Jungle Boogie

      Jungle Boogie

And then I am in Fortaleza, my friends are there to meet me,
my cold miraculously clears, and we are in a restaurant
and was it all a dream, I don’t know, I don’t care. I am home.
By Philip Blazdell

I don’t know where you are reading this. Perhaps hanging round an embassy or consulate
trying to get a visa, perhaps on a dreary Monday morning in a downtown cab in NYC, or
perhaps on a beach in the NE of Brazil, or even at work (as I am writing now) but whatever
the location or demographic you and I probably share something in common. I guess that as
you are reading my thoughts you and I both have an affinity for this crazy place we call
Brazil. I feel comfortable with people like yourself, the fleeting encounters in crowded
airport lounges, the smile, the flash of visas and the smattering of Portuguese we have
picked up, the way we compare Rio and Bahia with London and Paris and the way we gravitate
towards our own, whether we be in London, Lisbon or Amsterdam. People like us I
understand, we are the romantics, the realists, the masochistic, but above all we love,
and claim to understand Brazil. It is the other people who worry me.

They say every journey starts with a single step and mine began one wet Saturday night
at the magnificent Fortaleza airport. It’s late, almost midnight and lightning is flashing
across the sky, we are tired, sunburnt and the atmosphere is pregnant with unfinished
business and portent. You would guess from the people around me, people I have come to
love in such a short time, that I am leaving for good instead of a three-week recruitment
drive around Europe. Such is the nature of the people here that I am sucked in to the
culture, the place, the time and only when I have finally assimilated the wonder of
Fortaleza and Brazilian hospitability will I be burped out again, and sent off on another
rampant crusade across the city, or in this case the globe. For now, it’s a sad parting
and even the immigration officer, who stamps my passport with flair reminds me to come
back soon—as if I could forget.

And then I am in Lisbon, aw6kxtling and fighting to get my next flight, I am hearing what
seems to me like a bastardized form of my beautiful Portuguese and getting curious looks
from people as I flirt with the pretty stewardess to get today’s London paper, and I am
chatting to the man next to me passionately about Brazil, about the food and the people
and he wants to talk about the political situation in London. I explain I have been away
for two years, and no longer care or even need to care and he returns to his
paper—disgusted. And I wonder, what is this country doing to me, why do I love it so

And then I am escorting some Brazilians, new found friends from the flight, through
immigration in London, fighting with the officials for our baggage, apologizing for the
delays, the rudeness, the chaos. I am fretting. London, I am your son, don’t you remember
me? And then I am hurtling down the M25 and I am animated, calling my dad rapaz
(young man) at every opportunity and punctuating every sentence with Brazilian gestures,
complaining about the gray, the cold, the steering wheel being on the wrong side, and my
mother is sitting in the back thinking who is this guy who once was my son, and I know, I
know they will never understand my passion until they see Brazil…and I am giving out
presents, talking ten to the dozen, and watching their eyes glaze over.

And then I am in Copenhagen, running to get a plane, and sitting down and launching
into a monologue to the poor guy sitting next to me, telling him to invest, to visit,
hell—just give me the money, do anything, get to Brazil, get to the
Northeast—quickly. And then I am in Poland and it’s cold and I am digging clothes out
my rucksack and complaining and missing cold beer, lobster and rapadura (block of
unrefined sugar). I am bouncing towards Warsaw and still talking ten to the dozen about
Brazil, the chances to invest, the work we do, how my students are the best and how Brazil
is not a country but an adventure.

And then I am lecturing and expecting a tough Q+A session:

Does Brazil have roads?

Does Brazil have houses?

Do you really go to work in a boat?

And I want to scream and to strike out, but I can’t because this is my job and…I
can think of no other reason. These people are professors I console myself over a bottle
of vodka—they know no better. And then the world is polarized—those of us who
have tasted forbidden fruit and the rest of the world. And everything is clearer…

And I am in another city experiencing the flipside of the coin. We don’t care what you
do, where you do it is more important—when can we come and visit, and I am off again,
giving impromptu lectures on the hideous cathedral, the food, the beaches and people are
salivating to get there. For the first time in midlife I have become a hot property. ‘The
guy’s work is a joke, but man look at the beaches’.

And I am in Amsterdam, sitting snug in a café with the love of my life, making jokes
about Brazil and our friends there, complaining about indifferent services and the lack of
physical contact in Amsterdam—damn, if someone doesn’t touch me soon I am going to
die. And then I am suited and booted addressing a company president about the chance to
invest in the NE and he is reeling off a stream of facts about São Paulo and I am
screaming that it’s a different world and 4000 km away, and how we have it all in the NE
and he asks me, ‘do you have roads in the NE, which are paved’ and we are in a fancy
restaurant and their eyes are lit up—take, take, take. They don’t know, they don’t
understand. They have never even been to Brazil.

And I am up addressing a meeting in the UK again presenting a portrait of the NE,
trying to convince a bunch of musty professors to come and expand my students minds, to
invest in my dream and they are skeptical, they don’t know Brazil, they don’t love it,
they don’t understand the unseen magnetism which eventually drags us all home, back to
this land. And I want to scream and shout—about the cold, the gray, the lack of
compassion, but I grit my teeth and field the questions like an old pro.

Is everyone black in Brazil…

Do you have supermarkets…

Can you buy cheese in Brazil…

And then disaster strikes….

I am in Poland and realize that next week is the 500th anniversary of
Brazil. I am rushing all over Warsaw trying to change a ticket and no one knows how to do
it, or why. And I am at Heathrow with a streaming cold, drinking brandy with an ancient
oil-rigger who is on his way down to Mexico. He offers me 1000 dollars for my ticket and
then I am in the air, sandwiched between two nuns who look on in mild disappointment as I
order scotch after scotch after scotch for my cold. And it suddenly hits me, I am going
home, and the energy levels drop and my movements become more fluid. And then I am at
Fortaleza, my friends are there to meet me, my cold miraculously clears, and we are in a
restaurant and was it all a dream, I don’t know, I don’t care. I am home.

The next day I am edging my way through the town center. I have my new 500 years of
Brazil shirt on, as does my companion—who dragged me around the town all afternoon
looking for one and we are cruising the bars, from beer to beer to beer waiting for the
show to start. And then it does, late, but fashionably so, and with a slight drum roll the
Portuguese MC steps up and welcomes us to 500 hundred years of Brazil, we cheer and clap,
resplendent in our new shirts, which clearly mark us out as fashion victims, if not
tourists and the click, click, click of my friends camera becomes almost hypnotic.

And then a bunch of embarrassed looking Indians take to the stage to enact a dance,
which we suspect was as old as my socks and a student protest breaks out. Paint is thrown
and some anti Portuguese slogans are shouted, but of course we all know who discovered
Brazil anyway. And the dancers are trying not to set themselves alight on the roman
candles and incredible enough my friend has them posing on stage for him—holding up
the show for art. And there are some Portuguese singers and dancers, even more
embarrassed, and my friend is swapping e-mails with the Indians and before we know it we
are walking into the arena in the town center, buying beers and waiting for something to

And all hell breaks loose, there are dancers and singers and crowning of the Carnaval
king and queen and costumes you wouldn’t believe—click, click, click—my friend’s
camera whirls, it’s a riot of color and sounds, and his eyes are rolling maniacally.
Between clicks my friend has that glazed look and I know what he is thinking:

‘This is some place and some country.’

And then they are playing the National anthem and we are all on our feet, hands on our
hearts, my friends have tears in their eyes and I feel, proud, privileged, honored to be
here on this day, this special time for Brazil. I shouldn’t feel this way, I am only an
adopted son, I have only been here for a fraction of the history of Brazil, but I like to
think that I will be here for a lot more. And then we are off, on another adventure
through the streets, in search of the improbable, the bizarre or another cold beer.

Jungle Boogie

 Picture the scene. Deep, deep, deep in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon
basin in a rundown scruffy riverside port, a hot steamy Saturday morning and a bar, which
at the best could be called optimistic and at the very least could be condemned as a major
health hazard (assuming that you lived long enough for that to be a problem). I had ended
up here by mistake, a series of wrong busses, misunderstandings and acts of incredible
stupidity on my part had taken me far from my hotel and deeper into the unknown.

My better judgment warned me against entering, but hell, I was determined not to miss
the kick off. As Bill Shankley once said ‘Football, its not a question of life or
death—its more important than that’. And so I entered, ducking between two beefy
fisherman and the carcass of something quite dead which had been hung over the door to

I squeezed into a seat next to the flickering TV and called for a beer. A few of the
fishermen shot me a quizzical look probably wondering what a guy from Ceará was doing so
far from home (my Portuguese must be a lot better than I think) and the barman pointed
that I should help myself from the freezer behind me. The two national anthems were played
and once we had again taken our seats the game kicked off to cheers from the crowd, which
was now spilling out of the bar and onto the docks. England in their change strip of red
and Brazil in their famous yellow and blue.

The first twenty minutes or so were a scrappy affair, and I was soon nodding wisely
with the guy next to me who was taking time out of gutting an enormous catfish with a
rusty looking machete to question the referees heredity and sexual prowess. The beers, the
humidity, the press of humanity and the tense, tense atmosphere, which had descended on
the bar was getting to me. The flickering picture, the buzz of mosquitoes and the monkeys
squabbling in the tree outside the door didn’t detract from the feeling that I was there,
between the fabled twin towers urging my country on to victory. Sweat tricked down my back
as I reached for another beer.

And then, quite suddenly against the run of play, England won a corner. There was some
aw6kxtling and shoving in the box, and like a vision in red Michel Owen sprouted wings and
rose above the defenders to nod the ball into the back of the net. Before I could control
myself I leapt to my feet, knocking my beer flying, and screamed at the top of my


This was swiftly followed by a more profound thought:

‘Shit, I really didn’t want to do that’.

The crowd already stunned by the goal slowly turned to stare at me. The barman stopped
cleaning his teeth with his butterfly knife, the man gutting the catfish next to me turned
slack jawed to stare, the monkeys in the trees stopped squabbling, and even the dirty
little toddler who had wandered into the bar with the apparent intention of pissing on my
foot stopped and stared at me.

‘Oh shit’, I thought again.

I thought about trying to make a swift exit, but my chances of getting to the door past
so many viscous looking fish knives was slim, armed as I was only with my guide book.

‘I am English…my team…Owen my hero’, I spluttered in my best Portuguese
(which had at that juncture in time more or less deserted me).

After what seemed like an eternity, during which my life flashed before my eyes
(purely, I guess, to remind me, that I am making quite a habit of this kind of thing) the
barman leaned over and with a massive hand thumped me on the back and muttered ‘that Owen,
you know I think he has Brazilian grandparents’. The bar roared with approval and a fresh
beer was thrust into my hand. The next fifteen minutes of the match were somewhat of a
blur as my heart rate returned to somewhere near its normal level and the tightly pressed
crowd asked innumerable questions about England. They seemed especially impressed when I
said I used to work at Wembley.

I was just settling down to a good afternoon of drinking free beers when incredibly
Brazil fumbled the ball into the back of the net. Instead of the normal screaming and
jubilation the whole crowd, which had swelled once news had got out that an English man
was in town especially to watch the football, turned and stared at me as if to say ‘now
what are you going to do’. Well, there was only one thing I could do and let rip with one
of the loudest, longest, most passionate ‘Goooooooooooal Brazil’ screams of my life. The
rest of the crowd were not far behind in their celebrations and in the ensuring chaos I
slipped out and didn’t stop running till I got onto a bus. PB

The author has been in Brazil for nearly 6 months now and is often to be
found scribbling his thoughts for this magazine. His incessant desire to sleep in a
different bed each night has taken him through Africa, Asia and Europe. He now lives
relatively calmly in Fortaleza, with a nice view of the sea and a colourful window box. He
still finds a border a temptation and sneeks out the office as often as possible. When not
travelling he spends his spare time writing to the numerous readers of Brazzil who
email him at


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