Sunday, 19 September 2010

I Think It's Time To Head Home

A last week in Rio and one spent saying fond farewells once again to a spray of volunteers from my August intake. Bimo had the misfortune of leaving just before another Lapa Friday; Jennifer flew back to Seattle and almost shed a tear to the casa as she gave a very proper royal wave from her departing taxi; Emma-Jayne caught a cab and plane back to Sheffield via Croydon to pursue her Architecture studies in the city of lavish cutlery and snooker world championships and Aaron held tightly to three tumblers of Red Label Johnnie Walker in Bar Simplesmente as he contemplated his voyage back to Los Angeles to continue his valuable work in urban reforestation.

In my final weekend in the Cidade Maravilhosa I headed to Ipanema, taunted by a bothersome midday sun to explore the hippy fair. Walking past butchered wooden idols of Christ and pearly shells from the Atlantic I desperately sought asylum from the heat and the casual listlessness of a Sunday remembering once again my utter distaste in retail. Back in the casa, new recruits from Iko Poran - Sofie from Belgium and Lea from Freiburg, took pity on my lonely mood and invited me to their evening laptop cinema sessions in the sitting room as the clatter of the passing bonde tram worked its hardest to destroy the audio. I was sure glad that no one back home saw me wrapped up in a blanket on a cream leather sofa eating chocolate biscuits. It was a new low, but do understand it was part of my winding down exercise.

Hard at work / Bored at work. And why is my laptop so small?

On my final day at Tatiane Lima in Batam, eleven year old Pedro dumbfounded me when I dismissed class ten minutes early (I was hungry) and he begged me to teach him more scraps of the language. Little did he know that I had no more to tutor. Beyond translations of fruit, colours and parts of the body my skills as an educator were limited, especially without the aid of any reference books.

It was a fond last goodbye to the team at the project. The co-owner, Eliane, lovingly prepared me a special meal for my work - consisting of beans, rice, salad with a refreshing dressing and a beef and potato stew. I had to distract her keen eye as I shovelled only the chunks of potato on to my plate, not having the heart to explain that I didn´t touch the bife.

My appetite was serenaded later in the evening when a group us went out for my last meal at a Rodizio Pizza restaurant in Gloria. Sarah, David, Lea, Sofie and I were left exhausted by the barrage of waiters offering us slices from the silver trays. We just about had enough room for the much anticipated dessert pizzas - filled with hot chocolate sauce, strawberries, bananas and smarties. It was an accomplished and glutinous ending to proceedings.

My legacy at Tatiane Lima. Some idiot drawings for the kids

I absorbed a lot about the plight of Brazil during my two month stay. The country is in buoyant mood with the exciting few years ahead hosting the FIFA World Cup and Olympics which should both be an extraordinary fiesta of sporting celebrations and the opportunity for so many individuals to take advantage of improved infrastructure in the country and serious economic investment. The blue collared and nine fingered President Lula looks to end his term later this year under encouraging egalitarian social programmes which as a whole have gotten to the heart of the extreme poverty issues for many communities (but of course, not all). It is a good foundation at its core, but by simply walking through the more impoverished districts of Rio such as Realengo or Tijuca one can still observe desperate inequality in comparison to the affluent areas in Zona Sul such as Leblon and Ipanema.

The activity of trading narcotics within the
communidades has still not been addressed effectively. When you can hear the distant blades rotating from flying helicopters I often cringe at the thought that they are more than likely to be organised police raids ready for a bloody showdown in a nearby favela in order to dislodge the drug lords - not taking into account the hundreds of stray bullets sprayed through the thin walls of the houses and towards civilians.

The people, in all their shapes and sizes and array of descent be it Italian, German, Black, mixed, Native Indian, have amazed me with their attitude from my tourist safe voyeurism. I have witnessed most restaurants and cafes offer free glasses of water and small meals to the destitute, an act that I have similarly been brought up with due to my Kolkata roots. On the buses we have been often approached by friendly passengers informing us kindly as to where to get off had we been unsure, even candy sellers would drop their merchandise, exchange swift pleasantries in broken English or Portuguese and then disembark without even asking for us to buy their sweets. Once when I was standing (and violently swaying) on the racing omnibus back to Centro from Batam, a young girl snatched the thick textbooks I had under my arm and without a word in passing placed them on her lap with a smile so that I would not have to struggle with them during the trip. These small gestures count for much.

Donald Duck´s trip to Brasil and the Carioca he meets is reminiscent of mine:

My fellow volunteers at Casa Amerelinho say goodbye. Ok, so this may have been for Jen´s leaving but mine was very similar.
Just with much less people and wide smiles replacing tears.

There are many aspects I shall not miss: acclimatising to ´Brazilian time´ whereby our Western etiquette for punctuality is contorted to abide to a standard of tardiness; the addition of spoonfuls of sugar in every drink and food item - a bad omen for obesity and diabetes; the exchanges of cocaine, guns and menacing glances on some darkened street corners - I can´t wait to carry my wallet, phone and wear a watch again; every taxi, car and bus driver pretending to be Ayrton Senna behind the wheels (it isn't fun when it isn't you); the repulsive corruption on display from the authorities and the uninhabited sexism and open sleaziness of the men towards the women - many have explained that it is extended flattery to the fairer species but I hasten to disagree.

However, with streets lined with kids playing football and with the air scented with all manner of music escaping each door and alleyway it is easy to get lost in such a place.

And now an an end to the technicolour Odyssey, with the fondest of memories ranging from catching sight of the bright orange cloaks of the monks walking serenely on the grounds of the Temples of Angkor Wat and learning in depth of the brutal past of the beautiful and bruised Cambodians; weaving in and out of the siege of motorcycles in Saigon when all I wanted was a plate of Bun Cha; trekking in Sapa on the border of Vietnam and China; sleeping in a tomb in Hong Kong; having two very different experiences with a masseuse in Shanghai with my old friend Rob; a haphazard daytime wine tour in Hunter Valley with Matty, his fiance Katie and Paul; skydiving, kayaking and glacier walking in the achingly majestic New Zealand landscape; eating all the helados and empanadas in sight in Buenos Aires, hiking with the Inca legends and freezing in the Salt Flat deserts of Bolivia alongside Matty. It has all been a breathtaking distraction.

Brazilians talk of a state of mind referenced in many of the scratched Bossa Nova records called
saudade - an abstract terminology for a deep melancholy or yearning for something one is fond of, be it in the past, present or the future which has been forever lost. I will be prone to flirt with this and carry like an ornate pocket watch. The longing that remains once something disappears.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Caged Futebol, Caged Spirits

In the space of five days Casa Amarelinho had the fortune of celebrating the birthdays of three of its most notorious members. After Alex´s ocean view fiesta in Ilha Grande came the turn of Seattle Jen who toasted her 23rd at the well known establishment down in the centre of Santa Teresa - Bar do Gomes. The bar´s previous incarnation was in the form of a pharmacy in 1919 and little has changed since; old newspaper clippings line the walls, glass cabinets and counters of its pharmaceutical past lay in the presence of leaning regulars on the wooden bar as they snack on the various salgados and half drunken chopps.

In Bar do Gomes, Santa Teresa
(l-r): Sue, me, Jen, Bimo, Aaron, Sofie, Sarah, Magali and Lea

After sampling the sublime tonic of the more hazardous of the 32 types of cachaça available, we once again bumped into a colourful character with whom we had already made a memorable acquaintence with. We first met this Carioca individual, alongside his volatile partner, on our very first Sunday in a local live music bar where they demonstrated their richly assorted shambles of samba, sleaze and dipsomania. They persistently attempted to take the group of us back to their house for what they called a ´late night barbecue´ but we were savvy enough to awake to their real intentions.

Birthday girl Jen, Aaron - enjoying the reunion a little too much, the swinger and I

Being nothing more than swingers we had to rely on our cunning and guile to escape their amorous invitations on numerous occasions. Rio, it appears, is not as large as one would like to think as in the past two weeks we ran into the couple on four unattached occassions in four separate establishments and precincts of the city. We thought the previous attempt to feed us peanuts with the lurid broken sentence that "it is good. It is an aphrodisiac" would be our concluding chance meeting.

Towards the end of the week our Programme Coordinator at Iko Poran and avid Botafogo F.C. supporter, Felipe, invited the casa for a traditional Brazilian barbecue. The early arrivals - myself included, were slightly baffled at being greeted with a chopping board and a few blunt knives as we were asked to prepare some of the vegetables for the ratatouille and garlic bread. However, we were soon able to savour the rewards from the charcoal grill in one of the finest feasts to date as well as watching ominously as Felipe provided the group with an expeditious lesson in constructing the perfect Caipirinha, revealing that the secret is all in the revolutions of the cocktail mixer.

Felipe, you have been pouring in the cachaça for almost a minute now

Brazilian barbecue. No swingers in sight.

Back within the seminar room´s walls in Batam all was progressing rather admirably with my students. Teenage Lucas´s pronunciation of the weather forecast variants was coming on fantastically; middle-aged Eliane, who works in tourism and already loaded with a good grasp of the language, was improving her future tense construction; little Vanessa continued her exhaustively slow copying of the whiteboard but more than made up for it by staying late after class to help me clean said whiteboard and tidy the room - what a sweetheart; tiny Laurany was overcoming her shyness and shining like a star with the topic of transport. All of whom entertained Alex, Jen and I with their desperate cries of ´Teacher!´ every time we attempted to clear the board before they had finished writing in their exercise books.

Turn your back for one minute and the rotten brats cause havoc on the whiteboards

Little Laurany offers some sound advice on presentation

Due to a week of temperatures stable in the mid thirties and a searing atmosphere I opted to shelve soccer school in the midday sun and instead retired in the cool still air of the classroom and made the most of the delicious meals on offer at Tatiane Lima - this week´s favourite included spicy fish fry with the usual sides of rice and beans with farofa. Always rice and beans with farofa.

Lunch is served at Tatiane Lima - and like detention at school, eaten on our own in the classroom

The one lesson that did manage to stick out in the memory was the one with the precious six year old boy Daniel, sat on the back stool with his legs dangling endearingly and alongside him, and the only other student for that particular lesson, sat a fifteen year old transsexual whose splendid princess facade was only marred by her / his husky bass voice. It was an awkward class but Wesley was an otherwise conscientious pupil.

One last Lapa for Alex - as he looks on at our favourite ´Caiprinha lady´

On Lapa Friday for Bimo´s birthday - the third feliz anniversario in a busy week

The start of the week brought an end to more volunteers´ tenures in Brazil. Alex flew back to Vienna with his endorsement of Austria still ringing in everyone´s ear and effervescent Éabhall with her bottle of Bohemia returned back to Cork. I was now desperately in need of some replacements for their departed company and instantly found refuge with two easy victims: Ailton the Brazilian housekeeper and David from Santiago. The fact that neither of them were fluent in English made the transition all the more sweeter for now I didn´t even need to pierce the thin fabric of their opinions or thoughts.

On route to the street cage soccer in Santa Teresa - no pictures taken on court amid safety fears

The two of them offered me to join their five a side team at the local favela park up on the hill during Independence day. After some gentle conversation on route (namely any Portuguese in the present continuous - I am hungry and I like Manchester United) I resigned myself to playing in goal due to arriving bare foot (I thought that was how they played street football in these parts) and I did not own any trainers. Surrounding the concrete playground that was the pitch was a looming rusty wiry cage fence, a group of rowdy youthful supporters, and the presence of heavily graffiti tagged derelict housing on either side.

All very downtown L.A. thus far and the teams made up of roaming rogues with torn vests, cheap jewellery, shaved eyebrows, obvious sneer and loosely worn baseball caps all added to the drama. The game rules were of two goals and the winner stayed on, with around five squads taking part. Once playing, our team of makeshift scoundrels provided what can only be described as dynamic street theatre. My goalkeeping display was a revelation after conceding only a solitary goal in six unbeaten futebol matches - though my aerial prowess was much to be desired, for obvious reasons. The opposition and boisterous crowd even began to heckle my elastic athleticism with aghast swearing and abuse for keeping the goal ratio down. It was a most satisfying ordeal, almost worth the portfolio of bloodied and bruised feet, elbows and knees. I believe only I could have come to the land of entertaining soccer flicks, mazy dribbles and tantalising skills and numb it with European styled stubborn resilience.

i-Pod Song of the Day: Paulinho Moska - A Flor E O Espinho
A flute assisted guitar strummed turn from Rio born songwriter Paulinho Moska who used to be in a band in the seventies called Deep Throat. This has given me wonderful company when looking out from the roof terrace of the casa over dusk lit downtown Rio when no one has been around to break the silence.

Many thanks to Miss Frazer and Miss Stevens for some of the photographs in this installment. My camera has decided to fail me.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Under A Palm Tree You Cannot See The Fireworks

Still unable to discard the bitter taste left by the excesses of sugar sweetened liquors, I decided, alongside Viennese Alex and a new Australian arrival - Sarah, to find refuge in the lotus womb teachings of Siddhartha Gautama at the Japanese Buddhist Temple. Marie, our German house manager, organised the meditation session on a thickly perfumed Monday evening to coincide with the full moon - a deeply significant day of the month for many eastern religions and philosophies. Ancient belief in India recalls that as the moon is the controller of the water, its weight circulates through the universe sustaining all living creatures and is the counterpart on earth to the ambrosia of heaven. It is commonly thought too that the lunar phase occurred during the enlightenment of Buddha. With this in mind it was far too arduous to purge the often wistful mind and the constant passenger of worry, though the peaceful surroundings of the temple were enough to realign the soul to some degree.

Angra Dos Reis

Later on that night, L.A. Aaron and South African Susan generously prepared a sapid chicken soup with mixed salad - its core ingredients sourced organically from their projects´ garden - of which they plant and sustain crops and vegetables for the community to sell on for a small profit. The pair then invited us to the Cine Santa Teresa to watch the late night viewing of Uma Noite em 67, a documentary of the turbulent 1967 music festival in Sao Paulo. The movie featured such Brazilian musical luminaries as Roberto Carlos, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Sergio Ricardo and focused on the mixture of euphoria and political freedom brought by the show in an era of repression and discontent in this land. However, with it being projected wholely in Portuguese and having no subtitles and with little footage of the concert itself, I was not surprised to be disturbed ten minutes in by a gentle iterant sound which was nothing more than the choir of snoring emitting from Aaron, Alex and Susan in blissful unison.

We had a little drama at our project in Batam earlier in the week. One of my kids, whom I spend time learning his violent karate and jiu jitsu moves for future defence, excitedly informed me of a terrorist attack - which I laughed off and instead continued to ask about finishing moves with flying kicks to the throat. Finishing our lunch of fried chicken, arroz and farofa, Luciano calmly mentioned to us that we ought to stay put within the shelter of the building due to an exchange of rapid gun fire taking place in the neighbourhood between the police and the drug lords. After a few hours of eagerly craning the neck out of the balcony in order to obtain a better vista of the action (there was only an eerie silence and deserted dusty streets) we were given the green light to return back to Centro, with Luciano adopting the role of guardian in case we took a wrong turn towards a bullet sprayed back alley. All very exciting indeed and exactly why I signed up for the programme in the first instance.

Local catch at Ilha Grande

More astonishing capers ensued back in a deserted Centro. After barely eating a rather disgraceful attempt at a pizza in Gloria (no tomato base and more cheese than an Abba tribute band) Alex and I walked back towards Casa Amaralinha swinging our leftovers in a plastic bag with the admirable intention of handing it to the same tramp whom I so ruthlessly fell on top in the previous episode. However, a gang of sunken faced beggars surrounded us on a darkened street corner and snatched the bag from our hands. In their dull glassy gaze they spat that they were hungry and hurried away with their stolen fromage catastrophe. Still, I have heard of more violent incidents in this Cidade de Deus.

With Shakira´s imminent departure approaching, the entire house sauntered in single file towards Gaucho restaurant, a hidden gem on the fringes of Santa Teresa, for a farewell supper. Overlooking the favelas sparkling intently with a disarming drum of twilight activity, we heard the sudden cracking of gun fire and the spectacle of fireworks as we tore into mouthfuls of delicious frango grelhado and meaty spiced sausages. Maria informed us that this ritual was simply a sky lit sonnet from the drug lords of the communidade with the open message that a new shipment of narcotics had safely arrived in their hands and that the police were once again hapless in their limp chase to prevent it. We were told that the colour of the display informed the clientele throughout the city as to the specific type of drug that had been dispatched and that the ceremony was also a machoistic symbol by the defiant gangs to show off towards the authorities, though in most likelihood they in turn would be celebrating with fattened pockets.

With the weekend at last in sight, a cluster of us (Bimo, Alex, Jen, Sarah and Monica) departed from the claustrophobic bubble of the city and headed on to the bus and ferry to the island of Ilha Grande located on the Costa Verde coast. On our first full day I decided to investigate a number of trails leading towards the discarded prison now left to debris in the tropical heat.

Must. Breathe. In.
Bimo, Alex and I sample the beaches. Note to self, flowery swim wear is most probably in at the moment.

Later on we all supped a few cocktail-shakes by the beach listening to the retiring ocean and with it being Alex´s birthday, we took him to the exclusive-as-it-sounds Kebab Lounge which to his delight and modest Austrian principles, was run by a pack of Germans.

Celebrating Alex´s birthday at Ilha Grande
(l-r) - Jen, Monica, Alex, me, Sarah and Bimo

Of course we had no lie in the following morning before check out and soon after breakfast we passed the option of resting motionless on a hammock and gesturing casually to the nearby hummingbirds and instead hiked for a number of miles in the thick burning sun towards Lopes Mendez beach on the opposite side of the island. To its eternal credit, the strip of seafront was exquisite. We were greeted by the soft coral and chalk green ocean surrounding sand finer than gold with the feel of crushed velvet snow. It was enough to make one long for it whilst already in its presence.

Making casual acquintances in Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande

Rio Song of the Day - Maria Creuza - Obsessão/Não Me Diga Adeus/Pois E/A Flor E O Espinho
More sultry laments, this week from the versatile Brasilian artist, Maria Creuza. Her voice soars tenderly to words I am not quite sure the meaning of, the Portuguese classes don´t appear to be helping much.

i-Pod Song of the Day - Ryan Adams - Come Pick Me Up

Time now for a classic song from our favourite troubled singer songwriter from Jacksonville´s debut album, Heartbreaker. A wonderful version of this was performed a few years ago on The Late Show With David Letterman with his band The Cardinals to coincide with it being the lead song for the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown. Humorously David Letterman makes a real mess of the introduction but reigns in his string of mistakes with good grace.

Hopefully Ryan is feeling a little less bruised now that he is married to America´s sweetheart, Mandy Moore.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Yellow House On The Hill

A generous shower and two loads of washing later and I finally felt revived enough to mix with the rest of the group at Casa Amarelinho where around twenty five fellow volunteers found the hike up numerous steps under a stifling Rio sun up to the house almost as strenuous as I did. It was hard to get the head around such a mixture of nationalities ranging from Estonia to Colombia as well as the mélange of personalities. Most disturbing of all though was the inhabitants unusual kindness and immediate generosity towards each other which I simply could not adjust to, questioning their motives and quasi interest in my life and instead opting to keep a safe distance to such awkward behaviour.

With the Brazilian elections coming up in Autumn, why not vote for World Cup 1994 winning striker, Bebeto

On the Monday I decided to join my new colleague at my project, Alex from Vienna (he is so proud of his motherland that he should work at their tourist board), for the fifty minute bus ride to the communidade favela in Batam, in order to take a closer look at our social centre Tatiane Lima - run by Luciano, a good natured and jolly fellow, beside him his wife - a touch more school matron but a wonderful cook. For my first English class with Alex I prepared some thought provoking white board pictures of various fruits and meat for the children, only it being an overcast Monday morning nobody attended.
In the afternoon we took on the advanced English lesson - focused more for the community members who wish to enhance their language skills in preparation for the upcoming tourists opportunities that coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and 2014 World Cup.
An hilarious misunderstanding occurred when our student, with his jesters facade, asked us mid demonstration on transportation, as to the translation for the word ´Banheiros´. Alex and I assumed his query was related to the transit world and when dumbfounded by badly sliced guesses we asked him to act out and draw up on the board what word he meant. It appeared that he wished to visit the loos. His actions and drawing were a little too graphic to share.

The lovely team at Tatiane Lima, Batam

On route home we conquered the unscheduled buses (there are no timetables and at times no fixed stops - so very Brasil) leaving through the streets back to Centro. An urban myth I cared to overhear is that the bus conductors are paid by the total distance covered during their shift which provides an easy answer to the soaring velocity at which the omnibuses blaze over the tarmac with little care for the pedestrians or swaying passengers thrown around like tarzan on a twisting vine (Jane is replaced by an irascible Carioca).

In store back at the Iko Poran office in Santa Teresa was an intensive Portuguese course that all the new intake had to prepare and attend to for four hours each evening on their first week of the programme. Orchestrating the ordeal was an ex-Melbourne-ite lady with snake and skull fascinations and between castigating us for our mispronunciations would divulge in glorious raw detail her perfume laced trail of seduction across the city with weekend millionaires and local biker boys.

Some light reading aimed at the children, found at the Tatiane Lima library

On our first free day on the Friday (hallelujah for three day weekends) a group of us including Bimo - Chicago, Alex - Vienna, Shakira - St Lucia via East 17, Nick - Boston, David - Santiago, Jen -Seattle, Elissavet - Greece and two Spanish senoritas, threw our worn beach towels over our shoulders and arrived at Poste Sete on Ipanema beach to make the most of the incalescence in the atmosphere. The highlight for all of us was spying a rather glamorous photo shoot in the distance featuring a long blonde haired and leggy naiad on the pier who on closer inspection was nothing more than a transsexual. A disappointment.

To make up for this disaster, Bimo, Alex and I found some sort of solace by eating a warm churros - a Brazilian version of a donut, layered in fine sugar and filled with ample warm dulce de leite sauce. An utter revelation.

In the evening, the group bought in a few of bottles of terrifically cheap vinho tinto and Antarctica chopp before meandering down the steps towards the well trodden and destructive Lapa. After a couple of muscular caipirinhas and some ill advised tequila shots sponsored by Shakira, what followed can be described only as...


In the morning, wearing the same clothes and without my keys, Alex and I were joined for lunch at the nearby favela Cochina restaurant by Aaron all the way from downtown L.A. During mouthfuls of grelhado frango and a sheer mountain of batata frittas, he divulged to his two sunglass wearing and still slightly inebriated friends of what occurred the night before. Apparently Seattle Jen and I fell on a pile of garbage on our staggering route home and after sitting atop the mound for several minutes in fits of laughter we realised that we were in fact sat on a homeless man and his cardboard empire as if we were in the comfort of a leather sofa. Fom what I can gather, the bum was found rocking gently in a foetal position when we arose. Perhaps our initial good intentions for addressing social injustice in South America was not quite going the way it ought to have been.

Tatiane Lima kids try out some capoeira

At the project with (l-r) Eabhall, Me, Shakira, Aaron, Jen, Luciano, with Alex and Nick in the background looking shady

At the weekend, after a kind invitation from the team at Tatiane Lima, a swarm of us visited the social centre in order to celebrate Shakira´s imminent departure, though we found out on arrival that it was more of a general caipoeria dance fiesta aimed for all the community. However, after a noose enticing litter of speeches in Portuguese, we passed around heaps of local cuisine and plastic cups of Caipirinhas - which were more akin to pure liquor and some sugar. To close the evening the children at the project, aged from anywhere between three and twelve, proceeded to entertain and shock us in equal measure with their body popping and intimate grinding on the dancefloor. They learn at a very young age over here indeed.

Some of my kids get street

i-Pod Song of the Day - Orestes Barbosa - Chão de Estrelas
My first foray into the wonderful world of Brasilian music was through the film Woman On Top with the luminous Penelope Cruz. The album celebrates more the acoustic side of the country´s warm rhythms and tepid verse.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Lapa + Natasha = Certain Disaster

With Matty now long gone (after an eventful twenty six hour delay in both Santiago and Auckland, I am informed), I once again found myself marooned on an isolated emerald islet fending off the once decapitated thoughts of something close to being content.

In order to keep overheads low, I downgraded my five bed suite at CabanCopa in favour of a more industrious eight bedroom dorm – located at the West Wing of the hostel with the window facing the kindergarten next door. I now had to get used to a seven am wake up call comprising of a deep swell of chanting children singing nonsense nursery rhymes in Portuguese as well as the Brazilian national anthem screamed in a joyously haphazard chorus; the perfect initiation to a new dawn, and an immediate nuisance to the temples. Attached to the bunk bed above me harboured a rotation of nasally challenged sleepers, drowning out the infants´ shrieks with a tinny detonation of exhaling lungs.

Classico Copacabana Scene - a touch wonky, mind

It was not all insomnia in Room 31. A quartet of Dubliners were kind enough to give me some company for the week; Marc - rivalling Ainslie Harriet in the kitchen (with his cooking discipline rather than camp manner), Karen, Mona and Ciara who all provided me with the pre–night ritual of ´chatsies´ as well as tormenting my patience with the habit of flicking my damp travel towel off the hook and on to the wiry haired floor.

On the street corners when the sky was not aging with a surging gloom, I discovered a myriad of snacks and treats (salgados) within the glass displays of neighbouring stalls. These ranged from the delicious and thick Açaí - a purple rainforest berry blended into a smoothie with granola and bananas. The light and spicy Arab influenced frango Esfina pastries also mounted my lunch time hit list alongside the teardrop shaped Coxinha, where salt water was replaced with a generous helping of minced chicken. At thirty pence each, the balloon sized mangos sold at the fruit stand comprised a plump and exotic finale to midday consumption. In order to burn off the snacks, Marc and I attempted to play ultimate frisbee against an American and Australian on Copacabana beach. Our thunderous strides upon the velvet sands ensured that we lasted a breath taking seven minutes before the four of us were glistening in moisture to rival the nearby Atlantic and nursing a faltering heartbeat.

The Lapa Steps

Marc and I were more successful playing beach soccer, spraying liberal shots which cannoned against the ample oily buttocks of leisurely Carioca ladies as Karen and Mona wisely sunbathed by the raging tides and feigned little acknowledgement of our mischievous existence.

On an eventual clear day it was time for me to visit the Lapa Steps and to finally meet the eccentric and brilliant artist Jorge Selarón, who managed to compose the 2000 or so vibrantly coloured and themed tile montages covering 250 steps - his opus over the past twenty years. His most famous pieces of art depict him as a pregnant lady, which is fairly disturbing to say the least, especially as his only comment on the In Utero themed paintings are that it represents a personal problem from his past. Dressed in a red beret and Super Mario crimson overall, I took my chances to speak to him during his exhausting process of replacing chipped tiles. He didn´t seem to understand what I was saying and instead simply turned his back on me and ran away into his house.

Lapa Tiles of Lord Krishna and Ma Durga

On my way back down the stairs I bumped into two Danish students whom Matty and I had met during the Salt Flats Tour in Uyuni, Bolivia (they were in the working JEEP in front of us, often helping to re-start our faltering engine). After a quick thimble sized espresso that I somehow had to pay for, I caught up with two mischievous souls from London and somewhere near London - Chris and Roberta, who both had a penchant for mocking anyone nearby in good jest, which was fine by me. After that I met the Dubliners for an extraordinary Thai meal at Go Wok in Ipanema, followed by a chopp or eight of local brew at a bar whose cache of flamboyant clientele had not been registered by us until close.

Ipanema, Go Wok dining
l-r - me, Karen, Marc, American, Mo-Jito, American

On the Friday, my final night at Copacabana, I managed a swift reunion with Josepha ´Totten´ from my skydiving glory days in New Zealand, who was also touring South America with her friends Ellie and Laura in close pursuit. I foolishly gave in to their siege of Natasha Vodka and squeezed limes and agreed, alongside Marc and some American brothers from Connecticut, for one last night in Lapa. Amid a whirlpool of samba, a confusing amount of transvestites sauntering down the streets with heavy hands and veiny feet and barbecued meat on a stick, we eventually crashed back in the hostel in the early hours.

Pre-Lapa with Natasha and Ruthy, L and Ephy

My alarm did not turn on the following morning. I awoke at eleven, bleary eyed and with the taste of sewer on my lips and already an hour late for my induction at Iko Poran in Santa Theresa along with the other members of my intake.

Arriving at midday by a casually paced taxi and with a half packed roller-pig, day old stubble, blood shot eyes, no shower, four hours sleep and the breath of death, I was introduced to my fellow volunteers and Program Director who were all sat in a formal circle in the magnolia dining room exchanging pleasantries.

It was not a positive introduction to the project.

Rio Song of the Day: INXS - Beautiful Girl
What a treat to listen to VH-1´s Moods on Thursday with an early nineties theme as I sat in the CabanaCopa bar awaiting to be fed by the Dublin crew. Apparently this song was written for the INXS keyboardists birth of his newborn child. Which is nice. Like the song.

i-Pod Song of the Day: The Strokes - You Only Live Once
There is a new Brooklyn indie rock band on the road called Strokes who I reckon will be the next big thing, watch out for them. This is the opening track from the awesome First Impressions of Earth second album.

Twenty ways to see the world
or twenty ways to start a fight

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Runway Towards O Cristo

Once the uncomfortable feeling from Buzios left the veins like a warm black river, we returned to Rio with the consummate ease of the seasoned sailors that we had become. On return to our hostel we were heckled by two teenage troublemakers, who shouted out ´Hey Luigi and Gary!´. It was none other than two upstarts that we had adopted in Foz do Iguazu that we named Effy and Mia (to compliment their Skins generation repertoire), who in turn greeted us with the monikers that they believed to be most suitable for us.

Every Friday night, the Central district of Lapa is renown for the street party that they host, and as the entire hostel were joining in on the festivities we couldn´t shy away from the event, even though a packet of Oreos and hot milk before an early night was always more preferable. After a few experimental drinks of $5 Riel Vodka (around £2 for the litre - classy stuff), lime and Pepsi light (it was on offer at the supermercado) prepared by the kids, we samba´d on to the public bus following our hostel tour guide (who looked strikingly like David Seaman) towards the carnival. Upon arrival we were greeted by a cacophony of kettle drums, whistles, food stalls and pools of spilled mojitos and poured rum.

Lapa Friday Night Street Party

Taking a slight detour from the roof top
samba bars a handful of us took in the eclectic delight of the lapa steps - created by the Chilean artist, Selaron, and watched on at the procession of revelry wandering and dancing by.

We had been forewarned by the staff at CabanaCopa to be wary of our belongings and possessions as the plethora of ravers was a cheap invitation for petty theft - even with the heavy police presence looming in the backdrop. Within the first hour a young foppish English dandy got pick pocketed by a swift and precise move. His Bolivian purchased pyjama pantaloons and rowdy manner exposed him to the thieves like a Pyramid atop the Pyrenees.

View from Corcovado mountain

With me nursing a mournful head and a bowlful of excess the next morning, Matty in his enthusiastic dawn delirium forced upon me a day of sight seeing. A prelude to this was a wretched hour long queue outside Fluminese´s home ground as we attempted to purchase some tickets for the evening game at the Maracana stadium. Following a miserable half day detour back to our hostel on the metro only to return back to the centre by the public bus towards the towering Modern Wonder of the World and the largest Art Deco statue in the world - O Cristo de Redentor / Christ the Redeemer sat aloft the Co
rcovado mountain. By the point we had arrived we were informed by an official guide that we had missed the final train to the summit and had to negotiate a rather steeply priced minibus to see the site. I was ready to crawl into bed and lock up the world, firing my musty arrows of torture onto passersby.

Big Jebus on a hill

However, the grandeur of the 40 metre high ivory white statue overlooking the burning city under the sun emblazoned the fading embers of the day. Better still, the King of the Jews provided us with a blessing of such exquisite fortune it was hard not to fall at the feet in gratitude. Taking place behind the torso of Jesus was a photoshoot for t
he next series of Brazil´s Next Top Model. The girls appeared like an epiphany and it was only respectful to their burgeoning careers for us to have a little chat with the contestants and allow them the privilege of a photograph to commemorate our meeting.

We were running fine of time, as kick off for the football game began to draw ever nearer, so we parted sadly to the models who evaporated from view as suddenly as they had appeared.

Fluminese fans cheer at the opening goal

Further uptown, via the crowded metro, and on to the boiling pit of the Maracana stadium, observed by a swarm of military personal complete with batons and handguns within their pockets and belts. We entered the ground and heard the barrage of thousands of home support singing boisterously to spur on the team to victory. To their delight, as firecrackers hit the pitch, Fluminese won an open game 3-1 against Atletico PR (not my old work team) after a virtuoso display from their nimble and creative number 10, Washington.

We slept that night with the echoing songs of the Fluminese faithful ringing within the ear drums as thoughts of our model friends burned red behind the eyelids.

A fine day indeed.

On Sunday, it was time for Buckinghamshire´s favourite and UEA´s coveted Hockey Player of the Year 2003, to leave my side and return back to his patient fiancee in their Surrey Hills apartment in Sydney. After six weeks on the road and a disorientating trail of long haul bus journeys, Pisco Sours and misdemeanors, we parted with our first successful Around The World high five.

Time to say farewell to so many bad ideas that we had on such beautiful days.

Rio Song of the Day: Selena Gomez - Round and Round
I am slowly catching up with what the kids are into as the bar at the hostel displays VH-1´a mood chart during the evening. Darling Selena makes Rio´s song of the day more for her visual qualities rather than her vocal talents. I can not believe I never watched Disney´s Wizard of Waverly Place when I had the chance.

i-Pod Song of the Day: The Temper Trap - Fader
The Brazilians are still enamoured by the song Sweet Disposition by the Melbourne five piece, which is a lovely song, for sure, but it is time to delve deeper into their debut album Conditions for a rather more uptempo composition.