September 26, 2007

A few smoking strands still left

So here I am again. I make no excuses for my absence and no promises for future posts. Actually I don’t even think I will tell anyone that I am even writing here and just let people figure it out on their own if they please. I never have done anything well under pressure and already have a pretty complicated relationship to writing (I usually sit paralyzed by the blank page until various internet procrastinations wear me down to the point where I turn off the computer) so with all the expectations this bog thing became a chore quicker than I learned to enjoy it. But lately I have been afraid that I will loose my ability to see things here in Brazil with any clarity of perspective. I’ll go “native”… and take it all for granted. On top of my fear that I can’t get anything sensible onto the page without feeling like I’m giving birth to a watermelon, there is the greater one that if I don’t capture the moment now it will flee faster than my attention span run down by a blinking cursor.

We are still in a terrible drought. While in Africa it won’t stop raining, our half of the world hasn’t seen a single drop since May. Winter days have strung us along under a dull and relentless sun: cold in the morning, too hot at noon and nearly perfect by 4pm. Without a chance to be hosed down, the city and occasional tree has been colored a sandy grey by dust and pollution. Dharma sports permanently dirty knee-socks.

Grassland fires are common in the winter here. Sometimes they are intentionally sparked to clear brush, which is illegal. The slash and burn used to be rampant throughout Brazil but C tells me there was a big government campaign to educated people some years ago, and now it happens much less, at least in areas like ours, where there is a small, albeit inconsistent, of control over the populous. Of course in the sugarcane belt of the northeast it is still the standard and accepted technique of cultivation (this by the way will only get worse with the rush to capitalize on the thirst for ethanol) and god only knows what’s happening in the Amazon backlands where the cattle barons run lawless. It still seems like there are a lot of intentional fires set around here too -- so I can’t imagine how it must have been before the public awareness campaign and purported crackdown.

But frequently in dry months the fires do start on their own. This year’s drought has all but looked like the beginning of Armageddon -- the Rapture Index folks would have a field day. All of the hills in and around the city have blackened from burning. On any given day there is smoke and prickly fire-smell drifting in from somewhere. On the street and through open windows curls of black ash float down like devilish snowflakes. One night we were outside having a beer at a boteco at the bottom of our hill when the ashes started landing in our cups. We moved inside and overheard people saying it was the hill behind the hospital Santa Casa – the same hill behind our apartment. We finished our beers, not in much of a hurry -- fire can’t do much to a cinder block construction. Arriving home we found on the end of our street a few red municipal Ford SUV’s belonging to the fire department, and half a dozen firemen standing around watching the hill go up in flames. No water, no pickaxes. Just the typical milling about and kicking the dust. Appears they might have spent their firefighting budget on the cars. I was furious that no one was doing anything and extremely worried about the beautiful trees that wood the hill behind us and do so much make our little street so fresh to live on – not to mention the monkeys that live in them. I was equally furious that I had left all the whites out on the line to dry and they were all covered in soot. In the end it thankfully didn’t get too many of the trees, but the whole unwooded side of the hill that in the summer once turned a blousy green now looms over us charred and sad.

Along with the burnings, a plague of mosquitoes have descended. No one is sleeping at night. The theory is that they have been swept in on the dry winds, driven from the fires in the surrounding countryside. It’s all anyone talks about. In doctor’s waiting rooms, and bank lines and in the town praça the conversations all sound alike. Somewhat baffled, everyone from old men to pimply teens complain and shake their heads saying “never seen anything like it,” “put up mosquito nets on all the beds,” “its enough to make you loose your mind.” The stores have had a run on repellent and the nighttime plug-in remedies that release enough toxins to warrant several pages of warnings but do nothing to stop the relentless whine that wakes you slapping at your ears in the early morning hours. C and I shut the house up at 4pm when the sun starts to set and sleep with the ceiling fan on high and the covers up to our noses. Don’t even get me started on why Brazilian’s don’t make screens for windows. It’s enough to make you loose your mind just wondering.

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