Category Archives: Uncategorized

Things that happen in the way

To quote Joyce Carol Oates, where are you? where have you been?

Hard to start explaining. Real life, I reckon. There were ill relatives, hospital stays, a new job which is great but sucks the life out of the bones, like all jobs; an ill toddler with an almost burst eardrum (key word almost and thank God for that); there were bellyaches and toothaches and bad times too, like you (and if you got the Hair quote in there, you’re a person of distinction).

And there was also the silence, the dreaded silence. After the demonstrations, nothing else happened. And the fact that Brazil seemed mostly forgotten in the main international news retrospectives (I have checked BBC, Guardian, CNN, ABC and NY Times, might have missed someone out there) made me think that nothing had happened.

But it did and it is still out there lurking. Because 2014 is World Cup Year and it’s a general election year as well. So, yeah, there is plenty to talk about.

And as for São Paulo, which was after all the reason I started to write? Lots of stuff going on over here as well. The opening game of the World Cup is here – and you might have heard that we’re late for the very important date. The bus fare was not raised, but the bloody council tax was raised to the roof and no-one is pleased with it.  Therefore plus ça change…

But one needs to write and I guess that’s my job. So hello 2014 – this is where I have been.

All fun and games until someone mentions the C-word

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

— D.H. Lawrence, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”

I have been trying to come up with explanations for the acts of the last 48 hours. Now that the raise in the bus fare has been cancelled, what’s one to do with the flotsam of the demonstrations that are still occurring everywhere in the country? Already there are plenty of people trying to fill in the vacuum – people from the extreme left, the extreme right, political parties of all shades, anarchists, and those who want everyone to shut up everywhere.

And, apparently, there are sectors of the society that are putting the the C-word  in the air.

C for Coup d’État, that is.

***

Everything that has to do with politics in Brazil lives under the shadow of the military coup in 1964. The politicians, the laws, everything is an answer or a result of the weird events that led to the dark night of March 31st, 1964, when one slept in a civil democracy and woke up to see tanks up the main streets.

Of course, the state of near anomie in which Brazil is seized at the moment grants the fear that some group might take the chance for an uprise. There are sectors of the society that miss the military days, of course – especially those that probably didn’t know what it was really like to live under the iron rod. The general disgust for the political parties also add to this fear that things will not turn well. But is there room for a coup?

Well, if you ask my opinion, which is as good as any, I’d say no. Because, for all that it’s worth, 2013 is not 1964.  By this I mean that Brazil is not the same country it was in ’64, nor is the world. The Cold War is gone and buried; the news spread at the speed of light; image means everything, and for a country so willing to be seen as an international player, the idea of an régime d’exception in charge smacks of Arab theocracies or African blood diamonds – i.e. someone you wouldn’t do business with willingly. Someone you don’t want to be seen with.

Who, leftwing or rightwing or plain wing-nut, would want to throw all the work of two decades away?

***

Another thorny subject: the Confederations Cup and its twin event next year, the World Cup. FIFA apparently threatened to cancel the event, reminding that they didn’t ask Brazil to host the event.

Well, nobody asked the population either: the decision to put Brazil’s name in the ballot came from the higher abodes of power, as usual. Of course people are groaning with the expenses. Was it any other time, that’s all Brazilians would do – anyone who ever had to deal with my fellow country-people know that we’re a whiny bunch when we feel like it. But it wasn’t any other time, as Simon Jenkins, from The Guardian, pointed so well. This time, people want to know where’s the beef.

There is only one thing Mr Jenkins – and the main international media outlets – are missing, though: a bit of historic perspective. Too many skies have fallen since March 31st 1964. This is not only about the money. It’s about where we, as a country, stand now. And in order to grow, I guess we have to put up with different opinions trying to hijack the protest.

Where will it lead, I don’t know. Stay tuned… This promises to get more interesting.

The Scenario

When São Paulo is pretty, it’s prettier than anything you can imagine. But when it’s ugly, it’s downright coyote ugly. And Largo da Batata, where today’s demonstration starts, is probably one of the ugliest places in the entire State.

I happen to know the place well, having worked just four blocks away, where the gentrification begins and the place changes name to Vila Madalena, the famous bohemian spot. What to say about it? The close to non-existent sidewalks, the seedy”American Bar” establishments (Sampa’s classic euphemism for strip club), the loud music coming from every other store trying to get your attention but only making you dizzy and praying for some silence.

And the bus terminal. Largo da Batata is a sort of a river delta, if you allow me the image, where the traffic from the main commerce streets, like Teodoro Sampaio and Cardeal Arcoverde, meet up an important avenue, Brigadeiro Faria Lima. It’s a hub for buses from all over the city, and, recently, a brand new Metrô station.

It’s where the workers meet the well-to-do, if only for a glancing moment; it’s a very busy spot, crowded night and day. Considering the protests have begun because of R$ 0,20 extra for awful services, there is no better place to demonstrate how awful the public transport is by concentrating on a place that showcases the cause better than a thousand words. 

Largo da Batata has been through an expansive refurbishment, mainly because of the new Metrô station. But it still is one of Sampa’s ugliest places to be. When it rains, it sometimes floods. When it’s sunny, there’s no shade. The buses come and go and if you are lost, you are LOST in capital letters because there is little to no information on the itineraries or timetables.

The TV crews are there since early morning awaiting the spectacle. The last news inform us that the police has agreed to withdraw the use of rubber bullets and to “respect” the route defined for the march, as long as it doesn’t clog up the traffic on Paulista Avenue, as it has happened last week.

Also, nobody will be arrested for the possession of vinegar. I am taking this part of the news as a joke.

***

In the words of a poster I’ve seen: “Vai. E se der medo, vai com medo mesmo”.

Which translates as: “Go. And if you feel afraid, go afraid anyway”.

Safe

A couple of friends have emailed me asking if my family and I were “safe” during this week of riots.

I can say I am in a comfortable position, living relatively removed from the centre of action. My son’s day-care centre is just a few blocks away from my home, which is also my office. On an ordinary workday, my world is confined to two miles between my house, the school and eventually the supermarket, the bakery, the haberdashery store. Pretty boring at times, I’ll concede, but I have had my share of adventures before and I must confess I am not willing to go into the fray again.

Does that mean I am safe? I guess so. 

But then there’s another factor.

I know Paulista Avenue, where most of the riots have happened, like the back of my hand. I was born in a maternity ward nearby; I studied at a college there; I met my husband there; my first and last office jobs were there. Thus, I know that when there are protest marches, Paulista Avenue is the last place on God’s good Earth you want to find yourself at: there aren’t many escape routes once the police close the nearby streets and the subway entrances.

I have friends working and living in the routes of the marches. Some are involved in the demos; some only want to go back home at the end of their shift. So, to answer my friends’ question: yes, my family is safe, but my mind is still reeling with worry.

***

There is a poem running through my mind this entire Sunday – The Second Coming, by Yeats (that I always, always mistake for Eliot’s The Wasteland – don’t ask). I know the opening verses by heart: 

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world (…)

Are these riots “mere anarchy”? I don’t think I know the answer to that. My husband, a brainy bloke, thinks this is the result of structural failures – the faulty economy meeting a generation that did not know inflation and lack of democracy like my parents’ generation, or indeed my very own generation. They see the Arab Spring, the Spanish demos, the Occupy Movement, and wonder “what’s in store for us?”

So. Safe. Tricky word. Yes, my family is safe from the tear gas clouds, the trampling, the rubber bullets. But we’re still here, in Sampa, and we’re all waiting to see what’s next.

For the moment, off to bed go I. The kid’s asleep, and so should I. 

This is Sampa

São Paulo. Sampa for the locals, SP in the postal code, biggest city in Brazil. Phone code 5511, the “deathbed of samba” and the cradle of Brazilian rock and roll. Ask anyone in the country and you will hear we are arrogant, workaholic pricks, gluttons obssessed with money. Or that we are trendsetters, surrounded by the best the world can offer.

We cannot conjugate verbs to save our souls, and we believe that ours is the best pizza in the galaxy. We are afraid of rains, we idolize cars, our public transport is rickety. We are formed by immigrants, shaped by the influx of other regions, seasoned in the war against the concrete.

There are 20 million of us. These are some of our stories.