I arrived in Rio de Janeiro just over 24 hours ago and I’m already completely enchanted by the cidade marvalihosa.
Some things about the city come as a surprise – it’s grey and wet, for a start, although the rain is of that warm, tropical variety that settles on your hair and clothes like dew rather than soaking straight through them. It is also far more expensive than I had anticipated, despite hearing various reports from backpacking friends. Brazil’s economy is booming, and you can feel it everywhere from the increasingly safe streets to the exorbitant price of a caipirinha. They are really good caipirinhas, though.
Other sides of Rio are exactly as I’d imagined and hoped for and dreamt of. That lush landscape, as seen in a thousand stock photos: a sweeping curve of beach lined with ’70s highrise hotels and cast against a backdrop of green carpeted mountains. Lots of beautiful people of ambiguous ethnic origin: coffee-coloured skin, light eyes, high cheekbones. Beach shacks and suco bars selling deep purple açaí and fresh coconut juice. A constant stream of joggers along the boardwalk of Copacabana beach, working dutifully on their already impressive beach bodies.
My American host (I’m here for work) is charmed but not so instantly enamoured by the city as I am - she says that, for her, it’s the grand architecture and historic civilisation of ancient European cities which really provide the wow factor. This sits well with my theory that you tend to be seduced by the elements of a foreign culture which are most notably missing from your own. Brazil’s sticky heat, its couples kissing in the street, the omnipresent sound of samba and, of course, that sexy, guttural language are all symbols of an open sensuality that London will always lack.
Except when it comes to football. On that front, both Brazil and Britain wear their hearts prominently on their sleeves.