Monday, 26 January 2015

Corinthians versus Corinthian Casuals - a historic encounter

This isn't really a match report, but more of a general musing about a true spectacle of a game, which took place on Saturday 24 January between Corinthians (2012 FIFA World Club Cup champions), and English amateur side Corinthian Casuals. I was invited to the game by Mark Hillary and the British Consulate, where I also met musician Daniel IV who I knew through Twitter, as well as UK Consul General Richard Turner. We were treated to VIP tickets.

Corinthians invited us to their brand new Arena Corinthians stadium, specially constructed for the World Cup – ominously, perhaps, the same location where England's World Cup ended thanks to two Luis Suarez goals. 

I must make a point of something right away. What a magnificent stadium! From the TV, the World Cup opening ceremony and matches looked amazing here, with the atmosphere being incredible. Seeing the place in the flesh is a wonderful experience. It's modern, clean, big and surprisingly atmospheric. With the two temporary goal-end World Cup stands already removed, it's also a very unique and characterful stadium. True, the open ends behind the goals are bizarre but this doesn’t detract from the atmosphere at all. The boisterous Corinthians fans have certainly made it home. I was high up in the VIP box, but wish I could have joined them with their bouncing, chanting and unfurling of giant flags and beating of samba drums.

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Friday, 23 January 2015

What is Casimiro de Abreu?

Casimiro de Abreu is a small Rio state town, renamed as such in homage to the 1800s Brazilian writer of the same name, most famous for the poem "Meus oito anos".

It was also a handy place to rest for the night, around half way on our epic drive to São Paulo. I highly recommend the spotlessly clean, comfort and breakfast at the Patropi Hotel. Lastly, it's also a famous UFO hotspot. 

Written by Shaun. Find out more about me by following me on Instagram (@shaunalex), Twitter (@shaunalexc) and Facebook.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Travelling to São Paulo

Today, I’m leaving the comfort of my beach-city paradise and heading to São Paulo (SP, Sampa etc), where I’ll meet fellow Twitter/Instagram aficionado Mark Hillary. With luck, we’re hoping to watch a genuine once-in-a-lifetime football match – between Corinthian Casuals, the English amateur side, and Corinthians, one of the most popular and successful teams in Brazil.

I’ve written before about how the two clubs have history. Basically, a very, VERY long time ago, Corinthian Casuals toured Brazil, and this trip was to inspire the starting of Brazil’s Corinthians. If I make it to the friendly match, it will be an amazing experience one way or the other. While Corinthian Casuals are little known in the UK despite their rich and long history, in São Paulo they are being treated like heroes by Corinthians fans.

São Paulo scares me, no doubt about it. Back to that in a moment. Something that always strikes me is the flight into São Paulo – particularly if landing at the Congonhas airport. The views of this vast metropolis from the plane window are breath taking (pictured above). This time, I’ll be driving, which will take at least 14 hours given good traffic. 

One tourist spot I was recommended to visit was Skye Bar. I took a few snaps from the top, but I must admit, I think there are better views elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile, the beer is extremely expensive. So, in between meeting Mark and family engagements, I’ll be looking for a view.

Even though I’ve lived in London for years, I am a small-town boy at heart. This is why São Paulo scares me. Despite many trips to the city, I’ve never got hold of it. Why? I think it’s because I’ve never felt completely comfortable – rightly or wrongly. I have this bizarre feeling that everyone is watching. 

For this reason, I’ve never enjoyed visits for business or whatever because I’ve been tense, and yet I know this absurd. Everyone who really knows São Paulo likes the place, so I’m going to do my best to really get to know it better, relax, visit more places and mix with locals. I would greatly appreciate all tips in the comments below, or on my social network pages.

Written by Shaun. Find out more about me by following me on Instagram (@shaunalex), Twitter (@shaunalexc) and Facebook.

Photos: 1) Landing São Paulo. 2) Me at Skye Bar. 3) One of the city's shopping districts. 4) 'Sampa' by night.

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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A great place to eat in Rio

Be very careful about where you buy ‘salgadinhos’ in Rio. Quick story. When walking a block behind Copacabana Palace, with a hungry belly and tired eyes (and little time to find a place to eat), my wife and I grabbed a coxinha from one of the many salgadinho cafes. The chicken coxinha was rotten, so much so that the smell alone made me throw up. Eating it would have led to something really nasty.

Anyway, this is actually a (quick) positive post because I’m writing to share a really amazing place to eat in Botafogo: Bar do Manolo. I’ve now eaten there many times, and it’s always been a positive experience. I would like to particularly recommend the bolinho do bacalhao. 10/10. You need to go there. If you're not hungry, the Brahma chopp is always ice cold and delicious.

Written by Shaun. Find out more about me by following me on Instagram (@shaunalex), Twitter (@shaunalexc) and Facebook.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Caught a huge catfish...

So, I was staying in a small city in northern Espirito Santo state called Nova Venecia. Let me state right off, 'Venice' it is not - as much as it's a nice and quiet little place to visit.

To pass away the slow hours, I decided to go fishing in the river. There are a few things that aren’t immediately apparent from the resulting short movie I put together featuring the experience…

First, although six minutes in length it is edited right down as the fight lasted 20 minutes in total! Second, it’s extraordinarily hot in this part of Brazil at this time of year – mid summer and it was something like 35 degrees - I was absolutely knackered!There were a few interesting obstacles in my way as well. Initially I was standing on a wall some 8ft off the water with no obvious way down. I’d have to have pulled for  a break were it not for the intervention of some amazingly helpful locals – who stopped work at the carwash and came down to see what all the commotion was. 

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Saturday, 21 June 2014

13 Reasons Why Manaus Is A Great World Cup Venue

Manaus was chosen to host four World Cup matches - England v Italy; Croatia v Cameroon; USA v Portugal; and Honduras v Switzerland. Here are a few reasons why it's turned out to be a terrific venue for the World Cup.
1) The terrific 'Arena da Amazônia' stadium was designed to look like a traditional tribal woven basket. It's a stunning venue and, as the game between England and Italy showed, the atmosphere inside is sensational when there's a full house.

2) Manaus is literally in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. It has few roads connecting it to the rest of Brazil, and most goods are delivered by ship or plane. This makes it a great destination for doing some rainforest tours while in the city.

3) Being in Amazonas state, it is a city with a high number of indigenous people. The word Manaus actually comes from the name of a tribe. 

4) Manaus is situated on the shores of Rio Negro, but just a short trip downriver is where two rivers clash spectacularly to create 'the meeting of the waters'. Here's a picture on instagram.

5) River sunsets.

6) The people are incredible friendly. English fans visiting the city for their team's game had a great time, helped by what they said were "fun, helpful, brilliant" people.
7) And look at how they decorated the city for the tournament.

8) The local food. Brazilian food is brilliant, and due to the culture of Manaus its food is also unique. 
9) The bars were very enjoyable, according to those who went to the matches.
10) The local mayor, Artur Virgilio Neto, is something of a character.

11) The weather is hot year round. It's winter in Brazil (during the World Cup), meaning many of Brazil's southern states are experiencing temperatures which are colder than those in Europe while the tournament is played. You don't go to Brazil for cold weather. Many said Manaus's humidity would be 'unplayable' - admittedly, while the hot, humid conditions aren't ideal for playing football, it didn't stop teams putting on great performances from start to finish, and they also seemed to recover quickly too.
12) The amazing opera house. Manaus got rich off a rubber boom in the late 1800s, and grand buildings like this are a reminder of that era.

13) The nature close to Manaus is incredible. Whether fishing or bird watching is your thing, Manaus has everything in close proximity to the city.

*As an end note, I must talk about that incredible stadium. At 41,000 seats, it's big, but Manaus does not have a prominent football team capable of filling it after the World Cup is finished. The mayor says it was worth building, pointing to the opera house, which was criticised as a waste of money when it was built but is now a Brazilian national treasure. He says the same could be true for the stadium in future. I hope after the World Cup, the local government can be creative and use the stadium in different ways. Wouldn't it be a cool venue for a big rock concert or something? Jingle In The Jungle!? Time will tell. For those who lost their lives building the stadium, the very minimum their legacy deserves is for the venue to be used. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Fred: A Figure Of Parody Following World Cup Performances

Poor Fred. Brazil fans were flaming mad with their national team’s dire 0-0 performance against Mexico in the group stages of the World Cup, and much of fans' ire was directed towards the Fluminese striker. 

Being British, I love a good bit of satire, me, so after the game, when I saw the following (tremendous) post by Ole do Brasil, saying Fred “bought special World Cup ticket to watch game on the field of play”, I simply had to share. The following text is a translation of what they had to say (which sums up the despondent mood among all Brazil fans at the moment).

At the bottom of the post, I'll also share some if the amusing memes of Fred's dive during the opening match with Croatia, which ultimately led to Brazil winning the tie.

Fred sang the national anthem of Brazil and then disappeared. After that he simply wasn’t seen…

The truth is quite crazy: Fred was not on the field to play football, but simply to watch the match, according to Fluminense's lawyer, Mario Bittencourt.

"FIFA has received a request from Fluminense, who would like to have a representative of the club on the edge of the lawn. They refused. I got annoyed so suggested to Fred that he watch the games on the field, along with the Brazil national team, like a real player. With this special ticket, he will watch all the matches of Brazil on the field,” he said.

The lawyer said Fred was delighted with being on the field: "He's enjoying the experience because it gives the impression that he is a real Brazil player at international level, when in fact that possibility is long gone," he added.

Fred discovered that to play in a World Cup match is much different than facing Madureira (Rio de Janeiro team).

...and people weren't particularly amused with Fred's replacement, Jo, either. Twitter comments (mostly non-Brazilian) were critical of the pairing.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup Coverage: A New Star Born In Rio?

Rio has been one of the surprise stars of the World Cup so far. Not Rio de Janeiro - I'm talking about Rio Ferdinand, and his performance as a BBC pundit.
British viewers have been exposed to all sorts of commentary during the World Cup, from ITV's Adrian Chiles and Thiery Henry disagreeing in the ITV studio, to Robbie Savage's bizarre interjections in the BBC commentary box. One of the best performances, however, has come from Rio Ferdinand.
He recently announced he will be leaving Man Utd, which is a great shame, so perhaps he's trying to secure a future away from actually playing. Time will tell on that one.
Ferdy has proved coherent, likeable, enthusiastic, charming and, of course, knowledgeable. I also love his #RioInRio Twitter hashtagging. Perhaps the thing that's made him stand out most is his willingness to get involved with Brazil. He's been out and about on the streets, and even watched Brazil's opening game from the family home of his former Utd team mates, Rafael and Fabio, in Rio.
People have been surprised by Rio's engaging punditry, but perhaps there's no real reason to be surprised. He's always been something of a character on the field, and this is something that usually transfers.
Another notable performance for British viewers has been Neil Lennon for his direct approach ("Iran are not a good team" - his first words during a half time punditry debate), while the MOTD duo of Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer are always dependable. Phil Neville's performance, meanwhile, has been notable for its dryness - so much so that literally hundreds of people took time out of their busy schedules to write letters of complaint to the BBC.
If I have one complaint myself, it's that (both the BBC and ITV) have been guilty of  missing the culture a little.   Both stations' coverage begins 30 minutes before each game starts, which gives them little time to talk about anything else other than football. What I'd like to see is 10 or 15 minutes before every game about the venue and the city it's in.
A couple of the venues have recieved decent coverage - Rio and Manaus, for example - but who, after watching the coverage of the matches in Curitiba or Belo Horizonte, now knows anything interesting about those venues?
TV coverage, at least from a UK perspective, has been both good and bad so far. As for Rio Ferdy, perhaps Lineker best watch his seat...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Doubters Proved Wrong As Brazil World Cup 'Best Ever'

About two days; that's all it's taken for the world to fall in love with Brazil and declare the 2014 World Cup one of the best ever. 

Hate to say I told you so, but...*

Before the World Cup started, headlines were along the lines of (and I take enormous pleasure of making sure they stay here as a permanent reminder); World Cup 2014: It's chaos in Brazil; World Cup preparations in chaos as unsafe food found and 'state of emergency' declared in host city; World Cup 2014: Pelé Says Brazil Airports Are 'In Chaos'; World Cup Riots: Brazil in chaos as protestors cripple city; Can Brazil Really Handle The 2014 FIFA World Cup?; Brazil in chaos of crime that may ruin World Cup; Transport chaos, World Cup security fears hit Brazil; Brazil's Cup of Chaos…. It goes on and on and on...
By far the BEST worst headline award goes to the Times; Brazil chaos leaves Fifa warning of the ‘worst’ World Cup. Why? Because it’s proved to be exactly the opposite.

Just a few days in, attitudes have changed remarkably. Here are a few headlines to have appeared since the event kicked off; Brazil passion burns brightly in Fortaleza; Has Brazil proved World Cup doubters wrong? Fans ignore glitches to revel in Brazil's big party. And here’s a statement from Yahoo, no less; Brazil 2014: Four days in, and already on course to be the best World Cup EVER.
There are many reasons why tunes have changed. Firstly, almost nothing has gone wrong. Sure, there have been a few traffic jams etc, but big deal. England fans who travelled to their opener with Italy in Manaus revelled in a tremendous atmosphere, boosted by “friendly, helpful, wonderful” locals. 

Brazilian streets are filled with colour, parties have erupted everywhere, and the footballing standard is as high as it’s been in many years. It’s been particularly great to see the amazing atmosphere in the stadiums by fans from all around the world who are having a ball in Brazil.
It also helps that foreign TV crews, such as the BBC, are based in tremendous locations such as Rio’s Copacabana, and have also done some great background documentaries showing what Brazil is about – the good and the bad. 
Brazilians have a saying to hit back at such irony - 'beijinho no ombro' (little kiss on the shoulder). Basically, two fingers up to the doubters and the jealous.
*This isn’t to take away from Brazilians with legitimate complaints against the Brazilian government, but does show that much of what was being said externally was absurd.

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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Brazilians unproductive, waste time, don’t even go to work – The Economist

Brazilian workers are “gloriously unproductive”. They “waste time” and, “half do not even turn up for work”. Brazilian workers are also “badly managed”. These are just a few of the comments made in an article by The Economist magazine – an issue that has caused a furious response from many in Brazil. 
Some of the comments at the bottom of the article (and on Facebook, Twitter etc) show how upset people in Brazil rightly are with The Economist. For example, ‘EBitencourt’ replied to the article saying, “shame on your racism [to The Economist].” ‘Dr Alberto’ said to the author, “We are no more in the mood to serve as slaves for capitalist gringos. We don’t need this kind of blood sucker. Go home.”  

Ouch! The photo below shows another issue that caused outrage in Brazil (on the right).

Brazilians famously dislike anyone else criticising - even if they do so themselves. This is a strange attitude, but regardless, I completely understand why people are upset with the article and The Economist.

Before I go into why The Economist is wrong, please allow me to flirt with a defence of the magazine. We have to keep in mind who its readers are. They are international investors. What they care about is profits. They want to put money into a country, and expect a return from this. If they don’t get a return, they will ask why. For The Economist, all they care about is keeping these investors happy – so for them, it’s very easy to come to basic conclusions, even if they are inaccurate.

Here’s something The Economist will also be thinking. The British (where the magazine is based) and Brazilian economies produce roughly the same GDP as each other. One has over taken the other in the ranks, then returned back again over the last two or three years, but it’s pretty much the same level of output. Britain has a population of around 60 million, while Brazil has 200 million. These numbers suggest that every one British person creates the same GDP as four Brazilians. This is the kind of simple conclusion The Economist considers when it concludes that Brazilians must be lazy. 

Of course, this is absurd.

Its capitalist readers have a right to be upset right now. Over the last year, not only will they have made no money from their investments in the Brazilian stock market, they would have probably even lost money. For any country to participate in capitalism, it has to accept pressure when investors lose money.

Nevertheless, The Economist’s assessment of Brazilians being “lazy” is way off the mark. It ignores the countries’ unique socio-economics in favour of unfair and untrue ‘facts’ based on old misconceptions.

Of course, you all know the truth. I know it too. Brazilians are among the hardest workers in the world. Brazilians I know are in the office from 7am and don’t leave until 8pm, while the rest of the world relaxes in a comfortable 9 – 5.

Brazilians study more, and harder, than any other population of people I’ve ever met. The importance of having a good university degree in Brazil to get a job proves this. Those who work in physically demanding jobs do so in unbearable heat, and work all day in challenging circumstances.

From what I know, Brazil is a nation of hard workers. The problem is that these hard workers are working hard in a system that keeps them down. Inefficiencies, paperwork, bureaucracy and politics in Brazil mean that people have to work extra hard to get anything done. An example of this is the tax returns small businesses have to produce in Brazil , which are absolutely mind boggling. This is surely a big burden. The Economist clearly has no understanding, or doesn’t care, about any of this.

The key in all of this is politics, which is why I recently said people like Romario could be a shining star in Brazil’s future. If Brazil’s government can get past its traditional hurdles, get on with infrastructure projects rather than arguing about them, reduce corruption and inefficiencies, and just let people get on with work, then Brazil’s nation of hard workers will put the rest of the world to shame. I can’t wait for the day when Brazil throws egg in The Economist’s face.

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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Romario: The Man For Brazil?

The Brasil Post published a text of mine in Portuguese about Romario, the Brazilian footballing legend, two-time World Cup winner and now socialist party politician. I was thoroughly impressed with things he said against corruption in Brazil so decided to write about it. Here's the English version of the text:

Romario – the first socialist to speak a lot of sense?

I wonder - if Romario wasn’t Romario, and wasn’t a Brazilian football legend – what would be the likelihood that he would have been ‘silenced’ by now? How many politicians before Romario in Brazil have been able to talk so openly about corruption without any form of retribution? I guess that’s the advantage Romario has as a politician, yet still also someone in Brazil’s book of legends.
The other night, I watched Romario give an interview to the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for its regular ‘Hard Talk’ programme. The programme, broadcast to a British audience, displayed his hard hitting views on a range of subjects; corruption in politics; corruption in Brazilian football; corruption in Fifa; the poor state of Brazilian club and grass roots football; disabled rights.

Romario’s key message was this: because of all the money lost, or used to “make elite politicians rich,” while hospitals, schools and security in Brazil is in disarray, he said, Brazil has already lost the World Cup – regardless of how Neymar and co perform.

You know, Romario might be the first socialist in a very long time to make quite a lot of sense. The man speaks the truth about Brazil and its problems. He is a Brazilian who loves Brazil, loves football, and enough to enter politics to try and solve it. And yet, he thinks Brazil has got the world cup so very wrong. He doesn’t shy away from the problems – knows there is so much to improve, and some things that are almost beyond repair under the current regime of leaders.

Many people misconstrued his comments about Pelé being an imbecile. He clarified that Pelé's comments that people should not use their democratic rights to protests made him sound like an imbicile. He’s right that the two things are very different.

It’s about time a high profile Brazilian stood up. Gringos like me, of course, will have huge problems sharing these opinions. It’s something I find curious about Brazilians actually. If I’m on a table of people saying that Brazil’s hospitals are bad, for example. If I nod my head and agree, people will then say I am wrong and do not know what I am talking about because I’m a gringo. But I’m agreeing with your opinions! AM I not allowed to do this just because I'm a gringo? It’s a bizarre Brazilian trait. One thing I think Brazilians spend too much energy on is getting angry when a gringo says anything negative about Brazil – most of these things are things you also complain about. Use this energy to focus on, and fix the problems democratically.

Anyway, perhaps Romario is just what Brazil needs. He’s allowed to voice his opinions on the problems – he’s Romario. People will listen to him, because he’s Romario. And because he seems to love Brazil, he is someone who should be taken very seriously.

About the World Cup, Romario made a prediction outside of politics. The front runners to lift the big trophy will be between Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina. Let’s all pray it’s not the latter.


Now, it seems Romario really appreciated my comments. After publication, he posted to his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts with the following.

Endorsement direct from a man of Romario's stature is about as good as it gets. Translated, he said: "I appreciate the words of journalist Shaun Cumming about me, about my courage to say what many see and say nothing. 

"As legislators understand that I can contribute to my country with my projects, but it is also my responsibility to monitor and report the atrocities I see happening. 

"I'm not here to stay silent."

I'm not anyone to tell Brazilians how to vote, but what I will say is that Romario certainly talks a lot of sense, talks bravely, and also genuinely appears to want to make a difference in the things he is passionate about.

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