I don’t believe in forever. Forever only happens in fairy tales and my life is not a fairy tale, at least when I’m sober. Nothing lasts forever – not even love. When the vicar reads the marriage vows and seals the happy couple’s fate by making them repeat the words ’till death us do part’ I always feel a sense of wonder at the naivety of such a sentiment. The romantic part about romantic love is precisely that it doesn’t last forever: that’s what makes it tragic and yet irresistible. Time – that old chestnut – does not allow us to keep other people as our ‘possessions’; we are all essentially free-spirits.
Not that I have been to many weddings. The shocking truth is that I have never been to one in my life, unless, that is, you count my own. You see, I was in my 20s in the 1970s at a time when youngsters prided themselves on being unconventional. Lovers were things that came and went like the seasons, part of the emotional journey from adolescence to adulthood. Getting married was seriously square. The important lesson I learned from promiscuity (yikes! – even the word sounds daring these days) is that finding your one-and-only precious ‘soul mate’ is a myth. We all have many soul mates dotted around the world; the tragedy is that we never get to meet them, especially if we tie ourselves to one person from the off.
These days we seem to have reverted to a kind of 1950s-style conventionality, when the aim of your early 20s is to find Mr or Mrs Right, get hitched and start planning babies. I have noticed that many of my former students in England, still in their early 20s, are proudly posting their marriage commitments on Facebook. Here in Porto Alegre, if anything, it’s even worse. Couples meet in the school yard and stay glued together until they march down the aisle 10 years later: ‘one life, one love’ seems to be their motto.
Whatever happened to the brilliant idea of seeing the world before you settle down? Surely your 20s are the decade for getting as much life experience as possible, for being a rolling stone that gathers no moss. This learning curve naturally includes having a number of relationships as you navigate your way around the globe, finding love but eventually moving on. Travel adventures are just that: adventures – the very definition of the word implies something that doesn’t last.
Hence, From Bradford to Brazil is, was and always has been an adventure, not a permanent state of affairs – that would have taken all the fun out of it. The glorious state of Rio Grande do Sul is perfect for Gauchos, with their extended families, beach houses and rowdy barbecues. Anybody else here feels like an alien, especially foreigners like me. I don’t fit in because there is nowhere to fit me in. In fact, I can think of only three reasons for staying in Porto Alegre indefinitely: 1) having a prestigious, highly-paid job (salaried in a foreign currency); 2) being part of one of those extended families, instantly adopted by having married one of the locals; or 3) being too scared to go back and face the rat race at home.
Inevitably, people ask me why I am contemplating a return to you-know-where. Of course, I could take the question seriously and answer in a very measured way. I could say, for example, free healthcare, personal safety, established infrastructures, clean fresh-water systems, low cost of living, and so on. I could be boring. But the truth is, it’s the little things that pull me back like a fridge magnet: English sausages, English cheeses, pie and peas with mint sauce, watching Bradford City at Valley Parade and having a mucky curry afterwards, public libraries, record shops, charity shops, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4, central heating (yes, you heard me right)…the list goes on.
Unfortunately, back in Blighty, I will have to put up with English people who don’t hug and kiss like Brazilians. That will be tough. And I’ll probably have to change the name of the blog – From Bradford to Brazil will have to become something like From Porto Alegre to Pontefract. As for my new life, like the blog itself, I will just have to make it up as I go along. But then life is a series of wondrous adventures – you never know who or what is round the corner on the B 69 to Dewsbury. As they warn me every day on the local radio news channel here in Porto Alegre, “Em vinte minutos, tudo pode mudar” (in 20 minutes, everything can change). Watch this space.