Category Archives: SP by night

Brazilliant, or, a tale of two parties

I am still having to train myself into certain aspects of Brazilian life – patience in the face of overweening bureaucracy is something I have yet to develop, and the relentless lunching, while very good fun and pleasingly welcoming, is proving too much even for my innate greediness: was thrilled the other day when one lunch was cancelled as it meant I could eat fruit for lunch, and allow my body a small chance to digest the constant three-course extravaganzas. However, the socialising timetable – going out at 11pm and staying out till 5am – is one thing I’ve slipped into with remarkable ease.

Largely this is because I’m working ridiculous hours – a solid week of 12 hour+ days has not been my favourite working period ever, and will determinedly not become the norm; something must be done to change HQ’s seeming expectations of my ability and willingness to work London and Brazilian hours. However, the upside of being here is that long after London is in the pub, and indeed long after most Brazilians have finished work, the evening fun is just beginning.

On Friday night, having finished work at 10pm, I had a celebratory and initiatory caipirinha with my flatmates before they headed off to a hip hop club up the road (a musical style which, brilliantly, because of how Portuguese treats consonants on the ends of words, is here pronounced ‘hippy hoppy’, a translation which to my mind does wonders for the ‘chood inherent in most of its practitioners), and was picked up at 11.30 by a couple of friends to go to a house party not far away. Our hosts were three guys – English, Brazilian and Argentine – and their amazing Great Dane puppy, in the most hilarious bachelor pad I’ve seen in a while – beautifully if predictably modern, entirely without kitchen implements save a large wine rack and a overly complicated coffee machine, and hired bar staff to keep the caipirinhas pumping out…Dogão, the Great Dane, whose name is semi-translated as ‘Big Dog’ but which is also the nickname here for a hot dog (pronounced hotchi doggy – love this language), was of course the star of the show, until he decided to join in the dancing by jumping on someone and ripping their back with his claws. He’s an excitable puppy who weighs the same as a small person, so perhaps not surprising, and the attention was taken with grace by his chosen dancing partner. The mishap also barely slowed the dancing, particularly once Dogão had been banished outside.

It was a very different crowd to Saturday night – Friday’s party was about half expats, half locals, all with good educations and very good jobs, so for a shindig filled with lawyers and accountants it was really remarkably fun. The following evening I went with my flatmates to a proper student house party – in a residential suburb of São Paulo, to celebrate the occasion of his parents being away. It was fun in a very different way, much grungier music-wise, and certainly self-made caipirinhas this time…the only downside was of course being in a room full of 22-year-olds. Nothing like that for making one feel ancient.

Am flying out tonight for a couple of weeks – a week of work in the US and a week of holiday in Thailand – and I feel how little sleeping I have been doing because I can’t wait to get on the plane so I can pass out…And, while I am very excited about the holiday bit, I can’t wait to get back either.  A month in, this city rocks. It is considerably better to live in that to visit, and the quality of restaurants, bars, people and lifestyle here is outstanding. The childish part of me, which admittedly rules the roost on too many occasions and which doesn’t like missing out on stuff, feels petulant about all the fun that will be going on here without me over the next two weeks. Couldn’t ask for better.

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Platonic dating

A few hours before, you start wondering what to wear. You want to look good, but as if such a look comes so naturally you don’t have to try – to be the transcendent ideal, but to appear quotidian. If you’ve arranged to meet for drinks, there’s the question of whether and what to eat beforehand – if you don’t, you might end up starving and / or plastered, which is never a good look, but you don’t want to leave the other person eating alone if they haven’t eaten – hardly convivial. There’s also the faintly awkward ‘so, where did you grow up?’-style conversation, and the determination for chat to remain dialectical – agreement is a better atmosphere. Finally, there’s the deeply uncomfortable goodbye: what do you say? How open-ended do you leave it? You don’t want to seem overkeen, but not standoffish either – the balance needs to be just right.

I think I’m beginning to understand how a serial Rules-adherent feels – well, apart from all the gumph about actually being the idealised creature like no other. I’ve spent the last week and a half meeting up with people I barely know, or simply don’t know, in a fairly intimate social surroundings trying to find out as much as possible about them in a short space of time in order to find out whether I want to spend more time with them in the future. I’ve done this before…

Tonight was the turn of Nate, an American working for a non-profit here that I met through ‘Facebook for wankers‘ (can’t claim credit for the nickname, but is apt), an online community of ‘like-minded people’ who all seem to run hedge funds and have yachts. No, I’m not sure what I’m doing on there either; still, it really has a life, this community. Members – I joined a week ago so I guess that includes me – genuinely seem to trust each other, and to be willing to take time out of their lives to welcome newcomers to the city. The modern day Brooks’s, I guess – the (in my case, false) lure of lucre.

And indeed Nate is a very interesting, well-travelled and thoughtful guy, and we had a very pleasant evening, so maybe denying the good of the website is unfair. He had a number of tips to share about SP living, and in a city like this such knowledge is invaluable. We could also bitch a little about the determinedly chi-chi community, which is among the best of ice-breakers.

Yet another different style of night out – in a very convincing French-style bistro with deeply charming waiters (the only thing the replica got wrong, then) and an amazing singer doing a mix of her own stuff and Nina Simone-style tunes in English and Portuguese. I had a very lovely salad, despite it being my second meal of the evening (I misjudged the eating-before consideration but rose to the challenge, somehow). The area – Vila Madalena – is rapidly turning into one of my favourites, with a plethora of great, if very different bars, restaurants and clubs (including one called Black Bom Bom – yes, black bum in Portuguese – which might be the one Plato himself would have been drawn to, particularly given it attracts a younger patron), crowded in on one another in a seemingly constant if determinedly laid-back street party.

This is of course much less unnerving than real dating – the stakes are lower – but there’s still the moment just as you walk into the bar in which you have to screw up all your courage to get through the first few awkward minutes. Conversational skills being exercised – when you can’t just gossip about people you know who are getting married / breaking up, or getting new jobs / being sacked, you do end up debating the future of print journalism. And given beggars can’t be choosers on the friends-in-this-hemisphere front, I’ll carry on – although the two-dinner immoderateness will have to end or the distance between me and the transcendent ideal will be all the greater.

No zouking way

It was the phrase, “You know how to lambada, right?”, that should have rung the first alarm bells. Tonight I had a language exchange coffee with a very sweet if somewhat snaggle-toothed Brazilian guy – an hour spent talking in Portuguese, in which we covered such key issues as what I had done yesterday and, um, how to pronounce words in Portuguese, and an hour in English, in which, shall we say, the conversation was more wide-ranging in subject matter.

Depois de nossa aula de portugues, uma aula de Zouk. For the uninitiated – of which I am a proud if recent non-member – zouk is a lambada-based modern dance, in which music from all over the world is blended with the base 1-2-3 of lambada to create a deeply sexy, hair twirling frenzy of impressiveness. I’m still unsure how verb conjugating segued into this, but still, Sunday night at the Buena Vista club is zouk night, I now know.

Suffice to say zouk doesn’t flow naturally in my British veins. Which is doubly hard because on that side of the pond I’m an OK dancer. What I lack in ability I make up for in energy and a remarkable recall for crappy 80s songs, enabling me to look like I’m reacting well to the beat when in fact I’m simply responding to deeply entrenched cues from my otherwise-useless memory. That trick is proving less useful over ‘ere.

So I’ve been bumped from centre-of-the-floor showoff to footshuffler by the wall, and man is it a bumpy ride down. Still, I loved the Buena Vista: the dancing is so good it is half-club, half-show, and the atmosphere was brilliantly vibrant, with everyone loving the beat and there just to dance. (And maybe flirt a little.)

And all sober. Wow, that’s a difference to clubbing in England – the wonderfully patient Joao couldn’t see any logic behind my initial refusals at 9.30 to go dancing because ‘I had work in the morning’ – and indeed, I’m home sober at 11.30 and as fit for work as I otherwise would have been. Sure, many people had a beer or two, but far from everyone, and absolutely no-one seemed drunk. Joao was driving, and saw nothing strange in that.

Also, while Brazil is rightly famed for its obsession with beauty – drogerias are everywhere and packed to the ceiling with face creams and hair products and lotions and potions – that comes second to dancing. So some real specimens of unloveliness – cross-eyed, bulging belly, and such an unfortunate penchant for bandannas that he was wearing three, was my fave – could easily dance with some beauties of girls if they could produce the moves. And while it is sexy it is not sexual, something every fibre of my British being really struggles to compute.  At the end, the guy kisses the girl’s hands, they both smile and say thanks, and that’s that.

However, I’m not sure I like the model that the girls who want to dance but are partner-less hang around the edge of the floor waiting to be asked. I mean, I see that the zoukers have to go in two by two, but the firm gender roles not only mean I had to bring out the no-need-to-elaborate excuse ‘obrigada, nao, sou ingles’ on a number of occasions, but also just feel wrong. That’s Latin America, I guess.

So now as well as Portuguese, I should learn samba, capoeira, and zouk.  I desperately want to be able to do this stuff – standing helplessly at the side of the floor is just not my thing, even with a gentlemanly local guide – and so my only option is lessons, and perhaps a lot of praying. If only there was some way I could download all of the Bangles lyrics and fill that freed-up mental space with the magical knowledge of how to follow gracefully (yes, I know), “feel the music in my hips”, and not duck out in overwhelming embarrassment after 15 seconds. I hope they have good teachers.