PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1986 - MAY
1 May 1986
May Day. Atop Pao de Azucar. It is like the old days, writing the journal in whatever place my body comes to rest. This has to be the most astonishing view of man combined with nature. Quite why I came this morning, I don’t know. The streets, the world outside my apartment were relaxed, sane, peaceful - unlike the paperwork waiting on my desk. I suppose I wanted to profit from the holiday. I am finding it impossible to write, there is so much activity around calling for attention.
Friday 2 May
Not long after dark, the morning and evening twilights are so short, the brilliant low sun glints gloriously off the boat sides and turns golden the Botofogo glass towers for minutes at a time. The air is cool now, stepping out of the shower I am reminded of what it is like in London in the winter - the horrors of getting out of bed and out of a warm bath.
There, up there atop Pao de Azucar, I sat staring over a wall at the Guanabara Bay and at the people on the terrace a few feet below; all around me I caught snatches of conversation in French, Spanish and English. I watched the girls, looking for a smile, the camera obsessed men, the I-was-here photographs, the nuns, the fat, the children. And at the table, where I sat invisibly, a group of English people made themselves comfortable. One woman, looking old and not so healthy, had an identical voice to Johnnie. I wanted to talk to her, but the next time I looked around John (a man who plays volley on Thursday) was sitting between us. He works for Nat West and these people were Nat Western. I said hello briefly but sank back into invisibility. The manager of the bank, and the group, spoke almost without ceasing. Spoke of careers in the Nat West, spoke of his son who had cycled across the US and Australia.
I am shaken by the news from Russia. Fall out from the melt down at Chernobyl has now reached Italy. Radiation levels in Sweden reached 300 times normal levels and some parts of Poland 500 times. I have no idea of the significance of these figures. But in Poland, nationwide action is being taken. Some kind of iodine pills are being given to children under 16. Foreigners in Russia within a certain radius of the nuclear accident are being brought home for treatment. It is impossible to know the extent of the damage in Russia itself. Official reports say two people have died, 18 are gravely ill, and some 150 are in hospital being treated. But the point, of course, is the long-term effect on the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who have been subject to very high radiation levels. Western organisations and experts and ecological parties are predicting a much higher number of deaths and high levels of cancer in the years to come. There is so much at stake. The ‘green’ people and parties of the world now have a real live nuclear accident, the sort they have been predicting will happen for years with radiation spreading across the globe and reaching millions of people. They have had their case, their stance, their soap-box words strengthened infinitely. The nuclear industry around the world may not have had its influence reduced by the same amount but there must be a lot of worried executives and shareholders, worrying about their commission, their jobs, their profits.
Then there is the East-West conflict. The US can afford to be magnanimous and offer help. The Russians probably need the help, the technical expertise, the management of radiation know how that the Germans, the Swedes, the Americans have; but any acceptance of that help would be paid for heavily in adverse publicity and also revelations (to the West and Russians, too, through the Voice of America etc.) about the inadequacy of Russian technology. At the very least, the consequences of the disaster should be and will be a retightening of standards worldwide, a redoubling of the time and thought given to decisions to expand nuclear facilities, increased power to the IAEA and the establishing of nuclear dialogue across political frontiers.
‘The Economist’ is bound to have devoted a few pages to this accident (not long after it came down firmly on the side of nuclear power in a leading editorial) so I wonder whether this will serve to oust my nuclear story or keep it in. No one rang this week which is always a bad sign. Paul Maidment is moving on. Tim Hindle is taking over. A telex arrives from him detailing the sort of stories he is looking for in the future. It helps me to get such communications, however simple.
But what do I think, really think about nuclear power. The latest news is that there are increased radiation levels in Austria, Italy, Germany. No one knows if they will have the slightest effect, but so much of Europe is touched by this one accident thousands of miles away, that people must stop and think - and at last give credence to some of the fears of the greens. Will history show nuclear technology as a blind alley, the very first unlocking of nature’s pandora’s box without being able to really control the results. And will it be the first technology, the first industry that was abandoned for these reasons. Already, there is a mass of evidence of cancelled orders and reluctance to order nuclear programmes.
Fifteen years ago I studied nuclear energy at Cardiff, I remember nothing of the science, only the hopes for fusion rather than fission as a safe nuclear energy for the future. The promise of fusion has still not been made good. So what do we do with fission. Clearly, it is not a black or white question. Some countries, such as Germany or Japan without oil which are already heavily committed to the industry, will have to see it through until and if the evidence is damningly overpowering and there is a long term future alternative. The US and USSR need their nuclear technology upfront like they need wheat to eat. But what about the rest. The UK has, I think, recently decided to continue its plant building programme albeit slowly (didn’t the Sizewell inquest come down in favour - I’m not so sure). This perhaps is a shame. For the UK has a strong enough scientific and engineering base to develop other areas - the tidal barrier across the Bristol Channel for example. It could slow down its oil sales (difficult for any government, though, not to exploit this money source) making future decisions less urgent. Then there is the coal. This is all a little out of my depth. And of course the security and the power that having nuclear weapons gives.
I finish another C. P. Snow novel in the series ‘Strangers and Brothers’. This one - ‘Time of Hope’ - describes Lewis Elliot’s early life and his masochistic attraction for Sheila. In many ways the character of Sheila is mirrored in M. I see enough similarities to look for more. There are many differences too. But why was I not caught in the same way as Lewis - or perhaps I was but I was too little in the real adult world for there to be any consequences. Furthermore, I could never trust M’s motives - as Snow describes it, at least there was some element of honesty. But our lives are so different now. The relationship he describes was so important, so serious, so central to the lives of the characters, yet my life seems empty and vague in comparison - but is it? Is this a problem of our age? The ease of relationships today bares little comparison to the kind of depth related in the novel. Of course, so much of this depth is fantasised, is taken as social religion which we are dispensing with now. But our lives are empty without the one sort of religion or another.
I am always looking for clues in my reading of books and watching of films as to how I should behave to Barbara. One of the biggest barriers, I must be honest, to my commitment with her has been the social timidity which we share. I find it so difficult to support her in social situations. I find myself painfully embarrassed on occasions, and I suppose I have hoped for a mate who will encourage me socially rather than withdraw me. Yet I learn from this Snow novel and from the film ‘Plenty’ that social embarrassment is not such a - not such a what - not such a gigantic thing as to outbalance other considerations. The husbands in both these fictions took on wives stronger than themselves and suffered for it - the social inconveniences were just along the way. This is becoming a bit tautological. I am saying that I should not be so weak - it is something that if we were together, we should have to learn to cope with together.
Barbara writes me a few notes. Thanks me for the presents. Agrees it might be better not to meet when I come back but appears to agree just because it is my suggestion. Asks if I have read ‘The Count of Monte Christo’ and that she needs to know soon.
Wednesday 7 May
In any sort of pain I become hopeless, pathetic, unable to serve my functions. I do not have the will power to over-ride the pain. The focus of consciousness is for ever directed to the pain. For three days now I have done no work due to a toothache. A deep gnawing chronic pain spread through most of the left side of my face since Sunday. I have been taking aspirins at 2-3 hourly intervals to keep the wretched misery at bay. I suppose the tooth began rotting under the incompetent filling on the lower left side. For months now, I’ve been afraid to bite there for fear of a searing pain that occasionally ripped through my body. But, for the last 36 hours the pain has caused me to tremble and fever. I wake up in the night when the effect of the aspirin has worn off. I would have gone to the dentist yesterday, but I only managed to find the name and number of the dentist I wanted this morning. Simone, a friend of Neco, confirmed my suspicions, removed the metal cap with metal picks and removed the nerve channel with a temporary filling. She says the channels must be treated with time and patience. I sit here now in a better humour, half my face is anaesthetically still, and I am praying that the problem will have been dealt with sufficiently to last me back to the UK. But it is a relief to be rid of the pain - when the mind has so little else pressing it for attention, pain has a flag day.
I tried to entertain myself as best I could with things most accessible. I finished the last of C. P. Snow’s ‘Strangers and Brothers’ sequence, ‘Corridors of Powers’. It swept me along as all the others had done, yet the characterisations were similar to his other books; he writes about Parliament and manoeuvres there as though it were the same as the college politics he had covered in previous books. The same words and phrases re-appear. I thought perhaps he had just stepped out of his depth. Yet the subject matter is so topical. He brings to a conclusion a narrative about a defence minister’s plan for unilateral nuclear disarmament (in the 1950s) and shows how the idea gets washed aside despite the minister’s skill and diplomacy.
I also go to the theatre to see an English group perform ‘Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ in modern clothes and with occasionally blasphemous interpretations. But I fall asleep - are the actors too wooden, delivering their lines too much like a TEFL course. Maybe the weariness that has come over me these days is the real cause. Then, last night sweet Fabiola took me along to Canacao to see an astonishing American vocalist Bob McFerrin. He enthused an enormous crowd just singing wordless songs with his superb rhythm and extensive tonal ranges - much of the time it is hard to believe he isn’t being accompanied by a chorus or an instrumentalist.
The row with ‘Nucleonics Week’ has flared up again and this time I have telexed Thurston, Branscombe and Palubniak saying I cannot work under the present arrangement. At the risk of boring myself I must note the latest details. The Brazilian Nuclear Commission reported its findings on 17 April. On 23 April, I filed a story based on a telephone interview with the Commission’s vice-president. 27 April and 2 May I sent further telexes asking for confirmation that my story has been received. 5 May, I received a telex asking me to resend, and, in the post, comes a copy of NW with a report on the Commission’s findings filed from Kessler in B.A. This is really the end.
Jeff Ryser also rings this day, he has three minutes to talk before catching a plane to NY. ‘How are ya doing? I mean how are you doing - I mean we could talk about any number of things but right now what is going on with . . .’ Actually all we talk about is NW, and I give him my estimation that NW is an arrogant, bullshitter . . . no I forget how I phrased it - but it was pretty damning. And I proceeded to give my reasons. Now, I’m thinking of writing a letter to World News. The view of the world from an ant, no, sorry, I mean a stringer. I wonder if Jeff perceived that all I felt about NW applies to him too.
Saturday 10 May
Saturday morning - a faint heat mist hangs over the bay and hills, but the sun shines through, giving shadows and heat spots. The water is crystal clear but much debris floats on top. I’m also a little scared of swimming in case I make my sore throat worse. I have become an old man long before my time. Toothache, a general unwell feeling, now a sore throat, and a nervous tick has returned to my right eyelid. What a mess, and I can’t shake the despondency and loneliness that has begun to dog me constantly. This weekend is 100% vacant. There was a party invitation last night - the first in four months - from Ricardo du Temple, the Mundogas agent who calls me all the time to tell me what business he hasn’t managed to do with Petrobras. I was glad of the invitation though in different times I wouldn’t have dreamed of going because I’m such a snob and Richard is way off my idea of a friend. I could have described his apartment (and wife) before the visit. Off-the-shelf furniture, pictures, decorations, tasteless, devoid of imagination. And his friends, mostly his wife’s I imagine, were wearing a lot of lipstick and de moda clothes (and hairpieces). This world of trying to be fashionable, of making fashion a cause in itself, has always been so foreign to me. Richard’s wife had arranged a fashion show in the middle of the party - four or five models changing costumes half a dozen times. One of them had the most ugly brace, yet could not resist wild smiles. There was nothing surreal about this because so many of the guests were in the same world, but not the successful fashion world which must be very attractive, powerful, gorgeous, but this sub-world of trying-trying. Richard was mostly taking pictures of the models and dresses - though I’m not sure why. A group of Richard’s friends belong to a rugby and drinking club, and they were doing a lot of oggling. One of them buttonholed me for half an hour explaining all the details of his flat purchase and income and tax relief in London. He insisted on telling me how clever he was and how he was going to retire on the income. Then there was John Andersen, the self-appointed distributor for ‘The Economist’. We’d spoken on the phone and for once my image of the man was spot on. I knew the ruddy-faced slightly plump and very-present personage sitting on the sofa must be him. But I must say I liked him. He’s full of good humour, unmalicious rumours, tips and hints. He is tall enough to look down on me, but the looking down is exaggerated by eyelids that seem to fall like awnings over his eyes. And he has a childish way of moving on to tiptoes at the most relevant, important or surprising phrase of his current topic. My subscription runs out next week - Paul Maidment has promised me a freebie but it’ll take a while to set up. John says he will redirect the sub of someone who has left. The girls I talked to, young and attractive, seemed incapable of asking me questions, or aiding any conversation flow.
I think to ring Barbara but hesitate. Why? I suspect I’m likely to be soppy. I feel soppy. Am I wanting to ring her just because I’m lonely and miserable. Will she think that? Am I scared to find out she really does think it will be better not to see me in July? etc. My mind is a jelly. There is no backbone in my thinking. Ideas for writing a new story are single phrases in my head, I cannot develop them. I focus instead on how to telex ‘Nucleonics Week’ with the most cutting of complaints, or on how lonely I am, or on what to read next etc. This lack of drive has always been my undoing. I taunt myself with the future. What is it I really want?
I see a legless man scooting along the tarmac on a square board with four castors, by propelling himself along with his gloved fists against the ground. I see another man hobbling on his crutches, for he is a leg short, across the tarmac to collect the parking fees from a newly placed car. I see hundreds of plain and ugly and simple youths massing outside a dance place. I see how absurd I am to be so healthy, attractive, wealthy, intelligent and friendless. Will this bubble of pride ever really burst, allowing me to demonstrate a bit of need here and there.
The air is very still. The water is inviting. A Sunday morning. The Monte Carlo Grand Prix rages in real life there in Europe and here on a million televisions with every Brazilian investing hope in more points for Senna or Piquet.
I read ‘Monsieur’ - Durrell; short stories by Wells; ‘The War of the End of the World’ - Llosa. I play through great chess games of the world. (Whenever I pass by the Rio Palace end of Copacabana I stop and spend half an hour watching the chess games there. See how my interests return to my school boy passions when I let them.)
I call Mum to wish her happy Brazilian’s mum’s day. Then I call Barbara - but it is not a good call. I am too self-conscious and needy. Needy of some support, which she does not give and rightly, very rightly so. It is a long conversation about very little. I tell her I am miserable as I knew I would, and she responds that I’m always miserable. I know it, but it’s not what I wanted to hear. Then, at the end, I ask her if she doesn’t want to come away with me; she says that it wouldn’t be a good idea. But I should call her when I get back - cool, cooler than before. I feel she has truly shredded me now. It hurts.
I go to the fort. It is so beautiful, so quiet, so tranquil, so utterly mine, my peace disturbed never. How clearly the state of my mind is bad. I keep drawing parallels with Leyton. Then, I blamed some of my breakdown on the conditions, the horrible flat, the situation etc - but here the truth is clear. The state of the head over-rides all external factors. I chide myself with the hard questions, or try to. What do I expect to happen? Exactly what sort of woman do I want to marry? Why do I glance at every female in the street? Where am I going? Why do I become so small and grow like a balloon with a small puff in my direction? The last thing I needed was a distant Barbara and a strained conversation. I recall that doctor’s conversation - I’ll be all right as long as I don’t receive a major blow to my confidence. What about this sinking, doctor - the sinking slowly into the quagmire without a hand to pull me out. Melodrama or fact? Why can I be like this now, when a little over three years ago I was still working at ECN and living in a squat. Am I expecting the same rapid progress to continue. I have not the self-confidence to rise in the ranks. To be here pushing my luck I ought to have confidence, will, drive, goals.
Here is some more anti-neo-Darwinism, this time culled from a ‘Sunday Times’ article I have filed and stored for six years and just found among my papers. It is written by Brian Silcock and is about two scientists called Ted Steele and Reg Groczynski. In 1979 they published a tract called somatic selection and adaptive evolution which combined Darwinism with some aspects of Lamarkism. They then went on to demonstrate some experiments that show the possibility of acquired characteristics. (Apparently Steele was much influence by Koestler, a Lamarckian, odd that I have never managed to read Koestler). Steele and Groczyinski have been working with acquired immunological tolerance which Sir Peter Medawar discovered in the 1950s. This is a technique to inject young animals with cells from a future donor in order that, when the time comes for a skin graft, the body’s immunological system does not reject the foreign graft. Neo-Darwinism says that this acquired characteristic cannot be passed on genetically. Steele and Groczyinski found that by breeding males of strain A, that had been treated to become immune to B strain, with ordinary untreated females, the first and second generation also showed immunity to grafts from the B strain. Steele believes this ability stretches across many other functions and indeed into behavioural patterns.
My moods are so volatile, so unstable, like the weather. Yesterday, the wind came down Rio way in tremendous gusts full of rain; mists covered the bay till nearly all the yachts vanished. Like my Sunday, when the tears came in waves of misery and loneliness. On the Monday, though, I felt capable again - strength of some purpose remained. And so it has been through the week. I would not say, though, that my mood has surfaced to the brightness of this morning’s weather - the characteristic cleanness and crispness of the passed storm. I think about tripping to Cabo Frio for the weekend on the moto, but alone it can be so dreary - I would just sit in the busiest cafe I can find, running through nostalgic travelling memories in my mind.
Although there are no social reasons for my mood to be bolstered this week, the work has returned to the level I expect it to be. I mean my letters to ‘Flight’ were answered positively, stories I’d filed previously to ON and IGR were used in full, and I had a story to work on for ‘The Economist’ - though I was not called Wednesday about it so I doubt if it will have been used. The subject was a little doubtful, and I finished by using secondary sources and had no confirmation from primary sources as with the arms story - but not for want of trying.
Raoul rang last night - the lazy sod - he prefers to spend £10 on a phone call than half an hour writing a letter. What news does he impart? All is well with family including nanny Carol. His drug, his anti-cancer drug got launched a phase further - I don’t know if this is onto the market or into trials, but he, apparently, got a splash of publicity in the UK papers (but I haven’t seen anything in the N.S.). He is not easy to talk to, full of evasive platitudes and silly, reference-less jokes. When I answer the phone, he pretends to be my UK press agent, perhaps it is amusing, perhaps I don’t know how to respond. But this is one of his endearing qualities, these senseless jokes - he made others, I forget now, they are just a little hard to cope with on a long-distance phone call after six months of not speaking.
Julian rang on Monday night to tell me the central heating [in my Kilburn house] broke down and cost £130 to repair. But we talk for the longest time yet. In typing out my diary from 1992 (not long ago in fact, the latter part of my time at ECN), I talk about my first visit to Antibes. I had just met my cousin Martin from Bulgaria, and he is on his way to spend a few days with me at the flat. I write that I cannot imagine spending a holiday with Julian who is several years older than Martin or inviting him to do the same. But yet I just did! It is only through the diary that I can actually monitor clearly such changes. We natter about Mum’s job, his lack of a girlfriend, my lack of a girlfriend. He tells me that the family - Mum, Mel and husband, Julian - plan to take a cottage in Normandy to celebrate Mum’s 60th birthday.
Friday 16 May
I open the bottle of 12 year old Glenlivet brought me. It is a long while since I sipped a glass of whisky. I remember enjoying my first ever whisky, but not exactly when. I was cycling home past the Wellington pub at the end of Belsize Rd, and for some completely and inexplicable reason I stopped and went into the pub and ordered a whisky. Until that point I had rarely tasted the spirit and always hated it. On this occasion I liked it, and have ever since.
It is Friday night. The only phone call is from ‘O Globo’ trying to sell me a subscription. How glorious it will be to experience long evenings of light when I go back to London. There is an atmosphere about the unchanging darkness of the evening that affects me. I always find these hours at the end of the day hollow, aching for a filling. I rarely summon up the force to make concrete a desire. It is rare for example to find me writing at this time of day. Surely my whole body is adapted to the seasons of changing temperature and light. I am adaptable (we are adaptable) but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t residual trace effects.
Chernobyl. Here we are in the post-Chernobyl age. More than 10 people have now died with others seriously ill. US doctors are in Russia treating the sick and say upwards of 100,000 people should be monitored for the rest of their lives. Although there is not likely to be any immediate effect on the mass of people. Nuclear programmes throughout the world are undergoing heart and soul searching revisions. Movements and trade of agricultural produce in Europe is in a complete shambles, with imports from the East Bloc forbidden and a whole mass of local bureaucracies (especially in W. Germany) regulating with measures to protect the public from the radiation evil. The USSR has been humbled by the accident and the US, no doubt, is taking advantage of the fact in its arms negotiations and political public relations battles. For instance, Gorbachev clearly wants another summit, Reagan is playing hard, if not impossible, to get.
But the future of nuclear power? Here we have a major nuclear disaster as feared by millions of people all over the world. Yet is it so bad? It is difficult to imagine a worse disaster. Chernobyl is a poor design - one that would never have been allowed to operate in the West. When the problems began, there was an extraordinary inefficiency in dealing with it - something again that would not happen in the West simply because the highest and most skilled authorities would be advising within hours of the accident. And what are the results: 10-12 perhaps 30 will die. FACT: 2,000 died at Bhopal, not to mention the many who were badly injured. It is imagined that there will be greater long-term effects thanks to Chernobyl than because of Bhopal. But once all those 100,000 lives affected by Chernobyl are over what will be its final and ultimate tally. I would guess less than Bhopal. Is this not then a tremendous plus for the nuclear industry when all is said and done. The worst has happened and perhaps (for who knows yet) the worst is not that bad compared to the risk ratios in other industries. And besides all this, perhaps the human body will develop tolerance to radiation very quickly (as it is to nicotine poisoning).
My hero, Helio Beltrao, president of Petrobras, has resigned. He is 70 and wants to ‘voltar a casa’ as he repeated 50 times during a press conference. He has been in the job one year, it seems such a short time to take the reins of a mammoth, and then let it loose. He has an honest, sincere profile which has rubbed off on Petrobras and he has kept it clean of political controversy. His successor will be Ozires Silva the long time president of Embraer (a much smaller company but one which has achieved substantial commercial success internationally). I try to sell the news to ‘Oilgram’, ‘International Gas Report’, and ‘The Economist’. Chatting to Rick at Reuters he says the news is not important enough for the tapes - we argue about it for a while. I think he’s wrong - both Petrobras and Embraer are high profile companies with international reputations. After offering the story to Tim Handle at ‘The Economist’ I was riddled with doubts for I have no idea if they used last week’s story. I dreamt, this afternoon, that he called to tell me he couldn’t resist the story even though he had planned to drop me after the last one. As it is, I offer him an easy way to say no - I should be more brutal. I think to sell the story to ‘Flight’ too.
One of the great mysteries of the world to me, music, is made less mysterious by the marvellously lucid accounts of Anthony Hopkins. I have just re-discovered him on the World Service and will listen faithfully every Friday evening. I listen to Brahms 1. It took him 20 years to compose, did you know?
For some reason, it pleased me to find Rik, my friendly rival, bête noire even, in Buenos Aires, had been with Reuters 11 years and worked on local papers before that.
My friend at Shell, Eduardo Resende, rang to tell me that, finally, the Floryll project story I wrote is being released by the powers that be. Following my letter to the editor of ‘Shell World’, things began moving. Most gratifying is that Farrance telexed Resende to say indeed he liked my material.
On television, I watch the celebrated Chico and Caetano show. This week they have an amazing accordion player I have never heard of called Astor Piazzollo. I shall look for a cassette. Meanwhile in Mexico, Brazil’s hopes falter, Zico is not fit enough to play, at least in the first stages of the world cup.
Playing squash with Neco again. I moan about the problems of getting to talk to the right people at SEAP in Brasilia. He lets off steam engendered by the heat of his girlfriend manoeuvring towards marriage. ‘I don’t want to marry,’ he says. I jest with him. I suppose he is very marriageable, but I can imagine his feelings under pressure from the normal conventions. He is well intelligent and does make decisions for himself unlike so many people here who buy them off the shelf, and yet he has to go along with the trends. He has seen almost all his friends marry and separate and rightly wants to avoid it. He has picked me as a friend because I justify his wilder, independent side which his girlfriend is trying to suppress. I even wondered whether she had pressurised him into not seeing me. They are both undergoing psychoanalysis - Neco goes three times a week.
Question: Is it better to be in an unsuitable relationship and adjust the resultant tension and psychological complaints through psychoanalysis, or to struggle on gainly alone looking for a less-bad mismatch? Neco tells me that Marcello is doing theatre. I tell him I think it is dangerous for he will leave his job soon for the bright lights (the story is similar to mine). And then when (if) he sees the folly of his ways, he will not find it so easy to return to his job; he will have slipped down the ladder. And secondly his head will be less able to cope with a job so office/paper bound. Neco says the first is no problem, he is skilled enough to be welcomed back; the second however is a real problem.
On Thursday, I play volleyball with a strange mixture of people. In a sense they are like the first group I had contact with from the Cultura Inglesa - a ragged bunch of mostly foreigners. But, in this case, they are much more rooted here, wealthier and more intelligent. I have particularly enjoyed Mike whose age I find hard to calculate. He says he’s a retired fireman from Shropshire, but he has such a soft and gentle way about him; he is the most generous and the most clever player on the pitch. There is the attractive Rosangela who binds the volley group together by telephoning everyone every week even though we all know the routine. But she is vivacious, pretty, easy going, she dresses with taste yet neither really flirts in conversation or manner. In fact, I discover, she lives with Bobby who must be twice her age. They’ve lived together for five years. A strange relationship which I have yet to fathom. Rosangela also acts as a social secretary. Today, for example, she has pulled the forces together for a feijoada in a restaurant down Gavea way. Then there is Hans, the tall German who has his own pharmaceutical company, making drugs under licence from Dow. He takes the volley most seriously and is probably the strongest player - simply because he’s tallest. But he trusts not his partners which makes him a difficult team member and he never passes unless he has to (we play the rule of a minimum of two passes except for blocks). Then there is an Argentine/Italian/Brazilian Roberto who works for an offshore company. An unattractive English woman (who plays badly), and a Brazilian chico; and there are always people passing through.
Today Maria will teach me how to make banana cake - truly a gift from heaven.
Take a dozen bananas de agua, peeled, and lay them on top of a little sugar at the bottom of a big pan. Heat very gently for a few minutes until some of the liquid comes out of the bananas but not enough for them to lose their shape. When cool, place carefully in the bottom of a baking tin. Take 3/4 tablet of butter and cream with a heaped cupful of sugar, add three eggs, then three cupfuls of flour (plus a little milk to keep the consistency creamy) and one heaped teaspoonful of baking powder (and a bit of lemon rind). When the mixture is well mixed and a thick cream, place in the baking tin on top of the bananas. Put in hot oven at medium temperature and test mixture after 20 minutes, and thereafter until cooked (i.e. no residue on a toothpick when inserted into the cake and removed). Invert cake onto cake plate and eat when cooler.
What a lot of alcohol I drank this week. On Wednesday night, I strolled through the rain to the Garota and sat there for some time drinking three beers. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk more than one there before on my own. I sat determined to think through some Sparky ideas [a series of very short stories]. But I got stuck on the idea of waking up with a pig in my bed. What the hell to do with it. The smell, the size, Animal Farm, pigs can fly, trapped by trotters, declaring undying love . . . this was one of the original ideas many years ago. I become more aware of packing some meaning, an understanding, some message behind the fantastic ideas. For example, the closest I came to an idea that clicks is that He or rather I make myself blind. I am pinned to the wall with my head tucked between the breasts of the animal. I enjoy the touch, even if it is a bit leathery, the warmth, and above all the pulpy flesh of the beast. My head would not stand for loving a pig, so it closes its eyes and imagines something else. Waking up with a huge fan at my side and having the irresistible urge to turn it on is easier.
Max visits on Sunday. He tells tales of three things, What three things? His travels in South America, life with Conceicao and John, and the World Cup. Of his travels I can remember nothing worth recording except that all the time he talked of his earthquake experience in Cuzco, I wanted to recount my cyclone experience - but didn’t. Ah! travellers tales. He told me that John was going downhill fast, and life in his flat was hell. He made a crude attempt to encourage me to invite him to stay here, but he has been in Rio a while and not rung me, and he’s also been much matier with John - it didn’t seem right that he should just be able to escape. And then, after he said how hard he’d looked for a hotel, and I offered to tell him about one, he petulantly stopped me - saying he was all right where he was. But once on to the World Cup, there was no stopping him. After Brazil, he moves to Mexico. He knows the draw and which team is in which group by heart. We bemoan the demise of the Brazilian side and note that there is almost no enthusiasm here for the World Cup - the team has already lost - without Zico it stands little chance - wear a Brazilian t-shirt and get the thumbs down from strangers in the street. Max tells me England has a good chance, it has not lost a match in two years. I say yes but Mexico is not a good climate for our players. In Holland, in West Germany they could win, but not in Latin America - the spirit is wrong. I fancy Spain or Argentina much more. The spirit is so important in the World Cup.
The volley group invited me to lunch with them at La Mama. Rosangela says they used to take a feijoada every Saturday with a table sometimes 10 people long. I arrived around 3 and stayed until 9. It’s a real loiter of a lunch with people arriving at 6 and 7 - the weak beers keep coming. I feel more at home, more relaxed with them now. We were to meet later to go dancing, but once home I fell asleep. There were vague possibilities with a tall American girl called Rhonda - she reminded me of Anne, the New Zealand girl I took up with after M - not in personality or looks, but in the sort of relationship we might have.
No. 3 Lorna Doone. Lorna’s song by the brook interrupted. This old postcard has been posted back and forth between us now for some years. The postcard is dated 1913. On it is written: ‘Am sending off parcel, and have enclosed the red cap too as I thought you might like to have it.’ It arrived again today. Barbara warms to my return.
This week Tim Handle did ring and ask some questions about the Petrobras presidency story - so I know he didn’t sling it right in the bin. But, afterwards I felt so uncertain, an uncertainty that was heightened during the day by talks with Catesby over lunch and Richard over the telephone. Both of them pushing the line that he was edged out by the Funaro-Sayd team that want to cut back on the government’s debt by looting the Petrobras coffers. I was taken in by Beltrao, I believed him when I saw him deny to the Brazilian press that he was leaving for political reasons. Perhaps I am underestimating the powerplays - but Beltrao seemed to me perfectly capable of bending if he wanted to keep the job. And, if he was leaving on a matter of principle, why not say so, or hint so. If Tim uses my piece it will be interesting to see if ‘O Senhor’ takes it - for that magazine ran its own piece on the change and was one of the strongest written articles I saw on Beltrao moving for political reasons.
Lunch with Catesby as usual was informative as well as full of debate. He has a similar nervousness of conversation to me, often hesitating and expressing himself less well than he might in writing. We talk about the spread of Protestantism, and the decline of Catholicism, also the move towards more expressive religions, the Macumba on the one hand, and the evangelical protestants on the other. I draw parallels with the middle class need for psychoanalysis. If the head cannot believe in religions any more it still needs to find ways of expressing or suppressing the psyche. We talk personally a bit about our workloads. I find Catesby really at the top end of the correspondents. He is fully employed by one organisation (Cox newspapers - ‘Atlantic Constitution’) and spends his time only on features. On this latest one about the decline of the pope in Brazil, he spent four weeks and travelled to S.P. and Salvador, with all expenses paid. Yet, he too moans about his work being chopped and hacked around. I try and get a bit more inside the man - what does he do at the weekends for example: read a lot. I find out nothing about his personal life. I thought he might be gay, but when he walked across the the Urca beach, he had eyes for the bikinis.
A first birthday card arrives from Mel. A letter from Angela. She is off to France (to stay with her twin brother!) to Portugal (to her daughter), and to Morocco to her ex-husband. She writes on the eve of her journey, and the excitement comes through. The news is that Michael has moved to Paris and is living in Mike’s flat - lucky teenager. Angela notes how he has an aristocratic bearing, and the anachronistic self-confidence of being privileged - lucky teenager. Both Martin and Michael will go on to be more successful than I simply because they have a better inbred belief in themselves.
It is raining this morning, which looks sad for the volleyball - my favourite evening of the week.
Trying to be as fair as I can about my earnings i.e. disclosing all expense payments from McGraw-Hill, I find the following earning figures for May 1985-April 1986: McGraw-Hill total $18,354 (£12,800) or average $1,530 per month. Other: FT £1,821; Econ £810; NEI £529; Benn £400; misc. £100 - total £3,660 or average £300 a month. TOTAL = £16,460 for the 12 months.
Here I am slam bang in the middle of a bank holiday weekend - tomorrow is a holiday but I have no idea why - and as usual I have not spoken to anyone other than Maria. I pace around unwilling to do anything in particular. Somebody rang three times yesterday morning while I was out - Maria said an American, but he never rang back. I can’t imagine who it was who didn’t speak any Portuguese. The volley group I know are meeting up at Bob’s house in the hills, but no one asked me along - they talked of a churrasco today. I thought I would see them Friday night at a bar - but they did not ring. I’m not implying rejection just lack of impulse. Equally with Stan and his yachting crew. Equally with Mark and his cricket group. If I had been really keen on cricket, I could have pushed, by calling one of the chaps; but with Stan I felt that seeing as it was his yacht, I needed to be invited. The yachting is what I’ve most wanted to do.
In the empty spaces I try to dream up new Sparky stories. The football one was not easy and even now is weak. The problem is in trying to fuse two ideas - that of the football or World Cup fever and that of the mind mechanisms of the I. I is caught into thinking about a television in his room, as he thinks it grows, when he stops thinking, it stops growing. Of course, he can’t stop thinking about it because of the feedback. The television grows to the size of the room and until I is actually inside the happening - the world cup football matches in Mexico. Sparky eventually pulls him back by cutting off the electricity supply, by which time I has caught the soccer fever. It is interesting to note that I wondered whether the feedback mechanism - thought about television - increased size of TV - more thought/worrying about TV - more increase in size - should be incremental or continuous. I believe all our thought processes are incremental and the stories should therefore demonstrate that (after all that is one of their raison d’etres). But then we do not grow incrementally, nor is life on the scale we live it incremental. This is something far from resolved in my head. Perhaps it is only in these new Sparky stories that I am taking mind mechanisms into mind - but I realise what an opportunity it is.
For some time now I have wanted to note something significant about Brazil: in between the adverts on TV (TV Globo) there exists a divider, one that is busy. In the UK, the divider is but a blob or a diminishing star, but here in Brazil it is action - moreover, the dividers are changed every few months. Now we have a person’s face with the eyes taken over by a message: in one there is a miniature football pitch with players moving around; in another the singers Caetano and Chico are reflected in dark glasses; in another the news programme symbol appears in the eyes. With each one words are overplayed: tem esporte, tem Caetano e Chico, tem noticias - i.e. saying that TV Globo does all these things. This makes for a very busy commercial gap - the t-shirts, the bars, the conversations - everything is busy - there is no time for reflection.
Again this month there is little of interest at my favourite auctioneer, except for a set of ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’. They are to be auctioned Tuesday night with a minimum price of £50 - perhaps I will buy myself a birthday present.
For want of anything else to do today, I worked. Two pet projects: Petrobras deep water technology and homeopathy. With both of them I was more disheartened than before. I tried to put my knowledge into an ‘Economist’ type article on the oil production, but it lacked any real science, it lacked any HOW. Then I spent an hour wading through a university report on homeopathy but it came nowhere near any of the macro questions I need to be asking. I would say it has hardly helped me at all.
Now it is evening - my teatime ritual over - the world news at 5:00, tea and cake at 5:30, the novela ‘Sinha Moca’ at 5:45-6:30. I expect to play Neco at squash, my first social contact for more than three days.
Sunday, I went for a trip on the moto. I half intended to ride to Cabo Frio and stay the night, but the problems with gasoline supply preoccupied me and neither was I happy to ride during the dark; and I didn’t know what I would do in the evening. I rode out to Itaipu - a small beach resort north of Niteroi. There was nothing special. Then I wanted to ride along the coast track, but lost my way till I was on the main road Rio-Cabo Frio. I cut back down to the coast on an empty dirt road, lots of dust and pits. It wound down round one of the lakes until I was riding parallel with both the lake shore and the beach - wide dunes only separating the lake from the sea. One car passed every few minutes but enough to disturb the peace and beauty of the place. My head was not well - I did not feel relaxed enough just to stay there and enjoy it - I felt I had to arrive somewhere. I could see the buildings of an outpost along the track and made for them. Barra de Marica. It was just a weekend outpost of allotments for city folk to take advantage of the endless beach. A few people were scattered along the sand braving the sunless weather; in one or two bars, a few lazers sat sipping the afternoon away with a beer. Here too I could not find where I wanted to be. I had spent more than half my gasoline so was afraid to explore any more, and neither was I prepared to change into my trunks for I hated the thought of moving on with sand everywhere. So, having achieved nothing, gotten nowhere, for Barra da Marica is indeed nowhere, I decided to return home. Fortunately, the return journey held some magic.
Even the journey from Barra da Marica proper was lovely, the road passing between two lakes, and over a bridge connecting them. The lakesides are hilly with pretty houses occasionally perched between the trees. I tried to imagine why the Lake District was so beautiful; this had charm but no one ever talked about the lakes of Marica, and there were relatively few houses round about. In Marica, a festival was under way. Not an old one but a very modern one, sponsored by Banco do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. BANERJ bunting was everywhere; every other person was wearing a BANERJ t-shirt; and even the actors and clowns on the outdoor stage were spouting BANERJ this and that every now and then. It seemed like the whole town had come out to enjoy the change that a BANERJ day brought. I took photos of the tiny children playing under the stage, of an adolescent couple kissing on the steps of a church, of a jeep decked out with many plants and several animals. All these people I thought are going to choose BANERJ when the time comes to have a bank - and why shouldn’t a bank sponsor such events. I wondered why it wouldn’t work in the UK. The bank the people have chosen - and why not.
While I’m on the subject of Brizola, here is an aside. I visited the University of the Estado do Rio de Janeiro last week (UERJ) to collect some research on homeopathy. It was one step removed from derelict. First of all, the complex is like a labyrinth and ugly as sin; and, secondly, all the lecture rooms I could see on a number of levels were all empty - odd people sat in bare rooms, at desks writing, or counting copies. The photocopy room had no ink supplies, so my copy of the report is barely legible, and I had to pay for it. There is no decoration, paint has not been seen for a decade, etc. It occurred to me that this is because, for a politician such as Brizola, there is more vote-catching per cruzado in the building of infant schools (the much publicised ones) as parents have something tangible to vote for when they see children going to school. The middle classes who have their adult children go to UERJ are, first of all, a minority of the votes, and secondly are likely to be little influenced by tales of poor resources for their adult children. It is clearly right to educate as many infants as possible - but at what cost?
Let me put this aside by, and continue with my ride.
Driving a car, it is easier to stop, get out, and take a photo, than on the moto. On the moto, I have to unwrap the satchel from the ties and withdraw the camera. Thus laziness, an unwillingness to turn about, difficulties in turning off the road - the moto is swept along by the storm of traffic - all conspire to inhibit the spontaneous photo. On the way back, I did stop once - the low sun shone brilliantly across a small saw mill, and the piles of burnt sienna coloured wood and cuttings. By the time I’d wheeled around, stopped, and withdrawn the camera, the sun had partially dipped below the hills attenuating the previously brilliant colours.
But, riding back over the Rio-Niteroi bridge was special. It was like diving into the golden quick at first, the quick golden spreading out all over the bay, gilding the anchored tankers and chimneys of outlying peninsula factories. Then, as the bridge veered away so the sun sank behind the ports, the cranes, the stock houses, the hills and favelas of the zona norte turning them all into picture-book silhouettes. Driving into Rio with the dusk rays gliding (gilding!) me on, I could watch how the impressive city of so many turns, ups and downs, so many hills and churches, so many structures conspiring to fill all the available spaces, were all softened into pinks and creams as though all of the life was the same picture book of rosy scenes from which the silhouettes had been cut for fun and style.
The eve of my 34th birthday. I was never in my life so lonely so without confidantes as now. A poor show I’m putting on, I must say. Maria furtively cooks something special. She alone celebrates my birthday.
DIARY 31: May-August 1986
28 May 1986
Since the weekend there has been a powerful, heady scent filling the night streets of Rio. It possesses a potent sweetness. Riding on the motorbike, I move in and out of clouds of this smell, no other odour ever settles so completely as this. It is as though the odour were given to the night as the sun gives light to the day; and where there is no odour becomes like a scent-shadow. I have pulled over several times to try and discern from which plant or tree the scent is coming but the street lights are so piercing I haven’t been able to make out the shrub’s form or content.
In order to kill some time time last night in between lots at the auction (I had just bought a set of E.B. - very exciting - for £60 complete, with its own Art Deco book stand) I went walking around the block. I discovered a small mews with pretty houses, and instead of cars jammed up against the house sides as is usual in mewses, it was full of plants - very pretty. Walking along, I smelt the scent overpowering me. An old lady was standing in her doorway. I asked her if she knew what the scent was or where it was from. She showed neither fear nor surprise at my conversation and led me a few metres along the mews to a yucca type plant, 10 metres high. At the top I could just make out some white flowers. One of her daughters leaning out of the window of the house provided the name: Dama da noite. How perfect. The heavy cheap scent of the prostitute. I was not fully convinced the scent came from the plant but, nevertheless, I accepted an offcut from a smaller plant without flowers (I have it now in water). After the auction was over, I rode home peering into every clump of foliage - and sure enough every place ‘illuminated’ by the scent had the plant and its off-white rather plain flowers. Who needs looks when you’ve got a scent as strong as a drug?
Paul K Lyons
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