London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow at once is deaf and loud, and on the shore… Vomits its wrecks and still howls on for more. Yet in its depth what treasures!
After two years, I’m going back to London for the first time. That verse was written about London, and it used to resonate with me as a description of the overwhelming, ruthless and yet richly abundant city. However, it was written over a century ago, and it now seems to apply much more to a city like Rio, in the middle of a great transition and crowded with immigrants from the countryside trying to find their pot of gold, than staid old, dear old London.
Nevertheless, I listened to this yesterday and started to get a bit sad about leaving, as much as I can’t wait to see everyone I’ve missed. I remembered listening to this music the week when I arrived, totally seduced by the leafy Ipanema streets and the ridiculously beautiful people. I’m afraid of how prosaic London is going to turn out to be in comparison.
I’m leaving in the middle of a corruption scandal (although it would have been possible to have written that sentence at any time over my stay, to be fair). I will write about it here, if I can find the space and time to do it justice. It started with the uncovering of a scandal involving a bicheiro called Cachoeira (which means waterfall) paying politicians for influence and information. It is now engulfing everyone from the media to the company responsible for World Cup works at Maracana, and subject to a parliamentary inquiry.One Brazilian commentator delivered the scathing indictment that all we can expect from the Cachoeira inquiry is “a waterfall of lies”, in part because in Brazil, unlike the US, for example (where it has brought down presidents), lying under oath is not considered a particularly serious offence.
A European friend of mine living with a Brazilian man said she has come to identify with the autistic, since she is inclined to interpret his words prosaically, that is, to believe they mean what they appear to, yet frequently they have another meaning entirely and one which remains mysterious. I have long learned that here, “I’m on my way” can mean anything from “I’m still in bed, but will come, just three hours late” to “you will never see or hear from me again.” Still, in the UK “I’d love to” often means “I would rather gouge my eyes out, but feel obliged to come and so will be there, gritting my teeth.” Many is the night I have spent at Rio botequim tables laden with cachaca shots and watery, ice-cold beer, debating the relative merits of duty and obligation versus the Carioca, more free approach. There is no right answer, for our public or private lives. Which approach is actually more honest or truthful is not even clear sometimes. The only thing that’s certain is that searching for the truth is harsh on the individual, and tiring sometimes.
Ultimately there is room for both poetry and prose in the world, and it seems likely that for the next few years I will be dividing my time between Brazil and London and getting a balance of both. If I could, I would give a pinch of the British prosaic sense of reality to this country, and a little of the poetry here which is so sorely missing at home to the UK, but in the meantime, there is always TAM Airlines (don’t talk to me about Air France).