Petropolis and other adventures

Having declared Petropolis as too European for my tastes, I’ve ended up going back there twice. Once was with my lovely friend Danielle, pictured here, and once for work. I’m teaching there once a month, which is enough to make me much more solvent, Gracia Deus. I’m not sure if I’ve gone through the same process as many before me, of becoming quickly infatuated with Rio and then finding it all a bit too much. It’s nice to have a mountainside retreat where hummingbirds flit past the windows. I don’t think I could live there as there isn’t enough to do, but at least it is an escape from the elections in a week. I don’t seem to be able to walk anywhere without seeing bored-looking folks dragging flags behind them, or having leaflets foisted into my hands before I can say “Eu nao posso votar!” One of the candidates looks a bit like Doctor Evil from Austin Powers, although I stopped saying this after I found out he was a police inspector nearly killed by bandidos. Seemed a bit mean to poke fun out of his appearance after that.

All of them seem to have their own songs written especially for the election, blasting out of scratchy sound systems on top of cars and even taxis. One guy was obviously going for the “cool” vote and played funk music out of his election-mobile. It’s like imagining David Cameron releasing a rap during the Conservative Party Election campaign. Another candidate gave out leaflets when I went to see Flamengo play on Saturday. As they are the most popular club in Brazil, he probably is making a smart gamble by claiming on the leaflet “a vote for me is a vote for Flamengo!” and choosing black and red (the team colours) for all his leaflets and posters. He’s proposing to build a dedicated theme park and to hold red-and-black masked balls in honour of the team, which is definitely what this country needs right now. It takes on a far more sinister turn when you remember that it is compulsory to vote in Brazil, so even those who haven’t a clue will be forced to put a mark somewhere. A friend with family in the north east said there are people he knows who never realised that Lula, the current president, had been elected, even though they were receiving the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) which is arguably his biggest legacy. Those candidates almost seem sensible in comparison with a pole-dancer called the ‘pear-shaped woman’ and some sort of clown fellow, a tv presenter right out of The Fast Show, who are also running. Also of course we’ve got Bebeto and Romario, two footballers, who are bound to succeed. It’s enough to make me take Boris Johnson seriously.

Bip bip!

As a result of visiting a place with that moniker last night, I am exhausted now. This place requires much less sleep than I’m used to, since there are always things to do at night but I have to get up as early as six most days too.

Bip bip (Think it kind of means beep beep) is a bar with music, but it’s so small that only the musicians can fit inside. The rest of us sat outside, while the choro musicians played that intricate style of music which sounds to me like medieval church music. It’s been there for at least 40 years, but in that time, apartments have sprung up around it, so the “audience” (about 16 people) were instructed to clap by clicking our fingers. After a virtuoso performance I found it pretty hard not to smack my hands together with gusto, although not drinking any beer helped.

After a noisy start, I’m enjoying living in Santa Teresa. The rest of the city seems much calmer when viewed from above (it certainly doesn’t when you’re in it) and I get to sit outside while I’m typing. I’m almost developed a phobia of sorting out my USB port due to the vast expense of electronic goods here, thanks in part to a punitive export tax on everything. Not sure what I’ll do about pictures, but whatever it is is certain to be convoluted and frustrating.

It was very weird to read some Brit magazines today which were full of pictures of winter coats and boots. Twice I’ve almost passed out from the heat, and it’s going to get another 10 degrees hotter. I’ve got no air conditioning in my room (I hate the stuff, but even so…). I feel a bit afraid. Like I’m a bit afraid of carnaval, which might be me showing my age. The same goes for lack of sleep generally so I’m off to rectify that.

Three months in

Tomorrow I have to go to renew my visa at the airport. I’ll have been here for three months.

Everyone says time goes fast here, which it does, since nobody seems to bother to sleep much and there is a kind of insane repetitiveness about everything. It’s the repetitiveness of a drunk who plays the same record every night. I actually once lived with a drunk who played the same record every night, but admittedly it was nowhere near the beach.

The world of pubs and cricket is a long way away, although tonight it’s actually cold. The other reason I’m staying in bed is the sound of gunshots earlier, which really could have been right outside my door. When I looked, I saw two young boys, sitting on the wall and shouting, though they didn’t have weapons. The housekeeper here says drug dealers are very young when they get involved in that life – maybe 18 or less – and often get shot by the police or killed by rivals before they reach 30.

For some reason, it reminds me of a story someone told me last night as we watched the latest dismal performance from my adopted team, Flamengo. A soldier was on a break from Iraq and decided to head to Rio. He had no qualms about heading into the nearest favela on his own, where he gave West Ham shirts to several of the folks he met there. This tells you everything you need to know about the type of preparation you need to do that (insert your own West Ham joke).

Now it couldn’t be more tranquil. Though it’s dark I can see Guanabara Bay in the distance from the safety of my window, and an eerie-looking Cristo, eerie because he is lit up and the clouds around him look like some kind of ethereal smoke. It’s this I’ll be staying for, this peculiar battle between squalor and glamour, and, less agreeably, the Carioca ability to forget everything moments later in favour of a veneer of perfection.

Could still murder a pint though.

The Worst Thing I Have Ever Seen and other stories

Sorry for the delay, anyone who is reading this. (Bueller. Bueller? Fry? Fry… anyone?)

The picture situation still isn’t happening so I am forced to bore any readers left to tears with words only. The worst thing I have ever seen is pretty dramatic though – and pictures really wouldn’t be appropriate. At a bar in Ipanema, affluent Zona Sul, a woman was standing drinking. It’s one of the “dirty feet” bars which are really just street bars, but even so, she stood out for the fact she wasn’t wearing any shoes, and put a cigarette out with her bare feet.

Closer up, she had very red eyes and was clearly out of it completely. Her mishapen top was covered in stains. I was informed by my friends there that earlier that day she had gone into Cantagalo after drinking a bottle of cachaca. Although her family is rich, she has a serious drug problem. She commenced to have sex with 10 (yes, 10) men in return for drugs, a deal which they must have stuck to judging by the state of her. Some of the residents of the favela had pity for her, some said they only had disgust because she had money and options, and the, er, incident was conducted in full view of teenagers wondering by. I can only wonder at what kind of man is happy to get involved in that kind of liason.

While there is a huge class divide here, there is a surprisingly high level of mobility. This includes down as well as up.

More cheerfully, the days are getting hotter and I’ve got used to life in the hills of Santa Teresa. I have tried to ignore two sightings of white people with dreadlocks, a sight I never enjoy, and relish the views from the terrace outside my window, with Cristo to my left and Sugar Loaf (and the ocean) to my right. So many people live in apartments here, but when buildings are close together like that, they can become oppressively dark and gloomy during the day. Even the sighting of a plump mouse hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm, although perhaps that is because it could never get close to being the worst thing I’ve seen this week.