PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1987 - FEBRUARY
1 February 1987
Ilha Grande was a great, short trips, just how I like them. Rosa proved an easy companion, able to run, climb, swim, observe. and sit quietly on a rock observing the sea. During the afternoon we walked a little west along black sands, and sat on giant boulders talking about nothing in particular. The sun had gone but the rains had not yet arrived. At the back of the beach, with monozite sands, a large ruined building was completely overgrown, with no construction left just a base with stones and the foundation. A line of royal palms, a ruined aqueduct, and deep pool for swimming, led us to think this was a ruined prison that we’d read about.
Back at the hotel we showered and slumped on the bed tired from our early start and exhausting day. We made love beautifully, sensually, and I realised how much I had underestimated her experience. We fell asleep at 7:30 to wake at 9:30 but neither of us had enough energy to get up and discover the night life of Abrao.
In the quiet periods she has told me about her youth, and her two relationships. She had her first boyfriend at the age of 13 and by 15 was no longer a virgin. The boy was 20 or so. When she stopped seeing him, he went to her mother, and told her they’d been intimate. The mother kept it from the father, and Rosa picked up a new boyfriend. With him she stayed for four years. The would make love in the house of her parents when they were away, or else in a hotel - this shocked me. I suppose the deliberateness of it jars against some kind of prudishness in me. I’ve never in my life gone to a hotel just to have sex, or even discussed doing so. And here’s this youngster who’s been doing so since the age of 15. When I think about it, 20 is not so young. It is the second year of university in the UK. But set against my own late start, and against her own family background, where she still cannot stay out all night (cannot sleep with me openly), her experience at the age of 20 seems to my prudish self almost immoral.
Another time, I talked briefly of my youth too, and my being a virgin till 23. I found myself saying that I had no girlfriends for four years. Then I lay back in bed and thought about that. From Clair Lovick, when I was 17, until my time in New Zealand, I had no girlfriend at all (just brief kisses with Maja that I turned into a fairy story). Really, it is astonishing that I never even got near a woman in Cardiff. It stunned me to remember that. Now, writing this, it occurs to me that the chief cause of this might have been the relationship between Mum and Dad - going very sour at the time.
Now, here, at the age of 34, I am really beginning to feel like an ordinary human being again. And it’s Rosa’s normalness that puts this into focus, given my history of relationships with offbeat women.
Often these days, I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking of the psychological difficulties I’ve passed through - as though I’ve come through some great war and survived, but regret all the wasted time and energy.
But, to return to Ilha Grande. On the second day it rained and rained and rained. Tourists who stay more than a day usually walk the long track over the hills to Lopes Mendes, a beach on the southern coast of the island, but with this rain, and it had rained all night too, the track was likely to be a mud bath. Instead, we hired a small boat to take us west along the coast to Saco do Cea. I don’t think Rosa can have enjoyed it much because she stayed inside where the noise of the motor dominated. But I stretched out on the cabin roof in my swimming trunks, and allowed the rain to splatter on me, just as it was doing to the rich turquoise-green flat tranquil sea around the boat. Small beaches are scattered all along the coast, and wherever a stream gully provides sufficient drinking water someone has built a house, usually on or by one of the beaches. Otherwise, inland, the mountains rise quickly and are mostly covered by thick forest. I thought of Corsica often, trying to remember times and places.
Saco do Cea turned out be beautiful despite such strong rain that one could not see it properly. The water colour was exquisite, and it was even more tranquil than Abrao. A few houses and palms are dotted around the narrow coastline, and there is even a pier or two and some boats. A beach followed a headland round, but it was only a few metres wide, the tide being high, and the back of the beach all grass. A strange apparition. I swam to the beach, the seawater being much warmer than the air or the rain. I felt fantastic, running along the beach in the rain in such a deserted, isolated place. (Meanwhile, on board, our friendly captain was inviting Rosa to sail off with him and leave me behind. Impossible, she said.)
On the return, the rain and cold got to me, so I joined Rosa and the noise in the cabin. The captain passed by and pointed out a house lived in by an Englishman. The Englishman’s wife, he said, killed a fugitive from the prison a year ago. Fugitives are a constant risk on the island apparently; nobody knows how many are living in the forest.
Tuesday 3 February, Brasilia
I got up at the crack or even before the crack of dawn Monday so as to get a full day in Brasilia. Indeed, on arrival a taxi raced me to this crummy hotel - The Aquarius - and then on to my first interview, the planning coordinator for the Greater Carajas commission. It went reasonably well, although perhaps I had hoped for slightly more meat. From then until now, late Tuesday afternoon, I have not managed one single interview. I have been swimming in a sea of enormous frustration, and I try to console myself by remembering this is the only trip I’ve made that has turned out bad - unfortunately it’s the first one I myself am paying for. Now, finally, I do have some interviews set up for Wednesday and Thursday but what a fight. And as for Brasilia, I have built up an immense loathing for the place. I cannot but think its building was a giant mistake.
Here is one story I must get off my chest. Among the list of exhibitions I found listed in the local newspapers, one caught my eye - modern Brazilian painters including D. Cavalcanti and Portinari. Of late, my awareness of Brazilian painters has been heightened by reading a glossy book with pictures, and the most famous names are familiar. So I decide to visit the exhibition. The Museum of Art of Brasilia (MAB). Nothing could be simpler.
First of all, the newspapers gave no address or telephone number for MAB. Secondly, the map I bought of Brasilia does not mention MAB, and even if it did, it wouldn’t have helped at all because the museums and tourist sites, even if mentioned, are given no reference on the map; nor are there addresses or telephone numbers. Very well. I decide to leave the hotel for a couple of hours, and endeavour to find MAB. I walk 15 minutes to the bus stop (no bus comes anywhere near here, and walking anywhere from the hotel it is necessary either to traverse semi-wild scrubland or dual carriageways). Having learnt that most yellow buses go the way I want to go, I jump on one (overfull, so I have to press hard against people) and hold on for dear life. The driver drives off as fast as he can, and swerves violently around a few corners in an effort to shake people off. I was hoping this bus would take me to the central bus station but, unfortunately, the windscreen cracks on one of the dual carriageways, and its hoard of passengers are stranded in the middle of nowhere. All the other passengers get off and patiently wait for other buses to rescue them, but I wonder backwards along the road stopping taxis. Not one of the drivers I stop has any idea where MAB is, nor did any of them have a map. No bus stops since I am in the middle of a freeway. I guess the nearest bus stop is back near the hotel, a walk of a mile and a half. So I end up taking a taxi to the central bus station. I am a bit calmer by this time having told the taxi driver what I feel about Brasilia, and I wonder slowly throughout the bus station in search of some tourist office or information post. There are none, nothing. My previous experience of trying to find which bus goes to a certain place has already prepared me for this. The bus station, like Brasilia itself, is no place for a stranger. So then I try the bookshops and stalls for a map of Brasilia - thinking to buy a better version of what I already have. None of them, within the bus station mind you, have any such thing.
Then I try a few more taxi drivers - none of them have heard of MAB or have a map. I walk across to the National Theatre - a strange and impractical looking structure - where a receptionist for an exhibition tells me that MAB is behind the congress building, and I should take a bus to the square of the Three Powers. So I walk back to the bus station, discover (easily) which buses go to Three Powers and join the queue. Major traits of this bus station include the long file queues that form for every bus, the fact that conductors only let people on at the last minute, and drivers backing out of the space before all the passengers have been able to scramble aboard.
The square of Three Powers is in fact right behind the congress building. A large square of bare earth is surrounded by several buildings but with no indication at all what those buildings might be. I walk across to the oddest-shaped one and enter an astonishingly dark chamber in the middle of which sit two girls. One of them tells me that MAB is a long way off but she has no idea exactly where, and she doesn’t have an address. She is sure it is not on the square. Exasperated I make my way back to the hotel.
I have come to Brasilia with two assignments in mind, but both of them are lacking in clarity and direction, perhaps that’s why the organisation has been so messy in a worrying way. On the one hand, I wanted to fulfil my promise to David Dixon of ‘The Farming World’ to get some more radio interviews. At only £25 an interview, it has been impractical to go anywhere special to look, or even spend time researching one. But, as I wrote to David, I wanted this to be a bit of a swansong trip, and I determined not to worry about the money side of things. The trouble was, I didn’t know of any particular research projects, and left my needs in the hands of an Embrapa press officer. If I had had a particular request no doubt it could all have been organised when I first called weeks ago. As it is, he promised me Wednesday 4 Feb would be fine but when I got to Brasilia on Mon 2 Feb he had done nothing. Mid-morning 3 Feb he rang to say he’s organised something for 5 Feb. I keep my cool, reminding him that I’ve left an entire day free for him, but it’s 4 Feb not 5 Feb. He promises to go back and see what he can do. Embrapa more than anything is what I organised this trip for - I had been determined to make this effort, not only for the science reporting experience to add to my cv but also for the radio experience.
The other major article I had in mind was to be about Brazil’s new helicopter venture. ‘Flight’ approved the idea and agreed to cover some expenses. I thought I would also try for an article on the Brazilian Air Force. As it turned out, the main character on helicopters works in Rio (and I interviewed him last week - he told me nothing, which rather shot the idea to pieces) which left the air force idea. But what about the airforce? Peter Middleton had said he was interested in plans and projects, so I told Coronel Esteves the same thing. He said, no problem. Again I gave plenty of warning. As arranged, I arrived at his office mid-morning Monday. I waited 45 minutes to be told everything would be arranged by tomorrow morning. When I rang the next day, of course it wasn’t. So I battled away, the usual stuff - but I told you when I was coming three weeks ago etc. Finally, a message gets left that it’s all arranged - he’s got authority from the highest levels - whilst I’m out on my abortive MAB mission. When finally I talk to the Coronel, he tells me 10:00am Wednesday (even though I’ve repeatedly told him that Wednesday is impossible). I accept because I’m so happy to have anything arranged (though I doubt I’ll get even enough for a feature) but also because, by this time, Embrapa have informed me only about an interview at 2 in the afternoon. All of this confusion (and there was more than I’ve got the patience to record) - confusao as the Brazilians would call it - was at its peak on my return from MAB-ing, i.e, on the Tuesday afternoon when I was really in a state.
I’ve begun to fit in a couple of other interviews, the US embassy about helicopters, and CONSIDER on steel, to try and get some bread and butter. Being Brasilia this trip is short of bread and butter. Out of shorter trips to Camacao and Porto Alegre, for example, I made £1,000 and had my expenses paid.
But I keep giving Brasilia a chance. I have made my way to a commercial centre supposed to be alive at night. Apart from this one bar, though, it’s as dead as a mausoleum. I came here because I saw I could walk across a bridge by the lake that curls around the Brasilia centre. I thought the lake might be pretty or interesting. None of it. The lake is as dead as a bathtub. Not a fisherman in sight, no bank to speak of, just flooded grassy mush - no swimming either. With dozens of floated or rooted mounds it didn’t look much good for boating either. But there was life on the bridge. It seemed that spiders had adapted better to man’s theoretical constructions than man. Unlike most of the roadway, I had been walking along, the bridge had a footpath. A rail, made of hollow square metal bars and posts, ran along the footpath’s edge, and all the spaces between the bars was taken up by spiders and their webs, hoping that the wind, the breeze would blow the midges into the traps. Hardly a gap had been left without a web, and where there was one, I could see a ‘Vacant Lot’ sign!
Sunday 8 February
Back from Brasilia. Rosa was there to meet me at the airport which was fine, because the day had been long and weary. I was so happy to escape from that city and return to Rio.
After two days of inactivity in Brasilia, two days of activity followed, but I’m not sure if they proved at all useful. On Wednesday, Embrapa provided me with a car and drove me, first, to the Cerrado research centre. Both the senior people were away, so I interviewed a minor researcher and the PR guy. The PR guy spoke English and his interview came over reasonably well, even though it was very general. The researcher talked about using gypsum to encourage root growth to deeper levels to avoid plant damage from dry periods, but his English was faulty. Then I was taken to the vegetable centre. This time the chief was present but neither of the researchers he wanted me to meet were there. His English was slow and stuttered. He explained how the centre had bred new carrot varieties, and selected new breeds of sweet corn, sweet potatoes and peas for use in Brazilian conditions.
The driver took me back to Embrapa HQ where I found Marcos, the PR guy, to be a young and rather inexperienced officer. If he had done his work properly he would have called me weeks ago to say there was no point in me coming that day. He promised me an interview about international connections, yet once we arrived at the desk of the interviewee - coordinator of international affairs - he told me that two visitors from ‘The Farming World’ had actually interviewed her and others last September! He then spent half an hour trying to find their names, and then didn’t have time to let me interview him, wanting me to return the next day. What a farce. I arranged a time but in the end did not go.
Only Thursday proved of any worth. My interview with the planning guy from the air force was better than I expected, in that it lasted two hours, and was full of details about the future. Nothing newsy of course. And back here in Rio, when I tried to decipher the notes, it became apparent that I was lacking a good deal of precise information, like numbers of types of planes, for example, and that I’d let too much time elapse on having aircraft types and functions and names explained. And any way, when I pressed him for precise numbers, he never knew. A later interview at the CDI provided good detail for ‘Metal Bulletin’.
On Wednesday night I met up with Chris. His adventures in the heat of the northern Amazon sounded interesting but not very comfortable: a jeep got stuck after a bridge broke; and then they were stranded in the middle of a river, on some rocks, after the canoe motor failed. He says the biggest danger in the area is herds of wild pigs that can kill if they get you on the ground - so all the 50 British scientists on the way out there will be issued with aluminium step ladders. Chris says their quarters will be comfortable at least - a modern living block has been ready for some time and never been used.
Somehow I never got to see much of Rosa at the weekend. I would like to see more of her I suppose but she has her own life and friends with whom I doubt I could mix well. Also, apart from a very occasional meeting with other journalists, I hardly seem to socialise at all any more.
On Friday I met up with Mike, Tomas and Catesby. No journalist has ever asked me to have a drink with another journalist, but here I am introducing all three to each other. Not only that but I am giving both Mike and Tomas a good deal of work, and nobody has ever given me a thing, except John Kalish and he owed me, he really owed in a way not true of my relationships with Mike or Tomas. I feel like I came, I conquered, and now I’m sharing out the spoils.
I re-edit the stories ‘Danilo Disappears’ and ‘Marilia’, as I’ve done with the diaries. It is unlikely I will get near a Kaypro computer again so that the final prints of all I’ve typed should be as clean as possible.
I call Barbara on Saturday evening, it is three weeks since last I called. This time, though, everything is not all right. The tiredness she mentioned in passing last time we spoke has taken over, she goes to bed very early at night, does nothing but work and sleep, has given up her classes. She says she has already been to the hospital, and can feel the baby. She is very happy at times, but at other times feels very alone. I reassure her as best I can, and today send her a card. The tiredness seems so probable, so normal - she is old for child bearing, not the 16-20 year old that nature intended for a first child. There is also the psychological aspect - on the one hand the fear of the future, and on the other the lack of need, lack of necessity to pursue any other studies, as the child is now the reason for her life. I write that she should try and distinguish between physical fatigue and mental apathy/lethargy; that I will be home soon to embrace our child.
But all day I worry about her. I am a mass of conflicting thoughts - thoughts that strike me on every level.
Raoul called me yesterday. His second baby is due in mid-March. Caroline is still working and plans to continue doing so after the baby is born, a nanny takes care of the children. I find myself having traditional feelings, believing that for a couple of years children should have a full time mother. How can R and I be friends yet choose such extremely different women for bearing our children.
I am impressed to look around me and find that all the men I know have married strong women. Yet, I am retaining a more macho model. I have not given in to the trends of the day. In a macro way, I believe this is the right choice - less conflict, securer roles, better guidance for children. On a more micro level I am not happy because I think life with a stronger woman can be more interesting, more fulfilling eventually, though the risks are higher. In a sense I believe I am living up to my own philosophy which says we cannot change who we are or our personalities or even manipulate our destinies too much without disaster, so that the only sensible course is to discover as much about that personality and destiny and nudge it sideways in a manner that might benefit us. Try to overturn personality and destiny (like Colin for example) and it does not work, but perhaps we can guide it in marginally different directions. This philosophy has guided my choice of profession and now my strange relationship with B.
I read a book by Bernard Levin which looks at the trials and tribulations of the sixties. His style becomes a little overbearing at times, and I lose the sense of his long sentences, but he is undoubtedly a clear and interesting thinker. I am shocked to find many of my own beliefs about society today were already apparent in 1970 when this book was published - the most obvious being the flight from the pill, the flight to new religions, and the overpowerfulness of trade unions. He focuses on the Profumo affair, seeing the public hiatus over the affair as a symbolic outpouring of society’s frustration at the great changes taking place. He believes nothing has been quite the same since. One of his central theses is that there is a battle between the traditionalists and the forward-lookers, those that want to stay where they are and those that are pushing ahead. He takes endless digs at public figures like Malcolm Muggeridge, Lord Hailsham, Lord Denning, Enoch Powell, i.e. people who set themselves up as fonts of wisdom.
Wednesday 11 February
Little over a month to go. You could expect me to be racing around making the best use of this little time left but I am not - or so it seems. I wonder what to do about today for example. I am a little untogether, untoward. I fall toward the easiest option, make no efforts. This is my holiday. These have been strange times here. For two years I have had intermittent periods of great loneliness, and yet when not feeling this loneliness I have had the most amazing time. I suppose it is like living in a beautiful house with all the trappings - it is so beautiful and full of beautiful things and well-equipped that life is a joy, except when it rains for the roof is full of holes. And it rains fairly often but only for brief periods. Back in London, my social life will have more levels again, will be richer, but a long way from what it ought to be. There are many things to do concerning my leaving and I keep thinking about them, yet it is not time, I must be more patient.
Friday 13 February
Friday the 13th and a full moon. I notice the word ‘chaos’ begins to creep into the newspapers with regard to the Brazilian economic scene. Indeed, news of record inflation in January seems like a kick in the teeth to the radical reforms of 1986: the image of a fat woman with lots of excess fat trying to get into a corset too small comes to mind. Sayaad has gone to hospital with meningitis; Funaro would do well to follow with a temporary case of blindness or optimismitis. Despite the tremendous goodwill of the people and their gullibility, there is no way to treat such a huge country, such a huge population, riddled with enormous forces of uncontrollable strengths, in a simplistic, theoretical way. Now that the prices have been unfrozen, meat is back in the butchers - overnight, it’s there. In the market, eggs are suddenly freely available at a price lower than last week. Everybody is jockeying for profit. The sad fact remains that democracy is not a very strong force for development, and here in Latin America it usually means a slip back on the ladder of progress. Although I have no positive feelings about London, about arriving there, I do feel very positive that this is the right time to leave here.
Judy and Rob wrote a letter. It is nice to hear from them, but they focus my attention on the advantages of FAMILY life, of bringing up baby together. Dad sends a brief card from Hawaii: ‘Will respond to letter next week. Some news!’
I begin to realise Angela has struck me off. Despite my letter of justification, despite my Christmas card, she has struck me off. So much for my new godmother - one little crack in my greasy creamy nice nice exterior and I’m abandoned. I suppose the relationship was a bit odd. Why have I never made any friend with similar politics? Why are my soft exterior, soft centre, and womanish characteristics so at odds with my philosophy?
Tonight I play my last game in the squash championship. I have lost two others already. I have been without practice. With practice, I would have been a better match for one game; the other was lost from the start. Rosa will to come to watch my humiliation. The truth is also that I’ve been put in a higher league, and the competition is too stiff.
Letter to Mr and Mrs Collecott dated 14 February: ‘Dear Mr & Mrs Collecott, Strange times. Strange times that a man and a woman can decide to have a child outside of marriage. And it must be stranger indeed that Barbara is now pregnant by a man you have not even met. I regret this.
But you know that Barbara and I have been close friends for seven or eight years. In that time I have never ceased to love her, and my feelings towards her have become deeper and richer to the point where I care for her as much, if not more, than members of my own family. This is the way it should be in a partnership that brings new life into the world.
Of course children SHOULD be brought up inside a marriage. That is the ideal, but these days marriages are no longer what they used to be, people have become more demanding, more selfish and so very often couples live out relationships that are fights, battles. My childhood left such scars on me. And I see little in the world to change my ideas.
I do not believe that marriage is impossible just difficult and especially when the couple are so very different as Barbara and I. I have thought long and hard many times, but do not believe that a marriage between us would work. Perhaps we are both destined to be single people. Yet I have never considered having a child with any one else, nor has Barbara as far as I know.
This situation then between your daughter and myself is a kind of compromise: we don't believe a marriage between us would work, yet there is no-one else we want to marry, and we want a child.
In deciding to have a child, I think Barbara made a brave, mature decision. Although we will not live together, I expect to be close by, with emotional, practical and financial help. Neither of us expect it to be very easy - there will be all sorts of difficulties and perhaps because of this we will need a little more understanding and support than an ordinary family might.
Just as I have felt a need to write a few words to my own parents, being so far away until now, so I write to you..Yours affectionately,’
19 February, Paraty Mirim
It must be a year and a half since last I was here, that strange weekend with Cecilia when I never felt at ease, perhaps she neither, and between us there grew a huge space replacing the superficial warmth we had shown one to the other during my first few months in Edificio Curitiba. Perhaps I was expected to make a pass but there was no easy path opened up by her, keeping her distance as she did, preferring to gossip with her young girlfriend. Since that trip 18 months ago, Cecilia and I have not once gone out together, or even visited one another’s flats. All communication has been through Maria or very occasional conversations in the street. Nevertheless, I loved the weekend, for this place is not far off paradise. I’m sure I’ll repeat some of the things I wrote before. For example, sitting here on the terrace in front of the house I can see absolutely no sign of human life. Through the few trees in front of the terrace the view is made up of blue bay and green forest-covered hills. The shoreline on the opposite side of the bay is rock and stone where it meets the sea but trees grow almost down to the tide line. There is not one house or hut on the coast I can see, not a single craft on the water. By contrast, the air is full of sound from the animal kingdom - croaks, buzzes, hisses, sputs, crackles, a veritable orchestra that without orchestration achieves a certain improvised musical beauty, with low quiet movements compounding with intense frenetic activity. In general, the sea’s surface is calm, a fish leaps for I know not what sometimes, and looking down through the water from the edge of the pier one can see sea-eggs and starfish on the sandy bed and a myriad of fish swimming in beautiful formations.
This time, though, it is even more of a paradise for I have come with Rosa who, despite her middle class mores proves very capable of adapting. She cannot, for example, use her electric razor to shave her armpits and thigh pits because there is no electricity. On the beach, the deserted beach, she finds no difficulty in removing her bikini, even though she has never sunbathed or swum nude before. At night she sleeps with all her clothes on, as the most effective protection against the insects.
It is already Thursday, early tomorrow we leave to return. I sit on the terrace away from the sun for my neck is burning. Rosa sits a little in front catching the sun on her legs. Rach 2 plays inside in contrast to the insect orchestra outside. I have a glorious feeling of peace, contentment, satisfaction. Because the sun was shining strongly, we went early to the beach, taking the track to the bar and then wading across the river. There, at the far end of the beach by the big boulders we removed our clothes to lie on the beach and swim in the crystal clear waters. There is nothing to think about, nothing to pre-occupy the mind. My return to London is so distant, Rio so distant, even the sweet colonial town of Paraty is distant.
On arrival, we sought out a character called B-Doc, or BB Doc or Baby Doc who has a boat. He will take us to a bus stop on the asphalt along the coastline - a lot nearer hear than Paraty. The timing is good - for we will catch a bus at 7:30 and be able to leave Paraty at 8. Paraty Mirim really is so small that with the impassable road no one has arranged for any form of regular trips in boats - all is done devagar, organised slowly. Now we will give a lift to two locals - who knows how many others will come too on the back of our payment.
All summer it seems it has rained in the afternoon here, real tropical weather - the same happens in many northern parts of Brazil but not in Rio. Now it has clouded over and the first drops come. The air is close, the sky rumbles with varying degrees of loudness.
The trail from here to the beach, the hut, the bar is fascinating, so much is happening, so much to see: a variety of simple pontoons, a single plank, a double plank, several tied together; gates of all sorts, some with ‘danger - wild dog’ or ‘private’; signs, one with Cecilia’s name, another with the name of Leunam which can only be Manuel backwards, but why?; trails of ants carrying leaf parts, attacking fungi which itself is attacking a rain sodden portion of plank; a giant butterfly with an outside pattern that looks like a chart of the galaxy and inside it hides a dark deep iridescent blue; butterflies entirely yellow, the colour of the flowers they befriend; spiders’ webs; worms; a nest for an insect that looks like a flying ant - the nest the size of an egg looks like a wooden, a mini beehive; trees dripping with the last rain leaving the trail muddy, slippery, sloshy; the mosses, green and darker green, making everything super-slippy; the air plants that attach themselves to tree barks, now in flower, ejaculating a cascade of pinks; the bananas; the poinsettias; the palms; the ferns. Once on the path, we even saw a snake, still as a dead twig but with its head raised poised to attack.
At one point the trail passes over the doormat of a newly-built mud house. I recall this house was under construction last time I was here; but whatever possessed the owner to build it so close to the trail: the moss-covered packed-mud surface in front of the hut is slipperier than an ice-skating rink. The last time we walked the path it was virtually dark, and then creepers and outgrowths hanging down from trees and bushes or spurting out from hedge-growths added an extra sense of creepiness and surprise to the journey, like a fairground mystery trail.
The last evening Rosa and I walked along evening trails touching on more serious matters. She reassures me that she is taking providences against my leaving ‘me converso con me mismo’. I tell her my return will be more difficult because of the relationship with her - had I not been seeing Rosa I would have been anxious to return, just to leave behind the empty days. She says she wonders what would have happened if I had been Brazilian - certainly the relationship would have been more devagar. I said how much I appreciated the force she made in the beginning with me, especially with regard to sex. She has now made two trips with me, for both of which she has had to invent a story for her family - in four years with her previous boyfriend she made only two trips and her mother knew about both of them. But now Rosa is older, and the time will come (not now, for I am not of consequence) when she will need to break out of the family womb, she has her independent spirit and mature outlook. I say she must not expect the sort of romanticism we have been experiencing to last, it is a transitory phenomenon and longer term relationships cannot hold such fantasy. But it is true we have been living out a quick and hurried romance, which is very gratifying for me, and perhaps for Rosa too, who may be learning things - about men, about life. I talk freely, liberally, though a lot of our conversation is made up of childish joking that slips by un-noticed. Is it mostly me making the jokes? She laughs easily at all my play-acting, sometimes calling me a clown. I am unselfconscious in her company - and so I should be a 34 year old man with a 20 year old girl!
The boat trip out of Paraty Mirim led us upwater through the fjord-like bay - the water’s surface was so still that one could see, behind the boat, beautiful mathematical patterns and combinations of curves well into the distance. Slowly, the fjord narrowed and the water depth shallowed - the boatman taking odd routes for no apparent reason other than he knew best where to motor. Imperceptibly the bay turned into a canal of mud-coloured water surrounded by mangrove swamps.
DIARY 34: February-March 1987
Sunday 22 February
Back in Rio, spending the weekend recovering from the exhaustion of days in paradise. A letter from Dad was waiting for me. It distressed me till I’d replied: ’My Dear Paul, Your recent letter concerning your future parental status filled me with mixed emotions. Of course, as you say yourself, you have always been a ‘special case’ and this already started when you were about twelve and I wanted to send you to a public boarding school, but you refused and preferred to go to a daytime grammar school which, in the event, turned out to be Broxbourne. After heavy pressure from your Mother and myself, you managed to acquire a very respectable university degree but then promptly neutralised this effectively by taking off on a three year (sabbatical) around the world, which you now admit was a mistake as it made it so very difficult for you to decide on your choice of occupation when you returned to England. Certainly in your chosen profession of journalism, you did not need a First in maths and physics - even a Second Class BA in commerce or a BSc Econ would have been more than enough.
Now you and your girlfriend have decided to bring a child into this world: she is clearly under the impression, from what I have heard, that you are to take no further interest in the proceedings having been used, so to speak, as a ‘stallion’ and will have the child at her parents’ home and then bring it up as a single parent. This appears to me to be something of a half-baked idea and reminds me of the ‘flower children’ ideas that were so prevalent in the sixties. Surely we have all outgrown this? Whilst Society does not frown upon ‘bastards’ the way it once did, there can be no doubt that a child brought up with a Mother and Father in attendance stands a much better chance in later life. Single parents tend to perpetuate their insecurity through their children and I cannot see that this is fair on a child who never asked to be born anyway. There is an old joke about how to be successful in life and the answer is to choose your parents carefully! What a chance do you think your baby will have without the constant guidance of a Mother and Father instead of someone who pops in now and again and could be regarded as a kind of Uncle. Quite frankly, that is where I see your position unless you manage to persuade Barbara that the two of you should set up home together. Incidentally, is the child to carry your name or Barbara’s name? What role do you propose to play in its religious education (if any) and scholastic upbringing. All these questions appear to be totally unresolved from what you say in your letter. In my opinion, emotional and financial support from a distance is simply not enough and it is really not fair to the child.
Anyway, the die is cast and the child is growing in Barbara’s womb. I cannot honestly say that your letter either pleases or displeases me. What does disturb me, however, is that the whole concept or should I have said conception, appears to me to have been so badly thought out. I would have expected a rather more positive approach and solution from you in this matter because I have always regarded you as a highly intelligent, rational and thoughtful individual.
I very much look forward to welcoming you to England in March and you can rest assured that I will not make your life a misery with any carping criticism. It is just a pity that we didn’t have a chance to discuss this situation first. Your loving Dad (more in sorrow than in anger).’
The letter really sent me into a spin. I had not thought what he might say but I suspect I was hoping for a little more understanding. It seems to me contradictory that the whole letter calls me a fool and then he says he thinks of me as a thoughtful, rational and intelligent individual. I write back saying why not start from the premise that I am thoughtful, rational and intelligent and then look at what I/we have done. Unfortunately, Rosa was here when I read the letter, and I stuttered away to her for 10 minutes in a kind of displaced anger. Later I expurgated my anger onto Silvio and then again onto Elaine in the evening.
But the letter made me think a lot. For example, as far as I know Sasha always treated me equally, treated me as his own child, yet how capable are we of controlling our behaviour? Not so much. It seems likely, therefore, that in all obvious ways he acted well to me, but what about in less obvious ways that even he was unaware of. Isn’t it possible that whereas he encouraged and pushed his own children he quietly repressed me? Surely only a superman could really behave equally to his own son and the son of another man. It is clear that I arrived in the world of adulthood 100 per cent lost. Even today I am not found, yet most people are found straight or soon after university.
And there are other things, perhaps, he cannot say or recognise. After spending so much on me, he must be disappointed that I am demonstrating absolutely no characteristics derived from him, that my life and actions are so divorced from everything he has believed in. Moreover, it cannot be much in his interest for me to have children - it is in his interest for Julian and Melanie to have children. So many subtle complex forces at play, perhaps I understand more than he does. The tone of his letter (and, to some extent, Mum’s too) has been that I am doing this thing without any thought of the macro aspects. Completely the reverse. I am very aware of the bigger picture. Barbara will be a safe, loving mother for my child. I do honestly feel that B and I can win through, if not untouched by outside pressures, then hopefully unscarred.
I write to Barbara: ‘My Dear B, I begin to feel we have caused a delicious little scandal, at least on my side, but I find myself only relishing in it. Nothing has yet shaken my belief that we (but especially you) have taken a brave and mature decision. I got a horrid letter from Sasha - it sort of wavers between calling me a fool and washing me with family disappointment. I have written back correcting some mistaken impressions. I have many doubts and fears but shining above them is the same sort of happiness I think you feel. I am so impatient to talk with you and discuss important things, yet what I would like to do is reserve all baby conversations until we can go away. Could we go somewhere, Aldeburgh, Wirksworth, Weymouth - the first weekend I am back (20-21 March) and walk about pebble beaches wrapped in overcoats talking about the future of our child? If you want to do this, choose a place, perhaps we could go by train, if I can’t borrow a car, and maybe even book a B&B. Very much love, so happy to hear you are feeling better. Paul’
I spend all Sunday morning writing in this new diary. It will be the last of the Brazilian diaries - the 8th. I have been a faithful scribe these two years. I am currently reading Harold Nicolson’s diaries; edited, there are about 20 pages for each year. Surely, in these eight diaries are 40 pages of interest to the world at large - not on the same level (i.e. insights into political characters and foreign policy) but on a more on a personal, intimate level. Nicolson’s diaries 1945-1962 are full of glimpses and insights both political and intimate, yet there is little solid writing, and one feels the published book is just a collection of notes. I do like the references to the gardens at Sissinghurst, and the discussions in letters with his wife Vita Sackville-West about what to do with the garden, and about the garden philosophically as an environment created by them for their peace and tranquility, and for their old age. I would like B and I to develop a similar relationship with a garden, and I dream of that tumbledown cottage somewhere with space enough to lose oneself in a garden. But she and I are a poorer class - we have no land, no money, no heritage. At best, we can only hope to be ordinary and have an ordinary garden. Many other entries generate the same kind of feelings in me. HN’s life was full of meetings and discussions and work. His knowledge of history, his writing ability, his understanding of foreign policy meant he was always in demand - when politics failed for him, he returned to writing and broadcasting. But my life next to his is like a mud hut next to a skyscraper. And yet, and yet read this entry from 31 December 1948: ‘I know I should thank heaven for all the blessings that have been showered on me. But it is now evident that I have been a successful man but a failure; and this owing to a lack of courage.’
Elaine returns from Fortaleza, she brings in tow an ugly naive girl from the interior who will live in her tiny apartment as maid, only it will be more like slavery. The poor girl - Rita - will live in a box room and do nothing except what Elaine wants. This new insight into Elaine shocks me. She is already treating Rita the way an aristocrat treats a stable boy. I doubt Elaine will even pay her much, if anything.
Saturday night Elaine comes here. I know I will have a fight on my hands for I do not want her to stay over. She turns sweet and childish and playful, leaping on my bed and refusing to leave, and then bit by bit removes her clothing. I make up a variety of reasons for why I want her to leave, or rather why I want to take her home, I give way not an inch to her seduction. I know it too well, and perhaps in the past I have had no real motives for resisting, or none that were strong enough to help me resist Elaine’s pleading. But this time, I feel the relationship with Rosa is good, and she has sacrificed plenty for me. I don’t see why I should take any risks. And Elaine has been away, got used to being without me, it seems silly for her to resume an intimacy for a couple of weeks just to lose it again. Elaine pushes the pleading and the seduction until I make a casual reference to another affair (i.e. Rosa, but to be fair I have tried to avoid hurting Elaine in this way). I have the sneaking suspicion that Elaine is so keen to stay as a way of impressing Rita: I mean if Elaine has said to Rita she’s going to spend the night with her man, she might lose face, as it were, if she returned to her apartment. This kind of thinking wouldn’t surprise me of Elaine. The way she treats my maid Maria has always disturbed me too. Maria, though, calls her ugly, and says she looks 40 years old, perhaps she does. In the end, Elaine stays the night simply because we both fall asleep tired from arguing; but I avoid intimacy.
President Sarney goes on television to declare a mini-moratorium. The numbers just do not add up - Brazil cannot pay its debts. Readjustments at home need to be made, demand will have to be cut, government spending will have to be controlled carefully. It’s all a nuisance to me because the black dollar rate has shot up, which will make it that much more expensive to buy dollars when I sell some stuff before going home.
Syria moves in on Beirut again. Yet another witness say Reagan knew about the arms sales all along. Of course he did. But he stands firm like a rocky island in a tempest completely unruffled by the breaking of giant waves.
Rio heats up, carnival takes over.
I receive a letter from Warren Goodman, editor of Exxon’s ‘Air World’, passing on praise from Varig about my article. Gratifying.
Tuesday 24 February
I am exploring some dark basements with one or two other people. These rooms are full of wall-to-wall cupboards like safety deposit boxes. Someone has discovered lots of cassettes. I remember that we are on the moon, and the discovery of these basements, which are so similar to basements on earth, proves that there must have been a civilisation capable of coming to the moon before our own history has recorded it. I run wild shouting about my finding.
What luck! Some Argentinians moved into this building and the moving firm truckers sold me some sturdy wooden crates - three for Cz50. Together, they only make a third of a cubic metre, but they should be sufficient to send back home my books and the few extra things I won’t be able to carry. Unfortunately, neither of my two wall pictures will fit in them. I am so impatient I want to get packing, to get organised now.
Two days of reasonably active work to make up for the past week when I did virtually nothing. Yesterday, I went to Petrobras to watch Ozires Silva sign contracts for the building of nine oil tankers. Directors of four shipyards and Petrobras directors sat around a big table and signed dozens of copies of a fat document. I saw them all sign their names with a combination of patience and flourishes, and wondered whether I, myself, shouldn’t develop a more ornate signature then the present one. After the signing ceremony, the place was crawling with press, radio, newspapers and TV. Silva admitted that the contracts weren’t actually the final stage because the state development bank (BNDES), which is going to provide the bulk of the financing, has yet to sign its contracts. All a bit of a fuss for nothing. After the signing, the press descended on Silva to ply him with questions about how Brazil’s mini-moratorium will affect oil purchases. A story broke over the weekend that one loan of $130m had already been arranged. Silva was largely evasive, saying that he didn’t know anything about it, but that there was one short term credit loan of $130m currently being renegotiated with a syndicate of UK banks. He managed to convince the crowding press group that he knew nothing about how those negotiations were going. Petrobras, he added, is currently renegotiating four such short term loans for oil purchases. Apparently, the first sign of retaliation against the Brazilian government move would be the refusal to renew such short term credits. But the news from the UK looks good and the banks don’t seem unduly worried. Sure Sarney and team made a reasonable calculation, and took but a mild risk on the back of it. But a recession here has to follow. Nao tem jeito.
During the morning I had filed off some stories to the ‘International Gas Report’ and ‘IPR’. Silvio is back from London. He really is amazing. Despite our comical rapport in the office, he has an astonishingly poor idea of friendship. There was the time I wanted him to lend me the libretto for ‘Porgy and Bess’. I asked him a dozen times, his response was that I should buy the record - but Silvio I’ve bought the tape and I don’t have a record player. Then there was the time I needed him to drive with Neco and me to Petropolis to fetch my motorbike - the idea of getting up so early completely put him off. Now, on his way to London I asked him to buy a copy of Veja, and, once in the UK, to send it to Max (I’ve organised a subscription for him but it won’t begin for a month.) Quite how Silvio managed to spend two weeks in London and not get round to doing it, I cannot tell. Everything is a joke to him. I wonder if he does favours for anyone without charging them. It’s quite a Brazilian trait too - altruism has not spread very far in this offshoot model of US society.
Today, I wrote up the oil stories until lunchtime, then spent the afternoon writing letters and closing down some of my client contacts. (I also sold my colour television for Cz8,500 which is Cz1,500 more that I bought it for but some Cz3,500 less than a new one. I think I sold it cheap. I felt a bit sorry seeing it go, thinking of all the novela episodes I was going to miss - and immediately raced off to Elaine’s to reclaim the b&w model I had lent her.)
I am light and easy and happy these days. There is no point in worrying too much about what I’ll do when I get back, meanwhile there are three weeks to enjoy here. Carnival is coming. There is a trip by car to Ouro Preto, probably with Rosa, and the whole process of closing my business here: there is pleasure to be had by doing it cleanly, efficiently. Most of all, though, it is Rosa who makes the days pass so quickly. Her youth and beauty and flexibility are all gifts, and we do have such good fun together, in and out of bed.
I have finished the Harold Nicolson diaries. They are edited to finish when his wife, Vita Sackville-West, dies. His grief must have been enormous: even when she was ill in years before he would suffer terribly, so much so that Vita always tried to hide her illnesses. Their relationship is interesting in that he fulfilled all his socialising in London a few days a week, leaving her to Sissinghurst, but when he returned there he absorbed himself in the life she liked, i.e. together with the garden, quietly and with very few social contacts. Diary entry from 5 October 1957: ‘I am woken up by V bringing her portable wireless into my room and saying I must listen to the news . . . the Russians have released a satellite which is circling the earth.’
A split in the Church of England over women priests is looking more probable, according to articles in ‘The Economist’. In an editorial, it says: ‘That God, having created twin images of himself, should then decide that only one of them was fit for his priesthood is a mystery to people outside the church, and is coming to be seen as nonsense to many within it.’ Unfortunately, ‘The Economist’ does nothing to clarify to the people outside the church why some think women should be excluded. It says: ‘Cynics note that the only knowledge humanity has of the creator’s supposed decision was formulated and transmitted on his behalf almost exclusively by men.’ This is a common view that feminists hold about all of history. But the arguments stop there as though it’s enough to say that - but why have men been on top? Surely there has been no committee of men that has said throughout the ages: ‘We are men, we best, we keep women down, be our slaves.’ This is far too simplistic. Surely, the truth is that societies run by men have evolved stronger, survived better in this world. Who dominates a family, a town, a nation is highly important to that unit’s future. Smaller units in a developed altruistic society may benefit from feminine leadership, but the world remains a tough jungle and nations need tough leaders and tough policies to hold their own against the competition. Women may bring humanity, social equality, a society more fundamentally good and peaceful, but that society might be washed over by the wave of another more ruthless one. So, surely, the real battle within the Church of England is about this. Priests remain today the single largest group of public orators and wisdom givers, women in that role would only tend to accelerate the increase in power of women in our society.
But should we make policy for today, for next year, next decade or next century. Each person fights within his own vision. Necessarily, many important figures’ visions are tempered by the times they live in. Thus, perhaps (for I am extemporising with very little information) those fighting within the church for women priests see only the lack of equality, and the lack of theological argument for excluding women priests. While the big guns in the church, those that are against women priests - see the bigger picture, and are aware that theology is but a tool to control and discipline people.
Saturday 28 February
Nearly midnight. Carnival in full swing. Parades take place along Rio Branco and in the Sambodromo. Bands play to crowds in the street all over the city, bars fill with drunken people half-dressed, half in fantasy - as far as they dare - and great balls take place in the bigger theatres or showplaces. TV cameras invade the balls and transmit live pictures of almost nude women dancing in the most provocative ways and of generally lascivious behaviour..
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG