Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Fortaleza’

Poverty and Violence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th August, 2017

Brazil shooting smallThe local newspaper in Fortaleza is full of stories of gang warfare in the less salubrious parts of the city: fatalities, injuries and fights. The fact that many criminals in Brazil have access to guns contributes to the death rate. A friend of ours had his car hijacked at gunpoint the other night and many Fortaleza residents live in gated high-rise developments with security guards at the entrance 24 hours a day. But most of the victims of violent crime are not the wealthier members of society but rather the poor and especially the young; the victims and the perpetrators often resemble each other. One thing that unites many of them is a sense of hopelessness. Unemployment and especially under-employment rates are high and even middle-class families are finding it hard to make ends meet. Many food prices in our local supermarket here are higher than in the UK, yet most people’s incomes are nowhere near European levels. Lots of young men just hang around in the hope of getting odd jobs, such as guarding parked cars for a tip. Other young people take to drugs or prostitution, which form part of the criminal underworld, though underworld is perhaps the wrong word to describe it as it is so visible.

TemerPoverty and despair undoubtedly contribute to the level of violence that is endemic in so many Brazilian cities, especially at night. But there is something else which is significant and is mentioned to me again and again by people of all social classes: a seething resentment against politicians and others at the very top of Brazilian society who cream off billions of reais through corruption. President Temer avoided being sent to trial the other day, as a vote in parliament to commit him failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. But everyone thinks the whole political establishment is rotten, irrespective of party. The difference between the crooks at the top and the petty criminals at street-level is that the top people don’t shoot each other, but buy each other’s favours instead.

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Gentrification Isn’t Always Bad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th August, 2017

IMG_2663When we first started frequenting Praia de Iracema over 30 years ago, it was an arty suburb of Fortaleza, with low-rise buildings that gave it an attractive air, accentuated by the crystal blue waves that broke along the beach behind the houses. Subsequently, the city grew five-fold, population-wise, and the empty dunes that began only a few hundred metres along the shore were soon tamed and scores of hotels and gated apartment blocks were built facing them, all the way to the port at Mucuripe. Praia de Iracema itself was overshadowed by its glitzier new neighbour and became a haunt for druggies and drop-outs. Some of the old properties were knocked down and replaced with car parks by people who saw a way of making a few bucks. But in recent years, the trend has gone in the other direction, as the area has been gentrified by middle-class couples and families who, like us, have restored old properties, fought to keep conservation area status and backed the local authority’s excellent initiative to construct a wide promenade all the way along the beach from a big stone breakwater to the Ponte Ingles — a miniature pier in cast iron, imported from England a century ago, like so much of the fine ironwork in Brazil. Henceforth Praia de Iracema looked northwards the sea, with the sun marking its progress daily from east to west, as thousands of people safely bathe from the beach and in the evening enterprising locals rent out fantasy bicycles and roller skates to people from the city coming to savour the fresh air and restored environment. IMG_2682

 

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When Writing, Dislocation Helps

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st July, 2017

JF writingSome people might think it odd that I am writing about life in Brussels in the 1970s while currently based in Fortaleza, Brazil. But I have often found that dislocation can be a great aid to writing, be this memoir or other. It was the novelist Christopher Isherwood — who will appear in my new book — who first made me aware of this, when I asked him how he managed to write his vivid Berlin stories far away from the German capital and years after the events partly described. It’s all about digging into the deeper recesses of memory (in my case, supplemented by diary entries) and then reforming images and actions through words  in a way that can be transmitted to the reader and make a visual impact in their brain. If I were in Brussels now, for example, I would be distracted by aspects of the city in 2017 rather than the reality of 40-odd years ago. Photographs help when it comes to people, of course; in fact, they can be a fantastic trigger of memory. Then there is the matter of selection. Great diarists can write material that withstands the test of time, but most of us jot things down in a way that is neither literary nor necessarily very interesting to anyone but ourselves. When I kept those diaries (from the age of 16 onwards) did I realise that one day I would turn my hand to memoir? I don’t believe so. But something compelled me to write notes which were then put aside for decades. Maybe unconsciously I realised that my memory would need their aid some time in the future, some place else.

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Young Lives Lost

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th July, 2017

gun crime smallLast night, shortly after dinner, we heard gunshots not far away from the house, followed by police sirens, and this morning the story was all over town. An 18-year-old youth had shot dead another and wounded a couple of girls. The attacker was in turn shot by police and wounded, but not critically. He will doubtless now end up in prison — which in Brazil all too often means a struggle for survival in an overcrowded and brutal environment controlled by its own, often vicious codes. It’s because of night-time insecurity that we hardly ever go out after dark in Fortaleza, but instead sit snug and safe behind locks and grills, reading. In the daytime, it is a different world, a sunny resort where families peddle up and down the promenade behind the house on various fantastic bicycles. But then comes the night. Gun crime is a serious problem in many of Brazil’s cities, but before Europeans feel superior about our own native countries’ relative security, it’s worth pointing out that there are areas of my original hometown, Manchester (notably Moss Side) where guns can be obtained relatively easily. In London, we tend to hear more of knife crime and there has been a depressing surge in attacks with knives in the city. Almost always, the victims are teenagers themselves, so just as with last night’s shooting here in Fortaleza, young lives are lost. before they have really begun. And in a sense the same is true for the perpetrators. Such a tragic and unnecessary waste.

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Why Brazilians Are Protesting

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th August, 2015

imageimageWhen Brazilians take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands it is usually Carnival time — an explosion of popular music and celebration. But recently the crowds have been turning out for an entirely different reason: calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Yesterday, in the main commercial city São Paulo an estimated 350,000 took part, with smaller demonstrations in other centers including the capital, Brasilia. There was even a modest turnout here in the North-Eastern coastal city of Fortaleza ( where I am spending August). The main trigger for the impeachment calls has been frustration at the corruption by which Brazil is riddled, including within the giant hydrocarbons company Petrobras where Dilma (as she is always referred to) used to work. But there is a wider disenchantment with her and her government because the Brazilian economy has stalled, while unemployment and inflation are both rising. There is very little chance that Dilma will be toppled (she is only one year into her second mandate) and it is doubtful whether anyone else could turn the country round quickly. But in the meantime the demonstrations have a certain therapeutic value as people come together to voice their individual and collective frustrations.

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The Beauty of Silence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th August, 2014

silenceBrazil has long been one of my favourite countries in the world, but nowhere is perfect. The one thing about life here that I find really difficult is the absence of silence. Every cafe, restaurant and bar has either the television or radio blaring, and often both. And there is music everywhere — all very atmospheric during Carnival, but exhausting in its pervasiveness. I used to have a spot by the beach here in Fortaleza where I went to read, think and write, but since I last visited they have installed a radio and loudspeaker system there as well. Moreover, because of the climate — all year round, here on the Equator — people live out in the open and call out to each other. It’s rare to see anybody reading a book or even a newspaper, and that’s not only because they are so expensive compared with people’s earnings. However, all is not lost. There is a place where I go every morning while here, at the end of the wooden pier appropriately called the Ponte dos Ingleses, where I can sit in the breeze with nothing but the sound of the sea. Silence is golden, as the hackneyed saying goes. For in silence one can have deep thoughts. And also surrender to the form of inaction the Chinese Taoists favoured: a sort of not-thinking.

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Pre-Carnival

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th February, 2010

Brazil’s Carnival will take place next weekend —  an annual explosion of partying in the street, parades, drinking and brief encounters (for which the government is distributing 55 million free condoms) before, in principle, everyone hunkers down into Lent. Unlike Rio’s Carnival, where samba schools perform in closed locations in front of a paying crowd, in the rest of the country Carnival is one big street-fest, free and easy. Here in Fortaleza, in north-eastern Céara province, however, the Workers Party local administration has put on a big festival this weekend, as a pre-Carnival, to give some of the samba groups a chance to practise in front of a big crowd, but more importantly for the local population to get revved up. There’s an enormaous stage on the beach at Praia de Iracema, where pop groups are playing, though the thousands of young people who had gathered to dance were a bit put out at having to listen to 15 minutes of speeches from politicians about how great the city council is before the music started. Unlike in the south of the country, where there have been extensive floods, it hasn’t rained in the north-east for four months. That’s not that unusual for this time of the year. One of the first radio packages I did for BBC Radio 4, over 25 years ago, was on the drought here in Céara and the accompanying hunger. The authorities have got much better at handling such extremes of climate these days, but people still flock into Fortaleza from the parched countryside. The population is now approaching three million, not counting all those people who sleep in the doorways of shops in the city centre. At least at Carnival (and Pre-Carnival) everyone, rich and poor, can get up and join in the celebrations and forget their woes.

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How About a London Day?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th April, 2008

Sunday was Fortaleza Day: the annual holiday for celebrating the city’s birth, 282 years ago. Fortaleza is a mere child, compared with many of Brazil’s colonial centres, of course, but that didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowds for the day’s celebration, nor the expense forked out by the city authorities. The fact that the Mayor, Luizianne Lins, is seeking re-election is, of course, entirely coincidental. Anyway, the local population got a free pop concert on the beach near where I am staying, featuring Brazil’s answer to Cliff Richard, Roberto Carlos.

Opposition activists were handing out flyers, suggesting that the money spent bringing Roberto Carlos to Fortaleza would have been better used combatting the current outbreak of dengue fever (was this the local Focus Team at work?). But despite such gripes, the atmosphere was suitably festive. And it made me think: if Fortaleza each year can celebrate its existence, why not London, which is so much biggerand older? There is the Lord Mayor’s Show, of course, but that is all about the City of London, the financial district, not wider London. Mayor Ken has encouraged individual community events — Irish, Russian, gay etc. But why not have a London Day, some nice summer holiday when all Londoners, of every age, ethnicity or whatever could celebrate living in the most dynamic and cosmopolitan place on earth?

 

 

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