Neil Loughran's farewell postcard from Rio de Janeiro
BOM DIA! Long before leaving for Brazil, I sought the advice of respected Rio-based soccer journalist Tim Vickery.
Having lived in the city for years, he was the man to ask about where best to stay, what to expect from the traffic - you know, all the practical stuff. Considering I was coming here to cover what was going to be the most successful Olympic Games ever for Ireland’s boxers - doh - it surely made most sense to stay in the suburb of Barra near the Riocentro Pavilion, where all the pugilistic action would take place.
Tim was full of encouragement.
“Riocentro is an absolute bastard,” he offered, before continuing, “it’s a cruel joke that it’s name includes ‘centro’ - miles from anywhere. Pains me to say it, but I think you should be looking in the Barra area.”
Pains you to say? What could be so wrong with Barra.
“It’s soulless - a false Miami of shopping centres.”
It pains me to say it, but Tim was right. Barra has nothing going for it except being half-an-hour from the beach. And as for Riocentro, in terms of the results delivered there for the Irish contingent, it did indeed turn out to be “an absolute bastard”.
The mental traffic he had warned me about, however, was thankfully absent for much of my trip. With Olympic lanes opened up for the official buses carrying athletes, corporate flunkies and the gentlemen and women of the press, everything was a breeze.
That was until Saturday night, when I made my long-awaited pilgrimage to the famous Maracana Stadium to see Brazil take on Germany in the soccer final (nothing says ‘Olympic spirit’ like watching 22 millionaires run about for 120 minutes).
Upon leaving the venue, there was no bus going anywhere near my accommodation. Exasperated, I hailed a taxi and bounced in. Seventy minutes later, I had a fair idea what Tim Vickery was talking about. Stuck bumper-to-bumper on a dual carriageway bound for the Olympic Park in Barra, we hadn’t moved in 10 minutes.
Conversation with my taxi driver, the magnificently named Adaucir Rebelo Santos - probably the equivalent of big Jonty from Valucabs, but just sounds better - had been sparse. The one saving grace was that,. while he couldn’t speak one word of English, he could sing many.
When Robbie Williams’ Angels came on the radio, I whistled along to the chorus.
“Si,” I replied, before listening on in astonishment.
“I sit and wait… does an angle… contemplate my fate…” crooned Adaucir.
Stunned, I asked: “You speak English?”
He didn’t even understand the question. Next up in Adaucir’s wheels of steel, Sara by Starship: “Sarrrraaa, Sarrrrrraaa, storms are brewing in your eyes…”
The thing was, Adaucir had a beautiful voice. In ordinary circumstances, I could have listened to him sing all night. But the meter was running quicker than Usain Bolt and we were going nowhere fast. By the time Endless Love had finished - and it followed a stirring rendition of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (naturally) - we had to go our separate ways.
“Is it far to walk?” I asked, motioning with my index and middle fingers, before repeating the word “walk”, just to reinforce the point (maybe I should have sang it).
“Ahhhhh,” he gasped, “vinte minutos?”
Twenty minutes - I’ll take my chances with that. And so I strolled out into the balmy, deet thick night air, my last in this bizarre, beautiful city, the sound of the Brazilian taxi man’s smooth voice still ringing in my ears.
“And through it alllll…”
Until next time, ate lago