PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1985 - APRIL
I can't say I've been bored or without entertainment since my arrival. There's been John and Chris and Marilyne and Luzimar, Carlos and Sergio, and not to mention Martine. And now I go to rest my head at the house of Tete.
ANATOMY OF LUCK
This Brazilian girl called Anna rang me in London having seen my advert for a teacher in the Swiss Cottage Library, but I didn't really have time to set up practice sessions, there being only days left before my departure. However, she wanted to meet any way, and because she was from Rio, I calculated it would be worth making time. Consequently, she came around on Sunday with her boyfriend - a Turk who did nothing but sulk - and gave me names of friends, including Luzimar. Luzimar was one of the first people I contacted. She is petite and beautiful - ravishing. She arrived for our first (and only) meeting with details of a luxury flat that was way outside my range. We walked along a couple of streets in Ipanema asking porteiros if there were any apartments for rent in their blocks. We didn't try very hard. Luzimar then took her leave, promising to find me a flat by this method - she didn't want any money, maybe expenses. Out of this chain of events - starting with the card in the Swiss Cottage Library, the generosity of Anna, the meeting with Luzimar - I learned that porteiros in charge of apartment blocks are a good way to find flats for rent. Another sequence of events led me to the British Council and its building in Urca, which is a small, but delightful and safe quarter of RIo, beneath the Sugar Loaf. I made my first visit there on Friday, and then returned on Monday. A friend (John Kalish) had gone to town for a couple of hours and I was only due to meet him at 3pm, so I had some time to kill. There's only one main street in Urca, so I walked along it, trying to talk to the porteiros. I had, in fact, given up and was waiting for a bus when I spied another possibility. I went over to talk to the porteiro who nodded to a man who was cleaning his car who in turn said I should see Mr Mucio who lived down the street somewhere. I couldn't find any Mr Mucio, and then realised I was late for my meeting. After a laid back lunch with John, and some shopping, I went back to Urca to look for Mr Mucio, asking up and down the street. Senhor Mucio turned out to be a very reasonable man. He looked at me, we talked, and he said, as it happens, his apartment up the road had fallen vacant that very day. Despite having just arrived home from work he walked me up the road to see it. It was beautiful - right on the waterfront. It's furnished with TV etc. The price is a bit higher than I would have liked to pay, or that I would have paid in times past, but these are new times, and I'm sure I will afford $50-60 a week rent, This is Rio, I will be rich and live like a king.
Last night was torrid, I tossed and turned my head so full of itches and half-scared ideas. The rains came, the humid air filled the bedroom to bursting. The morning brought relief, a walk in the post-storm showers cooled me adequately to resist the pressures of the day - the augmentation of the rent from 1m cruzeiros a month to 1.1m (a 10% increase overnight); and then a scene at the travel agent/cambio place because they wouldn't honour the signature on my Traveller's Cheque even though my passport shows the change. I needed that £100. The net result is that I'm going to be strapped for cash. Let me write down the address before something else goes wrong: Apartamento 41, 502 Avenida Portugal, Urca.
Thursday 4 April
It has been over a week since I wrote in here. This morning I am well relaxed - a good night's sleep, a good crap, and a sunny cool-ish clime. I may actually enjoy this apartment, this view, this location for the first time.
For such a huge and complex city the harbour here, the bay here, is unusually lacking in activity. A few amateurs fish along the rocks with home-made rods or reels of string, some use nets in the water, wading from place to place to discover small shoals. Earlier in the morning, motor launches cruised quietly towards the deep sea in search of prize fish, while a few motorised fishing boats chugged hither and thither determined to make a living. Despite the presence of the yacht club and all the vessels moored there, I have yet to see a sail billow in the wind. The lack of activity should be welcomed, the tranquillity embraced. Beyond the bay, beyond the thin beige band of Botofogo Beach, there is an even thinner band of incandescent movement, cars and buses impetuously merging into each other. Above the action is a line of trees, then apartment blocks, then the landscape of the hills of Rio reaching to the blue sky.
Well, it was a coup to persuade Mr Mucio to spend my 3m Cruzeiros deposit money on buying a telephone. I told him I would give him an extra 1m deposit, but, essentially, the buying of the telephone in his name was just as much a safeguard and investment of his money, as the extra deposit. This, I told him, would save me tying up $1,200 of my money - $600 on the deposit and $600 on the telephone. It also released me from the process of buying the telephone: poor Mr Mucio has gone three times now to the Telerj office, and all being well I should have a telephone installed on 10 April. Thus, I will be fully operational three weeks after my arrival. What will my number be like? Will it have a ring or will it be completely unmemorable? Will it contain 2s and 3s or will it be full of higher digits, weighty and meaningful?
I spent an evening with Marilyne and her daughter, who works here in Urca with Mac - the Thurston connection. We all went to see 'Metropolis' for the comfort of air conditioning. I visited Tete at the flat behind the Botanic Gardens where I stayed last November and arranged to stay there again for a couple of weeks. I find her difficult and hardened and not easy to smile with. On Sunday. I rang Richard's contact, cameraman Carlos Sadanhi. He invited me on a trip somewhere. Carlos and his two kids collected me in a taxi and we drove to the Copacabana Palace to collect Martyne. Martyne lay on her single bed, slippers off, dressed in a knitted cotton dress, the white colour set off against her dark hair and tanned skin. She is naturally beautiful. 'What language shall we speak?', she said, 'English', 'Good'. She didn't stop talking for half an hour, about machete-shaking Bolivians attacking her farm; and her German man who is undertaking a massive venture to grow jujua, a new miracle bean. We drove out to the campo to visit Sergio, a friend of Carlos. He has a largish plot of land with two houses, a pool, and a lot of growth, most of it tamed. The garden was full of children and the kitchen full of women. During the entire stay, I never worked out who lived in the place, but clearly Sergio was the big Daddy. He's a moviemaker, and one of the houses contains his studio and cinema. Not long after we arrived, we were treated to his latest movie, a collage of the real Rio. It was colourful, truthful, well-produced, and had an excellent sense of timing. Martyne, high on grass or cocaine later in the day, commented that she'd seen the film four times now!. It was a good day, for most of it, I just hung out, neither talking much or thinking much.
Good Friday 5 April
Today I went into the sea. The first time I've allowed myself the luxury. Twice in fact. From right outside my apartment block. I dived in off the rocks. What a dream place. An apartment right on the waterfront and I can swim right here. Ten times a day if I please. I sit here in the evening, looking across the bay to the sprinkle of lights across the Rio landscape. Just now a procession passed by in the street, 500-600 women and children mostly, some with candles led by a crucifix and followed by a van with a loudspeaker hailing out creeds and sweet hymns. Must be to do with Good Friday.
Sunday 7 April
As raw as a radish, as they say, though the accompanying sensation of coolness is not appropriate, as my skin stings with heat. The result of a mid-day climb to the summit of Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf). I went thanks to Foster Brown, Chris's scientist friend, and his friend Robbert Korpershoek, who climbs the rock almost every day. In fact, this morning, when we arrived at his house, he told us this would be his third assent in 24 hours! Robbert and his wife Elizabeth live a few streets away from me in Rua Elemento Cardim, near the British Council. It was already close to 10am when we set off. There was Chris, Foster, Wilme, a friend of Foster, Paulo, a friend of John Kalish, Robbert and myself. The route Robbert and Foster led us along was divided into three stages. Firstly, was a walk along the tracks and through the undergrowth starting at the beach near the foot of the cable car and taking us some way up the rock. The middle third of the climb was the toughest and took the longest, chiefly because we all roped up in order to negotiate a few stretches of rock that would be no fun freehand. The last section was a fast steep walk that brought us to the tourist centre at the peak, with sucos, ice creams and beer. The view from the top is extraordinary - a 360 degrees of spectacle. One can see the fat crowded beach of Copacabana, the empty beaches on the other side of the channel, the pocket beaches directly below Urca, many deserted islands, rocky outcrops, boats, the airport, forts, a drilling rig, the bridge to Niteroi, the panorama of Niteroi itself, Corcovado of course, and so on. Quite quite extraordinary.
Robbert and his obsession with climbing the rock is a good basis for a short story. Already, I've felt quite strong sensations about Pao de Azucar because of the intense barrenness of its faces emerging out of the built up areas. Just at the back of me is an escarpment, almost vertical, somewhat oppressive. I can imagine how a man could only control this oppressive force by climbing the rock every day.
Monday 8 April
No Easter Monday here, except at the British Embassy which refused to open its doors to the public, me, today. This afternoon it rains, the public thermometer, which was reading as high as 37 degrees in the morning, is now reading 27 degrees. Getting wet is not a problem, rather pleasant in fact. A little crack of thunder clears the air. The Botofogo Bay is grey and the beach in the distance deserted.
It's good having Chris (New Scientist's US correspondent) here. It's been a fortunate coincidence our arriving at the same time. He has had the advantage of someone who knows a bit about the place and an apartment to stay in for a week. For me, the company is useful. It's astonishing but I can find myself with nothing to do even with so much to do. Time starts to slip by rapidly and I must get down to serious work though I feel very distant from the Sao Paulo office as though I were working in opposition to them (is this the first sign of stringer paranoia that Trotter warned me of). Chris has a tape of Keith Jarrett, welcome relief from my narrow collection of Britten and Shosty.
Thursday, Friday last week, the papers were admitting the possibility that Tancredo would die. A Good Friday death. By yesterday optimism had returned with comments about him being better than expected - an Easter Monday resurrection. I write that the government is creaking ahead hesitantly with vice-president Sarney at the helm.
Saturday 13 April
Overcame two major hurdles, one of which was putting a telephone in, and the other was getting my ID card from the federal police. Getting the telephone was the big plus. It meant I could do my market calls and some research on the nuke story. Vic Peeke rang to say hi and I talked to Charlie too. I thought I would have major problems with the latter due to the difference in name between my passport and my birth certificate. But they didn't want the birth certificate even though I'd had it legalised and stamped at the consul in London. I got a bit excited about a nuclear story which I wrote for Nucleonics Week, and I rang Paul Maidenhead at the Economist, he seemed happy for the story, but I'll be sweating Monday afternoon to write it.
Sunday 14 April
Out with the Cultura Inglesa crew and John with his girlfriend Conceicao. I think there was some attempt to match me up with the big built Chris - the one who lived in Sri Lanka and saw men supported on meat hooks - but I really didn't find her interesting or attractive. Yet I enjoyed the evening, getting marginally drunk, playing silly, even being made a fool of a bit. I laughed a lot, needed that. I write a letter to Mum, it's full of local colour. I think I may invite her and Julian out for 10 days.
This morning riding into town on a bus I sat next to a pretty girl plainly dressed, a student I supposed by her books. After a few minutes our thighs touched lightly and remained touched. Zing. There was a connection, powerful sexual waves streamed through me - do these things happen only when circuits are complete? I never remember such an excitement occurring. Zing. It was astonishing. I was too nervous to talk but left the bus putting a note on her lap. I don't think she saw me put it there. I was abuzz. Would she ring? I fantasised arranging a meeting at the Garota da Urca and not talking when meeting but kissing. It was there - the zing. Astonishingly a call came about 6 this evening. A giggly girl mumbled something in Portuguese, then passed me to a guy who mumbled something else. I didn't understand a word. It wasn't a wrong number. Damn it.
It looks like the Economist might use the nuclear story. It'll be the first significant piece of real journalist I've ever had published. Strangely, it might bring problems because NW may not like me using the same material. But they had it first, I say to myself, and screwed me around - so screw them.
I read 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' by Irving Stone about the life of Michelangelo. How accurate such a fictionalised account can be is open to question, yet it is vaguely inspiring to read about such dedication, the single-mindedness of such an artist. Florence in the 15th century is detailed with excitement, intrigue and knowledge. The enquiry into understanding by the few with riches and leisure to do so is also fascinating. My hand moves slowly this evening, and my mind even slower.
I don't feel I did much work this week, and I've discovered a couple of errors that crept into the Economist story. I will die of shame, and the E will strike me off its list.
If there was work I could do, I probably would do it, but I am paralysed in a state with nothing to do. I should be out meeting people but I don't seem to have the right rhythm. Letters arrive from the family. Bel's words are the most poignant, carefully crafted to reveal little emotion but enough to demonstrate care - 'Please don't get ill'. Her letter and cards have surprised me in their clarity and completeness.
The city is full of action, it is only me that continues from hour to hour unsure of what to do next. Along Avenida Portugal guests are anxiously watching for the arrival of the bride and groom at a wedding. In the little fisherman's harbour, several darkly tanned muscled men wade chest high manoeuvring a sinking boat out of the way in order to place another boat on the supports that act as a dry dock when the tide is out. Across the Bay of Botofogo a huge fire rages, destroying the upper four or five stories of an office block, the plume of grey smoke still stretches high.
It is ten to eight and I can't start calling people until 8:30, even then they are unlikely to be in. So I prepare my papers, my questions, my bag for going down to town later. I make myself another cup of coffee, though do not bother to warm the milk this time. I notice that slowly I sink into a Brazilian custom, the coffee I drink gets darker and sweeter. I took an early bus to Copa to fetch a 'Gazeta Mercantil' but the stall holder told me there isn't one on Monday.
I left early from John and Conceicao's pleading tiredness, the chorus of 'Don't go' was embarrassing - John said something that still rings in my ears 'Fica con gente'. Then on Sunday they all came round again, and we went to the bar Garota da Urca. I explained that I'm a bit depressed after two or three months of manic activity and left them early. I know I have lied. I had spent the entire weekend in Florence watching Michelangelo age and his works of art drain the blood out of him, but no one was interested in my journey, nor I in their discussions of which pizza to share.
A girl called Elaine answers my ad for English-Portuguese conversation. I've met her twice now. On the second occasion, she seemed less imposing and smaller than I had thought after our first encounter. Perhaps, I'd only seen her lips, born and bred in the Northeast, and they'd frightened me into submission. But I found her submissive and gentle in her own home, nearby, even a little insecure. In our English session, I quizzed her about her life and how she came to be a flautist and studying musical theory. There was a bit of friction as she professed a belief in mystical areas - astrology, forces of energy and so on - but I did wonder if we might end up lovers.
Tancredo died, and I feel like weeping too. This is a real tragedy like the loss of Kennedy in the US. After 20 years of military repression, the entire nation had been brimming with the confidence of a better future - a powerful momentum. And it was one man, one politician who had created most of this hope, and now he's gone. The politics, the economy, the society, the people all will suffer in this tragic reversal from optimism/direction to confusion/hopelessness.
Two million people turned out onto the streets of Sao Paulo to honour the funeral cortege of Tancredo as it made its slow progression to the airport. The papers say it is the biggest public expression in Brazil's history, and, as if to make the point soundly, it shows pictures of crowds at the Gandhi, Nasser, Vargas and Peron processions. It was a public holiday yesterday which was most inconvenient indeed. Nevertheless, I went into Reuters to use the telex machine and filed the little extra news I had. It was a waste of time in fact because I could have said it all today. I've got good at wasting time like that. I'm beginning to think I've wasted too much time on this nuclear story. I should get involved with Petrobras a bit more, get to know the public relations people so I can call them every day. My engine is idling.
The entire day spent at home - trying to track down interviews at Furnas, some facts about plastics sales to China, uranium in Uruguay. I did, though, set up to visit Petrobras. Researched a bit about Resende, Poco de Caldas, etc. Not fruitful though. Distinctly not fruitful.
I find myself miserable this morning. In fact, I've been miserable since last night when I caught a glimpse of the Economist and ascertained that my story hadn't been published. I have achieved nothing this week at all. Not written one story, not made a dime. Further, I don't feel I'm progressing. It must be the second month blues. But that's part of the problem, the days seem to vanish in a haze of wasted phone calls. Even a packed diary of engagements for the next few days is not sufficient to relieve the gloom.
Last night was a pleasant enough experience - meeting up with Niema's millionaire friend. He has the house of a millionaire, which he uses only a few weeks a year. His wife is tall, graceful, charming, beautiful. The next door neighbour owns the only private oil well in Brazil. There are three armed guards night and day patrolling his house. And the street entrance is guarded with a barrier and watchmen. My life seems so small, puny, by contrast.
Sunday 28 April
A second sexual experience on the buses. Unlike the first, this one was sparked by a rather plain girl. She was short and stocky, dressed only in a one-piece swimsuit that pressed her large breasts into the shape of grapefruit. She stood close to where I was sitting, her hands clutching the same bar as mine. As the the bus rocked in response to the potholes in the road, so she rocked backwards and forwards, her breast pushing up against the same bar our hands were holding, but only millimetres from where my hand was tense and hard. My whole being became focused and concentrated on the gap between my hand and her breast. Once or twice, as she lurched forward, I was sure we would touch, but for ages it never quite happened - and then it did. Suddenly, her breast was against the back of my thumb. For a fleeting and delightful moment or two, I moved my thumb gently to stroke the fabric covering her breast - and then she was gone.
Another dull weekend draws to a close. Everything seems dull without the spice of love.
I lie naked on the sofa and listen to Shosty's 2nd cello concerto and watch the sun set - the sky hastens from blue to orange to black.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG