City of Men

The street is lit but  deserted, the minibus pulls up and an old lady steps heavily out, the bus drives on and she slowly turns and sits down to contemplate what she has lost, everything.

The old lady is Wallace’s and Madrugadão’s grand mother, she has just watched her home in the favela burn after being kicked out when Madrugadão, the Favela boss, is driven out by Defasto, his former henchman.
It is scenes like this that put City of Men, a film based on the TV series (of the same name) based on the film City of God, above the highly acclaimed original.

Shot in luscious colour, with the Cidade maravilhosa a sweeping backdrop to the gritty alleyways of the favela’s, where the residents and gangs live out their lives.

Following on from the TV series, Acerola (Ace) and Wallace (Laranjinha) are back, fast approaching their eighteenth birthdays. One is searching for his father while the other one struggles to cope with being one, and their long, close frienship is stretched to breaking point when Wallace’s re-union with his father has unexpected consequences. As a turf war erupts following the expulsion of Madrugadão, it’s effects are felt all over the favela, and spill, on occasion, onto the ‘Asphalt’ below.

I’m not a big film watcher, but I loved this film, and it’s soundtrack, and thought I would pay my own small written homage to it.

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Joy to the city – Josh Ritter live at Village Underground

We almost didn’t make it, a fire and epic power cut left my tickets stranded in my drawer, and apparently we couldn’t get back into the building until today.  In the end my manager got in and rescued the tickets, I text my waiting mate at the pub..we are all set.

An hour later we were standing in the crowd with a can of piston head beer in our hands, sweating, listening to the soulful, Nina Simone-esque voice (Listen to it’s cold out here) of Bhi Bhiman, who, fully suited and booted, must have been sweating even more than the crowd, still he ended with a whistle led cover of Walk of Life and the crowd, a comfortable sell out for Village Underground, were cooking nicely.

Southern Pacifica opened a set that seemed to go of forever, and that I didn’t want to end. I always think a sign of a good artist / band is when their voice sounds live, exactly the same as it does on CD / Download / Vinyl (delete according to age), and Josh Ritter’s raw silk vocals rolled out like chocolate over the band.  Good man followed and I was singing along, perhaps only slightly less excited than Josh himself, who had a grin so big on his face his eyes were shut.  Primarily for the release of the Beast in it’s Tracks album, there was a lot of The Animal years, including Lillian, Egypt, a raucous Wolves and  my favourite of the album, a beautiful One More Mouth.

“Can we turn the lights down…lower…lower…turn them right down” bathed in two soft spotlights, accompanied by the piano Josh softly sung The Curse to a hushed crowd. There were tears in my eyes at the end, a guy in front of us had both his mates with their arms around him.  I heard my mates voice from just behind me “I’m glad you’re in front of me, at least you can’t see me crying”.  I’ve never had a reaction like that at a gig, even with songs that have a much more personal meaning to my life.

Evil Eye, Hopeful, New Lover (on par with The Airborne Toxic Event’s sometime around midnight as the greatest break up song ever, the last verse of New Lover conveys everything), Bonfire, The Appleblossom rag and Joy to you Baby all got a run out from the Beast in it’s Tracks, at one point he stood at the front of the stage and sung without the mic, the crowd heard it over the appreciative hush of watching a master at work.
He has an easy manner with the crowd, enjoying the warm reception, and even responding to advice..”Take your pants off” someone shouted after he said how hot it was. .”I was raised very conservatively, I’ve got 3 pairs on…habit”.

Towards the end there was just one song left I wanted to hear, I wanted to shout it out, to beg for it to be played, and then I heard it kick in, the last song, I turned around and hugged my mate.  My favourite Ritter song, one of my favourite love songs ever.  I sung the first lines to a girl behind me, I sung the rest to the air, loving every strum and drumbeat of Kathleen until it finished to a thoroughly deserved round of applause.  They said their goodbyes, the crowd demanded more.  The encore included long shadows and at the end another rapturous send off for a consummate musician and showman, and we streamed out into the cool night air.20130724_195026

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Ashes of the Amazon [Milton Hatoum]

There have been books that I’ve loved, where I’ve copied out pages of quotes and notes and had loads to write about, and have had to trim it all down lest I rewrite the whole thing, and there are books that I’ve disliked, but still had plenty to write about, after all, I enjoy a moan as much as the next Englishman (Englishwomen are also available). Then there is Ashes of the Amazon by Milton Hatoum.  Now while I’m loath to say it wasn’t very good, it wasn’t very.. no, what I will say is that I struggled to care. About any of it.

Not one of the characters engaged me enough to think, I want this to work out for them, or please tell me they get their comeuppance! I didn’t like any of them, but that is hardly important, who am I after all, but I couldn’t make myself interested in them.  I knew why Mundo was railing against his father, and though not something I have experienced, could appreciate the constant clashing between the two, but I just didn’t like Mundo enough to make me completely side with him and rush through the story.   The main narrator seemed pointless as far as I could make out, and the ending, while not entirely predictable, was mostly predictable.

What kept me going, apart from my stubborn refusal to stop reading books when life is too short and I have eleven sitting and waiting on my bookshelf, was the depiction of Manaus, the description of such a unique city and it’s streets and life, hemmed in by the Amazon and Rio Negro.

I looked at other reviews, which veered from 5 stars (I feel I may have missed the point) to 1 star (I feel quite generous), including some grumbling about the translation.  Aside from Good Morning and thank you, which don’t tend to lose their nuance in any language, I can’t comment, but perhaps something was lost in translation, maybe all the interesting characters.

Paradise with Serpents [Robert Carver]

One of the kidnappers had been heard to speak with an Argentine accent, it was claimed.  Some theorized that it had to be a foreign operation, as it had been so slick and efficient, a Paraguayan – organized kidnap like this would have gone awry – the car keys would have been lost, the wrong girl snatched, the car run out of petrol, something of that sort.  The national inferiority complex even extended to crime it seemed.

The closest I have been to Paraguay is the three frontiers, between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, near Iguazu (or Iguacu depending on where you are).  I turned down the chance to go shopping to Ciudad del Este, but I often fancied heading back and venturing across the river.
I haven’t had the chance yet, but to keep my interest up I picked up Paradise with Serpents.  Having read it, I doubt it is much endorsed by the Paraguayan tourism agency.

Carver, who had a distant uncle who travelled these lands in days long gone, paints a picture of a country that is barely functioning, whose government is bloated, corrupt and inept and whose people long for the days of ‘Alfie’, Alfredo Stroessner, who, while diabolical, apparently kept the country running, in some fashion (in between making people ‘disappear’ presumably).  Carver spends a long time in Asuncion, visiting the English Ambassador and trying to piece together the countries idiosyncrasies.  Thousands of people employed by a government with no money, armed guards everywhere and unpaid police frame the city.  He doesn’t speak Guarani, and he is  chased down a side street by someone brandishing a machete, but the people he does speak to paint a picture of a population who have no trust in their state, who seem lost as to what democracy can do for them.

Yet the allure of the place seems to take a long time to dull for Carver, he travels intrepidly throughout el interior, to start with to avoid being in the capital when a coup is mooted by general Oviedo,being bitten by bats, questioned at gun point and slowly coming to a realisation that he is way out of his depth, and by the end he is relieved to get out of the country.

His research into Paraguay’s history is thorough, but sits comfortably amongst the travelogue, and he often rails against traditional western society in general, although in this respect, he comes across as an old man (I have no idea how old he was when he travelled to Paraguay) moaning about how good it used to be, but given how little interaction he seems to have throughout the book it makes sense he becomes introspective.

Strangely though, the book did not put me off wanting to visit Paraguay, but then reading reviews on other websites it is widely derided as fantasy and myth making, and even the history research I had been impressed with, it’s not thought to be worth much.  John Gimlette’s Tomb of the Inflatable Pig (which Carver also recommends) is given as a decent alternative.

Having not been, I can’t comment on the veracity of the book, I read it, in the end, as a frightened old man who may have exaggerated his travels for effect, but who did so with some humour and self awareness.  If it’s myth making then so be it, I’ll get a footprint guide when I go.

 I explained to Veronica what I was looking for – a skilled, experienced, intrepid and knowledgeable local guide, trustworthy and honest, dependable and reliable, with whom I could entrust myself in my voyages into el interior. She nodded brightly.  “This person will not be Paraguayan.  I do not think this person is existing, actually ever in the history of South America”