PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1984 - NOVEMBER
Saturday 3 November
This morning I watched the cremation of Indira Gandhi, care of Indian television, care of the BBC. How astonishing to see this empress burning into flames on a funeral pyre surrounded by thousands of Hindus dressed in their traditional white costumes. One camera shot showed a close-up of Rajiv with a serious face (but not emotional),his arms folded and smoke rising before him from the funeral pyre. The entire frame was gently distorted by hot air currents. A week after the assassination 1,000 Sikhs are believed to have been killed.
Sunday 4 November
Damp rises dramatically in my bedroom, staining the white-painted wallpaper and encouraging mould. I pull up the floorboards between the shower unit and the wall to discover nothing amiss. Rob suggests the drainpipe might be blocked and water seeping out of the joints into the wall. Down on my knees with untwisted coat-hangar in hand. What a messy job, the entire bottom part of the pipe is blocked solid with rusted flakes. I cannot force the wire through. The pains of owning a house.
Engrossed at work again this week, mostly due to the move to temporary offices in Graften Street. I take over more and more, and surprise myself with my own competence. But on Thursday it became a bit much. On the one hand, I was the only driver of the hired van, on the other, I was the only one who knew how to put the IPT equipment together, and, on the third hand, I was the only person who knew where to put things. Julian came for the day to help and earned himself £35. It all went quite smoothly. The offices are plush with solid but phoney-looking desks and carpeted throughout. A handyman keeps a pot of hot coffee stoking all day, a receptionist answers telephones and delivers telexes, a manager fulfils our every need.
Let me stay at work for a few lines. I finally got round to writing a personal note to Peter Gall, asking him about the possibilities of a job in the New Year. I told Jim, I even gave a copy to him and noted as much in my message to Gall. I said I was still interested in South America but in other jobs too. I told Jim quite firmly that I want a move by the spring.
On Saturday I go to Brazil. Judy and Rob met a Brazilian girl at their friend Consuela's house last weekend. Her name is Livia. Enough said, I went looking for her in Benetton's store in Oxford Street (where I was told she works); but the girl that most filled the description was not Livia and did not know who Livia was. I was undone. I rang Judy who said there was another Benetton store, but time had run away and I never got to go. I will make an effort later this week. I did, however, contact Nelson Lafraia, one time resident of 68 Fordwych Road. He is working at the Brazilian embassy which is how I came to find him. I didn't really think I needed a visa but I thought to look him up. We talked for about half an hour, and he gave me an address in Rio and one in Sao Paolo which might be useful. He has bought a flat in Pond St! and tells me he could never live again like at Fordwych Road. I can't remember.
Mireille writes an easy letter and tests the temperature of the emotional water. She says she didn't expect the time with me to be important but it was - and you, she asks? It is a playful letter and made me feel warm. But the truth is that, in my callous way, I have not thought of her much since she left. She encourages me to come to Switzerland, this I will do.
And Anka writes from Berlin that she comes to London. I will write that I go to Brussels and ask her to dine with me on the 5th.
I saw Luke this week passed, who is being chased; and R&C who came back from India zonked; and R&A who like to know everything that's going on; and Vonny who books me up for Monday.
Why not now. It is 8:30, at least an hour before I need to leave for work. Rob and Judy have already left for work, Andy has not come home, he is rarely here at weekends. The garden looks neat and tidy, because I spent Sunday morning sweeping and finding homes for the bits and pieces lying around and throwing away rubbish.
Last Wednesday, I went to Richard's flat in Covent Garden for a Halloween do. Vonny came dressed to kill, before R and C had left. R's body tensed up dramatically as he watched her arrive, remove her coat and go into the kitchen where C was. I was then posted as guard to advise him when V left the kitchen so that he could rescue C and be gone. There was then an icy encounter between V and R, with R all smiles and V all bitterness. Subsequently, I was put on guard to advise V when the newly-weds had left so that she could relax. You could have cut that atmosphere with a saw-mill. Tonight I am supposed to see V - perhaps we will go to Alexandria Palace.
Last evening at the office, made two phone calls to BA. I rang F to tell her I wasn't going to BA. She was so serious and didn't sound very happy. She kept on talking about the relationship going into a new stage, I really didn't know what she was talking about. I asked her for M's telephone number, and then rang her. What a difference. A conversation full of laughing, shouting, demanding, sparking, as if we'd been together yesterday. How good it was to talk to her. Whereas F was all dark and shadows, M was all sunlight and bright reflections.
Out with Vonny on Monday. We raced to Alexandra Palace for the firework display. How magnificent these dots of fire that climb high into the night sky and then explode in an immense circular plume of glitter and colour and bangs and fizzes lighting up, for a few moments only, an umbrella patch of universe. Although there was a huge crowd as usual trampling the banks of grass below the gutted palace, atmosphere was sadly missing. People did not involve themselves with each firework on its journey. David Keen talks about fireworks like this: 'the people became more like fireworks and the fireworks took on an element of humanity as the party wore on through the evening.' We wanted to express our feelings: hope as the rocket climbed; shock as the explosive created a powerful bang; and wonder as the display revealed itself.
I write to Mireille that I am a firework crackling across the ocean to Brazil.
Saturday night, Madrid airport
This is it! I am really on my way to Brazil. All that scheming, all that manipulating, and finally I am about to board a plane that will take me to Rio de Janeiro. It is close to midnight, tiredness and weariness begins to take over from excitement. Friends and family alike were more excited than I. Judy and Rob treated me as though I was going to be away for 10 months and not 10 days; Mum and Ju rang up to say Bon Voyage and R squeezed an hour's interview with me between other appointments on his day off from Caroline.
Last Wednesday, Bel and I had a most perfect evening. It began with a supper-rapido at 13, but one with style and simplicity. The traffic kept delaying our passage from Kilburn to the Coliseum but with a touch of illegal parking and a sprint we made our balcony seats before the curtain went up. B claims she has never been to the opera before. Her excitement infected me also. Our seats were special, A1 and A2, on the far right of the balcony, so far right in fact they almost disappeared around the corner of the elaborate furnishings. And because we were in the very front row, we had to lean forward, our heads planted on our arms, our arms elbowed along the parapet wall. Below us the stalls were full with opera lovers, the pit bustled with musicians. And the opera itself was magnificent. Neither of us knew the first thing about the plot, although Bel knew some of the music. Everything about the production was marvellous - as claimed by the critics. The violins swept us through the polarity of emotions, from ecstatic joy to suicidal depression. The lead singer, I forget her name, sang with such clarity, although, Rendall, who played Pinkerton, didn't. I hardly ever understood what he was singing. The stage design was fabulous. There were two sets. The first employed a forecourt, a kind of garden strewn with red carnations, symbols of the blood that would flow, in the foreground, and, in the background, a raised platform was used for short tableaus created stunningly in an instant by the switching from side to side of two screens on wheels. The second and third acts used the foreground for the shanty-town home of Butterfly. Stepping stones led across muddy wasteland to a quiet authentic looking turn-of-the-century Japanese slum. The night-long vigil by Butterfly and Suzuki is quite quite moving. Bel would not stop crying. Thumbs up to Puccini and the ENO. It couldn't have been a more complete, enticing, entrancing introduction to opera.
It was a busy week. fireworks on Monday, 'Madame Butterfly' on Wednesday, and Katie Duck with Tish on Tuesday. She will join Shared Experience in the New Year in order to fund raise and find premises for rehearsals and/or shows. If it is seven years since I was in Brazil, it is five since I saw Katie Duck. If I remember correctly I saw her twice. Once at the Cockpit Mime Festival where she did a truly astonishing show. On her own, without any sort of accompaniment, she mimed a young girl's journey to discover what lies beneath her mother's skirt and what it is between her thighs. She climbed right up inside the woman's womb. Quite how she made us believe this journey I don't recall. Then I saw her again in Amsterdam at the Fool's Festival improvising dance. Harold and I both went wild over her. Harold took on her distinctive style - sharp jerky angular movements. She works with a group called Group O in Florence, which like The People Show, spend much time in exploring the relationships between themselves. In general, I dislike this kind of theatre, as overly-indulgent but both The People Show and Group O get away with it, particularly perhaps because they do so with humour and insight and in the contect of other stories. They are, of course, immense differences between The People Show and Group O. With regard to the former, we are interested in the extraordinariness of their interpersonal screw-ups. With Group O it is the commonness of their coming together, boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy that we can identify with, that appeals to us.
On Friday afternoon Peter Gall rang. He offered me a stringer post in Mexico City. How excited I got. Just that he had replied to my request, that he had given it thought and was interested in me. Mexico City. I told a few people, couldn't keep it in. In the evening, I took Bel to Dad's house to look at some carpet he's throwing out. Dad talked non-stop about the failings of Mexico City. Put me right off. I didn't realise Mexico was so corrupt. I have no idea how to deal with corruption. I'm too anglicised, too civilised, I react with pride and arrogance against any hint of corruption.
Monday 12 November, Rio de Janeiro
The Rio Palace is at the furthest end of Copacabana Beach from the centre, at the point of contact with Ipanema beach. My 8th floor room has a balcony which looks out over the bay towards Sugar Loaf. It is just after 7, a military band at the Copacabana fort on the point practises its drum and trumpets. On the tiny pier, a few fishermen cast a line. Dozens of keep-fit fanatics practice arm and leg movements in unison on the beach (reading my journal from 77 when I was last here I wrote about these keep-fit fanatics also). I can hear the persistent wave crash of the sea. It is neither too hot nor too cold to want to close the door to the balcony (five 'to's in one sentence). The cloud denies the crowd the sun, but me I'm happy.
My mind is troubled after one day. I feel insecure with the other McGraw-Hill people here. The bureau chief, Jeff Ryser, is tall dark and very handsome, but I can tell he will be difficult to pin down if I try to find work through him. But I had good contact with Charles Thurston whose been here five years and lived the life I suppose I want to live. And Henry, the stringer in Rio, left me a card with 'Welcome' on it - which warmed me.
Most of yesterday I spent alone - until, that is, I discovered the crew in the bar at about 5:30. The morning was difficult, needing sleep but being unable to find it. I wondered aimlessly here and there without a Cruzeiro in my pocket, unsure, very unsure of what I was doing. I thought with patience I would find a place to buy Cruzeiros much cheaper than the hotel, but, after asking one or two people in the street, it wasn't so easy. Later, Charles told me of a place I can get 3,000 to the dollar - the hotel gives 2,600, it's not even 20% more. And I thought there would be a flourishing black market.
Rio does not disappoint. There is movimento here. On the Copacabana beach dozens of men (ranging from boys to grandfathers) cooperate in pulling in, step by step, inch by inch, a huge net that has been floating in a vast semi-circle (some 200-300 metres wide). Two teams pull the net from the beach and a fishing boat holds the tip of the net out into the sea. How long does it take to pull in? half an hour, an hour I'd say. The beach team each have a waste harness that can fix and unfix easily to the net ropes. As the net gets closer, so the two teams close in on each other and so too do people all along the beach to investigate the catch. The net is pulled in and rolled up on the sand. A young boy tries to extricate a tiny crab from the spider's web of netting. Two or three long spiky fish with large fluorescent blue spots are thrown back towards the sea, the people jump out of the way. How many fish have they caught? Two dozen, four dozen, small ones? It didn't seem a very sizeable catch but was a play enjoyed by all.
Traffic builds up towards chaos, noise drowns out that of the sea. Rain spits down. The beach is peopled by weird orange-mackintoshed litter-collectors.
My hands are still shaking from the quantities of drink that have passed smoothly down my gullet, mostly thanks to the taste of lime. Caiparinha. Sugar cane alcohol, a lot of ice, and bastante pedazos de lima. There's been a beer or two and an occasional whisky. Now my head is clearing, the evil influences are gone and I have to get down to the business of being a tourist. I try not to feel guilty that I learnt nothing news-shattering at the conference, however I take courage from the fact that my ICIS competitor did not even attempt to go to the conference and that Jeff Ryser also did sweet FA for two days. The sales guys looked like they were time-wasters too but, by the end of today, I think they will have done some significant business.
To backtrack to Sunday, and the botanical gardens. So far I have taken half a roll of film, and all of it in the gardens with Bel in mind. What has that woman done to me - the first place I visit is the gardens. Of course, they are as different from Kew as an oak is from a palm. For a start they are lusciously tropical. Moreover, all plants here are big; the smallest ones are the size of my shrubs. To one side, there is a long path lined with palms that have trunks slimmer and taller than telegraph poles, with a few branches at the top. Very majestic. One huge pink flower, the size of a boxer's fist, not dissimilar in form to the head of a red hot poker, attracted my attention. I took a photo (using the close-up facility on my camera which I've only just discovered) and just as I was taking it, an exotic humming bird hovered right by the flower, poking it with a nectar-sucking beak. Perfectly posed for Paul! What a haven of tranquillity. Curled up on benches, I found lovers stroking each others' hair; sitting by the lakeside, pairs of young girls talked about their dreams.
A few hundred metres down the road from the gardens, I was entranced by imposing looking white buildings. I approached one gateway to be refused entry and then at the next was asked to buy a ticket - C300 or 7-8 pence. How could I refuse. Once through the architecture, I found a huge open space, an entire race track, with Rio's hills and Corcovado providing a superb backdrop. It was quite surreal.
The streets of Copacabana are all lined with luxurious greenery. Some of the buildings appear to have burst open with an explosion of plants; they crawl down from the balconies, cling to walls. Along one street, caged birds were hung as though they belonged just like all the exotic flora.
I must document the changing moods of my relationship with Ryser, for it is almost certainly up to him whether or not I might replace Charlie Thurston (who is leaving soon) as the full-time McGraw-Hill stringer in Sao Paulo. The story is not simple, and Ryser is a bit slippery. I know Charlie wants to pull out of Brazil. Jeff knows I know. Jeff knows I want in to Brazil, but that Gall has asked me about Mexico City. I find out that Gall has asked Ryser to encourage me towards Mexico, but that Ryser told Gall to prepare himself for a negative reaction. Nevertheless when Ryser and I were left alone for 10 minutes, after a manic cascade of joking and anecdotes with a group of other, he again tried to sell me Mexico City. I raised a hand in objection. He then asked me questions about me - like an interview!
What shall I say about the night life here in Rio? There's an astonishing world at the other end of the Copacabana beach, in the precincts of the Meridian Hotel. The world of the 'boite', each one with an array of neon lights and photographs, and a well-dressed doorman. As you walk past, he steps across the pavement, hindering your passage. A long arm tries to sweeps you into the doorway; a grin fills his face. Down a few stairs, one finds a bar and crowded tables and chairs, and a small stage on which various things happen, from sex acts to normal dancing. Once in, it's hard to get away alone, the stimulation is extraordinary: gyrating bodies of teenagers dressed in very little, topless girls who sit on your lap and let you kiss them, touch them. At Barbarella's, where Charles took me, it felt more sophisticated. You had to actually try and pick the girls up, however easy that was in practice. You could almost imagine the place was a real disco, and the girls just out to have a good time, not find punters.
Saturday, Sao Paulo
In Sao Paulo with Ryser and Thurston again. For 12 hours we don't stop drinking. Quite why I am so sober and clear-headed this morning, I don't know. Flying from Rio to Sao Paulo is a truly mind-fucking experience. Rio de Janeiro is the most lovely city in the world when viewed from the air. Neither Sydney nor Capetown can rival it for sheer variety and texture. This is hard, I don't have the words. Scattered through deep blue sea are hundreds of green and rocky-topped islands and peninsulas connected, as if in a children's join-the-dots picture, by beaches of white and yellow-white sands. Nestling between the flat and the hilly is the city filling all the gaps with all types of buildings - mostly small, at least so it seems from the air. But Copacabana, for example, has, along its 5km length, a remarkable consistency of building height which is enchanting. Sao Paulo, by contrast, has no texture from the air, no greenery, no breathing spaces. It is an extraordinary uniformity of white concrete spreading out further than the eye can see in every direction from thousands of feet above in the air. As the plane races in towards the runway, it becomes apparent that all the flatness is made up of tens of thousands of skyscrapers, Tens of thousands of skyscrapers!
Sunday, Sao Paulo
Charlie's house is large and bare. He rents it for $200 a month and shares it with a Belgian called Jo who runs a Speakeasy Bar in Les Jardins. For $50 a month a maid lives in, in her own quarters and discreetly appears whenever there is no one around to clean and tidy up. Charlie hasn't gotten round to buying too much furniture yet. But around the walls and on the shelves are a variety of pleasing artefacts, from the northeast. There is a small garden complete with fish pond and terrapin, rabbit, chickens and a bright blue and yellow macaw. Many of the house plants are familiar ferns, rubber plants and palms.
Fatima, pronounced Fachima, came along with Monica to meet us at Jo's. to make a foursome with Charlie and me. We left straight away for the Poof. This is a doughnut shaped bar on the 22nd floor with a small but not too loud discotheque. It has a stunning panoramic view of Sao Paulo which is apt to hypnotise after a few caiparinhas. Monica is a bit of a jet setter, and she was comfortable socialising with Charlie and others in the bar. Fatima, on the other hand, who is younger, more beautiful, less secure was left to me. At the start of the evening, she complained - like a spoilt child - that I didn't speak Portuguese. She had a point: communication all evening was excruciatingly difficult. She was worth the difficulties, though, with her beautiful dark northern skin and intense brown eyes. Thanks to Charlie she came back with us to his flat, and there he egged me on to take advantage of the princess. I did everything I knew outside of language. We kissed lot, hissingly at times. At times, she would lie with me (on Charlie's waterbed!), hug me, kiss me, then fight me off and say no, then go away for a few minutes, only to return to lie with me again. Eventually she got too drunk, and became unmanageable. That was Friday night and Fatima. Saturday night, C's luck didn't hold with photographer Marcia either. I think I bring him bad luck.
Monday, Sao Paulo
I write to M for the first time in years. I recall the time on Santos beach where I made her run until she fell and wounded her knee. She turned it - the wound - into a symbol of something. 'Halfway to heaven and still running', I tell her.
I must have said goodbye to Jeff at least three times, plus I hammered him at squash (maybe not such a good thing). But, should Charles leave, will he opt for me? The only real advantage in choosing me is my malleability. My Portuguese sucks, my journalistic knowledge is highly specialised and I do not have any freelance experience to speak of. I read a little about Mexico City in the South American handbook, it doesn't sound too bad.
Marcia asked me to take a package to her mother in Rio, which I was glad to do. But the package proved to be unwieldy, and I had to carry it through rain, and worried about it getting wet. But it turned out well because I got to meet her mother and sister (Patricia) who spoke perfect English. In fact I spent Monday evening at their house. Patricia has an eight year old daughter, and while we were watching a Brazilian soap opera, Marilyne's mother rang - four generations. Later I went with Patricia to see 'Erendira', a film of a Marquez short story.
I bought a book with a marvellous collection of Marc Ferrez's photos of Rio taken in the 19th century and early 20th century, and for each one there's a description of where they were taken from. I picked out a dozen which I felt I could try and emulate. So far, I've encountered three serious difficulties. One is that Corcovado was covered in cloud. When I started out earlier this morning it was clear. Unfortunately, having fought my way through the crowds of tourists to the scenic balcony it was too late and too obscure. The views of Rio centre taken from the isle of snakes (Ilha de Cobras) was also difficult to take. The entire island and its connection with the mainland and a good portion of the mainland are naval territory. To extract the camera from my bag and then start clicking away with the entire place swarming with marines and officers was, to say the least, a little nerve-racking. I took only four photos. The third difficulty was nothing so simple as a building in the way. The photo I wanted to copy was of a small hillock in Gloria with an attractive church on its peak. It was originally taken with a view slightly across water and with a hill. Now, it is impossible to find the right angle on the church and get the sea in as well. The reason: a large chunk of land must have been reclaimed. I couldn't even get the original diagonal view (without the sea, thus showing the extent of the reclaimed land), because of a vast number of trees.
Whatever the weather, Rio is superb. When the mists surround the peaks and fine rain falls on the city, it takes on a melancholy peace. I go to run on the beach and crash through the crashing waves. The rain sends people scurrying; old men protect their bald heads with the evening newspaper; women continue to sit in the park chatting but with umbrellas up; bus passengers ask the driver the stop at every corner; half the coconut stands that line the beach and have remained open all day, despite the lack of custom, finally succumb and close their boards. And I run, laughing along the sand, impressed by the backdrop of dark green and darkening hills. At night, when the mists swirl around the hunchback, they catch the floodlights that cream the crucifix, in such a way as to make it seem the monument is going up in flames.
And when the sun shines, then the people come out to play, get busy on the beach; if the sun doesn't shine, the beach is deserted. This morning it shines, and by eight I could see every kind of activity: surfing, swimming, volleyball, football, handball, sunbathing. Middle age divorcees reinforcing their tans; boys swaggering around in search of the perfect girl.
I find a shop which sells artefacts. it is fabulous. I spend almost a hundred dollars and would have spent more but for weight and breakage considerations. I bought a wall hanging that so reminded me of Elliot's poem with the line 'And her arms full of flowers'.
Thursday morning, Somewhere over the Atlantic approaching the Iberian peninsula
On these Transatlantic flights the schedule is always the same. First, the cocktail and dinner, then the movie, then lights out. But how quickly the plane switches on about an hour out of port. The lights come on, the loudspeakers inform us that breakfast is about to be served and wakey-wake, the entire plane becomes a herd of arms-stretching and yawning apes, civilised in that they hustle and bustle to do their business in the toilets and yet form polite queues to do so.
Madrid airport - refreshing to feel cool air again. There'll be more than I want in London - after all its almost December. With the cold air comes the memory that Brazil is no longer a reality, just a memory.
Back in London. I think this is a turning point and I will thus start a new book.
Paul K Lyons
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