Posts Tagged With: Gaucho

Cowboys and Yorkshiremen?

Gaúcho cowboys stir things up in the 1923 revolution

Gaúcho cowboys stir things up in the 1923 revolution

There is a joke in Brazil that goes something like this: when a Paulista (from São Paulo) does business he asks, “What’s in it for me?”; when a Carioca (from Rio) does a deal he asks, “What’s in it for me and you?”; when it comes to the Gaúcho (from Rio Grande do Sul), he asks, “What’s in it for YOU!?” You see, the Gaúchos have a deep sense of rivalry, always suspicious that the other guy is on the make. In other words, I don’t care about getting one up myself, but I sure as hell don’t want YOU to get one over on me.

Are you a Red or a Blue? Answer wrong and you die

Are you a Red or a Blue? Answer wrong and you die

In Porto Alegre, where I live, there are two big football teams: the Reds (Internacional) and the Blues (Grêmio). Once, a Blue guy said to me: “Of course, I like it when Grêmio win…but I LOVE it when Inter lose.” You get the idea? When I first arrived here, a taxi driver spent the whole ride begging me to be Red. He even followed me up the driveway to the door, pleading with me NOT to be Blue – anything but that. He was visibly disturbed at the thought, animated with anxiety and frustration – he seemed to believe that if I turned Blue, one of his internal organs would stop working.

Hey, Mr Gaucho - watch what you're doing with that pole!

Hey, Mr Gaucho – watch what you’re doing with that pole!

The Reds versus the Blues – it seems like a schoolboy game, but it turns out to be deadly serious. The Gaúchos just don’t trust each other. One of my students once leaned across the table, fixed me in the eye and said: “I don’t trust anybody in this town, only my family and very close friends”. The following week he quit, so he obviously didn’t trust me either. This deep mistrust of the other guy goes back to the imperial wars here in the deep south: the Maragatos (Reds) against the Chimangos (Whites) – a bunch of cowboys fighting for independence and territorial rights. The embedded rivalry, now glimpsed in the fierce football enmity, still holds up progress, polluting political will and causing many projects to hit deadlock.

Players from Internacional and Grêmio go head-to-head on the pitch

Players from Internacional and Grêmio go head-to-head on the pitch

But hang on a minute…is this bloated Gaúcho pride very different from the superciliousness of the Yorkshireman, I ask myself? That bloke who looks upon the rest of the English as hapless wimps or scheming sharks? There is an infamous Yorkshire expression that goes like this: “Hear all, see all, say nowt; eat all, sup all, pay nowt; and if ever tha does owt for nowt, allus do it for thissen.” Roughly translated, this means: keep your mouth shut apart from when you are eating at somebody else’s expense, and never do anything for nothing. Yes folks, Yorkshire is a land of grumpy misers who somehow feel above everybody else.

'Are you taking the rise out of me, Yorkshire pudding?'

‘Are you taking the rise out of me, Yorkshire pudding?’

I once met a Yorkshire bloke in Rio – Howard from Leeds, to be precise – who would walk a mile to save 5 cents on a glass of beer. According to Howard, everybody was out to rip you off. This deep suspicion of other people is a kind of paranoia, a surfeit of bile, a lack of inner peace. Perhaps Gaúchos and Yorkshire folk hate themselves and project it onto everybody else; perhaps they both feel bitter about being treated badly somewhere along the line. Surely the cure for this cringing resentment is to stop being self-obsessed and give a hand to others. Doesn’t happiness come more easily when we begin to be kind?

Bradford fans go ape after equalising with arch rivals Leeds

Bradford fans go ape after equalising with arch rivals Leeds

One thing I have had to learn the hard way is to love my enemies, especially at Valley Parade, where the away fans always have the last laugh. I have had to swallow my pride big time, week in week out. Thus have I learned the joy of being humble. I can laugh at my atrocious team and at myself. I can rise above the rivalry and feel serene. So my advice to Gaúchos and to everybody else is to do a good deed every day. Why don’t you knock on your neighbour’s door right now and ask if you can help change a lightbulb or fix that dripping tap? Go on – you know you want to!

Leeds fans are nutters (Howard must be in there somewhere...)

Leeds nutters (Howard must be in there somewhere…)

Needless to say, there are some inferior, deluded people who are just not worth our sympathy. I refer, of course, to Leeds United fans, known in Bradford as “Leeds scum”. When it comes to football rivalry, the mutual hatred between Bradford and Leeds fans is so strong that when the two teams meet, the devil himself sits in the stand hoping to get some tips. Come to think of it, it makes the battle between the Reds and the Blues in Porto Alegre look like a bun fight at a vicar’s tea party.

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like a rolling stone…

"See the world before you get hitched, young man!"

‘Hitch around the world before you get hitched, young man!’ Yes, grandad.

I don’t believe in forever. Forever only happens in fairy tales and my life is not a fairy tale, at least when I’m sober. Nothing lasts forever – not even love. When the vicar reads the marriage vows and seals the happy couple’s fate by making them repeat the words ’till death us do part’ I always feel a sense of wonder at the naivety of such a sentiment. The romantic part about romantic love is precisely that it doesn’t last forever: that’s what makes it tragic and yet irresistible. Time – that old chestnut – does not allow us to keep other people as our ‘possessions’; we are all essentially free-spirits.

Are you sure, kiddies, that you'll still feel the same 40 years from now?

Are you sure, kiddies, that you’ll still feel the same 40 years from now?

Not that I have been to many weddings. The shocking truth is that I have never been to one in my life, unless, that is, you count my own. You see, I was in my 20s in the 1970s at a time when youngsters prided themselves on being unconventional. Lovers were things that came and went like the seasons, part of the emotional journey from adolescence to adulthood. Getting married was seriously square. The important lesson I learned from promiscuity (yikes! – even the word sounds daring these days) is that finding your one-and-only precious ‘soul mate’ is a myth. We all have many soul mates dotted around the world; the tragedy is that we never get to meet them, especially if we tie ourselves to one person from the off.

These days we seem to have reverted to a kind of 1950s-style conventionality, when the aim of your early 20s is to find Mr or Mrs Right, get hitched and start planning babies. I have noticed that many of my former students in England, still in their early 20s, are proudly posting their marriage commitments on Facebook. Here in Porto Alegre, if anything, it’s even worse. Couples meet in the school yard and stay glued together until they march down the aisle 10 years later: ‘one life, one love’ seems to be their motto.

Hey - your soul mate is waiting for you in Buenos Aires...

Hey – your soul mate is waiting for you in Buenos Aires…

Whatever happened to the brilliant idea of seeing the world before you settle down? Surely your 20s are the decade for getting as much life experience as possible, for being a rolling stone that gathers no moss. This learning curve naturally includes having a number of relationships as you navigate your way around the globe, finding love but eventually moving on. Travel adventures are just that: adventures – the very definition of the word implies something that doesn’t last.

Hence, From Bradford to Brazil is, was and always has been an adventure, not a permanent state of affairs – that would have taken all the fun out of it. The glorious state of Rio Grande do Sul is perfect for Gauchos, with their extended families, beach houses and rowdy barbecues. Anybody else here feels like an alien, especially foreigners like me. I don’t fit in because there is nowhere to fit me in. In fact, I can think of only three reasons for staying in Porto Alegre indefinitely: 1) having a prestigious, highly-paid job (salaried in a foreign currency); 2) being part of one of those extended families, instantly adopted by having married one of the locals; or 3) being too scared to go back and face the rat race at home.

Eat English cheese with a bottle of good claret and die happy

Eat English cheese with a bottle of good claret and die happy

Inevitably, people ask me why I am contemplating a return to you-know-where.  Of course, I could take the question seriously and answer in a very measured way. I could say, for example, free healthcare, personal safety, established infrastructures, clean fresh-water systems, low cost of living, and so on. I could be boring. But the truth is, it’s the little things that pull me back like a fridge magnet: English sausages, English cheeses, pie and peas with mint sauce, watching Bradford City at Valley Parade and having a mucky curry afterwards, public libraries, record shops, charity shops, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4central heating (yes, you heard me right)…the list goes on.

Best view in the world! Bradford seen from the Kop at Valley Parade

Best view in the world? Bradford seen from the Spion Kop at Valley Parade

Unfortunately, back in Blighty, I will have to put up with English people who don’t hug and kiss like Brazilians. That will be tough. And I’ll probably have to change the name of the blog – From Bradford to Brazil will have to become something like From Porto Alegre to Pontefract. As for my new life, like the blog itself, I will just have to make it up as I go along. But then life is a series of wondrous adventures – you never know who or what is round the corner on the B 69 to Dewsbury. As they warn me every day on the local radio news channel here in Porto Alegre, “Em vinte minutos, tudo pode mudar” (in 20 minutes, everything can change). Watch this space.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

How to be a Brazza…

Live life to the full - 'The Brazilian Way'

Live life to the full – ‘The Brazilian Way’

Brazil has got everything: the World Cup, the Olympics, sunshine, Rio de Janeiro, dental-floss bikinis, crack-cocaine, car-jacking and corruption. What more could you want? But before you dash off to buy your plane tickets, there are a few useful phrases you need to learn in Brazilian Portuguese so you can better understand the people you will meet here. Only when you have mastered the following quips and concepts will you be prepared for the spectacular culture clash that will hit you like a pan of black beans dropped from the Cristo statue.

Sacanagem: If there is one word that sums up what goes on everyday on the streets of Brazil it is this. Roughly translated as “foul play” it symbolizes everything from steamy sex in a run-down motel to a dodgy deal struck at the back of a parking lot. To understand the concept, start watching the Brazilian soaps – they are full of it. I love them, but worry they are bad for my health.

How to get ahead in Brazil with Gérson's law

How to get ahead in Brazil with Gérson’s law

A lei de Gérson: (Gérson’s Law) Gérson was a gifted footballer who helped Brazil lift the World Cup in 1970. He later appeared in a cigarette ad where he said: I like to take advantage of everything. Now he is blamed for initiating the idea that, if you want to get on in Brazil, you’d better learn to get one-up on the next bloke before he pushes you under. Charming, I’m sure.

Jeitinho Brasileiro: (the Brazilian way) Fundamentally linked to the two previous items, this is the way things are done with a nod and a wink and no questions asked. Although it can mean that a “bung” is in the offing, it isn’t necessarily negative; it just means there is always a way in Brazil. Always.

Só para inglês ver: (only for the English to see) Way back when, the English tried to strong-arm Brazil into outlawing the slave trade. A law was passed, but nothing changed. So now this phrase has come to mean “not real, but just for show”. Now the English are back in Brazil trying to teach the natives to speak their language. Millions of lessons are given every day, but nothing changes.

"Would you mind lending me a few shillings, please?"

“Would you mind lending me a few shillings, please?”

Passa a grana, tio: (Give me the money, uncle) If someone approaches you uttering these words, you’d better say your prayers. Then empty your pockets. I’ve lived in Brazil for 5 years, and I’ve never been mugged. Maybe it’s because I’m just a poor English teacher. Or maybe it’s because I’m not actually anybody’s uncle?

Lá vem o rapa: (the cops are coming) If you are lucky, this may happen just as someone is trying to divest you of your last 5 Reais. But don’t hold your breath. The police always seem to be on a ‘go-slow’ here for some reason. Perhaps it’s because they are paid peanuts?

Fica na tua: (mind your own business) This is not recommended as a response to someone bothering you, unless you are tanked up on ‘caipirinhas’ and feel like eating a knuckle sandwich.

Oh dear - what a mess!

Oh dear – what a mess!

Cara de bunda: (bum face) A wonderful expression for those people who always have a monk on, or just can’t seem to smile. As an aside, it makes the notion of 69 anatomically interesting.

Mas que barbaridade, tchê! (but that’s diabolical, mate!) This is said only by Gauchos down here in the south of Brazil. It’s an exclamation a bit like “Jesus wept!” You could try using it just at the moment when a Gaucho person puts half a cow on the barbecue and licks his lips.

Bagunça: (a mess) It is sometimes tempting to refer to the whole of Brazil as a giant “bagunça”, especially when romanticising about England as a place of order, cleanliness and gentility (apart from the back streets of Bradford, of course).

Homem é bobo, mulher é chata: (men are silly, women are a pain) This is a quote from the former rock ‘n’ roll queen of Brazil, Rita Lee. She’s right, of course. Men never grow up and, as a consequence, women turn into nags.

Jararaca: a typical Brazilian mother-in-law

Jararaca: a typical Brazilian mother-in-law

Jararaca: (mother-in-law) Or, more accurately, my mother-in-law. Or anyone to which the epithet ‘old bag’ seems to fit. If I come clean and admit that the real meaning is a big, ugly snake, you’ll probably get my drift.

So there. Now you know these vital words and expressions, you are ready for the big, tropical adventure that is Brazil. Except that you don’t exist. Yes, you read that right…

Você não existe!: (you don’t exist) Roughly translated what this actually means is, “You’re out of this world!” Or, you’re amazing.

And, call me sentimental, but I can honestly say that many Brazilians I have met are just that: amazing. And Brazil itself can be amazing. The trick, as a traveller, is to allow yourself to be amazed. It worked for me.

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

Who is the Gaucho amigo?

In 1980 the redoubtable, inimitable Steely Dan released an album called ‘Gaucho’. “Wot dat mean?” I thought to myself at the time, cradling my new LP in a Bradford slum. And so, being endlessly fascinated by all ‘Danisms’, I immediately reached for my heavyweight dictionary. I remember the entry to this day: ‘A cowboy from the South American Pampas region’. How remote that seemed, how other-worldly, as far away from the north of England as Bethlehem or the Bermuda Triangle. Little did I know how my world would dramatically change.

Now Gauchos fill my life. I couldn’t rid myself of them even if I wanted to. But the Gaúchos (and Gaúchas) I meet and greet everyday are not cowboys or cowgirls. They are proud, hard-working Brazilians who love barbecued beef and coarse green tea sucked through a metal tube. Rio Grande do Sul, on the south side of Brazil, is Gaúcho country, where the cattle herders used to roam the Pampas plains in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were a proud bunch who resented encroachment from the north and fought for independence from the rest of Brazil. Even today, Gaúchos in Porto Alegre, where I live, readily admit they have more in common with other ‘Gauchos’ from nearby Uruguay and Argentina than they do with Brazilians in Rio or Bahia.

The immigrants who settled in the cooler climes of southern Brazil were predominantly Italian and German. Not natural bedfellows you might think, but with their stiff European edges smoothened by the long humid summers, the two cultures learned to mingle and merge. On the German side you have that pragmatic, Protestant work-ethic with the pioneering, mechanical mind-set and loud, beer-drinking heartiness. The Italians temper this will-to-succeed with their love of children, good food, gossip and, at least for the men, chasing women.

But there’s still enough of the Brazilian about these umpteenth generation Gaúchos to make the party swing; to spice up the sausage pizza with some of that hot samba sauce.

Categories: Brazil | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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