Monday, 29 April 2013

Thoughts on Brazil - An amazing country

Now that I'm back in the UK and my Brazilian adventure has sadly come to an end, I thought now would be a good moment to look back on my trip.

What can I say, Brazil is a truly amazing and unique country. I don't think there's anywhere in the world quite like it.

For years I've always had a thing for Brazil. I think we all have countries or parts of the world that instinctively appeal to us, Brazil's always held that appeal for me.

It's great to visit somewhere you've always wanted to go, then when you get there you discover it's everything you thought it would be and more. That's how I feel about Brazil.

So what was so great about the country?

It's so completely different to the UK and Europe and this is what surprised me. I had this idea it would a Latin American version of Spain or Italy but I couldn't have been more wrong!

Brazil has it's own distinct culture, very Latin American but uniquely Brazilian. I felt this huge cultural gap between Brazil and Europe.

It's a cliche I know, but Brazilian culture seems more joyful in contrast to what seems like the serious uptight world of Europe. Brazilian culture seems more about knowing how to enjoy life's pleasures.

The setting

I only visited Rio and Salvador, but when it comes to natural settings for cities, you'll be hard pushed to beat these two. Rio in particular is stunning.

Not in terms of the architecture of the buildings or the design but more the natural setting, it's so beautfiful. The mountains, the beach, and rain forests, you couldn't have a city in a more perfect place.

The view from Sugar Loaf Mountain

The Language

Only two countries speak Portuguese, Brazil and Portugal.

Considering Portugal only has a population of 10 million compared to Brazil's 200 million they're really the only people in the world that speak the language - it's their own and it adds to the uniqueness of the country.

Although I don't speak Portuguese it sounds like such a rich and expressive language and I've always thought it sounded great in music.

The people

The mix of people in Brazil is incredibly, it's so diverse. You've got everything. When you hear the expression 'Rainbow Nation' look no further than Brazil!

You have people of white European stock who look like they could be from Northern Europe, then you have every shade of white, brown and black until you reach black Brazilians who look African.

Spending time in Salvador, the heart of Brazil's Afro Brazilian population, I saw black and brown people who looked completely different to anyone I'd ever seen before.

It's as if the centuries of mixing between black, white and indigenous Indian has created a new race of people unique to Brazil.

Coming from a place where you have an ethnic majority and ethnic minority population, I wondered what Brazil was. Is it a white country with a large black and brown population? Or a black country with a large white population?

I realised it doesn't apply or matter with Brazil - the issues of race are different there. Everyone is Brazilian regardless of skin colour or ethnic background, it's a proper melting pot.

What I learned

What I discovered is that I didn't know as much about Brazil as I thought I did.

I've loved Brazilian music for years, admired their football, seen films like City of God and read brilliant books about the country like, A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb.

I realised Brazil's still an unknown quantity for many people. There's a lot more to the country than the stereotypes of sun, sea and samba.

Of course it's not all perfect and I shouldn't let 2 weeks romanticise the country. There are big problems with the country's reputation of violence which worried me and does intimidate people from visiting.

There's also huge disparities between rich and poor which I saw first hand and which are likely to remain for some time.

But it really is an exciting time for the country. Brazil feels like it's up and coming, it's an emerging power on the global stage and for that reason it's an interesting place to visit and learn more about.

Here in the UK and Europe it doesn't feel like we're on the up. It's more like we've been on top for too long and now our position is slipping during these times of austerity.

Everything's happening to Brazil. They're holding next year's World Cup and then the Olympics in 2016.

The world will get the chance to learn a lot more about the country and maybe these events will help tackle some of the social and political problems faced in the country.

If you've managed to read this far, you've probably realised just how much I enjoyed my time in Brazil. If I've managed to wet your appetite, I suggest you look at booking a trip yourself, TAP airlines of Portugal do some great deals.

I can confidently say you won't be disappointed if you visit Brazil.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Olodum Drummers

I have to admit I'd never heard of Olodum until I arrived in Salvador.

Many of the shops in the historic centre sell Olodum clothes and merchandise and you can't really avoid seeing the distinctive logo of the group when you're in the old town.

The group was set up in 1979 by the musician Neguinho do Samba with the aim of providing cultural activities for young people centered around music.

The group looks to celebrate Afro Brazilian culture, fight racism, and raise self esteem within the Afro Brazilian community.

It turns out that I had heard of Olodum as they were featured in the video of Micheal Jackson's They Don't Care about us.

If you want to see Olodum in action, check out this video below.

You can also have a look at the collaboration with Michael Jackson.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Hello from Salvador, Bahia

After a week in Rio I've headed north to the city of Salvador.

I've been here a few days and feels like I'm in a completely different country. I'm in the Bahia region of North Eastern Brazil, this is where Brazil connects with its African roots.

Nowhere is this more evident then with the population. The majority of people here are black or brown.

Walking around the historic old town of Pelourinho, I feel as if I'm in some alternative version of Africa. But I know this isn't Africa, it doesn't feel like Africa.

The streets of Pelourinho

I then asked myself if this was like the Caribbean, but it didn't look or feel like the Caribbean.

This is Brazil it's not like anywhere else. Even the people look Brazilian in the sense that through centuries of mixing between black, white, and indigenous Indian it's created a black and brown population unique to Brazil.

You feel this African identity everywhere you go in the city and I discovered more about Salvador's African links by visiting the the Afro Brazilian museum.

What I love about being here in Salvador is that it's such a cultural and artistic place.

If Sao Paulo is where you go for business, Rio to party and play - then Salvador is where you go for culture. Whether it's music, art, theatre or dance, you'll find it all in Salvador.

Many of Brazil's most famous musicians come from the city and the surrounding Bahia region. I've been discovering more about the city's famous Afro Brazilian cultural group Olodum, known for its Samba Reggae and percussive drumming.

The city is also home to the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. I've been enjoying watching some displays of Capoeira in the city's main square.

A tourist giving the old Capoeira a go!

I'm glad I'm spending time here in Salvador. If you're going to visit Brazil, you have to visit Rio, but in visiting Salvador I feel I'm discovering and seeing another side to the country; one the rest of the world doesn't know much about.

Barra Lighthouse, Salvador

It feels like I've gone deep inside the heart and soul of Brazil. I'm feeling that African side of country's culture which is so different to what I experienced down in Rio.

I've never visited anywhere in the world that feels quite like Salvador.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Brazil: It´s all about the music

I´ve always had a great love for Brazilian music.

Latin Jazz, Bossa Nova, Samba, Rio Funk, Brazilian Drum and bass; Brazilians know how to make music.

One of the great things about being here in Brazil is being able to hear some of this music in its original setting. I haven´t been disappointed.

In Rio there´s an area called Lapa. This is somewhere you have to visit if you want to hear great live music in the city. During the day it´s a pretty rough and seedy looking area - but at night it comes a live with lots of live bars and clubs full of live singers and bands.

I spent a couple of evenings in Lapa just hanging out and listening to some of the live performers. There was a lot of traditional afro brazilian bands playing which I loved, it´s not music you hear everyday but adds to the experience of being in Brazil.

Some brazilian beats

Last Sunday I headed back deep into the favela for a night of Rio Funk.

The hostel where I was staying organizes Favela Funk nights, where they take you to a club in Rochina favela, the biggest favela in the country.

If the Samba styles of Lapa represent the folk music of Brazil and Bossa Nova the stylish sophisticated tastes of the middle classes; then Rio funk is definitely the sound of the street, the ghetto, the favelas!

As tourists, when we arrived we were given our own sort of VIP area upstairs on a balcony overlooking the rest of the club. It was fine being up there for a while, but you couldn´t really get into music and vibe as you were cut off from everyone else down below.

I think everyone from the hostel felt the same and eventually we all made our way down below to start raving with the rest of the locals.

It was brilliant night out, the music was superb and you were never made to feel like outsiders. What I realised is that it doesn´t matter where you go in the world, people are people and they all act the same.

There were moments were I felt I was at a old skool Jungle/Drum&Bass rave from the mid 90s it didn´t really feel that foreign or different.

Outside the club

If you´ve seen the film City of God, the club featured in the film is the one we went to. I loved that film and after being introduced to favela life it felt amazing to be sort of living it!

I loved the way that you get groups of guys doing their choreographed routines like they´re in a boy band, while the girls dance on the sidelines admiring the moves. Sounds strange, but it´s all very Brazilian.

If you plan on visiting Brazil, you have to emerse yourself in the music. Music is a big part of Brazilian culture and you get a better feel of the country by hearing all the different styles of Brazilian music.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Life in the Favelas

On Saturday I went on an organised tour of one of Rio´s favelas.

Life inside the favela was brought to the world´s attention in the film City of God and Favela tours have become a big attraction for anyone visiting the city.

Once we arrived at the top of the hill to the entrance of the favela we were visiting, I felt as if I was entering a completely different world.

I´d go as far to say it was like I´d travelled to a different country in the space of 20 minutes.

After spending my time mainly in the areas of Leblon and Ipenema, two of the most exclusive and fashionable parts of the city - the contrast with the favela couldn´t have been greater.

Although I was looking forward to exploring the favela, there was part of me that felt a little uneasy as it could been seen as patronising for tourists to wonder around a shanty town as if it´s the urban equivalent of going on safari.

Our guide requested that we didn´t take photos of the locals which I thought was right, and he took us to certain spots around the favela where it was appropriate to take photos.

Without the guide there´s no way you´d be able to find your way around the favela. It´s a maze of winding paths and alleys - but they´re also thriving communities with shops, cafes, bars, and homes all merged together clinging onto the side of a hill.

Even in the favela, location means a lot. The best location is usually at the top of the hill. You have a better view and the air is cleaner.

As we made our way downwards through the favela, at times it felt like you were in an underground cave. There was an unpleasant smell, and when you looked up you could hardly see the sky above

Our guide explained how the favelas started and how the people have survived with little government assistance.

There is of course the problem with drug gangs who control different areas of the favelas, but I came away feeling a sense of admiration at the resourcefulness of the people, and the ability to build an entire community for themselves.

With the World Cup coming to Brazil next year and the Olympics in 2016, this is an exciting time for Brazil. The country is on the up, but will such events make a difference to the people in the favelas?

Probably not immediately. We had this debate in Britain with our own Olympics and having major sporting events isn´t going to change decades of social inequality.

Brazil has a huge population of almost 200 million people. Despite it´s growing wealth and expanding middle class, there are still millions of poor people struggling in the country.

The same thing could be said about other ´BRIC´ countries like China and India, their populations are huge and not everyone can be lifted out of poverty.

Besides, even here in the UK and America there are huge gaps between rich and poor.

So would I recommend a favela tour if you find yourself in Rio? Definitely.

It´s an incredibly interesting and thought provoking experience that gives you another side to the sun, sea and samba image you may have of Brazil.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Margret Thatcher: Politics seems to matter again

Even though I´m enjoying the sun and South American way of life down here in Brazil, I´m still keeping in touch with what´s going on back home following Mrs Thatcher´s death.

I know some of you might be thinking why would you care, you´re in Rio - but it´s still a major story and it feels weird that I´m not at home to fully follow it.

What I can tell, is that the country is split over her legacy. It´s feels like there´s a civil war going on over the rights and wrongs of her policies.

This isn´t good thing and it feels like all the old battles that were fought during the 80s are being replayed again. You get the sense of great bitterness and infighting going on.

One thing you can say is that politics seems to matter again. People are passionate about their feelings towards Margret Thatcher.

In our bland middle of the road world of politics we have today - this might come as a shock to many people under the age of 30.

Yes she was divisive and controversial but Mrs Thatcher made people care about politics and what was happening to the country and the communities which people lived in.

There doesn´t seem to be anyone or anything in politics at the moment that has the same effect.

Right, I´m off down to the beach!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Hello from Rio!

Oh my god it´s so good to feel the heat again!

I´m in Brazil for 2 weeks. I´ve left behind the longest ever winter back in the UK for life in the Sun.

I´m here in Rio for a week before I head north to the city of Salvador.

Brazil is somewhere I´ve always wanted to visit and so far it´s been everything I´ve imagined and more. Everything´s so Brazilian, so South American it´s great.

So far this week, I´ve spent time on the beaches; Copacobana and Ipenema are the two most famous, but I´m staying in a hostel 2 minutes walk from Leblon Beach which I think is the best.

I love watching people playing beach volleyball using just their heads, chest and feet. Would love to have a go but fear my English style lack of technique might just show me up!

Also gone on a city tour which included visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city and the cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

The views are stunning, in fact I don´t think I´ve been to a city anywhere in the world in such a natural beatiful setting!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Margret Thatcher 1925 - 2013

Where do you begin when looking back at the career of former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher?

One blog will never be enough. I'd need to write at least 10 blog posts to cover her impact on Britain as Prime Minister. If I had one sentence to try and sum up her career I would say this:

She was the most influential, controversial, divisive, and successful Prime Minster the country has seen in the last 50 years.

If you look back at the 20th Century, only Winston Churchill could be said to have had a greater impact and influence.

One of 'Thatcher's Children'

I'm an 80's child and I grew up with Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister. Growing up in a household where my Dad was very anti the Conservative Party, I saw Mrs Thatcher as the enemy.

Some of my earliest political memories from the early 80's was hearing about the 3 million people who were unemployed. It seemed her economic policies were detrimental to many working class people around the country.

Her time in office was defined by her battles. Whether it was with her own party and the Tory 'wets'. The trade unions, the Miners, The Falklands War, battles with Europe; there was always conflict with Mrs Thatcher.

Towards the end of her period in power she'd won many of these battles, but this may have given her a false sense of invincibility. She thought she could win any battle - but as we saw with the Poll Tax riots she was beginning to think she could do anything.

By the time I reached my teens, I thought Mrs Thatcher would go on forever, she seemed so powerful nobody would ever topple her.

It was my 15th birthday when she finally left Number 10. Her leaving office was a significant moment and today feels the same.

Her legacy

I was talking about Mrs Thatcher last week with one of my friends at work. He asked me whether I thought Mrs Thatcher was a successful Prime Minister.

I said it all depends on which part of the political spectrum you stand on. For many particularly on the Left she was a disaster for Conservatives she was and remains a hero.

My argument was that in terms of implementing her policies and the affects those policies had - she was the most successful British politician of the 20th Century.

Her influence is significant. Conservatives see Thatcherism as being the defining feature of Conservatism. In truth Margret Thatcher was not a typical Conservative.

She wasn't what was known as a moderate traditional 'One Nation' Tory. She was actually a radical. Tearing up the post war consensus politics and moving the Tories to the Right.

The problem she left for the Tories is that she was so divisive - many people today simply refuse to vote Conservative. The party is still trying to 'detoxify' the Tory brand.

Secondly, she's made the Tory Pary too ideological, they've forgotten the art of winning General Elections through pure pragmatism. This was what historically made the Tories such a successful political party.

Her influence means many Tories seem unable to move on, and accept that her policies may have been right for the 1980s but now the Party needs to find a new way of connecting with voters.

The Labour Party

She didn't just change the Conservative Party, Labour were hugely affected by her time in office. Without her there simply wouldn't have been New Labour.

After a series of election defeats she essentially pulled the Labour Party to the Right of the political spectrum and many of the policies that she introduced and adopted were carried on by New Labour.

Many old Left traditional Labour members would argue this wasn't a good thing - but the party had to adapt to the new political landscape she created.

A changed country

There's so much more I could say, and in the next few days and weeks more reflection and analysis will take place on her period in office.

There's no doubt that in terms of British politics, she will go down as one of the most important and influential politicians this country has ever known.

She changed Britain on so many levels: Economically, socially, and culturally. Being a history graduate and understanding what Britain was like during the 1970s. I understand why she came to power.

I understand the battles she fought and the policies she implemented

Was Britain in a stronger position in 1990 when she left office than when she arrived in 1979?

I would say yes. She gave this country a very tough medicine to take and it wasn't always nice.

Many people will never forget the harsh treatment dished out and it's this lack of compassion and harshness that I'm probably most critical of when it comes of her years in office.

What I can say is that it doesn't matter whether you liked or hated her nobody can argue against her incredible impact on Britain as a country.

Friday, 5 April 2013

What class are you?

I completed the Great British Class Calculator on the BBC website.

I discovered I'm part of the Emergent Social Worker. It means I have no money but I have a varied cultural and social life. Great!

I'm part of a group that's financially insecure, low on savings and house value but I score high on social and cultural factors.

Like many British people, I find class fascinating. It's so much more complex and interesting than in other countries. When I think about class both on a personal and general level, it's so much more complex and subtle issue to debate.

I think what I like about about this new report that's been produced, is that it tries to address some of these complexities.

Rather than having the three traditional classes of Upper, Middle and Working class - we now have 7 different classes in which to identify with.

Your have: Elite, Established Middle Class, Technical Middle Class, New Affluent Workers, Emergent Service Workers, Traditional Working Class and Precariat.

What this does take into account is people's economic, social and cultural capital and interests.

When I look at myself, I know that in terms of my education, job and salary I'm Middle Class. Yet when I look at my background and upbringing I always associate myself with being working class.

It's left me confused as depending on the question and what mood I'm in, I will answer differently if you ask me what class I am.

Even though I still feel I come from a working class background, the working class culture I identify with doesn't seem to fit in with the chav/council estate stereotype that seems to dominate today. Yet when I acknowledge that on many levels I'm now middle class I still feel this is a class I've entered and wasn't born into.

Should it matter? On a lot of levels it shouldn't. Isn't it about

'Where you're at - not where you're from'?

You'd like to think so but being British where you come from and where you are now on the social ladder is still so important to many of us.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Paolo Di Canio - The Fascist?

It's funny that when Paolo Di Canio was managing Swindon Town nobody was interested in his political views.

As soon as he moves to Sunderland and the over hyped world of the Premier League, everyone wants to know whether he's a Fascist or not.

It's been a PR disaster for both Sunderland and Di Canio, but the question is: Should his political views have any bearing or influence on his ability to manager a football club?

Since the end of World War 2 Fascism has become a discredited political movement in many European Countries, but it doesn't mean that extreme Far right views aren't popular on the continent.

Anyone who knows anything about Italy and Italian society will know that politics is far more extreme and polarised than here in the UK. This polarisation is found in Italian football.

Many Italian football clubs have political leanings, with clubs having fans that lean either to the Left or the Right of the political spectrum.

Roma and Livorno for example are known as a Left wing clubs, while the likes of Lazio and Verona have long been associated with far right and Fascist elements. It's something we don't see in English football.

I've recently finished reading the book Calcio by John Foot. It's the definitive guide to Italian football.

When it comes to Lazio, he talks about how many of its leading players in the early 1970s were self confessed Fascists.

It's not really a surprise when you consider that Fascist politicians and political views were still prevalent in Italian society, years after the end of the Second World War and Mussolini's dictatorship.

I don't think Di Canio's political views are out of the ordinary when it comes to how things are in Italy.

Do I think Di Canio is a Fascist? Probably not.

I think when he gave his his Roman salute in a Rome derby it was the equivalent of 'kissing the badge'. He was showing his affinity and loyalty to Lazio's Ultras (hardcore Lazio fans).

Showing that he was one of them, which he is. He's from Rome and group up and supported the club as a teenager.

What I do think and have little doubt, is that Di Canio's politics are to the right of most moderate people. I'd argue he's a right wing authoritarian.

If you're a right wing authoritarian and you make the next logical step to the right on the political spectrum you end up at Fascism.

Unsurprisingly there will be elements of Fascism and authoritarian rule that will appeal to you. I think this is the case with Di Canio.

The problem he has is that Fascism is a discredited political belief - it's beyond the pale politically when it comes to mainstream politics.

Nobody can come out and claim to be a Fascist and still hold a prominent public role. This is why it would be better for Di Canio to come out and actively denounce Fascism and its beliefs.

In doing so he might bring an end to this controversy.