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P o s i t i v e V i b r a t i o n s

Interval in Rio

Robyn Hitchcock spent spring break in Rio with two dozen HFS listeners and HFSters Bob Waugh and Mary Kay LeMay. We're glad we kept a diary.

Sitting in a restaurant booth looking over the sea to the waves of mountains in the distance. On the beach, across two vibrant main roads from here, lies a corpse. It's the first dead human I've ever seen - it was a she, I think. She has started to attract quite a crowd, though I don't know if the authorities have noticed. When I discovered the body, there was one woman standing by it. She didn't look upset, didn't look like she'd known the corpse when it was a woman. It was lying face down with a towel over its head. What was striking about it was the utter stillness. Not the motionlessness of a sleeper, but the stillness of a dead thing. Flies sparkled on its hands and ankles. Its hands were stretched out forward, and it looked as though it had been dragged a little way up the sand. Maybe she drowned.

Having just shovelled a vat of asparagus soup down my throat, I have to record that it's getting darker. The international sea crashes on the beach. The sea doesn't change much from country to country. It makes the same shapes and obeys the same laws. The people come and go around the dead woman like a flock of birds. You're always news when you're dead. Up to the sky, birds with broad wings and long tails wheel prehistorically. They look like archaeopteryxes. Now it's completely dark, and I've added a clutch of dry, batter-drenched prawns to the asparagus soup. I hope they all stay put down there. A football bobs up and down on the beach where the dead woman lay. I hope that means they've moved her. At this point, I'm going to mosey back to the hotel in search of Bob Waugh and his pals.

Note a bit later: No, they haven't taken the corpse away. There was a crowd around it taking pictures as I returned from supper. Bob and Mary Kay Lemay said it had been there this morning too. So, its audience has obviously fluctuated throughout the day. The authorities are going to have to time this one properly. However, once it begins to decompose, the plus will become a minus, ratings-wise. What does this tell us about audiences? Later, I sat with Bob and Mary Kay talking about radio - natch - as people tried to sell us photographs, nuts and jewellery. It's hot and all the leaves are fleshy. Vegetation-wise, this place is the tops. That must be good news for the corpse.

Two days later, on the beach

The corpse has gone, but the living are still with us. If everyone on the beach fell down dead now, the place would stink in a couple of days. And the beach isn't even that crowded. The sea is full of leaves and the occasional plastic sack. I've been writing songs all day. Woken this morning by a live on-air phone call from WHFS, wanting to know if the lucky customers were having a good time. Well, presumably they enjoyed the live sex show last night. And they managed to sit through me playing six songs into a primitive PA in a courtyard by a noisy main road last night. Some of them came and sat at a table afterwards whilst I played requests and we passed dodgy Brazilian drinks around. Some of them are real live wires - mostly the men, natch - like Beavis and Butthead if they had any enthusiasm for anything. But probably more good-natured. Though, it pissed me off when Renalto, our guide, was trying to point out the frightening level of prostitution in some parts of the town and they all hooted and made squelching noises. Renalto said, "Are you going to listen to me or just laugh?" "Laugh", they replied.

Ye gods! It's spotting with rain. Yesterday afternoon Bob, Mary Kay and I tried to go to a rainforest. After looking at a mysterious hill populated by stray cats and single, young men standing under fig trees, we got into a taxi and attempted to ask the driver to take us to a park/forest area near the Jesus-on-a-Hill. He seemed prepared only to take us to the statue. As we begin to drive up the steep, cattled hills, the car just ground to a halt. The driver was having difficulty keeping the handbreak on, and I had visions of sliding backwards down the hill and being pulverised by traffic on the main highway or being mashed by cars whizzing around the bend that might hit us before they could see us. We got out of the car and helped pull it to the curbside. There was a lot of gesticulating. Neither the driver nor we understood a word of each others' language. Indeed, language is a great way for two tribes to get the wrong idea about each other. You just think the other guy is stupid.

So we paid the driver off and left him to freewheel away. It seemed like a good idea to at least walk part of the way up to Jesus, who loomed with open arms several hundreds of feet above us. Some people driving past stopped and talked and gesticulated. Again, we understood nothing - except that they didn't seem to like us going up the hill. Well, too bad. Onward we strode. Children passed us with bags on their heads. Then we turned a corner and the road stopped being a kind of Mulholland Drive and mutated into the projects. We were about to walk through the slum district waving all out totems of capitalism. "Robyn, maybe you should put your camera in Bob's bag", said Mary Kay. We turned around and sped down the hill. Mary Kay and Bob realised the situation before I did. We could have been eaten by Brazilian children. I can't believe how stupid I am sometimes - too busy thinking about life to actually notice it. Michi warned me to be careful. When we got back into town, we saw the taxi driver playing cards on top of a rubbish bin.

Before leaving the beach, I went back briefly into the sea. As the water came up to my chest, I kicked my feet off the sand below and plunged into a delicious, arching breast stroke. I felt like a bird, borne aloft by water instead of air. Suddenly, an object bobbed on the water in front of my face. It was a severed fish head. I grimaced, turned about and swam ashore through the dead leaves and plastic bags. I'm not sure about Copacabana beach. It's just that Ipanema has head-slapping waves and a belly-grasping undertow. But fewer dead things.

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