Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The strange people we left behind: part 3. Above is a picture of Hugh, one of the Gillum lads who visited us this July. Hugh is the one nearest the camera, a rugby-playing, 6-foot-something, university student. He was accosted by a "strange" (read "drunk") person near our house when he was here. The fellow in question saddled up asking for money. But, before long, the older guy's earnestness gave way to a toothless grin which barely masked the stench of alcohol... Clad in a flourescent yellow football shirt, he positively embraced the bewildered Hugh exclaiming: "Zidane! Zidane! Ess aqui e Zinadene Zidane!". Well, in as much as Hugh was a tall foreigner, he was Zidane. Hugh says it's because the guy saw him play football.

Anyway, this example of another strange person reminds me of the man at the end of my road who was also occasionally inebriated and also had some severe dental problems. The chap in question did not seem to have a regular job, or rather, a job that earned money. As far as I could see, it was his "job" to pace up and down the street without a shirt on, occasionally have a tipple, then open his burger bar in the evening. By this I mean, he would wheel out an ampley-sized trolley from his house which had a hot plate attached. He would power the trolley (and a small TV too) from an extension wire that ran 20 yards up the road into his house. And at the corner he would pass the time between about 6 and 10 serving burgers to passers by. I never once had one despite frequently "promising" him that I would - I just couldn't risk the hospital bills. I later concluded this guy was some sort of big shot in the local mafia as everyone who was anybody eventually ate burgers at his bar. Perhaps he had a protection racket and this was how he earned his dosh. It felt like eating a burger from his bar was some sacred rite of passage into greater prestige and fame. Either way, we will be moderatley sad to say goodbye to him.

Round the corner from our friend's burger bar was a fantastic little restaurant called Matalao. I honestly regret not discovering this gem earlier - they served a buffet lunch of traditional Brazilian food at a fair price and before we left we were practically in the habit of going down there once a week, for lunch on Saturday. Nelsinho for one was a fan of their beans and farofa. The people there were utterly un-strange it has to be said - the place had the feel of a family business and everyone was efficient and courteous. It was the guy outside who was a little old. He was by far the best dressed "car shepherd" I had ever seen, at least from the ankles up. He set about ushering vehicles in and out of parking spaces with customary rigour. And, as an older man, with a suit and shirt and havaiana flip-flops, one couldn't begrudge him his 1Real even if he hadn't really done a lot to deserve it.

It would be unfair to say that the wacky people in our neighbourhood were just Brazilian. Brazilians don't monopolise randomness, I think they're just not ashamed to display it publically. Whatever, behind us and parallel to us lived Bob - a British man, easily in his 60s who ran a massage parlour and taught English on the side. I would sometimes pop round to chat to him as he seemed to appreciate somebody to speak English too. Generally, I found he didn't have a lot positive to say about anything and he inherited a 1950s political correctness which has never gone away. This is because he left the UK during that decade and has never been back once. Instead, he seems to have stumbled across half the world (he started out in Australia) making and losing and pilfering the cash he needed to live until he got to the place where he his now. He, like several missionaries and English teachers I have met, is an example of that strange animal: the ex-pat Brit who has a faded and twisted, but nonetheless prominant, version of Britishness which is carried and displayed with pride. God bless, Bob.

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