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.

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