Sunday 21 January 2018

Dion Fanning: 'Bewitched by Brazil and its festival of football, but I still find myself missing broccoli'

In Sun and Shadow – An Irish Letter from Brazil: Day 30

So we reach the final weekend and this is my last diary entry before I return home, tired, bewildered and craving vegetables but always bewitched by Brazil.

From the glimpse of the Amazon as we flew into Manaus to the impossibility of comprehending Sao Paulo in its vastness, this has been a tournament like no other.

If the next two World Cups remain in their current venues, they will never compete and it is hard to think of a land that could have made the tournament as memorable even if Brazil will wonder for some time if the cost was something they could afford.

Above all, I will remember Rio. In its complexity and its glory which is more than glorious. From the man who spent some time addressing the cardboard cutout Neymar in the harshest tones before Brazil played Mexico to the marmosets that would appear on the tree outside our local cafe looking for food.

Of course, the food of Brazil is something as well, from the feijoada and farofa which accompany nearly every meal, to the steaks which were a constant.

The fruit is magnificent, especially the produce sold in the speciality fruit markets which sparkles with colour and draw you in with their enticing smells.

Vegetables, on the other hand, were something of a rarity. Early in my stay when I was young and naive, I attempted to order what I thought was broccoli. The waiter looked a bit anxious and his face wrinkled with concern as if we had ordered fugu, the Japanese puffer fish which can kill if eaten incorrectly.

I felt it was time for some broccoli -at that point I retained high hopes for a varied diet - and became quite insistent that our meal include the vegetable popularised if not actually invented by Arsene Wenger in the 1990s.

Of course, by the time the waiter had finished bringing the lamb, chicken, beef and sausage, I had been mollified and would never ask for vegetables again.

For an inventive people, Brazilians like paperwork. On Friday night, I ate in a local churrascaria, a restaurant which specialises in barbeque meat.

We didn’t choose that well. The meat was good of course, but the restaurant was vast, it was like eating in the aircraft hangar in Spinal Tap but with fewer people. We paid by the kg with our plates weighed before we ate and as we left we engaged in one of those strange acts of bureaucracy that are customary.

We took our bill to the cashier, she ran it through the system, told us the price, we paid and off we went. I was called back so I could be handed the stub from my bill which she insisted I took. As we walked to the door twenty yards away, another woman was waiting and she was equally insistent that she too the stub from me. Just another Rio mystery.

But there is so much to distract. I was lucky enough to take a cable car early one Sunday morning to the top of the Sugarloaf and early on another morning I took the funicular to Cristo Redentor and now I can bore people with my opinion on which view is superior.

On Friday night, I was told that the best time to visit Cristo Redentor is at night. I didn’t feel I’d missed out. Instead I promised to return one day and next time stand at the top looking over the vast beauty that is Rio de Janeiro with my wife and son.

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