Saturday, 16 April 2011

Give Me the Night: If George Benson had been to Brazil - Rio Part II

As we whizzed down the waterfront in one of Rio’s highly efficient and ludicrously cheap yellow cabs, my mate warned me that it was not done to go walking through the scummy, fluorescent tunnels that intersected the city at night. Prime borderland for many of the cities drug-fuelled gangs they were apparently highly dangerous. Luckily I assured him that I had no desire in trying to traverse those rat and needle infested concrete tubes as I had a desire to live a few more years on this planet, and so the matter was dropped.

The city lights and sites whizzed by and I was conscious that I had consumed a few too many Caipirinhas and beers at supper and then post-supper drinks – as I was assured by my companion, the nights there didn’t really get started until around one in the morning.

As soon as we stepped out of the cab and into the bohemian district of Lapa, all memories of ‘Old Songs’ by Barry Manilow and ‘Hard to say I’m Sorry’ by Chicago (as played at the previous bar in Ipanema) faded into insignificance as our ears were pounded by a collection of the latest hot tracks from the European club scene and Samba remixes. The street, which was more like a large square overshadowed by an aqueduct heaved with people all going in and out of the clubs and bars that flanked it. Street cellars with portable fridges sold all manner of local brews and were more than willing to poison naïve tourists with their highly potent cocktails – their version of gin and tonic is the reverse, with ¾ glass of neat gin and a splash of disgusting ersatz-lemon fizzy water. We opted for beer and I was informed that from then on I needed to start pacing myself as we were in for a big night and if I didn’t I might not survive the heat of the kitchen… whatever that was.

Making our way to what was probably a very pretty, Portuguese influenced streets by day were thronging with people, shouting, playing a selection of brass and percussive instruments. A large sign informing visitors that this was an area of cultural significance had a large Botafogo (One of the big Rio teams) sticker adhered to it. If the music and the low roar of thousands of people hadn’t been so loud, the sound of many flip-flops clapping on the floor would have been equally deafening. In fact, I seemed to be one of the only people who had chosen not to wear this type of footwear, opting instead for a pair of Zara loafers. Before we had gone out that evening and were getting changed from our beachware, I had donned a pear of blue jeans, pink gingham shirt and a pair of Shipton & Heanage suede loafers…
‘You are not going out like that.’ My companion said.
‘What?’ I replied, ‘This is alright isn’t it.’
‘Look, this is not the King’s Road, it’s Lapa and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if some drug dealer took a dislike to you and gave you a good stabbing… I know I would if I hadn’t seen the kind of people who hang out on the King’s Road.’

My pride wounded, but not by that much, I had taken his advice and swapped to a Sting & The Police tour T-Shirt and some less offensive shoes, the jeans ‘would do’ I was informed, the Cheek! It was advice that I was glad I had taken and was immediately thankful for it when I saw that every guy was in shorts/jeans and a T-Shirt!

After liaising with my companion’s mates outside the chosen club we first tried to subtly cue jump. Now, subtlety in speech and movement are two different things. Whilst I am well versed in the former, the latter has never been my forte. Trying to slide underneath the barriers without the bouncer seeing was a naïve and fruitless exploit on my part as I was immediately ejected and made to join the back of the queue. The bouncer gave me a filthy look and I realised that I would have to be on my best behaviour – if that has ever been possible!

The club was huge and operated on what I thought was a rather novel system (although I was later told that this was quite common practice in clubs across brazil). After presenting the entrance clerk with my ID, he handed me a card and charged me not to lose it, implying in fractured that in doing so I would incur a weighty fine. I nodded earnestly, the nights boozing already having its effect. Looking at the card I came to realise that this was how the drinks system worked. Rather than paying up front, you handed the card (which listed all the available drinks) to the barman after you ordered and he ticked off the relevant drinks. This in turn was handed to a clerk as you left who processed it and charged you the required sum. It certainly reduced bar waiting times but you could certainly see a large number of shocked and indignant faces as you left the establishment!

Having been introduced to the British ex-pat community who live a life punctuated by intense business and heavy nights out we hit the dance floor. I was emphatically informed that the floor is the reserve of the Brazilians (who can dance) and the bar the reserve of the Brits (who are apprehensive of dancing). As soon as even the slighted inkling of a finger click came to my mind, or my foot started tapping, I was met with a steely gaze from one of my companions which implied that what I was doing was not the ex-pat way. But soon the alcohol started to take its hold of my limbs as well as my brain and in no time at all I had ignored the emphatic pleas of my companions and was tearing up the room the best way a Brit knows how… really badly! But, to be fair on the Brazilians, I found no animosity from the locals and my scrappy moves were tolerated and in some instances even indulged. There is a really touchy-feely culture to the dancing out there, quite removed from the staid awkwardness so prevalent in British and I was surprised how many beautiful women came and danced with me when many over hear would either stare or walk on by!

The night wore on and on, and I mean that in the most precise terms. By this I do not want to seem ungrateful for the fantastic glimpse into Brazilian night life afforded to me by my guides, but by the time we left the club it was six in the morning and the night was still swinging. It was a real culture shock, but to my existing – and newly made – friends it was an average weekend in the New York of South America. We ended up, sated and debauched at the seediest beach bar known to man as the waves lapped at the famous Copacabana Beach and more lagers were ordered. Tonnes of painted ladies skulked around the vicinity, looking for fresh prey – which no doubt they had no trouble in finding (the strip joint next to the establishment we were at seemed to be doing a roaring trade)…

The night started to blur and in my forgetfulness fortunately got the better of my usually sharp memory. I must have had some fractured negotiation with a taxi driver as the next day I woke up back in the hotel room with a splitting headache and a desire for a Berocca tablet and a can of coca cola. Before I knew where I was at, it was anouced that I had an hour to pack because we were about to head out the ‘Hamptons’ of Rio State, Buzios. Yet another adventure and yet another tale which will be recounted in the third and final instalment of my trip to Brazil, only on How to be a Bloody Good Chap!

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