PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1986 - NOVEMBER
I am walking along a street and am suddenly aware of a tiger following me. I know he is hungry. Then I feel him come right up behind, his wide open jaw somehow embracing the back of my knee. At the pavement’s edge there is a drop of maybe two metres into the pit of a basement entrance to a terraced house (or that’s the nearest association I have - there is a touch of New York in this dream). At this point, I am walking along the edge and the tiger is atras (‘atras’ is a nice word because it not only indicates behind, which is the English word I would have to use in its place, but also implies a sense of chasing), and I spontaneously take a step to the side and jump into the pit. The tiger does not immediately follow, me but I realise that I might well be in his cage. I try and calculate what to do if he follows me.
3 November - Porto Alegre
Knowing that Barbara was coming for two weeks spurred me into making this trip now, feeling the need to get some solid money-earning work behind me, so that I can take time off while she visits. The city appears to possess no visual charms at all - not quite true, one or two pleasant squares and a plague of trees in flower. Throughout the city, streets are lined with a particular type of tree now in flower, a gorgeous lilac colour. I have asked several people what it is, but so far have discovered only the names Monkey’s Ear and Ype. Well, Marcelo believes it is a type of Ype, but I have my doubts. The Monkey’s Ear may be right because hanging throughout the tree are dark strange-looking seed pods, which, once fallen to the ground, could conceivably, be mistaken for monkeys’ ears.
On Sunday morning, Marcelo took me to the once-a-year book affair, billed as Brazil’s biggest. But it is hardly different from the book fair in Rio that moves from place to place. I challenged Marcelo (one if not two times) to find a book about Brazilian trees, he didn’t take me seriously at first but then discovered they are as rare as water-lilies in the Sahara.
Neco has talked several times of his grande amigo Marcelo. So I called him from Rio arranging to meet him on Sunday afternoon. We spent the entire day together talking about specifics and generalities. He had recently separated from his wife so had nothing better to do. He’s only 25, already head of the P. A. office for the Association Brasileiro de Noticias (ABN) and now has a second job in production for T. V. Globo. I caught him off work but he seems to work 12 hours a day, and, from now until after the elections he won’t have a day off. He told me that in Brazil it is forbidden to publish a line if you haven’t taken a university degree in journalism, and, also, that by law journalists are only required to work five hours a day.
As Neco suspected, Marcelo and I had a fair amount in common - not only journalism but chess and motor bikes. His military father, recently based in Germany, brought Marcello back a sophisticated chess computer. It has eight levels, Marcelo wins on level one, sometimes on two, and never on three. On the 8th level, it takes up to 20 minutes to ‘think’ a move. I played it twice, losing the first and winning the second. We travelled around the city a bit on his CBel 400 - I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it is to ride on the back of a bike when you can’t, or don’t want to, clutch your hands around the driver. He took me up a hill where aerial masts and humans rise into the sky for a view of the city of Porto Alegre, clutching, as it does, to a flat outcrop of land in the wide and marshy river Guaiba. It is actually a strange sight because the dense mass of buildings on one side of the river, so shaped by the river, overbalances the view of the other side of the river and a few islands upon which not a single man-made construction can be seen - the very flatness seems unreal.
Marcelo confirmed several times how much he liked Porto Alegre and how he wouldn’t dream of living in Rio. He says there is a calmer atmosphere, a higher level of intelligence; and culturally it is sufficient. But now, near the end of this short trip, I have found little to attract me to the city. Today it is raining, the pavements are slippery, the sidewalks crowded with pedestrians who have no umbrella manners.
It felt wrong to refuse Thomet’s invitation to dinner on Monday night, but I regretted it a little; having spent the entire day in intense conversations in Portuguese it tired me to spend a further two hours talking about This and That with little objective but to entertain Thomet. But, he had done a good job in fixing me up with interviews at Copesul itself and other companies at the petrochemical complex. He also saved me a lot of trouble by providing a car to collect me in Porto Alegre and transport me around the industrial complex. He took me to a fairly expensive popular German restaurant - with all the trimmings - where the air conditioning chilled the food before we could eat it. The Beer came with plenty of froth and in giant wine glasses, but was exactly the same old familiar ‘chopp’. After dinner, I tried to meet up with Marcelo again, but was too tired to try very hard.
This morning with only one interview scheduled at 10:00 I decided to visit the local industry federation for info on the gas pipeline with Argentina, and my efforts turned up trumps. At first I tried to find where Marcelo works, thinking he might provide me with a lead, but I couldn’t find ABN in the Lista so then I decided to go straight to the offices and introduce myself. It was still only 9:00 but there were a few people pacing around drinking mate. They called up someone who works for the federation’s energy commission. Not only did he give me copies of some reports but he fixed me up with a Petrobras engineer in charge of the project - who happened to have been the superintendent of Copesul during implementation. I go to see him this afternoon - dollar bills are reeling in front of my eyes as I project to the stories I’ll be able write for ON, IGR and Gas World - a bonus.
But how ugly the bars around town. I walked for ages looking for a place to sit, but couldn’t find a single attractive bar - all of them could do with decoration, a coat of paint, coverings for wires, pictures on the walls, some character. Porto Alegre lacks character - Belem, Salvador, Rio, S. P., Vitoria all have identity, but here I don’t see/feel anything.
I have been wearing a jacket to my interviews. By the end, my shoulders have turned white with the snowstorm caused by head-scratching.
Marcelo went to Antarctica. Twice. He said it was a fantastic experience. 40-45 days each trip. He sent stories every day on anything and everything. An inter-ministerial commission presides over the scientific research projects, I believe. Operations conducted by marines. This is a trip I would like to do. Why does the frozen waste attract me more than the teeming jungle? Is it the same reason that motivates me to photograph destroyed buildings, dying infrastructure? Am I scared of, resentful of, despising of life. The jungle is extraordinary with its complexissimo biology, the inter-relations of animals and plants, the fabulous forms of plants, animals and behaviour, the intensity, the colour, the sounds. By comparison, life in Antarctica hides itself, is scarce, is not demonstrative. The beauty appears on a larger scale that is mineral and desolate. Why would I want to go to Antarctica when I’m not the slightest bit interested to go to Manaus?
I sit in a ghastly cafe at Porto Alegre airport. Why I paid Cz4 for an expresso coffee that was no different to a cafezinho that costs Cz2 I don’t know; and the most delicious looking cake in the refrigerated display turned out to be warm and watery. But the bar has a most unusual item. On one wall, there are two wash basins. I don’t recall ever seeing wash basins in a coffee house - open and not part of the toilet!
So I went to REFAR, the local refinery. Percy, the superintendent, turned out to be extremely interesting. He gave me all I needed about the gasoduto, about the refinery, and about the whole petrochemical complex. For example, everyone I have interviewed so far blamed the lack of success at Triunfo on poor fiscal incentives for Rio Grande do Sul, as compared with Bahia for example. But, as I had already wondered, Percy pointed out that such incentives are needed in the North (Bahia) to stimulate industry in the first place, but that there is no question, and never has been, of such big incentives in Ro Grande which is already well developed. Percy also told me about the intervention of the World Bank, and the aid given by Copesul to the state for infrastructure development. Good old Percy.
And then there was Chico, the ex-PR guy from Copesul, now of Polisul, waiting in Percy’s office to give me a lift to the airport. Chico, of course, worked as Percy’s PR man for all those years, and has just been leant to Percy because the big man - Ozires Silva - is visiting tomorrow. Several people are coming with Ozires, I don’t know who, but one of them, Alberto, rang Percy requesting 10 kilos of meat. There’s still shortages in Rio, and presumably Alberto thought it would be more easily available here (a cattle region). So Percy asked Chico to organise it. But Chico will just send someone to stand in the queue at the butchers, same as if in Rio. Chico will probably buy extra in case Ozires wants meat to take back with him as well.
Barbara arrives early this morning. We will try and have a baby.
Sunday morning 16 November
Nearly midday, the sun beats down here in Buzios. Barbara is already as pink as a radish so that when we went out walking this morning along the Manguinhos beach she went fully dressed. But her ears burnt for want of a hat. The walk was glorious, firstly for being so early and there being no one around, and, secondly, for being so interesting. During my two previous trips to this house [part-rented by Neco, and then by me], I had never walked further round to the right than the dry dock for fishing boats and the natural-looking pier, but this time we walked on for miles. The beach itself loses it beachness for, with the tide out, muddy rocky flats reveal themselves. Fewer rich men’s sit at the beach’s back and one or two poor men’s huts take their place. The sand is strewn with objects of interest: crabs, dead and alive; shells, round, twirled, coloured, holed; porous stones with exquisite designs; dead fish; seaweed of many colours, sometimes growing out of half-buried plastic rubbish; washed up seed pods; algae-like sponges, a bright brick colour. Walking on around the bay’s curve, the wind drops and the lap of the sea waves and the sharp hissing of the cicadas and the songs of birds become more prominent. We meet no one, see no one. Perhaps we have found a paradise. We talk little, are just content to feel the nature of sea coast and sun on ourselves.
At the end of the bay, the Manguinhos beach becomes the Gancho beach. A smart hotel with chalets shaded by trees nestles at the back of this beach. It looks tranquil and expensive and empty. The mud and rock flats stretch far with the tide out so the hotel has built a long wooden pier with a diving platform and steps at the far end. Only the skull and crossbones flag is hard to interpret. Is it a warning to motor boats and oil tankers? or a warning to bathers not to dive because it is too shallow? Around from Gancho beach, we continue along the rocks. Barbara dawdles to collect stones and shells while I race on round anxious to conquer headland upon headland to find the next beach. Tartaruga. I see one building at the far end, and not a single person, so I indulge my insatiable passion for swimming nude - and remain nude walking back along the rocks to where Barbara has amassed a huge collection. She wants my help choosing which ones to take back.
The two weeks have passed and Barbara has left. Once again we have lived out a romance as if we were in the first throws of an infatuation. Hardly a minute went by during the whole two weeks when we were not adoring one another, whether in bed coupling in search of parenthood, or walking through the forests of Itatiaia to a waterfall, collecting stones on Buzios beach, eating a tasteless meal in a ‘natural restaurant’, or riding the motorbike through the Rio streets towards some market or panoramic spot, or reading Jane Austen or Jorge Amado together on the sofa.
This is the longest time we have spent together considering that our previous holidays were only ever for a week - Ireland, Cornwall, Antibes. But Rio is so entirely my territory that Barbara could accept my authority and I her submission without any of our usual tensions. Also, being my territory, I felt obliged to play host - with lots of scope - giving me no opportunity to fall into the ennui I’ve sometimes felt in previous times with Barbara. And perhaps we have found a stability after all these years.
If, in the past, I had doubts about my promise of fathering a child with Barbara, then, like her own doubts which were recently overpowered, they were totally extinguished. There was not a whisper of doubt between us - it seemed so right and perfect that we should be doing this thing. In the first day or two we did discuss briefly things we had already discussed - her parents, money, flats, the hardship, whether to marry - but the conversation always dried up quickly to be replaced by lovemaking, full of significant moments, any one of which would be the perfect romantic beginning for a child, as well as endless jokes and joking.
I am in a strange country. By chance or design I find myself at the beginning of a marathon race but quite a few runners have already left and I don’t seem to have much chance. But it is not a marathon, instead it’s some sort of quirky obstacle race with stages. Much of the race appears to be made up of entering rooms one way and finding the secret way to the next room. When I arrive at the first stage there are only a few people sitting around in the room, and I realise I am not that far behind. At the next stage, in another room, I am already the leader. But as we stand in file, to take off again, I realise I haven’t got my gym shoes on. I struggle awkwardly to put them on but the whistle goes. Later, I argue abut the injustice of this, although it makes no difference because I am soon in the lead again. I remember one dark room with the floor covered in drawing pins pressed into the wood. I begin to take them out in search of an entrance to a tunnel but then discover the way out is through a cupboard. Then, there are two giant bath tubs full of water. To negotiate these it is only necessary to dive in and climb out. I arrive at the next stage so far ahead of anyone else that I have time to send for a cheese and ham sandwich.
When Barbara was here, I seemed so pressed for time that I was unable to hive off half an hour a day for the diary. As it is, now that she has gone, I think of many visits we did not have time to make - the ferry to Paqueta, the Gavea park, the fort, Ilha das Cobras and so on. Time ran out. But many times, I tried to impress on myself the consciousness of her being here, the pleasure of her company, the joy of her joy, in order to slow down the inevitable vanishing - but once the time has gone, it always seems to have gone so fast. The togetherness, the constant communication by words or looks or touches, detracts from the mind being conscious of its own happiness. Blink and the beautiful woman has disappeared past passport control and through the baggage check. Blink, and I can no longer see her polka dot dress. Blink, and she is gone. Trying now to recall the days spent together - I might record the main things we did, but how many of the magical moments are already lost in the winds of time, in the blink of an eyelid.
Lying in bed I read Barbara an ‘Economist’ editorial on embryo research. Apart from calling for a stop to voluntary abortion after two months and permitting embryo research on 14 day old embryos - a sharp strong conservative editorial - it informed us that at least 60% of embryos, in fertilised eggs, do not embed in the womb. Add to this the less-than-evens chance of other possibilities nay probabilities - that the egg did not get fertilised, or that it gets fertilised and the embryo embeds but a spontaneous miscarriage occurs at a later date - and there seems very little chance indeed for a single solitary egg. And then there is Barbara’s sensitive physiology - I mean, when travelling her period often waits until she returns to her home. All these factors seem to weigh heavily against us. And more, by the time Barbara left she herself felt fairly certain her body hadn’t worked the necessary magic. There is, perhaps, a vague chance that she’ll nurture some of my seed until she returns and that a released egg will then, and only then, be fertilised in the familiarity of her own rooms.
But whilst here, whilst on the subject, I would like to take up the two ‘Economist’ points and disagree with both - embryo research should be carefully limited, and abortion on demand should be allowed up until four or five months. First of all, the reasons for embryo research, the ‘Economist’ tells us, are fourfold: inherited diseases, congenital handicaps, safer contraception, and infertility treatment. Important to research, to know, to develop techniques, but how much research in the area is being carried out specifically for important medical problems - how many side experiments are taking place. This is a terribly dangerous area, and the research should be allowed but monitored with excessive regulation (similar research on animal embryos should also be carefully controlled). Outlawing such research is useless - this has happened in the Australian state of Victoria - and can only serve a political end; but some sort of worldwide authority ought to issue guidelines.
The ‘Economist’ has chosen the dividing line of nine weeks because this is the stage at which the brain develops. Abortion beyond this time it calls ‘killing’, and it says this should be made illegal. The legalisation of late abortion, it says, was a monstrosity. Justification: a foetus of 18 weeks is already a human being; it possesses the organ of thinking and feeling, a human brain. In these circumstances, for a woman’s right to choose is to beg the question. Nobody has the right to choose to kill another. But, I say, yes they do. For the mother is in total possession of the child; the foetus is less an independent human being than it is a part of her own body. If she chooses not to want it, that she feels she cannot bring a new life into the world, then it is her decision - until, until that foetus has a real life of its own, and a real life of its own is only achieved at seven months or so when it could survive outside the womb. Life is precious. Human beings are sacrosanct, but to stretch such godlike attributes beyond sense risks cheapening all of it through dilution. The same argument can be used to promote euthanasia: let old people die if they want; do not stand on ceremony and preserve them through pain and suffering and enormous expense simply because we, as a society, cannot bear the idea of the common-ness of life, of not being gods.
But I sidetrack from Barbara. The day Barbara arrived seems ages ago. I spotted her through glass walls, dressed in a bright red jacket, buzzing around the baggage collection in search of her possessions. She emerged through customs without delay. I took her in my arms, as ever surprised to see how pretty, how bright she can look, and how small and tender she is my arms. We spoke little driving through the dawn, back to Urca, I giving her the first indications of the lay of the city, but I knew little was going in, there were too many stars in her eyes, too much excitement from the travel for sight to rise above feelings.
When I decided to purchase tickets for ‘Porgy and Bess’ showing on the day of B’s arrival, the last show in fact, I didn’t know it was nearly four hours long. Silvio saw it, as he does all the big shows at the Municipal Theatre, and, as always, he found it boring. In fact, it made no difference that it was long, both Barbara and I enjoyed it tremendously. The production was slick and professional, the music acceptable, and the singing out of this world (well certainly Brazil). All the singing cast and directors had been imported from the US.
Barbara has one case full of presents for me. Books, glorious books. One in particular - ‘Neurophilosophy’ - which I requested after reading a favourable review in the ‘Economist’. But I am not the only person interested in neurophilosophy, and by the time Barbara chased around the shops there wasn’t a copy to be had anywhere. Yet, Barbara has good book connections. Tim deals in second-hand books, and one of her friends has a bookshop or dealership or something. In this case, though, she acquired the desired tome from a friend’s wife who is a psychologist and had already bought a copy. She let Barbara take her copy whilst ordering a new one. It is quite a technical read, but is up-to-date information on brain science, which is exactly what I wanted. Also in B’s case are paperbacks, chocolates, antique prints of Hampstead, music tapes, newspapers and magazines. In particular, Barbara bought some copies of a new upmarket newspaper: ‘The Independent’. It seems to be a cross between the ‘Times’ and the ‘Guardian’ and ‘Telegraph’ with a breath of fresh air thrown in for good measure. If I were in London I would be buying it - it lacks the stodginess of the ‘Telegraph’, the radical affectations of the ‘Guardian’, and the Murdochness of the ‘Times’. The ‘Listener’, the ‘Spectator’ and the ‘New Statesman’ all appear to have gone through spring cleans making them more readable, or perhaps I’m just starved of reasonable journalism. And ‘Time Out’ continues its ascent into glossiness.
Apart from ‘Porgy and Bess’ that first Sunday, we went to the local market to buy as many tropical fruits as Barbara fancied, and for a ride on the motorbike around Lagoa and along the beaches.
On Monday, I had to finish my article for ‘Chemical Engineering’ and organise the transport of photos to N.Y. Barbara slipped off to the botanical gardens. On Tuesday evening, we went to IBAM to listen to a chorinho group Pingo d’Agua playing some lovely Villa-Lobos and other Brazilian songs. I liked Tom Jobin’s ‘Quebra Pedra’ best.
Problems with hiring a car unsettled me for most of Tuesday. None of the agencies would accept cash deposits requiring, in every case, a credit card. I thought I could borrow a friend’s, but no one I knew had a credit card - only Neco’s girlfriend Olena, but hers had a Cz5,000 limit which would not have served. My plans looked to be shot through with lead. As a last resort, I tried the Foreign Correspondents house, here in Urca. Paula, lovely Paula, to the rescue. She hires cars quite often for her boss, Juan, and simply needs to call the travel agent who telexes the agency and all’s set. Easy as pie. And it was. Fortunately, I had made a reservation any way, and the travel agent picked up on it, for, by then, there were no other cars left. I really couldn’t believe it was impossible to hire a car without a credit card. I took out my resentment against this Catch 22 on the tough little Chevette that Budget Rent-a-Car finally gave me.
Surprising how empty the main road to Sao Paulo is once one gets beyond the city sprawl and satellite towns. A few lorries chug away, even fewer private cars. The road, on the whole, is reliably free of pot holes, and is quite pretty in parts as it winds up into the mountains. I had made a reservation at the Hotel de Ype, inside the national park, partly because it was in the park, partly because of the picture I had seen in the ‘Journal do Brasil’ of an isolated log cabin, and perhaps because I liked the name, Ype being a very Brazilian tree, and also the name of the Shell company or perhaps the fazenda running the reforestation project that I wrote about.
The entrance to the national park was a little way off the main road, but the hotel involved quite a trek up a dirt track, more potholes than not - but the sweet little chevette didn’t mind. The log cabins were not in fact isolated, all being bunched together like chalets. We had no other criticism though. The cabin offered all mod cons (a comfortable bed, a TV so that I wouldn’t miss the final episodes of ‘Sinha Moca’, a log-fire, for the evenings were cool). The restaurant food was good, even Barbara had no problems, as there were ample vegetables on offer; and even the price, at £15 a night for both of us, all meals included, had to be a bargain.
And being there, in the middle of this huge forest midweek meant we had it largely to ourselves. We walked along the paths we could find, Barbara wondering at all the exotic birds, the size of the vegetation, the strange insects; while I enjoyed the silence, the tranquillity, the nature of it all, and the company of this friend of mine. We found two waterfalls - one of them tall and erect with a pool at the foot, full of large boulders. Here was a chance to live, to really live, a hundred shampoo and soap adverts. I so wanted to take off my shorts and stand in there, beneath the falling shower. This, though, was the one time there were other people around - a couple sat nearby necking, determined to stay longer than us.
We arrived at the other waterfall near nightfall, the air hung think with mist, and light through the forest path disappeared in chunks. This fall, a giant swirling cascade, we had all to ourselves. The river tumbling down the mountainside created deep pools and fast running channels between the boulders - hard to imagine any salmon leaping up this waterway. By the time we had climbed the slippery path back to the road again, darkness had descended yet we could still see the heavy mist laying low in the valleys, giving the image of a steamy jungle, even though the air was damp and cold. We embraced to keep warm, and watched the very last flicker of light disappear.
A local guide informed us that the Visconde de Maua region was more touristy - a map of the area looked crowded, whereas the one of Itatiaia was virtually empty. So, one morning, we drove off in search of Maua. The map showed a 20-25km drive, but it did not show that the road was little better than a bridle path; it took for ever. At several points I was ready to turn back, but Barbara egged me on, at least to the top of the mountain pass. We were well rewarded. Suddenly, after a grinding drive, we arrived at the top and a beautiful magical valley lay before us, painted by a romanticist, it lay so peaceful, so still, no cars, no planes, no lorries, no people, no tractors. A river wound its way down the valley, and a scattering of houses here and there dotted the otherwise green landscape. On all sides, mountains rose protecting the valley from an invasion of civilisation. It was the first time I had ever felt I’d found Samuel Butler’s Erewhon. We drove down into the valley as far as a bridge. B took photos. The village of Maua offered nothing special. We bought some local made jam and chocolates from a youngish man with no legs and only one arm. Through a series of carefully worked-out manoeuvres, he could reach all the shelves, offer spoonfuls of jam for tasting, and wheel himself in and out of the pantry-sized shop on a four wheeled tray.
On the way back, we stopped again at the saddle, and walked off the road for a while to soak in again the picture view we had enjoyed earlier.
We barely saw the sun during the two days we spent at Itatiaia, thanks to a heavy cloud layer, and frequent rain showers. On the Friday, the clouds cleared and we saw, for the first time, the bright and beautiful and clear view down into the lowlands.
Somewhere along the road I picked up the habit of saying ‘oopa’ at the slightest excuse. Oopa is a local exclamation of surprise - for a while I was saying it as we drove over quebra-molas or sleeping policemen, but, before long, the very slightest occurrence could provoke an oopa outcry. Barbara and I have always been able to play these silly, trivial but delightful games. We really do laugh a lot together.
And then one morning, well, Barbara woke me for some early morning baby-making activity, and I came rather quickly - at which moment she simply uttered, rather quietly, the word ‘oopa’ - and we both gave in to hysterical laughing.
I have taken the entire day off with little more to do than catch up on what I want to write in here. Since weeks before Barbara arrived I’ve been under a certain amount of pressure - not difficult or unwanted pressure, but pressure. And this week, there’s been the APLA petrochemical conference, and yesterday I had to write some steel things. So I thought I’d take a day off, laze around, read a bit from different books, drink tea, answer the telephone to wrong numbers.
Apart from my usually brief meetings with David Farrel, Michael Lockley and Rubems Mendrano at APLA, this year’s conference brought Humphrey Hinshelwood into town, he who is the arch enemy of my organisation, Platts, and Lynn T. (not one of my favourite people from time at European Chemical News). Conversations with both these people concentrated on chemical markets, people and price reporting systems.
H. H. was feeling to offer me a job either here or in Singapore or somewhere, and in so doing he revealed just how large his organisation has grown - 41 full time people, nearly 1,000 clients, a price reporting menu bigger than Platts. Also, he seems to have won some sort of coup by getting permission from Reuters to carry all his info - because they want the chemicals.
What do I learn from a few beers with Lynn. Not much. I was too intent on quietly showing off - my magazine clients, my apartment, hints as to my income. I treat her civilly, and perhaps she thinks I’m more of a friend than I am. I’m sure she writes off my ECN days of misery as 99% Tony Cox’s fault and nothing to do with her. Well, she has grown up a bit, and is still there, as editor, so one can’t be too impolite. She earns £19,000 she says. She also told me that Tony, when he left to work for ICI, was earning £14,000 - which pleased me enormously for I left ECN to earn £15,000 at McGraw-Hill/Platts. Really, she’s quite a vulnerable and I have no reason to continue my resentment. There was nothing deliberate in the way she treated me at the time, just the result of the situation. She rang just now because she’s being moved from the Rio Palace and wanted advice on a hotel - was she wondering if I would invite her to stay here. Really, that would be pushing it too far. I bought her a pizza and beer, acted friendly, talked about chemical journalism for a couple of hours. I also feel that I’ve already got back at ECN by stealing a stream of their reporters. Perhaps if I had a chance to make Tony Cox’s life difficult that would be a different story.
Another momentous moment with Barbara: Saturday afternoon we set off in blazing sun in order to find a stretch of beach to be alone! From the Geriba Beach it is possible to see the deserted Tucuns Beach further along the coast. However, it’s a way round by car. I thought it would be totally deserted, yet the rudiments of infrastructure were already constructed - a few houses, a bar, a holiday camp. But, a huge stretch of the beach was indeed empty - we made our way far enough along and stripped off. I raced into the water, adoring any chance to swim naked. The sea though was rough and the waves harsh enough to make swimming difficult. Wet and dripping, I crouched over B’s naked body waiting to dry. One way and another, it was not very comfortable and the sun was burning hot. Soon after our pleasure peaks, we packed up and returned to the bar to refresh ourselves with an illegal beer (for this day is election day and the people must stay sober to vote). The day left the back of B’s knees burnt something pinker than a blushing radish.
This was to be my last visit to Neco’s house. Originally, Eliane had carried me off there. I’d met Neco and Marcelo the same weekend. I went once more on my own, when Neco was a renting partner, and then just this once when I was a partner. From Cz600 originally, the price had quintupled or more so that a group of three, instead of paying Cz200 each, now have to pay more than Cz1,000 which is $40. If I had used it twice a month, it would have been worth it - but I don’t - Marcelo too is pulling out after five years.
Barbara and I, with too much sun on our bodies, lazed around the house a lot - she reading ‘Tereza Batista’ by Amado, and I reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’. These book choices were no coincidence. I was trying to approximate myself to Barbara through her love of Austen and encouraged her to do the same to Brazil - well, mid-century Bahia to be exact. It took a while for her to warm to the book, but after a while she couldn’t put it down. Sometimes, she read Austen with me, sometimes I told her what was happening, often we discussed the characters.
A LOST KEY
On Sunday afternoon an extraordinary thing happened. Rather than lie any more on a beach and sun ourselves further, I decided to profit from having the car to visit Arrail do Cabo, which is where Nene, Christian and I had slept on the beach more than 10 years previously. I remembered the chimney stack blasting out smoke that everyone condemned but which was only steam, and the walk Nene and I took over the mountain to discover a deserted but private beach. We lay idly petting each other until people arrived in a boat and shooed us away. But the place is ugly now, crowded with day trippers and cheap houses and shacks.
The harbour in Cabo Frio is pretty, and all around the area the salt flats, with their windmill pumps, add interest, but I didn’t much enjoy the trip. Anyhow, sometime during the day, I must have got some oil on my foot. Barbara suggested, after a failure with soap, I try alcohol. So, I went to the car, with strips of newspaper in an attempt to soak some petrol up from the tank - damn stupid idea. I needed the key to unlock the petrol cap. I was already beginning to realise the stupidity of the idea (as I could see some paper might get stuck in the tank creating no end of problems), so I went back inside, my hands full of the scrap paper. Throwing the paper in the rubbish, I noticed a bottle of alcohol under the sink. Brilliant. I went with the liquid to the bathroom where I had originally tried with soap and water, but then quickly removed to the porch which seemed to me a more sensible place to be trying to clean my foot. But it didn’t really help. The Question Is: What Happened To The Car Key. When I went, a few minutes later, to unlock the car to retrieve my flip-flops, I couldn’t find the key. The petrol cap was back in place though unlocked. Had I brought it in with the newspaper? Or had I left the petrol cap on the car boot with the key in (because I was going to return with a cloth strip to do the same trick)? Then followed an absurd ritual which went on for hours. Barbara and I searched everywhere over and over again. There were only two possibilities: someone passing had stolen the key from petrol cap; or, I had mislaid it somewhere. The first possibility seemed so unlikely for a variety of reasons:
- there was very little time while I was in the house;
- there were very few people walking in the street;
- why not steal the car then and there;
- any thought to return to steal the car would be logically defeated by realising the owner would notice the missing key and do something about it;
- several locals confirmed there was no habit of stealing just keys.
So, however many times I stopped to think and however many times I looked in the simple and uncluttered rooms, I always returned to the conclusion I must have lost the key, and that some hiding place must be eluding me. I kept thinking. I don’t know how many times I went through the same places. It was even more difficult to believe that it was hiding somewhere just unseen because Barbara too had looked everywhere minutely. We went through bit-by-dirty-bit the rubbish bin three times. Despite my logic, I could not stop looking over and over again. I kept expecting Barbara to gasp and say ‘here it is’, and surprise me with some simple but overlooked nook. But no. The more I accepted the solution that it had been stolen (and surely I would not have replaced the petrol cap without locking it - the robber had clearly replaced the top just to get the key out easily - but why not carry off the entire petrol cap?) the more I had to think of the possible theft of the car itself. A neighbour told me there lived a ‘chaveiro’ on the road behind; but, for a while I didn’t even go there for fear of losing the car. Ivo and Eneida (the other tenants of the house with Marcelo and I) had arrived at the same time from Rio as we had from Cabo and had gone straight off to the beach (after a joint). When they finally returned, Ivo took me off into town in search of the chaveiro. Barbara sat on the porch keeping her beady eyes on the Chevette. By chance, the chaveiro showed up - a kid, cocky but friendly and not unhelpful. He said it would be possible to make a key that evening which would open the doors (I have forgotten to mention I couldn’t even get into the car to open the bonnet to disable the engine - this was despite trying for an hour or two to slip a noose inside the window-frame and catch the button with the help of a neighbour who knew the technique) and start the engine. We would have to come and get him later. My anxiety considerably relieved by the boy’s confidence - though I doubted the truth of his claim - we returned to the house to a further discussion and some further searching.
After some delays, the chaveiro and friend arrived, with a whole host of old and worn skeleton key-forms (filed down from fret saws). For more than half an hour, he wiggled away at the locks to both doors without getting anywhere near success. His belief waned slowly, and finally he gave up with the pass-partouts (which he left in the car and which fell off while we were driving home in a series of mysterious tinkles). He then tried more desperate means, with screwdrivers and coathangers, which looked even less likely to succeed. Then, when he discovered that the petrol cap worked off the same key and was loose, he raced off to his workshop in town and returned an hour later with an unlikely looking worn and beaten key that magically opened the door and started the car. Having actually given up hope, and having prepared myself to let the tyres down for the night and travel to Rio the next day to get the spare from the car hire company and bus back to Buzios - you can imagine with what relief I paid the boy his Cz300.
We left almost immediately, around 11pm, only to stop twice on the road to sleep (I couldn’t keep my eyes open) arriving in rio at 6:00am. From about 4:30-11:00 pm the LOST KEY had utterly preoccupied Barbara and myself - it had been impossible to contemplate or talk about anything else.
Although it didn’t fit the boot, the key served me well for the rest of the hire, and when I returned the car, the manageress lent me the master key, and I made a proper copy which she accepted without fuss.
Monday I worked. I could have done without a commission from ‘Metal Bulletin’ for a 1,000 words by Friday on the effect of the economic measures on non-ferrous metals. In the end it turned out to be easier than I had thought - though the returns from such work are far less than from chemical stories.
Sometime during our busy schedule, Barbara and I had wondered around the RioSul shopping centre. Stopping at Sapasso’s, she had been delighted at all the colours and styles of shoes. When she came to try them on, she found it easy to get her tiny size - in London it’s difficult, and she needs to buy children’s sizes. She bought two pairs - well they are so cheap when you consider Cz40 to a pound. Her size is 35, as I must remember, so I can take back some next time round.
Having hired a car, I suppose I felt the need to utilise it. So, once again at the crack of dawn we set off - this time for Nova Friburgo. I hadn’t thought to call Sonia, of Chico and Sonia who lived there for several years - she might have given us some clues. Once we had left the main Avenida Brasil and the Petropolis highway the road to N.F was a delight, barely populated but beautiful countryside, early morning mist shrouding the hills, and later climbing high into the mountains and reaching the urbanised valley of hill stations. Like Petropolis, the environs of the city of N.F. seem to crawl on for miles clinging to the road which itself clings to a canal-like river - houses climbing up the hillsides on either side. N.F. was not particularly attractive, the main street buildings already too modern to have style and too old to be neat. But the street is divided like a sandwich possessing a long thin park with tall old trees and shaded walkways as filling. In the very centre, we found an empty tourist office - a uniformed guard took no notice of us at all. Presently, a young and attractive girl arrived carrying a bunch of flowers which pleased B. She told us our options: visit rock formations, the city’s symbol on the way out of the city, wait until afternoon to go up in the cable car for an aerial view of the place or . . . well . . . go visit Lumiar with its river bathing pools and, according to one guide, Abundant Tranquillity. We walked on through the town. On one street we found a cane-work shop where Barbara bought a hat - finally - and a lovely basket, a utilities shop where we both saw some pottery work, and a plaster of paris religious mould shop where we bought angels. I could not resist the angels at 10p each, thinking they’d make fine Christmas table presents.
Then, we walked on to the country where the tourist girl had said there was the only halfways decent garden hereabouts. Without much trouble the gate porters let us in - the entrance walkway was itself resplendent with bamboo bunches growing tall and arching over to provide a shaded passage. Further into the property, Barbara delighted to find carefully-planned gardens including artificial lakes. According to our piecemeal information the landscaper had been the artist Glazia. There were a few unusual looking palms and plants. One tree had littered the pathway with fleshy purple-lilac flowers, not unlike snapdragons but lined with blunt spikes - most peculiar. At various times, Barbara collected specimens of flowers but they shrivelled up within minutes when in the heat of the car.
The drive to Lumiar was rich in abundant tranquillity - but, on arriving, we found neither place to eat nor any real signs of a paradise river pool. We looked, we looked - poor Chevette - the roads got real bad, but we did not find, and the midday sun pelted down. I’d brought a palha mat which I thought might encourage another momentous moment after bathing in the hoped-for paradisiacal river pool by the side of a fantastic waterfall. But some dreams are just that. We returned to N.F. to eat in a small super natural very-vegetarian restaurant we had spotted.
During the afternoon, we lazed on the road to Teresopolis, enjoying the quiet scenery. At T we looked for T but as ever ended up drinking juices to beat the heat and the thirst. There was not much special about T - not that we looked very far. On leaving the urban area, you climb up to a saddle between mountains and, once over, the plains in the distance suddenly become visible, and all evidence of the city is gone. The mountains crowd in, especially the pillar mountains that look so strange, peculiar, like man-made columns, and the road winds on down, curve by sharp curve, to those far distant plains.
The rest of the days we spent in Rio. Barbara would slip out to the Urca beach in her striped swimming costume for a swim and to take some sun, but with her white sensitive skin, already burnt in Buzios, she did not stay out for long. In the afternoon, she would like to lie naked on my bed in catching the not-so powerful rays of sun as they angled in through the window - her eyes closed, a slight smile on her lips. Never, never in her life, she exaggerates with delight, has she ever been brown before, and points to all the new freckles that have spread across her body. On Saturday, we went to the Praia Vermelha beach with towels and books, but like me, Barbara hated the crowds, noise, busy atmosphere, and the water was horribly dirty too.
One weekday Barbara came downtown with me, to the Kosmos bookshop. We bought piles of Christmas cards, little calendars. Any really nice books published in Brazil are always available at Kosmos. A new biography of Roberto Burle Marx had recently come out - Barbara had already talked about him - Brazil’s most famous landscape artist. He it was, that designed the Flamengo aterro. So Barbara bought that, and was tempted by Ruschi’s book of Espirito Santos orchids, although at £25 she wasn’t sure her library could afford it in the 1987 budget. I took her also to the plaster of paris shop where she bought both painted and unpainted fruits. At O Sol, she bought wooden bowls.
Most evenings, tiredness got the better of us, and we were in bed before 11, but Friday night I determined we should go to one of the samba dances - well I wanted to go to a gafiera as well but it was too much to do both. Stupidly, we arrived early at the Flamengo gym club. The tin band with a crude singer slowly dulled our brains, and the big empty place filled very slowly. Neither of us wanted to dance much. It was nearly one before the real samba band came on. At least, we were rewarded with a bit of a carnival show - three scantily clad mulattas, old and ageing Baianas, and the twirling overdressed couples that carry a flag. It was loud, amateur, rumbustious. We left immediately the show was over - like the beach, neither of us really enjoyed it, but it had given Barbara a taste of carnival.
One evening Barbara came to my dance class, and with her I danced well - it was the first time. We seemed to get the hang of the steps, and to actually move in rhythm together. We wanted to practice at home but the only time Barbara made an effort in this regard, I stubbornly refused. After she’d gone, I was cross with myself for having let this slip, because it’s so hard to make progress with only two lessons each week and having to worry about different partners all the time.
The lethargies have o’ertaken me. Tis the weather, my mind will not function. I drape my body across the sofa and read a Penguin collection of female detective stories. Three of the 15 have heroines with alliterative names: Dorcas Dene, Beatrice Bradley, Madelyn Mack; and I find two more - Gale Gallagher and Adelaide Adams - in an appendix list of other female detectives. How strange then that I should choose the name Veronica Villacombe for my female detective. At least none of the others have daughters that continue the alliteration.
Elaine does not take long to return. I try to watch Hector Babenco’s first film showing on O Globo - ‘O Rei da Noite’ - but she attacks me as usual, and I miss a huge slice in the middle. With Elaine, I return to wanton desire, the satisfying of lust, having spent two weeks of quiet and emotion-full love with Barbara.
Barbara’s visit was such a treat, but now I have little to look forward to - just a few months of hot and hotter weather. I thought, I fancied, I might be able to step up my relationship with Monica, yet our first meeting for over a month turned sour. I called. I invited her to the cinema to see a film. She prevaricated, said she would call back. Called back, said to come to her house, which I was much reluctant to do. I did. Going up in the lift with her white-haired father who said nothing. She complains we won’t arrive in time. We arrive in time. There’s a big Q. We manage to get in just as the film is starting. She complains immediately on seeing the style of the film. We can’t find a seat, so sit on the steps. The style of the film - women talking among themselves, then men talking among themselves about their lives - is not immediately enthralling, but all the critics have given the film a good rating, and certainly it’s not bad enough to walk out. But Monica does. Well, she walks away then comes back 10 minutes later saying she hasn’t gone, but now is going to go. Bye bye Monica. Much as I’d like to spend time with her, I’m not going to walk out of one of the best movies on show in the film festival because of her whims. Nevertheless, I find myself returning to think about her behaviour. There is talk now of the film winning the Tucano Prize. I hope it does.
Father Christmas has already descended in his incongruous outfit on all the shopping centres and advertising media.
Immediately after the elections - which gave the PMDB, as expected, most governorships and a strong majority in Congress - the government announced a new package of economic reforms aimed at filling the government coffers and reducing consumption: a 60% increase in petrol, an 80% increase in new car prices, rises in telephones and electricity. A few days later, a demonstration in Brasilia turned nasty - cars were overturned and burnt, rioters injured and arrested. The newspaper coverage was awkward and did not explain why the demonstrations and riots had taken place. Officials admitted some errors in the way the new reforms were announced but intend to stick to the Cruzado plan. Most prices are still frozen and tabulated so that Maria, for example, remains better off financially. Now she talks of buying a sewing machine.
And in the US, a major scandal erupts over the sending of arms to Iran and the funding of the Contras. This morning’s newspapers implied that even vice-president George Bush was implicated, and there have already been some sackings. Oh how the US press loves to get its sticky fingers wrapped around a political scandal, especially when a cover-up tries to hide the full and unexpurgated truth from the naive and innocent public. Right on ‘The New York Times’ - expose, expose, expose.
I clean the motorbike, scraping the rust off the wheel rims. It must be a year I’ve had the bike, and it has served me brilliantly, upping the quality of my life by a significant factor, and saving me upwards of an hour a day on average. This afternoon I begin reading my treasure ‘Neurophilosophy’ by Patricia Smith Churchland. In her introduction she says: ‘The sustaining conviction of this book is that top-down strategies (as characteristic of philosophy, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence) and bottom-up strategies (as characteristic of neurosciences) for solving the mysteries of mind-brain function should not be pursued in icy isolation from one another. What I envisage instead is a rich inter-animation between the two, which can be expected to provoke a fruitful co-evolution of theories, models and methods, where each informs, corrects, and inspires the other.’ Right on lady, right on. This is where I want to be - in the middle. My only regret about this book is (and Churchland regrets it too) that she doesn’t attempt to blend into the neuroscience and philosophy much ethology or psychology. Ah well. Read on Paul, read on.
Meanwhile in today’s ‘Economist’ I read a review of Richard Dawkins new book (not forgetting it was in the ‘Economist’ I first read about Churchland’s book.) A few pages interest me: those few pages that the reviewer says it takes Dawkins to ‘demonstrate beyond all doubt that Lamarckism not only does not happen, but cannot happen, given the way embryos develop.’ But then, dear Dawkins, how do embryos change at all - something changes them, why not changes in the animals themselves or their conditions - the womb, Dawkins, the womb. Change conditions of the womb and you have an affect on the genes of the new foetus. The reviewer then shows he has not read Darwin. ‘Dr Dawkins,’ I quote, ‘is saying no more than Darwin said though his examples are better and the theory is much fuller.’ I seriously doubt this.
To return to Barbara’s visit just for a few more lines. One evening, she cried a little - a release, she said, that presaged her disappointment of not being pregnant. Despite being fairly certain that she hadn’t released her egg, we continued to joke and laugh and generally make conversation about our baby. The longest running joke was over ‘embedding’. We worried incessantly over what might or might not be good for the embedding of a fertilised egg. It seemed, for example, that lying on the bed prostrate would be good, but that jerking around on a motorbike probably was not. Being unsure, however, of the science of embedding, we had didn’t really have any cause to change our behaviour. We agreed without any doubt that should there be a baby, and should she be a girl, we will call her Laura, and probably Laura Lyons Collecott. But we have no thought yet on a boy’s name.
We even talked about godparents - Barbara would like a friend of hers, Jenny (to whose third child Barbara is godmother) while I suggested Colin, because he would be both attentive and also respond to the responsibility. My brother Julian, we reasoned, would have plenty of connection with the child, and would be already an uncle. These baby conversations, of course, were interspersed with a sense of light heartedness and lack of reality.
Were we really to have a child, then I feel it would be a new beginning for both of us. Barbara is an only child and her parents educated her away from the norms of their current society so that she became a shy butterfly, one who hid herself away where there were no husbands to be found. I, meanwhile, am also an only chilld, one educated with such traumas and fears of a relationship that it looked likely I would never be able to commit myself to such a responsibility. Thus, by a peculiar set of circumstances, two human beings out of sync with the world may be able to create something more synchronised and less fearful.
On the Sunday we raced off to the Sao Christovao market for a taste of the northeast, and then on to a hippy fair in Ipanema. The afternoon became rushed for I had to journey to the Rio Palace Hotel to leave some newsletters and flyers for the APLA conference, and then there was the problem of finding a taxi. We had to walk out of Urca, but there a sudden gust of bad weather that sent everyone scurrying away from the beach at the same time. Barbara was shocked at the black boys hanging on the outsides of buses. Despite delays we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and continued reading our books.
Paul K Lyons
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