Posts Tagged With: Rio de Janeiro

Have you heard the one about my life?

I was born in Bradford...lived in Brazil...buried in Scunthorpe. The End

I was born in Bradford…lived in Brazil…buried in Scunthorpe. The End

‘If I wrote a book about my life, it would be a best-seller!’ How many times have I heard that old chestnut, I wonder. People presume that their own life is like a racy novel, beginning in the cradle and ending in the grave. All they need to do is write it all down. Evidently, philosophers describe this kind of thinking as ‘diachronic’ – treating life as an evolving narrative. But is life really like that? Don’t we all remember things in a muddle, forgetting most of it and piecing the rest together like highlights from a B-movie? How much of what we remember is reliable? More to the point, are we the same person all the way through? Am I really that daft schoolboy who clapped in the middle of a chamber music recital because I thought it was finished? Beetroot was the colour of my face (and the headmaster’s).

Surely we need to be selective about our pasts, dredging up only a few choice morsels. So, scratching my head, I have come up with a few incredible moments from the rich tapestry of my life so far – ‘from Bradford to Brazil‘…

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie!

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie…

1974: As a Bradford lad with very little between the ears, I found myself working in a monstrous factory, fitting wheels on tractors. One day an older workmate was boasting about his son passing university exams. Feeling jealous, I told him proudly that I had passed a few ‘O’ levels myself. He looked me up and down – observing my grimy overalls, oily face and unkempt hair – and said: “You! You must be joking. You are nothing but a filthy stink!” The next morning, as I approached the factory gates, I stopped and thought, ‘I can’t face it anymore’. So I went for a steamclean and a week later got a job in a record shop.

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

1982: Landing back in starry Bradford after 6 months in California, I thought myself a man of the world. I had also read the odd book on my travels. One night an old pal heard me and my new posh voice waxing lyrical about literature. “Eh, Martin”, he said, “you’re talking to your mates, now. Stop trying to sound like Oscar Wilde.” It was true, I had become a pretentious chump. So I cut my long hair short, bought myself an old suit and tie from a charity shop and enrolled at Bradford College: I went from Jim Morrison to Rupert Brooke in the blink of a town hall pigeon. After a couple of weeks on the course, one of my fellow students said: “What’s with the suit? You look like a down-at-heel insurance man”. Charming.

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a 'playboy' for some reason...

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a ‘playboy’ for some reason…

1986: I pitched up in London and was invited to look after the flat of a distinguished Irish writer, Anthony Cronin, while he went back to Dublin to think. As my passport was about to expire and I didn’t have a job, I asked Tony what I should put down as my ‘occupation’ on the application form. “Just put playboy”, he said. Then I did get a job, teaching English to foreigners in a school in the West End. One day, after a heavy lunch with an Italian guy whose English was appalling, we returned to the school to carry on with the lesson. Despite my Herculean efforts to keep listening to the guy, I nodded off, slumping onto the desk in front. I woke up with a bang as the student’s fist crashed down on the table and he shouted: “Wake up! I pay many money for this course!”

1992: On my first trip to Brazil, I headed to Rio and a job in an English school. As a single bloke, I was understandably looking forward to sowing my wild oats with a bevy of Brazilian beauties. I knocked on the door of the school and it was opened by a coordinator who welcomed me and attempted to introduce me to some other teachers. But it was lunchtime and the place was empty. Apart, that is, from one young woman sitting at a table marking her students’ homework. So, lo and behold, I was introduced to my future wife. Bang went any fantasies of dental floss bikinis – my fate was to be under the thumb for the next 23 years…

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies...I'm getting married!

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies…I’m getting married!

2000: It wasn’t enough for lowly Bradford City to have reached the Olympian heights of the Premiership. Oh, no! We had to STAY there. Needing a win on the last day of the season, we faced the mighty Liverpool (Stevie Gerrard, Michael Owen et al). One goal from Bantams captain David Wetherall did the trick, sending the fans at Valley Parade into hysterics. Having watched the game in a London pub and imbibed a skinful of Youngs Special Bitter, I went and laid down on Richmond Green to look up at the sky and thank God in his heaven. In retrospect, I don’t think he was listening.

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

2008: As a proud dad, I watched my son, in goggles and gloves, win the World Cup almost single-handedly! Not the dastardly FIFA one, I mean the version for 10-year-olds in Chertsey. Guess which team he was representing? England, of course. Some of the other dads were not happy with the result and swore the match had been fixed. It had. Edward, my son, had accepted a bribe: if he lifted the cup he would be rewarded with a homemade cheeseburger and could stay up to watch Match of the Day on telly.

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

2011: After selling up in England, my family and I landed in downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil, with 9 heavy suitcases on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. Our hotel was just yards away from the city’s teeming ‘camelódromo’ – a ramshackle street trader’s market full of cheap tat. What a shock! From the sleepy villages of Surrey to the chaos and human struggle of the Brazilian poor. I laid down on the bed in my puny hotel room, pale and shaking, believing I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was wrong, of course. After a few beers I remembered that you can’t have real adventures without taking risks.

As for the next 40 years, I wonder what thrills await me before I shuffle off this mortal coil? A few more second-hand LPs to add to my collection, at least. What I really wish for is the chance to go back to 1974, where I started this little trawl through the past. It could all have been so different. I could have been a contender…

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

How to score in Brazil?


The Brazilian powers-that- be were not happy with this image. I wonder why...

The Brazilian powers-that-be were not happy with this FIFA image. I wonder why?

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Brazil? Sunshine? Beaches? Football? What about the people? Bronzed babes in dental-floss bikinis all doing the samba while the boys leer at them with a beer in one hand and a hot-dog in the other? And the culture? A mixture of illicit sex, urban chaos and dodgy dealing? Well, it seems FIFA has exactly the same idea of the place. Last week its house magazine, The FIFA Weekly, ran an article listing “10 tips for tourists” coming to Brazil in June for the World Cup. OK, so FIFA may have a bee in its bonnet about some of the stadiums not being ready for the big kick-off. But that’s no reason to turn the Brazilian people into a global laughing stock. Is it?

The verb "to score" has different meanings...

The verb “to score” has, erm, different meanings…

The article was a case of adding insult to injury after an embarrassing incident the previous week when Adidas was forced to withdraw its World Cup t-shirts. Why? Because one of them had a cartoon image of a scantily-clad beauty on a Rio beach next to the slogan: “Lookin’ to score”. Ho ho ho, what a lark! Score in Brazil – football, babes – geddit? The other t-shirt had an “I love Brazil” message, but the heart in the middle resembled a pair of buttocks and a thong – only the image is upside down. Subtle, eh? 

FIFA has now removed the offending article, Brazil for Beginners, despite claiming it was tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously. Funnily enough, the article appears to have been written by a Brazilian journalist and then translated into English for the FIFA website. As a Brit resident in Brazil (Rio and Porto Alegre) for a number of years, I feel qualified to add my two-penny-worth to the list of tips. So without further adieu, let’s have a look at them.

1) “Yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”: Brazilians are open and optimistic people and they will never begin a sentence with “no”. However, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”. In fact, to Brazilians, “yes” means “maybe”. So if somebody says to you, “Yes, I’ll call you back”, do not expect the telephone to be ringing in the next five minutes.

Wow! What a great sweeping generalisation to begin with! Never start a sentence with “no”. Don’t know where they got that from. My wife is always saying no, especially when I ask if I can modify the sitting room again to accommodate my Frankenstein hi-fi system. Actually, in Rio they never say “yes”. That’s because the word (“sim”) isn’t used in normal parlance. Ha ha – got you there!

2) Timing is flexible: Punctuality is not an exact science in Brazil. When arranging to meet somebody, nobody will be there at the exact time and place – a delay of 15 minutes is the tolerated norm.

So where exactly is punctuality an exact science? Sweden? Switzerland? I love that “nobody will be there at the exact time and place”. So your new Brazza friend won’t even bother coming to the spot you arranged to meet! Of course not – she’s had second thoughts about wasting her time with a blotchy ex-pat creep like you!

That heart shape looks like a that supposed to be funny?

Hey, Adidas – that heart shape looks like a thong…is that supposed to be funny?

3) Bodily contact: Brazilians are not used to the European code of maintaining a polite distance between one another. They speak with their hands and will not hesitate to touch the person with whom they are conversing. In nightclubs this can often lead to kissing, but that must not be misinterpreted. A kiss in Brazil is an unbinding form of non-verbal communication – and not an invitation to go any further.

I tried speaking with my hands but nobody understood me. It was either that or learning Portuguese, which is a nightmare. I also tried kissing people as a way of expressing myself. But I gave up after earning a few funny looks and suffering one or two knees in the groin. Maybe I went to the wrong nightclubs.

4) Queuing: Patiently waiting in line is not in a Brazilian’s DNA. When going up an escalator, for instance, the British example where people line up on one side does not exist. Instead, Brazilians prefer cultivated chaos, yet somehow still manage to get to the top (usually).

And where exactly do they get to when they don’t reach the top? The bottom, of course – bum bum! Cultivated chaos! Or maybe just chaos, without the cultivation? OK, so the Brits can appear to be more polite and civilized. That is until you get creamed by a gang of yobs on the commuter train to Woking.

5) Restraint: If you go to a Churrasco restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat and immediately want to get stuck into the meat menu, remember two things: eat nothing for at least 12 hours beforehand and consume food in small doses, since the best meat is usually served last.

Can’t comment on this one, having never been to a Churrasco restaurant. But I do like the idea of  getting “stuck into the meat”. Whatever that means…

6) Survival of the biggest: On the roads, pedestrians are largely ignored, and even at a zebra crossing hardly any motorist will voluntarily stop. Right of way between motorists is also simply defined by which vehicle is the larger.

No – pedestrians are targets. I have watched so many drivers visibly aim their cars at me as soon as I attempt to cross the road. “Get out of my way”, they say, “unless you want to be mincemeat”. Nice.

7) Try some Açaí: Berries from the Amazon really do work wonders. They are natural slimming agents, prevent wrinkles and are said to have the same effect as an energy drink. A few nibbles on one in the half-time break can help even the most fatigued footballer back to his feet again.

A few nibbles on one what? One berry? Açaí is a normally served as a deep purplish mushy drink that you need to eat with a spoon. Very Brazilian – you can’t get it in Skegness.

The first Catholic mass in Brazil...note the skimpy outfits - even then

The first Catholic mass in Brazil…note the skimpy outfits, even then

8) Going topless: Bared skin and female body art may be a familiar sight during Carnival, but they are not what you will see in everyday Brazil. Indeed, although Brazilian bikinis contain less fabric than comparable products in Europe, they are still worn at all times. Tanning on the beach without wearing them is strictly forbidden and may even result in a fine.

Tourists can’t get their heads around this one. “What, no topless chicks on the beach in Rio? Might as well get pissed and get my camera stolen then – I won’t be needing it.”

9) No Spanish: People hoping to use Spanish to communicate with the locals will find that their words fall on deaf ears. The national language is Brazilian Portuguese and if you call Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil expect to be deported.

Wrong again. Spanish has enough in common with Portuguese that, if spoken well and slowly, it should be understood by many Brazilians. Uruguay and Argentina are just down the road, remember – at least from where I live.

Brazilian women are not all beach babes - they also play football (and the samba!)

Brazilian women are not all beach babes – they also play football (and do the samba!)

10) Have patience: In Brazil, things are largely done last-minute and if there is one thing above all that tourists should remember it is not to lose patience and keep hold of your nerves. Everything will be all right, and ready in time. That even goes for the football stadiums. In fact, a Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarized like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.

Oh dear. A feeble attempt at a joke about the stadiums. But you do need spadefuls of patience in Brazil, it’s true, with a bureaucratic system straight out of Orwell’s 1984. And I keep telling my students to relax, as English is so easy to learn (I learnt it as a baby). Of course it’s easier to enjoy yourself if you’ve got pots of money. For the millions of Brazilians who haven’t, there’s always cold beer and barbecue. But no chance of any tickets for the World Cup – they’re way too expensive. Funny that.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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 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

The girl from Ipanema and the boy from Bradford…

My first brush with Brazil happened inside a flashy new sports car in the back streets of Bradford. The year was 1973 and I was a 17 year-old apprentice motor mechanic at Charles Sidney, Bradford’s auspicious Mercedes dealer. One grim morning, finding myself unwatched, I jumped inside a stunning silver 450 SL convertible and locked the doors. It was dark and very still inside; I could hear nothing but the sound of my own quick breath.

1970s Mercedes 450 SL

On the passenger seat was an 8-track cartridge (a dinosaur music cassette) with an exotic, tropical cover: palm trees, a white sunkissed beach, cloudless blue sky, a riot of coloured fruits. I nervously switched on the power and slid the music box into the player. Then, an epiphany. The car was filled with Brazilian bossa nova, the coolest music I had ever heard. My life would never quite be the same.

The next Friday, when the garage whistle blew, I wrestled off my greasy overalls and headed into the smoky city. For the pauperly sum of 99 pence I managed to buy a compilation LP by my new hero, Brazilian maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim. The LP was called “The Girl From Ipanema”. When I played it for my girlfriend I suddenly skyrocketed in her estimation: overnight I had become a tortured romantic genius.

The LP that changed my life: ‘The Girl from Ipanema’

A few months later, while being interviewed for a job at HMV – a record shop in the town centre – I proudly announced to the assistant manager that Bossa Nova was my favourite kind of music. She sounded very surprised and couldn’t hold back a little giggle. I beamed back at her with youthful enthusiasm. I got the job.

Eighteen years later I pitched up in Rio de Janeiro, still grinning like a Yorkshire cat that’s got the pudding. “Where’s the girl from Ipanema?” I asked my teacher colleagues, “and do you think she’ll marry me?”. “Which one?” they said, “there are quite a few!”. Now that my nails were no longer black with engine oil and I didn’t smell like a dustbin I might stand a chance.

I had listened to more Brazilian music by that time and could impress my new Rio students by reciting song lyrics such as “os meus pais nas minhas costas” with a local Carioca accent. But I was, and still am, about as Brazilian as a wet Sunday in Hull. You can take me out of Bradford but you can’t take Bradford out of me.

And these two ridiculous polar opposites – Bradford and Brazil – are what defines me. I’m as happy as a pig in muck when standing with a pint of Tetley’s bitter outside a pub in White Abbey (the poorest district of Bradford where both my grandfathers were born), waiting for the Bantams to kick off at Valley Parade.

Bradford City’s football ground: Valley Parade, 1970s

But I’m also in my element holding a can of freezing beer on a Brazilian beach listening to the strumming ukeleles and drums rolling out that infectious samba rhythm.

You could say my soul is in Yorkshire, but my heart is in Brazil.

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

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