Posts Tagged With: Porto Alegre

Estrangeiro in my own back yard

abroad

Globe-hopping is exhilarating and sad at the same time

There is an old Gaúcho proverb down in the south of Brazil that goes something like this: ‘Don’t jump over the fence when there are plenty of cows in your own field.’ Well, folks, that sounds a little like the story of my life – always heading for the greener grass only to find a field full of manure. In fact, fence-jumping, although glorious in its gay abandon, always seems to leave me with a deep sense of sadness. No sooner have I landed in a new field than I start to feel empty, scared, nostalgic. What madness have I just committed? Where are all those people that filled my life just weeks ago, those smiling faces, those warm human beings I once hugged on the other side of the world? Where did all those summers go? What the hell am I doing in Scarborough?

goat

Does this grass really taste any sweeter?

So, I ask myself, what exactly did I learn during my last escapade, from upping sticks in leafy Surrey 7 years ago, soaking up that Brazilian sunshine in “lively port” Porto Alegre and landing back with a dull thud in gritty Yorkshire? Well, for starters, I still believe wholeheartedly that Travel with a capital T is priceless, and nothing in this life comes near it for enriching your spirit. But moving countries is an emotional roller-coaster that leaves your heart with a few missing pieces. And the worst thing about living abroad is not knowing how long it’s going to last and when the people and places right in front of you are going to become misty memories.

Parque_Farroupilha

Parque da Redenção in Porto Alegre – now but a misty memory…

My barber in Brazil was a realistic sort of a chap. When I told him I was thinking of coming back to England he said something which could be roughly translated as, “too right, mate!” He continued: “Ask yourself what you are going to miss, exactly. I’ll tell you the only two things you’ll miss about Brazil: the weather and the people.” And in a way, of course, he was right. Yet even the weather and the people on their own amount to a sizeable chunk missing from your life, especially when you are shivering in a dark, damp Bradford bedroom. All of a sudden, Brazil’s many charms begin to replay in your mind, like a Thomson’s holiday promo video with your mates waving in the background.

buffet

Brazilian buffet lunches are a glorious ritual

Brazil is a beast of a place, a big busy sweltering ‘bagunça’ going backwards. Brazilians are always moaning that nothing works, but that is the charm of the place. In Brazil you don’t throw anything away and you don’t take anything for granted: on Friday you celebrate getting through the week in one piece. But despite the wild-west lawlessness and chaos, the people are easy to get to know and easy to love: they have learned to suffer the fools in charge and make the best of the warm days and barbecue nights. What I remember of Brazil are fleeting moments of joy, of feeling like a hero, a traveller who has been knocked about by a herd of bulls but is still standing and managing a smile. In Brazil the night is a child who only wants to play.

Moments of joy in dingy England are as rare as clockwork teacakes, especially if you live in a provincial outpost where the people look and sound like farm labourers with issues. In my little town, they think Europe is a place beyond the Urals full of foreign spies with garlic breath. But there are a few consolations: catching the Leeds to London express and fantasising about not going back; finding a booth in a light, airy Wetherspoons pub and working through the ale list; reading the Guardian horizontally on Saturday pretending to be the intelligentsia;  singing daft songs in the Spion Kop at Valley Parade after a pub crawl; wading through the £1 racks at Vinyl Tap in Huddersfield with an oscillating heart-rate and a toothy grin; eating battered haddock steaming with malt vinegar; and watching the sun and the empire go down at the end of the pier after another long summer night. 

bradders

Bradford is, shall we say, an acquired taste?

My biggest problem in England, according to social commentator David Goodhart, is that I am an Anywhere and not a Somewhere type. Somewheres grow up and stay put in their communities; they can’t wait to leave school, have conventional ideas and tend to become hostile to outside influences and stray souls invading their territory. Anywheres are rootless, university-educated drifters who move where the work is and tend to be liberal and egalitarian in outlook, identifying themselves within a larger, global image of citizenship. In other words, to the curtain-twitching nutters of this world, I am always an alien intruder who appears self-satisfied and smarmy; a suspicious bloke who doesn’t understand why the locals gang together and grunt like something in a field.

Many of the blues and folk singers I listen to always seem to be “moving on” in their songs, leaving town and heading over the hills, looking for adventure, new friendships, new loves. But life on the move is a long, sad song that gets sadder by the year and eventually leaves you with little else but memories. I may be proud to be an Anywhere drifter, but the Somewheres of this world, and there are many, have one big advantage over me – they don’t have much to miss because their lives and their friends are right in front of them and always have been. They certainly don’t envy me. In fact, they probably feel a bit sorry for a guy who was born in Bradford, ran away to see the world, and now has to face the fact that his beloved home town is only an hour away down the motorway (in a clapped out old banger). I mean, come on – who would be me?!

Biggs-trio

Brazil was a riot for Ronnie, but he missed warm bitter and Bird’s custard

Besides, I am getting a little too old for this adventure lark. Brazil was a blast, and sometimes I crave my old life back – my lovely students, those naughty buffet lunches, the warm nights, freezing beer and the distant sounds of gunshot. But I have to face the fact that Brazil wasn’t really me, if I am honest. Train robber Ronald Biggs eventually got fed up with Rio and craved his old life back, supping bitter down the pub and then popping home for dinner and puddings served with his beloved Bird’s custard. But even if his fantasy of slipping back into England had become a reality, which it didn’t, his new life would soon have become just as stale as the old one. 

As I get older, I may even have to settle down somewhere and grow old gracefully, whatever that means. At least I can take comfort from the advice a pal of mine gave me recently: ‘Don’t worry your head about old age’, he said. ‘It doesn’t last.’

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

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.

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

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.

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

Why I hate New York…

Fabulous 57th Street which is managing well without me...

Fabulous 57th Street…which is managing well without me

Dear New York,

Why do you haunt me and taunt me so? Don’t you know I can’t get you out of my head? It’s all right for you…you just go on being yourself. You don’t care about me. You don’t miss me. To you, I was just an ant scurrying around your shiny streets. Can’t you see – I can’t love you if you don’t love me back, if you don’t want me back. Say you want to see me again, please! Until then, I’ll have to keep singing the refrain from that old Shirley Bassey song, the one that goes: I love you, hate you, love you, hate you, love you till the world stops turning

You think you are so big and important, don’t you, huh? The Big Apple. Who do you think you are? What have you got that Bradford hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got Bradford City FC, have you? Ha ha! You haven’t got a big hole in the middle and Lister’s chimney! Come to think of it, what have you got that Porto Alegre hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got footy star Anderson, late of Manchester United, have you? You haven’t got black-bean stew and funny Gaucho hats! So, just what have you got? Well, erm, here are a few things…

Why do I have to look through every single record in the shop?

Why do I have to look through every single record in the shop?

Record Shops: dozens of them, full to the rafters with old LPs. Each record has one of those lovely, thick cardboard sleeves to protect the disc. Each record is a bit heavier, thicker vinyl, with sound quality to drool over. For just a few dollars – the price of a blueberry muffin and a regular coffee – you can get yourself albums by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express or The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra. Tearing around Manhattan and Brooklyn breathlessly, I managed to plough through 13 record stores in 3 days, dislocating my shoulder with the weight of the bag. As Jeff Ogiba of Black Gold Records in Brooklyn says: “Records are the closest thing to a human relationship that I’ve discovered so far. I’m not on drugs.”

West 57th Street: if I could have chosen a better place to parachute into Manhattan, then my name wouldn’t be Herbert Butterworth. Bordered by Central Park, 5th Avenue, 7th Avenue, Broadway and with Times Square just down the road, this bit of the Big Apple is where the action is, where those in-the-know go, where the cool cats hang out – Bert included. And…just opposite my hotel was the coolest burger joint playing the hippest black swamp jive, hidden away behind a curtain inside the swanky Le Parker Meridian hotel.

Hidden gem on West 57th - the burger joint in Le Parker Meridian

Hidden gem on West 57th – the burger joint…worth going just for the tunes

Brooklyn Bridge: landed in Dumbo, Brooklyn 4pm (freezing the brass monkeys off), steaming cuppa tea 4.15, sprawling but neat second-hand bookstore 4.30, procured little bottle Wilson’s Whiskey 5pm (getting dark), climbed the 20 dozen iron stairs up to the bridge, knocked back the fuel and prepared to brace the biting winds 5.15, marched across the bridge with glorious views of the Manhattan skyline, landed Lower Manhattan 5.45, chilled to the bone, crimson-faced but exhilarant!

Was it the whisky that made everything look surreal on Brooklyn Bridge?

Was it the whisky that made everything look surreal on Brooklyn Bridge?

Greenwich Village: like London’s Soho in the old days, the Village has a kind of seedy, Bohemian feel, where every multi-coloured cafe, pub and shop is wildly different from the place next door. I even got sucked into the beat-up East Village, with edgy streets that seem to go on forever. I was lost and scared. I felt like Jack Kerouac…”an angel-headed hipster burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” Wow!

My hero Jack Kerouac in NY 1953 - about to enter a record store, of course!

My hero Jack Kerouac in NY 1953 – about to enter a record store, of course!

Carnegie Hall: growing up a jazz fan, the words Live at Carnegie Hall on the LP cover always filled me with awe and wonder, wonder and awe. Guess what? Carnegie Hall is on 57th Street – so off I went on Sunday afternoon, sober and civilized, to watch a little jazz group. Sitting in a cozy theatre room (an offshoot of the main auditorium) with the saxophone, piano, bass and drums just a few feet away, and knowing that Manhattan was waiting for me outside, was my kind of heaven.

OK, so New York can also get on your nerves sometimes. Like when you get the bill in a diner and there is a 20% service charge. That’s because the greedy owners don’t pay the waiters. Oh no – they expect you to pay them with a hefty tip! Many times Manhattan made me feel like a little, poor guy, like I shouldn’t really be there, like I should be emptying the garbage at the back of the celebrity party. And – get this – nobody speaks English! So annoying. I went to New York specifically to practise my American drawl (“What it is, bro!” and all that) and everybody, everywhere was chortling away in Spanish…shut your eyes and you could be in Mexico.

Why does New York vinyl taste so good?

Why does New York vinyl taste so good?

But little niggles aside, I am still smitten…love-struck to the core. Every time I play one of those heavy LPs with Made in New York printed on the back I hurt inside. The trouble is, too many people already love New York, that’s why she doesn’t care a fig about little old me. But I am already planning my return – I am going to MAKE her notice me, even if it means shouting “Hasta la vista, baby!” in the middle of 5th Avenue. Start spreading the news…

 

 

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

The truth about love

Romantic love makes your knees turn to jelly

Romantic love makes your knees turn to jelly

Hey – this is supposed to be an adventure journal, a ripping travelogue from steamy South America! So where do I keep disappearing to? You have every right to ask. I should be writing this with trembling, blood-stained hands. I should be telling you about my hair-raising adventure in the Andes where I contracted double-malaria after being attacked by a herd of tsetse flies. Or I might be dictating this to an amanuensis because I am attached to an oxygen machine after my swash-buckling travails through the Amazon jungle, wrestling crocodiles and with only a tub of Marmite sandwiches to keep me going. But no, folks. The sad truth is that I have been hiding out in my little pad in Porto Alegre, watching Brazilian soaps, reading George Gissing, frying fish and depressing over Bradford City losing twice in the space of a week. Life is a crock of cockroaches at the moment. But I don’t feel sorry for myself – oh no! In fact, by busily doing nothing, I have had time to reflect on something we all cherish, crave and care about.

L-O-V-E. A mystery we never seem to solve. Can we learn more about it, or is it something you can only feel? Who knows most about it? Poets and songwriters? Jilted lovers? If you learn more about it as your life goes on, then I should know quite a bit by now, seeing as I am entering my dotage. One of my very favourite poets, W.H. Auden, spent his whole life trying to understand what those four little letters really mean. He begins one poem wittily:

W.H. Auden spent a lifetime writing about love

Wystan Auden spent a lifetime writing about love

Some say love’s a little boy, 
And some say it’s a bird, 
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that’s absurd, 
And when I asked the man next-door, 
Who looked as if he knew, 
His wife got very cross indeed, 
And said it wouldn’t do.

And he ends by asking how he will know love when it comes: 

Will it come like a change in the weather? 
Will its greeting be courteous or rough? 
Will it alter my life altogether? 
O tell me the truth about love.

Of course, I cannot hope to ever match Auden’s insight and wit. I’m from Bradford, remember. But over the years I have had a few ideas about love myself. Romeo I am not; Casanova neither. But having had a few broken hearts and plenty of time to mull over the whole business of romantic love, I would like to share a few of my thoughts and maybe shatter a few myths. So here goes:

LOVE LASTS FOREVER: Who said that? How do they know? Sorry to disappoint you, but love is not a solid, static thing that sits permanently on your shoulder. Love is the most fluid thing; it won’t just stick around. Love comes and goes and sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop it flying off like a bored budgerigar. The point is not to feel guilty about it. No-one is to blame when love steals away. The surest things can change. But fear not: love will come back another day and make you glow all over once again.

Jealousy is self-love tinged with hate

Jealousy is self-love tinged with hate

LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WORK: Yes and no. If you spend all your time cultivating loving relationships you might end up as a bus driver. Love is here today and gone tomorrow and there isn’t much you can do about it. But there is a lot you can do to improve your work options. And someone who loves their work is much more attractive than a shabby sentimentalist who can’t even buy you dinner. I say: work hard at finding something you love doing for a living, and let love come and find you. Unless, of course, you love buses.

LOVE AND SEX ARE DIFFERENT: Whoever said that deserves a chocolate cookie! The trick is never to confuse the two. But for that trick you need to be a master magician, unfortunately. How many people get married because the sex is good only to find themselves waking up every day next to a wazzock. You see, passion cools, and it’s better to assess the respect you have for your lover when the flames have died down. Because respect is the key to a long, loving relationship. You need to find someone you deeply admire, but still fancy. Tricky, huh?

LOVE IS FEELING JEALOUS: Isn’t it natural to feel a twinge of jealousy when your lover is swooning in someone else’s company? Maybe. But being possessive can be catastrophic and says more about your insecurity. If you genuinely love someone you will want them to enjoy their freedom, too. Besides, if your partner is really enjoying someone else’s company that much, you had better let them go. Just make sure you have a hobby to turn to when you get dumped. I collect plastic submarines.

LOVE IS SAD: I have learnt this the hard way. Love might be quick to depart, but there is always a little bit left over that stays in your system. As you get older, it builds up and can easily turn to nostalgia. Better to allow the old loves to mature inside you, like good wine. Without the sadness that love leaves behind, we would never experience the joy of finding and treasuring love in the first place. Joy and sadness: these are the essence of love.

LOVE, AND BEING “IN LOVE”: “I love my partner, but I’m not in love with him anymore.” I’ve heard this a few times, but what does it mean? It means you don’t really love your partner, or rather, you love him like a brother. But you can live without your brother, so you really need to move on. Love means staying “in love”, and I don’t mean sizzling in the flames of passion, I mean the delight you feel just watching your partner experiencing moments of happiness. Falling “in love” is so wonderful that sometimes we fantasize about having a fling on the side. But if you are prepared to risk all on an illicit affair, better dust off those suitcases in the garage.

Poet Wendy Cope doesn't know what to say on Valentine's Day

Poet Wendy Cope doesn’t know what to say on Valentine’s Day

Love is not “staying together through thick and thin”. It is not a test of commitment. Love is freeing your spirit, not trapping it in a dingy flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Love doesn’t calculate; it liberates. It doesn’t build up resentment; it forgives and renews itself. Love is like a butterfly that doesn’t die. Oh dear – now I’m trying to sound poetic. So I’d better finish with a proper poem, or part of one. Wendy Cope wonders what to say to the man she’s been with for donkey’s years when another Valentine’s Day arrives: 

Today’s the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But that’s enough romance. Next week I will post some pictures of me grappling with a big brown bear in a supermarket car park. I thought the bear loved me…I was wrong. 

I found this alligator in my swimming pool, so I've been a bit busy

I found this alligator in my swimming pool, so I’ve been a bit busy…honest!

 

 

Categories: Books and Writers, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Brazil’s winter of discontent…

 

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

An eerie calm has descended on the streets of Brazil – or at least my bit of it down here in sunny Porto Alegre. The World Cup may be a fast fading memory, but the scars haven’t quite healed. There is still a mood of bewilderment. The other day I met an elderly woman who doesn’t even follow football, and yet she told me she has the numbers 7 and 1 going around her brain like a curse (Brazil were hammered 7:1 by Germany in the semi-final). In Brazil, the number of the beast is no longer 666, but seven and one. Nowadays, no Brazilian would buy a car with 7 and 1 on the number plate, and you can bet no-one will gamble those numbers on the lottery.

But the war is over. Germany won and everyone has gone home. We all got patriotic for a few weeks and now we’re back to being global nobodies. We all imagined our blood was better than Johnny Foreigner’s blood and shouted it from the terraces, or from the safety of our living-room sofas. Global football tournaments are one of the only times when nations meet to do battle and the fans can put on their war paint and jump up and down like demented warriors. Of course, it’s not that long since real wars were commonplace. It’s only 500 years since the War of the Roses, for example, that glorious Yorkshire victory! Yes, the House of York (white rose) trampled the House of Lancaster (red rose) and I still have my white rose cufflinks to prove it.

Richard III had a few problems...he wasn't from Bradford

Richard III had a few problems…he wasn’t from Bradford

War or World Cup, men still love the chance to be macho and aggressive. But what happens when the fighting has stopped – what do men do when the war is over? According to Shakespeare, after the Wars of the Roses they started prettifying themselves to win invites into ladies’ chambers so they could try out their amorous talents. But not all men are made for love-making. If you are deformed and ugly, like Richard III, you cannot join in the passion and the poetry. Richard’s response was to avenge himself by killing all his rivals and crowning himself king. It was one way of dealing with his exclusion. But today, for us men who live in peaceful times, we can’t just pick up a sword and let fly: we have to be happy with the bedroom antics. It has led to what some people refer to as the “feminisation” of culture. Men are now more like women. So, the World Cup was a chance for us men to be tough guys again for a few weeks.

Yet more growth at what human cost?

Growth: the only solution in town?

But now Brazilians have more important things to consider. There is an election looming and the country is crying out for change. People are demanding more investment in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Like most economies, Brazil has taken a tumble and the “boom” years appear to be behind. What the politicians tell us is we need more “growth”. It’s funny. The solution always seems to be the same. The magic word is growth – all we need is more people spending and everything will be all right. Well, I agree with Professor Tim Jackson who, in his book Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet, says that every society clings to a myth: in ours it is the myth of economic growth. “The days of spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not care about are over”, says Tim. Or they should be.

Here is what all Brazilians should do: STOP. Stop for a few minutes every day. Turn off that stupid ‘Smart Phone’ and think. Reflect on your life. What are you doing with your precious time on earth? Do you just want to be richer and buy more stuff? Who are you when you are not at work? How much time do you have to grow as an individual? What are you doing for the planet?

I'm looking after Number One...that's me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

I’m looking after Number One…that’s me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

Most people will tell you that work and money are not so important for them: what comes first is the family. As if “the family” was the panacea for a perfect life. Well, I say STOP that as well! Stop thinking your family is more precious than mine, or any other. It’s another myth, I’m afraid. One that has been so successful ideologically that we dare not even question it. Believe me, it is not “natural” to dote on one’s family; it is “cultural” – and culture is always part of the broader economic system. The truth is that the “family unit” is a divisive little institution. Through our blind obsession with our own families we have simply stopped caring for anybody else in the wider community. Love stops at the front door of our house. It’s every family for itself – like every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Sad, but true.

No, my friends! Consumerism is a blind alley where you lose your soul. Increasing your buying power – the very thing everybody seems obsessed with – won’t make you any happier. What makes us happy is feeling good about ourselves, and we get that from generosity of spirit. Doing good things, helping others. Kindness.

Of course, in Yorkshire – under the shadow of the “glorious sun of York” – people don’t have a problem buying things they don’t need to impress somebody else. That’s because Yorkshire folk are notoriously tight-fisted. Let me put it this way, if a Yorkshireman owned Siberia, he wouldn’t give you as much as a snowball. I met a bloke from Leeds in Rio de Janeiro a few years back. I kid you not, he would walk a mile to save 5 centavos on a glass of beer. I went with him, of course. I had to.

"Eat all, sup all, and pay now't!" Stingy Yorkshire folk

“Eat all, sup all, and pay now’t!” Yorkshire folk hold on to their dosh

And another thing, Brazilians might still be suffering deep down, but at least their boys got to the semi-final. My army – the ones waving the flag of St George – were annihilated. England were atrocious. We lost twice and drew 0:0 with Costa Rica. What a shower! But at least I have plans for my huge England flag – I’m waiting for a fancy-dress party so I can go as Richard the Lionheart. On second thoughts, after looking in the mirror this morning, I’d better go as Richard III. “Now is the winter of my discontent…”

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

World Cup Brazil – three lions and a few white elephants…

 

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

One damp morning last week I was sitting on the rocky bus to college when suddenly my heart leapt: I spotted a picture in the local newspaper and a story about the Red Devils, coming to Brazil for the World Cup. Not Manchester United, but a group of ecstatic South Korean youngsters coming over here to support their national team. The photograph captures 120 excited, smiling faces, full of hope and expectation. It’s a far cry from the mood of many of my colleagues and students here in Porto Alegre. So why has the mood soured just before the greatest sports tournament on the planet? Why can’t Brazilians get behind the national team?

The Red Devils - 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Brazil

The Red Devils – 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Porto Alegre, Brazil

Well, the short answer is FIFA. The all-powerful football federation has had the Brazilian government in an arm-lock for the the last year, insisting its high standards are met. Sod the poor state schools and hospitals – get those stadiums finished and up-to-scratch, whatever the extra cost. So the government has forked out billions in tax-payers’ money to build a host of white elephants, just so FIFA executives don’t lose face (and the odd million in profits). Of course, having unfinished stadiums has had its funny side. One English ex-pat here in Porto Alegre, on seeing a Facebook picture of his mate’s England-Uruguay tickets bought back home posted a note: “I take it you’re coming a couple of weeks early to help build the stadium?”, and the mate posted back, “Of course – I’ve already packed a bag of cement in my suitcase!”.

It seems the 2014 World Cup will be remembered for the wrong reasons, particularly in Brazil. But in fact, they will be for the right reasons. Like the fact that World Cups are hideously expensive spectacles that do nothing for a country’s economy but everything for FIFA plc. These tournaments suck countries dry, leaving black holes in government coffers and stadiums that will never again be even half-full. One economic analyst has calculated that the total public spending on the tournament would be enough to pay Brazil’s annual social welfare bill – the Bolsa Familia – twice over. So Brazilians are torn: most of them believe the cup has done more harm than good for Brazil. And yet.

The newly refurbished Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre

The new look Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Wow!

When the boys in yellow take to the field and Brazil’s national anthem begins to play millions of stomachs will be aflutter and hairs will be standing up on the backs of necks in living rooms and bars across this vast expanse of a country. Perhaps there will be some tangible euphoria if Brazil keep winning their games. Perhaps people will be singing and dancing in the streets. Last year Brazil gave Spain, the current holders of the cup, a good trouncing, so the squad has a great chance of going all the way to the final. It’s going to be fun to watch, with 5 games happening in the newly-refurbished Beira Rio stadium, less than half-an-hour away from where I am writing this.

The Three Lions - "Come on England!" (and no penalties...)

The Three Lions – “Come on England!” (and no penalties…)

Trouble is, I can’t support Brazil. Not with body and soul. I love Brazil, but I am English through and through. If you cut me open I’m full of warm beer and Bird’s custard. So what am I to do? Paint a St George’s cross on my face and get behind the Three Lions, of course. The World Cup seems to make patriots of even the most liberal-minded people. I have often asked myself why I feel so strongly about the England football team. They are usually appalling to watch, the fans are mainly saddos and when the penalty shoot-out comes, it’s time to run for the exit. So why do I continue this madness?

 

My childhood...watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

My childhood…watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

Well, it’s love. A strange kind of love, but love nonetheless. It’s hard to describe, but I suppose it’s a love of childhood, hearth and home, the streets where I played tin-can-squat with my pals. It’s all my English travels and the wacky people I met on the journey. It’s old black and white photographs of Bradford buses. It’s Philip Larkin and Monty Python, The Rolling Stones and Al Read. It’s the rolling English drunkard and the rolling English road. It’s salt and vinegar and cheese and onion. It’s Shakespeare and J. B. Priestley and the English language. But it’s more than all that: it’s a kind of feeling you just can’t define in words. I don’t think most people know why they feel emotional about their nation. It’s a question nobody thinks to ask.

Half-time snack, anyone? Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

Half-time snack – Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

However, there is one big question I’d like to ask FIFA as this global extravaganza is about to kick off. What happens to the billions made through sponsorship and TV rights? I don’t mean to be churlish, but I think Brazilians and the rest of us watching this World Cup have a right to know.

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

From Brazil to Bradford…and back again

The City Vaults, Bradford - best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

The City Vaults, Bradford – best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

Friends, followers, workers of the world – a thousand pardons for my long absence. A man’s best friend – his laptop – was unable to accompany me on my glorious trip back to Blighty. What a journey, what fun, what larks! A Yorkshire bloke returns to London (“the smoke”) and Bradford (“the muck”) after years of hanging out in Rio Grande do Sul? So, what was it like?

Imagine a pudgy white gringo in shorts and flip-flops arriving at the airport wrapped in an old overcoat. You see, it’s baking hot summer in Brazil and freezing foggy winter in little England, so I was torn between the two (the story of my life?). England should be re-named ‘Greyland’, the land of dark clouds, wind and rain. The sun? Forget it. The sun has given up trying to come out in protest against George Osborne, the Tory chancellor who has made Robin Hood spin in his grave so fast that Sherwood Forest almost caught fire.

And so to London. First impression on the tube was a reminder of how smug and superior Londoners can be, as I watched two young bucks with their legs stretched out across the carriage, talking and dissing loudly as if they owned the train. Then on to rich rich Richmond-upon-Thames where I was staying. It’s a very civilized place, lovely really, but the people take absolutely everything for granted as they swish around Waitrose in suede shoes with a trolley full of ready-made meals and bottles of burgundy. Richmond is a cocoon of wealth and privilege. But what hurts most is that I can’t afford to live there!

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn't wash clothes

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn’t wash clothes

But Mayfair tops it all. I was sent there by the Brazilian Consulate to get some papers authenticated at vast expense. What I found was a movie set for a Hollywood film about London, complete with Georgian mansions, butlers and supermodels getting into their Bentleys. Absolutely breathtaking. It’s just that there is another side of the glittering coin: you can’t have all this luxury without poverty somewhere else. It was the English imperialist will that exploited the world to bring back the spoils and the evidence is still with us today in Mayfair. Who actually lives there apart from Nigella Lawson, high-class hookers and one or two dodgy bankers?

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

That’s enough of trendy London – let’s trudge up north for a reality check. Bradford! What a place! What a dump, some might say, but not me. For I had the best pint of bitter (Black Sheep) for years at The City Vaults in the town centre, getting tanked up for the Bradford City game against Swindon. Seriously, you meet a better class of people in the pub on match days. And someone has had the wherewithal to convert the Yorkshire Penny Bank into an alehouse with a glorious high ceiling and huge windows. It was full of Bradford folk supping, laughing and jabbering in that flat, comical, northern twang. I looked at one bloke and thought – that used to be me. But now I’m so far removed that Bradford exists only in inverted commas and everything is shrouded in irony, as if I am watching from behind a screen. Perhaps it’s better that way.

An afternoon jaunt on the last day of the year took us to Hebden Bridge, or “Rizla Country” as some Bradfordians have labelled it. That’s because it was once teeming with ageing hippies (Rizla is a brand of cigarette paper used to roll joints). Now it’s been gentrified; the locals stroll around in oilskin coats, hiking shoes and little round spectacles, greeting each other with hearty guffaws. One of them asked another: “Where’s the action tonight, Rupert?” in a BBC accent. But all in all, Hebden has a cozy, bohemian atmosphere with its street cafes, quaint pubs and bonhomie. Now I’m beginning to sound like a travel brochure. Wonder if there’s any money in travel writing…

Yorkshire's answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

Yorkshire’s answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

So here comes the big question: what did I miss about Brazil while propping up the bar in The Shoulder of Mutton? Sunshine for a start. Sunshine that’s actually warm. And my humble little apartment in Porto Alegre filled with old records and speakers, with my cramped jerry-built home cinema and kitchen so small that I sometimes put the Yorkshire puddings in the fridge instead of the oven. What else? Buffet lunches with a vast array of mouth-watering fruits, salads and gooey puddings – all for about £4 ($6.50). Hearing Portuguese and having to rise to the challenge every day of surviving in an alien culture. Not forgetting my lovely Gaucho students who have to put up with my endless monologues about World War I and Bradford City FC.

Ben Darnton and me at Ben's Record Shop in Guildford - a goldmine for vinyl junkies

Ben Darnton and me at Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford – a goldmine for vinyl junkies

Now I’m back in Brazil, what do I miss about old England? Ale, of course. In fact, put me in the Hill Top in Thornton and give me a pint of Wainwrights bitter and I’ll name you as chief benefactor in my will. And food: curries, chapatis, houmous, taramasalata, English mustard, Cheddar cheese, Tesco Finest sausages and mince pies. Also the culture of second-hand and the thrill of digging for gold in record shops and charity shops. Cars travelling at civilised speeds and stopping for you politely at zebra crossings. And all those endless lush green fields that stretch into the distance and make a man like me want to be a romantic poet.

It’s so sad being torn between two countries. I really need to cry. I nearly did listening to a record I brought back with me – Vera Lynn singing I’ll Be Seeing You, which goes like this: ‘I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through…’ But the tears just wouldn’t come. Now I have a better idea. I’m going to look at my bank statement to see how much dosh I blew on holiday…I’ll soon be blubbering like a monkey with no nuts.

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

Beauty and the Beast

Football is no joke - even in Brazil

Football is no joke – especially in Brazil

Imagine what you could do with a million pounds: yes, £1,000,000. New house, new car, trip around the world? Your life would never quite be the same. Now imagine giving 85 people the same chance of freedom from financial hardship. That’s a lot of very rich people. Or better still, imagine being able to invest £85 million in the education system or health service (that’s more than R$300 million if you’re a Brazilian). New hospitals, new schools, better-paid nurses and teachers. In some countries it could make a huge difference to the welfare of the people.

"It's not a bad life playing footy" Madrid's new god - Gareth Bale

“It’s not a bad life playing footy”  Madrid’s new god – Gareth Bale

Now come slap bang down to earth. One football player has just been bought for the princely sum of…yes, you guessed it, £85 million. Welshman Gareth Bale was sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Who paid? The fans, of course, some of whom struggle to pay for the latest club T-shirt (£95 pounds-worth of nylon, made in China for about £4). But who cares? Football players have always earned pots of money. It’s all part of the “beautiful game” we know and love.

When I was a kid there were the boys (not girls) who liked football and those who didn’t. That seemed normal. Now if you don’t support a football team and are unable to rattle off the names of this season’s top scorers and the latest transfer news you are boring – a bit weird, actually. And that includes women. They have realised two things: firstly, that knowing a bit about football will get them in with the lads (ie totty) and secondly that footballers themselves are gorgeous specimens of manhood. Well, some of them.

Beauty and the Beast - but which is which?

Beauty and the Beast – but which is which?

Yes, we have to admit football is the new rock ‘n’ roll. But aren’t we becoming blind to what is really happening? The Marxist academic Terry Eagleton said recently that anybody who really cares about political and social change has to agree that football must be abolished. But that’s preposterous I hear you say. It will never happen. Maybe. But to even mention the idea takes some courage. Why?

Football stadiums have become our places of worship. Fans all in blue or red rub shoulders together like members of a tribe, grunting and shouting at their gods like Romans in the amphitheatre. Humans seem to have this need to join a band of brothers and then find another rival band to taunt and leer at. It’s a cultural need. Now that communal rituals have disappeared, we meet the other members of our tribe in the stadium (or rather in the pub beforehand to drink a magic potion and feel the fighting spirit). We also have this need to let out all our natural, instinctive aggression. We used to do it fighting wars to annihilate the enemy and protect our king and country. Now the enemy is the people in green or brown or purple. 

"Listen FIFA - we want hospitals here in Brazil..."

“We want hospitals that are up to FIFA standards”

But all this fun costs money. Poor people used to give their hard-earned cash to the church, believing it might buy them a place in heaven. Now they spend thousands of pounds on season tickets and expensive TV packages so they can pay homage to their new idols. Nobody seems to realise that football clubs are sucking the marrow out of local communities. Fabulously rich football players regularly drive their luxury cars out of the stadium, only to pass streets full of decaying houses where the occupants don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It's time to stand up and fight

It’s time to stand up and fight

When football began, more than 100 years ago, footballers used to live in the local area, near the ground which served as a kind of community centre. They lived in the same kind of houses as the fans and often drank in the same pubs. Now no footballer would be seen dead in the mean streets where the fans live, unless they were in a blacked-out limousine surrounded by body guards. What does that tell us about the modern game?

In Porto Alegre where I live, one of the local clubs, Grêmio, has just built a magnificent stadium a little way out of town. The aerial view is breathtaking. But the people who live next to the stadium will never be able to go inside. That’s because they are living in squalor; their dwellings are little more than shacks cobbled together from tin and old bricks. When you drive to the stadium the locals stand in a long line next to the road, swinging their arms and urging you to park your car on their patch of litter-strewn scrubland. The saddest thing is their appearance: many look malnourished or deformed. It’s a shocking disgrace.

Grêmio's new stadium in Porto Alegre - a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Grêmio’s new stadium in Porto Alegre – a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Thousands of football fans will descend on Porto Alegre for next year’s World Cup. The FIFA promotional video for the city shows a more glamourous side – naturally. Because if tourists saw that an ambitious football club had been allowed to drop a jewel in the middle of a human swamp they would stay away.

Forget the beautiful game: football just got ugly. Or, to put it another way, beauty and the beast are the same thing.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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