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.

Imagination rules the world

I’ve got a friend who is obsessed with Napoleon. I saw him last night, and he has a week off work. “What did you do on your first day off?” I asked him. “I went to see the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse in Chelsea,” he replied. Naturellement.

A picture that has always fascinated me is the portrait of Napoleon, in enforced exile on Saint Helena. He was put there because it was 2,000 km from any landmass, thwarting his desire to invade and rule.

The picture is of him gazing out to the ocean, none of his desire weakened despite the impossibility of realising it. I think I love that picture because he hasn’t given up, but also because it depicts human limits, fallibility and frailty.

Another friend gave me a locket, and I’ve printed out the picture of Napoleon on Saint Helena. I won’t really be in exile in Brazil, or at any rate a self-imposed one. Seeing the picture will remind me of missing home and those two friends in particular.

“The English are frigid, drink too much and don’t like sex”

My Brazilian Portuguese teacher told me what he thought of the English last night. “I like living here,” he said. “I’ve been here for 10 years and I can put up with the cold weather, especially if I go home to Brazil for a month in the winter.

“I do find the English people a bit… frigid. They don’t like sex, they are more interested in drinking.”

Every time I go away somewhere, I miss the orderly white buildings, the cool temperature, the silence of England. At least in suburbia, anyway. The quaint look of the streets compared to the ugly soul-destroying high rises in the Moscow suburbs was comforting to return to. The absence of anyone selling me anything I didn’t want was also welcome after two weeks in Mumbai.

I have to say that it is this frigid aspect that bothers me most about the English. My Brazilian teacher said that on a night out with a beautiful female friend of his who was on the hunt for a man, not one man chatted her up or responded to her approaches. “They were all sitting in groups, drinking,” he said. Not only that, but he said he noticed there was an absence of anyone hugging or being tactile anywhere in the club, even if there was no sexual purpose to it.

Northern hemisphere countries often tend to be pissheads (stand up Finland, Ireland, Russia, Canada and Germany), but not all have this lack of warmth and openness. It is such a cliche about the Brits or the English specifically that I want to resist it. Yet it’s hard to imagine a friend not talking to me for three months and us never discussing why in, say, Italy or even the States. Or the complaint of my friend’s mother that she wasn’t invited to a wedding, which it turns out, she would have rather wash her eyes in chilli sauce than gone to anyway.

At the weekend, a Spanish friend said to me it’s only in England that people “settle” for husbands and wives they don’t love, but who will be reliable/good providers/come from the right background/have agreed to fill the gap that no one more exciting has been willing to fill, etc.

I know I’m not heading for Utopia. Some descriptions of Rio de Janeiro are more akin to a hell below than any kind of heaven above. Friends have talked about constant traffic jams, getting robbed on such a regular basis that it becomes part of the weekly routine, appalling poverty and corruption.

At least this project has allowed me to swerve the pressure to marry someone I’m not interested in, who’s mother I have offended without ever knowing how or why. I’m sure after a while I’ll be craving the rain, the green lawns and most certainly a decent cup of tea, but you can keep the mond-boggling etiquette and misguided sense of propriety.

Frostonbury

Yesterday I had a conversation about scandal in the Catholic Church, then a chat with another friend about the power of 4chan.

Then I read this gem from Sadie Frost in Celebs on Sunday: “I had a lovely party at my house called Frostonbury a few years ago. I got lots of tents and we had Tarot card reading and mad face painting and little bands. It was a real homage to 60s and 70s flower power parties.”

I will be so extremely grateful when I no longer have to perpetuate this shite.

Still woke up in the early hours wondering if I’m going to have enough money for this project. Two of my friends are due to give birth in June, around the time I will be heading out on my one way ticket. By the time you get to your thirties, the choices you’ve made become apparent.