Rio has never been far from the headlines over the last few weeks. It’s been ubiquitous as a former colleague would have been quick to point out. Even The Mariachis (the Mexican band which advertises Doritos) did a cover of the song at Glastonbury – it doesn’t get much stranger than that!
So I feel it would be remiss of the Bohemian if I didn’t include the greatest sporting event in the world and its supposedly glamorous location somewhere in these ramblings.
I spent a week in Rio De Janeiro, and while being everything you’d imagine it to be, there were some surprises. I suppose the first was that Copacabana beach is not the haven for gorgeous models in skimpy bikinis and muscled Adonises in budgie-smugglers, as my Aussie friends would say.
Anyone wearing skimpy swimwear really shouldn’t have been. I already have a place to park my bike and I also want to be able to retrieve it again quickly and easily. Having said that, Ipanema beach did seem to be much more up market with far more ‘beautiful people’ adorning the sand. I stuck to Copacabana, where I felt far more at home with the flawed humans.
That’s not to say Copacabana was not impressive. It was – all the more so because it was full of colourful football shirts from the world’s best teams – and a couple from England too. But if you are a firm believer that nobody over the age of 35 should ever wear a football shirt for anything other than sport, or a David Mellor-style romp with your mistress, then Rio last month was probably the best confirmation for your views that you could wish for.
I never realised you could buy such expensive sporting equipment designed for some of the most toned bodies in sport and still manage to get the fabric to stretch round a beer belly wider than your shoulders. The fabric in those things must be amazing.
The real players in Rio of course don’t wear shirts. They exhibit their ball skills in random ‘join-in’ sessions up and down the length of the beach – seemingly day and night. Some of those guys are amazing. Most of them have more control with parts of their bodies not normally associated with close ball control – like shoulders, chests, ankles and backsides – than I ever had in my feet. Men and women alike. Of course I stayed a respectful distance away and just watched in awe with the other unworthy ones.
Well I suppose that’s not entirely true. There was a moment when the game came to me – and I still get cold sweats thinking about it. I was wandering across the beach when I became aware that a ball was bouncing over the sand towards me. Clearly no man can resist passing back a stray ball so that’s what I did.
As it approached it was still bobbling around so what did I do? Horror of horrors! I stooped down and stopped it with my hand. As soon as I realised what I’d done I almost jumped up with my hand behind my back as if denying a handball in the area.
What was I thinking? Was I worried about a Paul Robinson moment of embarrassment as the ball bounced over my foot as I went to pass it back? Was it the fact I’d seen Maradona in a bar the previous evening and thoughts of that infamous, cheating. disgraceful handball came flooding back?
Whatever it was, it produced a moment like the piano player in a western stopping playing as a stranger walks into the bar. The beach seemed to go silent. Hundreds of heads turned to look at me – some with looks of disgust, some pity, some stunned, some embarrassment. It seemed as if a wave of revulsion was growing and began rolling toward me.
Instinctively I pulled back my foot – and with no run up – I kicked it towards the players in a desperate attempt to divert attention back to them. I struck it cleanly – which was lucky as I realised I was still wearing my flip-flops – but it began too far right. I felt playground tears welling up as memories of being last to be picked came flooding back (OK I’m over egging this a little now).
I watched the ball float about 30 yards over the beach, curl back in, and land right at the feet of the keeper who had started to come to retrieve it. It was a cracker given the breeze, light ball, flip-flop clad foot etc etc. The wave of disgust disappeared immediately and was replaced by admiration and smiles. I’d rescued it. I would be able to continue to stay on the beach after all and wouldn’t have to stay in my apartment all afternoon or find somewhere for reconstructive surgery. But I still scurried away and didn’t walk as close to any other game all week.
I had a bit more credibility with my running though. It was incredible to see the endless line of runners going up and down the Copacabana sea front for what seemed like 24 hours a day. I joined them most mornings and it was like entering a never ending conveyor belt. You just joined and left at will – yet the run kept going with a new field of runners, but all going remarkably slowly. I wasn’t running fast at all but I was only passed by a bloke on a bike all week so in your face you football playing posers!
It was an incredible week, Sugar Loaf mountain, Christ the Redeemer, the Maracana stadium, the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and the bars in Lapa come immediately to mind. But I think the most amazing sight was Rio on a day when Brazil played.
Everyone who isn’t required to wear a uniform for work seems to be dressed in a Brazil shirt – or failing that – a yellow shirt of varying styles. It was reminiscent of Thailand when what seems like the whole of Bangkok demonstrates its loyally to the Royals by wearing yellow. For an hour before the match the city slows down until it comes to a virtual standstill at kickoff. Every bar, restaurant and shop has a TV showing the game. All of them are full, with a semi circle of yellow shirts outside looking in to see the screen. The official Fan Fest on the beach was full, with thousands more watching a second giant screen further down the beach. The dual carriageway along the sea front was closed to traffic as thousands more filled the roads to look over the fence into the Fan Fest screen. Now that is support for a national team. A truly unbelievable sight.
The Barefoot Bohemian