Never Too Late!

Never Too Late!
any resemblance to anyone real or imaginary is mere bad luck
we are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are trying to get up


Those questions I hate

"Where are you from?" is the first and obvious one, especially from that type of viciously simple-minded people who absolutely insist that you must be from somewhere, really. I have always had a difficult time understanding what that actually means.

"Language is the only homeland," Czeslaw Milosz would have it. I do really quite like that, it's very neat indeed, and dispenses with the first question, but brings me to the second: "How many languages do you speak?" Yes, I receive ever so many complements on this or that every day, and many people ask me this often, but the question is no simpler, as I'm unsure what it actually means either.

If it means speaking in such a way that everyone takes you for a native of whatever country you happen to be in, I don't actually speak any languages. This is another reason I hate the first question. In England (I was born there and I have a British passport), with its multitude of accents tying you to your social class and place of birth within 10 miles, it is especially bad. "Well you don't sound English... What's the accent then?" Bastards. If there seems to be a particularly ignorant nationalism driving the question, I tell them it's because I grew up overseas where my parents were in the service of the Crown, which is not true but shuts them up. Likewise in Finland. I don't really like Finland, but I love the language. I would imagine no foreigner from a different linguistic background ever quite got their head around the utterly bizarre and unique structures available in the Finnish language to the extent that I do, but still after a few minutes of conversation I get puzzled looks and a "So... where exactly are you from?" [You can put together words to create or suggest new words, hence tietokone = knowledgemachine = computer, hence my favourite word ever aivotärähdys = brainquake = concussion.]

By my own definition, you speak a language once you have been able to conduct a meaningful relationship, a friendship, maybe an enmity, entirely in that language. This allows me to lay claim to vast swathes of the globe, including all of the Americas, except for the pockets of indigenous or eskimo languages of course, and except for Quebec (je refuse de parler français!); and also most of the Indian sub-continent (although it's been a while and every time I learn a new language, one of the old ones is forgotten, or not forgotten, but it goes in the fridge, and it can take a good while to warm up again once the time comes). So this brings the count up to either five, or six, depending on how you see the relationship between Urdu and Hindi. Largely they are the same language, in that on an every day level they are perfectly mutually comprehensible, so that people speak of (or used to at least) Hindustani instead, and it is only once you get to the literary (and religio-philosophic) language that one starts drawing heavily on Persian and Arabic, and the other on Sanskrit (and different alphabets, of course). So often enough we would be chatting along just fine, somewhere in the Hindi belt in India, and then a few minutes into the conversation they would suddenly go: "What did you just say?" And I would repeat it, and they would look at me sort of triumphantly and say: "Urdu!"

Many English speakers, however, find learning another language such an incomprehensibly impossible task, that with their total ignorance of how much effort people put to speak to them in their own language, they arrive home from six months of "doing" South America or India or wherever, and think they've "picked up" Spanish or Hindi because they can buy drugs or give directions to a taxi driver. By this definition, I can extend my dominions considerably further, to encompass Persia and greater Khorasan (Afghanistan and Tajikistan), Turkey and most of Central Asia, Scandinavia (Finland is not Scandinavia...), oh it goes on, and I am making inroads on Russia.

"What do you do?" is the third one. Like the others, a perfectly innocent question - you have to talk about something after you've just met, after all, that is not like overly heavy. Years ago I took to answering "writer", because it is beautiful and just right and ambiguous enough to mean many things. Some horrible and insistent people pursue that with questions about, you know, selling writing, and where do you publish and who do you write for. They want to know what you do in the time you sell to others, a job it's called. Me, I'm moving into English teaching. Dynamic industry. I have no formal qualifications whatsoever, but I do have a lot practical experience in the field of learning to speak.

Oh the wonder of being in a new country surrounded by a new language. Everything becomes interesting. You can watch awful daytime TV, you can go out for a drink alone and end up talking with the most depressing babbling old alcoholic, it all suddenly feels educational and entertaining.


Real gem...

still #1 on Google for "chemical torture..."


sleep is weakness...

yeah, there'll be time later

but I'm getting upper-quadrant abdominal pains, bad night sweats, the shakes in the mornings

can't help being worried


E alemão!

People call this out at me a lot in the streets, hey german! At first it pissed me off, then it started amusing me (to imagine walking around in a Nazi uniform like in the Great Rock n'Roll Swindle and turn around and snap "Ja?"). Then I realised often it's actually affectionate. It's because of my blond hair, you know. Well, it's brown really, but blond by Brazilian standards.

There's an irony in the Nazi war criminals with their infantile racial ideas having fled here, where the thought of any sort of simple-minded racism becomes laughable... Look around, girls, girls, deepest black Afro to blonde Nordic through Japanese and Indian (indígeno and Indian..), and every conceivable mixture cross and combination thereof...


Hey you....

You know who you are, reading somewhere in São Paulo.... Estou aquí, no seu lado do Atlântico... Me manda mensajem...


Cuide-se: evite fumar e abusar de álcool e calmantes.

(text on reverse of SP Transport Bilhete Único)

Message from the City of São Paulo... They don't all have the same text... Makes me wonder if the lady behind the counter has a variety of different ones and hands out the most appropriate one to each customer... It has got to the worrying stage where my hands shake in the mornings...


Another city

It is at its best late at night, swept by rain, when you can finally see it for what it is, unobscured by scurrying swarms of humanity like the explosive fractal growth of bacterial culture in a petri dish, and anyone who is out in the street must belong to the desperate, lost, lonely, sleepless or mad.


Deus lhe pague

you can listen on youtube here for example...

Por esse pão pra comer, por esse chão pra dormir
A certidão pra nascer, e a concessão pra sorrir
Por me deixar respirar, por me deixar existir
Deus lhe pague

Pelo prazer de chorar e pelo "estamos aí"
Pela piada no bar e o futebol pra aplaudir
Um crime pra comentar e um samba pra distrair
Deus lhe pague

Por essa praia, essa saia, pelas mulheres daqui
O amor malfeito depressa, fazer a barba e partir
Pelo domingo que é lindo, novela, missa e gibi
Deus lhe pague

Pela cachaça de graça que a gente tem que engolir
Pela fumaça, desgraça, que a gente tem que tossir
Pelos andaimes, pingentes, que a gente tem que cair
Por mais um dia, agonia, pra suportar e assistir
Pelo rangido dos dentes, pela cidade a zunir
E pelo grito demente que nos ajuda a fugir
Pela mulher carpideira pra nos louvar e cuspir
E pelas moscas-bicheiras a nos beijar e cobrir
E pela paz derradeira que enfim vai nos redimir
Deus lhe pague.

(Chico Buarque)

loose translation into English:

For this bread to eat, for this floor to sleep on
For this certificate to be born, for permission to smile
For letting me breathe, for letting me exist (or resist?)
God bless you

For the pleasure of weeping, for the "we are here now"
For jokes in the bar, for this football to cheer
For a crime to commit, for the samba here
God bless you

For this beach, this skirt, these women here
For flawed hurried love, shave quickly, and leave
For this Sunday so beautiful, Mass, a novel, a comic to read
God bless you

For the free cachaça that we have to swallow
For the smoke disgracefully that we have to cough
For the scaffolding to fall off
For another day of agony to stand up to
For the grinding of teeth and the groaning of the city
For the demented scream that helps us flee
For the weeping woman to pray for us and spit on us
And for the screw-worms that cover us and kiss us
And for the final peace that will redeem us
God will reward you


3 minute posts

Two cops, hands on sidearms, were dragging a naked homeless guy along. It looked bad for the poor guy. They reached an unmarked door in the wall and hammered on it.

A tonsured monk in full habit with mad glaring eyes popped his head out. Without saying a word he disappeared again and reappeared with a change of clothes for the guy. He glared up and down the street once more and slammed the door shut.

The cops made the guy get dressed, let him go and lit up cigarettes.


5-minute posts

There is a lot of inertia to be overcome to get this goddam realgem moving again... it's rusted in its tracks...

The most overwhelmingly hilarious thing that has happened to me recently... I was at Mr Carah's art exhibition opening on Monday, aproveitando the cachaça de graça...

This dude came up to the bar... American, everything about him screamed... I thought he might be feeling lonely and confused with all the loud babbling in Brazilian around. So I stepped up to him and said hi and all the usual things English people say to introduce themselves.

He looked at me blankly and said: "Sorry, I don't speak Portuguese."