Saturday 17 February 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Brazil continuing to exceed my expectations

In Sun and Shadow – An Irish Letter from Brazil: Day 20

German fans enjoying themselves in Porto Alegre
German fans enjoying themselves in Porto Alegre
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THEY say that there's no place like home but, in Brazil, Porto Alegre comes pretty close for the Irish visitor around this time of year.

The city of 1.5 million people may be the heartland of the German-Brazilian population, yet there's something about the climate and the rain that would make a man nostalgic for a wet spring evening in Dublin.

Clearly, the citizens have done their research. Within an hour of arriving in the southern Brazilian city, spoke with two locals that are planning to relocate to Ireland in the next 12 months.

One of these cheerful chaps, a FIFA volunteer, is a massive Cecelia Ahern fan and spent a good portion of a bus journey to Estadio Beira-Rio extolling the virtues of her work.

He had a much better knowledge of her back catalogue than his Irish guest and was surprised by that fact.

“Have you ever met her?” he asked hopefully.

“No,” I responded, neglecting to mention that it's probably best not to ask after her family once he makes it here either.

Let's hope that Ireland meets his expectations. Certainly, Brazil continues to exceed mine. There are reasons to grumble about Porto Alegre and it's understandable that the lads who've been stationed here for the majority of this competition have grown resentful about their location given that their colleagues in the north have enjoyed sweltering temperatures in cities that revolve around the beach.

The paler-skinned would comfortably survive in Porto Alegre for large parts of the year. With the population dominated by European diaspora and the geographical proximity to Argentina – it sits 430 miles from the border – this quirky place is considered the least Brazilian of the major cities.

Several businesses carry German or other European names and, on Sunday night, a visit to a well-regarded local restaurant and samba club was notable for a band that mixed Brazilian music with a selection of tunes with more than a hint of polka about them. The natives that went out of their way to introduce themselves to unfamiliar faces were quick to apologise when the playlist veered from the promised samba.

But it's that variety that adds to the allure of this country. A relatively short flight can bring you to drastically different terrain – the contrast between Porto Alegre and the Amazonian heat of Manaus is extraordinary – but there's a remarkable consistency about the warm welcome. The fond memories of that hospitality will last longer than any suntan.

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