Posts Tagged With: Copacabana

The cheese is always greener on the dark side of the moon

I love you hate you love you hate you...having fun in Brazil

I love you hate you love you hate you…Brazil is irresistibly infuriating

It’s easy to love Brazil. The sun floods the house in the morning, filling the spaces with light and lightening the mood of the people. As mid-day approaches, gaggles of work-colleagues appear on the streets, chattering and chortling as they amble towards the nearest buffet-lunch bar. In the late afternoon, people sit in the park with their tea bowls, sucking the green liquid and gazing into the future. When the light fades, the crickets come out to sing, filling the tropical night air with an elusive mystique.

I see a message...if only those beans could speak to me!

I see a message…if only those beans could speak to me!

Some of my colleagues cannot believe I am thinking of heading back to the miserable grey skies of England, to the land of yob-culture, school bullies, boarded-up pubs, shops that shut at 5, small-minded conservative people and baked beans with everything. To a country where camping trips are ruined by the rain, where your body never throws off its clobber, where coffee is instant bilge, where town centres have been made anonymous by ugly shopping centres, where traffic wardens are repressed psychopaths and where a cheese and onion sandwich is the highlight of your day.

After all, living abroad makes you feel like a hero: what a remarkable feat you have managed, making your way in a foreign land and communicating in a foreign tongue, launched out of your cosy comfort zone like a jack-in-a-box! Surviving and prospering abroad is the sign of an intrepid adventurer, an infinitely resourceful globe-trotter, a multi-cultural maverick. When ex-pats in Brazil sit outside a trendy bar quaffing glasses of freezing beer and eyeing the talent they wish their cowardly mates back home could see them now! ‘This is the life’, they say.

Oh dear...the boom years have busted

As socialists, we promise to help…erm, ourselves?

But Brazil has hit the buffers with a dull, ominous thud. The Worker’s Party, who claim to be ‘socialists’ and have been in charge for more than a decade, have been exposed as one of the most corrupt governments in the country’s history. With mafia-like villainy, they have made Al Capone look like Homer Simpson. In the latest scandal, billions of dollars were siphoned out of Brazil’s huge state oil company, Petrobras. Now the country is financially broke and morally and spiritually broken. The local currency is up and down like Tower Bridge and the future looks, well, not exactly pear-shaped – more banana republic. Being here sometimes feels like living in the middle of an abandoned building site.

The middle classes have been revolting, huge swathes of them taking to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma. They say they want a new Brazil, though I doubt many of them would be prepared to give up their servants – armies of the poor who daily spend hours in cramped buses on the way to clean house, cook and look after rich kids for a pittance. In many ways Brazil has never overcome the master-slave mentality that began when the Portuguese monarchy arrived here 500 years ago. Success, for a Brazilian, is not having to do the dirty work. Today, the professional classes may be working hard in their corporate suites, but they don’t lift a finger when they come home. The surest way to go bankrupt in Brazil is to open a DIY store.

Brazil versus England...the story of my wife (I mean LIFE!)

Brazil versus England…the story of my wife             (I mean my LIFE!)

This potent mixture of political corruption, middle-class hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor is making Brazil much less easy to love. If anything, the recent displays of public anger are symptomatic of a country riddled with self-hatred. It’s very difficult today to find a Brazilian with much love for their homeland; most have become profoundly cynical. The tragedy is that, during the recent ‘boom’ years, Brazil did little to invest in public services: schools, hospitals and transportation are woefully underfunded. In this respect, Brazil has failed to throw off its ‘third world’ stigma. The irony is that, for a third world country, the current cost of living is astronomical. In short, nothing seems to make sense in present-day Brazil.

But perhaps the single most shocking thing about life here, is the blatant lack of policing and crime control. If the English police force is considered ‘professional’, then the Brazilian equivalent is a bunch of amateur clowns, so badly paid (and drawn from the uneducated poor) that they can’t resist colluding with the criminal gangs they are supposed to be catching. Many days go by here in Porto Alegre where I don’t see a single police officer. And this in a country where crime is rife and victims are shot dead if they react. One of my friends admitted recently she is just waiting for the day when a gun is put to her head and she hands over the keys of her car. If she accidentally screams, she might not live to tell the tale. When my son announced, with only a trace of irony, that if he had to stay living in Brazil he would buy a gun, something clicked in my head. That can’t be right.

Ben's Record Shop in Guildford...a haven for vinyl junkies

Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford…I miss it like I miss being 12

And yet, despite all this angst, my reasons for being lured back to Blighty are mostly mundane. You see, I miss a lot of daft stuff – ebay, for example. The second-hand Johnny that I am has been starved to the bone. I dream of charity shops, used book and record shops, jumble sales, flea markets. I ache to buy a decent second-hand motor at a reasonable price (impossible in Brazil). I miss supermarkets with their half-price offers and vast range of imported foods. I fantasize about Wetherspoons pubs – in fact, any pub. I long to see clean water in the rivers, hear the smack of leather on willow and enjoy the light of those long summer nights.

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I'm 'appy

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I’m as right as rain

There is nothing like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

There is nothing quite like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

Of course, there are a few serious reasons, too. Like free healthcare, for example – here in Brazil, like the USA, if you don’t have costly health insurance you take your place at the back of the queue and risk being forgotten. And being a rich country, there is at least some spending on public services in England and a modicum of respect for the environment. And, though I never thought I would ever say this, I want to live in a place with at least the odd copper knocking about; a place where criminals pay for their crimes if they are caught, which rarely seems to happen here. When I first heard gunshots in the middle of the night, I felt proud of myself for braving life in lawless, ‘wild west’ Brazil. But now I’m too old for Cowboys and Indians.

If I do set sail and leave these distant shores, it will not be without sadness, but with a heavy heart. If I do feel the odd twinge of hate for Brazil just now, it’s only because deep down I love it. Just play me a Djavan song and I’ll be in tears in no time. What makes Brazil warm is not the tropical climate, but the big-hearted Brazilians with their zest for life, despite all the struggle and strife.

The view from my ideal apartment, without binoculars

The view from my ideal apartment…yeah, right!

In fact, if I had a sea-view flat in Copacabana, with armed guards on the door and a shotgun under the mattress, a constant supply of untaxed imported goods, a few dodgy friends, an English pub round the corner and a pair of binoculars I would probably stick around. But somehow I think that’s unlikely.

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

I left my heart in São Conrado…

(I’ve just returned from Carnival in Rio to my adopted home of Porto Alegre. Here are my initial thoughts…)

Copacabana...I love you, hate you, love you, hate you

Copacabana…
I love you, hate you, love you, hate you

Copacabana is a bitch. I was a fool to believe she loved only me. She has a string of lovers and a host of admirers. After all, who can resist her exotic charms? The skimpy, sexy clothes she wears revealing a taught, tanned body underneath. She stays up all night partying, sniffing cocaine from the pointed end of a diamond-encrusted dagger. Being alone with her is as sensual as it gets. When she touches you your heart races and your insides turn to guacamole. But she never has any money and sometimes helps herself to the contents of your wallet. I’ve got to give her up. She’s made a fool of me.

Guaiba is a Gaúcha

Guaiba is a Gaúcha

Now Guaiba, on the other hand, is demure – an altogether more subtle affair. She’s quiet, pensive and on the cold side. She dresses in dark clothes and there’s not much flesh on show – apart from at the barbecue she drags you to every week. A workaholic who forgets how to let her blonde hair down, she stays in on Saturday night and sleeps all day Sunday. She doesn’t do the beach because the water’s brown and the guys are square.

Let’s face it – given the choice between hanging out in Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre, most people wouldn’t hesitate.

Pleasure-seekers in Rio

Pleasure-seekers in Rio

Rio has a picture-postcard beauty that leaves you breathless as you start the descent to the airport. The beaches are big white playgrounds next to the blue-green boat-filled bay. Copacabana is a mecca for pleasure-seekers: a kaleidoscope of bars, swanky restaurants and shopping galleries. Ipanema and Leblon are nearly as exciting, only they have more glamour and a touch of class. Theatres, cinemas, night-clubs, football stadiums, rock concerts all abound. Carnival is a state of mind – the whole population dresses up and spills out onto the streets, a riot of colour and infectious rhythms.

Porto Alegre doesn't have a beach...it has docks

Porto Alegre doesn’t have a beach…it has docks

Porto Alegre is like…well, it’s like Portsmouth, I suppose. Plainly provincial without much idea about how to improve itself. It’s staid, steady and Europeanish, with interludes of Brazilian brassiness when the beer is flowing. The centre of town is teeming: a mass of brow-beaten workers all jostling for an elusive bargain in a giant, grubby bonanza. The parks offer light relief, as do the ubiquitous shopping galleries with their cool, airy spaces and slowed-down pace. Porto Alegre is a place where you have to make your own entertainment.

So why don’t I stop moaning, pack my bags and clear off to the “Cidade Maravilhosa”? Well, it’s like this…

Rio, like London, is a victim of its own success. No prices are too high – for rent, for dinner or a room for the night. All that beauty, charm and excitement carries a stiff price-tag. Hapless gringos are still a target for the street robbers, so you have to watch your back (to be fair, Porto Alegre has its share of crime – especially car thefts).

Rio is a beach...

Rio is a beach…

The Cariocas (people from Rio) are friendly enough, though socially unreliable, promising more than they deliver. The Rio way of life revolves around the beach, which is fine if you like sand on your heels all the year round. The beaches are also surrounded by favelas, the hillside slum dwellings that allow the drug-dealing gangs to look down on the decadent antics of the rich, and which serve as a constant reminder that Rio is under siege.

Porto Alegre (POA) forces you to try harder: that’s its charm. If you want a whirligig social life, there are plenty of bars and restaurants. But it’s a struggle to duplicate the Copacabana buzz. What makes Porto Alegre shine is the sunny disposition of the Gaúchos.

Winter fun in the park in POA

Winter fun in the park in POA

Though some have inherited that stiff, European work-ethic, they seem more humble and genuine than the Cariocas. They show and appreciate kindness. And the ex-pats make more of an effort to socialize. POA is way down south near Argentina and Uruguay. It’s cooler than Rio, but the winter is short and not very cold by UK standards, and the hints of seasonal change add variety to lifestyle choices: cold beer and flip-flops for Christmas, red wine and jumpers in July.

In short, Rio is the place to blow a few thousand dollars on the weekend before you get married; POA is the place to settle down and start a blog.

Sunset over the Guaiba, Porto Alegre

Sunset over the Guaiba, Porto Alegre

Categories: Brazil | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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