The perils of fieldwork, part two (now of three)

Well, the promised tale of a scrape with death is going to have to wait a day or so, as I have an intervening update to make. Fortunately, it stays within the theme of poison and pain; but this time the poison is self-administered and the pain well-deserved: I got drunk.

Since getting here — with the exception of a weekend visit to the coast — I have been the model of moderation, taking no alcohol and generally behaving myself. To what extent this has been due to the slowness with which my contacts network has developed, and to what extent due to my own wisdom and careful living, I leave the reader to judge. But an additional factor certainly is locality: on my block there are three bars, and two of them are, well, probably a little too scuzzy for a nice, well-turned-out boy like me. The third just never seemed to be open until the last couple of weeks when, in walking past, I noticed that not only was it open, but the floor seemed to be unsticky, the tables to be clean and a general smell of stale cachaça to be absent from the place. Additionally, and highly temptingly, the guy running it seemed to regularly sport the previously-mentioned mineiro-style hat.

So on Saturday afternoon I popped in for a quick beer and a chat. And on Sunday morning, I gently staggered out [+beers], [+amigos] and [+informants].

Mike, the hat-wearer — I think it is safe to name him as the chances of him being an informant are zero — is Swedish, married to a Brazilian, and has just taken over running the bar. I got on extremely well with both of them and both were very interested in my research. Ana has lived here on and off most of her life (her father is a politician) and though unsuitable herself as an informant took down detailed notes of my selection criteria, and promised to work her way through her address book. Mike is a musician, meaning that the bar has a lot of regulars who are musicians and apparently many are mineiro as well. Of course, telling me this could simply be a ploy to encourage my custom.

But promisingly, I have three potential informants from the evening itself — all of whom are regulars at the bar, and so will be easy to pin down. One of them, whom we shall call “Chilly Willy,” moved here at the age of nine almost in the first days of the Brasília project, and is now 64. We had quite a long chat about language attitudes and the like and he had some interesting opinions. He is there most days from fairly early, as he generally gives a hand with the opening of the place, and Mike has told me that if I have any interviews around opening time, he is happy for me to turn the music off and let me use the back room of the bar for recording. Catching at least two of the new potentials early is the day is going to be essential, unless I want to have to factor in the effect of three or four glasses of cachaça to my analysis.

I should stress now that, of course, one boozy night does not necessarily great and lasting friendships make. So like a good scientist I popped back in again yesterday for lunch (a very strange fist-size dwarf chicken) to take a second observation, and all the readings seemed pretty much the same. So, tomorrow I shall be trying to catch Chilly Willy, before he gets stuck into the cachaça, and record him.

In general, having a friendly local bar-owner could be extremely useful, particularly for recruiting from the lower socio-economic sections of the populace. I am aware that this is, of course, Brazil; and there is something of a divide between the middle and working classes. A slightly down-at-heel bar stuck between two very down-at-heel ones actually — to be aggressively realistic — strikes me as a perfect place to meet and get to know a much wider range of people whilst minimizing the very real risk in urban Brazil of getting myself targetted by banditos.

So, a highly productive — not to mention fun — weekend was had, and after a slow initial few months, I feel much refreshed and more optimistic about completing all of this on time.

Next up, the delayed tale of a brush with death, which is what I know you all wanted to hear about anyway, instead of my minor inebriate jaunts.

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