Game day! What a difference a day (or two) makes!!

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*The Brazilians have a sense of humour. Here Neymar and his girlfriend Bruna Marquezine are “beautifully” immortalized on this shirt.

 

As we wake on the morning of brazils debut in this years world cup, the news of the weather is that its still damp and miserable. “Tis Irish weather there”  my old buddy Bob proclaims in his awful Irish accent as he sups his english tea.
But the mood here in Brazil has changed somewhat from the opening day. The draw betwen Spain and Portugal combined with the under performance of France and especially deady enemies Argentina has lifted the mood no end.. schadenfreude is a heady brew in Brasil.
Quite apart from that, the inability of Cariocas (rio folk) to resist a football shindig has come to the fore as predicted.

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* Even a birth cert appeared on line yesterday with the first name “Vaineymar”. Vai Neymar means Go Neymar!
As i walked to flamego beach in yesterday day mornings mist, every one was asking,  “e amanha, vai assistir onde?” Where will you watch “it” tomorrow?? They dont need to say what they are refering to.
Everyone has their own plan – mainly barbeques and street parties.. but everyone is watching!!

The 70% of locals who said they were not interested in the cup just last week seem to have dissappeared. This facebook post from my girfriends colleague summed up Brazil in a nutshell… Brazilians are absolutely brilliant at poking fun at themselves. They have a sense of humour matched by few in this regard.. maybe only the Irish!

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“Wednesday Brazilians are showing record levels of disinterest in the Cup. By saturday we are learning Icelandic, crying at the peruvian national anthem and only eating lunch and a having a shower (Brazilians take about 3 a day) after Croatia Nigeria are finished playing at 5pm”

 

As i returned from foot volley training again the change in the locals was in evidence. “Hey gringo man who are you shouting for? Your german right? Or Russian??”

Those who know me well congratulated me on my country getting a draw. Soon I realized that they are swoppong an R for a C.

“Sou de Irlanda nao Islandia amigo”. I’m from Ireland not Iceland my friend!.

It’s actuallu quite humbling how little any carioca knows about Ireland… Bono vox , as the call him, and Conor Mcgregor is about our lot I’m afraid. Many chip in with Celtic as their sole Irish offering. While incorrect they get an A for effort.

So this morning I wake early and nervously for my first ever foot volley tournament. After i will go to my friends home to celebrate his birthday and watch the game.

He will have a band in his house and a feijoada – the brazilian slave food that is still the national dish 130 years after slavery was finally abolished here.
Slow cooked in a big pot for hours with all the off cuts of beef, fat and black beans – fancy dining it is not.  It is served with rice, cale, pork crackling and farofa, a crunchy flour thats so damn tasty. A “pingo” of chilli sauce an ice cold litre of beer for about 3 euro and you’ll be right as rain till tomorrow. Most brazilians eat it on a friday or saturday afternoon and immediately take to the nearest hammock for a prolonged belly rubbing and snoozing session.

But today there is a task heavier than any feijoada anf the nation has stirred if not yet caught fire. I met my neighbour Joao last night at his doorway. He is about 55 heavy and trying his heart out at english. He is a genius on football but I’ve no idea how he sees any of it because he is always on sentry duty outside front door puffing a fag.
“My only worry is that we arrive in “high heels!” He asserts judiciulously.
I didnt really know what that meant but he made it clear as he sucked in the last of his hollywood blue – the working mans fag.

“We must win the the fight before we try to be too fancy…… but first we have to fight!  Basically he is worried about over confidence – another trait which some Brazilians are guilty of. Who could blame them with 5 world cups won to their name.

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Young Brazilians getting their Ronaldo Fenomeno haircuts in memory of one of their greatest ever sons! Many here fully believe if he didnt get the second knee injury there would be no conversation about the who is GOAT!
I’m off to my tournament now with butterflies in my belly. I dunno if im more nervous about my competitive debut at the footvolley net or that of my adopted Brazil in this years Copa.
But i know who i want to win more!
Ate logo!

Uma Carta do Rio de Janeiro – Porque O Brasil ta nem ai sobre a Copa?

argie Rua no Brasil pintada nos cores de Argentina.
Nessa dia quatro anos atras eu cheguei no Rio. Foi no primeiro dia de Copa e eu estava vivendo um sonho da vida na orla da Copacabana. Caipirinhas estavam caindo bem, o sol tava bem gostoso e a Avenida Atlantica era um mar amarelo brilhante. Foi uma festa brasileira de verdade. A maior naçao do futebol no planeta estava recebendo o futebol “em casa”. Foi incrivel.
 Uma vitória de 3-1 começou o que seria uma viagem única onde o capitão da seleção terminaria levantando a Taça. Parecia certo e apropriado que eles finalmente ganhassem em casa no Maracanã. Que eles exorcizariam os fantasmas da última vez que abrigaram as finais em 1950. Assim como em 1950, parecia certo, era inevitável. Mas 2014 terminou no maior humilhaçao na historia do esporte. Foi um “damp squib”.
 Hoje, mais uma vez, como no dia da abertura da Copa do Mundo, tendo caído de joelhos, apaixonado “maluco/beleza” durante esse mês mágico em 2014, ainda eu moro aqui. Hoje estou testemunhando da minha janela outro “damp squib”. Literalmente e metaforicamente. É a manhã mais chuvosa do ano com nuvem baixa cinzenta obliterando uma vista espetacular do Pão de Açúcar e da baía que temos de cima do morro. O humor do tempo é mau agouro. Igual o sentimento nas ruas antes da Copa
Apesar de uma brilhante campanha  dos jogos eliminatórios, jogando o “jogo  bonito” como só o Brasil pode, o clima no país é como o tempo desta manhã. Deprimente.
 É incrível, e apesar de viver no meio de tudo, definitivamente não posso dizer porque o clima aqui é tão baixo astral. As ruas não foram pintadas e o prefeito profundamente religioso do Rio de Janeiro negou ate orcamento pro Alzirao tradicionalmente na Tijuca. Aqui na Tavares Bastos favela/comunidade, que foi inundado com arte de rua há 4 anos atrás, uma pintura humilde, feita por alunas locais, na parede do parque é a unica pista visível de que a Copa do mundo começa hoje!!!
 Mas quais são as razões para isso, dado o calibre da equipe e a tag favoritos “quentes” em todos os mercados de apostas? Um amigo irlandês sugeriu é porque Brasileiros não chegaram empolgados até bem depois da fase de grupos. Acho que eles são o oposto de nós irlandeses nesse caso. La, nos preparamos para um torneio, parando tudo meses antes a fim de transformar uma Van quebrada de quarta-mão em uma campervan capaz de nos conduzir até a Polônia. Podemos comemorar um empate sem graça de zero a zero no grupo como se tivéssemos ganhado a Copa! A teoria do meu amigo é, sem dúvida, cheia de bom senso, mas conhecendo a “pré-excitação”brasileira pra qualquer tipo de festa (mesmo se for uma vovó fazendo 80 aninhos, vamos mandar ver nos fogos de artifício), vou descartá-la!.
 Mas há outras razões.
 Em primeiro lugar, o país tem sofrido com uma profunda crise económica nos últimos anos. Isso tem agravado os pecados nacionais sempre presentes de saúde pública e educação deficientes. A criminalidade está aumentando, o exército está ajudando a controlar a segurança pública em desintegração  e guerras de drogas continuam entre polícia e traficantes com tiroteios diários e alto número de mortes. O desemprego é elevado e brasileiros estão emigrando cada vez mais rápido.A moral está baixa no país, daí um falador de extrema direita  ou “Trump dos trópicos” chamado Bolsonaro está liderando as pesquisas antes da temida eleição presidencial em setembro.
Muitos simplesmente se recusam a ficar empolgados pela Copa e com razão. Eles afirmam que a cena política, com seus níveis de corrupção indescritível e inquérito da  “lava-jato” em curso exigem nossa atenção total. Eles afirmam que a Copa do mundo é uma distração em um país que tem sido estuprado por seus políticos. Outros afirmam que é uma distração necessária de revelações diárias que deixou o país quebrado e mais de 100 políticos nacionais e empresários na cadeia.
 Eu poderia falar e falar sobre as “manobras” políticas aqui, que às vezes são verdadeiramente nojentas e inacreditaveis, mas isso fica para outro dia.É importante notar, no entanto, que a sucessão de governos corruptos deixaram o Brasil com um nível de nacionalismo incrivelmente baixo. É difícil se casar com esta imagem que estamos acostumados a ver na TV la na Europa – de fãs brasileiros alegres, todo mundo vestindo a camisa amarela e bateria de samba torcendo por seu país – nas arquibancadas fervendo. A política da  “cleptocracia” é culpada por essa erosão de orgulho da nação ao ponto de alguns moradores no estado do Piauí protestarem pintando sua rua com as cores da…suspiro!… Argentina!!!
 A ditadura militar que durou mais de 20 anos também sem duvida contribuiu para essa falta de orgulho nacional, assim como a mistura bonita de uma infinidade de origens que se dilui em um  identidade pouco homogênea entre os brasileiros. Mas, no entanto, é extraordinariamente baixo. Se você for  a um jogo do Brasileirao no Maracanã, por exemplo, você não será capaz de ouvir o hino nacional que soa forte dos alto-falantes. Isto a não devido a qualquer falha técnica, mas devido os torcedores do time da casa gritando seu próprio canto em defiance. Há um verdadeiro sentimento de “pessoas contra o estado” aqui no Brasil.
 Mas além de tudo, tem um motivo mais profundo, para a falta de empolgacao, cor ou a antecipação desta vez. Brasileiros, talvez,  não vai gostar o que eu vou dizer agora, mas aqui é quase palpável. A razão é o medo. Medo de que isso aconteça novamente. A forma como a Copa de 2014 começou e terminou não poderia mais contrastado. Nunca esquecerei sendo numa rua do Rio com 10 mil Cariocas, assistindo “o 7-1”. Ainda nem consigo descrever ou capturá-lo. Foi surreal
Houve, surpreendentemente pouca ou nenhuma raiva durante e após a goleada. Alguns estavam ate rindo, sem dúvida,  porque nao ter a menor ideia o que fazer. Descrença.  Olhos vazios. Orgulho ferido. Orgulho ferido profundamente. Ate agora parece como ontem.
 Talvez seja um clichê, mas povo o brasileiromas são pessoas abertas, de sangue quente, gente muito emocionais assim não podem esconder a dor dele.  Esta escrito nos seus rostos que a dor de 7-1 ainda maschuca-los. Pior ainda, ele envergonhado-los.
 A forma de derrota tem levado a uma dúvida que não estava lá desde após a derrota no final de 1950. É um nervosismo visível tambem. Eles sabem que um dia eles provavelmente terão que cruzar espadas com a Alemanha. O medo no fundo da mente é que a “Seleção” novamente irá expor tudo de fragilidade do Brasil e dos pontos fracos do Brasil quando eles enfrentam os poderosos alemães. Que o pior pesadelo poderia acontecer novamente é uma perspectiva verdadeiramente assustador.
 “Apenas vencendo a Alemanha na final pode derrubar o pesadelo” o cara do moto-taxi me diz enquanto nos descemos na banguela o morro da favela. “Mesmo ganhanando a Copa, se nao venceremos a Alemanha eu não comemoro”, ele afirma. “Porque a cicatriz do “7-1” ainda estará lá
 Apesar da tristeza e melancolia do tempo e o clima aqui no Rio, nesta manhã de Copa do mundo, posso levar a esperança do fato de que eu sei uma coisa ou duas sobre os brasileiros, depois de ter o prazer de viver entre eles por quatro anos. Em primeiro lugar, eles simplesmente não conseguem resistir a uma festa, e em segundo lugar, eles saos viciantes por futebol. É por isso que eu adoro o lugar.
 Então, enquanto pode levar alguns dias para estas nuvens pesadas levantar. Eu estou em silêncio esperançoso que no final de torneo, Neymar, Coutinho et al irá encantar o mundo e ganha a hexa Copa do mundo por Brasil, num jeito exclusivamente Brasileiro, com futebol cheio de ginga, malandragem e alegria. O jogo bonito!
Como a abertura da Copa 4 anos atras, queria ver o Rio coberto em um mar de amarelo novamente, mas desta vez em comemoração ao invés de antecipação. Apenas uma vitória de Copa do mundo repleta de vitória sobre a Alemanha pode realmente curar as feridas do passado. E quem sabe o que poderia fazer para o orgulho de um povo que realmente sofreram bastante.
 Vamos ganhar Brasil! 

 

A letter from the favela: Why Brazil doesn’t care about the World Cup?

argie            Brazilian residents protest against poltical corruption by painting their street in the colours of fierce rivals Argentina

 

On this day four years ago I rolled into Rio. The opening day of the World Cup was the stuff of dreams down on Copacabana beach.  Caipirinhas were flowing, the sun was blazing and a sea of dazzling yellow extended the full length of Atlantic Avenue. It was a Brazilian party! Footballs greatest nation were welcoming football “home”.

A 3 – 1 victory started what was going to be a once in a life time month ending with the “Selecao Brasileiro” lifting the trophy. It seemed right and and fitting that they would finally win it at home in the Maracana. That they would exorcise the ghosts of the last time they hosted the finals in 1950. Just like 1950, it seemed right, it was inevitable. It ended in a dampest squib sport has ever known.

Today as World Cup opening day comes around again, having fallen head over heels for crazy/beautiful Rio during that magical month in 2014, I still live here. Today I am witnessing from my window another damp squib. Literally and metaphorically. It is the rainiest morning of the year with low grey cloud obliterating Sugar Loaf and the bay from the normally spectacular view from high up in the favela. The mood of the weather is foreboding. It matches Brazils.

Despite an exhiliarating qualifying campaign playing “jogo bonito” like only Brazil can, the mood in the country is like this morning’s  weather. Depressing.

It’s amazing and despite living in the midst of it I can’t definitively say why the mood here is so low. The streets haven’t been painted and the deeply religious  mayor of Rio has pulled funding for Alzirao (the amazingly colourful frilly stuff that normally hangs happily over the streets). Even here in the favela, which was awash with street art 4 yrs ago, a humble painting, done by local schoolgirls, on the playground wall is the only visible clue that the World Cup begins today!!!

But what are the reasons for this, given the calibre of the team and the hot favourites tag in every betting market? One Irish friend suggested it’s because they don’t get warmed-up here until well after the group stages. I guess they are the opposite of us Irish in that regard. We prepare for a tournament by stopping everything months in advance in order to turn a broken down fourth-hand Hiace into a campervan capable of driving to Poland. We can celebrate a mind numbingly boring nil all in the group like we have won the fecking thing! My friend’s theory is undoubtedly full of good sense but knowing the Brazilian penchant for pre -party excitement (even if it’s Granny’s 80th they order in the fireworks) I’m gonna rule it out.

But there are other reasons.

Firstly, the country has been in deep economic crisis for last few years. This has exacerbated the ever-present national sins of atrocious public health and education.  Crime is rising, the army are in to help control crumbling public security and drug wars continue between police and gangs with daily shootouts and huge deaths tolls. Unemployment is high and Brazilians are emigrating faster than ever.  Morale is low in the country, hence a right wing tough talker or “Trump of the Tropics” called Bolsonaro is charging in the polls ahead of the dreaded presidential election in September.

 Many are simply refusing to get excited by the cup and with good reason. They claim that the political scene, with its unspeakable corruption levels and ongoing “carwash” inquiry demands our full attention. They claim the world cup is a distraction in a country that has been raped by its politicians. Others claim that it is a neccessary distraction from daily revelations that have left the country broke and over 100 politicians and businessmen in jail.

I could go on and on about the politcal shenanigans here, which are at times truly gobsmacking, but that’s for another day. It is important to note however, that the succession of corrupt governments have left Brazil a country with amazingly low nationalism levels. It’s difficult to marry this with the images we are accustomed to on TV of joyful Brazilian fans all yellow jerseys and samba drums cheering their country from the terraces. The political cleptocracy have eroded pride in the nation to the point where some residents in Piaui state protested by painting their street in the colours of… gasp!…Argentina.

The 20 year military dictatorship also contributed to this lack of nationalism, as does the beautiful mix of origins present here which dilutes homogenised identity somewhat among Brazilians. But it is, nonetheless, extraordinarily low.  If you go to a Brazilian league game in Maracana for example, you wont be able to hear the national anthem properly as it blasts out over the tannoy. This is not due to any technical fault but rather due the home team fans bellowing out their own chant in defiance. There is a real feel of “people vs the state” in Brazil.

But apart from all that there is another, deeper reason for the complete lack of hype, colour or anticipation this time around. Brazilians wont like me saying this but it is almost palpable here. The reason is fear.  Fear of it happening again.  The way the 2014 cup began and ended could not have contrasted more. I will never forget being on a Rio street with 10 thousand locals watching “the 7 – 1“. I still can’t even begin to describe or capture it. It was surreal.

There was surprisingly little or no anger during and after the rout. Some laughing, borne, no doubt out of not having a clue what to do. Disbelief. Empty eyes. Injured pride. Deeply, injured pride. And it’s still there.

Brazilian people wear their hearts on their sleeve. It may be a cliche but they are open, emotional, hot-blooded people. They cant hide the pain of it. Its raw and it is written all over their faces that the 7 – 1 hurt to the marrow.  Worse still, it humiliated them. In their own country.

The manner of the mauling has led to a doubt that hasn’t been there since after the 1950 final defeat. And a visible nervousness to boot. They know somewhere along the line they will probably have to cross swords with Germany. The unspoken fear in the back of the mind is that the “seleção” will again expose all of Brazil’s fragility and all of Brazil’s weaknesses in the face of the powerful Germans. That the worst nightmare could happen again is a truly frightening prospect.

“Only beating Germany in the final can do it” the motorbike taxi driver tells me as we freewheel down the favela hill. “Even if we win the cup but don’t beat Germany I won’t celebrate” he claims. “because the scar will still be there. The scar of  the 7 – 1“. 

Despite the doom and gloom of the the weather and the mood here in Rio on this World Cup morning, I can take hope from the fact that I know a thing or two about Brazilians after having the pleasure of living amongst them for four years. Firstly,  i know with certainty they simply can’t resist a party and second, they can’t resist football. It’s why I love the place.

So while it might take a few days for these heavy clouds to lift. I am quietly hopeful that by the business end of the tournament, Neymar, Coutinho, Marcelo and Co will have set the world on fire and claimed the World Cup as only Brazil can, with lightening fast football full of “ginga, malandragem e alegria” (skills, roguery and joy)

Like opening day four years ago I yearn to see Rio covered in a sea of yellow again, but this time in celebration rather than anticipation. Only a World Cup win replete with victory over Germany can truly heal the wounds of the past. And who knows what it could do for the pride of a people that have truly suffered enough. I can wait a month for that.

Vamos ganhar Brasil.

“You Can’t Bring Peace with a Gun” – Brazilian Police Brutality, Phony Wars & The Paradox of Pacification through Violence.

20150306_172111                                     Mural of Corrupt Brazilian Police – UFF University in Niteroi

“Tonight you are going to see the Devil” –  UPP (Police Pacification Unit) as they gang raped 3 women last year in Jacarezinho favela, Rio de Janeiro.

It is rare that people of all social classes unanimously agree on something. This is especially rare in a country like Brazil where the disparity between the “have’s” and the “have nots” is far greater than most other places on Earth. One issue however, that all Brazilians see eye to eye on is their opinion of the Police. From wealthy Ipanema residents to the poorest favela dwellers sentiment towards them is the same.. they are despised!

I moved here from Ireland last year and while we have our own social problems there, one thing you can rely on is the police. They might not be the fittest, the fastest or the most astute law enforcement officers in the world but you can trust them.

They won’t shoot your kid as he plays in the street, they won’t bribe drugs gangs, they wont rape women, they wont beat people celebrating a football victory and they wont set vicious dogs on protesting state employees. They are unlikely to take drugs in public and they are unlikey to put a gun to the head of an innocent foreigner on a quiet street without so much as asking for his name first.

Coming from a place where the police want to avoid trouble at all costs to Brazil certainly was (and still is) a culture shock for me. While there is so much to love about Brazil, one thing that continues to rattle me is the use of violence as a first rather than last resort. A new UN report states that violence and guns are used here “to resolve all sorts of disputes, in most cases for very banal and circumstantial reasons.”

Unfortunately, violence is culturally ingrained in the Brazilian psyche, and while it is not accepted by the masses it has become normative behaviour for those in the ranks of the Brazilian Police. People on the street are far from innoculated however and when they say “it has always been this way” that should in no way be taken as an excuse for the barbaric acts that so often pass for Law Enforcement in this country. For many, the sad fact is that it has always been this way.

Just this week 2 police officers have been arrested for the “execution style” murder of 8 Corinthians football fans as they made banners in their club house on the eve of a massive local derby game. The suspected reason for the killings is that 2 of the victims were involved in the “Traffic” (drugs gangs) and failed to pay the police their chunk of the pie.

Payment in exchange for immunity has long been one of the cornerstones of Police “business” in Brazil. Indeed, one ex-Journalist i know here filmed 2 police men in a sting operation some years ago telling a drug dealer that if he didnt pay up in full next time they would return to the favela and shoot some children. Although the culprits were jailed subsequently, the heads of the police claimed the perpetrators were ” just a few bad eggs”. They still trot out the same jaded excuse to this day.

The evidence before our eyes however, makes the “party line” virtually impossible to swallow.  Police acted en masse on streets across Brazil last week. In full view of national news and media, Brazilian Police dealt with a Teachers Protest across Brazil in the only way they seem to know how. Water Canons, tear gas, baton charges and even Pit Bulls were unleashed upon those protesting against undelivered pay promises by the government. 200 were injured in one day alone. If the good eggs will do this to a teacher what will they do to suspected criminal or a favela teenager who gives them even an ounce of trouble. The mind boggles.

manifestanteparanaprefeitura                     One of hundreds of teachers injured last week during the Police (over) reaction.

The heavy handed response highlights the attitude of the powers that be towards educators and education when Police are given licence to deal with peacful protestors in such an aggressive manner. Of course Brazilian children also suffer the consequences. Already under-educated, in schools forced to work a morning and afternoon shift to deal with numbers, many young Brazilian’s are still trying to finish the 2014 school year. God knows when the 2015 curriculum will start let alone be completed. Not paying the teachers and subsequently beating them will hardly increase morale within the ranks or encourage them to play catch up.

I witnessed for myself the modus operandi of the Police here just last Sunday when i attended the Carioca (Rio) Championship final between Vasco da Gama & Botafogo. Vasco were crowned champions for the first time in 12 years and the party on the street after was an intense yet unmistakingly joyous affair.

Drums, huge “Bandera” flags and dancing Vasco fans dominated one small side-street near the Maracana until the police arrived. There was no attempt at dialogue, instead the Police in full riot gear advanced on the singing horde. Watching from just a few feet away i witnessed some of the shortest fuses on Earth burn out and within seconds two fans were beaten heavily with batons – their only crime was not noticing the police advance as they sang. Meanwhile, the unwarranted reaction continued nearby with tear gas unleashed and bystanders being pepper sprayed with impunity.

riotpolice                                     Riot Police masked up & ready for “war” after Vasco v Botafogo

“This is not unusual” claimed Cicero Lopes, a Vasco fan i befriended at the scene. His eyes, like mine, were bright red from the tear gas. “When there is no trouble the police cause it”.

As he spoke a bottle smashed near our feet, followed by a second one launched by the retreating fans toward the riot police. “See” said Cicero “now they are getting the trouble they want”.

Luckily it didnt escalate further as the 99.9% of the Vasco fans were too happy to get involved but the “peacekeepers” were certainly spoiling for a fight. The Bad eggs seem to outweigh the good ones here rather than the other way around. Even for the good guys within the Police, paranoia, fear, poor training and the pervasive use of violence as a problem solver all lead to extremely itchy trigger fingers and subsequent casualties.

There are daily occurrences of police brutality and killings across Rio and Brazil. 11,000 people have been killed by police nationwide in the last 5 years. It has taken the police in the US (no angels themselves) more than 30 years to kill the same amount of the citizens they are supposed to protect. In the US the killings to arrests ratio is one in thirty-seven thousand. In Brazil it is one in two-hundred and thirty!

In the last month or two police have been responsible for the shooting dead of ten year old Eduardo Ferreira as he played in the streets of Complex de Alemao favela. This led to protests all over the city.  They also killed 15yr old Alain De Sousa Lima in Palmeirinha and seriously injured his friend – subsequent reports by police claimed a prior confrontation and guns found on the victims. These allegations were proved unfounded in the most unusual way. Lima’s phone was returned to his family and on it was a nine minute video in which he had captured everything including the last moments of his own life. Though heartbreaking, it proved his innocence while exposing the police (yet again) as the untrustworty killers they are.

Last August, Police forced three women into a house in Jacarezinho and raped them repeatedly. “tonight you ar going to see the devil” they were heard to shout as they abused far more than the law. Indeed, their abuse of the law they are meant to uphold is astonishing, yet startlingly commonplace. Earlier this year professional surfer Ricardo dos Santos approached two guys leaning on a car outside his house and asked them to stop taking drugs in public. This resulted in Ricardo being shot three times and later dying in hospital. The two drug takers turned out to be policemen and they still claim the shooting was in self-defence. Ricardo was unarmed.

This happened in Florianopolis where last year the police bent me over a car & put a gun to my head as i waited for a hamburger in a quiet sea side village. My only crime was holding a motorcycle helmet. It later emerged that their investigation involved a stolen motorcycle. Again there was no attempt at dialogue or communication – why question someone when you can pull the guns and go straight down the extreme violence route. Luckily for me at the time i didnt know much about  Brazilian police (in)capabilities. While my ignorance hardly equated to bliss if it happened today i would actually fear for my life.

These are just some of the incidences of police violence which occur every day in Brazil. The ironic thing is that whilst this goes on the Politicians continue to claim the policy of “Pacification” is working.

Pacification – is an initiative that began in 2008 and rather ironically operates through the installing of under -trained, heavily armed police forces in favelas across Rio (mainly the touristy south zone). It has had some success in clearing out the “traffic” and integrating into society but at least as much failure. The UPP (Police Pacification Unit) is for many a facade. According to Maria Jacinto, a community leader in Complexo de Lins the UPP is “a disrespect to the community….we need schools, day care, a hospital not the UPP”.

protest                                 One of the many protests against the Police in Rio this year

One of the main obstacles faced by Pacification is the cultural & historical lack of trust betwen communities and the police. Rather than healing this nasty wound the UPP further deepen it somewhere almost every day. Police say its drugs gangs who start the trouble but most civilian deaths result from planned police raids on the favelas. The ubiquitous excuse of “Balas perdidas” (lost/stray bullets) is trotted out ad nauseum when kids playing or residents innocently trying to get home have their lives ended. Is the collateral damage worth it for what they are achieving?? Indeed one could ask what are they achieving??

The pacification is widely hailed as a failure mainly due to the failure to engender trust in favela communitiies. The cultural resistance toward police prevails mainly due to their inability to act in a way to change perceptions. The social programs associated with “Pacification” such as UPP Social are almost non-existent in most favelas.  People want less guns on their streets not heavily armed occupations as they see it. “You cant bring peace with a gun” is a cliche you hear so often here in Rio, but it is very true one..

The reliance on heavy handed militia methods is failing miserably to win hearts and minds within communities. As already mentioned the Police themselves are not capable of implementing multifaceted problem solving approaches. UPP officers receive a mere 6 months training which is wholly insufficient for the situations they are instigating/going into. I doubt negotiating skills feature heavily on these courses. Low pay also leads to mass corruption within the ranks. There is also the issue of how they are equipped. Even the Elite and well trained BOPE Commandos as yet dont have night vision goggles. You would imagine these would fall into the Basic Requirements category for a force attempting to enter labyrinth like favelas at night.

Even in some “Pacified” South Zone favelas where the druglords no longer operate, the problem has simply moved to other areas in the less fashionable North & West Zones which are deteriorating rapidly. As well as this, drugs are still being sold pretty much everywhere in the South. Anybody that thinks humans are going to stop taking drugs all of a sudden just because a certain supplier has moved away or been arrested really is closing their eyes on reality.

We have been taking mind altering substances as long as we have been having sex. And guess what, humans will continue to experiment with substances until the day we become extinct. With that in mind you have to ask if we are fighting the wrong war, not just in Brazil but worldwide. Maybe its time to try a new approach, legalise substances, control distribution and finish this phoney war once and for all. The money saved could start a new war. “Troops” could be put on the ground to battle against the terrible health care & education standards that blight Brazils poorest neighbourhoods. Who knows, the billions saved could give these people decent levels of basic services such as sewage, water, electric and  childcare rather than attention grabbing vanity projects such as “bondinho” cable cars which are favoured by Rio’s politicians due to the favourable headlines they garner both at home and internationally.

It is obvious that Rio’s drugs gangs don’t want to see legalisation. But there are just as many in the police who stand to lose out. Kickbacks in turn for immunity, shares of drugs profits and police contolling their own portions of turf are commonplace. How can this phony war on drugs ever be won when many of those supposedly fighting it are sleeping with the enemy. The time for a new approach beckons. The tragic loss of lives is matched only by the lost opportunity to change things.

The internal gang war for turf re-ignited last weekend in Rio’s South Zone with the hillside community of Morro de Coroa of Santa Teresa being taken by rival drugs gangs from neighbouring favelas. Friday nights two-hour battle saw four sacrificed including a pregnant woman. A further 8 have been gunned down in the fall-out since. 3,000 kids are out of school as a result and as yet they don’t know when it will be safe to return. This war is not just taking the present it is also detrimental to the future.

 Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet that is exactly what is happening in Rio. If you take away the reason for the war you end the war – take drugs out of the equation and all of these senseless killings will stop, resources can flow towards really improving the future and the decent people of Rio’s favela’s will get a long overdue opportunity to fulfill their undoubted potential.

“You can’t bring peace with a Gun”. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure that one out.

Where the Ass is King – Bundas, Burros & Banging Beats – The World of Favela Funk parties unzipped.. (Part 1)

                            Vai Vai Vai (Go Go Go) Finding their groove at the Baile Funk

favela funk

Crazy good or crazy bad?? real life cultural chronicles or glorifications of less than desirable elements?? mysogynistic or empowering?? Sexy or seedy? Freedom or constraint??

These are just some of the questions surrounding the culture of favela funk, carioca funk or just funk as it is known here in Rio.

Like most things in Brazil there are massive contradictions within funk music, like almost everything in Brazil it contains the crazy/beautiful dichotomy. Favela funk has been part of the fabric of this city for more than 25 years, it is controversial, it is divisive but it is real, very, very real. This piece is just my opinion based on experiences of attending a few of these parties.. I do not claim to be an expert but merely an observer and participant…….

Last Saturday night was my first time at a “Baile Funk” (Funk Ball) and i am still thinking about it four days later. I had previously been to 2 funk parties – one in Guadaloupe (far in the North Zone) and one at a Museum in the city centre, and while both were unique, the one on Saturday called “Heavy Baile” was the most sexually charged party atmosphere I have ever seen.

The Funk Ball is often half-jokingly referred to as the Puteria (orgy) by the MC’s on stage and it is easy to see why with couples getting down to some seriously sexy moves on the dance floor. While the “gatas” (women) are blessed physically they also know how to operate the bodies they’ve been given. Brazilians can squat, groove, grind, bend, bump and bounce like nothing i’ve ever witnessed. Its impossible not to find it sexy. Sweat soaked, voluptuous women dancing in a way that most women would be too shy or too judged to attempt in Europe. The men too have a rhythm and flow that made this gringo feel like he had been freshly dipped in quick drying concrete. The combination of willing participants, gnarly lyrics and “Pancadão” (Big Beat) mean the synergy whipped up is hot, sensual & openly criss-crosses the border to erotic.11188142_10155480054075072_958597553_o (1)

The “Pancadão” (Big Beat) in Guadaloupe doesn’t happen by accident!

There is even a part of the show called “dancarina de funk” (possibly adaptated from rougher Jamaican “daggering”) where girls volunteer to go up on stage to dance/dry hump with the MC’s and their crew. Previous to Saturday I had seen a video or two of this on YouTube (filed under research) and it is certainly an eyebrow raiser. Saturday, however, blew even YouTube out of the water as two of the dry humpers came dressed as Gorillas specially for the dry humping occasion!!! It was hilarious, unnerving and somewhat disturbingly sexy all at the same time. (Note* There is a more serious element to Jamaican daggering – In 2009 it was banned after a spate of penis breakages when it was imported from the clubs to the bedroom)

One friend of the girl i was with even went up on stage where she proceeded to get simulated out of the stratosphere by one of the gorillas. She returned ten minutes later positively delighted with herself – wild cheers, hugs and high fives from her friends greeted her return and they had a great laugh about the whole thing.

Humour is a hugely important ingredient of the Baile funk and of Brazil in general. The revellers are, to an extent taking the piss out of them selves, taking the piss out of the derogatory definitions traditionally imposed upon them by the upper classes and above all else enjoying life despite often tough conditions – they also have way less hang ups about expressing themselves. Why sit around in a corner trying to make conversation when you can “make it happen” on the dance floor is the attitude among these girls many of whom don’t drink or drink very little.. They are at the “Baile” to dance not get drunk. They have curves and moves that are beyond belief – they also have desires so why should they not express them?? We have an old saying after all, that dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.

bailefunk

Wheres wally?? Spot the Irish Boy at the Baile Funk

The girls who dance sexily may be labelled “piranha’s” (women of low morals) by some guys or other women but does it not exhibit rare freedom that they don’t care about these labels? Is the fact that they are operating free of the shackles of what others think not something to be admired? As far a i know, we don’t look down our noses at the women involved in the hippy movement of the 1960’s for throwing off their inhibitions. Quiet the opposite in fact, their free love tendencies are widely applauded as revolutionary.

There is a further female empowerment element to the Baile but again it’s merits are (highly) debatable. At many parties females also get their time to “pump” the guys (often with hands tied behind them) in a practice called “Surra De Bunda”. Here the women demean the men (i didn’t even know this was possible) – albeit with their asses.

“Do. not. under. any. circumstances. send. help” would be the cry if i was ever on the receiving end of an SDB.

There is also an increasing number of female MC’s on the circuit and an amazingly named group called Gaiola dos Popozudas (Birdcage of Big Butted Girls) who sing ripostes to some of the more “machista” (macho) male MC’s . Are these sisters truly doing it for them selves? – just in a whole new Brazilian way? One of their videos has 15 million hits on YouTube so i’m pretty sure they don’t give a rashers what i think either way.

But all of this does beg the flip side question… Are these revellers (especially the women) being totally free or totally constraining themselves within old frames of reference? Many will argue that girls at funk balls are only valued for their bodies, their dance moves and above all else their asses. Are they defining themselves as humans whose only use is in the bedroom or are they on a different plain of freedom from their supposedly more developed western sisters who, despite having all the theory and education, are still far more demur, passive and culturally restrained from expressing their sexuality overtly. In fact are we all way too bloody shy, self- conscious and socialised in Europe – are our stiff upper lips really stifling some of our innate human instincts? Are we all metaphorical wearers of a chastity belt that only comes off along with the lights??

Maybe negative aspects do emerge on a deeper sociological level but for me “Baile Funk” is first and foremost a supreme outpouring of joy – raw, positive, sexy joy. Rio de Janeiro, despite its beauty, is not the easiest place in the world to live for millions of “Favelados”. Daily struggles blight their lives and many are constrained by poor educational and employment opportunities. Many will never travel far beyond the favela let alone Brazil.

The government has even attempted to remove their right to a Funk party in the past but Saturday night (as well as the other two events i attended) has shown me that whilst there is politically corrupt systems, ongoing drug/police wars and poverty all over this city the people cannot be defeated. Those that have been under the hammer of a system for generations have still got many modes of resistance. They neglect of generations of political regimes has constrained and limited their potential in many aspects but has not diminished their spirit.

Funk is a temporary breaking of constraints, a casting off of problems and inhibitions if you will. Bumping and grinding until dawn, the sexiest people in the world “let go” like no others. Of course Carioca’s (Rio people) have amazing beaches (still free despite despicable attempts in the past to introduce cover charges at the prettier ones) but apart from that Rio can be a very expensive city especially for the low paid. Thankfully, sex and music are still free (last time i checked) hence the power of the music and sexiness of the funk party. Baile Funk is the conduit for these two remaining low cost-high value elements of life, bringing them together to be celebrated along with life itself.

Baile Funk is also a powerful antedote to my “good” Catholic upbringing in Ireland replete with large levels of guilt, shame, religious repression as well as the need for a minimum of 10 drinks to be had before anything “sexy” is attempted.

Funk music, which started in my mind as mere noise is fast becoming one of the true expressions of Brazilian life. For better or worse a funk ball is a microcosm and like Brazil itself it is all there in one big, bubbling, colourful, noisy, sexy as hell melting pot.

(In part 2 of this blog i will discuss the origins of Carioca Funk, its lyrical development from gang/violence to highly sexual themes, the culture of ownership and importance of place as well as some of the problems associated with the movement)

Some helpful Giria terms used at the Baile Funk:
Funkeiro – A person who goes to funk parties
Novinhas – young teenage girls controversially celebrated in some Funk songs
Gatas/Gostosas – Hot, Sexy or beautiful women.
Popozuda – big assed woman
Favelado – Person who lives in a favela
Carioca – Person from Rio
Putaria – whorehouse or orgy
De quatro – doggy style
Senta – Sit (one of the most common imperatives of funk lyrics)
Safado(a) – shameless, horny or dodgy man or woman
Burro – means donkey but used as Giria for a big hard ass (don’t shoot the messenger)
Pancadao – big beat of Funk
Fluxo – flow
Vagabundo/piranha – woman/man of low morals
Surra de bunda.. where a woman pounds her ass into the mans face in a sort of demeaning version of “daggering”

All Is Quiet on New Years Day (A look back on Rio Carnaval 2015 – Plastic mini-skirts, Mental Hospitals & Fluffy feathered gang bangers)

                                                                                                                                                                             Tavares Bastos Favela painted and ready for Carnaval.
Carnaval
This morning early news bulletin started with a rather unusual greeting for the 54th day of 2015.
“Happy New Year” beamed the perma-tanned presenter with the Steve Silvermint smile. (you know the type – they are the same sickly sweet schmoozers all over the world).
I stopped dead in my tracks on my way past the TV.
“What the f**k?” i thought to myself whilst trying to shake off my slumber fuzz… “have i done a Rip Van Winkle?”
“Yes, the New Year starts today” chimed the annoyingly bright eyed and bushy tailed female co-anchor, before her slightly facetious smile informed me that i wasn’t, in fact, the first of January. Phew!
Today (Monday) is the day when Carnaval is Finally over for 7 million Carioca’s (Rio folk). “Real life” returns to replace real living for the people of the “Cidade Maravilhosa” but what a time it was – one of the most colourful, enjoyable and diverse weeks of my life. Carnaval in Rio is a life experience and I would encourage anyone to come and savour it’s freedom flavour at least once.
Of course it is all very different to carnival in small-town Ireland but this past week also resurrected some long forgotten, nostalgic sentiments from many years and half a world away.
My earliest childhood memories of carnival in my hometown (Abbeyfeale) were Tom Haley’s dangerously overweight, cobbled together, swinging boats flying recklessly high in the Friday night sky and an even more dangerously overweight, purple faced, woman called Eileen Doll chain-smoking as she tended the the rifle range.
The carnival currency of shiny plastic vouchers were our golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Wonderland. Preciously held in a vice like grip we would literally sprint wild eyed and delirious through the crowd to the next attraction, be it the bumpers, chairoplanes or Johnny Fry’s disco waltzers where; “the louder you scream the faster we go” was the chant from blind-as-a-Bat Johnny, with his bullet proof glasses.
In later years you might even try to cajole a girl you liked into the waltzers (with a spare voucher) and shyly hold sticky, candy-flossed hands on the street corner afterwards while her friends teased.
Overall though it was the escapism we loved. Sometimes you have to escape life to live it and that is how the carnivals of Rio (now) and Abbeyfeale (as a young fella) are one and the same in the echoes of my mind.
Before living here, I stupidly believed that the worlds biggest party sort of happened by magic. In actuality, Pre-Carnaval Bloco parties started months ago as did the brainstorming for themes, costume making, float building and fine tuning of music to be played by groups containing hundreds and hundreds of players.
The actual week of Carnaval is merely a culmination to what has been front and centre of peoples minds for almost a year now – hence the traditional train of thought here that the new year only begins when Carnaval is over!
First party – then reality, rather than the other way round as us westerners know all too well. I wonder if Carioca’s have even heard of the work/life balance conundrum that the western world has imposed on itself due to a value system which leaves people threadbare from the treadmill. Indeed, one wonders if anyone in the history of the world has ever lay on their death-bed, shook their heads regretfully and said ‘Jaysus, i should have worked a few more days”.
“You’ll get nothing done before Carnaval” is a common echo around Rio in January & February – and it’s pretty much true. These are the really (really) hot months where productivity drops and anticipation rises in tandem with the soaring temperatures.
The big Samba-Schools (The ones that we see on news reports parading in the Sambadrome) are hard at it behind the scenes throughout. These “schools” are big-money year round industries and there is serious prestige as well as cash involved if your organisation wins Carnaval. Some of the costumes worn by the ridiculously voluptuous dancing girls (Queen of the Drums) can run into the tens of thousands of dollars ($US) and many pay hundreds of dollars just to dance on the ground next to the unbelievably creative floats. But like Ireland, where there is money there is corruption and it has even been known in the past for heads of Samba Schools to be “taken out” by rivals covetous of their position.
Like in football, Samba Schools also get promoted and relegated through the divisions depending on how well they perform on the big occasion. As a result competition is as fierce at the top end of carnaval as it is between Flamengo & Vasco da Gama football clubs.
But the iconic main event, in the purpose built Sambadrome, is only a fraction of a party that takes all corners of this sprawling city under its huge, brightly feathered wings . Indeed, many locals rue the day it was built and the main spectacle was moved from the streets to the specially designated arena that resembles a formula one pit-lane. It has removed a core element of Carnaval from the hands of the common Brazilian as ticket prices nowadays can be astronomical. But the people still have the streets and the countless free bloco’s that rule them may even be better as a result
A bloco, by the way, is basically a mobile street party where a big band is followed by thousands of revellers dancing and singing as if their lives depended on it. They are invariably accompanied by beer sellers, tequila sellers, water sellers, hat sellers, sweet sellers, magic brownie sellers, sacole (iced lollies with alcohol) sellers & cigarette sellers all peddling their wares on foot or from modified three-wheeled bicycles. I even saw one innovative vendor pushing his huge beer laden cooler box through the throng on a skateboard! The guys selling caipirinhas must be the greatest waiters on earth – moving seamlessly through the swaying masses with a tray of 6 to 8 freshly mixed cocktails held aloft, they never jettison a drop. Unofficial selling has to be one of the keystones of Rio – I would love to know just how many people survive in this expensive city thru this method of generating a decent income.
 2014-08-08 09.24.03                                    Mobile Ice Cream seller suffers rear tyre blow-out on route to Bloco.
In Carnaval, there is every conceivable size and type of bloco going on from a couple of hundred to a couple of hundred thousand, from Beatles to favela funk and from movie soundtracks to samba.
On the day before Carnaval started i went to a rather unusual one at a mental hospital in Engenho de Dentro, Zona Norte & included in the parade were some of the patients joyously beating on drums, smiles bursting from their faces. It was therapeutic for me – i can only imagine how the patients felt.
Afterwards we visited the the hospital itself which is (apart from one wing) no longer used for its original purpose. Nowadays, this huge space has been given over to a local youth project where every square inch is devoted to teenage creativity. The result is a spectacular pastiche of expressive art.
The minds of these young people flourish in such spaces given over to exploring their individuality, thoughts, frustrations and passions. Its a shame we don’t put the same value on such creativity in the western world where almost everything is required to have a practical or monetary value these days to be considered worthwhile.carnival 5
One of a hundred rooms formally used to house mentally ill patients given new life by a local teenage artist
 arnaval
                            “Washing and putting away the dishes is also part of the revolution” (seen at the youth project)
The next day was a little different. The Carmelitas is one of the biggest blocos and the official opening of Carnaval – i was really looking forward to it but was massively disappointed as it was possibly the biggest crush of people i had ever seen on one of Rio’s hottest days.
In three hours i drank one beer, heard no music, got sunburnt, lost about 2 kilos and barely moved fifty metres!  oh and i was also relieved of R100 -€30  by a ladrao (thief).
In a pick-pockets paradise the holy grail Gringo can be stripped of his assets quicker than Petrobras (current corruption scandal in Brasil). If you are not street-wise swift on your toes you will get taught a sharp fiscal lesson by the nimble fingered nayer-do-wells for whom Carnaval is harvest.
Lesson learned, I returned home to The Maze, ditched my soaking t-shirt, donned my ridiculously camp, multi-coloured security satchel and replenished the money stocks. It was the first time i had been to any party in Brasil where the energy was less than positive and it got to me for a second or two.  But this is the ups and downs of Rio – some bad things will happen occasionally but the important thing is that you focus on the million positives waiting for you around the next corner.
With that in mind i headed back out to meet friends at a Bloco in Leme (at the east end of Copacobana). Not sure where it was happening exactly, i decided to follow my listeners & was delighted when a bloco led by a a decapitated double decker bus and a seven foot woman wearing next to nothing apart from head-dress and high heels danced frenetically around the corner right in front of me. This must be it i decided and “danced” my way in the movable party with far more gusto than glide. I messaged my friends as to their whereabouts only to be informed that the bloco was finished. I looked around in a disbelieving double-take. This bloco was a lot of things but finished definitely wasn’t one of them!
I decided to stay put however,  as A, this was just what i wanted from Carnaval and B i had managed to make the acquaintance of a Brazilian girl in a purple plastic mini skirt. Im not sure i had ever been in the presence of a purple plastic mini skirt before but they are not to be dismissed offhand. I may even purchase one for next years shindig! As it transpired, the wrong bloco ended up being the right bloco for the serendipitous Paddy and for the next three hours we shook everything we had along with the throng down Avenida Atlantica . No cars or break neck taxis dominating the beach front strip tonight – tonight the people had taken back the streets and they pumped and bumped and imbued them with life.
Saturday was spent eating a long breakfast and lazying about the Maze in a hammock. A party in Vidigal (favela) that night was suggested by a friend and after two Blocos the day before i was open to something different. Alto Vidigal is a venue at the top of this community and it is not the most accessible. Firstly, we had to battle a taxi driver unwilling to enter the favela, then the favela hill on foot before a ten minute downpour forced us to pitstop for refreshments & shelter in a little bar on route.
We eventually got to the top and were expecting a kick ass street party but found a damp squib instead. “We are here now” was the consensus, “so lets kick on”. Sometimes a good stand is better than a bad run & an hour later it had morphed into a balls-out out belter of an electronica party (R30 -€10 entry) with a heaving mix of Brazilians and foreigners gathered high over Rio.
The Gringos were conspicuous by their rhythm free attempts to dance and even more floundering attempts to chat up girls. Still though we held our own on this split level anthill overlooking the city and managed to do some collective damage. It was well after six when i shared the VW kombi taxi bus to the bottom of the favela hill with some new found friends before jumping on the omnibus (bus) which would take me near my home across town (R3.40-€1.10). As we speed through Ipanema, I sat alone with my head against the window, lost in the zombie zone between sleep and waking while the most amazingly pink, pre-sunrise sky illuminated the inside of the near empty bus. A moment of reflection, a thought of home and family & a thanks to my Mam (in heaven or wherever) for giving me life and always encouraging me to go and see all of the beauty it contains.
Sunday.
I woke at 1.30pm to a message from my friend about a possible trip to the very dodgy Teirceira Commando (Third Command – Drugs Traffic Gang) dominated area of Guadaloupe in far off  Zona Norte. We had talked about it before when my interested in the so-called “dangerous no-go” area had been piqued by what he was saying.
“No time to be tired or hungover now” i thought to my self as i jumped in the shower, “it’s on”.
Unfortunately, I cant say too much about this day (reasons beyond my control) but it was one of the most intense, authentic, colourful, contradictory, noise filled experiences of my life.
From the outdoor bank of fifty speakers churning out the gnarliest favela funk music, to the featheriest camp-est most childish outfits imaginable, to the most touching family moments, to the rains of biblical proportions to the 100 odd boxes of ear splitting fireworks going off right beside us in the little street – it was a privilege of epic proportions. If i had a hundred pages i could not capture the energy and essence of it all. Rio de Janeiro at its most crazy/beautiful. A 90 minute bus journey but a million miles away from Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer and the beaches of the “Pacified” Zona Sul that 99% of visitors define Rio by.
These guys were from the toughest side of the tracks yet they jumped about like kids. How can you reconcile a guy in pink feathers, running amuck like a child  and then stopping and giving the hand sign of the “Teirceira”??. It is such paradoxical and interesting conflict and one which reminded me of my friend Andrew’s words a few days before. “Carnaval” he said with conviction “Is Christmas for Adults”
Though we felt safe there throughout, my friend here in Tavares (who has been to jail) pulled me to one side and made me promise never to go back there again.
“You will be die” he said in his broken English.
Another girl i know who actually lives in Zona Norte just said “God watched you this time”.
If a middle class Brazilian gave me this advice i would toss it like a pinch of salt but these people know the streets. Would i go back again in light of this information?… Absolutely!
Monday
Next day was back to “normality” & Sergeant Peppers (Sargento Pimenta) Bloco. For any Carnaval cherry-popper, it is an absolute must see.  It was a beautiful thing to be amongst 180,000 happy people watching the Beatles getting the Bateria treatment. It was one big swell of sing-along, sun-kissed happiness. Flowers were in our hair, freedom was in the air and people were throwing off inhibitions left, right and centre.  Girls dressed in impossibly sexy fancy dress were chatted up and kissed by equally half naked men and the Brazilian spirt of openness and felizidade (happiness) was palpable.
Another kicking Bloco was hit afterwards and before we knew it we were slap bang into Tuesday – the last day of Carnival, or so i thought. It was another beauty of a day and the Orquestra Voador (Flying Orchestra) whose weekly Bloco’s I’d been attending for months rounded off my first Carnaval experience in a trumpet playing, drum beating, stilt walking tsunami of colour. Again the streets were closed and thousands partied in normally forbidden spaces. Awesome bolts of fork lightening over Guanabarra Bay brought the party to a magical end and I took off home exhausted but alive inside.
carnaval 3
                       A section of Sgt Peppers Bloco – taken from a bridge over what is normally an 8 lane highway
The next few days were spent in a post carnaval blur with two girls who half kidnapped me and took me off to a secluded beach in Paraty called Praia do Sono (Dream Beach)
I returned to Rio more exhausted than i left after 2 nights “sleep” in a stuffy mosquito ridden tent (you would imagine there are worse hells than sleeping in a tent with two gorgeous Brazilian girls but trust me it was) I am still not sure what i learnt from this little adventure but for once my instinct and commitment to saying yes to everything had let me down.
Praia do Sono is breathtaking by the way.
Unbelievably when i returned to Rio, Carnaval (which i thought had ended Tuesday night) was still cracking and my friends were going to yet another bloco that evening. I was cooked however and decided to park the bus. There was even one last, epic throw of the Carnaval dice again on Sunday with about half a million people on Avenida Presidente Vargas for the Monobloco farewell to Carnaval.
You have to doff your cap to these people and their commitment to enjoying and celebrating life. You have to give ultimate respect any nation of people who stop everything for one week every year to gear up in fancy dress, drink beer, dance, sing, kiss and have sex.
Farewell to the Flesh is the oft forgotten translation of Carnaval and while Brazilians enjoy life far too much to be giving up meat or other flesh based “sins”, I’m sure life will return to a somewhat calmer reality following the worlds biggest street party.  “Farewell to the flesh” may be too cruel a rule so 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1…Happy New Year Everybody!
 HNY                              Should old acquaintance be forgot – Happy New Year from Carnaval

Fella from the favela – Life of an Irishman living in a Rio Favela. Fitzyusm2@gmail.com @manwithnoplan12

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View at dawn from my house “The Maze” in Tavares Bastos Communidade (Favela)

Hi I’m Patrick Fitzgerald a freelance journalist (amongst other things) and i’ve been keeping diaries/ memos on phones/scraps of paper/emails/FB messages & voice recordings since i started living in the beautiful little favela of Tavares Bastos, Rio de Janeiro last June.. Its time to organise some of them and write them down somewhere where they wont get lost, stolen or eaten by the dog.

In this blog i hope to bring you on my journey with me, through some of the more interesting aspects of this amazing city.. if you want a blog about “high end” living in Copacobana then log out now!!!!! if you want a blog about fancy restaurants, 5 Star hotels, where to get the best cocktails or how to see a favela through the windows of a 4×4.. log off now!!!!!

This blog will scratch the surface, take you off the beaten track, uncover the heart, take the pulse & expose some of the underbelly of Brazil – A place i describe as Crazy/Beautiful (Maluca Beleza – as the famous Brazilian song goes) – every day in Rio is full of either or both in large doses and as someone who was tired of the humdrum “day in-day out” feel of life at home, i wouldn’t have it any other way. This city bursts with colour, life and happyness but it is far from utopia. Indeed, it is almost an insult to local people “Cariocas” (many of whom struggle with low wages and high living costs) to suggest it is..

Brazil is also rife with corruption and political shenanigans very similar to what we are used to in Ireland – Cariocas cant believe it when i tell them that our “politicos” would give their boys a run for their money any day. they howl with laughter when i tell them about the guy who was minister for finance and when investigated about massive overspending of public money on office/house upgrades, it was found he didn’t even have a bank account..

“Hehehe, Did he go to jail?” they ask.

“No”, I answer “we made him Prime Minister”

They go into convulsions before the seriousness of it all returns to haunt us – Brazilian and Irishman alike.

“Mesmo coisa aqui” (same thing here) they say shaking their heads with a resignation that tells me they have seen it all before – too many times.

“He ran the country into the ground and told those who questioned him to go and kill themselves” i tell them to re-inforce two things…

1 – that they don’t have a monopoly on crooks and 2 – to build affinity with my my new brazilian friends thru common struggle.

“Enserio!!” (Seriously) They say again with typically overstated brazilian exuberance.. the reinforcing has worked. I am not one of them but they now understand the difference between Ireland and Germany – they have learnt that Europe is not all the same – they have learnt that it is not a Utopia where everything works and everyone is rich – just like i learned that Brazil wasn’t a utopia after a little while living here.

The sad fact remains. however, that all this corruption, much like Ireland, holds the country back and makes it impossible for potential to be fully realised.

But that is not where the similarities end. Brazilians are like Irish in many ways (or at least like Irish people before we got carried away on a 10 year binge of excess vulgarity and mainlining property) They exhibit heartbreaking kindness, great sense of humour and are so welcoming to foreigners.These people will hold your hand as you leave the underground metro station and walk you to your destination – these people will carry the bags of foreigners through the narrow winding pathways of the favela and bring them safely to their lodgings, these people will cut up the last piece of linguica on the barbeque (churrascho) and share it with you. Cead Mile Failte how are you!

They have a special way about them that is very hard to explain.. the closest word i have to sum it up is “openness”

They also have less rules and regulations (with exceptions) and this leads to a society that appears freer & more liberated. All lifestyle types are free to be themselves here and while the poorer people are generally blacker (this is not racism, it is simple fact), you see most Brazilian groups of friends contain people of every colour on the spectrum (pasty Irish pink apart obviously!)

I must admit straight off i love this country – it is so addictive and alluring that it is almost impossible to not fall head over heels.. it will kick you in the balls when your not looking sometimes but the energy this city exudes will defeat or overcome anything if you open yourself to absorbing it!

so where to start a blog i should have started 6 months ago??

Ive decided to start with an email i sent to my sister when she was thinking of coming here on holidays – she asked me to describe a day in Rio – hopefully this illustrates some of the unique and interesting aspects of this city is but may also be contain helpful information for any potential traveler.

Days like this will leave your gast truly flabbered and your zest for life replenished in full…

Saturday 6th dec. Early in the AM

I was at a really nice churrascho last night with English and Brazilian friends in Pedra America but i am up early today to go for a hike up the iconic “dois irmãos” (two brothers) which sits at the top of Vidigal favela on the far edge of the city.

I arrive down for breakfast and the table is a busy spot with Maze owner Bob at the helm propelling the morning forward with jokes and old war stories from the ten lives he has led. He has worked on films with Kubrick, been kidnapped in Beirut, built the first proper house in this Favela and took on the drugs lords here in Tavares. (he was also great friends with some of them – more about that in my next blog).

Around the table with him are two south African oaks, James and Andrew – nice guys, if a bit reserved. There is Helmut the half tapped 45 year old German who is trying to learn how to be funny from a cheesy American “How to be a comedian” book – I wouldn’t bet money on him playing the Edinburgh festival any time soon.

Then there is Vanessa who lives here free courtesy of Bob and teaches music to favela kids, Malou (Bobs wife and top class woman), Magda (a 4ft 11 but amazingly built middle-aged blackwoman from the north-east of Brazil, who seems to be made entirely out of tits and ass) she is a family friend ever since bob made a documentary about her son Leonardo Santiago and he became a professional footballer with Ajax in Holland as a result.

Unfortunately he has gambled most of his earnings but still does some heart felt deeds like secretly flying back to Brazil and paying bobs kids school fees when he was in financial trouble a few years back (Brazilians are generous to a fault). Finally there is Yvonette – like Magda about fifty, a dynamo of a cleaning lady and always full of chat and good humour as she works (she reminds me a little of my Mam – Rest her soul)
“Bom Dia tudo”, I say, whilst pouring myself a cup of English tea from the holy grail . Bob is not passionate about most things English but he won’t hear of a morning without a pot of “proper” tea.The pot even has a union jack tea cosy on it which Bob happened to be wearing on his head the first night I walked in his front door.                                                                                                                                                                     It was a first impression that could go either way for an Irishman i guess, but i with history i choose to look back but not stare. Soon however, I felt the chill (winter!!!!) breeze blowing in bob’s huge glass free window and realised that he was wearing it simply to keep warm rather than for any display of jingoism towards this his new “paddy” house guest. Anyway i digress.

“Voce esta heroi no communidade” (you are a hero in the community) shouted Yvonette across the breakfast table as i finished my pour of Earl Grey.

“All the people told Yvonette they say thanks for helping them bring water up the favela steps on Thursday”. Malou translated for me as my portuguese i still, shall we say, a work in progress!

“you can have any woman in the favela now” joked Yvonette and every one fell around the place laughing – even the quiet South Africans!  

The favela – always the first to run dry and the last to be reconnected had been dry for ten days and when the water truck arrived it was bedlam but also time for action. Its nice that my help was appreciated and i felt all warm an fuzzy.  As the tatoo on my arm in memory of my Mam states.. “It is in giving that we receive”

After further kudos from Bob I finally sat down and heartily enjoyed large pieces of mango and papaya washed down with Malou’s freshly made passion fruit juice. This was followed by a toasted blue cheese and ham sandwich with cold pineapple shoved into it accompanied by two heart shaped poached eggs. To crown a kings breakfast I finished with a cup of coffee and a large slice of chocolate cake. Now ritual every morning – cake for breakfast is really a Brazilian thing (i think) and something i saw as just plain weird the first time i saw it.

Belly full and in good spirits I head off down a favela hill already bursting with life. Kids flying kites, guys flat out in the paderia (bakery) making bread & “pasteis” (brazilian pies), women washing clothes, a game of football being played in the campo and the usual whizzing of motorcycle taxis up and down the narrow two way-one lane cobbled road that leads to the asphalt (where the other half live) below.
My buddy Cristiano zooms past on his bike before screeching to a halt. “vai gringo” he shouts beckoning me to hop on. He was on his way to the kite flying championships on Flamengo beach. They take it seriously the kite flying…. even the adults!
He drops me at the bottom of the hill as he doesn’t have a second helmet. Different rules apply on the asphalt! I don’t offer him anything except thanks. There is no need to. I learned soon after coming here that it is almost an offence to offer a friend money for favours such as this and it falls into line with the overall Brazilian spirit of generosity. They would share the last sausage on the bar b q with you. Even between friends they have dispensed with many of the ubiquitous platitudes we go on with at home. between buddies here there is no requirement to say “cheers or thanks” every time the smallest deed is executed.
At the bottom of the hill I chat as I do every day to Benjamin, a gentle old man who I share a passion for Vasco do Gama football club with. They got promoted this year, sacked their coach and are in financial dire straits so we always have plenty of Vasco fat to chew on. I have to cut this mornings encounter short however as the mountain is calling and the day is getting hotter. 
“Vai vasco” i call back to my old pal as I head for the bike station.

The free orange “ITAU” bikes in Rio are a great way to stay fit and save money (R10 – €3 per month). My plan is to cycle thru the beach side neighbourhoods of Flamengo and Botofogo, around the beautiful Lagoa (taking in the new christmas tree at its centre) and drop my bike off at the station near Leblon beach (in one of Rio’s most affluent areas). i will then walk along the beachside promenade and up the busy cliff road to the entrance of Vidigal favela. I am excited.

I always get a buzz of excitement going to such places. the places that contain beauty but you have to earn the right to experience it. the places perceived as dangerous or edgy always have more of an allure for me. I’m not sure if i am attracted to the danger or proving the preconceptions of danger incorrect. Either way anticipation is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I enjoy every step of the walk. Stopping briefly to watch the surfers basking like seals in the blue/green water of Ipanema.

I enjoy the ice cold energy drink given to me by a really nice girl I met while signing up for a decathlon in Lagoa as i walk.

Among other side shows taken in on my cycle, which incidentally had induced quite the flow of sweat, were; a second football game, an old guy busking a classic samba song called Charlie Brown on the cavaquinho (brazilian ukelele), the helicopters taking off at the lake and the skate boarders dropping in at one of the many half pipes around city. Christ the redeemer was ever present along the way too and whether you are religious or not he dominates the amazingly blue skyline with impressive beauty.

I finished my energy drink and headed for the hills. I was ready for adventure as i walked past the human rights wall at the entrance to vibrant Vidigal. It was just as well i was because the motor cycle taxi ride to the top of the favela whizzed by in a flurry of narrow escapes, heavy breaking, blockages and sudden bursts of acceleration so violent, that they would give whiplash to a Polish nightclub bouncer. At the top he asked for R10 reais (€3).. a bit outrageous when a ride up my favela, Tavares Bastos (not much shorter) costs a mere R2.75. After some horse-trading we settled on six and I took off thru the running track stopping to watch a few minutes of my third soccer game of the excursion. This time it was “dois ou dez” (2 or ten) where 3 or more teams rotate on a winner stays on basis. The name comes from 2 goals or ten minutes – meaning the first to two wins or else the score after ten minutes determines who has to exit the campo – normally in a hail of drama and criticisim towards who ever made the costly error which lead to the losing goal. You wouldn’t want to be sensitive as the Porra’s (F**k’s) and the Caralho’s (more F**k’s) are normally flying! This profanity littered novella (soap opera) invariably lasts throughout the next game until its time to re-enter to cauldron again where it is immediately forgotten in the quest for atonement.

I didn’t hang around too long as I was anxious to hit the trail. I decided on flip flops as my choice of footwear due to an abhorrence I have developed in brazil for wearing shoes of any description. i did have an auxiliary pair of trainers in the bag just in case but actually ended up ditching the havaianas (flip-flops) after about ten minutes and completed the rest of the 35 -50 minute forest trail in barefoot bliss – lizards scattering noisily into the undergrowth throughout.

I stopped only once at a look-out point where I met a very friendly guy from Phoenix Arizona and his Norwegian buddy who has lived here on and off since 1988. Another self confessed Rio addict,  his philosophy on the “Marvellous City” was: “if you can take all the good from Rio and not let the few bad things dominate, you are living in the right place”.

I also me a very friendly Colombian/Venezuelan couple (aren’t they all) and we chatted about how nice Cartagena is compared to Rio as well as the volatile the political situation in Venezuela. I knew eff all about either but i bluffed away.

I then pushed on for the top, walking briskly and jogging on flatter sections. When I got there I was absolutely soaked in sweat – trust an Irishman – white as a milk bottle – to plan his climb in the height of the midday sun! luckily I had a bottle of water stashed and I guzzled down it as I sat on the rock, as close to the sheer edge as the remnants of my hangover would allow. There was only 6 others there (the joys of going even slightly off the beaten track) so it was far from overcrowded and our small newly formed group mingled well, chatting and taking photos for one another to beat the band. It is a very romantic spot and I secretly envied the 2 couples sat whispering sweet nothings (or somethings) to each other with the the worlds most amazing cityscape stretching out before them. The city, like young love, full of endless possibilities.  Their loving eyes feasting on the view and each other…. A shared memory being created in an truly unforgettable place.

I relaxed on top for a while, got a little more sunburnt and chatted some more to the Norwegian guy (who was now doing push-ups just inches from the edge).

My senses filled I took one last look at the mind-blowing “vista” before turning toward the lush green bush. My god in Rio the colours are so vibrant. The greens of the rainforest so green, the blues of the sea and sky so blue, the silver city weaving and shining under a sun so gold it is matched only by the sand on Rio’s beaches.  It is an unforgettable burst of colour that would reawaken even the most morbid of souls to the beauty of this earth.

The view from Dois Irmaos contains it all… Cristo, Sugar Loaf, Pedra Bonita, The Rain Forest, Jardim Botanico, Ipanema Beach, Lagoa and the City itself knitted into the breathtaking landscape.

2014-12-06 14.14.27

There was yet more sensory overload half way down where I stopped at a previously unseen look out which stood like a precipice over Rocinha  – South Americas biggest favela. With approx. 300k residents crammed into a few square miles it is almost too much for the eyes to take in.. it certainly tested the pixels in my rather dodgy Bolivian bought Samsung. It is a truly awesome pastiche of little houses, colours and chaotic beauty – so dizzying in fact it made standing on the unprotected edge quite perilous. To regain composure, i turned to the left and took a look out to sea with monumental Pedra de Gavea and the beach below splashed with colours from the landing hangliders . The monoliths of Rio truly are unique. Rio is truly unique.

After I had finally halted the Rocinha induced reeling in my head I rocked on downhill at a lively pace and in what felt like no time I was back at the campo football pitch where i gave directions to a rather lost soul looking for the trail head.

I had stopped only once en route and chatted to three beautiful Portuguese sisters who were entranced by the activities of 8 little monkeys (macacou’s) skittering up an down a nearby tree with curiosity written all over their cute little faces. One of the girls had an apple and soon we all had a go of feeding the monkeys a nibble from the hand. The were really friendly and would wrap their little paws around your finger just like a new born baby. It was my first time hand-feeding a monkey in the wild!

Once back at the pitch I decided to walk down the hill and soak up the vibrant favela experience at one of its busiest times – Saturday afternoon. I bought a badly needed can of ice-cold beer, appropriately called Antartica (Brazilian custom is to have beer so cold that ice cream style brain freeze is a standard side effect) The beer vanished very quickly somehow!! (must have evaporated – Ed) and i was therefore forced into the pits for an oil change at a lively little botequim (tavern) near the bottom of the hill. There I chatted easily with one or two friendly locals but i mainly enjoyed the fact that my ass was now seated, not to mention the far more leisurely second beer – this time costing R5 (€1.50). The one at the top was only R4 – in Vidigal inflation rises as you descend!

I ambled on out of the favela with my thirst quenched and within ten minutes bumped into my buddy Damian and his Brazilian girlfriend Lu at a picture perfect snack bar at the end of Leblon. I love that about Rio – it is a big, small city and you bump into friends and acquaintances all the time. They were going to a sunset party in Leme (far end of Copacobana) and invited me along. We walked about 3ks to Posto 9 (all the beaches have handy marker posts every 500m or so) where we met Neirin Jones and his girlfriend Sian. There I had a well deserved swim in the fresh waters of Ipanema. It was truly glorious to bask in the cool waves after spending the previous few hours under the hot Brazilian sun.

The others then got a taxi while I took another free bike (i strongly recommend signing up for these bikes if you come to Rio) the 6 or 7 kms to Leme – a breezy, late afternoon glide on the beach side bike path, Rio’s beach life carrying on regardless as i sailed by. A happy place with a very positive energy is Rio de Janeiro!

I bought an absolutely heaving tapioca (a crepe made from cassava flour) filled with cheese and linguica from a street vendor (R5 – €1.50) and stopped to watch yet another football game as i devoured it – this time it was 9-a-side, full-on beach football.. physically one of the hardest forms of football, both in terms of the reckless tackling and the cardio fitness required for endless running in the deep dry sand.

This was obviously an “important” game as there was a few hundred people pitchside. some even formed an “ultras” supporters group behind one of the goals where they sang and drummed incessantly on 2 wheelie bins they had “borrowed”. Bateria’s (drums) are omnipresent in Brazilian life and another ever present – the smell of maconha (marijuana) – permeated the air every bit as much as the sound of drums.

I finished my carioca tapioca and rolled on happily towards the party. It was called “irregular heartbeat” and is a very chilled sundown party that works off crowd funding and only happens 4/5 times per year in summer. I was also invited to “trem de samba”- which consists of a train that drives around with different samba bands on each carriage – this mobile party makes numerous stops and you can tip away at a beer or two on board to keep down the dust.

There is always a myriad of diverse parties to go to in Rio and luckily they haven’t embraced silly rules on selling beer or having parties on the street just yet. i will mourn the day when they do this. A major part of their South American-ness will undoubtedly be lost on the quest for “progress”.

As a result of the current freedoms to do whatever wherever, you never see people falling around the place like you do at home. Brazil has magnified the horrific relationship we have with alcohol at home in my mind. And far be it from me to claim the rarified air of the high moral ground – i love a drink! There is just more strings to the Brazilian party’s bow!

Unfortunately, like the atom, i cant split myself and join the samba train but I was more than happy to stay and chill with my friends, playing the fifth wheel. I didn’t chat to any girls (a sin at a Rio party) as I was simply too wrecked but instead i lay on the grass in the cool of the evening and we sipped a beer or three at our ease.

At 9.30 the party wound down and by that stage our group had swelled 8 or 9. Some were heading home and others out for the night but I was done. The guys headed for the metro while I jumped on a bus and chatted to a girl stood beside me in the cram. As usual the Brazilian driver took corners without resorting to the use of brakes and every one standing was temporarily turned into a pole dancer swinging over and back whilst holding on for dear life. This pattern is normally only interrupted at each bus stop where their mission seems to be to accelerate like a Formula1 driver before climbing on the brakes & shunting to a stop as suddenly and as unexpectedly as possible – there they load up more white knuckle riders and the whole crazy circus starts again. Its fun as well though and normally leads to conversations breaking out as people keep bouncing off each other. Personal space or hangups about it apply far less in Rio. The upshot of this hectic ride to Flamengo was the procuring of Julianna’s number and the promise of a drink next week. Happy days! Carioca (Rio) girls are amazingly approachable, fun and many many other things as well. But they are not the easy girl stereotype that many people still believe.

So I sauntered through Catete merrily before getting another adventurous “Moto taxi” to the top of Tavares Bastos (the small favela where i live) with my mate Junio. He was hell bent on speed and trying to scare the daylights out of this “Gringo” but after a few months living here i know these guys know their job and i thought it was a great laugh – if just a little unnerving at times on the blind bends. It also used up the last of my energy and when my friends Pedro Paolo and Flavinho invited me to a “Forro” (Music of North-East Brazil) party in a local boteco called Bar-Celona, I had to decline. I went home to the Maze and lay on the bed, turning on the fan to cool the nights swelter  – “only for a second” I thought to myself, ” before I take a shower”.

My eyelids were already struggling against Newtons law however, and pretty soon my whole body was falling too. Falling into that warm, gravity free realm known as dreamland.

The next thing i knew it was Sunday and the next adventure in this great city beckons!
                                         ********************************************
That was the beautiful here is a sample of the crazy…

As i said earlier, Rio is crazy/beautiful and i will finish todays very long first post by attaching a synopsis i made of 2 news bulletins i watched early one morning last week (if you find crazier anywhere please don’t hesitate to make contact) it mixes the hilarious with the ridiculous…

16th January … Meanwhile in Brazil…

1. A girl was locked in her house and beaten by her father for 28 days for telling her family she was gay.
2. Guys were caught selling cocaine from a mobile fruit juice bar.
3. Video footage of two ambulance guys pushing their broken down ambulance to the hospital with one of them roaring for the minister for health to come help them push (hilarious)
4. Footage of students removing their clothes mid-lesson before jumping out the window of their classroom in protest at having to attend classes without air con (its about 40ºC)
5. Policeman shot at on his day off at the beach with his two daughters, plus footage of the resulting shoot out with on-duty cops.
6. A report on the ridiculous epidemic of selfie-sticks. Brazilians love a selfie or ten.
7. Footage of a group of civil servants attacking their local offices and throwing the cars of the top officials into the river because they haven’t been paid their wages
8.Footage of a vicious fight between 3 girls – one held another by the arms while the third beat the hell out of her with a motorbike helmet and the butt of a knife before lopping off all her hair with said knife. Why? because she kissed her boyfriend of course!
9. Video footage of people forced to get water from an alligator infested river due to the droughts.
and finally….
10. A female vet advising the Brazilian population on the importance of applying sunscreen to your dogs ears!