PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1986 - OCTOBER
It cannot be unusual that planes crossing the Amazon are late. Loading and unloading of passengers takes little time and can be well regulated but cargo often takes longer. Neither can the weather be regulated, mists rise and fall over this jungle land at the will of the will of the strange and powerful gods. So here we rest, restless, 15 or so journalists from the US, UK, Spain, France, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Germany waiting for the TAM Fokker to find its way to Carajas from Brasilia after a stop in Conceicao de something or other.
Some of the agency reporters became even more itchy than usual this morning after hearing the news that 10 or so people had died at Serra Pelada. Serra Pelada is a free-for-all gold mining area. In its heyday, tens of thousands of miners were scurrying around, across a tiny area of land, like ants. The vast numbers of prospectors, combined with the lack of any form of control or regulation made it world famous, and infamous. Earlier this year, the government closed the place down, to level off the badly pitted ground, but the miners’ union has forced its re-opening. As a group of journalists bored with CVRD and only 80km from Serra Pelada, we have tried to organise a visit. Without success. The news of the deaths this morning only caused the hacks to redouble their efforts.
After nearly three days at Carajas, I have had ample sufficiency, thank you. Indeed, after a day and a half I already felt I was not going to get any newsy and began to worry about the waste of time. However, after an interview with the vice-president of CVRD and a visit to a manganese mine this morning, I have filled the news bank with enough facts to ensure the trip will have some financial reward.
The mining of both iron and manganese ore is a relatively simple process of lump size separation, crushing and washing. The iron ore installations are large. Everything is large. The earth diggers, the trucks that carry the ore, the crushers, separators, conveyor belts. Several huge sheds house the facilities which are stepped down the valley to the stocking piles and the start of the railway built especially to transport the ore to the port in Maranhao. The red escarpments left by the open-pit mining are huge also. The plan, CVRD says, is to replace the canga or top soil and replant the jungle. Pictures proudly presented in the 1984 annual report show a hugely scarred area in the south of Brazil created by another of these mines. But the evidence of CVRD’s concern is there. The Carajas town, in all its sterility, boasts a botanic garden, with jungle trees labelled better than in Rio’s botanic garden, and a cute zoo with panthers, cougars, jaguars, golden-footed monkey’s, among other interesting animals.
Perhaps the biggest single environmental hurdle, dealt with by CVRD, has been the unsettlement of Indian tribes. One tribe in particular was severed (an edge of their reservation was cut off) by the famous railway (the single biggest investment item). CVRD paid nearly $14m to the government indian agency FUNAI. Much of the other environment work is simply encouraging research of plants, birds and mammals in the area.
It is annoying I cannot return tonight to Rio - not only have I the market reports to do but also M.B. was expecting me to file. So, now I have to wait until Saturday afternoon. I cannot fly down to Recife as my ticket does not permit me to take a coast route. However, I have met a woman called Edna who promised to carry me off to the island of Marajo for the weekend. If there is a place on her tour I will go. People will be clamouring for my attention by the time I get back to Rio but it cannot be helped - my personal tourism is more important.
Sunday, Salvaterra, Marajo
The wind blows along the beach cooling me from the heat of midday. Despite the popular music blaring from the loudspeakers, it is a tranquil scene. Two baracas are full of people drinking beer and eating crabs, with the help of little hammers. Perhaps a 100 people are scattered along the sand. The water arrives in wind-created waves, it is neither freshwater nor sea. There is no land on the horizon, yet beyond the horizon there is a further shore. The main clue is a tide line of driftwood and seedpods - many seed pods, bigger than a ping-pong ball and of all shapes and sizes - not shells. I am sure that not all of these sun-worshippers live here on Marajo. The boat on which we came - the Baracena - remains moored at the Soure port, it will return later today. Many of the 500 passengers would have been weekend visitors - family, sweethearts, friends. Another weekend ferry has also moored, so, theoretically, weekend visitors to this idyllic spot could total 1,000. And it is idyllic, lazy, spacious, innocent, tidy, tranquil, like all paradises. Marajo has to be the most unspoilt place I have yet visited in Brazil. It is not hard to see why. It is an uncomfortable 5-6 hours ferry ride from Belem which itself is hardly the most visited tourist spot in the country.
Back in Belem from Carajas, Edna had faithfully left me a note with information on where to book this trip to Marajo. Fortunately, there was a place on the tour, and it took little effort for me to organise, for the travel agent had done the same for Edna the day before. The details available at the agency were almost enough to put me off entirely - the very idea of a group tour, shows for tourists and visits to a fejoada. Nevertheless, I paid my Cz1500 and signed up, determining to threaten Edna with consequences if it turned out a failure. I also succeeded in making a reservation back to Rio for 1:00am Monday morning which fitted splendidly with the return from Marajo. It only remained for me to call Stan and warn him I couldn’t sail Sunday; to call Maria to tell her I wouldn’t want food on Saturday; and to make market calls before calling London.
Having got the market report calls out of the way, it remained for me to swim, lunch, go the Geldi Museum and interview the ICBP guy for the BBC before 6:00 when the tour was due to pick me up.
After lunch everything went wrong. I waited half an hour for the ICBP guy, then the conference started, and it was as boring as Lewisham on a rainy day, or an aviary of Trafalgar Square pigeons. I taxied to the Geldi Museum, but it had been closed for over a month for ‘obras’. Then to a supermarket to buy water (the travel agent had said it might be worthwhile) where I waited half an hour (I swear) to pay; then I walked for ages from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for insect repellent (the travel agent had said it would be worthwhile) but it was in falta since congelamento. Finally, I found some. (As it turned out, not only did Edna also have the same stuff, but there’s less mosquitoes here on Marajo than in Buzios or Parati.) Back at the hotel, hot and sweaty, I ran around for half an hour trying to find Scott [room mate] or the key to our room. After a short natter, I asked Scott the time - he said it was 5:54, there was no time left to interview the bird guy. I packed and rushed downstairs to wait in the Hilton lobby, only to have to wait for over an hour. Worse, all those dumb-looking people hanging around the lobby were part of the same group, my tour group.
Tuesday 7 October
After so much rushing around. so much travelling, so much conversation, I am home and alone. The traffic purrs below, the refrigerator crackles in the kitchen, the air is warm, tropical. I am tired and a little depleted without much energy to write, record, document my life in these pages.
The weekend in Marajo was delightful, not only for the experience of visiting such an unspoilt place (my memory suddenly flits to the island in the middle of Lake Toba on Sumatra with its huts on stilts and banana porridge - and the long walk to the hot springs) but also because of the friendship with Edna, Edna Kauss. We had met during a lunch at Carajas, and talked superficially for half an hour. Back in Belem, I hardly saw her, but we began the tour together as though we were old friends. We barely stopped talking the whole weekend. Her English is quite good, so conversation was often bilingual smattered with uneven constructions from one grammar to another.
The boat journey from Belem to Soure lasted about five hours, all of them in the dark. The crowded ferry reminded me of crowded ferries all over the world, all shapes of people curled up trying to sleep in every corner surrounded by parcels, bags of every shape and size.
We - as privileged tourists on a tour - had uncomfortable poltrana seats. In fact, I did manage to sleep for a couple of hours. The early part of the voyage was taken up with the challenge of buying drinks and sandwiches from the one bar. The one bar was a small rectangle, serviced by two youths, completely enclosed by a wire mesh with a hole for a serving hatch. Twenty or more people at a time crushed forward, with outstretched arms and hands proffering money notes, urging for the youths’ attention. But the youths seemed to revel in the throng. They worked haphazardly and slowly. I suppose it took about half an hour to get served; and how lucky did I feel to come away from the hatch with drinks and sandwiches in hand. I would not have cared if they had refused me change. Oh for the joys of Sealink. But already Edna and I were one in our fight against the system.
Even at 2 in the morning, on arrival, we could see that the hotel was reasonable - well furnished chalets with air conditioning. On opening the door of our suite, and seeing but a single room with two beds, Edna reacted over-quickly, for she had been promised we would have separate bedrooms. On further examination, though, there were indeed two rooms and a bathroom. On the boat, Edna had told me she had been married for 20 years, until then, though, I had thought she was single and fancy free.
Later on, but still early in the morning, our group was bundled off in a bus, then into two river boats for an hour’s trip up river, to a buffalo fazenda. For Brazilians, the draw of seeing buffaloes has pull: the ugly slothful animals are rather rare here. The ranch itself was a dry, empty place. We trekked across from the small pier where our boats were moored to the rancher’s house. Under sun shades, built just for us I’m sure, were laid out buffalo milk products - cheese, butter, yoghurt - all of them revolting. Bottled water cost Cz6 for a small carafe which sells for Cz2 in the city. No price controls here. Later we, rather they for I didn’t join the fun, were shown how to milk a buffalo. Much the highlight of the tour came when we were taken for a ride along a small tributary. The wide-flat bottomed canoes glided so easily between the mangroves and palms, the hanging roots suspended like streamers across our path. We saw several small monkeys, a few birds, and the oddest of fishes that skims along the water surface with two eyes like goggles, and every now jumps in a skip too fast to see. Our guide said it had two more eyes under the water. Hidden further inland among the muddy mangrove roots, our guides assured us, lurked jacares or alligators, and in the water itself piranha fish would be only too pleased of a meal. When Edna dangled her feet in the water to ease some swelling, I thought the red varnish of her toenails might attract the toothy fish’s attention, but apparently there was no danger.
Water pools here and there broke up the parched land around the farm buildings; an old buffalo lay submerged up to its nostrils; nearby a flock of white birds drank their health, until, at least, a camera clicking Paul wondered by. Edna is a bit annoyed by the touristy nature of the tour, but I said I was fine with it, for I had been expecting so much worse.
Saturday afternoon we lazed by the pool then ate freshly-fried freshly-caught fish which is invariably a tasty satisfying pleasure (I mean with all those freshlys in there). Towards late afternoon we bundled off together in the bus (which made more noise than a pneumatic drill and was no more comfortable) to be driven inland aways. Guide Nazare had decided we should see the flocks of migratory birds that come to spend the night by some pools. He never intended the group should walk very far and when it walked anywhere the pneumatic drill followed close behind - how he expected flocks of migratory birds not to be disturbed by it, is beyond me. The bus brought us to open ranch land not dissimilar to a moor landscape in parts. In other areas, large shallow pools provided watering places for the buffalo, cows and wading birds. I persuaded Edna to walk with me in the opposite direction from the bus and the tour. For a few brief minutes, the setting sun combined with the gloriously tranquil scene to provide perfect peace - but then the pneumatic drill came bursting along the dirt track to explode all that heaven. Of course, they had seen no more birds than us.
On the return, and while still on the other side of the town, Edna and I pleaded release from the pneumatic drill and we strolled slowly through the streets of the Marajo capital. Near the pier front several bars beckoned with blaring beats. We bought beer and sat on a fence where the noise was not too loud.
At the hotel, a real treat awaited us - old hags dancing the Para specialty Carimbo, and dancing for us, the tourists. Edna and I, now really apart from the group, chose a table as far away as possible from the jollities. We were deep in conversation when Edna lifted her head because her name had been called. Beckoned to the centre of the stage, in the middle of the restaurant, she went instinctively. There, she was presented with a certificate, and was obliged to dance the Carimbo with one of the players. I laughed my head off - too soon. She came back bright pink with embarrassment, for she had been chosen Miss Fazenda Marajo. But wait, someone else was being called, and yes, they too were presented with a certificate. Should this ever happen to me, I determined, I would absolutely refuse to budge from my table. I did not have long to wait. First, I tried to ignore the call, for I was facing away from the activity, then I tried to yell out that my leg was broken. The dressed-up old hags (how unkind I am) were twirling around with certificate in hand waiting and waiting for me. Dumb, very very dumb. I too was obliged to wiggle my feet for a few seconds. I wagged my finger at a laughing Nazare, as if to say - you wait.
So Edna and I joked about the pretentious habits of tours for a while and watched the tourists take pictures of each other holding their hard won documents. I was fairly angry in an outraged sort of way, but, in fact, I can see no harm in it - it gave pleasure to the others, and, if I’m honest, gave us a laugh too.
We - Edna and I - had spent most of the afternoon and the entire evening together, our talk had taken various intimate turns; indeed, at one point, she hinted she had never had a lover apart from her husband. Then, as a finale, she began to say that she thought she was very repressed. What nonsense, I said, for she was easy to be with, open, friendly, humorous. We did not spend the next morning together for she chose to go with the tourist group to a beach while I chose to explore on my own. But, during the afternoon and the boat trip back to Belem, we continued our intimate discussions. She told me about her mother whose brain began to deteriorate soon after her father had died. The children rented an apartment for her and two nurses, for she had to be spoon-fed and required constant attention as other parts of her body deteriorated. For years she recognised no one. She died, mercifully, just a few months ago.
Edna told me about her husband who was elected president of an association recently and whose life is so busy she is beginning to resent it. It is one reason why she plans to give up her career as a lawyer and become a sculptress. A difficult time, I tell her, a very difficult time - she is 40 moving into middle-age, her husband is moving away in a metaphorical sense. To try and become an independent artist is very wearing on the self-respect and confidence. I try and suggest also that being a lawyer remains more interesting than an artist (unless one becomes very successful). But Edna has intelligence, and the decision she now makes is more one of courage than idiosyncrasy. She has already received positive signals about her jewellery work, and will be able to return to lawyering if all else fails.
Edna was about 20 when the military took over the government in Brazil, and, however intelligent I found her on other subjects, on politics she could not rise above the subjective loathing of anything short of democracy. I argued that sometimes a country can need disciplined government especially if the majority of voters might not be trusted to give their vote to sane and honest candidates. Having lived one’s whole adult life under increasingly harsh conditions of political repression and censorship, though, how could anyone with a modicum of compassion think differently.
There is little left to tell about the trip to Belem. Did I mention the mass of butterflies and moths in Carajas. At night, the tarmac of the road is littered with dead and dying ones, some already being eaten by trails of ants - perhaps the heat of the street lamps, to which they are drawn like men to gold, stuns them unconscious.
At the manganese mine, the manager told me of a profitable side business someone had set up - the irony struck me sufficiently to be now writing about it. Orchid breeding. He finds orchids in the nearby undergrowth, breeds them with other more durable types and exports them to Europe where they survive for a month or two. Mines and orchids. The gross and the delicate. The dead and the most-sensitive. The ugly and the beauty.
I sat next to Rik Janie, chief Reuters correspondent in Brazil, on the combie that drove us through the zoo park. We were both taking photos with an Olympus - he borrowed my slight telephoto lens to snap the cheetahs - and said it (me having a telephoto lens) was the only reason he let me sit next to him. What a world of his history is revealed in that one phrase. What a schoolboy he is. Back in Rio, he showed me photos of his two blonde daughters who came out to stay with him during the holidays.
Edna does not believe me when I tell her I have no friends.
Thomas tells me he has been in Brazil 10 months. He was not going to stay but then he met this girl who got pregnant and now he will be a father. Shades of John, but a more honest and nice guy altogether. He even plays chess.
Saturday 11 October
My mind as blank as ever. Maria cleans in the kitchen. Wind blows grey clouds. Yachts return from a race. Flat clean. Table free. Pen in hand. Journal open.
Sunday 12 October
The way in which Stan mouthed the words ‘Escola Naval’ the other day should have indicated that this morning’s race was something special. I had not appreciated the difference between a yacht club organised race with perhaps 10 participants and this race, the highlight of the Rio yachting world, with 1,000 participants. The newspaper informed me of its importance. To celebrate I shall take my camera. Shame there is no sun, at least there’s no rain either. While in Belem and Marajo I missed two races, much to my chagrin, both of which were exciting and had close finishes.
Money news. I get so greedy, money news pleases me. I did not feel I had done much work for McGraw-Hill in September, partly because I had spent all the time on aeroplanes and getting stuck into ‘Metal Bulletin’ work. But my McGraw cheque arrived yesterday and totalled $1,900 - a little of it rolled on from August, but then my August cheque was over $2,000. Then, this morning the M.B. editor cleared up arrangements and told me I had earned £380 in September. I also got a cheque yesterday from the FT for $250 and that’s before I get any pay for the ‘Flight’ stories which might total anything up to $1,000 (with ‘Air World’ as well).
This week I have hardly done a thing. Monday, nothing, and yesterday and today I spent but an hour or two working. I feel guilty and fear that I’ve been having these feelings of slacking for too long - yet during September I must have earned nearly $4,000 - a truly staggering sum and quite sufficient for two months. Relax, Paul, Relax. Relax and do what? No love affair to consume me, no vice to consume me, no hobby to occupy me - unless sleep be the pleasure to wile my life away. It would . . .
We have sunshine today and a clear blue sky, yet the air remains cool and dry, the few days of hot and humid weather experienced in late September have yet to transform into the beginning of summer. This winter and spring, Rio weather is close to perfection in that the temperature is neither too hot nor too cool and never too constant to get boring. How much better the climate is then I ever imagined before I came.
Sunday past, low-lying bushy grey cloud masses threatened rain all day long, which meant the beaches were empty, especially Copacabana, in front of which the hundreds of boats in the Escola Naval Regatta paraded.
The Escola Naval is billed as the biggest race in Latin America - some 800 boats were in the water according to Monday’s paper. The race began at 1pm but we were already in the water not long after 10am. Three of the regular were missing - Tony, Richard and Laurie - and replaced by two older characters, one the American who never stops telling yachting tales each one spiced with a new ocean or new boastful fact, and a Frenchman who I’d not met before. We motored from the yacht club to the Escola Naval that nestles behind a promontory by the side of Santos Dumont airport. Paul and Denise sorted through the scores of flags kept in the flag kit, but could not find the tri-colour for class 3 under which we were racing. Meanwhile, we others set the sheets and guys, placed the gib and mainsail ready for raising. The wind, although an unusual nor-easterly, promised a reasonable race. Unable to find the original, Denise decided on adapting a similar tri-colour, though of the wrong shape, with needle and cotton. Odd that whenever there is sewing to be done (not unusual on a sailboat as the wool tell-tales often have to be replaced on the sails) Denise does it.
Such activity at Escola Naval. Several boats were arriving and anchoring so their crews could go ashore to lunch, others were just milling around. A variety of launches and dinghies buzzed from boat to boat loading and unloading passengers. Bent, the Swedish arms firm agent, and I took one of the naval launches in order to go ashore and find free t-shirts, instructions, papers, or whatever was needed. But the launch, in swinging away from Tuna, took too little heed of a mooring buoy and wrecked its propeller in the rope. We then waited an age for another lift. How frustrating to be so close to the quay and yet so far. We finally made it. Within the Escola Naval grounds thousands of people wondered about creating a fete atmosphere - indeed I saw a few stalls and games and lots of colourfully clothed children. There were no free t-shirts to be had, so we contented ourselves with acquiring a few copies of a map of the bay with the route clearly marked. By the time we returned, the quay had become so crowded, and the queue for a launch place had grown so long, it seemed best to bring Tuna right up alongside. This too proved complicated because of the volume of traffic arriving and leaving. Once on board, Tuna motored out and we set about raising the sails. By this time, hundreds of boats were already milling around the starting line. The wind had, unfortunately, dropped so that after the starting gun nobody went anywhere fast. In fact, the wind only picked up during the last half an hour of the race. We had set the first reef in the mainsail but never came close to needing it, nor did we think of changing the No 1 light genny for a heavy one. On the way out past the tiny isle of Contunduba, Stan must have made a tactical error - tacking too wide across the channel maybe - for we lost a lot of ground to a dozen or so competitors.
Last weekend it was sailing, this weekend it is squash. Stan rang me in the week to tell me we had come second in our class - class 3 - and that we needed to show up at the Escola Naval for the prize-giving on Thursday. How could we have come second with so many boats in front of us? Stan collected me at 8:00pm having already picked up Laurie and girlfriend - Laurie was not in the race for the navy boat he’s contracted to for engineering works went on manoeuvres that week. The Escola Naval grounds were already crowded, they sported a host of advertising not dissimilar to that on the t-shirt. Only beer in plastic cups was available. Denys and Bent showed up to swell our group to six. I suppose the prize-giving started around 8:30pm - nearly two hours later we still hadn’t been called, there were many, many classes, and many many winners - I had no idea - there were probably less competitors who did not win a medal than ones who did. Our class, in which we came second, only boasted four yachts - and the class one winner won its prize even though it was the only entrant. Overall, in the Ocean Classes, we came 24th, i.e. within the top third. But what a bore waiting around for so long.
The medal, when it came, possessed a certain pleasing and aesthetic quality, with its pressed design and enamelled colours. I fingered mined for ages, not with pride, but a certain playful pleasure. I did not, however, mock it and reject it and despise it as I had the certificate received from the tour group guide in Marajo hotel. And here, I detect a certain hypocrisy (gun it down Paul, gun it down). The Marajo certificate, for Mr Soure or Mr Fazenda or whoever, actually had no pretensions at all - was purely for play, purely for diversion, a certain simple tourist souvenir from a trip to Marajo. Yet, the race medals, by contrast, are surely pretentious - what are they worth when three boats out of four in a class win them. They are no more than participation mementoes, in the same way that the Marajo certificates serve as a remembrance of the weekend. Yet I will still keep the medal, but I never thought for a moment to keep the certificate.
Medals offered and accepted, we all returned to the Yacht Club to dine. The waiters confessed a lack of meat and eggs. It was the first time I had ever heard of a restaurant without meat, and wondered if it was too mean to pay the ‘agio’ like all the other eating houses. Eighty per cent of the table talk revolved around other restaurants.
Stan cajoled me into returning to the ICRJ the following evening for another medal-giving ceremony - this time for a race in which I did not participate but, he said, it’s much more civilised, you can sit down, eat and drink, and listen to music. I thought a few others were going and felt my acceptance of his invitation card obliged me to put in an appearance. I arrived late, half groggy with beer already - only Paul was there with his wife. Again there had been so many classes that Paul was impatient with waiting - Tuna’s medals were the last-but-one to be handed out. (‘Alucinante’ won first place, as it did in the Escola Naval race). After that we decided to wait for the bingo game - two cruises for prizes. The evening’s maestro dragged out the proceedings with musical games reminiscent of Butlins. Did we really want to win the cruise which would offer two weeks of THIS? Nevertheless, we stayed long enough to be sure we had won nothing.
Every 10 minutes or so I leave off writing and move into the spare room, there I take up my squash racket and attempt to correct a decade of holding it wrongly. There is only one right way to hold a racket and I have only just (last night) learnt what it is. Since playing regularly with Neco up there in Laranjeiras, I have been aware of something wrong with my grip - it should not, for example, change from forehand to backhand. Every time I try and hold the handle as shown in the diagrams at the club, I lose disastrously. I have not persevered because I’ve never been sure how to interpret the diagrams exactly. Last night, one of the opponents in my ‘chave’ showed me you simply hold the racket in a vertical plane out in front of the body and then grip it. My body revolts as I can hit neither backhand nor forehand as well as with my changing grip. But now I am practising - I must change if I am to improve at all.
A devastating earthquake killed around 1,000 people in San Salvador. Central America could sure do without these regular catastrophes. Reagan and Gorbachev met in Iceland. All the papers talked about failure. I think they had the headlines written long ago. The very fact that they are talking is champion, triumph, victory.
Last week I met up with Sue Cunningham, the academic specialist in Latin American studies who writes most of Alec Gordon’s South America Energy Quarterly. Unlike Philippa Potts, Sue is not here for the Econ Intelligence Unit, but to pursue her own academic studies. From our telephone conversation I expected a woman not dissimilar to Pat, but Sue turned out to be far more intelligent and secure, though she was a little round and a lot chatty, similar to Pat. She told me she gets paid £500 for putting the whole EQ together, she doesn’t mind because it complements her own work and her willingness to keep up with what is happening here. I suppose I baited her somewhat, as I used to do with Pat, and as it is so easy to do with people who talk so much and fast and don’t stop to think why. Early on, it appeared we were holding views as different as Getulio Vargas and Pinochet, but then we did seem to agree a little by the end. Topic: causes of the 64 revolution and merits of military government. She ranted and raved for half an hour, for it was her area. At least, at the very least, she argued from facts and with objectivity, while my own actual knowledge was neglible. I don’t think she had expected to like me so much - she had been here a full month and only called me a few days before leaving - but she gave me her card. She lives near Oxford, I might call her if I was passing or if I needed some social history of the region.
Catesby I baited with a different topic, the Daniloff affair. Unfortunately, on most political or current affairs, he is much better read than I. During the Belem tour, I had argued that our press was far too black and white over the business: was Sakharov an out and out spy and was Daniloff really a too-good-to-be-true journalist? It seems to me that facts are never so clear. Well-worn journalists do sometimes work for the CIA and there must be a lot of grades between ‘never touched the CIA’ and ‘working for them 24 hours a day’. So I argued. Then I read in the ‘Journal do Brasil’ that Daniloff did have a CIA connection. Catesby argued strongly against any version that didn’t paint Daniloff a virgin white and Sakharov and evil black. Unfortunately, he had the original UPI story, which he sent me a few days later. The UPI version has Daniloff delivering letters without knowing something fishy - CIA-smelly - was going on. And my case once again reverted to hypothesis - but I would still bet on Daniloff being less than 100% white.
Catesby really is a strange character. He bellows on the telephone. He moves woodenly. He expresses no emotions, nor does he reveal any emotional content in his conversation. He never tells a personal anecdote, never reveals anything about himself other than work. He reads the ‘International Herald Tribune’ from cover to cover.
A letter from Angela. She had not written since my trip to London, and this did not feel right. Sure enough, it seems, she was upset by my treatment of Hannah that evening we went to the self-indulgent Jewish play at the Almeida. She, herself, invents a few excuses, but remarks that Hannah’s own interpretation was that I took an immediate dislike to her. True, unfortunately true. I reply to Angela as honestly as I feel able, but confess to knowing not why I should have reacted so sharply. I do, though, hint at some puzzlement as to why she rang me at all - since we’d seen each other three times by then - just to meet her friend? She thought, maybe, that both of us would profit from such a meeting, so perhaps I felt deceived that Angela could be so wrong, and trap me into spending an evening with someone so far away from my sensibilities. Yet, there is something else. I suspect Angela herself might find Hannah grating, but, because she has multiple sclerosis - this I learn from her letter - overcompensates. Angela also provides me with a ton of news about the Goldsmiths, most of it culled from conversations with Ann Thompson who continues to involve herself in the life of Martin and Michael.
Wednesday 22 October
Another rainy, misty morning. I listen to the opening bars of Rach 2. Although they do not move as once they did, I still love to listen to the concerto. I have 50-60 tapes yet often seem to be stuck for choice - maybe I should break an old rule and splash out on new pre-recorded tapes. I remember, when I broke through a similar barrier with books, it seemed almost perverse buying a bunch of new books when, for so long, I had filled my library with finds at jumble sales and antiquarian book stores. Part of the trouble with this particular tape of Rach is traceable back to the recording that Silvio made for me from a compact disc I brought from London: the music lacks the tension and brilliance of a really good performance, plus, the recording onto tape is faulty for the end is missing!
‘Porgy and Bess’ opens at the Municipal Theatre shortly - another star-studded production with black singers imported from the US and, so Catesby says, charters of tourists especially to see it.
I have little work now - not a single feature to work on. I imagine there to be a kind of turning point here, for it is here and now that I should really begin to attempt new things and make that extra effort, to research stories I’ve no idea I can sell, travel more on my own expense, approach new magazines - or I can comfortably settle back, relying on my work portfolio as at present to bring me in a reasonable income. I could then use the spaces in the day, in the week, in the month, to work on ‘Susan’ or develop any of the other pleasures that have brought me here.
Last night I screwed up the courage and went to the dance place I’ve discovered in Botofogo. I could not join (although I tried) because the group had already advanced beyond the basics, nevertheless the small wiry teacher, Jaime, with good humour and an enviable skill. I joined in a little, and the few steps I managed to follow made me feel good. Jaime said to come Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:30 when a new class was starting. In years of half-heartedly searching for dance classes I do, at last, feel I’ve found one. Can it be that I will expunge this dark and frightened shadow of dance-fear from my adolescence?
Friday 24 October
Rain for a week. I have become so used to the ease and quickness of the motorbike that I prefer to risk a soaking than take public transport. So, I drenched one set of clothes returning from Thomas’ party in Santa Theresa, another coming back from squash, another from town one day. Getting my clothes wet is not the worst, the rain blinds the eyes, at times making driving impossible.
At Thomas’s party, I talked only to his Danish friend and the Swedish journalist who will open a restaurant in Barra in the New Year. Hearing arguments among the Brazilians over the coming elections spurred me into interest. There exists such a surfeit of politics that I find it easiest just to ignore the lot. But these elections, I realise, will affect Brazil’s future, and I should know more. All, or almost all, of the state governance will be replaced, as will the members of the federal and state chambers - it’s not all the political clout as in the British elections, but a good deal. Latest polls show that in most states the PMDB candidate will win by a significant margin. Yet the PMDB, like other parties, cannot be defined clearly. Here in Rio, the PMDB embraces all sorts of sins under the party representative Moreira Franco, considered right wing. Various minor parties have aligned themselves with the biggest party in order to defeat Brizola, the current governor and his candidate Darcy Ribeiro. I have a great prejudice against Brizola, but I’m really not sure from where it comes considering my information is so scant. Part comes from a general distrust of politicians relying on populist support. Brizola and Vargas, two of a kind. In my mind Vargas set back the country’s progress by years. I have a prejudice against the hundreds of concrete shells Brizola built and called schools. The scanty information in my head tells me they lack materials and furniture - but a school for 1,000 kids means a lot of votes. No such luck for the Rio university which looks more like a Trafalgar Square urinal for want of Brizola money. Of course, students’ votes will not be so motivated by having a well-equipped college or not; and there’s far less investment needed per vote with cheap concrete shells than expensive university equipment. So runs my theory. Yet, talking to as many people as possible this week, I haven’t found one who will vote for Franco. They will vote Darcy or else Gaebeira, who appears to have a sizeable following for the local equivalent of the green party. Why? No one I know wants Franco in, and Darcy promises to be the lesser of two evils.
According to Edna, with whom I lunched this week, Franco’s character has always been wet and two-faced. She knew him personally at college and says she never liked him. Edna’s whole adult life has been spent under the military regime - her intellect, her conscience demands she vote left. However, she did not convince me. Her objections to him - based on his fleeing the country as a political refugee and escaping because of help from a highly placed uncle - do not weigh heavily. I explained to her, and to a Brizolite at the British Council do last night, that the state of Rio suffers with Brizola, for his political skill and links are not sufficient to attract funds and investment from the rest of the country. As long as he continues to win popular support he doesn’t care, let the administrators that follow take care of the mess, the black hole he has left behind. Edna’s defence, though, rang true: the Federal President will only last another year or two and then perhaps Rio will be better heard - especially if Brizola were to become President. Living here is like backing horses. Crazy, volatile, life.
I am in an aeroplane. There is much confusion because it is late departing, a passenger arrived late, his baggage got lost. The aeroplane begins taxiing to the runway but half way there it stops and a buzz of conversation builds up. The runway has been attacked and bombed, it is no longer usable. The plane starts to reverse in a straight line. I don’t know how but I have a clear vision of where we are reversing to and see a a cliff top edge. I shout stop, stop, but it is too late, and the plane tumbles over the edge. I have managed to escape although I don’t know how. I find myself standing a top the cliff and looking down a 100 metres to the fallen plane. I am not sure if everyone will have died or not, and I stay watching for some time. Then I see a shadow of movement which decides me. I run back to the airport complex, it is large and crowded. I plead for someone to call the fire brigade or ambulance service but I am told they have all gone to the bombed runway. I become desperate unable to think what to do. I see a group of uniformed men sitting around. I stand among them and tell them in a desperate urgent voice what has happened - they make jokes and laugh at me. I can’t believe there are 200 people dead and dying and nobody but me knows. The end of the dream is confused. In one version I go home and read the newspapers the next day and see nothing about the accident, and realise that I am a journalist and should have written a report. In another version, I make my way to the foot of the cliff by taking an underground train and discover there is only a light aeroplane there. And, in the clearest version, there has been no accident at all, my smoking grass has sent my mind hallucinating.
I have talked to a friend or acquaintance who knows about such things, assassination. I am afraid someone I know will be killed, and want to know how it could happen to him. He explains that if there are many people around it is easy just to appear casual and to shoot with a silencer. This is what happens the following day. It is a party, there are people in the street and inside the house, the windows of which are all open. Adults and children are playing. I see an ordinary man stroll along the pavement, grey trousers and open-necked white shirt, at one of the windows he looks in and points a gun - all the world think it is a toy though no one in particular is paying any attention - and then he is gone. Immediately after the shooting, I meet M but can’t think or remember that she comes back into the dream. All the rest I remember is a meeting with the detective in charge of the case. He has formed a solid opinion (based, I suppose, on circumstantial evidence) and thinks I am a sort of nut. He paces restlessly around the room. I persevere with my story, the whole works, at the end he admits a slight interest. I suggest he ask all the witnesses if anyone saw a toy gun. (This is almost a plot for a Veronica Villacombe story.)
When I close my eyes I see squash balls flying here and there. I am angry for losing my game so badly yesterday. I never thought I would win, but I thought I could play better. When I miss-hit the ball, I would give up the point as though I didn’t deserve it. I also let myself get tensed up, with the crowd watching and the speed of the game. I had lost before I’d even had a thought. I should have stopped to think about the points he was losing - he was not as good as I had imagined. Today, I play with a girl called Maise for third place.
I have been playing squash for more than 10 years and still I do not play properly - it is more important for me to play calmly, flowingly, than to win. Without instruction I am unlikely to improve much.
Is the same true for writing? I have been writing for 10 years now. It’s true that I’ve never tried really hard to get something published since that first spurt of activity in my 20s, but can one improve with instruction. Self-opinion varies enormously. Dreaming about that murder last night inspired me to read my last story ‘Danilo Disappears’ or the one about the Villacombes in Rio. There are badly constructed passages and practical errors but nothing that a dose of rewriting couldn’t correct in a few hours. Basically, I think it is quite a competent story. I really do not know if I will ever publish fiction.
Dad writes me to say he’s pleased to see me get my work in print, especially when Frederic lived on the poverty line for so long. But Frederic published two novels, much more of an achievement than anything I’ve written - perhaps, perhaps, because I don’t recall ‘Murder in Mayfair’ well, Danilo is of an equivalent standard, not as good, but not altogether out of its class. But Frederic was 26 when he wrote; by my age he was already a tour guide. I wonder when he gave up writing.
I wonder how many other journalists here write fiction. When I think about it, I must be one of the most prolific writers. Not only do I churn out a lot of copy, but I write on average 300 words a day in here, and whenever I write fiction it’s at least 1,000 words a sitting. Plus I’m constantly typing up my old diaries, and writing letters.
The work has gradually died on me - this week I am lost, fiddling my fingers, pacing around, waiting for the next newspaper to arrive. I manage to spend some time with my first novel (laugh). So far, I have written 10-12,000 words, but they have been off the top of my head. I have no structure or plot as yet, the action and ideas come as I write, and already I find character inconsistencies slipping in. I have no clear image of these people I’m writing about, except the characters based on myself, and on Rosy and Andrew. And this worries me, surely it is absurd to continue in this vein knowing that even if it turned out to be competent material I couldn’t publish because I’d worry about having hijacked my friends’ personalities - though I have zilch faith in either my getting near a completion or it being good enough.
It is such an effort to get there, in front of the word processor and starting typing away. It’s as though there’s an invisible force barrier that I can only get through by attaining a climax point of discipline, or by trickery, not thinking about writing at all, just sitting on the chair and starting to tap the keys. It’s something I really can’t explain - a fear of failure, of exhaustion, of what? And often when I’ve written for a while, I feel that I must stop, I must stop or else, or else I’ll exhaust all the material there in my head, and prove quicker, quickly, immediately that I’m no good, and that I need to continue to dream on for a while. This sounds truer. Paul always failing to commit, preferring to live and act at half mast, so to speak, for fear of nothingness that follows failure, exhaustion.
One afternoon Elaine comes round, we make love on the sofa in a slow languorous indulgent way. Soon after she leaves, Monica rings. I invite her over. We discuss matters of world importance until it is time for me to leave for my dance class. Monica has a serious knee: on the one hand an operation is not only expensive but also dangerous - the success rate is not very high - and on the other the knee joint will eventually worsen to the point where she will need to use a stick. For two years, since an accident, she has been unable to take part in any sport, she cannot even bicycle or run. Regular physiotherapy is about the only practical thing she can do, but she tires of being with so many really sick people. More than once, she has mentioned that an operation could have been performed immediately after the accident but her parents did not have the money. Could they not have borrowed it? What a responsibility. What a burden, to think, my parents never loved me enough to go into a bit of debt for my health. Now Monica’s health is compromised for life. She has a brightness of intelligence that delights me.
Paul K Lyons
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