Hard to know where to start. I don’t know where it will finish. I’m due to get married in 2 hours. I’m not sure where, or by whom. All I know is to whom and why.
I’m not allowed to say anywhere, in any language, but the real reason for getting married now, rather than at any other date, is that once we’re married I can get a residence permit, and once I’ve got said permit I’ll be entitled to some sort of magic number, with this number I’ll be able to order (but not pay for) a phone, with a phone I can jump the queue and make an appointment with a bank manager, who will in turn, if he feels like it, permit me to open various bank accounts, from which I can pay, over and under counters, assorted bureaucrats, who will let me start a company, phone companies to let me have a phone, internet companies who will permit me to operate online, and into which account or accounts, new customers, namely
the bank itself, who will pay, theoretically, large sums of money, for I’ve managed to sell them a huge number of Financial English courses that haven’t been written yet, using software that doesn’t work yet, to be implemented on computers that haven’t been released yet, to be taught by a teacher I haven’t found yet.
And of course I love Jaqueline dearly. The marriage building is a modern monstrosity, one of Prince Charles’s carbuncles. Apparently the concrete shell of the building was designed as a state hospital, but in the mysterious manner of things the money went walkies and it’s now yet another courtroom, a haven for overweight paunchy lawyers, who all walk about talking into mobile phones. Fans hiss and whirr. Old ladies occupy every bench, Each office has a counter, on which lean anxious women. Only women; this is a divorce and marriage court , after all. No man anywhere in the world is going to get a good deal in a marriage or divorce court except the fatso lawyers. No point a man even turning up. Jackie’s friend Ana has been roped in to help. A wonderfully kind and generous person, she owns a lucrative Mitsubishi franchise, and apparently knows ‘the judge’. Or ‘a judge’. I’m not sure what a judge has to do with anything. In England vicars handle marriages. His role has not been made clear to me. Nor do I understand why a Public Prosecutor is involved. My Dutch divorce settlement of 8 years ago in Utrecht has been translated into Portuguese. Much tut-tutting whenever it is read by an interested party:
She did that!!!’ “You can do this in Europe!!”. Ana’s role so far has been to help us jump the queue, which as an Englishman goes against the grain, but there’s a limit to patience. I was so embarrassed at this blatant cronyism in one office I sat outside on a bench. Jackie and Ana, assuming I was following them dog-like, jumped the queue through a door with no handles, leaving me outside. More tut-tutting as the innocent gringo is led through the office the long way round, through the sweaty divorcees , to the inner airco sanctuary.
The judge can’t be too high in the tree, his office is pathetic. No pictures, one desk, awful chairs, and a table stacked 25 deep with piles of manila folders. Ana and Jackie bring out photo albums. The judge does the same. I give up any further attempt to understand what’s going on, and open my “The Future is Online and it’s Here Now!!” computer magazine and try without
success to relate the magazine’s content to where I actually am. The judge is evidently an old friend of Ana, maybe even family, but as here ‘family’ includes one’s sister’s husband’s cousin’s uncle, I have no way of finding out. He inspects my folder of translated European documentation. I’ve brought an English birth certificate, a certificate of good behaviour from the Dutch
Police, a ream of Dutch divorce agreements, or rather disagreements, an old French driving licence I no longer need, a one-week introduction to TEFL certificate from Hilderstone College in good old Planet Thanet in England that I judged to have the most impressive logo and seal. All this has been translated and assembled and covered with official seals and stamps for me by a multi-lingual Brazilian journalist in Utrecht by the name of Jos Carlos Pineapple.
I kid you not. Very helpful chap if you’re ever in Europe and need paperwork dealt with. The judge inspects and approves everything. Jackie and Ana get up, motioning me to follow. I feel like an old boxer who talks funny and can’t cope on his
own. We all shake hands and make our farewells for the regulation 20 minutes, and return to the car park. Apparently the paperwork is fine, but another judge is on his way over to approve, but he’s been held up by the day of protests.
Ana needs to get back to her garage to sell a car to a rich sugarcane mill owner. Jackie needs to go to work to make sure she can take off 2 weeks, without warning, to come to Europe with me tomorrow on a surprise honeymoon.
I need to find out if I still employ anyone. We arrived at the matrimonial eyesore building on the dot of between 1 and
2. No entry bribes were required other than to stop the barefoot boys ‘guarding’ the car from wrecking it. Yesterday’s national ‘day of protest’ meant that most people had gone to the beach and stayed there, but there were still a few obese lawyers on the phone, disconsolate divorcees and their mothers hanging around, and a gaggle of military police smoking. Ana
led the way. Senhor Carlos, the canny old lawyer politician who says he’s interested in investing in my software business, had put a tie on. My system operator Juninho, looking more like Mr Bean than ever, had shaved, but not put a tie on. It was at least 95 in the shade outside. I’d been cajoled into wearing a new charcoal suit and a smart new black T-shirt. Jackie’s kids had washed their hair and put on their cleanest jeans. Jackie herself had bought a new dress, mustard yellow with embroidered flowers, under which I suspect she was wearing nothing, as befits a Brazilian bride.
We were ushered into an ante-chamber. 8 chairs, a formica table, some storage boxes in the corner. Airco at full blast. Several secretaries fussed with folders. A judge appeared, we all sat down, various folders were passed around, other than that, nothing. I toyed with the ring. Senhor Carlos started the conversation. He was annoyed with the landless
peasants who were occupying the square downtown outside his office. Ana agreed with him. “70% of the landless aren’t landless at all’ she said.
“They join the movement only to jump the land purchase queue”. Very sensible, I thought in silence. I’ve been very careful not to learn to speak Portuguese, not out of laziness, well not much, anyway, more from a fear of embarrassing my wife and her family. I try never to speak in public, but I can read the paper and understand Jo Soares and the Sunday night TV news summary, and most conversations. This aloof attitude means only English or French or Dutch or German speakers are able to talk to me. The rest need to go through Jaqueline, her kids, or my trusty system operator. This way I can’t breach protocol and make the kind of social gaffes I tend to make elsewhere. Nixon survived for years like this. My sympathies are almost entirely with the dispossessed landless peasants, who seem to live in appalling mediaeval squalor, but it’s not a viewpoint shared by the Nordestinho elite among whom I mingle, who after all were doing me a good turn by turning up for the marriage.
Apparently another judge who the previous day had been delayed by protests had now had a car crash, and was attempting to get to the courtroom in a taxi, which had in turn had a flat tyre. Everyone in the room flipped out their mobile phones.
The conversation moved on to TV game shows and the deplorable spread of pornography, the landless peasants quickly forgotten. The previous evening decorum had been breached, and on prime time evening TV, a naked lady had been shown inhaling a cigarette, well er not with her mouth, if you get my drift. Jackie’s son Desinho said he’s seen it too.
Much tut-tutting between the adults. ‘Scandalous misuse of television’, ‘appalling, perverse….’. Of course all of them had seen the show, which competes with two other channels to present the most disgusting, really disgusting items.
The conversation was severely straining my Portuguese. I’d come to get married, but as far as I could make out, the wedding party were discussing, among other subjects, how they’d seen shows involving cats having sex with rabbits, and two boys torturing a rare Amazonian frog with a home-made electric frog-prodder.
“What about the wedding ceremony?”, I whispered to Jaqueline.
“Soon….soon….another 20 minutes…..” she replied.
Juninho and I slunk off to look for something to drink.
The coffee bar outside the courtrooom was empty. We ordered drinks from a tiny lady whose head hardly reached the counter. Cups appeared over the edge, wizened black fingers clicked, Juninho handed over some grubby currency, and the hand disappeared. Jackie’s younger sister appeared, looking magnificent in a new hairdo and a smart new full-length polyester dress. “Hunting for rich lawyers,” muttered Juninho. The kids had joined us, bored with the courtroom, where the adults had
inevitably moved on to that Brazilian conversational staple, ‘mutual acquaintances who’ve died recently in car crashes’.
Juninho kindly bought everyone some sugary products. At last, the delayed judge arrived. Another very old, very small, very black wizened man, with white hair, wearing an electric blue suit, clutching a giant register of marriages almost as big as himself.
Juninho, who as a Paulista regards Nordestinhos as primitive barbarians, ushered me back towards the courtroom. I was getting nervous.”Can’t I have a quick drink to calm my nerves?” I asked him. “No”, he said, firmly. “Your wife-to-be will kill me if I deliver you smelling of cheap whisky”, which, after the poppy exchange in the car, I conceded was likely.
By now the crowd outside the courtroom had increased to a small horde of peasants, their families, their lawyers, secretaries, judge’s assistants, everyone in uncomfortable acrylic clothing. Most of the assembled throng awaiting matrimony were upcountry peasants who had never seen a gringo.
Someone wearing shoes is rare enough.
“It’s not quite queue-jumping,” I rationalised to myself. ‘They really do
want me to go first.’
Being tall and blue-eyed, I know what it must have felt like to be Queztcoalatl, who arrived on the shores of Yucatan a thousand years ago and was promptly turned into a living deity. Probably a Viking who’d lost his sextant, but his memory and no doubt his genes linger on. Crowds part when I’m on the move, as they must have done for him. In 5 years here I’ve only
ever seen half a dozen or so fellow blue-eyed gringos, who are as fascinating to Nordestinhos as Amazonian tribespeople with dinner plates for lips are to Europeans, and one getting married is …well I reckoned we might get on local TV game-show that evening as an oddball item, although I didn’t want to be prodded or have sex with an animal.
We’d now been an hour and a half in the courtroom.
The much-delayed wizened judge, having copied all our details into his giant ledger, stood up, I think.
We all stood up.
Cameras appeared. A mobile phone rang. I could hear two secretaries in the nearby office arguing about which printer driver to use. One of the kids knocked over a pile of storage boxes. Another judge appeared. Senhor Carlos tapped out his pipe.
I realised everyone was looking at me.We went through the ‘do you take this woman..’ routine..
‘Si” I said, confidently.
‘Si’ said Jaqueline.
And that was it.
Married.”

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