Thursday, October 02, 2003
I spent most of my time in Sao Luis reading Mark Twain. I was lonely and wanted to pass the time. I thought it would be nice to read story like Tom Sawyer. The voice of Twain is warm, friendly and familiar, a voice from my childhood. His stories usedto make me laugh. Reading the opening pages of Huckleberry Finn, I laughed again.
There was a shady square near the hotel which had afew expensive restaurants and hippies selling jewelry. The craziest looking one came right up to me, and took me by the arm.
"Hello my friend, my name is Franklin Roosevelt." I talked to him, and to the others, but there was a desperate sort of rapaciousness about them, and I knew if I was to spend any length of time with them it was going to cost me money.
Nothing prepared me for what was to come. If I felt that Sao Luis was a dangerous place it was because the danger that I felt was very real and it was all around me. Cocaine was available and probably very cheap. Alot of the vendors and urchins who hang out in the tourist area are addicts. More, a lot of them might have come from the country. They believe in evil spirits, and they like to drink powerful liquor. They can be paranoid, especially about the government.
Everyone was talking about Alcantara, a nearby town where there is facility for launching satellites into space. This is what the Lonely Planet guide has to say about it:
"In the early 1990s the construction of the Centro
do Lancanmento de Alcantara (CLA), a nearby
rocket-launching facility, caused mutterings among
residents, who disagreed with the forceful
resettlement policy undertaken to clear the
construction site. There couldn't be a greater
contrast with this slumbering colonial town than a
space-age launching pad!"
Though it is a Brazilian-owned commercial interest, most people think it is an American military base. Most of the Americans who come to Sao Luis are connected with the rocket-launching facility (though there American companies involved in oil exploration too). I had people ask me in all seriousness whether I was Cia (pronounced See-ya). C. I. A.
While I was in Sao Luis, twenty-one people died in an explosion at the launch-pad. People wanted to know "was it terrorism?". I always said no, but I didn't really know. The answer was just a reasonable guess. But it was generally assumed that I knew something about it, that as an American I had access to some kind of privileged information.
I think that what the hippies would really like to do is kidnap a tourist and force them to tell the story of how the world works. "Who is really in control? What kind of global conspiracy is it? Why did theykill twenty-one Brazilian workers?" That's what they wanted to ask.
They can't kidnap anybody because they need to eat and they need to get high and they earn money by selling things to tourists. This is their job, and it's at cross purposes with their paranoid feelings. Whatever the addiction needs to survive usually wins, and here an addiction is fueled more by money than by feelings.
Addiction, superstition, greed and paranoia. These are the ingredients from which Twain fashioned pap, Huck's father. Nothing prepared me for how dark a story Huck Finn is. It's all about the kind of malevolence and intellectual poverty which pap embodies. I could sense this darkness all around me in Sao Luis. The book just gave them a form, pap
being an uber-spirit of human evil.