World Cup with Wesley in Sampa

My first proper stay in Brazil was with my Brazilian friend, Wesley, who lives an hour’s drive outside the Megalopolis city of São Paulo. It truly is a giant with over 19 million inhabitants, making it the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere. The 9 days were almost entirely taken over by watching World Cup games from 1 til 9, guzzling Brazilian beer and meeting Wesley’s family and friends, plus of course a few Paulistas (São Paulo ladies)! I will try to fill in some of the gaps in between with a few stories and reflect on my observations of Brazilian and World Cup life!

My host was kind enough to pick me up from São Paulo airport on the Saturday morning, managing to recognise my more regular appearance after over 2 years apart. (Back in Australia, where we worked together in a pizza restaurant, I had big “boofy” hair after letting it grow out of control for more than a year!) Our first outing was straight into the city to purchase some fake Brazil shirts in the busy ’25 de Março’ street. I was very aware of guarding my belongings on my first venture into Brazil’s busiest city, passing first through the dodgy ‘Santa Ifigênia’ street full of all things electrical (and illegally acquired!) then perusing the many stalls for the closest possible match to an authentic Brazilian shirt. Authentic shirts cost around 230 Brazilian Reais (around £60 to us English), which is certainly pricey for the locals and budget travellers. Every city’s locals must have done well from selling these affordable fake shirts – you can’t go anywhere during this World Cup without seeing “Neymar 10” all around you!

With this first errand completed for 40 Reais each and catching my first glimpse of São Paulo, Wesley drove us back to his home an hour away and got me settled in for the next week. He was a fantastic host, along with his mum and brother. They kept me fed, entertained and always with a cold beer for my entire stay! His mum even washed all my clothes and hung them to dry before I even realised the machine was free. Then she took all of my clothes down, ironed and folded them, plus she sewed up a gaping hole in the crotch of my jeans! Definitely new mum material!!

Brazilian Cuisine

Feijoada

Feijoada

Good planning meant that I had the pleasure of Wesley’s company for my first 2 days, being a weekend and we kicked things off with a very typical Brazilian dish called feijoada. My host even explained the origins of this bean-based dish (something I have since discovered is an urban legend) whereby the slaves working in the Brazilian coffee and sugar cane plantations created this dish from their limited rations of rice, black beans and the least-desirable cuts of pork (skin, snout, ears, feet, belly). Most Brazilian meals are accompanied with manioc flour that you eat together with the rice and gives a different texture to the meal.  I preferred the crunchy manioc rather than sometimes drier versions.

The next day called for a sunny Brazilian Churrasco, a BBQ with a mixture of meats including Picanha (rump cap) served again with rice. Wesley´s family and friends joined us for this meal in the sunny `quintal´ (backyard), cooking in his `Churrasqueira´(brick BBQ) adjoining his `Varanda´, the exterior covered building consisting of a kitchen, dining area, toilet and laundry.

Breakfasts at Chez Wesley, or rather I should say Cafofo do Wesley, generally consisted of `Pão de queijo´ (cheese bread) or simple bread rolls with butter, cheese or `Requeijão´, similar to cream cheese…although this was generally more of a brunch during my lazy week! I either skipped lunches and focused on the 1pm game or joined Wesley´s Mum and/or brother for more rice and bean-based meals, sometimes including steak and fries. Our lack of each other´s language, meant that a meal with Wesley´s mum was spent watching highlights of a match or Brazilian TV, but she always made sure I was fed and watered! One evening when Wesley was at uni for evening tests Wesley´s brother, Wanderson, drove me to his place for dinner and we watched the football while talking about our past and future travels. Like I said, Wesley´s family especially were so hospitable and for that I am very grateful.

Calabresa

Calabresa

Dining out was more focused on watching World Cup games and drinking beer, but I sampled Brazilian pizza (something that has yielded mixed reveiews amongst me and my English companions) and `Calabresa´, a meal of smoked pork sausage that is prepared with calabrese peppers served on a hotplate with mandioc frita and polenta frita (fried manioc and cornmeal). One hungover morning, we sat at the bar of a bakery/meat deli to eat `Pão na Chapa´ (bread with butter) and `Pernil Asado´ (roasted pork thigh) in a warm fresh roll.  While we ate, I went through the menu attempting to learn the different ingredients in Portuguese, which proved useful ordering food in future situations to some extent.

World Cup Ups and Downs

Similar to my time unemployed during Euro 2014, I couldn´t have planned a better timing for spending a lazy week isolated at Wesley´s place.  I originally intended to venture into São Paulo combining two buses and a metro ride, but I didn´t drag myself away from the comfort of watching all the matches in Wesley´s lounge. A typical day consisted of facebook, emails and blogging in the morning and into the first game of the day.  The start of the second match at 4pm seemed an acceptable time to have my first beer of the day (unless I accepted the offer of an early beer at lunch)!

There´s no doubt that the group stage of this World Cup was an absolute goal-fest with some fantastic matches and upsets. In Sao Paulo I saw the majority of each team´s opening 2 group games from Germany embarrassing 10-man Portugal to a 7-goal France victory against Switzerland and the day of eliminations including an exciting Netherlands 3-2 triumph over Australia, followed by world champions Spain being the joint first team to be eliminated as they lost 2-0 to Chile and finishing with Croatia thrashing Cameroon after another player sees red (in both senses).

Cerveja com amendoim

Cerveja com amendoim

But my first day watching in São Paulo could certainly have gone better.  On the only day with 4 different kick-off times for World Cup matches, it started with a convincing Colombian victory, then we watched Costa Rica´s shock win over Uruguay with a 5 litre keg of heineken and `amendoim´ (Brazilian peanuts). I left Wesley´s place very excited to watch my country´s first World Cup match with a group of Wesley´s friends. But I was gutted to watch us lose 2-1 to Italy, albeit with a decent performance and an adventurous approach. It wasn´t all bad I suppose, at least I learnt one of my most essential Portuguese phrases: “mais uma”, literally meaning `one more´, used to order another cerveja! The night culminated in falling asleep during the late 10pm game between Ivory Coast and Japan.

Cheering on Brazil

Cheering on Brazil

On the Tuesday, Wesley had planned to take a half day so we could go out to watch Brazil´s second group game against Mexico. Time ticked by closing towards the 4pm kick off and Wesley eventually turned up after being held up in traffic. It turned out that every person in Sampa had the same idea to drive home early from work, creating 100km of traffic in the capital! So the plan to go out for the game was binned and we put on our Brazil shirts and settled down with some beers for what turned out to be a tense game. Let´s just say that I learned some colourful Portuguese vocabulary!  And I flaunted these new words later that night, to my audience´s great delight!

During my time in Brazil I have learnt that Brazilians are happy to celebrate even if they don´t win – so we found a local bar for my first Brazilian party! Going against all that I know of gender ratios in bars and clubs, girls were very much in the majority here. And once the locals found out I was English, I became the centre of attention as I was introduced to everyone and dragged onto the dancefloor (no need to tell you that I struggled to impress, as my partner tried to get me to lead)! Wesley acted as translator and wingman, providing me with the direct: “Posso ter um beijo?” (Can I have a kiss?) to great effect!

Getting excited for the game that Wilshere didn't even feature in!

Getting excited for the game that Wilshere didn’t even feature in!

Our next outing was for England´s crucial game against Uruguay. We decided against the fan fest and opted for the lively Vila Madalena area. I was keen to head there early to avoid traffic and secure a decent seat so I threw on my new `Wilshere´ England shirt and jumped in Wesley´s car – after posing for a few photos. This was probably the most excited I´ve ever been for an England game, with the game being played in local Corinthians´ stadium.

The first of many beers!

The first of many beers!

As we approached São Paulo I insisted we play some English tunes, so we blasted out the likes of Arctic Monkeys as we drove up and down Paulista Avenue, honking passing England fans and starting to soak up the atmosphere. After parking in V.M. we umm-ed and ah-ed over where to watch the games along the strip of restaurants/bars. Just before the Colombia v Ivory Coast kick-off we bagged a table and ordered our first of 8 buckets of 3 large bottles of `Original´ cerveja.

 

IMG_0107[1]Culture Alert: I will take this opportunity to clarify the mandatory way to serve and drink Brazilian cerveja. Firstly, the beer has to be brought ice cold (beer fridges are normally 3 or 4 degrees below freezing and don´t be surprised if there´s some ice in the beer). Then you pour the beer into tiny glasses to make sure it doesn´t get warm. And finally, return the beer to the ice bucket to keep it ice cold! It is obviously very refreshing on a hot Brazilian day but I personally feel that sometimes the beer is so cold that you cannot really taste the flavour! Brazilians are far more communal with drinking (and eating) as you share the bottles of beer, topping up each other´s drink when you pour your own.

The English Fans!

The English Fans!

As we watched Colombia beat Ivory Coast, we were joined by two fellow Englishmen. ‘Ginger’ bore a striking resemblance to a Brazilian footballing legend, Biru Biru, with his curly golden hair – something that many Brazilian girls enthusiastically recognised. And the other had the fortune of travelling to Brazil on business during the World Cup.

Onto the game itself, which followed the same ultimate pattern as the previous game against Italy: going a goal down before equalising and raising the hopes of our nation, only to concede another painful decisive goal. Again England were the better of the two teams, with Uruguay’s goals coming from their only two shots in the game. And who else but Suarez to score both (with one assist from Liverpool team-mate Gerrard) and dedicating his goals as retribution to the English media for their unfair treatment towards him. In the very next game, he proved them spot on for their criticism of him as a disgrace by sampling Italy’s Chiellini.

IMG_0094[1]

Evidence of my tears!

Ranting aside, the game was obviously tense with Uruguayan’s jubilantly celebrating their initial lead in one corner of the restaurant. I vowed to shut them up  and sure enough when Rooney equalised I jumped wrecklessly into the crowd of silenced Uruguayan fans – something I’m not proud of but childishly enjoyed at the time! But when the final whistle came, all but knocking England out of the tournament, Wesley’s photo shows that I was devastated and broke into tears (something I don’t recall due to the 14 or so litres {over 25 pints} of beer that mainly Wesley and I polished off)!

Vila Madalena

Despite defeat, Wesley and I rallied for a cracking first night in Vila Madalena, moving out to the street to join the party. In Brazil, there are no laws against drinking in the street so you can always find someone selling cans of beer (or bottles of catuaba in Wesley’s case) and crack them open amongst the crowd of people. There were some TV cameras capturing the World Cup atmosphere, so we jostled our way into the shot to dance like idiots (and weeks later Wesley’s dad claims to have seen us on TV)! My England shirt attracted the attention of a couple of Paulistas (or it may have initially been ‘Ginger’, our Biru Biru lookalike), who refused to believe that Wesley was Brazilian. By conceding that he was actually American he planted the seed of deception, which spiralled to include that we were cousins of varying ages and back-stories!

Having parked so close to the action, we had to fight our way through the crowds who proceeded to throw beer on the car, attempt to climb aboard and, as we found out the next day, decorate his car with crude phallic drawings! Recovering from the night before, Friday was only noteworthy for visiting the hospital to get my Yellow Fever vaccination, learning of England’s early exit (that was confirmed by Costa Rica beating Italy) and catching parts of France’s 5-2 triumph over Switzerland.

Wesley swearing like an American!

Wesley swearing like an American!

On Saturday we returned to Vila Madalena to resume our adopted personas as we joined the Brazilian girls we had met two days earlier. We drank bottles of imported Stella Artois by the icy fishtank-load (the two girls getting extra bottles from the waiter for free!) and watched a cracking 2-2 draw between Germany and Ghana.

More drinks with a Paulista

More drinks with a Paulista

 

When Wesley had to leave I also lost my secret translator, but I enjoyed my evening in the company of Brazilians (and yes I know, that Wesley is Brazilian anyway). Several of their friends joined us, who called me ‘gringo’ all night, and taught me a few useful Portuguese phrases as we drank the icy beers they had brought from home.

Already a day or two behind schedule, I had adjusted my route so that I would leave on Sunday evening for Belo Horizonte by overnight bus.

Last drinks with Wesley??

Last drinks with Wesley??

This didn’t stop me from enjoying my final day in Sao Paulo, parking myself in my favourite spot of our favourite bar (for the third day of the four consecutive days visiting Vila Madalena). After watching Russia lose to Belgium I suggested we make the potentially boring Algeria v South Korea game more interesting. I proposed a typical drinking game where we had to drink whenever: a save was made, a foul was committed and again if the player got booked, then drinking double every time a goal was scored. It turned out that the game didn’t need spicing up as a 6-goal thriller ensued, but needless to say we had fun!

We had to leave the exciting USA v Portugal clash at half-time but Wesley had time to drop me at Sao Paulo’s Tiete bus station and we bid each other a fond farewell, after an awesome 9 days together.

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