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Diaries
of
PAUL K LYONS

1986

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JOURNAL - 1986 - SEPTEMBER

Sunday 7 September

I write little these days, for it is as though I am hollow without any matter inside able to give rise to inspiration, to the thought, to analysis, to opinion. I am become a dull being. My greatest occupation is that of reading. It is only now that I have finished George Elliot’s great novel ‘Adam Bede’ that I am thrown to make myself busy in some other ways. But I have my lunch warming on the cooker and will be able to escape from this toil in a few minutes. ‘Adam Bede’ is a lesser novel than ‘Middlemarch’ because so much less happens, yet it is a masterpiece, full of glorious detail and description of 18th century village life, full of rich metaphor and even richer proverbs. Confined to a short and simple plot though, does not mean any the less opportunity for Elliot to display her insight into people’s behaviour and their relationships with the society around them. Adam Bede is a proud and noble character. He is strong and clever and therefore need not resort to deceit or selfishness. His only fault, perhaps, is over-seriousness and too much judging of others by his own standards. But Elliot sees to it that life softens him up and then rewards him for being a true a noble creature.

This apathy seems to hold me like a disease. It is so hard to take up the pen and write. Sometimes, when my desk is covered in newspaper cuttings, I cannot manage to sort and file them - it is too much for me. I give in and do another thing. If I was busy with engagements and going out and had but two hours at the weekend to write, I would do more. If I lived with someone then I would be shamed, at the very least, into greater activity. This lethargy is a disease.

I rise from my lethargy to visit the Botanic Gardens, tempted there by a jazz concert. I take Elaine with me for company. Unfortunately, the sun disappears no sooner than we’ve set off; nevertheless the walk is pleasant and the strains of jazz music spilling across the lawns adds to the pleasure. As usual, I find it frustrating to know so little about the trees and plants. Many have old and worn name plates but others don’t. I try to find the tree of clove for example after reading it is near the statue of Joao VI but I cannot. (Now, looking in the E.B. I read that cloves are the dried unexpanded buds of Eugenica Aromatica of the family Myrtaceae and that the tree grows to 40ft and has large oval leaves and crimson flowers.)

I have seen Monica again. On Friday morning I finally delivered a card to her house - it was the third I had written - and this one said nothing at all, it just gave my name and telephone number. When I got back after lunch, she had left a message with her number on the answering machine. I was going to ring her during the afternoon but she came to visit before I had a chance. She came about half past two and went at half past six. For four hours we talked about philosophy, happiness and transformation. She is an intelligent, bright, quick-witted girl, but I saw the needs in her, just a little for the first time. She was never lost for a word, never lost for a word. When she arrived, I was somewhat tongue-tied, she too, but once stuck into conversation there was no problem. I liked her much, despite her seriousness and the lines that curl around the right edge of her mouth when she speaks. She still lives at home - her parents are clever - she has not escaped family schooling. She is not yet a woman.

The coming of Barbara. This has now become a serious proposition. Barbara is determined to try for a child and I have sent her the money for a ticket to come and visit. I speak to her on the phone at the weekend. She wants to come for a month. I say it’s too long, come as soon as you can and stay two weeks. It shouldn’t be too difficult to manage to come at the right point of your cycle, I say. So it seems she may now come at the end of October. She tells me she is well and happy. Her boss is away, and she is working ever so hard in the library. Now that she has the plans - to have a baby and failing that to go to college - she sees the way clearer. The depression has lifted. Were she to become pregnant, my depression might lift too.

I am afraid that journalism and laziness between them have dulled my head to the point where nothing fiction-wise will ever emerge again. I have no ideas for a start, and if I have a germ of one, there is no developing of it, my mind is too dull to think on it. Yet, in the future, I will look back on this time here in Rio, where I had no cares, when all my housework was done for me, when I had an idyllic setting and tons of time, excellent health, and I will say, why, oh why, didn’t I discipline myself sufficiently to write, write, write, write, write, write, write. The truth is as plain as a spinster - I have not got it in me to be a writer - I will have to find another direction following on from this journalism.

One day this last week, the tide was very low, 0.0m, and the sea conspired to send a few waves into the Botofogo Bay. The surfers arrived, all keen to try the unusual spot. One or two managed to glide with waveforms along the rocky edge, just avoiding danger.

I like it when the waves come, and I can hear the wave crash below, I sleep better.

Tales of a working man. I have a longish piece to write for ‘Flight’ about the Brazilian airlines. I got to see old Smidt the boss of Varig with no problem, and thereafter a couple of his assistants as well. Bur trying to get to see Vasp and Transbrasil is proving problematic and time-consuming. However, I wanted to say something about the interview with Smidt. His PR guy had been very helpful, and I asked whether it would be OK to ask the President for all sorts of nitty gritty figures, and was told yes. As it happens, this not the case. The first question I asked: how many countries do you fly to, sent him into a coma. It flummoxed him completely, embarrassing both myself and the PR guy. He sat there, Smidt, his head bowed to one side and didn’t move for nigh on five minutes. Something must have got stuck in his brain, and a loop developed, for he did not seem to be able to come to the solution or break away. The PR guy even phoned somewhere else. In the end, Smidt used a piece of a paper and arrived at the wrong answer.

A letter arrived in the post from an Exxon magazine, ‘Air World’. The editor had received permission from ‘Flight International’ to use my Lider piece, and he wanted my permission - they would pay $100 a page. That’s like getting $100-200 cheque in the post for nothing - a present from the skies.

I have started filing to ‘Metal Bulletin’s’ steel section. It is not difficult, and a journalist rings me twice a week to take my copy over the phone, which is very easy. This week, I met the deputy editor on the non-ferrous side, Martin Abbot. He and I spent an evening together. It was an evening well invested for I felt I got across to him that I could do a fair amount of work for ‘Metal Bulletin’ if it was made worth my while. Martin trained as a lawyer, and I was a little dismayed to find he was earning £18,000 after only three years as a journalist. I would have expected to be on £20,000 if I was still at McGraw-Hill, but that would have been after five years. Moreover, Martin does a fair amount of freelance which I never did. Jealousies aside, ‘Metal Bulletin’ could be a money spinner for me.

Wednesday

The sun beats in through the window - with it shut there is no wind just warmth. I bask. I bask. There has been little enough sun these days to warrant any basking. I should be working. There are things I could be doing. Tomorrow I go to Sao Paulo, I hope: the Ponte Aerea is overloaded, it is difficult to get a seat. The director told me the other day that the company could fly half as many trips again with present capacity. Why aren’t they then? It is probably a question of air fares. With prices frozen, the Ponte Aerea has to be careful of costs.

I went today to a metals lunch. The Brazilian Association of Metals is publicising the 1st International Third World Steel Conference. I don’t know how they got my name. It was a deadly bore. The president gave a two minute briefing: the conference was to discuss technical problems that might be relevant to Third World countries and not developed ones. A few journalists tried to ask some political questions, but what the hell has a scientific and trade association got to say on such matters?

The chairs were slightly too short for the table (The Terasse Club, 152 Rio Branco) and when the filet mignon came, it was so thick I had - almost - to stand up to get some leverage into it with my knife. It was tender enough, still bleeding inside, but not to my taste. I suppose these days we must be glad of any meat. The salad entree was fine too, except there was no dressing, which left it dry and unappetising. The journalists on my table gossiped among themselves, leaving me to my own devices. With so much time on hand - I shall explain why - my eyes were continually drawn to a wall with pictures hung like a mosaic, with little space between them. There was not one picture of quality (and this club pretended quality - oh yes sir - you couldn’t go to the bar without a tie, and all the officials wore white gloves). There was even a string picture - those ones made by kids with a geometric pattern of pins stuck into velvet stretched across a board.

Superior by far was the quality of the wall wood panelling - the pattern of the grain gave a splendid effect, slowly diminishing, increasing or changing, polished plank by polished plank around the room. I had time, too, to notice the waiters. Three had been assigned to serve our party in the private room - each one of them appeared, to my impatient eyes, to be as slow, inefficient and stupid as the next. I grudgingly admit they got through the job of serving our dull meal in a little less than two hours, but oh with what exasperation did I watch them work. All three - young, middle-aged and old - had a plodding style. I am struggling in my mind to be precise, and I am finding it hard. Waiters are usually slick, they have a face about them, a personality, a willingness to please. These three had nothing. I could stare at them without them noticing, they were not meant to be waiters, they had no agility, they burnt their fingers, filled up glasses after a colleague had just done the same. They insisted on rearranging the empty bottles and knick-knacks on the serving table over and over again, and they lifted the pudding badly with a spoon and fork as though their gloves were not sufficient protection from mindlessness. I became increasingly uptight, sitting there so long without conversing to a soul. Perhaps I instilled an unfair share of my restlessness into noticing their inabilities - they were like a slow fuse attached to the dynamite of my claustrophobia. I had to get out of there.

‘International Management’ gave me a commission. I talked to a few people, and filed quite a lot for just a day and a half’s work. Mike Skapinker, who asked me to do the job, sent the following message after receiving my copy: ‘Nice file, thanks a lot.’ I think that is the first time anyone has sent me a telex with even the mildest hint of approval.

I ring Monica to ask her to the cinema, my heart beats wildly, the palms of my hand sweat - she is not in. How absurd my body is, how much terror there is down there in the subconscious.

The sun sets behind the mountain. I look forward to my tea and cake and ‘Sinha Moca’. Never will my life be so trouble free again and yet I feel so sure I have strides to make in being satisfied with what I am doing.

Saturday 20 September

The first waves of warm air pass through Rio. With them come swarms of flying termites. They are like a plague - within minutes hundreds can have crept in through the windows and fly incessantly round lit lampshades. Then they lose their wings and crawl all over the place.

I have made two trips. They are worth recording because I make so few journeys. As I told another journalist yesterday, I don’t care where the trip is to, or what it’s about, ‘eu aceito’. In the context of that conversation, I was referring to two journeys coming in the next few weeks being organised by the steel and iron industry. But the two trips I’ve just made were of my own planning.

Thursday-before-last, I flew to Sao Paolo to interview the President of VASP. I was treated to a ticket, and I was given all the info I asked for. VASP has the biggest slice of the Brazilian domestic passenger market, but its administration changes entirely every four years when the state government is elected, for it is owned 99% by the Sao Paolo government. A strange idea for an Englishman. Even the heads of nationalised companies such as British Steel or the Water Board don’t change much in the UK when the central government switches.

I could have called half a dozen people to lunch with me on the day, I could have gone in to see Jeff Ryser, but I chose to take a quick sidewalk lunch in order to have time to visit the Museum of Modern Art - MASP as it is affectionately known. I first visited it ten years ago. I recall how impressed I was to see such a plain (and indeed ugly) building making such a statement. It is constructed wider than it is tall, amidst one of the most awful conglomerations of skyscrapers in the world, a magnificent bucking of architectural norms - the kind of statement so often found in art itself. Today the building’s ugliness is more apparent than ever, as age has done nothing to render it more attractive. The open space between its legs is dead, unused, without a purpose. Yet, inside the exhibitions have quality, value, professionalism.

In the huge, rather cavernous basement I found an exhibition of photographs of the Antarctic. The subjects ranged from strange ice formations to the workers at a scientific mission, from walrus whiskers to ghostly landscapes. All were of such superb quality I was left wondering if I would ever be able to create such good photographs and whether I ought to buy a better camera. On the top floor, there are treasures hung on glass panels. In order to see, or verify, the title of the painting it is necessary to walk behind the line, for the information is on the back of the art works. Gogh and Matisse are there, so are Manet, Lautrec, Cezanne, Picasso, Tanguy, Dali. Oddly, for a modern art museum, you can also find Bosch - ‘The Temptations of St Anthony’ - and (with what joy I came across these) Constable and Turner (I have no objection at all to classing Turner with the moderns). There was a third exhibition which I skipped round faster than a Sao Paolo taxi crosses a pedestrian crossing. In compensation for my haste, though, I bought, a bunch of postcards of the exhibits: old French movie posters - the best being ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’, no, not the best but the one most in my mind of memories and prejudices.

In the afternoon, I visited Comgas. The interview was fruitful and helped pay for my time in Sao Paolo. The PR guy there is young and Japanese, half-caste, with a bouncy lively disposition. Afterwards, he showed me the exhibition of artefacts from the early days of gas in Sao Paolo. Originally, the British set up the Sao Paolo gas company to provide street lighting. Apart from some heavy equipment, the exhibition also boasted office furniture - all so English and well crafted.

Then, last week, I tripped to Buzios. The main spur to action was a call from Stan telling me about yacht races there every weekend for a month. Plus, I have been itching to return to Buzios since I knew Neco had bought in to a w/e place, the weather was good, and I was expecting no visitors in Rio. But, I did not enjoy myself much.

I carried thee - dear dear diary - thinking I might record a few words of wisdom, but my brain - dear dear brain - excelled in emptiness. I thought I might meet someone, on the beach, in a bar, but I talked to no one. I rode the dirt track ways bouncing on my moto - that was fun - trying nearly every beach - in search of what?. And I took several walks along the long lonely beach near to Neco’s house. Praia de Manguinhos is the longest beach in Buzios stretching like an enormous hook round from Praia do Gancho to the village of Rasa in front of Ilha Rasa. I walked the length of it to Rasa on Sunday morning, early. Sixty or seventy percent of the length is sparingly built up with generous allotments to the sand’s edge, but I met virtually no one - a few early labourers, and a maid on a bicycle perhaps. Hoping for breakfast in Rasa, I marched on and on, until I reached the tiny port from where the motorised racing boats embark to the island (with its luxury hotel). A river outlet there has been turned into a canal along which the small boats struggle to land their passengers.

At the beach’s end I could see a pier. It looked to be made of sacks of sand, but arriving there I could see it was solid - it had been made by filling sacks with liquid concrete. Climbing atop the pier, I was surprised to find it not just a pier but one of two on either side of a channel. Between the two piers, a boat was struggling for direction. The high waves were making it impossible for the craft to leave, it was even in danger of capsizing. But how surprising to suddenly come upon this drama after so much time and space of peace and emptiness.

A little way up the channel, I saw a jerry-rigged landing stage and dozens of people clearly waiting to be transported to the island. After a while, the boat gave up its struggle and let the waves push it further inland to a second tiny landing stage almost opposite the main one. There it unloaded half its crew and attempted, this time successfully, the crossing again. I thought at first the landing stage, the pontoon over the channel, the buildings, the people all constituted a village centre, and I could almost smell breakfast. It transpired that all the surrounding buildings belonged to the hotel and that Rasa village was still a couple of km off. I turned back to pace the sands and return home for breakfast.

I had thought, originally, I might stay until Monday but by midday Sunday I had no desire left to wonder around alone. By 3pm I was on a badly pitted dirt road to Cabo Frio. Most of the way it followed the coast line, too far away to see the sea but often with grassed sand dunes inviting a solitary exploration. Cabo surprised me for being so large, and for its fishing port and harbour, huge and wide and crowded.

The ride back was tiring, Driving the motorbike takes so much concentration. Most of the way the road is in good condition, so I could enjoy it - though the trip out was more enjoyable because of the novelty and expectation. There is a motorway stretch for 20-30km out of Niteroi. I was ambling along, always vaguely worried by the strain on the bike and imagining the possibility of it exploding, when suddenly it completely cut out, stopped. There was a noise and no more power. I was convinced the inside of the machine had cracked. What to do? Leave the bike there on the roadside, hitch home, and send a garage to pick it up? What a pain. And soon it was going to be dark. Five minutes of depressing calculation passed. Then, I tried to start it again. The engine revved as if nothing had happened. An agreeable surprise, I thought, but it can’t last. It did. I rode home without further problem, though constantly expecting a further breakdown. Later, Neco explained that this sometimes happens when the spark plug (‘vela’ in Portuguese - how much simpler) gets very hot. Drivers of two-strokes usually carry a second plug with them on long journeys.

Sunday

In the 7-8 weeks since my return I have received only one personal letter (from Mum), who sent a couple of cards too. Barbara has sent me two tapes although without a word. Today, I send off cards to Harvey, Angela, Julian, Colin, but I have no inspiration to write much. And this morning I call Mum. Her news is twofold: next week she will buy a new car; and then she will go north to spend two weeks with her family. I detect a change in her. Mum has always been reluctant to go north, and often complained about her dreary stepmother, but this time round she sounds excited. Moreover she is going for her whole two weeks holiday - she can’t have been north for such a long stay in 20 years.

Thursday

My hair and beard grow long. I take on a shaggy appearance. It suits my bookishness and my healthy pursuits such as sailing. My eyes gather rings and a dull blackness. I use them so much - all day they are glued to the newspapers or to the computer screen, then for refreshment they speed at 80km along the aterro collecting grit, dust and particles of bus pollution. And, if that weren’t enough, I then clean them in the bay by pushing them wide open through the sea water.

It is Thursday evening - just another Thursday evening of life - it seems special only because it happens to coincide with now, today, life existing. But it will soon be gone, to blend for ever into the annals of all other Thursday evenings. Perhaps I will go to play volleyball or maybe squash or maybe I will fall asleep on the sofa.

Last weekend, I excelled myself in exercise. Saturday, Neco called me to go for a walk with he and Marcelo - one Saturday recently I had met them round the back of Pao de Azucar and we had trekked to the top of Moro da Urca along a path I didn’t know existed. This time we went to the Floresta da Tijuca. We walked miles and miles up along the roads, at each branch of the road taking the least used one until we arrived at the gate to the telecommunications installations which allowed us to go no further.

Friday

The walk ctnd. On either side of the road the mountain rears or falls steeply, covered in thick bush. There is little if any opportunity to walk away from the road, so we strolled, without hurry, nattering, joking, observing the wayside. For me, all the flora and fauna are still strange and foreign. We found a dead caterpillar with yellow and black markings like a tiger. The ants’ nests especially fascinated me. I could poke around with a stick for hours, watching the millions of ants scuttle around in a teeming mass of seething life.

But it was the sight of a butterfly that most made me think. Its large wings were black with a pink shape in the middle. The pink shape coincided identically with the pink flowers in ample abundance along the road’s edge. This mimicry is such an astonishing trick of evolution. But why black wings and not green? This led me to a train of thought which, ultimately, failed to answer my own question. I thought about my teeth. Does a person with poor teeth have a lesser chance of survival and reproducing him or herself? No! We humans have reached the point where an enormous number of changes and adaptations can occur without us losing the slightest chance of being successful as a reproducer - this then must be true of many animals, especially on a higher level. Natural selection as a theory for evolution takes too little account of changes that occur by chance alongside those which occur to aid survival. All the wonders of the world - the dazzling fish, the giraffe’s neck, the peacock’s tail, the orchid’s tricks, the human brain - may have been accidental happenings on the back of a change in a simpler more fundamental form. Give a living thing a form and it will use that form one way or another.

Raoul calls me. I wish he would write. My voice is over-loud and forced. What does one talk about. I tell him I’m going north on Sunday - to see iron ore mines! He tells me he’s been to Paxos for two relaxing weeks with the wife, the baby and the nanny. I ask about our friends, Annie, Rosy, Andrew, but work and family keep him too busy for a flitting social life. So they should, so they should. He says he’s coming to Brazil on 2 January. I hope he does. I hope he does.

Earlier in the week, I had a call from Barbara. She is definitely coming - around 8 November for two weeks, though for one of them she’s fairly sure she won’t be fertile. I tell Silvio she is coming and explain about our desire to have a child - he displays all the conventional reactions and critical arguments (despite his own unconventional relationships). I try to lead him through to a view of Barbara and I - he doesn’t like it. His main argument is that it will be an egotistical act because we are not thinking of the baby. But what baby is born for the sake of the baby?

I sat on the sofa just now. Dreaming. I do love this flat. The proportions are so satisfying, the furniture easy on the eye, the colours and combinations pleasing. Sitting on the sofa, where I often sit, I can see the Dantas painting of Sabara reflected in the round mirror by the main door. It is reflected from a 90 degree angle from me and is central in the mirror; and in the glass of the painting is reflected the multicoloured lampshade above my desk. It is a lovely, unique image. But there I was sat on the sofa dreaming of many things. Fantasising about running in a deserted place across fresh fallen snow clutching in my hands a hardback book: one I had written and which had just been published. And dreaming about the child I might have with Barbara and how it would be the first of a new generation of Goldsmiths but that it wouldn’t have the Goldsmith name. I tried to think how important names really were to me and could not get excited.

Saturday

World news impinges slightly on my environment. Two days ago Robert Powell, the Reuters correspondent in Cuba, was expelled for interviewing a dissident. I met him some weeks ago while he worked at the Rio office for a week on his way to the non-aligned movement meeting in Zimbabwe. A correspondent of the Agence France Press was also expelled.

An American journalist - Daniloff - is still being held by the Russian authorities on charges of spying. The arrest occurred a few days after a Soviet scientist was caught by the US police spying, and the Western World’s press has no doubt that Daniloff was framed in retaliation. The possibility that the Soviet scientist was framed himself and that Daniloff was edging over the law are not even considered. I will defend the West against the East, but I will not assume the West is as honest, clean and decent as it purports to be so often in East-West relations.

Terrorist attacks in France. Disagreement between the SDP and Liberals over nuclear disarmament policy in the UK. Renewed Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Curfews in Togo. 51 countries meeting at Vienna have committed themselves to reporting all nuclear accidents.

After more than a month’s absence, Elaine shows up intent on sex, but leaves disgruntled for she does not come. Two days later she returns, ostensibly to tell me about a dream. We lunch and then she insists I ‘deitar um poco’ with her - no, no not to make love. Then lying down she wants to make love. I plead, whatever the motives for this, Elaine, it is not good. How can there be such a thing as a last time, you (and I) will feel like this again in a few days, a week or weeks. But of course we make love. I want it too. I have always enjoyed her body and her enjoyment of mine.

Monday

Here in Belem I am closer to the equator than I’ve been for many years. A muggy humidity clings in the air during the mornings until the regular rainfall of the afternoon. We arrived late on Sunday night, a group of 20 journalists, and had to fight and wait for a room in this Hilton, so new it hasn’t quite begun to operate smoothly. Half of us weren’t ready for bed, but failed in our search for night life. The only life at 1am was right in front of the hotel - the Plaza Bar. Apart from the hotel guests, there were prostitutes, pimps, gays, and a waiter who cracked his bottle-opener - clink clink - against the beer bottle before opening it. Among journalists, there is only one solid character-of-the-world, Scott, and it was he who struck out alone, keen to hook up with a pretty black face with pert black bum. I have always had a high regard for the doers rather than the talkers. Scott interested me also because, before coming to Brazil, he lived in Africa, and had beaten the hack track with my uncle Mike Goldsmith. I am hoping to pump more about Mike out of him later.

Uncharmed by the night birds or the gathered company, and having drunk too much beer and waited for it to evaporate, I took myself off for a walk. At 2am Belem was deserted. An isolated taxi rolled down the empty estradas, and here and there a night watchman or guard could be seen sat on a box or marching. I walked to the sea. Where else is there to head for in a strange port. I found the docks first, and the docks led me to the market area. An astonishingly large and full moon was visible directly ahead of me, only it wobbled from side to side. And when I got round in front of it, I could see political publicity illuminated on the lunar landscape by an internal light. Right there, in front of the political party’s campaign HQ, a dozen taxi drivers passed the time of night chatting or not chatting to the few stall operators operating for the taxi-drivers’ sake. Most of the rest of the market was dead (it was 3am by this time), with only plastic covers protecting the goods, and sleeping bodies littered around as though they were but dogs. On the actual wharves there was a little more activity - the unloading of bananas. Further along, past the dirty dry harbour crowded with colourful boats pressed hard against each other, their hulls resting in the mud, I found a small market for baskets of coffee (I think) and some kind of green leaf (tobacco?) packed dense, also in baskets. This market was all ready to burst into life, indeed when I returned mid-morning and all the other wings of the market were in full swing, there was no sign of any baskets here.

Tuesday

The point is Carajas. That is why we have come at the invitation of CVRD. And here we are at the Luxor Hotel, which is more reminiscent of barracks than a hotel. We are doubled up again, leaving little privacy of time or thought. The flight left at 7:00am, it was hot, stuffy and uncomfortable; now, at least, we can relax until lunchtime. Why have 20 journalists given up a week of their time to come and see an iron ore mine? Because it has to be one of the largest grass-roots projects anywhere in the world. It has also been implanted with astonishing speed. We are in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. Driving from the airport the sight of the dense jungle, the tall massive noble trees rising proudly above a mass of other competing vegetation was itself worth the trip. When did I last touch jungle? I remembered Malaya.

Much of the environmental conference in Belem which began on Monday was of little interest to me. The speeches were in Portuguese, and not worth sitting through. Other journalists felt the same. Several hung around in the desperate search for a story - a news story, some way of justifying their presence. For me, the story, environmentally-speaking, does not need teasing out, rather it needs acknowledging and accepting. That story is CVRD’s concern for the environment and the efforts it is taking to protect and document it. Which is why they’ve brought us here. They have something to be proud of, and want us to see it.

At the opening ceremony, only two international types spoke, both bird folk, and most of the conference was otherwise made up of Brazilians. It became, thus, hard to accept this wasn’t all a great piece of showmanship. But, both the bird folk praised CVRD’s initiative. One of them later explained to me why. He was from the International Bird Preservation Council, which incidentally, he said, was the oldest preservation group in Cambridge. He said he could not remember a similar conference organised by such a company. BP and Shell occasionally put on specific talks but they are largely window-dressing. He felt that CVRD really cared, that the president and vice-president really cared and that made the difference. CVRD were special and ranked better than other major companies in the first world. I believed him. He also confirmed that there were excellent Brazilian specialists and scientists at the conference. I tackled him on why birds should be represented by protectors so well. I didn’t expect an explanation, but he gave me one. Birds are much loved creatures, they attract a lot of attention and caring organisations. Birds live in close proximity to us, we hear and see them more than other animals (except for domestic ones). And, readily, he agreed with my suggestion that there was an element of wish fulfilment in our love for birds as well. I will try and interview him for the BBC later in the week.

Otherwise I did little - in the morning I walked around the city again. All the moored boats in the harbour had come to life - if life is the word. On the sidewalk-cum-pier women on the boats sold fish in competition with the nearby fish market and its white-aproned knife-chopping salesmen. Some of the brilliantly painted boats looked as though they had been high and dry for months or years. These were covered (literally) in crude pottery. The inhabitants lounged around inside, in the windowplaces, at the door entrance, waiting, just waiting.

Two international bird authorities, at the Carajas Zoological Park, were looking up the trunk of a giant tree. One said: ‘Sometimes I think trees are almost more wonderful than birds’, and the other stomped away.

October 1986

Paul K Lyons

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