Rogues’ gallery

Do you remember George Speight? In 2000 he usurped Fijian democracy, nominally standing for indigenous rights, but by a strange coincidence he was also an undischarged bankrupt about to face court proceedings.

Or how about Pervez Musharraf? In 1999 he usurped Pakistani democracy, purportedly fighting corruption, but he had also just overseen the disastrous Kargil operation and was facing calls to be court-martialled.

Hell, do you remember Gaius Julius Caesar, who usurped Roman democracy supposedly to restore order to the empire, but who was about to lose his consular immunity and face repeated Senatorial prosecutions for exceeding and ignoring their military instructions?

And now? Now a man facing charges of taking bribes worth $40 million, pillaging of state assets, and money laundering is firmly on his way to removing a democratically-elected president accused of a bit of creative accounting, in the name of the family and God, of all things. Congratulations, Eduardo Cunha. Welcome to the dismal brigade of self-interested, power-hungry, democracy-screwing arseholes.

Speight, Musharraf, Caesar, Cunha

Punctuated model of inebriation

punctuated model of inebriation (phr.) theoretical model of consumption which proposes that, over an extended period, inebriation should occur due to short bursts of intensive consumption, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. Differs from the graduated model of inebriation, which proposes continual and uniform consumption of small quantities.

Being narcoleptic, the punctuated model works best for me, as it allows downtime for a recuperatory doze mid-session. As yesterday was a feriado here, it seemed rude not to have a couple of after-lunch caipirinhas, a trajectory which clearly could not be maintained through to the small hours of the morning. Careful application of the punctuated model resulted in, twelve hours later, a pleasantly woozy end to the evening on the beach with a bunch of friends, a guitar, and a bonfire, singing those slightly saccharine but catchy tunes which seem to fall off the pens of Brazilian songwriters almost as if—well, almost as if carousing sentimental melodies on a beach till the small hours of the morning was one of the simplest but greatest pleasures of life.

On jararacuçus

I’m a city boy, without any doubt. I was brought up in Bristol and then Plymouth and, as an adult, have largely lived in medium-sized cities: Oxford, York, Bath. The inability to drive coupled with a cripplingly infrangible requirement for americanos means I cannot spend too long more than a short bike ride from an espresso machine.

This is not to say I disapprove of nature, quite the opposite. However, as I think is clear from a previous post, I generally meh English nature. I am not a subtle man: I like my scenary spectacular, my climate hot (without the benefit of carbon emissions), and my rain to be proper rain—tempestuous downpours are far more enjoyable than months of endless drizzle working its way up, in poor excuse for a climax, to windscreen-smothering blatter. I like my flora weird and odourful, and my fauna to look like it lives off something other than cream teas and whimsy. Buttercups and shrews entertain me not: I want a dama da noite and an ariranha that would eat its English cousin for breakfast. Brazil provides me with nature of the kind I enjoy and, when there, I often stay in the village of Picinguaba, which is surrounded by the stuff. But it is also there that, a few years ago, I came up against the limits of my fauna appreciation, on a nature trail nearby.

I went with a couple of English friends (one resident in Picinguaba, the other visiting her) and a Brazilian chap to a waterfall near the next village, Ubatumirim. Visiting waterfalls is a popular alternative to a beach: there is considerably more shade, and usually a pleasant stroll through the forest to get to the falls. A pleasant stroll indeed was had, and then a few hours lolling around and sunbathing and reading and generally being indolent. We started back, and the Brazilian guy was in the front, which was fortunate as but a couple of meters down the path he stopped, held us back, and warned us to be careful, as there was, he said, a snake on the path. Coming up next, I looked at where he was pointing a saw, well, nothing. It took me a quite a few moments before I could make it out, and there is no way I would have spotted it just walking past, but there was, indeed, a smallish brown/yellow snake curled up on the path. Camouflage works really rather well actually out there in the wild, it would appear.

Anyway, our Brazilian friend told us to be very careful. This was a jararaca or a jararacuçu (pronounced ja-ra-ra-ka and ja-ra-ra-ku-su). Whichever it was, he warned us, the snake was very venemous. Can I admit to you that a little voice in my head pshawed him? I mean, it was clearly a biter rather than a squeezer, but it wasn’t that big, and more importantly we know—don’t we, fellow city-dwellers?—from David Attenborough documentaries that nature warns of venom. Poisonous or venemous creatures are brightly coloured or otherwise flouncy and exhibitionist: I cite you the coral snake, the lion fish, and the magnificently-named Pfeffer’s flamboyant cuttlefish, a cephalopod which clearly spends far too much time in the dressing room. So it was clear to me that this well-camouflaged brownish-yellowish thing couldn’t really be properly venomous. Nevertheless, it could at the least leave two unwelcome punctures in my shin, and might sting a bit, so I gave it, as did everyone else, a wide berth.

When we arrived back at Picinguaba I was chatting with my friend Peter, and I mentioned this snake to him. He seemed impressed, and reiterated the line that they were very dangerous. Pshaw, the doubting voice in my head went, but slightly less confidently so than it had previously. On the pretext of establishing whether it was a jararaca or a jararacuçu I got out my laptop and started to look it up online …

… and found that it’s a pit viper. That’s a genuinely rather venemous snake, and aggressive to boot. (Can snakes be anything to boot?) Indeed, of the jararacuçu—which, from the colouring and geographical distribution, I now think it was—the first scholarly article I found said that it is “one of the most dreaded snakes of Brazil.” I appealed to reason. According to most online sources they grow over 2m in length, and this one couldn’t have been more than 50cm. So it couldn’t be that bad, could it? Peter demurred. The small ones, he claimed, are more aggressive and more likely to inject their entire venom reservoir.

The pshaw-voice in my head was oddly muted by now. Perhaps, after all, local knowledge should be respected. And maybe shrews aren’t so bad, either.

A to Z blogging challenge: J

The Teeth

A lot of people in Brazil keep dogs, they are popular as pets, but also serve rather well as protection in a country where barred windows and eight-foot fences are, regrettably, the norm.

The first place I stayed with dogs was in Taguatinga, and they had two: Lugubrious Dog and Terribly! Over! Excitable! Dog! Lugubrious Dog was a large and elderly Brazilian Mastiff, and she served the role of guard dog. Though old, creaky, and suffering from some hideous ailment that, amongst other things, caused her to lactate despite never having whelped, she was still a dog with whom one would not mess. Terribly! Over! Excitable! Dog! was not a good guard dog. He wasn’t friendly in a tail-wagging, affection-begging sense, but he was so terribly, terribly excited by such things as cars, leaves, his own tail, a full food dish, an empty food dish, a food dish that had been moved from one corner of the kennel to another, and so forth, that actual interaction with a human being drove him into ecstatic paroxysms of yippy glee such that he would almost fall on his side with delight. But Lugubrious Dog had to be dealt with because, though slow-moving, she still could probably take down a small horse. A couple of meat patties were sufficient to earn her initial trust and, over the months I stayed there, she came to rather like me—largely, I suspect, because I took the effort to interact with her, rather than treating her as a noisy inconvenience. If I was sat working in the yard she would drag herself over and slump against me, oozing her elderly, diseased milk over my legs in a manner which I had to take as affectionate. Her owner, who has previously been mentioned on this blog for her rather extreme mood swings and temper, occasionally took this as a personal affront.

I’m now staying for some days in the house of an American friend in Niterói, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, and though it may be somewhat more peaceable than other parts of this violent, beautiful, paradisical hell-hole, it still is wise to have some kind of deterrent. The neighbours have an electric fence. Andrew has a dog.

Andrew’s dog is far better cared for than Lugubrious Dog and her ebullient companion, but nevertheless serves as a guard dog, and is duly protective. Technically called Tufa, he will be remembered by history as The Teeth, Meu Deus, The Teeth, and he is fairly clear about which bits of the world are his, and who is permitted in them. He is a large white dog, built like a German Shepherd, and boasts an impressive set of gnashers. He has not, I think it is fair to say, taken to me as Lugubrious Dog did.

Thus far a careful game of musical chairs has been played, with The Teeth being moved from front yard to back, or to the washing room, and variously chained or barred from accessing me; however he still exhibits strong displeasure upon seeing me, and seems to be capable of the spectacular feat of simultaneously growling menacingly and barking furiously. This morning, after having spent two days carefully working my way round him, I decided the time had come to try and change the situation a little. Dogs are, after all, pack animals, and a key part of relating with them is showing them who is boss. I therefore screwed up my courage, stood the other side of a barred gate to him and, basically, shouted him down. When I was a kid I was terrified of dogs and, though I now rather like them when they are not being needy bundles of saliva and fur, an angry dog still can cause a latent jitter to arise within me. But I did the deed, albeit protected by six foot of cast iron, and yelled “Para!” at him until, probably to both our surprise, he quietened down.

He’s not yet my friend. I am still, clearly, an interloper and a threat to the family silver. But I think I have the wind in my favour now. Tomorrow we shall buy some carrots—The Teeth likes carrots, presumably he knows the vitamin A will help keep those incisors sharp and pointy—and I shall take another step towards rapproachement. I leave for Picinguaba on the 27th. I am determined to pat him on the head before I go.