Thursday, January 31, 2008

A cute person (and her parents). Danny and Caz and Gracie are on the flight on their way back to lil ol England and we are left to miss them. Gracie is arguably one of the cutest babies I have ever seen - perhaps, the prospect of being a Dad to a little girl has made me soft for this sort of thing, but she is well behaved, cheerful, boisterous and even when she cries it doesn't seem to annoy me too much. The Byrnes are lucky to have a little one like Gracie. In the week they were here we managed to cram in a fair bit of beach, eating, "bladder boy" (1 on 1 football), swimming, praying, laughing, Top Trumps, Rummikub and lots else besides. It was an exhausting (because of the two kids) but also refreshing (because of the good company) week.

An important person. On Tuesday, I had the final private English lesson with a Brazilian state prosectutor (criminal lawyer for the state of Rio Grande de Norte) called Marcelo Alves. Marcelo is a very impotant man: the son of a parliamentary deputy, an author and an expert on Brazilian law. Marcelo is applying for a PhD in the UK and wanted me to help him with a telephone interview. His interview was only about 10 minutes long and we prepared for 10 hours, 1 hour per minute. He had good English, probably upper intermediate to advanced but he wanted to brush up.

I have never seen anyone - at least in Brazil - with this sort of drive, determination and initiative in planning for the next step of a career. He photocopied the entire book - on French Law - written by the professor who was giving the interview for me to read. We researched her life and career so as to have as much inside knowledge as possible. I wrote out key phrases and questions for him to use in his interview. We emailed the professor's secretary and recieved some pointers for what the interview would be about. He subsequently wrote mini-essays answering each point to help clarify his thinking on the subject. My final lesson with him was to be taken to his office where the call was to be made for the interview. We talked law for 30 minutes to get him used to speaking English and then he made the call at 9am Brazilian time. I could tell he was nervous but he did fine, and it was gratifying to see him using some of the notes I had prepared for him. In reality the interviewer herself spoke for more of the 10 minutes than Marcelo did. As soon as the call ended he unleashed a barrage of Portuguese at me unintentionally - a reflex for having had to work so hard in English, I guess. A decision about his PhD will be emailed to him next week.

Marcelo kindly gave me a copy of his book "De Precedente Judicial a Sumula Viculante" (On the judicial precedent in the Sumula Viculante). He inscribed a message for me which reads: "For David, my teacher and friend. Your help was fundamental to my PhD. I hope". I will put him in touch with friends of mine in London should his application be successful. In the meantine he has promised to take me to a football match here in Natal where I think the language spoken should be solely Portuguese for my benefit.

Speaking of "my benefit", I came to see the 10 hours with Marcelo as something like a private crash course for me in the theory of law. I knew almost nothing about this beforehand, but now because of our conversations and the book I read I feel I know a fair bit about English law, French law and Brazilian law. It's actually all fascinating, but like many things, it's nice to enjoy it from a distance. I'm certainly not about to embark on a law career.

A famous person. David Beckham was in Natal last weekend promoting a new football Academy he is launching in Brazil and lots else besides. A good article about why he was here and what he plans to do in Brazil can be read at The Times website. It's another example of how the beauty of Natal is attracting international attention from the rich and famous. There is a sense in the city that Natal is about to be launched headlong into the 21st Century and it's status as a quiet seaside town with miles of unspoiled, uncrowded, stunning beaches is going to be radically changed. In case you're interested we made no real effort to see the world's most famous footballer in person. Actually information was very thin on the ground beforehand - for security reasons, probably. The date most of the papers predicted his arrival was to be the 29th of January (he was actually here two days earlier). I contacted a student of mine who works at the airport to see if she could let me in on where and when he would be arriving but she knew nothing about it. But, if the article above is to be believed, Beckham will be based here in some shape or form for the forseeable future. If so, Rachel is already working on a business plan to get Cultura Inglesa language schools working on teaching English to those who will seek employment in this new complex. Perhaps, we can wrangle a photo opportunity with the man himself... watch this space.

A crazy person. Danny and Caz and I went on the sand dune buggy ride - the same thing I did with Ruth Leckenby and both Tom and Theo. This time we had Edson Careca (Careca = baldy) as a driver. He wore something like a black hunting hat to protect his scalp from the sun and he carried a crooked, yellowing smile beneath his shades. We asked him to drive "com emoçao" (with emotion) over the dunes and he certainly didn't dissapoint. Caz had to have a lie down when she came in. I think I had whiplash.

A superstitious person. Macumba is a form of spiritist belief which originates from Africa. I don't know too much about it but it seems to have a lot of connections with witchcraft and voodoo. So, this week I was surprised to find evidence of Macumba practices as I went about my job teaching English. The situation was this: when I went with Marcelo the lawyer (see above) to help him with his interview he used the office of a colleague of his, evidently a high powered woman who was also a state prosecutor. Her room had the usual regalia - pictures of her with her children, law books, paintings, art. But, I noticed something else there too. A small table, like a coffee table, covered in trinkets of various kinds, some kind of prayer written out on a plaque, an image of her with an ornately dressed African man and the centrepiece - a small box full of sand with colourful stones inside and a small stick for stirring them around. Back at home Rachel confirmed to me that this would almost certainly be the paraphanalia of Macumba.

It may be surprising to Brits that an educated and influential person whose job emphasises the application of logical reasoning would be tangled up in a set of practices more associated with African tribesman. On the other hand, it's not surprising at all. It's just another example of how Brazilians are a deeply spiritual and superstitious people.

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