Brazil Notebook

Ipanema, Brazil Another Sunday night, yet another episode of Game of Thrones drowned out by pot-banging and angry folk yelling into the night. In my quiet corner of Ipanema, a slanging match takes place as middle-class tenants of a high-rise apartment start slandering their neighbours in the favela below. The words ‘cow’ and ‘communist’, among others, are shouted by darkened figures hanging out of windows. The comebacks are meted out with equal ferocity. Things are tense in this town at the moment. Pot-banging, or panelaço, is an established form of protest in South America. In Brazil it has been happening in many cities for several months now as the middle classes

The roots of the matter

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Lara Prendergast and Louise Bailey, a hair extensions specialist, discuss the hair trade” startat=1622] Listen [/audioplayer]Perhaps you recall the moment in Les Misérables when Fantine chops off all her hair? The destitute young mother sells her long locks, then her teeth (a detail often excluded from child-friendly adaptations) before she is eventually forced into prostitution. It would be nice to think that her experience was no longer a reality, that the business of human hair had gone the way of the guillotine — but the truth is, it’s booming. The modern market for extensions made of real human hair is growing at an incredible rate. In 2013, £42.8

Trash, review: trash by name, trash by nature

Trash is the sort of film one desperately wishes to be kind about — heart supremely, if not burstingly, in the right place and all that — but it doesn’t make life easy for itself. Directed by Stephen Daldry, with a script by Richard Curtis, and set amid the kids who work the rubbish dumps of Rio de Janeiro, this aspires to combine (I think) the lively spirit and warmth of Slumdog Millionaire with the hard-hitting social agenda of City of God, but in working both angles, it doesn’t pull off either one. It also culminates in the most implausibly happy ‘feelgood’ ending known to man (and here I am

World Cup diary – best tournament in years

Sorry – bit of an interregnum in the World Cup diary, caused principally by England’s pathetic capitulation. But still the tournament gives pleasure, perhaps to a greater degree than it has done in thirty years or more. Watching Brazil get stuffed on their own midden heap was an enormous pleasure. Their thuggery in the previous round, against Colombia, came back to haunt them; there is karma in football. That’s why Leeds Utd are still in the lower reaches of the Championship.  Germany were magnificent; Brazil gave in after the second goal — but truth be told, they were never terribly good. One thing bothers me, though — at the start

World Cup diary: Was the ref playing for Brazil?

Suspicions that FIFA is an organisation given, occasionally, to a bit of corruption will not have been allayed by the first match of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil won with two goals from a player who should have been sent off, including a penalty which clearly wasn’t a penalty, while Croatia had a perfectly good goal disallowed and were denied a rather more clear cut penalty themselves. Incidentally, I say “Brazil” – and so do ITV. So do FIFA. And so does the OED, Wikipedia and Google. But not the BBC. The BBC says “Brasil”. Of course it does.

If you thought this World Cup was weird, take a look at Brazil 1950

Old world Brazil has struggled to get ready for the World Cup, even though it hosted it before, in 1950. Some oddities of that tournament: — There was no final, as such. The winner was to be decided by a second group stage. But it came down to the last match, Brazil vs Uruguay, in which Brazil needed a draw and Uruguay a win. Uruguay won 2-1. — That match, at Rio do Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, still holds the record of the best-attended match in World Cup history, with 199,954 spectators. — Only 13 out of 16 teams who qualified turned up. Scotland could have gone but stuck to their

I used to think I was a Nietzschean superman. Now I know I’m just a dad

In The Wolf of Wall Street, there’s a poignant shot towards the end in which we see an FBI agent going home on the subway. This law enforcement officer — Agent Patrick Denham — will eventually bring about the downfall of Jordan Belfort, the film’s main character, and the fact that he uses public transport is supposed to be evidence of his integrity. He’s an honest, hard-working tax-payer who plays by the rules. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but in the past 25 years I’ve gone from being an international party boy to a kind of FBI agent. Admittedly, I’ve never plumbed the depths of debauchery that Jordan

Niall Ferguson’s diary: Brazil is overtaking us – but it no longer feels like that

 São Paolo It was back in 2001 that my good friend Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the acronym ‘Bric’, short for Brazil, Russia, India, China. These were the emerging markets that were going to surpass the developed economies. And so they have. Well, nearly. I, too, am partial to a good acronym and it has always seemed to me very unfortunate that there isn’t a matching one for the four biggest established economies. According to the International Monetary Fund, these are currently the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom (based on last year’s GDP figures). I therefore propose ‘Juugs’. The rise of the Brics and the fall

‘She’s the most important Jewish writer since Kafka!’

The Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector was a riddlesome and strange personality. Strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes, she died in Rio de Janeiro in 1977 at the age of only 57. Some said she wrote like Virginia Woolf (not necessarily a recommendation) and resembled Marlene Dietrich. She was ‘very, very sexy’, remembered a friend. Yet she needed a great many cigarettes, painkillers, anti-depressants, as well as anti-psychotics and sleeping pills to get through her final years. Lispector had great fortitude over her illness, it was said, and suffered the ravages of ovarian cancer equably and without complaint. According to her biographer Benjamin Moser, Lispector’s was a life fraught with the

A world-class orchestra in the heart of São Paulo’s Crackland

São Paulo has a concert hall that London’s orchestras would kill for. It was originally a railway station, a mighty space bounded by Corinthian pilasters in the style of a French palace, built by Brazilian coffee barons. Now the tracks are buried beneath 800 seats on the main floor, plus another 700 on the balconies and mid-air boxes facing the stage. But it’s the ceiling that produces gasps, or, in the case of a children’s concert I attended, earsplitting squeals of wonder. You’d think Superman had arrived. You see, the ceiling is made up of 15 huge, lavishly decorated panels that match the walnut floor. And they move! Up and

Taki: why would anyone want 72 virgins? They’re useless in bed

The long lazy summer is upon us, and as I walk the Swiss hills below the mountain ranges my thoughts are always of the past, the long hot summers of long ago, girls in their pretty dresses, my father in his whites sailing around the Saronic Bay with a ball-and-chain standard flying from his main mast. It meant ‘Wife on board’, which really meant: when I drop anchor in some nearby port, local talent should stay away. Dad was famous, infamous rather, for flying that ensign, because he loved partying with loose women on his boat, and, during the rare occasions my mother would come on board, he didn’t want

The coming world oil order

Following on from Daniel’s post this morning about a more inward looking America, Daniel Yergin has a very interesting essay in the Washington Post about how the changing balance of the US’s energy supplies are going to change its geo-strategic priorities. Yergin makes the point that by 2020, Canada could be a bigger oil producer than Iran and Brazil could be producing more than half of what Saudi Arabia is currently pumping out. Put these developments together with increased domestic energy production in the States itself and the fact that China is on its way to overtaking the US as the world’s largest oil consumer, and the geo-politics of energy

A flooded world

It looks like the opening of a Hollywood disaster film. The South African government has declared parts of the country disaster areas, after 40 people died in floods in a month. At the same time, the UN is to launch an appeal for emergency flood aid for Sri Lanka, where at least 32 people have died and more than 300,000 have been displaced. Meanwhile flood waters in Australia have left a trail of destruction, at least 18 dead and a billion dollar bill for reconstruction. And in Brazil, survivors of the floods that have killed more than 600 people are frustrated by the lack of government help. Are these floods

Climate kamikaze

Several months ago, European leaders went to Copenhagen to save the planet. China, India and Brazil on the other hand went to the climate negotiations in Denmark to showcase the changed distribution of power in the world. Unsurprisingly, the Europeans came home empty-handed, shut out of the key negotiations and powerless despite what was meant to be a standard-setting promise of 20 percent cut in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The US and the rising powers struck a non-binding deal, the value of which is still being determined. Reading today’s cover story in The Times, the lesson the eco-friendly EU Commission seems to have drawn from this experience is that

A welcome return of defence diplomacy

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox has given an interview to the Sunday Express, where he talks about overcoming a sense of “colonial guilt” bestowed by revisionist historians and the need for a new government to forge defence links with commonwealth nations, such as Australia and New Zealand, but he also cited India and Saudi Arabia. They have a “strong appetite” for closer defence links with the UK, he argues.   Looking at variable defence relationships with countries like India, and non-NATO partners like Australia makes good sense. Nicolas Sarkozy has done the same – and even invited Indian troops to march down the Champs-Élysées last year on Bastille Day. A

Hague’s modern Realism

In a splurge of activity, William Hague gave both an interview to the FT and another foreign policy speech at RUSI outlining the views of a Conservative government. It was time for an update on Tory thinking, not least because David Cameron’s description of his policy as “liberal conservatism” and his unwillingness to march into a “massive euro bust-up” has had little effect. That is because a struggle over how to engage with the world continues to run beneath the party leader’s message of party unity. Four main schools of diplomatic thought exist in the party: the modern Realists, the Neo-Conservatives, the anti-Europeans (not the same as the Euroskeptics, which

Populist preaching

Patrick Marnham visits Brazil’s annual festival of literature Many years ago a wild-eyed Englishman hacked his way into the Amazon rain forest and disappeared, never to be seen again. Since then the fate of Percy Fawcett, known as ‘the Colonel’, has remained a mystery. Fawcett, a heavily bearded pipe-smoker in a deerstalker hat, was a figure of fun to the bright young things of England in the 1920s. This was unfair since he was engaged in work of some importance; he was mapping the Brazilian frontier with Bolivia and Peru. Colonel Fawcett returned to the Amazon many times and over the years, distracted from his science, he became convinced of