PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1985 - JULY
2 July, Rio
Elaine lies on the bed, her pigtails and child's nightgown make her seem like an adolescent from the back. She reads the paper, and watches television. If she weren't here I'd probably have fallen asleep by now, but, as it is, I take the opportunity to write her in the journal.
Finally, I have received a letter from pregnant J. She writes a good letter - 'I am starting to enlarge like a balloon right now, and feel a few kicks and things, it's very odd, as if you think your stomach is going to float away, or fall off, or something.'
The weekend proved eventful. Almost all Saturday I spent writing two articles for the 'New Scientist'. And on Sunday, I was heading out of Urca when a stream of people entering the peninsula convinced me I was going in the wrong direction. So instead I followed the crowd. The cause of all the bustle transpired to be the cute Modigliani-style statue that sits strangely in the middle of Botofogo Bay. It is, in fact, Sao Pedro, the patron saint of fishermen. The crowds had come to watch the hundreds boats, all gaily bedecked, that sailed and motored into the bay to give thanks to Sao Pedro. They all moved slowly round, jostling for position, in a grand circle, passing between the statue and the tiny but very lively church here in Avenida Portugal. A master of ceremonies with microphone access to immense loudspeakers welcomed each boat, big and small, as it gently nudged past; and the crew of each craft cheered as they heard their boat's name. It was all so colourful, and made for superb pictures: the spectacle of the bay crowded, the display of dancing groups on each brightly coloured boat, the multitude of people lining the low wall (but not the boulder-rocks below which allowed me to skip across them, freely taking photos of the boats out to sea and the people watching them).
I thought briefly of an evening at Matlock with Raoul when the procession of brightly lit barges on the river delighted us so.
And on Sunday evening the Koppenshoeks took me with them to the launching of balao - paper balloons the size of houses that local communities build and launch even though they are illegal because of the fire hazard. But it is a spectacular sight. On our arrival there was a Junina festival in full swing, a fire roared in the middle of a large empty earth area. On the ground nearby lines of string were laid - like a three lane course for a very short sprint race - and sheets of wallpaper-sized coloured pasted on. Scores of red paper cups, with candles securely placed within, were attached to the tail of the string. Meanwhile, and very gingerly, a single jet gas burner was used to heat up the air at the entrance to the paper balloon. As soon as it had unfolded and ballooned, the burner was placed right inside. Once fully inflated scores of yellow paper cups with candles were attached to the lower hemisphere by a myriad of short strings hanging there. A cradle full of dense-packed liniment or cotton wool was also attached to the inside of the mouth of the balloon and set alight, as were all the candles. Slowly, the balloon rose into the air and, as it did, the tail was attached. It was a splendid sight to see this magnificent coloured structure lift ponderously but majestically into the black sky. And one is so aware of all the work, the design, the creation, the organisation, the money that has gone into its creation, and then, as often happens, the balloon caught fire before even the full length of its tail had lifted from the ground. One of the yellow cups was too close to the paper.
I happened to ring Petrobras for confirmation of some figures and asked if they were giving another collective interview soon. It so happened that, that very day, old Beltrao, Petrobras President, was having a chat to his mates in the press. I arrived badly late, but got into the building and up to the president's suite in record quick time (it usually takes so long to get into the Petrobras building). There were about a dozen journalist sitting around a massive table with Beltrao at the head, soft spoken, kindly looking. Two of the women I recognised from Wolfgang Breyer's party, although they barely acknowledged me. I couldn't understand much of what was being said. The entire proceedings were very casual. Afterwards, we went back to the press room and a few of the hacks went through their notes checking details and I was able to pick up a few details. It felt like I'd broken through into an inner circle. A collective interview with Brazil's President, Sarney, by comparison was an entertainment - so many journalists and so much buzz, constant clicking of cameras, the television crews rumbling at the back. Hank said Sarney presented himself better than expected, but it all sounded pretty wishy washy to me.
Sunday 7 July
The wind blew like a hurricane last night - again I thought it would break the frames of the windows or the shutters for they rattle so. I slept in the hammock for the first time, and it felt as though the wind was rocking me in the depths of sleep. The storm brought with it a covering of greyness - perhaps in my mood too because Elaine leaves today for two weeks away - do I let myself be emotional to that extent. I will see how much I miss her. In the first weeks of our relationship we saw each other only once every four or five days, now she comes round almost every day.
In a truly lethargic state, we dragged ourselves off to The Party which John and Conceicao had not stopped talking about. Their costumes WERE well done. C had transformed herself into a blonde bombshell, and John had turned himself into a woman, or a 'travesti'.
The beginning of July saw a rapid increase in many prices. Maria comes back from the supermarket complaining that everything is so expensive; the cashier in the 'padaria' below says people can't afford 'Leite B' now. I think twice about Mossarella cheese simply because it was 11,000 and is now 18,000. I don't have to worry, though, my rent is now the equivalent to about £30 a week, what a bargain! My bank account looks healthy with $1,500; and, by the time I go back to London, I should have £500 worth of cheques to pay for my next return trip.
Mum writes that everything is moving swiftly forwards to the wedding. She tells me the Todds are coming in force - that'll be a riot, The Todds and The Bulls. I shall celebrate the occasion and by a new suit. This is a difficult confession to make but the last time I bought a new suit was 10 years ago in Auckland in the first week of my Sandoz job!
9 July 1985
Last night I read a book in half an hour. 'Concrete Island' by J G Ballard. The story is of a young intelligent resourceful man who crashes his jaguar on the motorway into an island, which he cannot escape. It is written in the realist style of Golding, but has none of his depth of knowledge or experience. It is too full of cleverness, devices, clearly calculated ways to keep the story together. I can feel Ballard thinking 'this is a good idea for a story, let's see if I can make it work'. But the weakness in the possibility of it ever happening is apparent throughout. So I skipped through it in half an hour. I read Agatha Christie more carefully - searching for clues wouldn't you know.
Some days later, Belo Horizonte
So much activity around me here in the press room. I feel quite useless. It's an impotence, I realise, that I always feel at conferences. I am not good at blundering about, and I have none of the bull in me. I have done so little today. Wandered around in a permanent state of hesitancy. I caught up with Jose Goldemberg and half-fixed an interview for later today. I followed Israel Vargas until he was out of sight and unreachable. Am I wrong to be here, at this science conference, I keep asking myself. The Science Hoje people haven't helped me a bit, but I suppose I was naive to think they would.
Yesterday was marginally brighter because of a chance meeting with Vany, a small-faced small-bodied straw-hatted pretty spark of a girl. The second time I met her she was with Claudio, also small pretty and uniquely dressed - they made a beautiful pair. It reminded me of my meeting with Mireille - the same triangle of energy - an isosceles triangle. My attention to Claudio, however, partly backfired as, when I met them the third time and spent an evening with them, Claudio then wanted to take me home and introduce me to his parents while Vany fell into another boy's arms. Later she was wild with drunkenness and bullied me to join the throng. The music - 'fora' - was not dissimilar to English country dancing music; and I made them all do exaggerated morris dancing steps. They told me, but I'm not sure whether to believe them, that the music was named by the English when they were here as music 'for all'.
Have escaped from the bustle of the city to Sabara where there is a different form of bustle - a festive jollity. A few dozen people gather in groups around two bands. One - wearing light green denim suits with even lighter green shirts beneath - consists of youths , and the other - in darker green military suits - wear blue ties with white shirts and hats. Now, though, in the distance we hear a third band marching towards us. The sun shines but is threatened by grey and dense clouds approaching. Several people, clearly organisers, carry papers and refer to them occasionally. Now the band is loud, just around the corner, a car is diverted from driving through the street. Here they are - blue suits and caps with blue ties. All three bands are similarly sized and similarly configured. Some of the younger women are tapping their feet to the melody. And yes, here comes a fourth band - light blue shirts and grey trousers. This one is half women (hence the absence of jackets). It's a band competition, of course. To see all the musicians file under the newly-painted grey and bright red arches wearing their clean and pressed uniforms, carrying their gleaming silver instruments, is a rare picture.
Why do I sometimes want to cry when I look into the faces of these people. It's been happening a lot in the last few days, few weeks - a face at a window, a waiter in a restaurant, a shop assistant. I am sensitive to something without or within me - I don't know what. Looking at these faces perhaps I'm aware in myself a lack of a sense of belonging or place, and, yes, for a framework in which I don't have to struggle for emotional acceptance. But I don't think it is so clearly my own yearning, or only my own yearning because I am also keenly sensible to the dramatic monotony of people's lives - but, as an outsider, a voyeur, an escaper from the monotony, I have no right to engage in elements of pity.
Praca Rita. It is here, I suppose, the competition will take place. There is an air of preparation. It is an extraordinarily pretty square. Its centrepiece is a round wooden bandstand painted blue and white and built on a wall of slate, encircled by cobbles. There are several lawns and flowerbeds and mosaic pavement areas with white benches. Seven flat-topped trees have rowan style leaves and giant seed pods; the base of the trunks and the bulging root formations are painted white. In the bandstand are loudspeakers and two small tables holding various trophies. Food, jewellery and gift stalls are being laid out in the square, but in a quiet way, hardly disturbing the tranquil preparations of the organisers or the growing level of chatter among the arriving crowds.
A banner in Praca Melo Viana tells me that a marathon will take place, with 3m cruzeiros in prizes, and 34 trophies and 70 medals. This square is not so pretty, its various elements resting uncomfortably next to each other. At the narrow end is Dan Pedro II with its shops while at the broader end, some remaining walls of the church Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos stand as a focus for the centre of the village. The tourist info says this church is no more than a monument to the work and talent of slaves: its building was interrupted when slavery was abolished. To the left of the walls is an old baroque public fountain - the Chafariz do Rosario. A brass tap emerges out of the mouth of the two ugly pouting faces. Some women scrub their pots here regardless of the tourists or the festivities.
It's around 10:00 and I'm back in Praca Rita. It's full of people. The six or seven bands have been marching through the village, and now they're back. It's a stirring sound hearing them all play together. I asked the name of one appealing tune - Cisne Branco, meaning white swan. I think of Bel, we would be at our happiest together discovering a festival like this. My mind is fertile today, and I want to make an observation about taking advantage of the fun, the novelty, the optimism of fairs and festivals. When I travelled I was always grateful for help given me by people met here and there. I was aware that I was taking from the world, and never giving back. I was, thus, determined to pay my debt back in terms of giving lifts and hospitality. I believe I have gone some way towards doing that. But now I realise that I owe a sort of festival debt. All the celebrations, fetes, festivals, fairs I've attended (remember the one in Paraguay when the Americans danced like hippies ruining an indigenous and formal dance) leave me in the red. When, if, I settle down I will owe the world of human beings, time and effort towards making the monotony of life more colourful.
The crowd is milling. One band has moved to the stand and begins the competition. After the first piece, a luxurious deep and rich voice joins the band, the words she sings are full of hope and nationalism. I wanted her to go on forever.
I found some public toilets with toilet paper. I was most grateful for I haven't defaecated in three days, and it was the first time I'd used toilet paper in months - it's a much less clean method than water.
Within the confines of the thick and roofless walls of the ruined Rosana is another, smaller church. It is modest by comparison, but the inside is charming, painted white with strips of blue (like Praca Rita). A sizeable platform has been erected in the square for a dance, presumably tonight, with seats all around.
Praca Rita 1:15. The bands still continue to play taking turns on the blue and white bandstand. The marathon runners, now exhausted, are scattered round the village; some alone are taking off their shoes; others are exercising their limbs before; others stand casually around, their faces streaked with salt, talking to admiring friends or relations. I slept for a while in Praca Melo Viana, comfortably on my back with the sun on my face. Now I sit in the a blue and white restaurant waiting for the inevitable rice and beef. (After yesterday's rice and beef at the university canteen, I desperately wanted a toothpick or dental floss to clean the unnatural crack between my lower left molars - all day it nagged, and yet all day I'd carried my bag around which held both floss and toothpicks!).
Museo de Ouro 2:30. This must be one of my top ten of small museums (I remember another wonderful one in Arles). Gold panning and mining instruments are displayed in the cellar rooms, along with scales of various types. 17th and 18th century furniture fills the upstairs rooms.
I should have known the bus station would have a queue a mile long. I walked and walked along the river seeing truck drivers bucket water over their dusty vehicles, children flying kites, boys sitting reading or dreaming on rarely used railway tracks, women carrying burdens on their heads making their ways along well-worn paths. Fortunately, a coach stopped for me. I ran up its steps full of gratitude and virtually fell into a wall of tracksuited smiles and gleaming gold and silver trophies.
Back from Belo Horizonte and beleaguered with bodies. Pat comes round Tuesday evening with tales of discoveries in Rio, her classes, a party she went to at Biggs' house, and so on. We talk as before, about families and freedom, I ever provoking with my defence of the traditional roles. Richard Kessler [Nucleonics Week correspondent in Buenos Aires] comes visiting. We go to the Garota da Urca and rabbit away for hours about a stringer's life. Then, in the evening, John and Conceicao arrive with the American Karen who will stay here for a few days. My throat is sore from shouting in a raging argument about Ken Livingstone - why must I always shout so. I should go to bed. I have an early appointment on the morrow with Lobato Parence, who is, according to a biologist I met at Belo, the foremost authority on schistosomiasis. I have much else to do and regret making the appointment so quickly.
I want to write about Cecilia [the girl who lives on the ground floor], to indulge a fantasy or two, but find myself thinking of Bel instead. She is very deep inside me - her joy, her naturalness, her beauty, her love. How unclear the future is, might I return to her one day? Cecilia has a strange mannerism in the way she screws her face upwards during a laugh - it detracts from her beauty, for she has a beautiful face, and a slender easy body unspoilt by fancy clothes or make-up. I fantasise about her inviting me to her house in the country - she uses two cottages, both to the south, one four hours drive away, the other two hours away at Angra dos Reis. Fantasies are fuelled by past memories of happinesses, such as those experienced in Horcon, Aldeburgh.
I ask questions about Cecilia of my maid Maria [who works for Cecilia also], but when she near guesses my interest I scurry my conversation away. The American girl, Karen, who is staying here wears a sort of false savvy. I found myself arguing against everything she said because all her views were so unthought, as though they'd been picked up from the supermarket shelf. She has a pert, sometimes cute face, rather spoilt by a thin small mouth; but her eyes are most attractive, swimming around in a glazed fashion not quite sure what they are doing or where they are.
I went to the peninsula to exercise my limbs a bit, and to meditate on a new story. For the first time, I saw 'gente' had succeeded in scrambling further around the rocks. I had thought it impossible. I watched one of them come back - he had a hard time of it. I may dare it on another occasion. The tides are the lowest I've seen them - huge expanses of sea-level rock exposed with multitudes of mussel colonies. Conceicao gave me the idea for the story - I think I've already written about how she met John and the obsession with the flat of her former boyfriend. I'm not excited about it - it'll be along the lines of the Martha Cramer or Lillian Beecham story - lots of sex in a hammock perhaps. OK OK OK reader, I give in, you're right, I'm not getting enough just at the moment!
The post brought letters from Coombes and Dixon which cheered me up momentarily, and later Coombes rang. Caroline is expecting their baby in October (the same time as Judy's no?). He tells me Andrew is collecting my letters for when I'm famous. Somebody has faith! Meanwhile, Luke is moving from success to success - it sounds like he's directing a cast of 200 amateurs in a production of 'Alice in Wonderland'. He remembers my love of Lorca, and interests me with talk of producing some for the York Festival in 1988 (sic, he confirms). I open my book of T S Elliot and see Harold's distinctive writing, and his signature from 1979. I reward his habit of getting into corners of my life by posting him a cool card. Now Shosty's brilliant cello concerto 2 plays and the Bay of Botofogo turns metallic blue-grey; behind the hills the sky is tinted with salmon; and, in the still-blue-but-quickly-darkening heavens, a fingernail cutting of a moon rocks its white light without moving.
I look forward to buying a bicycle tomorrow.
Finally, I bought a bicycle, though I'm not very happy with it. I went a bit cheapskate and bought one for 28,000, about £28. I thought I'd tried it out pretty well but, on the way home, the back wheel started to wobble! I also went for a sturdy version with wide handlebars forgetting of course that wide handlebars are much more difficult to negotiate through the traffic. I do now wish I'd opted for the racing type - the type I'm used to. I think I might have bought a pig in a poke - maybe I'll do some work on it. Any way, whatever, I'm bicycle borne.
Although I did no work today, and July will be an impoverished month, it was a good day for work. First, my June statement arrived - over $1,700 added to the coffers. Furthermore, a satisfactory talk with Ryser convinced me that World News is on my side. He also mentioned that Mac Margolies had asked him if he minded if I helped string for Newsweek! As it happened, Mac hasn't called me - and I saw him today, but he didn't mention anything. What else - I got a new back wheel for the bike! It rides well now. I'm happy and singing again.
I can't make up my mind what to do about Cecilia. I just can't think of a way to build down the scaffolding from my desires on the fourth floor to her friendliness on the first floor. Maria was encouraging today, but insisted how much of an 'Amigoana' Cecilia is, implying that she's not looking for a boyfriend. The adjective 'educado' was used on the phone in reference to my person, and repeated to me by Maria. I have to be careful what I say because I don't know how much, or just as importantly, how little of what I say is taped in Maria's mind, so to speak.
V has been staying here, hard at work. He found the same floozy he'd been with on his last visit - she was sitting in the same bar. She really is all rough giggles, speaking a universal language of single syllables and gushes. Personally, I thought the two of them should have gone straight home after meeting at the bar, but we all had to go to the boite - Day and Night - to watch an awful show and drink bad caiparinhas. We didn't get back here until after 2:30. I was too tired to make up the spare bed, so they flopped in mine, and I slept on the sofa. I heard nothing. But the next night, with the positions reversed, Elaine tried her best to make me scream with pain/delight/release, knowing V was the other side of the wall! Later, I tried to educate V in the ways of the people by taking him on buses and to the fair at Sao Cristovao. He was suitably impressed.
I've committed myself to an alcohol story for 'The Economist' without really knowing what I'm going to say. I must have spent a good three or four days thinking about sugar and alcohol and there'll be another two, all for $90. It's so much easier to make £100 out of the 'International Gas Report' - the editor of which uses up more of my time on the phone than it takes me to write his stories.
Paul K Lyons
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