The Rio Olympics

25 08 2016

And so, the Olympics have come to an end. As someone who has such passionate memories of Rio, I was excited, and scared, as the games approached. Zika, water pollution, a bike path swept out to sea, a virtual coup, a deep recession: what else could go wrong for Rio?

But in the event the games were neither a disaster, nor – from my perspective – a triumph. The opening and closing ceremonies struck me as a little bland – in this least bland of cities. Of course, they were implemented on a much tighter budget than at other recent Olympics but with the incredible richness and breadth of Brazilian culture, it all seemed a bit anaemic. A bit obvious. I have to say that I was disappointed. Giselle Budchen walking to the “Girl from Ipanema” – really?

So what had I expected? I had visions of Carmen Miranda and the legend of Iracema, great black leaders like the Zumbi of Palmares, the Salvador Muslim slave revolts and Chico Rei, the slave who became a quasi-African king.  What of capoeira and candomble? The great national myths – the revolutions of Tiradentes, the teeth puller, and the rebels of the sertao badlands in the Northeast? I had imagined riotously costumed interpetations of the Amazonian folklore of the jungle peoples: the bumba meu boi, boto dolphin spirits, the minhacao and mula sem cabeca, as well as tributes to the literature of Machado de Assis, the Theatre of the Oppressed. This had been a great opportunity to recast Brazil  in its own imagination as a multiracial, but black, country,  a “new” Brazil. I had prayed for Caetano Veloso to kick off proceedings, spotlit on a stool singing his progressive anthem  “Tropicalia”…. but perhaps that was always naive. These things don’t necessarily “sell” to a worldwide audience. After all, Caetano was there but it was barely noted in the world media. Perhaps what they really needed was Jennifer Lopez?

The games themselves were engaging. The Brits made it rain gold and silver, China and Australia sank and bickered over the swimming and the Chinese team provided a great charmer in Fu Yuanhui and a love-to-hate villain in Sun Yang. Singapore scored a gold, and Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps secured their legacies. And then, in a final pleasing touch, the Brazilians faced their football nemesis, Germany, and finally triumphed at Maracana.

But now that it is over, was it worth it? Guanabana Bay didn’t get cleaned up. The promised new subway lines opened – just in time – but the fighting in the favelas goes on and the Rio taxpayers are left to foot a hefty bill. For a city that is used to throwing such amazing parties, this had all felt a little…forgettable.The fact that the highlight of the closing ceremony was Tokyo’s presentation for 2020 said it all.

Elke Maravilha: a marvellous life

25 08 2016


Halfway through the Olympics came the news that a Rio icon had passed away. Elke Maravilha was a model and actress, famous for her flamboyance. Blonde and beautiful, she had a huge appetite for life, a magnetic smile and a mile-wide wild streak that had endeared her to generations of Brazilians.

Born Elke Giorgierena Grunnupp Evremides, (you can see why she used a stage name) she had emigrated to Brazil as a child from Leningrad. She came from an academic mixed Russian and German family, and grew up speaking nine European languages before breaking into showbiz as a ditzy blonde appearing on TV talent shows and the catwalk.


It was her work as a fashion model that led her to form a friendship with Zuzu Angel, the pre-eminent Brazilian fashion designer of the 70s and an unlikely rebel, who used her high profile as a constant thorn in the side of the military dictatorship after her activist son had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the regime. Elke was also arrested, after tearing down “wanted” posters offering a reward for his capture. She was held in an infamous prison and torture centre for five days and eventually stripped of her Brazilian citizenship, forcing her to fall back on her German passport.

Still, her show business career went on, often appearing on the television show of the hugely popular surrealist TV comic Chacrinha. She also landed a part as a brothel madam in a TV series that became her signature role. In addition to her huge gay following she was now crowned the godmother of Rio’s sex workers.


Elke married eight times, most recently to a man thirty years younger, and lived in a pink mansion in Copacabana near the beach, continuing her wild ways until she passed away aged 71, a shock-blonde rebel to the very end.

Brazil, seventies

25 08 2016

Secos & Molhados, the experimental theatre-rock band that launched Ney Matogrosso, a Brazil-rock icon famous for his flamboyant bisexuality and soaring falsetto.


Life is beautiful

21 08 2016

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Olafur Eliasson’s installation at the Versailles palace, Mariko Mori’s Olympic installation in the Mangaratiba forest in Rio de Janeiro, unknown, the Kunsthaus in Bregenz in Austria, the beautiful 1951 Chapelle du Rosair a Vence by Matisse and a Casa Brutus fashion shoot in the concert hall in Tokyo’s Ueno Park.

Cultura de verao

20 07 2016


With the long, lazy days of Summer I’ve been catching up on my reading and viewing: it has been a Summer of culture! And given that my brief hope of playing Pokemon Go has been quashed by the delay in its Asian release, I have been reading instead. As well as some students’ novels that I had to read for school, my eclectic June/July beach-and-cafe book list has consisted of:

The Quran. I figured it was time to get myself educated! Although its not a comfortable read for a Western liberal (not to mention rambling and repetitive) I was surprised to find room for interpretation that could lead to positive change…amid plenty of ammunition for those who would oppose it. It is a book full of contradictions.

Dancing with the Devil in the City of God by Juliana Barbassa. This book, an investigation of the many problems faced by Rio de Janeiro, is a primer for the upcoming Olympics in my beloved former playground. The city is seemingly reeling from an insurmountable list of problems at the moment, just as it should be taking its bow in the world’s limelight. Will a recession, the virtual coup against Dilma, pollution, rising crime and the zika virus dampen the finest moment for the cidade maravilhosa or will Rio manage, characteristically, to rise above its demons, just as it does every Carnaval, if only for a night or two?

Ways of Going Home, by Alejandra Zambra. Haven’t started yet.

A Dean Koontz thriller the boyfriend picked up for me at the second hand store.

Plus a viewing list of:

Orange is the New Black.

Magnifico 70 – a Brazil HBO miniseries on censorship in 1970s Sao Paulo, kind of Mad Men in Sampa.

And music:

Still Roisin Murphy.

Still Leah Dou.

Plus the new album from Japanese alt-chanteuse UA, titled JaPo (short for “Japonesia”), another album of lush harmonies, lo-fi bleeps, raw jazzy vocals and tribal beats. It doesn’t all work, but when it does, UA stakes a claim as the foremost quirky Japanese nineties-generation diva (sorry, Shiina Ringo and Chara).



Light trapping

11 07 2016


Light trapping is a website devoted to the “night expeditions, escapades and chance encounters” of a Sao Paulo gay photographer, combining to spectacular effect his preoccupations with a) naked men b) architecture and c) striking lighting. Its mesmerising.

More images (some NSFW) after the jump

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….and Russo Passapusso

2 07 2016