A little further on and the disposition of the street changes. Characterised until now by close-set buildings tightly packed on either side, now, the right side opens up, and the ambient hum subsides. Then, without warning, over there, I see the mountains in the distance.

The sense of confinement lifts . . . the scale becomes extra-urban . . . I’m offered an alternative.

This sudden conjunction feels like an intrusion (inverted though, intrusion normally implies increased proximity, and this is the opposite); it catches me off guard. Within the country/city split, I’m in the city; that makes the ‘country’ only available as simulation, memory, image, discourse; it works on an either/or basis. Anyway, it puts me into context, and I feel self-conscious and contrived, enveloped by an artificial world – consciousness synthetic as surrounding forms. Conditioned by the urban, its demands and requisites, I’ve been duped to conform to its language and its codes.

But beyond the rhetorical city/country split there’s something deeper going on to do with bodily responses to scale, vision and to movement within these differing domains. The urban scale is set by anthropomorphic dimensions (fairly obviously), and its forms generate reciprocity with the user. As a passer-by, things are not just visually proximate, they are bodily local, literally within reach. Although things pass often as fragmented forms, they are still focused, discerning and detailed; the world is somehow contained, and the scale is always manageable, always conceivable, always human. (There's the criticism that the urban is now measured by another set of dimensions than the pedestrian’s – the car; but from my point of view the car was designed for human use so it still reflects that viewpoint).

But there’s something else; my own verticality is reflected in the city’s vertical tendencies, and this is the key to the contrast between the opposing topographies. A fragmented verticality gives way to an expansive horizontality. Over there, now, the open, sweeping panorama, a revealed vista between the urban cleave, I see serrated mountains tooth across a dishevelled horizon and suddenly connect the sky – tropical, enormous, vast – to a new scale, and a ratio that shrinks me down; down, down I go, down to almost nothing.


Journal entry – November 3rd, Recife

We’re staying in one of the city’s des-res neighbourhoods. O doutor – the doctor, has the house protected twenty four hours a day. His previous guard got shot. The new one sits outside the driveway on a white plastic chair all night with a tiny TV for company. In the morning the maids advise us not to go out walking round the neighbourhood – ‘you must take off your watch’ – ‘sometimes they even take people away.’

The informal sector stretches as far as Olinda; ‘guides’ everywhere are tolerated, and again, the architecture remains in a crumbling state of disrepair. The general low-key lethargy surprises me, particularly as the city is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Brazil’s most famous cities. There’s a favela on the hillside on the way up to Praça da Se – the city’s historic heart, ‘Conheçe alguem que mora numa casa tão bonita do que a minha?’ – ‘Know anyone who lives in a house as beautiful as mine?’ an old woman shouts at us as we pass. There’s no sanitised itinerary, no ‘produced’ experience tailored exclusively for the tourist here. The glossy photos and the tourist brochures manage to avoid this angle, they always catch the pretty history, spot on.