Things that annoy

I went to look at an apartment today which is overlooking the beach here at Flamengo. The old boy who lives there only wants money to cover the apartment maintenance charges and the guy who appears to be some sort of butler. The old fella likes the odd conversation about birching petty criminals (for his pleasure or their displeasure, I’m unsure), but he’s not too bad really and away for six months of the year. Trouble is, even those charges alone amount to a fair bit. There’s a pig-headed part of me that wants it to happen and I think I’m going to try. There is a red carpet on the marble staircase for God’s sake. It’s like living in Mayfair but with a view of the ocean.

Back in the real world, expect to read reports from Zona Norte (the northern and poorer part of the city) any time soon.

It’s come to that point now that I’ve been here for seven weeks when I feel the need to assess how it’s going. My need to master Portuguese has become the most pressing issue. I can have conversations with people but I’m impatient to get beyond this point. It’s what makes the difference between being an estrangeiro and a Carioca.

Having said that, the folks who have tried to rip me off or patronise me haven’t been Cariocas at all, but other foreigners who have been here for longer. An American woman I was unfortunate enough to meet wanted me to teach her business students English for her at a price I can only describe as peanuts, while she collected the profits. She was full of useful advice such as “don’t wear havaianas” and “get yourself a therapist.” Like many bullies, she used the tactic of calling me at 10pm in a kind of attempt to catch me by surprise and terrorise me in my leisure time. I’ve saved her number as “Pimp” in my phone now and I don’t answer it.

Rio has such a strong effect on people that I think some ex-pats become possessive over their new find, and jealously guard it against others hoping for the same deliverance from mundane existences in their home countries. Young backpackers generally seem a congenial bunch, but I’ve had some of the world’s most patronising advice from other foreigners staying here. This may be a result of my decision to teach English alongside journalism, an enterprise that attracts much younger folks ripe for exploitation at times.

People are afraid of the crime in Rio so some delight in telling horror stories about people being robbed at gunpoint on Copacabana beach and the like, or even of tourists who have “disappeared” due to some entanglement or other with dodgy types. There is no doubt that you can hear gunfire frequently (it is most definitely not the jolly fireworks I assumed when I first arrived during the World Cup.) These horror merchants forget that if you’ve lived in other big cities however you’re no stranger to crime. I don’t wish to tempt fate by being flippant about it but I don’t see the point in being alarmist either.

In contrast, Brazilians are generally helpful even if there are a few sex pests. Anyway, here’s a picture of me drinking caipirinhas on a boat to prove it’s not all bad.

Things I miss

Aren’t necessarily what I was expecting to miss.

In no particular order…

1. Spicy food – I have finally realised you can have too much cheese, and bread and pastry too, for that matter. As for beans and rice…

2. Pubs of Highgate – needs no explanation, except perhaps to say that the ‘choppe’, or tiny glasses of beer served here with oodles of head, are no match for a decent pint

3. Cheap books – even in Portuguese, books are still seen as a luxury. None are cheap and there are certainly no one pound classics

4. Not a lot else besides friends and family. Even Sundays are alright here, although they didn’t have to be that great to beat Sundays in London, a day which can turn anyone into Morrissey even in the summer.

Mesmo quando e ruim e boa (Even when it’s bad, it’s good)

This phrase is one of the more repeatable ones I learned last night. Of course it comes from Rio, which I have heard described as ‘the copulating city.’ As well being intiated into this world view, I am getting to understand the way the men operate here a bit better.

Being looked at and chatted up is definitely preferable to being totally ignored, but the mores take a bit of getting used to. One Monday at a Samba night with my hostess and her Swiss guest, as well as other friends, we got talking to a group of people. Everyone is pretty touchy-feely here. I made a mental note not to be an uptight English bird and just accept it. It was all pretty chaste, just pats on the arm etc. Email addresses and invitations to parties, etc, all fly around prodigiously on pretty much every single night out, and a guy took mine.

Pretty soon, he was emailing/calling/Skyping at all hours, and it was by now apparent that he didn’t really want to take the Suica and I on a tour of Rio in a ‘friendly’ capacity. Pushiness is an extremely unattractive quality for me and I didn’t fancy him so I told him I already had a boyfriend here. This was on Skype chat. Then he declared in Portuguese: ‘I don’t know him but I am so jealous of him,’ ‘I’m so sad, I like you so much and now it’s too late,’ etc etc. People in Hollyoaks feared for their jobs, such was the ham-fisted drama that unfolded.

Then last night, the guy who taught me how to say the important Brazilian maxim above had a friend with him. This friend became equally besotted with my attached American friend in the space of about five minutes. She is a lithe and attractive 22, with long blonde hair and the kind of body you can only get through dancing (which she did). All of which makes it no surprise he was interested in her physically. Maybe he even thought they had a “connection”. But the display of crestfallen dejection after she left the bar early was a sight to behold. It really was just like looking at the face of a man who has just been dumped by his fiancee after five blissful years, not five minutes.

I can only imagine it feels a bit like this for people who visit one of those countries where you can ski in the mountains then go down to the beach and sunbathe on the same day, at the right time of year. Or that day when I was at college and hadn’t eaten all day, only to arrive at a friend’s house where his mother had just hosted a ridiculously sumptuous buffet that was mostly left untouched. I went from feeling starving to nauseous from the over-indulgence in the space of half an hour.

Ultimately I err on the side of too much of something being better than too little, however difficult it is to negotiate these dramas at the time. Or, as they say, sex: even when it’s bad it’s good. I’m just going to have to start taking that attitude from now on.

Goleiro Bruno

You can’t turn on any TV here, or read any paper, without seeing something about Bruno Fernandes. For those not avidly keeping up with this story, he’s the (former) goalkeeper for Flamengo, certainly the most popular Rio football team. His lover Eliza disappeared, amid stories that he wanted her dead after telling her she should have an abortion, an order she refused. Then a 17-year-old friend told the police she was dead, and now the suspect languishes in a cell.

In the event that Bruno isn’t actually guilty of a crime, this tale still raises some uncomfortable questions. People might think it couldn’t happen in the UK,but the Ashley Cole scandal and others exposed the murky world of glamour girls serving as concubines for attached footballers, with tales of abortions being paid for with cash in brown paper bags, parties where girls are bussed in, etc.

I really wanted to watch today’s final without thinking of what pigs footballers can be when they’re overpaid and overindulged. Then I read that Wayne Rooney said his bad performance for England was down to missing his son, in “an emotional phone call”. Might be no truth in it, have to remember that, but if it is, Jesus. He’s acting like a tearful Big Brother contestant, is it any wonder England were so dire.

Don’t really mind who wins out of Holland and Spain, I’ve got time for them both and neither have won it before. Going to Fifa Fun Fest for the last time, then to experience Rio when the World Cup isn’t on.

A pão in the ass

Apologies for the lack of updates but I’m experiencing a bit of a shock to the system. After my days in Rocinha, drinking caipirinhas on the street with the King and watching any Copa do Mundo game I liked, the work begins.

At home I’m rarely saying any English words, and learning during the day how to teach English. The other night I couldn’t sleep for the amount of words flying around my head. I frequently wanted to get up and look them up in the dictionary or say them outloud, but just stopped myself.

There was much hilarity at Ana’s house when we looked at little statuettes of animals and had to say what they were in our own languages. I told them the word for chicken, but also that cock was the male. Then in Portuguese, I had to explain to them to be careful with this word. The only way I managed it was to say it was like pão (for bread) and the same word not delivered in a nasal way. I realised suddenly that, much as I talked about having a brief for a story, and accidentally said I have a prostitute, that I have been asking for cock with cheese at street stalls all this time.

New beginnings


It’s a bit like starting a new job being here, which in a way I am doing. Today I moved in to my new home, with Brasileira Ana Lucia. When I first arrived, having overdone the caipirinhas last night, I was feeling pretty rough. There was an awkward first hour when I chatted as best I could to her mum Eva, who was welcoming but didn’t speak a word of English. My faltering Portuguese it is then.

One delicious meal later, Ana arrived with a Swiss lady who is also staying here and another Kiwi friend. I don’t think she speaks much English, but this could be just what I need as I really need to get the Portuguese up to speed.

Every time I think I’ve settled in something happens that feels new and alien. Last night, my school friend and I were drinking at the street bar (the obligatory “one for the road” which has never turned out to be just one, to my memory). I’m not sure if the man we were hanging out with, who everyone called The King, was the king of the whole of Rio, the king of his favela Cantagalo, or just the king of that bar because he’s always there. This kind of thing would be cleared up with a better understanding of the language, if not totally. The King is above with myself and Nermeen.

I had been a bit spoilt because I was hanging out with Graham, who is from south London, and my school friend, and Fred who may be Brazilian but has lived in London for years and the States and has perfect English. Now the real deal starts!

Blame Mick Jagger


Well, I didn’t really expect much more from England in this World Cup, but I did think I’d be safe supporting Brazil. O Globo this morning announces ‘the end of the era of Dunga,’ and I think they are probably right.

As I enjoyed a few beers in Ipanema following the defeat, the streets were definitely less crowded but I couldn’t help but notice the Brazilians were magnanimous losers. If this had happened in England, especially Melo’s stamping disgrace, it’s hard not to imagine there would have been violence on the streets. Maybe I am too hard on my home country.

I do think Mick Jagger should stop going to games however. He was at both England v Germany and Brazil v Holland, and look what happened. From a story point of view, if nothing else, I was really hoping for a Brazil v Germany final or a Brazil v Argentina final. There are lots of Germans here and people of German descent. Still might be interesting to speak to them in the event of an (increasingly likely) German win for this Copa do Mundo. Bah.