I RETURNED FROM THAT VAST SOUTH AMERICAN COUNTRY A CHANGED MAN THE LEVELS OF TENSION WERE HIGH FOR THOSE FEW MINUTES WE LEFT THE SAFETY OF OUR TOURIST SANCTUARY
In my first column after the summer break, which now seems so long ago, I mentioned that I had plenty to write about, given that I had spent almost three weeks in Brazil this summer, and the cultural contrasts I had encountered were numerous. But then Rubiales’ exploits got in the way, and I found myself discussing Xavi’s reaction to Kissgate and the general fallout from it, leaving my musings on Brazil on the back burner. Well now it’s almost the end of the year, it’s time to get round to fixing that.
I will start by saying that I returned from that vast South American country a changed man. And not for the first time: I’ve always found long-distance travel to be a catalyst for introspection and profound reflection on the life I have built for myself. Indeed, my first and only album, The Back of Beyond, was written during a six-month sojourn in SE Asia many moons ago. But don’t go looking for it, it’s not on Spotify or Amazon, it’s only on my shelf here at home. My point being, time spent in faraway places inevitably leads to rich comparisons with the place we left behind.
Among the many conclusions I came to this summer, perhaps one of the most powerful was based on safety and security. I was warned time and again in Brazil not to walk the streets alone, or show any sign of Western affluence, since the likely outcome would be a physical attack and the theft of anything valuable that I might be carrying with me. I was therefore immensely cautious in this respect. Then, the day of our arrival in Manaus, my partner and I found ourselves stuck in the artisan market in need of a mobile phone card, since the one we were using had stopped working. There was nowhere to buy a card in the market itself, and the only way we could safely get back to our hotel, according to the hotel staff and the market security guards, was to take an Uber, which of course required a network connection. The choice was to either venture out onto the streets and look for a shop on our own, or try and find someone to escort us. Heeding all the advice we had been given, we took the latter option and, accompanied by a security guard, found our way to a local street dealer who sold phone cards, allowing us to resolve our temporary hitch. The levels of tension were high for those few minutes we left the safety of our tourist sanctuary.
A petty anecdote perhaps, but one that serves to highlight a huge difference between living here in Western Europe and living somewhere else in the world. That feeling of insecurity that accompanied me during most of my time in Brazil is not one that I would like to have to get used to. I’m not even sure I could.
The times we live in, where it is impossible to consult any media outlet without images and news of countries and cultures at war and the shocking stories of disregard for others’ lives all around us, now added to by that ever-present feeling of insecurity during the time I spent in Brazil, have left me feeling immensely grateful for the safety and security of living here in Catalonia, and specifically its capital, Barcelona.