Saturday, 22 June 2013

It's A Dog's Life - The Story of One Man's Confederations Cup Boycott

As surely everybody knows by now, Your Life Is An Impossibility spent last year, perhaps the longest of his weary life, living in Goiânia, in the desolate mid-western flatlands of Brazil. For all its many charms (cows, country and western duos, and, um, plastic models of cows), Goiânia is not what one would describe as a footballing hotbed. And as some may have noticed, YLIAI is quite partial to the odd bit of football. Therein lies the rub, caralho, as some old goat once said.

Only the sweet tedium of life in Goiânia can explain the giddiness with which, in December last year, as soon as tickets for the unlovely beast that is the Copa das Confederações went on sale, YLIAI whipped out his credit card (a copper-bottomed bargain at a mere 122% interest p.a.) and promptly handed over the price of a couple of PatekCaliber 89s, all for the pleasure of attending three Confederações games in Belo Horizonte this June.

Ah, what fevered nights YLIAI passed between then and now, fitfully tossing and turning, mind racing as he imagined the treats that lay in store! Perhaps he would see Spain, and their diminutive midfield whizzes! Perhaps he would be treated to the homoerotic joys of those chisel-jawed Italians, not to mention the King of Bahia, the magnificent Mario Balotelli! Perhaps he would get a glimpse of the Seleção itself, and be left wordless by the glorious sight of Hulk´s gigantic gluteus maximus

Not quite. The lottery of life, or FIFA, gave YLIAI not so much the short straw as the raised finger. Tahiti x Nigeria was a laugher in both the literal and idiomatic sense, but once the chuckles had worn off, with only 20,000 rattling gloomily round the Mineirão, it was hardly the stuff of which YLIAI´s dreams are made. Still, YLIAI suspects that compared to the stultifying fare that is likely to be Mexico x Japan today (no offense to this blog’s vast Mexican and Japanese fan base intended), Tahiti x Nigeria will soon come to represent some kind of footballing golden age.

But he will never know, for he (gasp!) shall not be in attendance.

Because in the middle of the tsunami of protests currently sweeping his adopted home, it feels to YLIAI like the Copa das Confederações has been swept away like a house made of straw. Before, the talk of the country’s bar-room bores (and YLIAI proudly counts himself among such ranks) was of Cavani’s luxurious tresses, Pirlo’s sculpted chin, Neymar’s ragamuffin charm and faint whiff of sexual deviancy, and absurdly expensive new football stadiums. Now it is of Feliciano’s faint whiff of sexual deviancy, Calheiros’ sculpted chin, PEC 37’s luxurious tresses, this, and absurdly expensive new football stadiums. 

While YLIAI has enjoyed odd moments of the Confederações, and would even venture to say that the football on display has occasionally been spectacular, it is clear that the rather 40 watt importance of the tournament has been obliterated by the sound and fury in the streets outside the grounds. And even when the stage has been grand, the protests have taken over. The Brazil x Mexico game in Fortaleza was surely more notable for the crowd’s rousing and prolonged signing of the national anthem, than for anything that happened on the pitch (Neymar’s ragamuffin charm and faint whiff of sexual deviancy, and the magnificent beast that is #JôSeleção, aside).

And there’s more. While the urban myths of just what happens when the FIFA alien mothership touches down on the soil of the lucky, lucky country that gets to host a World Cup are legend, not much prepares your common or garden merry luddite football fan (such as YLIAI) for the true claw-the-skin-from-your-face-horror of attending such games.

As previously mentioned, on Monday YLIAI attended the Tahiti x Nigeria game in Belo Horizonte. All started normally enough – the traffic was awful and the driver of the specially laid on “fan bus” got lost and dropped YLIAI and his fellow passengers off in the wrong place. Which was where the fun began. As YLIAI started to walk down Avenida Antonio Carlos in the direction of the stadium, he was prodded in the chest by a surly member of the local municipal guard.

“You can’t walk down this pavement,” he said. The pavement lay enticingly ahead of YLIAI, gleaming, pristine, tantalisingly out of reach.

“Why not?” YLIAI queried.

“You have to walk down that pavement,” the guard said, pointing to the pavement in the middle of the avenue, flanked by three lanes of roaring traffic on either side. This pavement had been fenced off to form a kind of cattle run. The cattle run led onto to a flyover, which curled up and over Antonio Carlos, then descended from a dizzying height to the left, joining Rua Antonio Abrahão Caram, the road that leads to the Mineirão. YLIAI is no mathematician, but he estimated that the cattle run and the flyover, from which there would be no chance of escape until he reached the gates of the stadium itself, looked about twice as long as simply walking down the pavement in front of him, and then turning left.

“Can´t I just walk down here?” YLIAI asked. “It’s a lot quicker.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Just can't.”

No match for such sharp wit, a defeated YLIAI trudged forlornly down the cattle run. And kept on trudging. And trudged some more. In total, it was about 30 minutes of trudging until the Mineirão. And YLIAI is a fast trudger. Along the way, shops, bars and restaurants were shuttered tight, victims of FIFA’s no-fly zone. Not that it would have mattered – YLIAI couldn’t have escaped from the cattle run to buy something even if he’d wanted to.

Still, the Mineirão itself looked pretty spiffy. As did the Emirates Airline stalls (handy if YLIAI had recklessly decided “Tahiti x Nigeria be damned! Fly me to Dubai this instant!”) and a rather alarming Budweiser bar, which looked like a cross between Castle Grayskull and a nuclear warship, and poured forth pumpin’ euro trance as well-dressed youngsters lolled smugly outside. YLIAI considered the idea of sipping on a chilled “Bud” with the peachy skinned young people, and perhaps even “cutting a bit of a rug” to the pumpin´ euro trance, but then thought that perhaps there might be a FIFA spy or two lurking nearby, who would immediately identify YLIAI as a “weird old fart” and eject him from the premises.

For similar reasons, YLIAI thought it best to skip the rather terrifying looking “interactive fan experiences” dotted around the ground, and which looked like good places to lose an eye or two. Instead, he hurried through the airport style metal detectors (“keys and cell phone in the tray please sir”) and on into the stadium. He did not stop for a R$12 beer or a R$10 ice lolly.

Inside the ground, YLIAI was relieved to find things were much like they usually are in Brazilian football – a big rectangle of grass, 22 players, a half empty stadium. He also made a mental note to congratulate FIFA on their decision to make all stadium announcements in English first, then in Portuguese. He imagined briefly the cries of “O que significa “Fire! Fire! Please evacuate the stadium immediately?”" from Brazilian fans, the flames licking their boots, as their gringo neighbours clamber over them in the race to escape. Then it was on to the game, which has been previously discussed, if not at great length, then certainly as much as it’s going to be.

Taking all of the above into account, then, YLIAI has decided not to sample the pleasures of today’s fixture. This is however, unlikely to be one of history’s great rebellions. YLIAI is no grotty-bearded activist, no tub-thumping rabble rouser, no great leader of the people like Guevara or Paisley. He is not against the Copa das Confederações per se, and would would even go as far as to say that the World Cup is perhaps a symptom, rather than a direct cause, of Brazilian society’s eternal woes. In fact, if Mexico x Japan didn’t look like being such a turgid affair, he’d probably even go to the game. But with these blowing outside the stadium (YLIAI loves his German soft rock), the idea of spending the afternoon at the FIFA World of Fun Theme Park would seem to be a joke in very bad taste. To wit:

YLIAI (on the streets, chanting Vem Pra Rua! Vem Pra Rua!): “Great protest, companheiro!”

Grotty-bearded political activist/student to YLIAI´s left: “Yeah! Let’s change Brazil!”

YLIAI: “Yeah! But, um, can we do it this evening? It’s just I´ve got to head off to the Mineirão for Mexico x Japan. But I’ll be back later! See ya!”

Not good protesting etiquette, YLIAI imagines.

Afterword: YLIAI has given his ticket away to a friend, who shall remain nameless. In return, the friend will make a R$60 donation to a Belo Horizonte dog’s home. YLIAI, who likes dogs quite a bit more than he likes football, will top up the donation to R$100 (meaning he’s taken quite a financial bath on the whole affair, but hey ho).


Viva La Puppy Revolución!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Times They Are A-Changin' (A-Bit).

Bollocks to the football.

It was always going to take something special to bring Your Life Is An Impossibility out of retirement. A third World War. Santa Cruz winning the Libertadores. The return of Guinness the Dog from the dead (we’ll save that story for another time).

Or more improbable than any of those (the first one excepted), Brazil finally stirring from its torpor, getting its arse off the sofa and its introspective gaze away from the novelas and the futebol, and hitting the streets.

YLIAI doesn’t mind admitting that he’d almost had it with Brazil. This is not an easy statement to make. Eight years. A few million words. Enough memories to last several lifetimes. And at times a love that was both deep and soaring for a country that is somehow simultaneously the best and the worst place in the world. As Fernand Braudel almost said (by way of the immortal Peter Robb), “Brazil made YLIAI intelligent." Or less stupid, anyway. No matter the weariness, hard to throw all that away and head back to chilly, gloomy Norn Iron.

Now though, electroshock paddles have been applied to the YLIAI temples, an adrenalin shot pumped into the YLIAI veins. Hope, as it always does, springs eternal.

By now, everyone must know about the wave of protests sweeping the country. Brazil, and the povo Brasileiro, seem to have awoken. Nobody knows where it will end. The #PasseLivre movement, and the hundred or so other factions involved in the protests, the biggest of which is of course the Brazilian people, have diverse and often confused goals and dreams (the sacking of Castle FIFA, the heads of Feliciano and Calheiros (and maybe even Dilma) on spikes outside the city walls, the quashing of PEC37, reform of the country’s brutish military police, free bus travel, and political change on a massive leve, are just some of them). It is to be hoped that it will not all simply f-f-f-fade away, that a few token gestures by the political establishment (the reducing of bus fares by a couple of centavos, for example), will not cause the movement’s energy to dissipate. Brazil’s problems are bigger than that by several galaxies, as is the potential for change that the protests represent.

The facts of the story have been dealt with in great detail by journalists from Teresina to Tashkent. YLIAI (now a pretend/proper journalist writer himself) will, in time-honoured fashion, take the easy way out with a couple of personal observations, thus:

(1) Now back in stolid old Belo Horizonte, the sticky, sweaty, even occasionally sensual charms of Recife a distant memory, YLIAI has recently made a new friend, a wildly intelligent, socially caring tax lawyer (these varied characteristics are not always mutually exclusive, though they almost always are) who we may call Captain Ahab (this is not his real name). Captain Ahab recently charmed the socks off YLIAI and his regionally inclusive soul by saying that the Copa do Mundo, for all its many faults, would at least make Brazil “one country for the first time”, in that snooty Paulistas and Cariocas would have to acknowledge that places like Cuiabá and Manaus actually existed, by watching World Cup games from said outposts. Captain Ahab, however, was just plain wrong. The protests have beaten the World Cup to it, and in a far more profound fashion, by making Brazil’s hideously divided society (rich: shopping malls+4x4s+condomiums+clubes / poor: favelas/buses/bars with dead rats in the toilets) almost whole. The manifestantes, it seems, are black and brown kids from the periferia, whiter than goat’s milk playboyzinhos from the walled apartment buildings, student political leaders and chancers, history and literature professors, not to mention those just along for the ride and to post photos of themselves on Instagram (eu estava lá!). In Brazil, this in itself is truly a marvellous thing.

An anecdote. Yesterday lunchtime YLIAI was chomping down some torresmo and feijão tropeiro at a restaurant in BH’s leafy Savassi neighbourhood (living in Minas does nothing for one’s waistline). A big TV blared images of the local police shock troops, surprisingly terrified of a bunch of scrawny/podgy students, chucking tear gas and rubber bullets around and generally beating seven bells out of said scrawny/podgy students. A sharp-suited lawyer, sporting de rigueur wrap around shades (not Captain Ahab), wandered past. Seeing the alarming images on the TV, he paused. Stared. “Fucking bastards,” he said (referring to the police, not the protesters). Not marginais (the standard war cry of the Brazilian privileged classes). Not Brasil não tem educação (“bunch of bloody savages in Brazil”, to translate with the heart, rather than the head). The sharp-suited lawyer and the unwashed masses in joyful congress. Not since the days of the caras pintadas (if even then) has such a phenomenon existed.

(2) TV Globo. Ah, where to begin? (one might start with the last post on YLIAI, almost eighteen months ago). TV Globo is the undetected cancer of Brazilian society, the cheap mouthwash for the mind that keeps the country and its citizens hypnotized in a state of slack-jawed, drooling imbecility. The fifth (at least it used to be, last time YLIAI heard) biggest TV network in the world, as rich as the pharaohs, and purveyor of at least eighteen hours of mind rotting, morally and intellectually bankrupt trash per day. Excluding Big Brother Brasil (which makes its British equivalent look like In Our Time), YLIAI’s favourite Globo segment is Sunday afternoon, when Esquenta! (gurning, deeply unpleasant female TV presenter screams things like what a party!, come on guys!, and woo-hoo! at a studio audience seemingly hopped on ketamine) is followed by Domingão with Faustão (gurning, deeply unpleasant male TV presenter screams things like what a party!, come on guys!, and woo-hoo! at a studio audience seemingly hopped on ketamine). Globo has never knowingly broadcast any intellectual content of any description, other than hard hitting documentary series Globo Reporter, which makes This Morning with Richard and Judy look like Woodward and Bernstein. A didactic aside to o povo brasileiro – next time you feel like saying “the problem in Brazil is a lack of education,” remember that education doesn’t just happen in schools. It can also occasionally, magically, come from that box in the corner of the room (though not often, admittedly).

YLIAI digresses. Last night, the Globo news (probably the least spine-chilling program on the network – YLIAI will even admit to having a soft spot for the Posh and Becks of Brazilian news reading, William and Fátima. Of course, Globo had to then go and split them up) covered the protests in São Paulo. The journalist-on-the-spot mentioned that some of the protesters had (shock horror) been shouting rude words, some of which were foda-se (“away and feck yourself”) and Globo. Cut to the studio. Earnest, toothsomely attractive newsreader Patricia Poeta (Patricia the Poet, no less) turned to camera. “Now listen,” she said, suddenly the stern spinsterly schoolmarm, “TV Globo has been reporting on the demonstrations since the beginning, and has hidden nothing: we’ve shown the police brutality, the #PasseLivre demands, the peaceful nature of the protests, plus of course the vandalism. It’s our duty. The right to protest and demonstrate peacefully is the right of every citizen.” Or something like that. YLIAI can’t quite remember exactly, though such a defence of journalistic honesty and integrity did make him recall the immortal Peter Robb’s (again) account of Roberto Marinho and Globo’s sinister meddling in the 1989 Lula-Collor elections. Still, the message was clear. Globo isn’t calling anyone vandals or hooligans (though they had earlier, several times). Globo understands the protesters. Globo cares.

YLIAI retired for the night and lay awake, pondering what he had seen. Could it be that Globo was, well, bottling it? Abandoning its normally stout championing of Brazil’s upper middle classes, and its contempt for the country's poor? Like the sharp-suited lawyer, there was no shrieking “marginais!” here. Did Globo believe something big was happening? Was Globo concerned that the trendy left wing liberal gringo press had its eye trained on Brazil, and that it wouldn’t be too clever to be seen to be aligning itself with the side of police brutality, political corruption, and (Everybody Hates) FIFA?

Globo (almost) apologising. Asking for acceptance? It felt like an historic moment. In his grave, Roberto Marinho was probably spinning wildly.

There is much more to be said, but YLIAI is tired and wants to go to bed, and has already said more than enough. Maybe he will be back. It feels like there is much more to come. Perhaps the Brazilian people will turn their backs on the novelas and the rest for good, and make their voices heard, not just now, but permanently. Perhaps the rancid colossi that stand astride the Brazilian political landscape, from Feliciano (the gay cure! The Curse of Ham! Oh Marco, with such treats you are really spoiling us!), to Calheiros, to noxious whiskey priest Jose Marin, will be toppled. Perhaps, the bus companies really will bring their fares down by 20c.

YLIAI dares to dream.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

As Goiânia, for all its bounteous wonders, is a city that provides all the literary thrills and spills of Nuneaton, this blog is currently on hold (and has been for some time). It may return one day (though it probably won`t).

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Television, The Drug of The Nation

Back when Your Life Is An Impossibility was a strapping young buck of a blog, and not the shrivelled, empty husk you see before you today, the suggestion was mooted that all this wandering around in search of so-called “real life” (drinking in dingy bars in downtown Recife, risking life and limb on lunatic footballing jaunts across the country, involving oneself in relationships with the womenfolk of a string of nefarious ne’er-do-wells) was all a bit of a waste of time, and that the only thing you really needed to do to understand the beating heart and soul of a place was to tune into local FM “yoof” radio.

YLIAI now feels pretty ashamed about writing such foolishness. Of course listening to local FM “yoof” radio is no way to really grasp the cultural identity of a country or city. What is, however, is TV.

TV! Funny, really, how our lives, our histories, are shadowed by TV. For example, and speaking of ashamed, YLIAI, had his Neighbours years, several decades ago. Then his Brookside years. Then, when he finally wised, up, his Cheers years, and his NYPD Blue years, and his ER years, and his Sopranos years, and his Mad Men years. Each of these programmes, if YLIAI concentrates hard enough, conjures up a time, a place, a job, a living room, a sofa, someone on the sofa for company (or even better, blissful solitude).

Now, it seems, after ducking it for the best part of six years, YLIAI is living through his Brazilian TV years. More specifically, his Globo years. And branded into his mind forever, probably, will be the place, Goiania (sob), and the someone(s) on the sofa for company, Francis Begbie and Flup, the idiot Pekingese.  

First up is that world of hard hitting social drama, the Brazilian novela. Fina Estampa, to be exact, which involves a dizzying array of people (all of them upper middle class if not filthy rich, most of them fairly physically attractive, perhaps the novelas single saving grace) involving themselves in shenanigans of a sexual, financial, familial or criminal nature. It’s a bit like Dallas or Dynasty remade for the 21st century, without the gritty realism.

But wait. That’s not entirely fair. Fina Estampa, in fact, contains dollops of gritty realism. Only it’s gritty realism of an upper middle class Brazilian stripe, and therefore not immediately recognisable as such.

Exhibit A: The middle aged, though still relatively glamorous, psychiatrist Danielle goes to a party in a motorbike shop (why is not really explained). There she is approached by strapping hunk Enzo (who serves no particular purpose other than being a strapping hunk). Danielle rejects Enzo’s advances, and heads for home. Enzo follows Danielle, and in the street, tries his luck again. Danielle tells him firmly where to go. Enzo tells Danielle that “he knows what she needs”, and forces a rather aggressive kiss on her botoxed lips. 

Danielle flees to her office, nearby, to compose herself. Visibly shaken, after a moment’s reflection, she realises that despite being an intelligent and successful woman, what she really needs to fill the gaping hole in her life is a bit of Enzo action. She rings down and releases the door to the building. The rather cocksure Enzo, lounging against a nearby tree, springs into action and rushes upstairs. Steamy lovemaking in the style of 1980s Hollywood blockbusters featuring Michael Douglas or Alec Baldwin ensues. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: if she says no, pin her against the wall in a dark alley and force yourself upon her. She’ll soon realise that she really wants it.

Exhibit B: Plucky lower middle class (she is described in the publicity material as "poor", but isn't really) heroine Grizelda wins the lottery. She then buys a nice house in an upper middle class gated condominium complex. The neighbours in the upper middle class gated condominium complex make it very clear that people of Grizelda’s ilk are not at all welcome as neighbours. Also, Grizelda’s teenage daughter, Amália, is almost burnt to death in a house fire, before almost dying in a car crash because someone has planted a snake in her car. Grizelda’s son Quinzé is poisoned and falls into a swimming pool, where he almost dies. Grizelda falls in love, then has her heart broken, by dashing restaurateur René. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: Poor folk, know thy place. Social mobility is A Very Bad Thing.

So much for novelas. What could provide a better snapshot of modern Brazilian social mores than Big Brother Brasil? Not much, as long as the modern Brazil you’re looking to discover does not involve any part of the norte, nordeste or centro-oeste of the country – apart from one, lonely, mato-grossense, trapped amongst all the southerners, and referred to continually as “the hick”, and a token Baiana, who didn’t last longer than the first few weeks.

Big Brother Brasil is also prohibited by federal law from including any of the poorer 90% of the Brazilian population, as the ever alert Globo quickly realised that whenever poor Brazilians were allowed in, they tended to win any public votes by a landslide, as well as generally looking a bit scruffy among all the sleekly beautiful people in the house.

There was a black chap on the show for a while (it is not known how he sneaked past security) but he was expelled from the house following a rape scandal, during which, while paralytically drunk, he seemed to be enjoying himself a little too much under the covers with a sleeping, and also paralytically drunk, toothsome female housemate. The case looks destined to end in court, although it seems that Globo, who supplied the copious amounts of alcohol imbibed by the pair, and a single bed for them both to sleep in, as well as asking the female contestants things like “do you like sex? Do you? How much do you like it?” during the first episode, will not be on the stand. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: By God things would be much better in Brazil if everyone was white, upper middle class and from the sul and sudeste. The rest of you are just bloody savages.   

The problem is that YLIAI doesn’t have much interest in what playboyzinhos and patricinhas from Florianopolis, Curitiba and São Paulo get up to in their scanties (well he does, but that’s another story for another time). But wait. What’s this? A Justiceira De Olinda, a drama about love and betrayal, from Pernambuco, and starring Juliana Paes? What fun!

The epically bosomed Janaína is married to Anderson. She spots Anderson cavorting in the kitchen of a blonde neighbour. Horrified, she proceeds to cut off Anderson’s penis with a big knife. It then transpires that the blonde neighbour was in fact Janaína’s friend (played by the genuinely wonderful Leona Cavalli, star of YLIAI’s favourite ever Brazilian film, Amarelo Mango) and the pair were merely planning a surprise party for Janaína’s birthday. Janaína and friend rush Anderson to hospital where his penis is sewn back on.

A few weeks later, Anderson is ready for action. And imagine our couple’s joy when they discover that Anderson’s rather puny member has been accidentally replaced by a much bigger piece of equipment! The final scene shows another woman, in another bedroom in Olinda, discovering that her husband, presumably also back from the hospital, now has a much smaller penis. That this couple are black is surely mere coincidence. What a hilarious mix up, etc. Globo’s message to the people of Brazil: In the nordeste, the only thing that people really worry about is booze, football and cuckoldry. Also, all black men have really big knobs.

YLIAI feels sad. He wanted to like Globo, he really did. But he has no choice. He’s going to have to change channels. Things will be better on the other side, he’s sure of it. What’s this? O Melhor do Brasil with Rodrigo Faro, on Record? Looks like fun. Seems to be a man, blacked up in Black and White Minstrel Show fashion, dancing the Rebolation. He is surrounded by dwarves, also blacked up, also dancing the Rebolation. YLIAI starts to feel a bit sick.

Still, over on Band, there’s some proper crime reporting going on. This should be good. Brasil Urgente, with José Luiz Dantena. And it is. All manner of bloody corpses are dragged across the screen for our viewing pleasure. Mr Dantena is apoplectic. What kind of a country is this? and What barbarism!, he roars over and over. He also, finally, provides just the kind of philosophical sustenance that YLIAI’s troubled soul has been seeking.

Reporting upon the murder of a woman by her businessman husband, who then killed himself, in Minas Gerais, Dantena ponders the meaning of life, the universe and everything. What barbarism! What kind of a country is this? I mean, if you’re going to kill yourself anyway, what’s the point of killing the missus first? It’s not like she’s going to bother you anymore, is it? You’ll be dead anyway, you muppet! Next time, leave the missus alone, and just top yourself!

Quite right, says YLIAI.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

While Noise Noise Noise Noise Muito Noise (Pernambuco Gypsy et al, Caravan Press, 2011) has become the established work on the subject of the deafening bloody racket that is an essential part of life in modern Brazil, a number of recent developments make a further study of the topic worthwhile.

To begin, while there are many that believe the growth of the Brazilian economy is a good thing, in that it has, in theory at least, reduced poverty, meant that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians no longer go to bed hungry, and allowed increased social mobility for members of social classes C and D, Your Life Is An Impossibility does not agree. As far as YLIAI can see, the only real consequence of the improved financial status of millions of Brazilians is that every bastard in the country, glorious or otherwise, can now afford to pack their jalopies with several thousand watts worth of amplifiers, tweeters, woofers, sub woofers and super woofers. In Goiania that can only mean one thing – the blasting of weepingly awful musica sertaneja at teeth rattling, window shattering volumes, 24 hours a day. Ordem e progresso this is defiantly not.

The experience of co-habiting with Francis Begbie has provided further insight into the troubling relationship between Brazil and din. Francis Begbie is Brazilian. Francis Begbie likes to watch television. Which means YLIAI also has to like to watch television. Which is fine, except that Brazilian television is very loud. The choice of programming includes:

Sub Ant and Dec style entertainment shows, which almost always involve drag queens, midgets (chucked or otherwise), a bellowing presenter, a screaming audience and a continuous, terrible musical assault upon the ears (O Melhor Do Brasil is a fine example);

Films, generally sired by Hollywood, almost always of the action genre. Nicholas Cage, Steven Seagal and The Rock appear a great deal on Brazilian television. YLIAI imagines TV Globo executives in their content acquisition meetings, running a finger down their list of essential requirements. Deafening explosion every 30 seconds? Check! 15 tyre-squealing car chases per film? Check! Repeated use of machine gun fire? Check!

Even that staple of Brazilian television, the novela, is no exception. Aside from the endless swooping violins that tell the audience whether a scene is intended to be (a) dramatic, (b) sad, or (c) happy, there will be at least two or three characters in the novela who spend most of their time shouting, presumably for theatrical effect (Tereza Cristina in Fina Estampa is the current leader of the pack). They are, for some reason, usually the villains, which is perhaps in itself a lesson: happy people don’t shout.

YLIAI wonders what the effect of all this noise is. To be sure, it is part of that admirably vibrant, chaotic Brazilian oral culture, where everyone talks all the time, and when they talk at the same time they talk over each other, and barroom arguments are won by whoever can shout the loudest for the longest. This is not such a bad thing, really, though it can often feel like it to sensitive gringo ears.

But maybe there is a negative side too. For in the midst of such a cacophony it is hard not to feel as though someone with rather rough hands and unmanicured nails is squeezing very hard on the sides of your head. As the sertaneja and the novelas and the Michel Telós (and wherever you are in the world, prepare yourself, because it’s coming your way soon, if it hasn’t already) and the explosions and the machine gun fire and the squealing tyres and the screaming audience and the bellowing presenter all rage around YLIAI, it strikes him that of all the corners of God’s, or Bono’s (whoever’s winning these days) garden, this might not be the best spot for introspection, profound thinking, philosophical study or the writing of great works of literature.

Maybe it’s not everywhere. Maybe it's just YLIAI’s current flat in the not entirely salubrious surroundings of Vila Nova, Goiania. Rivers of seemingly formless conversation and a selection of odd knocking noises rumble down from the apartment upstairs. Packs of wild dogs howl in the street. A car roars past every 2-5 seconds. The electric gate leading into the garage whirrs open and clangs shut, whirrs open and clangs shut. Francis Begbie turns on the television.

YLIAI puts his hands over his face and opens his mouth wide in a long, silent scream.       
  

Monday, 2 January 2012

Your Life Is An Impossibility`s New Year’s Eve is spent in the only way New Year’s Eve should be spent – in torrential rain, watching a duplo sertanejo, in the main square of the otherwise picturesque town of Goiás Velha. Hunger spasms wrack the YLIAI belly – all the bars and restaurants closed at 10pm, meaning the only food on offer now is grilled cat kebabs served by men with blackened fingernails. Things look up when YLIA finds a booze stand flogging whopper shots of Johnny Walker Red Label (what passes for fine whiskey in these parts) for the pittance of R$7. But the allegedly straight Johnny Walker Red Label smells of oranges and tastes like one of those radioactive mixed fruit citrus drinks that make children’s skin turn yellow. YLIAI suspects that the virginal status of the whiskey bottle may not have survived the journey from distillery to booze stand intact.

Still, Francis Begbie is a fine companion for this or any other occasion, and the patter fairly pelts along. The local radio DJ up on the sodden stage thanks someone called Vilas Boas for his part in organizing the show. YLIAI amuses Francis Begbie by telling her that the manager of Chelsea Football Club is also called Vilas Boas, but as a Portugeezer his name must be pronounced Vilash Boash.  Francis Begbie hunts for paper and pen so as to prevent this pearl from ever slipping from memory. The influence, or otherwise of Shakespeare’s sonnets on the lyrics of current Brazilian smash hit Ai Se Eu Te Pego (delicía, delicía, assim você me mata, ai se eu te pego/ooh baby, ooh baby, you’re driving me nuts, oooh when I get my paws on you….) is analysed in some detail.

Eventually shelter is taken from the storm behind the kiosk of the corrupter of young whiskeys. The only other punter there is a snail the size of a pony, leaving plenty of space to watch the self-dubbed most shameless duplo sertanejo in Brazil, Cesar & Alessandro. It’s an impressive title, given that even being a duplo sertanejo in the first place surely requires one to be sem vergonha in spades. YLIAI can recommend C&A tune Posto Da Gasolina, or Petrol Station, about why a petrol station is a really good place to pick up chicks.

The New Year is greeted in typical style by the kind of magic and miracles that even YLIA’s godless heart can appreciate, or in other words, fireworks. How original, YLIAI scoffs at the beginning, as he always does, but soon he is oohing and aahing with the best of them, the charms of a bounteous harvest of leggy goianiense youth squeezed into their best, most spray-painted-on, reveillon glad rags forgotten, just for a few moments.

And what of the centro-oeste? First impressions, after almost three months, are not entirely favourable. Not that the jewel of the mid-west, Goiânia, is such a bad place. Nowhere where the eating not only of breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also of jantinha, or little dinner, is compulsory, can be entirely bad. It is a middle-class-ish kind of city – few vertiginous favelas, none of Recife’s river or swamp side shanties. On an evening stroll out to the village-in-upstate-New-England charms of Jaó, Francis Begbie takes a wrong turn, and our pair end up in a grotty neighbourhood down near the abandoned railway line. This is one of the favelas, whispers Francis Begbie, eyes even more saucer-like than usual, which is saying something. Gadzooks, cries YLIAI, if this was in Recife it would be the most expensive square on the Monopolio board!  An exaggeration, to be fair, but it’s true to say that even the very worst Goiânia has to offer remains more Jardim São Paulo than Coque.

The red earth of the dry season has turned into red mud now the rains are here, and Goiânia has a muddy feel to it in every sense. This may be a nicer place to live than Recife, in some ways – better roads, less flooding when it rains, less harum scarum street kids hanging off buses, less people getting shot every day. Goiânia boasted a new personal best in 2011, with 444 murders by November, a figure that again had Francis Begbie reeling in extra-wide-eyed horror, while YLIAI chuckled at the feeble efforts of the sertanejo loving baddies: until the admirable progress of the last couple of years, 4,000 homicidios would be a quiet year for the Recife death toll.

But, and herein lies the rubber bullet, Goiânia is not an exciting place to live. When the Dark Lords of the Sith at TV Globo go spinning around Brazil for their New Year’s Eve round up, there’s Avenida Paulista up on the screen, and Copacabana, and the Farol da Barra, and Boa Viagem, and a stage in front of some charmless chunk of Niemeyer in Brasilia, and even Praça Da Estação in Belo Horizonte, but no Goiânia.  When the World Cup winning tickets were handed out, the aforementioned usual suspects were all there, slapping each other on the back, along with Porto Alegre and Curitiba, Natal and Fortaleza and Manaus, and even bloody Campo Grande, for Dilma’s sake, but no Goiânia. Come carnaval, Brazil will flood to Olinda and Salvador and Rio and Ouro Preto and the rest, while Goianienses abandon their capital in droves.

There are works of art here, to be fair. The public transport system is a marvellous recreation of last century pre-privatisation slackness: buses are late, ancient and always packed. A plus is the food, which knocks Recife’s namby pamby fishiness into a cocked hat – feijão tropeiro is a marvel of Brazilian culture the equal of any of Machado De Assis’ scribblings or Tom Jobim’s noodling.  A negative might the people, though of course it's very, very, very wrong to generalise in such a way. But what the hell. The locals are a guarded bunch, compared to the nordestino's back-slapping chuminess, and on the surface at least, slumped outside bars while the ever present musica sertanej bawls from a nearby car stereo, unlikely to be forming any centro-oeste Algonquin round tables in the near future. The countryside outside the city is pleasanter than the bumpy agreste of Pernambuco, though not as haunting as the sertão. Historic towns such as Goias Velha and Pirenopolis are fine, romantic places to spend a weekend. And, of course, there is the leggy goianiense youth…

But there is nothing to take the breath away, nothing to make the heart soar. Nothing as exhilarating as Arruda filled with 60,000 lost souls, nothing as goosebumping as all those people and all that booze streaming up and down the ladeiras of Olinda during carnaval. Nothing as poetically evocative as the sun setting behind the church in the Patio Santa Cruz, or the view from a bus careering over the bridge into Pina. Goiânia, Recife’s frumpy and better mannered cousin dressed in smarter clothes, is nice, and there’s nothing much worse than being nice.  

The problem was, YLIAI thought he’d had it with Recife. Thought four years was enough. Thought it was time to settle down into a life of quiet, goianiense boredom. Turns out he was wrong. Turns out absence really does make the cock grow harder, as YLIAI’s new literary hero John Cheever would surely have said (metaphorically speaking, and with apologies to more sensitive readers). Only where, now, will it all end?

Friday, 2 December 2011

One of the things Your Life Is An Impossibility misses most about the nordeste is the region`s rich sense of local pride and culture. From the myths and legends of carnaval ,to the rather farfetched idea that Recife B won the Campeonato Brasileiro in 1987, the ghosts of history, both true and imagined, stalk the land.

Even from 2000km away, one name is hard to forget – that of Lampião, the famed robber prince of the sertão. A form of nordestino Robin Hood, Lampião brought terror to the landowners of Pernambuco, Alagoas and beyond during the 1920s and 30s. Despised by the authorities for being a murderer and thief, and for the brutality of his methods, he was lauded by large parts of the population for representing local pride, bravery and honour. Lampião and most of his band of cangaceiros, including his lover Maria Bonita, were slaughtered by police in 1938. Their heads were cut off (Maria Bonita was decapitated while still alive) and paraded publicly as trophies.

But YLIAI has happy news for the good people of the sertão, and beyond. Lampião rides again! At least the robbing and thieving part. Less so, the local pride, bravery and honour.  

YLIAI first realised that the spirit of Lampião was alive when dealing with Brazil`s Leading Telephone Company and Internet Provider. The company cannot be named for legal reasons, but we`ll call them Oi. The first signs of banditry came a few months ago. YLIAI, a customer of said company for over four years and nearing the end of his contract, decided to transfer his hard earned loyalty points to another loyalty scheme, as he is apparently entitled to do. No problem, he was informed by BLTCIP. The transfer was soon complete. It was only at the very end of the process that BLTCIP put a gun to YLIAI`s fevered brow and demanded a taxa de adesão, or an administration charge, of R$20, for the internet based, fully automated transfer. As with all the best swindling, YLIAI had to doff his cap to BLTCIP`s derring-do.

Derring-do indeed. Undeterred by the thought of capture, our modern day cangaceiro was soon back at the scene of the crime, demanding further tribute. And what an inventive golpe it was. BLTCIP, when contracted as an internet provider, provide free home installation, and even a free modem. What they don`t provide (and why would they?), is free liberação, and everyone knows an unliberated internet is just no fun at all. R$15 for liberação, muttered the sinister voice on the telephone. It was the kind of voice which implied violence. YLIAI could almost feel the cold steel of the pistol on his forehead.

It was only later that a reeling YLIAI discovered that it wasn`t even BLTCIP doing the robbing! It was one of BLTCIP`s trusty lieutenants, a third party internet provider who again can`t be named for legal reasons, but who we`ll call Terra, to whom BLTCIP had given YLIAI`s number! Dastardly!

And suddenly, the charming rogues were everywhere. Another of Brazil`s upstanding telephone companies, whose proper name again cannot be used here, but who we`ll call TIM, put YLIAI very much in mind of Maria Bonita, the Juliet to Lampião`s Romeo. Unlimited 3G internet, screams Maria`s flashy blue advertising campaign. Unlimited! Caramba! YLIAI is hooked. And sure enough for the first five clicks of the mouse things zip along speedily enough. Then there comes a brring, brring sound, telling YLIAI he has received a message from Maria. Maria`s internet service is unlimited, says the message, but you`ve reached your daily limit, and so your access speed will be reduced until tomorrow. Sure enough, it takes YLIAI a good twenty minutes to open his favourite website, www.cooltinyspeedostowearatthebeach.com.br

He calls Maria, explains his frustration, and is told with chilling logic that presumably makes sense to someone, somewhere, that Maria`s 3G internet access is unlimited, and if you think about it, it`s just the velocity that might not be.

YLIAI weeps. He releases a great howl of frustration. They`ve taken me for everything I`ve got, he cries, and worse is to come. Creeping through the shadows towards him he can see the cable TV company, and the electricity company, and the vehicle licensing bureau, and….

He resolves to act. Only one man can help. Papers clutched in his sweaty little hand, he runs as fast as he can to the offices of PROCON, the Dark Night of modern day Brazil, here to protect the citizens of Gothania from vagabonds such as Lampião and Maria Bonita.

But as he gets closer he notices the streets are clogged with people, all of them weeping, all of them looking as though they are victims of crime. By the time he can see the building, the crowd is so thick that he can hardly pass. YLIAI looks around with horror, and sees there are thousands of them, all people just like him, all trying to get inside the doors of PROCON, all holding their papers in their sweaty little hands…