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The Green Labyrinth

The Green Labyrinth

Exploring the Mysteries of the Amazon
also available: Hardcover
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Brazilian Journal

February 3

How could I have imagined so surrealist and seductive a world? One does not like the heat, yet its constancy, its all-surroundingness, is as fascinating as the smell of musk. Every moment is slow, as if under warm greenish water.

The flavour is beyond my ability to catch. The senses are sharpened by that smell -- a vegetable polecat called jack-fruit which when ripe is picked from trees in our jungle; by these sights: Niemeyer's bridges, for instance, built over the canyons of this remarkably mountained city -- long, sinuous, low bridges on pylons, white as platinum against the green of the mato -- with bright glimpses of the sea both above and below; recurring couples -- on the street everyone is paired -- in love, embracing or half-embracing, whatever the heat; and the solitary figure in the window, usually female, framed by a mat of hot air and gazing off into a kind of languor, as if all time were designed for that purpose.

It is hard to get anything done. It is hard to focus. A thought is barely born before it melts, and in its place so lovely a void one could hardly have guessed emptiness so attractive. We swim now, in the great hot pool -- not cooling off, merely drowning our wetness in a greater wetness -- while next door the Sisters sing their Aves in the totally dark convent. The other night we heard the giggles of a host of small girls, and leaning on the balustrade in what must surely be the classical Brazilian pose, found -- instead of a children's party as we had thought -- the Sisters themselves, those whom we have seen at dusk, silently reading their breviaries under the cassia trees, now swinging on the swings, black robes flying. A wonderful subject for Pegi Nicol, had she been alive to momentarily lay aside her bright jujube colours and try the inky ranges of blues and greens.

I think of her now, perhaps, because her joyful, bright oils, bursting with life, somehow parallel all this tropical exuberance. And once reminded of her, I see again her posthumous show at the National Gallery of works painted when she was dying -- beautiful, brilliant, large canvases, filled to overflowing. It was as if the lethal, proliferating cancer shells within her had been transformed into a multitude of life-giving images which made dance the grey air of the gallery.

And because our reception rooms are like the shell-white grottoes where mermaids might sober up after a drunken night, a large Nicol of girls gardening and bending in a profusion of colour would shed a warmer light in all this green and white. A Nicol, a Lillian Freiman, and a great Bonnard....

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