Thursday, January 10, 2013

in Belém

For the first time on this trip I felt no need to be doing something and so I settled down to enjoy being in Brasil, in a town on the banks of the Amazon.  I felt time open out before me.  It was May and I was told that since it was now the dry season that it would rain only once a day.

I write a lot of letters so I picked up some envelopes while I was out and had a bit of trouble finding them with gummed flaps and the stationery lady acted as if this were an unusual request.  I had scarcely gotten a block from the shop when I noticed that in the high Amazonian humidity my envelopes were already sticking together. After that, I bought them ungummed, as God apparently intended, and a small tube of glue to seal them when the time came.  I bought these at a different stationer, lest I receive a knowing look from the sales lady.

The town gets a breeze off the Atlantic and in the shade it can be pleasant enough.  I was sitting on a bench in the park collecting my thoughts on the state of the Church in Latin America when a pretty young woman sat down beside me and, after some non-communication in Portuguese, indicated a desire to go to bed with me.  What in the world is going on down here?  Why was I not warned of this in the tourist literature?  There was no hint of money involved.  Had this been in the Soviet Union I would have assumed she was KGB.

The next morning there was rain.  The pattern seems to be a light rain about four or five in the afternoon, then something heavier in the early morning, gone by the time the day starts.  There was an army barracks across the park from my hotel and military music in the morning.  It made me nostalgic for those jolly little wars, like the Falklands or Grenada.  As it was with the Roman and the Britannic Peace, the tranquility of the center is achieved through constant little wars on the periphery.

The newspapers have been playing up the story of a bicheiro (which I take to be a fellow who runs a gambling operation something like the numbers game in Chicago, but with animals) who claims he has been paying off people in government and, one gathers, not getting value for his money.  He now announces that he will publish his list of “donations”.  The drama of public life, though I doubt that much will come of it.

Should I ever amount to anything, I would like an equestrian statue in Napoleonic uniform on a rearing horse with a cape swirling behind me.  Statues of defunct politicians in business suits and spectacles are ludicrous.  

I walked along the embankment looking for something to take a picture of, but found not much picturesque.  There were little boys playing all over the place.  I apparently did something they thought clever with my Swiss Army knife and they started calling me MacGyver.  Then some black kids showed up and things got rowdy and a concessionaire chased them all away, except for a fair-haired little boy who stayed back, watching me.  I gave him thirty-cents-worth of Cruzados.  He knew I was going to give him something.  Kids and beggars spot me for a soft touch.

As it seemed to rain a lot I asked when the dry season was, but got conflicting opinions, which I took to mean that there might not be all that much difference.  Later, I was told more authoritatively that it runs hereabouts from April to September, though the river remains high for the first two months. 

I had supper that first evening at the nice restaurant in the Círculo Militar.  I had a peppery fish soup, a bit much to my taste, though tamed with a little lime juice.  A fine slab of Brasilian beef, which at the moment for some reason or another could not be imported into the United States.  From my table I watched an Amazonian sunset.  Huge cumulus clouds, golden in the sun, with lightning in the distance. Vast planes of cloud above and broad river below.  I watched small boats heading upriver into the darkness.  In a few days I will be going myself.  For the first time in this trip I am enjoying myself and was in no hurry to move on.

It was a little after eight when I walked back to my hotel.  There were a fair number of people out in the street and some stalls were still open.  There was only one light on in the Archbishop’s Palace and I could look in to see an old-fashioned high-ceilinged room with an iron railing across the open window.  There was a parrot sitting on the railing.

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