Some images

I don’t have photographs – yet – although Fred is going to help with that. He took one of me washing our plates up at the NGO in Rocinha today. I suspect photographic evidence of me doing any washing up at all would be prized quite highly by some of my exes and flatmates.

Instead of images, I’m going to just describe a few slices of life and hope I can add the visual element by the end of the week.

Watching the Brazil game in my street on Monday, which is like Rio’s Old Compton Street. Just before the game started, two men, incredibly toned (which seems more the norm here than the exception), and wearing the scantest of trunks, make a solemn procession along the street. One carrying a Brazil flag, the other with a vuvuzela aloft. This must have been planned, but more impromptu was the man coming the other way with five labradors on a lead, all wearing some sort of memorabilia, from Brazil baseball caps to scarfs. They crossed in the middle.

Boy with a rifle the same size as him casually walking along in Rocinha.

Azure, azure, penetrating blue, always coming into view somewhere, the sky or the sea.

Kites being flown from the aqueduct above the tunnel leading to Rocinha.

Moving to sound, the type of funk, (called baile funk in the UK) which documents the gangs and their battles is called Prohibao, which roughly means Forbidden. You can listen to an example at this excellent website. It also explains the origination of that particular track.

These things are playing all day and night and can be a nuisance, certainly lots of the women I met complained about the constant noise and the repetition in the sound and the lyrics. At the same time, the sound is really incredible. People have known about this shit in London for years, so I will shut up now. It just slots into place now that I’ve been to the source of that sound.

Worth a read of that website as he talks about how the sound has been exoticised which I believe the favelas themselves have too.

One more image: my mum sorting out 20 pairs of unmatching socks into pairs, in just over two weeks I have been here. Had 20 odd ones before I went away.

Favela impressions


After the bank helpfully blocked my card again so I couldn’t get a cab, therefore was running late, therefore also had no means of contacting the people I was meeting, meaning I was sat in the square at the bottom of the Rocinha favela alone, just hoping nothing bad would happen and the people I was meeting there would wait for me.

After all that lot, as it happened, they did, so we had an incredible journey inside the thing. I will write further about this for a publication, but the colourful and orderly exterior was in sharp contrast to what I found immediately inside. We passed the first look out point for the drug gangs that really run the place, taking a small winding pathway which led past shops, half open doors that looked into homes, and of course dogs and cats.

Everyone says the favelas have the best views, and it seems to be true. Pretty startling to find yourself suddenly at the top of a hill which overlooks the ocean, and remember you’re in a slum the whole time. It’s a double-edged sword, as one guy says ‘I like living here, I’m free here’, and that’s not just because of the views. But that vista also overlooks the stinking rich of Leblon and Ipanema, and it’s hard to believe children here are dying of tuberculosis and it’s only a few hundred yards away.

I met an amazing resident called Marcia who has started a project to help the women there. It seems as though the higher you go, the harder people are to reach. In contrast to the pleasant square at the bottom, people on the uppermost reaches often live in little more than huts, and some never leave the favela, although there is a class structure within Rocinha itself. While I was talking to Marcia, a group of tourists, mainly Canadians and English it seemed to me, suddenly invaded the place. They were here for the human zoo – or the favela tour, as it is known. I found this a bit upsetting, as it had taken me a while to get the trust of the people I had spoken to and after spending a few hours there I had really warmed to Marcia. What will those people say about the favelas, when they get home? Several of them stuffed large notes into the donation box as they left, which is something I suppose. Maybe I’m no better than a daytripper but at least I made an effort to talk to people rather than just gawp and leave.

Reaching the ground again I was in one of the vans (not legal here but used everywhere) that operate alongside the buses, heading to Posto Nove with the azure ocean on my right and the pristine white of beachside apartments to my left. I’ll be back again tomorrow but don’t expect too many pictures, even when I have sorted this darned USB out, because most of Rocinha bans pictures being taken.

Embarrassment

Is an unknown concept here. I dragged my sorry arse out of the (sofa) bed for a day trip to Barra, pronounced Baha, the town just beyond Leblon. It’s an ersatz town, which reminded me of some of those soulless places in the States, all gated communities and new builds. On the plus side, it has 14k of perfect beach, more sheltered and less intimidating than striding out to find your place in the hierarchy that is Ipanema.

Along with the guys doing push ups and all sorts of suggestive exercises (I am used to them now), one guy was doing his press ups alone on the beach. We were watching the sun go down from the more comfortable surroundings of a beach bar, complete with banging house. The guy kept interrupting his exercise to dance a bit, in full view of the customers of the bar. Now that’s brazen.

The Imperial City


Today I went to Germany – or it felt like it. I took a bus up improbably steep roads to Petropolis in the mountains outside Rio. I have been thinking about living there, as it’s got a lot of English schools and is very picturesque. I would think twice about that in Brazil’s winter though. So far, I’ve been lucky with the weather and it was near 30 degrees on Sunday (just in time for the game).

Up that high, I thought I would escape the clouds that seem to have shrouded the city ever since, but no such luck. The clouds seemed to come into the bus station itself today, and I wore a sweatshirt for the first time.

The next story I’ve got planned involves Rocinha, billed by the tour operators as ‘Latin America’s biggest favela’, which will take in much less rarefied surroundings. This actually reminds me of a poster I saw on a train once which said: ‘Feltham: Europe’s largest young offenders’ unit’. At the time and afterwards, I wondered how this could possibly be a good thing, unless you were an out of work prison warden who had just moved to the area I guess.

Today I felt a bit like I was in an Alpine town, with its little houses with their low roofs and shutters. It reminded me of Italy or German until I spotted a palm tree or the omnipresent Brazil flag flying out of a window. The dark skies lent a diabolical aspect, but I think it would be pretty rather than forboding in summer. Now to make plans of how to get in – and out – of a favela alive. Take note, this will not be attempted alone.

P.S. once I’ve got my USB port working, there will be many more photos. At the moment, I’ve only been able to use ones others have taken.

Fifa fun


Yet more football-related insanity yesterday. We decided to brave the official Fifa Fan Zone, a place covered in more sponsors than your average Grand Prix, but entertaining nonetheless. The atmosphere was a bit like being at a festival, except without annoying girls in straw hats and face paint dressed out of the Festival Fashion section of Topshop. The atmosphere is amazing and two hours before the game it is packed to the rafters, with people taking a zip line over the crowd and baile funk pumping out.

Some of the fans we were chatting to – well, singing and shouting with – had come up from Sao Paulo and insisted on us taking photos with their club flags and shirts. Luckily for us, Brazil comfortably won 3-1 despite the ever-present threat of Didier Drogba for the Ivory Coast.

I’ve got into the habit of going to the same coffee place every day, while I work out my next move. Today I’ll be working out how to get to the house where I will be staying for a month while I do a TEFL course. Her name is Ana Lucia, she is “very friendly and talkative” and her mum, who lives next door, cooks amazing meals apparently. This is all sounding pretty good so far. It all makes me wonder why I never did something like this before. The area is ok too as I went there last week on an aborted attempt to go to see Cristo. As my college is further to the north of town, I was a bit worried about what it might be like if I was staying there too.

Other missions today: find some fresh milk rather than UHT, go to the post office and successfully use the facilities, attempt to get a mobile phone without having an ID number, unsure this last one is going to work.

It’s a dog’s life


All week I’ve been a lady of leisure, then this morning (Saturday, and the day following the England match), I have to get up early to do a job.

This man is the very nice Hans Rodriguez, who owns a pet shop around the corner from where I’m staying. The photo is courtesy of Fred Pacifico, a Rio-based photo journalist. Hans was telling me all about the football kits for dogs, which he has been selling by the truckload for this Cupa do Mundo. I hope for Hans’ sake, and mine, Brazil go all the way to the final.

Fred then told me about the chaos when Madonna came to town with Jesus. A similar panic was narrowly averted after Britney Spears Tweeted about being glad to be back in Brazil. For Rio folks, the Britney circus didn’t come to town that day, as she was in Sao Paulo for the recent fashion week. Not that Britney was too aware of where she was, let’s face it.

I blasted out today’s hangover with a walk around the Lagoa, this time armed with my camera, and some fresh coconut milk. It’s a dog’s life.

Bum bums, bodies, etc.


Today I found the most famous shop that sells beachwear, appropriately titled Bum Bums. People here have eight or nine swimming costumes, where at home you’d only have one or two, because it’s hot all year round.

I was heartened to see that the desired body shape here for women is much curvier, and I hadn’t really seen any of the tiny skeletal women you see walking around London all the time, even in Leblon, which is where the beautiful people hang out.

Then today I saw a woman with an improbable child’s physique, though she can’t have been under 40 years old, and an even more unlikely pair of rounded bosoms on top of it all.

I won’t pretend to understand it all.

Off to watch the England game.

Even the dogs like football


Another day went past yesterday when I didn’t manage to make it to the Jardim Botanico. Still feeling confused about the time, I went for lunch and caught a bit of the Portugal game. Then the news came on(“RJ”), showing people all over the city in huge traffic jams heading for Copacabana beach, where some almighty screens and a stage were set up to watch the game. Fuelled by my can of Bohemia lager, I decided to head down there. I fell in with a group of lads who had obviously decided the same thing. “Argentina! Argentina to win the World Cup!” One of them kept shouting. I put this down to the kind of japes young men anticipating watching the game tend to get up to, until I realised I had made the error of wearing a white T-shirt and sky blue shorts. There was only one thing for it: half an hour later I had purchased a Brazil shirt from a street vendor and joined the sea of yellow-clad folks heading for the beach.

By this point, it was not even 3pm, but the crowds were so overwhelming, and I started to realise it was going to be like the crush at the front of an Iron Maiden concert. I went to grab a taxi to meet my friends. Cue more efforts at Portuguese. The sighting of a dog, resplendent like its owner in the familiar yellow jersey, drew an excited attempt from me to explain to the driver what I had just seen. Thinking this was an important detail about the location I wanted, and failing to understand my faltering Portuguese, the driver called his daughter, who then explained what I was trying to say. How we laughed.

A circuitous route saw me watch half of the game at Academia de Cachaca and another half in the Bier Park, both in the fashionable Leblon area. Bianca, a Brazilian who works with my friend here, echoed the thoughts of most of the crowd, that Brazil really ought to have performed better in the match despite beating North Korea 2-1. Cue yet more pessimistic predictions from the fanatical supporters.

The party finally ended in the gay street where I’m staying, dancing and drinking caipirinhas. I got chatted up by a man who claimed to be a racing driver. Although as with the man who told me the lady who let me join her party at Academia de Cachaca owned the place, I am beginning to realise that not everything is as perfect and beautiful as it seems on the surface here.

Eu sou brasileira (not quite)


I felt pretty good when I managed a conversation in Portuguese last night with my taxi driver upon arrival, especially after nothing but a couple of hours of sweaty sleep on a beanbag in front of a screen showing the World Cup in Porto airport.

He taught me the phrase for ‘hand of god’ in Portuguese, after mirroring the pessimism of football fans everywhere with his prediction that Brazil will crash out of the World Cup early, leaving the way for Argentina or perhaps Germany to triumph. Maradona is one of those people who attracts strong feelings universally, it seems.

The Copa do Mundo is the subject on everyone’s lips, with a man chatting about Germany’s 4-0 win over the Soceroos to my waitress this morning. I enjoyed a coffee that was like rocket fuel at that cafe, along with a pasty that was as delicious as its contents were mysterious to me.

I could certainly get used to living here. That rocket fuel propelled me round the Lagoa rodrigo de Freitas, a perfect lake for a run. Not least because I nearly fell over at the sight of a team of men running in the opposite direction so incredibly good-looking it was difficult to stay on the track. Having said that, a lot of the men here do resemble Ronaldo (not Cristiano).

Apologies for the earnest, pretentious nature of the last entry, btw. I think I was getting strung out on the drama of all these goodbyes. I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive living here full-time for a year or more, but I’d certainly like to. Someone gave me the good advice that even if that doesn’t happen you have to approach it as though you will stay forever. That makes sense.

Got lost on the way back from the lake though, I’ve got a long way to go yet.