. And this time E has not rung nor written letters. Why have I not gone round before? Anger at our argument that weekend? a real desire to look for new faces? laziness? pride? It is hard to tell. Perhaps I have been sure she would come back - it has always been her move. Perhaps I know that the relationship is too sex-dependent, there is no development from the core need. I suppose in this time of slipping self-confidence and growing insecurity, the need for the mutual self-reinforcement of love-making becomes more necessary. I did not think it through too much, I just went round. No doubt, though, that I wanted to make love out of need. We talked for half an hour.
For a change, the complete picture was available - there were not the monthly petty outbursts against me, just the simple truth that since October she has wanted to be free of me because I did not offer her any idea of a couple or future etc. Of course, I knew this but I couldn’t take the petty squabbles she started each month without acknowledging this. Yet, she has been brave with me, and must have suffered. I tried hard to understand if E really wanted to be free of me, or was just wanting more evidence of my feelings for her. For the truth is that E is so independent now, has to struggle so hard, that she is not so free to fall in love and have the sort of relationship she imagines. Actually with me, she probably has as much as she can handle. A more committed relationship would suffocate her. Perhaps she wants children and marriage, but she needs her life, her working life more regular. In the meantime, she has a good compromise with me (she likes my body, I take her out, she eats here freely etc.) So, I do not feel too guilty seducing her with my words and making love with her, peeling off all the need of six weeks without so much as an embrace. And this morning, again, we make love before parting - leaving both bodies depleted, hers to sleep in the morning, mine in the afternoon, when I lay on my bed, the slanting sun catching my face. It was a light dreamful sleep - most of the time I was blind because so much light was shining into my eyes - full of novelties such as a huge jelly rabbit eating jelly mice.
Wednesday 4 June
I have more or less nothing to do this morning. I hesitate over such decisions as whether to make fresh coffee. I need to get away. Neco told me about a trip: bus to Curitiba (13 hours), a splendid train ride to Paranagua, and then a boat to the Ilha de Mel, which is supposed to be lovely. I began planning this morning, but when I checked the temperature down there in Parana state, it was registering a minimum of 0-6 degrees. That would be no fun. Perhaps I’ll try for Buzios again.
England lost to Portugal 1-0 last night - a disgrace. The team was full of life and dangerous attacks in the first half hour of each half but then faded badly in tiredness and became vulnerable in the last 15 minute periods. Public offices in Brazil will close at 1:30 on the days that Brazil plays at 3:00.
I pass an idle hour just browsing through my encyclopaedia. There is a photograph of Botofogo and part of Copa taken from Pao de Azucar. In Copa, there are no high buildings; there is a wall along the coast parkway from Urca to Praia de Botofogo, and a huge building parallel to the beach in Praia Vermelha.
It also informs me about Lully and Vanbrugh. Two dead but very live characters of a book I have just read by Angus Wilson - ‘Setting the world on fire’. I do not much like Wilson’s style in this book, as he documents the maturing of two aristocratic brothers from childhood to adulthood. The one, elder and artistic, falls for an architect, Vanbrugh, who has built a magnificent hall in his family home; the younger, more conservative, prefers Pratt, the architect that designed the major part of their home in formal and regulated symmetry. ‘Van’ grows up to be a theatre producer and puts on a Lully opera in the Vanbrugh room. There is much family scandal and infighting which the brothers do their best to dilute in their fresh ways. The rather quick and absurd ending belies the intellectual attempt at funnelling history, stage production and architecture together. But, the only thing I wanted to mention was this: Lully, born in 1639 in Italy, became the father of French opera. He died in 1687 after contracting a cancer caused by his hitting his big toe rather hard with a large baton while conducting a Te Deum!
Another piece of culture I subjected myself to the other night - indeed the night of my birthday when nobody rang - was the film ‘Mishima’ by Paul Schroeder. A life in four chapters. Apparently produced in this way because the surviving wife of Mishima would allow no portrayal of herself - I am not surprised. Mishima appears to have been a rather dangerous fanatic - obsessed with death and the ritual of suicide. I have never read any of his writings or anything of his life, and I felt the film pre-supposed a certain amount of knowledge about him. It blended stylised production of his plays with flashbacks to his past and the day of the suicide that shocked all Japan. But I did not find it informative enough - there was insufficient biographical detail, nor was it clear what the film-maker was trying to say with the long excerpts from the plays. Was he trying to pave the road to the suicide or give some idea of Mishima’s message to the world. I needed a little more perspective. It also jarred that Mishima’s thoughts should come across in a rich deep American voice while all the rest of the action was in Japanese (it doesn’t help me when I have to concentrate on subtitles, but it would have been better to run the whole film in Japanese). At the very least it has made me want to know more.
According to an article in ‘Science 86’ anti-depressant drugs are proving a successful treatment against cocaine addiction. Cocaine is not supposed to be an addictive drug but, in fact, chronic users become unable to feel pleasure without it. In other words, the highs on the drug leave all ordinary daily sensations so far behind that life itself becomes sense-less. ‘Cocaine abusers can’t get off on the real world,’ according to Yal, university psychiatrist. This is the problem as it relates to cocaine, however it is surely an exaggerated version of what can happen to any human that takes part in regular high-level stimulation - be it mountain-climbing, motor-racing, cheating, or sex. The ‘Science 86’ article is interesting because it offers up a highly simple model of what might happen in the synapses under the influence of cocaine.
In order to pass on messages, neurone’s transmit neurotransmitters into the synapse which in turn triggers receptors of the next or nearby neurone. The article says that the neurone also has a mechanism for withdrawing the transmitters from the synapse once the message is on-passed. The idea here is that the chemical effect of cocaine is to hinder the re-absorption of the transmitter hence the neurone line remains sensitised to a greater degree. The article only talks of general feeling but this model calls for a heightening for every line of neurones - be it thought, touch, smell or whatever is going on.
Maria tells me a story about a man down her way who sired eight children by eight different women. Finally, they had had enough of him and ganged together. They killed him. When it came to light in court how many women he had cheated, there was no willingness to prosecute the women further. Interesting scenario for a play - the eight children meet later in life.
Sunday 8 June
Shosty’s Piano Concerto 2, bright and cheerful like the weather. The cold wind evinces the present of winter.
Important news first. Brazil beat Algeria, one goal to nothing, and became the first side to qualify for the next round. The game was played on Friday afternoon; banks, shops, offices all shut down at 1pm so the people could get to a television set by 3pm. I drove my bike through Copacabana to Ipanema after 3pm (to Roberto’s house), not even on Sunday mornings or after midnight are the streets so deserted of cars and people. I took the opportunity of stopping frequently to take yellow and green photographs. The best one will probably prove to be of a lifeguard standing by a large patriotic umbrella on an almost deserted beach. At Roberto’s were Bobby and Rosangela, Rhonda and a girlfriend of Roberto. The two Brazilian girls shrieked all the way through the game, while the volume of firecrackers outside increased to a pitch at the game’s end. Below we could see the porteiros lighting the bangers, holding them at arm’s length and recoiling from the impulse of the firing. Seconds later, the sky was filling with huge thundercracks.
Mindlessly, we watched the box through from 3pm to 9pm when the England-Morocco game was over. Such a tragedy. I could neither match the Brazilian vocal support of the earlier game, nor could my team manage to get a single goal - pathetic twerps. They do not deserve to move on. And yesterday, Saturday, Northern Ireland got beat by Spain leaving their chances of qualification just as slim as England’s. I have extirpated a good deal of my World Cup wrath in two Sparky stories. In the one, ‘I’ goes into a television and finds himself there at the game. In the one I have just written, perhaps the most ambitious to date, the football game moves into I’s head, and the brain cells begin playing football. I have borrowed from a model of brain working that impressed me many years ago - I think it is Eyesenck’s - the jelly and the marbles.
Monday 9 June
It was early Wednesday evening, I was making love with Elaine when the telephone rang. A voice, alternatively nervous and then laid back, half drunk or stoned, invited me out to dinner. I hardly caught the name or connection. Perhaps, if I hadn’t been caught with my mind half addled by the pleasures of sex, I would have been more spontaneous, as it was I enquired to dissolve the mystery. We arranged to meet the following afternoon. Leslie Siler, a Californian, a neurotic Californian I should say, who has an attractive energy, a bubbling over of ideas and things to communicate, which quite often can be directed to a partner - in this way she reminded me of Harold. On the phone, I thought she was in town for a few days only, but it transpires she lives here. So why ring me now? She is a friend (?) of Jeff Ryser. I couldn’t establish if she had just spoken to him once on the telephone for a long time, or if she had been his mistress.
Her talk was impenetrable at times. I suspected she had just bust up with a lover and was now needy for another - with energy like that, she moves fast in search of that which she needs. We talked for several hours, quite fast and flowing. It became apparent that she uses drugs quite a lot, but I wasn’t sure whether it was just grass or harder things. By her manner and her physical appearance (for I think she was extremely thin) I would guess she has a habit. Leslie has been here some nine months I think, in which time she has been trying to set up a sort of business, with money of her own and a partner’s - but she is still running round chasing ideas. But I could get no grip on what they were. She felt they were coming to fruition, but at the same time she talked openly of how people had thought she was crazy, and how businessmen had wondered what the hell she was doing in their office.
Why she left the US and why she never wants to go back, I have no idea. From what she says she is running away from the conformity of the materialism of all her friends who once talked so idealistically, but have now towed the line. Yet she too, in trying to set up a business, is doing the very same thing. I suspect she is getting herself into a bigger hole. I wonder if there are some parallels with M’s stay in the UK - the developing desperation to stay and find a way of staying (she told me how much time and energy she’d spent in getting a resident’s visa - so similar to M’s preoccupations).
Having admitted I was open to weekend invitations, she promptly called on Saturday to invite me with some friend to a gafiera. It was to be late but I said I would go. At 9:30pm we spoke again, and agreed to meet at 11:30. I had decided that it might be worthwhile finding out a little more about Leslie, and that, indeed, I have been missing that sort of intense communication buzz. But my will and drive and energy ran out, most certainly because of being with Elaine early evening. Elaine is not stupid, and has all the powers of a Latin woman protecting her property. Once satisfied sexually, my clockwork mechanisms saw little point in going out late, making social effort, and travelling half way across town to do it. I suspect Leslie may have set the evening up for me - to impress, to catch, to win over - perhaps not. In any case, I fell asleep instead, unable to rouse the night-time carefree forces. I must confess a certain anger at myself, for it promised to be the most interesting evening I’ve had since the dancers were here.
Now I am sure I will do an M and say (if I speak to her again, if she asks where I was) ‘I chose a different path.’
My third time out, and what a change from last week. Today we had clear sky, a warm sun and relatively easy winds. The team was the same but for Lourie, returned from the UK, and a Brazilian oily person who works with Tony and Richard. For the first time I felt I was picking up knowledge - I can handle the genoa winches now with a modicum of understanding. I can tie a bowline. I can fold sails. I know what a halliard is. Whether yet I aid or attenuate the total effort is unsure. It was a short race this week, but with many entries - the annual naval club regatta. From Niteroi bay (which is deeper and more interesting than it looks from here) across to Santos Dumont, then to the point where the bridge meets Niteroi and back to the start. Almost throughout the sailing day, I think of nothing else - and thus am taken out of my daily excesses of reading and writing and thinking. Moments of intense and frantic activity alternate with periods of basking in the sun - but they never last long enough for other thought trains to pick up steam. There is always a coming task, a sail to fold, an adjustment to be made. And, after the race, idling back across the bay, it is time to eat or drink or listen to a story or a joke by the older folk.
Wednesday 11 June
England must beat Poland today to say in the CUP.
I am like a miser, bent double over my gold and silver coins, counting up my monies. Not counting my assets here: deposit on flat, telephone, motorbike, computer, which themselves approach £2,000, I have in my Jersey account £13,000; in NY £2,000. This money, though, begins to unsettle me, for with it, I could stop working and do whatever I want to do - write a book for example, go to Madagascar, apprentice myself to a wood carver. Ironic really that I should have saved so much money (£800 a month) doing what I most wanted to do in the world at the time. Work as a freelance journalist in Rio de Janeiro.
The sleeping bug continues to affect me - last night I began snoozing about 7:30 and never really gained a full working state again till 7:00 this morning. And I cannot put it down to the heat, for it is cool, nor to sexual exhaustion for it is several days since last I . . . or . . . I think it is just a lack of things to do.
Yesterday too I was tired. In the afternoon, I did little. However, I did attempt to train my head to thinking up another Sparky story. It took a couple of hours of restless cogitation in the hammock, but I did finally come up with something - later it was a further effort to sit at the computer and write it up. In these days of little work I think of cartoonists who come up with new strips every day, and I remember that writer in the ‘Times’ Miles Kington who was writing the equivalent of a Sparky story every day. Perhaps I just have to face the fact that I have a limited store of energy, despite having been so energetic in my youth.
Another Brazil game today. An hour to go, the fire crackers are bursting from one end of the city to the other. The interest is less today because Brazil is already assured of a place in the last sixteen (the Portuguese say oitavas-de-final with as much ease as quartas-de-final; in English we say quarter-finals, but can’t say eighth-finals). On the other hand, if Brazil’s opponents, Northern Ireland, win they could or rather would get into the oitavas - and who wouldn’t wish Northern Ireland a bit of light relief. I doubt myself little for spending so much time this month watching football; in the UK no doubt I would castigate myself, here football is so much part of the spirit of the people that it feels entirely natural. Keeping pace with events in Mexico also gives me a point of contact with everyone around me - the porteiros, the volley group, the technicians at Reuters, telephone contacts. I watched England play Poland last night. How pleasing to see them score goals at last and assure themselves of a place in the next round. At half time, I raced to the cable car, to ride up the Morro da Urca to see the second half on the big screen there. When I found they were showing instead the Portugal-Monaco game, my rage and fury didn’t get me down the hill any earlier, since the cable only goes every half an hour!
I saw a man wearing a shirt I liked. The design was simple, bright green stripes half an inch thick alternating with white stripes. A few days later, I saw an American woman dressed in a complete outfit of the same green and white stripes, And then, a few minutes later, I saw another American or English girl wearing trousers of the identical pattern. There must be something fatal about green and white stripes to us English speakers.
I manage another Sparky story, this time a simpler one, about a telephone. I can’t wait to get my hands on the older ones collecting dust in the loft at home in London. I’ll probably be disappointed, but, at least, I should be able to add some consistency to the set.
I am not thinking much these days.
I hear Jan Rocha on the World Service this evening reporting on Sarney’s politicising in Maranhao, Imperatriz to be more exact. Sarney promises to stop the growing violence in the country, and says he will introduce tougher laws on arms possessions and private armies. I myself saw part of the speech, to a small crowd of people at Imperatriz, but it didn’t seem such an important story, especially considering that Maranhao is Sarney’s home state. However, it occurs to me that giving such international publicity to this land reform programme (not long ago I heard a similar story) must add to the weight of momentum that makes it difficult for Sarney not to continue. And, surely, land reform is one of the most fundamental structural changes Brazil needs to make before moving out of the ‘third world’ category. But what interests me is whether Jan Rocha or the BBC editors think like that, make such decisions. Or is it like most other magazines, a matching up of space with offers and the time factor.
Neco tells me about the evils of eucalyptus trees - he learnt them years ago in school: 1) they drink a lot of water; 2) the foliage doesn’t decompose well and doesn’t nourish the earth; 3) the leaves point down and provide little shade, leaving the earth vulnerable and parched by the sun.
Early Friday evening I am impelled to the Garota da Urca yet I am neither hungry or needy for beer. Sometimes, I go for a beer to look at the people but it’s usually at a later hour. I arrive to find Mac Margolis alone, so sit down to talk to him. I am pleased to learn that his $1,000 retainer, which so disturbed me, was in lieu of time spent i.e. 10 days, and every month he worked those 10 days. Nice to have that guaranteed work, though. Now, since a bureau chief arrived, his retainer has been cut, but he still counts ‘Newsweek’ as his bread and butter. I was not pleased to learn he has started working for the London ‘Times’. They chased him - apparently Gavin Scott of ‘Time’ recommended him. I suppose if I were a foreign editor I would prefer to find a correspondent through a recommendation rather than trying out the sender of a casual telex! Mac also told me that the ‘Washington Post’ only pays 15cts a word which is actually less my FT newsletters pay, let alone the NY McGraw-Hill publications. The London ‘Times’ only pays £100 a thousand too. It seems like it would be uneconomic to go into general news.
It was the first friendly conversation I’d ever really had with Mac. He is actually very easy to talk to and responsive. He told me he’d only been out on his boat three times in six months. I suggested he call me and invite me to go with him. We talked at length about the benefits of living in Brazil against our respective home cities, and the difficulty of going back. He also admitted the lack of Brazilian friends was a problem. We both have the same number - a girlfriend and one boyfriend. Still, I suspect he is happy with his lot, and I am not. What will I have to do, to be happy with my lot.
Barbara again in my dreams. Also there in the dreams are Stan, the baron of Arauna (novela ‘Sinha Moca’), gliding weekends, and weekends to Aldeburgh.
Monday 16 June
I am up at 6:00am, before the sun, for I have slept much the previous day. Arriving back at the apartment around 6:00pm, I slept until 8:30 and then went to bed at 10:00. The day’s sailing with a hot and persistent sun took all energy from me. Yet it was the least interesting of regattas. A long three-cornered race past Ilha da Rosa with the lighthouse. Long stretches of inaction with the sun beating down. Also Denys was absent. I like Denys for he brings order and tranquillity, and he seems to radiate, beyond his own self, a humility and gentleness not found in the personalities and actions of most of the others. (Although Denys is of a different class, somewhat aristocratic perhaps, his radiance is similar to that of Mike the retired fireman from Stockport, Southwell or some such, who’s example at volleyball teaches us to be more willing to pass one to the other before slamming back - I suppose both Mike and Denys have a calm confidence which I too would like to emulate one day.)
Again, there were new faces on the boat, as there have been on previous occasions. This time, a woman, Rosemary Fish, commercial consular officer for the Brits, and a Brazilian Swede who sells arms for Bofors. Rosemary is taking over from Roger Stanton later in the year. A plum posting, I would think, for someone so young and for a first commercial position. I wonder what her father does. Stan was a bit grumpy, perhaps because he didn’t get much attention from Rosemary - he likes to have women aboard. I took in a bit more knowledge about the spinnaker movements, how to pack up sails, and how to control the mainsail. Seems like Stan will be taking the boat on a long trip to Cabo Frio or thereabouts the weekend before I leave for London. Let’s keep my fingers crossed he still thinks I am interesting company, or a useful winch winder. These sailing trips have been important in bringing me out of my depression - I can feel I am doing something significant and making slow contact with new people.
It is amazing, though, at the end of the day, I lie on my bed and weigh up all the new information. It makes me feel small and old. All the people I meet seem to have much more contact with other people generally, even to the point of coincidences of friends back in the UK. There isn’t a chance in a million of me knowing anyone that they know - why is this? Is it because here I touch on more interesting (whatever that might mean) society than I do at home. Yet this ‘more interesting’ strata consists of plenty of people ten years younger than me - and, to move into specifics, it doesn’t help my ego to be told by the young upstart banker John, who seems to know everyone, that a friend of his works for the BBC science unit making programmes about whatever comes to his fancy, and he’s only 27. I have to sit down and recalculate how long I’ve been a journalist and tell myself over and over again that I’m doing all right, I’m doing all right. This self-examination is dangerous, because one day I really won’t be doing all right, and considering how screwy my mind is now (having, in a short jump, achieved quite a lot), what misery will I go through when I’m really failing.
Brazil plays Poland, again the country will lose over $300m as commerce, industry and politics shut up for the afternoon.
I am made happy for once by the post, an issue of ‘Flight’ arrives with my name and story there.
Brazil play Poland and win 4-0. Again the luck is with them. The diving actors in the team win two penalties which would dishearten any opponent. On the other hand, the Brazilian team played entertaining football and made two good goals - one by the new star Josimar was splendid. Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 but it was a dull game full of fouls and errors. Once England dispense with Paraguay they should have no difficulty beating the Argentine adversary - it will be the first time England has played Argentina at anything since the Falklands. The ‘Jornal do Brasil’ has five complete pages devoted to the game between Brazil and Poland.
England win comfortably against Paraguay 3-0, while Spain thrash Denmark 5-1. Although todo a mundo is sad that Denmark have gone, Spain played beautiful football and did more than enough to compensate for pushing Denmark out.
My brain becomes addled by all the football. If I had something better to do I would do it, but I live in an inspiration-less environment. I sit on the sofa struggling for an hour to hold my brain on course to dream up a new Sparky story but end up falling asleep. Watching football and sleep are the two easiest options my lazy brain chooses in preference. I have no belief, no struggle, no hardship, I may as well expire.
One of my literary heroes has died: Borges. Borges was a man of letters from a different century. His knowledge was encyclopaedic. He loved books and the library where he worked. For such a long life, he wrote little and only short dense works. One of the reasons I identified with him, and was inspired by his writing, was the way in which he wrote so utterly with the intellect, yet could touch the absurd, the noble and the pathetic, and did so in the space of a few pages. It seemed possible to emulate him; it seemed there was importance in short clever works.
Perhaps even part of the way I think has been touched by Borges. I recall the story I wrote in Mendoza about the main street Las Heras, and the labyrinth it wove around me, and even today I look for circumstances in real life, in my life, in the life as reported by newspapers, circumstances that have a touch of Borges to them, a labyrinth encircling them. Certainly, my two shorts ‘Night Mare’ and ‘Yorick’s Story’ owed something to Borges. And now, thinking about him, I wonder if he hasn’t tinted my way of seeing too. I wonder, for example, if some of the photos I take have been created by his powerful images: the long shadows, the sleeping peasant with tools by his side, or the reflection series of pictures which attempted to fuse ideas through the fusion of images, a complex imagery based on clever cleverness - pictures dry of human content or emotion. Perhaps I stretch his influence too far . . .
[Ode to Borges]
Dying blind and still afire
The old man twisted favourite images
Out of plane into convex fading webs
There the unsheathed knife curling in a pool of blood
There the endless corridor swirling in a chosen vortex
There the archive shelves buckling in ancient anguish
There the philosophers all at play, spheres in hand
Dead and still afire
The force of one life’s meaning
Etched from mind to mind and mine
By means of word wedded skilfully to word
Such structure stranger than the feeble body
Such vision stranger than any pain of eyes
Brazil is crying. So much investment of hope, such religious fervour that when deceived there is but to cry. I was astonished to hear the Globo coordinator deliver a sermon on how to carry on - he was ad-libbing and didn’t know what to say until he caught onto the idea of the next World Cup in Italy, and then he focussed on everyone starting to work for that. He told us that he didn’t want to show us images from around Brazil as usual because they were so sad, and then, just before closing, he told us we could cry; and then, as the cameras were fading away, he said again: ‘Pode chorar, pode chorar’. Unbelievable. The only time British commentators get so preacher-like is when there is a major catastrophe.
But, within a day all is forgotten, all is forgiven. A generation of footballers has tried and failed; Zico, Socrates, Tele Santana will not be around for 1990. I heard one commentator talking about the grave problem in Brazilian soccer because for four World Cups Brazil hasn’t got to the final - as though it were the normal place for them.
All of England is not crying, but the fans must be disappointed, as I was too. The quarter-final with Argentina was a strange game. Within minutes of the start, Maradona took a flying dive and won a yellow card against one of the English defenders. From then on, the English players were scared to touch their opponents as much in defence as up front, and perhaps as much scared of the yellow card as of being hurt. The English never managed to return the ball long enough to look even slightly dangerous. And yet, the Argentines were not so good or so skilled that they could control the whole game.
The 2-1 result was a fair score, for Argentina certainly played better. But it does not justify Argentina winning by the most blatant and spurious goal at the beginning of the second half. A ball bouncing across the penalty area to Shilton was pushed out of his hands and into the goal by Maradona with his HAND. The front page colour cartoon in ‘O Globo’ newspaper today was a caricature of Maradona with a raised hand and a third football boot on it. It was astonishing how lightly the Brazilian press treated the deceit. The Globo TV reporter, who I have already quoted as allowing us to cry, suggested it was all part of his genius. Instead of the absurd and wrong decision spurring England on to vengeance, it only served to dispirit them. Through a mist of this dejection, Maradona wafted past several players to score a spectacular goal. Near the end, England played five minutes of class football and scored one goal. I hope, sincerely, that the referee commits suicide by shooting a bullet through his temple. Meanwhile, Maradona should be suspended from playing international football for 30 years - or else Arab style he should have his hand cut off.
Other bad decisions have been shown up by the TV cameras. Spain scored a goal against Brazil in the first round which was disallowed, and a foul by the Brazilian goalkeeper on France’s forward who had beaten him outside the area should have meant a yellow card at least. Left in the Cup now are Argentina, Belgium, Germany and France. A France-Belgium final would be a novelty.
So much for football, but there are other things in the world to report, or at least in my world. Finally, the police caught up with me, and took away my motorbike. Now it sits up in Petropolis awaiting real documents. I was stopped for not wearing a helmet - there it was in my hand, it had been hurting, so I took it off. When I saw the police car in front I thought I should stop and put it on, but I was too lazy. Then, when I showed the police my documents, they didn’t like them because they weren’t the real macoy. I followed them back to the uncosy ‘posto’ in the middle of a mini-spaghetti junction. There, they gave me a receipt and told me I could have the bike back once I showed the proper papers. However, I did not manage to ascertain how I would get my bike back without a license - all the rest of the papers are in order except I don’t have a licence. And this has caused much head wrangling.
Do I try and get a licence as quick as possible: legally or illegally; do I try and get my bike without a licence (on my own, with a friend, by bus); by car (will they let me drive away in a car). Do I have a van to bring it back. Do I ask Bobby who said his company has a van. Do I try and get my UK license translated. By midday today I was in a swirl of different solutions. Finally, I resolved to stick with one driving school, which for about £20 and a bit of luck could get me a certificate by Thursday. This won’t help me drive, because the licensing authority Detran is not issuing licenses at the moment - but I feel it’s the right road. Then, I will probably go to Petropolis with Neco early one morning and maybe a third person so that I don’t have to do anything, driving a car or my moto.
What a hassle. It has taken me nearly all of this Monday. Two hours were spent taking tests for my licence (which I may end up buying any way). Just like being at school again - a classroom with 30 or 40 others, lots of pre-exam chattering and last minute studying of the rule book. At least all the test questions were multiple choice, because with just a couple of hour’s notice I could never have learnt enough to write answers. Multiple choice gave me a good chance. Half were straight forward interpretations of road signs which were relatively easily answered, and, I think, I only have to get half the total right. Then more fidgeting and waiting for the next lesson, enter teacher number two who introduces herself as a psychologist. We are going to undergo a psychotechnico test. A good name for a slug’s IQ test. The first part was matching one of four tiny diagrams against a given diagram - Grandma trained me well for this one with those spot-the-difference games in the ‘Evening News’, the defunct ‘Evening News’. Did she used to give me a penny for each difference I spotted? There were 50 on the sheet, of increasing difficulty, and five minutes to complete as many as possible. I raced through - the challenge was on - but the whistle went two from the end. The next test took us down to the level of an amoeba. It consisted of copying a symbol inside a series of boxes without touching the boxes. In 60 seconds we had to draw the symbol as often as possible. For the third test, we were given eight squares with an abstract of spots or lines. The task: to make them into pictures. My imagination is so sparse and my drawing ability so poor, I suppose I could have failed this part. I had most difficulty with the first one, a box with a single dot in the middle. I glanced across at my neighbour - he had no trouble turing it into a football pitch with the dot as the kick-off spot. After some thought, I used the dot to create a self-referential word in the best tradition of Escher and Ernst - isto.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the stuffy, noisy classroom. Thursday, I have to actually drive a moto and, if I pass, I’m well on my way to a Brazilian CNH. NB: I asked the young secretary at the autoescola what I should do about bribing the tester. I said Brazilian friends had told me I ought to give him some money. Without batting an eyelid, she said simply: if you think you’ve passed then you don’t need to.
Until I was stopped by the wretched, damned, mother-fucking, god-buggering, baby-drowning, power-craved, moto-robbing police, I was having a fine day. Leaving Rio early, I climbed slowly up the windy mountain road towards Petropolis. Stopping here and there to examine an old and disused viaduct and a seemingly deserted fort, and then again a Jacob’s ladder of steps built between the trees up the mountainside, a cascade for water when there’s rain; and all this set off superbly by the early morning sun, its brilliance darting sharp shadows and enriching the forest of greens, clothing the hills and mountains.
The worst happened - after spending all Monday, part of Wednesday and some frustrating hours on Thursday morning, and some £20 towards getting a moto driving licence, I failed the driving test. The test could not have been simpler - drive round some cones and keep balance. On the Wednesday, I went to Tivoli Park for a lesson. Some guys and motorbikes hang around and offer some information in your direction if you’re lucky. On the Thursday, literally a hundred people turn up to be tested, they mill about practising on the only course and vie for use of their instructors’ bikes. Slowly, orange-jacketed examiners arrive, looking more like roadworkers. They set up a table (there in the open air), give everyone a number and then make them queue up a few times. The bike I’d practised on broke down. I did not get a chance to practice on the other crummy model run by the rapazos, and it proved impossible to get it into neutral. Somehow, I managed to get to take the test second in line of a hundred, but my impatience was punished. I stalled around the figure of eight, then thought I’d made as a good a recovery as possible. Now the end is misty in my mind - I lost my temper. Flashed my blades of anger. And I am indeed repentant.
Quite why I lost control remains a mystery - most of all, I think I was angry with the instructors for having taught me wrong on specific points that I had particularly asked about. I left the site fuming. Had I controlled myself and discussed the situation humbly with the examiner, it may have been possible to find a jeitinho. In my vague memory, he seemed interested in what I had to say, whereas I was tensed-up with all these people around - too tense to stand around calmly discussing my situation when there were so many others waiting to take the test. I may pretend a Brazilian manner, but in a crisis out pops that tense little English arrogance.
I raced straight round to the driving school and, as lucidly as I could, I vented my anger against the rapazos who act as instructors. The two women looked sheepish. I really didn’t think it worth my time to try for the money back.
So that left open only one option, take Neco up into mountains to the police post with me in a taxi. By asking around I learnt that an ida y volta to Petropolis would cost in the region of Cz600. I decided to offer the work to Chico - I thought he might give me a reduction, seeing as how he is a friend, and as he had been involved in the business from the first. (It was Chico who brought me back from Araras on the Sunday.) But he didn’t (give me a reduction). He was, however, reliable, waiting outside my apartment at 7:00am this morning. The traffic was not too heavy. We stopped at Duque de Caxias to ask the inspector whether I could take my moto away if a friend with a carteira drove it. He looked at our documents, and said yes. First goal to us. We arrived at the police post in Petropolis in good humour. There were two pigs there. One was out for trouble. No way, he said. I have to produce a licence. He was bitter and full of hate. There was no reasoning with him. When we told him that we had asked the inspector below at Duque de Caxias, he said he himself would not make any call, and that that inspector would have to call him. We pleaded and pleaded. I was formulating a plan to send Chico down to the inspector leaving Neco and I at Petropolis. But, eventually, we wore down the police resistance, and the other pig was less vindictive, and slightly less stupid. He called the inspector on the radiophone. Neco and I stood listening. Yes, it was in order to take the moto away. The first pig’s disappointment was evident. The two of them then sat for half an hour slowly, as slowly as they could, filling out the fine form. Even up to the very end, they tried it on, pretending they didn’t have the moto keys. What shits.
My moto now sits in Neco’s garage where it will stay until I return, safely away from the police and the rain.
I saw a plain moth, not much bigger than a thumbnail, resting motionless on the ground, its wings together in an upright position. As I approached it fluttered off displaying a brilliant fluorescent mauve on the upside of its two flappers. What struck me as amazing was the contrast between the dull lifeless external brown and the gloriously spectacular but hidden mauve.
I should return just for a few lines to that Sunday when I lost my bike. After the pleasant ride to Petropolis, I drove around the town, stopping now and then to take photographs. There was a fair next to a church, a stone serpent in the middle of a lawn, a day of activities in a park, and a visit of uniformed schoolchildren to a huge glasshouse without a purpose. I warmed more to Petropolis this second visit, I could feel the ambience of a hill station, which, pleasingly, stirred memories of Darjeeling.
From the police post, where I’d left the moto, I hitched a ride along the Juiz de For road to the Araras turn-off. I knew there were 14km to travel to reach Bob’s house. At first, I was skipping, and won several lifts through the sprawling village. It was good to be alive, free, breathing the mountain air and surveying the surrounding hills with barely a development anywhere to be seen but along the single road. And many of these developments are richly built houses and gardens with high walls protecting them from being overlooked by a casual walker. After a while, the lifts ran out and so did Araras. My pleasure was dampened by having to travel the road in the midday sun, up and up to the mountain saddle. I think two cars passed in all, and I must have been walking two hours. Once past the saddle, it was an easy stride downhill to a small un-developed village. Past the waterfall, Bob had said. And a strange waterfall it is. The water pours down the mountainside in considerable volume, but the outlet is so near the top of the land that it seems a physical impossibility for so much water to have collected. In fact, it is a trick of perspective for a mountain range behind, invisible due to the angle, provides the catchment area for the sweet water.
Once arrived at Bob’s, my pleasure was dulled. The TV reception was poor, the Argentines beat England by deception. When the game was over and the light was gone, the air became cold and the society boring. I hoped they would head back to the city for, without my moto, I was trapped. They didn’t. They lit a fire and played cards. I talked to Rhonda for a couple of hours - she surprised me by knowing Vera Caspary and my grandfather, Isadore Goldsmith, having been a Hollywood fanatic in her teens.
Just mark Maradona man-to-man and his genius flakes off, underneath is a fake who knows how to dive to get a free kick. I was sad to see the Argentines win, there were half a dozen teams in the World Cup playing better football. Now that the football is over and the June festivals are coming to an end too, the Brazilians have July holidays to look forward to. After that, there is six months build-up of tension - the coming of summer, the coming of heat, the samba in the heat, the carnival explosion.
Films seen recently: ‘The Falcon and the Snowman’ directed by Schlesinger. I liked this film. It went some way to showing you youth can be taken in by both drugs and politics without really understanding the seriousness or consequences of actions. The story is true, as a fiction it would be too comic, but Schlesinger handles the material with care, crafting the story with patience in camerawork and soundtrack. Believable too the swings in character and beliefs, the hypocrisy of youth. Concerning the story itself, the film begs a question. These two youths are given life-time prison sentences - the law bestows full responsibility on the adult for his actions. But in this case - the film shows to me at least - responsibility should lie with the manager at the satellite firm who so casually gave the youth a high-security job on the basis of his father’s reputation in government security forces.
‘Clue’. This promised well, a sort of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ of the detective genera. But it didn’t work. The film-makers tried to reproduce the board game as faithfully as possible - but in my experience such slavish devotion to a single two-dimensional idea never makes for a solid three-dimensional piece of work. I have tried several times to write a story based on a single rich experience or on an overheard conversation or a clearly imagined idea, but the story then hangs like cheap nylon material to the rich velvet idea. And this, this very concept weakness I felt with ‘Clue’. It drowned in its own watery concept.
Paul K Lyons
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