Monday, 19 March 2012

Moving on the floor now babe you're a bird of paradise

Well now, I suppose I could bang in about what Rio’s like at enormous length but you just end up sounding like a crap guidebook, don’t you? It is hot, unexpectedly expensive, pretty, diverse, poor, rich, vibrant, crumbling, people are REALLY into toasties and toastie-like food, kind of edgy, a bit ridiculous.

One of the more amusing aspects of the trip so far is that I’ve acquired a sidekick by the name of Mark – would I have befriended him if Powell was here? Would he even exist if Powell was here? He’s a slightly odd Brummie guy who is five years younger than me and was absolutely delighted to discover I’m from Birmingham too – he instantly started listing people in Kings Norton who he knows in the expectation that I would know them too, which I obviously didn’t. He is also a master of close up magic (this is true) which is really very impressive. And the reason that he’s staying at my hostel is because he was doing a voluntary teaching placement out here which he got kicked off, basically for keeping a sexist blog about the other volunteers on the same placement, which is all a bit um (I’ve not seen it, though I can totally believe it). Anyway, he’s vowed to stay out in Rio until the time his placement would have ended in May, despite not actually having anything to do here. He’s kind of absurd and it’s a bit like hanging out with a reasonably gifted child, but he’s a nice person.

The hostel folk have been generally fun, and a gratifyingly eclectic crowd – where your average hostel tends to contain things like Australians, they’re an impressively cultured bunch here – we had three opera singers from Belgium, a theatre director from Germany, a rock bad from (sob) Vancouver who won some money to go on tour and decided to do it in Brazil rather than Canada and of course me, a famous arts journalist. I sometimes worry I'm going to discover I'm too old for this shit, and truth be told I can't imagine staying in a dorm ever again (I'm in a private room), but it's fine - making friends is easy, as the Radiohead said, it only really gets draining after a few weeks, which I'm most certainly not doing...

The actual work aspect of this trip (ie why I’m here) has been a little odd, though not unpleasantly so: due to the epic nature of my journey out here I completely missed Wednesday’s full run through of the play that I’m doing the interviews for – on Thursday I spent four hours sat in a theatre basement watching a bunch of Brazilians sit in a circle on the floor, talking earnestly in Portuguese. It wasn’t very edifying, though I suppose the awareness of their overtly/gratuitously cerebral approach to their craft was pretty interesting (they have spent TEN MONTHS devising the piece, which is kind of hilarious). On Friday, in the theatre itself, they jammed on some bongos for an hour and half, talked for an hour, then rehearsed two scenes, which were pretty cool. I also got some good interviews out of them, which was great, especially with the one guy Renato who was the acting coach for the child actors in the film ‘City of God’ and is the type of fella you want to exclaim an Ace Rimmer-style ‘what a guy’ over every time he leaves the room (not least because he wandered up to me after a couple of hours of intense talking from the other lot and muttered ‘all they do is TALK’).

I think one thing I like about travel is that it kind of negates the need to have a purpose or direction other than absorbing the world around you; you are a sponge, reactive, you don’t need to question your ‘role’. The fact I actually DO have a reason for being out here is a bit weird and has made me vaguely ponder whether or not it was ultimately worth the RSC’s while in dropping a grand on my coming; I think probably it’s just about fine, it’ll make the article somewhat better than it would have been if I wasn’t there, plus we might not have done a feature on this particular show if I hadn’t been flown out, so horses for courses etc. I’m going to see them one last time tomorrow before my flight, and it’ll be nice to do so.

So the weirdest thing happened out here: I was walking down a hill in Santa Teresa, the neighbourhood my hostel is in, and I bumped into my friend Kate Mansey. Considering the number of times I’ve failed to meet up with friends I’d planned to meet ATP, the fact that I happened to bump into Kate on a random Friday afternoon, on a hill in a suburb of Rio, a very Far Away city of some six million people is pretty freaky. She’d been out covering Prince Harry’s recent visit for the Sunday Times and stayed on for a bit of a holiday, which makes total sense – if anything it was probably weirder that I was there. Anyway, we grabbed a couple of beers and it was all very pleasant: you can only really be so freaked out by bumping into a friend.

What made the whole thing fractionally weirder still is that Kate is the ex-girlfriend of Tom Philips, my one friend who lives in Rio… speaking of whom, I saw him on Saturday night and it was nice to catch up after seven or so years… it’s funny seeing somebody who you were great friends with once but by dint of geography you’ll never be especially close to again (he’s moving to Shanghai soon), but good to catch up, talk about the past and get wanged on the caipirivodkas.

Sightseeing and stuff has been obvious and pleasant: I have ‘done’ the beaches of Iphenema and Copacabana (ie I walked along their length, on a paved path, occasionally stopping to drink a beer); they seem very nice and probably more fun than the songs most famously associated with them, though locals have somewhat bemusing habit of hanging out on the beach but not actually going swimming, which confuses me no end. I also ‘did’ the Sugarloaf (a mountain type thing) and Cristo Redenter (that giant Jesus thing). Both were high and impressive, the former infested with capuchin monkeys (ADOWABLE), the latter covered in cloud that stopped you really seeing it (STILL KIND OF AWESOME). In many ways though I think the bit I liked the most was my neighbourhood, Santa Teresa. It’s a beautiful and slightly bizarre area of gorgeous but poorly maintained colonial buildings; there’s something surreal about the vividness of it all and the fact Rio has almost turned its back on some of its most beautiful sections… it’s very strange, the city is vibrant enough that the decay of its older, more beautiful buildings doesn’t feel as bad as it might, but at the same time it’s hard not to fervently wish I could have seen it 75 years ago. It’s hard to say that it’s gone backwards, but at the same time it was clearly an immensely different place a century ago, and not all for the worse by any means.

Wrapping this up somewhat – much as I was working to some extent, it’s been good to do something a bit travelly again… which is a bit absurd for somebody who gets away quite a lot, but still, it’s the first time in almost exactly three years that I’ve been on my own at a hostel in a country where I don’t speak the lingo at all and though a lot has happened in that time it’s nice to still be able to wander in, make friends (younger friends, these days), see awesome sights, get around and, perhaps above all given Rio’s reputation, not get robbed. It’s now of course gutting not to have the time to go to the Amazon or Buenos Ares or a thousand other places, but, well, the RSC has subsided this trip to the tune of about a grand and I have a lovely girlfriend and great job to get back to as opposed to the usual sucking existential malaise that tends to wrap these things up, so you know. But yeah, I think I always had it in my head that South America was the great unbreachable, for the slightly bizarre reason that I felt I should probably learn Spanish before going over, whereas in China and Russia it was unreasonable to expect me to be even remotely prepared anyway so therefore it was fine. But of course I can go anywhere, the world is fucking easy, much easier than real life, I think.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Twenty-six hours later...

I wrote this, like, the day after my first blog and decided not to post it straight away in case I looked, you know, SAD, but now it's a few days out of date but I can't be bothered to turn it into a megablog about everything that's happened since, so here you go, an insight into my emotional, physical and spiritual state two days ago.

So flight day was a strange mix of amusement and irritation – ultimately I wasted a day fannying around in a suburb of Madrid, but given that it wasn’t (exactly) my money and given I was technically at work, it’s alright as a one off experience type of thing, I suppose.

Anyway, perhaps inevitably I ended up drinking something like seven beers before my flight to Sao Paulo, which may or may not have been a great idea in the classic sense, but did probably help when it came to conking out for pretty much the whole of the flight’s duration, which I surely did. In this I was aided considerably by the woeful entertainment – the new Adam Sandler film ‘Jack & Jill’ and ‘One Day’, which I dimly remember being about a bunch of American actors pretending to be Oxford graduates or something. I watched fragments with the sound off during limited moments of consciousness: I suspect having it muted helped somewhat – my imagined plot of ‘Jack & Jill’ is surely better than whatever’s involved with the real one (it was actually kind of avant garde), and while whatever really happens in ‘One Day’ is probably better than my guess of what was going on, I doubt it was so much better as to give me more genuine satisfaction than sleepily sneering at what I imagined to be their accents.

I finally arrived in Rio 16 hours after I was supposed to via a connecting flight from Sao Paulo – the whole thing is entirely ridiculous, especially in light of the fact the only reason I didn’t just get the direct BA flight from London the day before was that it got in 'too late', but my luggage completed the odyssey on time and unscathed, so horses for courses really.

So within three hours of arriving in Rio I was checking my emails at the Time Out Rio offices in Copacabana, prior to heading out for lunch with an Englishman named Doug who worked at Time Out Rio, and who I was going to lunch with on the grounds we shared a nationality. Is that brilliant? Or awful? It lacks a certain rugged tang of adventure, maybe. We went for a buffet where they charged you based on how much the food weighed in total, regardless of what it was, which seems very democratic.
After that I wandered down Copacabana Beach, which certainly lacks ‘20s glamour but was, you know, pleasant. The views are incredible, mind… if you transported Rio to, say, Lancashire, it’d still have a certain something to it: on a very first impression it seems to have a sort of air of cultural, social and ethnic intermingling that you just don’t get in a lot of other places (though they could all loathe each other, I dunno). But yeah, the light is very bright and the colours all feel very vivid, even the bits of tarp and clothes hanging up look like jewels in the daylight. And the surrounding! Big cliffs covered in rainforest, gorgeous, seemingly uninhabited islands!, sea the colour sea is supposed to be. It’s good stuff.

Then at about 5pm the hitherto perfect day erupted into apparently the first serious rain they’ve had here in about a month. Apparently there’s plenty more where that came from, too… Hostel pleasant but relatively quiet, save for a party of Germans I’m probably not DYING to ingratiate myself with. I am quite knackered and do have interviews to conduct next two mornings, so maybe for the best. There are two cats in this hostel, which have that weird thing that all foreign cats do, where their faces are all long and their bodies are all tiny... sometimes I worry that we the British get cats wrong, which is certainly something borne out by every cat I’ve ever lived with.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the lame

Every time anyone’s ever mentioned Spain, even in my vague proximity, I have tended to note that while I’ve been to Barcelona on a more or less annual basis since I accidentally hitchhiked there in 2002 (WOULD THAT THERE HAD BEEN BLOGS IN 2002), I’ve never actually been to Madrid. Well, I’ve now accidentally redressed this balance – on my way out to Rio de Janeiro for the ludicrously jammy press trip that was to mark my return to the world of Adventure, I got shafted by Iberian airlines, who managed to deposit me and my fellow transferees in Madrid just in time to see the Rio gate close... a fact conveyed to us with the lackadaisical quality possessed only by British supermarket attendants and Spanish people.

I’d probably bore on about it more, but I’ve just spent 20 minutes filling in a complaint form about it all. Plus there was another English guy in the same situation whose determination to take out his frustration on the blameless woman at the Iberia desk was so obnoxiously mockey twattish about the whole thing that he actually managed to make me feel a note of shame, for some reason. (I was genuinely going to tell him to calm down, but it occurred to me that there was a vague chance that underneath all his Guy Ritchie pseudo gangster posturing, his ludicrous sense of entitlement might derive from the fact he was an ACTUAL gangster).

So yes, I’m at a hotel in what I suppose is the Madrid equivalent of Hounslow. Iberia gave me a voucher for a day plus lunch plus dinner here – the curious thing is that I’m reasonably certain that EVERYONE else in this hotel is in exactly the same boat… there’s something that quite tickles me about the idea of a sort of purgatorial hotel that nobody actually chooses to stay in, buts ends up in anyway. Anyway, I’m quite enjoying it here: the Madrid equivalent of Hounslow is a lot nicer than the London equivalent of the Madrid equivalent of Hounslow – I had a wander and a cheap beer in a nondescriptly pleasant local taverna (IS THAT EVEN A WORD); now I’m drinking cornershop tinnies in my hotel room (the minibar has five types of soft drink and just one coke can size beer – baffling) while watching BBC World and contemplating having a bath. BBC World and baths are definitely two of the defining features of my Siberian backpacking odyssey (well of three of the stops on it, but they were terribly emotional) and I feel a twinge of nostalgia. Perhaps above all, the downside of a 7.20am flight is that I can’t indulge in my favourite hobby of Hanging Out At The Airport; I have had nothing to do BUT hang out at (or near) the airport today (I could obviously have gone to Madrid but, um, you know, it’d feel like a quick squeeze of the boob when this is a lady I want to court). Anyway, I was only ever going to have a quiet one on my first night in Rio and I get there 10-ish tomorrow morning, so you know, if I actually get any compensation for all this hassle I’ll probably not complain.

NB BBC World – baffling, though delightfully so.