Tag Archives: brazil

Suicide Up Close in São Paulo

I’ve never seen a jumper up close. Suicide where someone leaps off a tall building is always what you see in movies and usually a hero comes and talks the jumper out of leaping to their death.

However, after I had finished my sandwich in a snack bar on Rua Augusta in São Paulo this evening I stepped outside and saw cops all around the street. It was not clear what was going on, but then I saw two fire trucks arriving and I looked up and saw a young woman standing on the edge of the building.

She was not ridiculously high up – maybe just 4 floors above the ground – but even so I guess a 20 metre fall can go either way. She just stood there right on the edge of the building with no shoes on, just her bare feet inching slowly over the edge.

I started watching the spectacle because I wanted to see how the police would handle it. The cops in São Paulo are not known for their subtlety so I just wanted to see if they could talk her out of jumping.

One police negotiator was on the edge of the building close to her. He kept approaching with a phone. I guess he was encouraging her to speak to a friend or family member. From the way the phone kept lighting up, I guess he kept on trying to get a number from her.

But what was important was that this guy kept her focused on the safe zone. He never let her look back or look down, she was always looking at him or the phone with her back to the edge. While she was focused on him, two firemen raised a platform behind her and one suddenly grabbed her and pulled her into the safety of the platform.

She was kicking and screaming, but she had two big firemen pressing her down until they could lower the platform to the road. She was saved, for today.

I carried on watching because I wanted to see how the fire and police service handled this emergency and they did a good job. They diverted her attention enough to be able to get a platform behind her so she could be carried to safety, but as I walked away from this unusual street theatre I was left pondering a few thoughts.

Why would hundreds of people rush to take her photograph as she was released on the ground? Nobody on the street knows her story and why she felt that suicide was the only option. Why take her photo? Do people really want to get a portrait of an “almost-suicide” for their Instagram page that desperately?

She was so young. Perhaps 21 or 22 and pretty – not that beauty matters essentially, but it contrasts starkly with such a grim situation. What could have gone so disastrously wrong in her life by this age to cause her to want to just end everything? Perhaps if she can recover now and enjoy another 60 years of life with a family she might one day remember when two firemen made it all possible?

It’s disturbing to watch someone on the edge of taking their own life. For around 20 minutes I stood there wondering if the police could save her. When a second negotiator moved in and scared her I thought it was all over, but in the end both the police and fire service did a good job. They understood how to distract her and saved her life.

I walked home and still felt disturbed. Sometimes we all forget just how close we all are to not existing. When I read about the death of Jim Carrey’s girlfriend, Cathriona White, in the news today it was made even stranger by the fact that her Instagram and Twitter were all updated almost until the moment of her death. The actual switch from life to death takes place in an instant and to look at social networks anyone might believe a person is still here.

I’m glad that the cops saved that woman tonight, but saddened that in our modern smartphone culture a suicide is just seen as entertainment. And the taxi driver who got upset about the road diversion when I told him it was because of a suicide needs to learn about empathy for other people – I wouldn’t want to be his partner!

tentativa de suicídio na rua Augusta 😁😩 #suicidio #suicide #augusta #baixoaugusta #saopaulo

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Is Rio Excited About the Olympics in 2016?

Here’s the thing. A few days back was the one-year-to-go point for the Rio Olympics. The Olympic committee seemed pretty confident that most things are on track for the games. Some of the venues are ready now. Some are almost ready. From what I read there only seemed to be one venue that was really struggling to meet deadlines.

But we still have a year to go. Who can forget the images from Greece before the Athens 2004 games where it seemed that venues were still being constructed days before the events were to start?

But what I find really funny is how the media – in Brazil and globally – are all saying that nobody is looking forward to the games in Brazil. Ticket sales are low. People are worried about the economic situation. The Guardian even went so far as to suggest that people in Brazil are still upset about Germany thrashing Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup last year.

What is worth remembering is that this happens before every Olympic games. Take a look back at London. Perhaps I’m biased because I am British, but it was one of the most memorable Olympic events ever in my opinion. From the amazing opening ceremony to the way the volunteers changed the way the entire city operated. It was a time to remember in the UK. Ask most people in London about the Olympics in 2012 and they will have fond memories of a month when people were friendlier than usual – there was an improvement in the way the entire city functioned and people enjoyed it.

But a week before the 2012 games it was all different. I wrote about it at the time in the Huffington Post. The press were wailing that there was no security in London, that missile launchers were being erected on buildings, that bus drivers wanted to strike, that the tube would not run, that the Olympic bus drivers had no idea how to find the stadium, and that the budget was out of control… the 2012 Olympics was generally hated by the media.

That article was published one week before the 2012 games began and my point was generally to say, “look let’s get behind this now because the whole world is watching London.”

What response did I get? Almost 100 comments on the article and every single one saying what a complete tosser I am for suggesting this. Every comment complained about the Olympics in London.

Spin forward a week to the opening ceremony and every Brit was laughing at the Queen with James Bond, Mr Bean, singing Kinks and Beatles songs. Suddenly everyone loved the fact that the entire world was watching Britain and enjoying it. Suddenly people felt proud of being British.

But this hasn’t happened in Rio yet. In fact I expect it will not happen until the opening ceremony because until the event is really underway, it’s not “real”, it’s just a future event that could always be a disaster. At least that’s what the press tells us.

So I for one am not listening to a word about how the Brazilian psyche has been so disturbed by Germany’s goals in 2014 that it is now impossible for them to enjoy the Olympics. Or that any questions of economics will make people enjoy sport less.

The sports pages are full of so much garbage. The bottom line is that Brazilians are going to welcome the Olympics to Rio next year and I hope I’m there to enjoy it with them.
Mirante Dona Marta - Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Coffee – from the berries to the cup down on the farm

My house is located in rural São Paulo. In fact, it is so rural that from my windows I can see a mountain range and lots of coffee growing up the side of the hills. This photo is from one of the nearby hills looking back at the town in the valley.

Serra Negra hoje #serranegra #cafe #coffee #altodaserra

Although I am surrounded by coffee and I can buy the local coffee in the shops nearby, I had never seen a coffee farm up close – until yesterday.

An agronomist, Jonas Ferraresso, working at the Boa Esperança coffee farm in Serra Negra noticed me tweeting about the area and he said hello. We have talked on and off on Twitter for a few months now and he eventually asked if I would like to have some coffee at the farm. So I went over and he gave me a tour.

This farm is very close to the town centre. There is no need to go on dirt roads to get there so it only took me 5 minutes to find him. Jonas showed me around the farm by car, because with over 350,000 coffee trees it would take a long time to walk it!

There are about 20 people always working on the farm because the coffee trees need to be looked after all year round – pruning and fighting bugs. Then there is the harvest from about July, which can take around three months and needs around another 60 people.

In many Brazilian farms like this the harvest can only be done by humans because the trees are planted on steep hills. This also means that the trees need to be limited to about 2m tall. Where a farm can use mechanised harvesting tools they can manage without the extra employees, work about a hundred times faster, and do the harvest in several waves – only ever picking the ripest berries rather than just picking everything.

I was really interested to learn about some of the different coffee varieties and the difference between a premium coffee and the cheap instant stuff you might find in a jar of Nescafé. I don’t buy instant coffee anyway, but after visiting a farm and seeing the real stuff I don’t think I ever would again.

The best thing was when he said that I could take some coffee home – straight from the farm. But the coffee he had for me was still berries covered in their skin. First Jonas put the beans in a roaster – we roasted them at 200c right there in the farm.

Torrando café #cafe #coffee #torrando #serranegra #saopaulo

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After roasting Jonas ground the beans for me. He said that it’s preferable to wait about a day after roasting before grinding, but as I don’t have a grinder at home he just did it immediately.

Grinding coffee #coffee #cafe #serranegra #saopaulo

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I’m grateful to Jonas for showing me around. Something many of us miss when living in cities is the connection between products in the supermarket and the farm they came from. I loved it that I saw the berries being roasted, then ground, and I went home with a bag of coffee that was ready to use and smelled fantastic!

Só café #cafe #coffee #serranegra #saopaulo

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Coincidences – in a city of 20m people!

Carnaval is the enormous party the marks the beginning of Lent. It’s still another week until the festival officially begins, but this is Brazil so the weekend before Carnaval is full of street parties – “blocos” – celebrating that it is just another week until Carnaval!

I went out to a few different blocos yesterday and there were some incredible coincidences all in the same day. My wife knew that her dentist and his family were going to be at one particular party, but the party was so big that we could not even see the stage where a band was playing Beatles songs. Yet even though we were surrounded by thousands of people, we found them almost immediately.

Later we were walking down the street, in-between parties, and we met the girlfriend of our friend’s son (who had just recently visited us in he countryside) – and she said that she was walking near our apartment hoping that we might be about! So we all went to another party together…

Then, as we were walking home later in the evening, my wife saw her cousin. In fact she said to me “that guy over there looks just like my cousin”, so we walked closer and it was him! We didn’t even realise that he was in São Paulo!

Even in a city of 20 million people we still managed to bump into friends and family in unexpected ways – all in one single day and with no arrangement using mobile phones!

Bloco Soviético #bloco #carnaval #sovietico #soviet #saopaulo

São Paulo marathon 2014 – better luck next time!

After months of training, being careful with my diet, and resting completely in the final week, I participated in the São Paulo marathon yesterday.

However, I didn’t manage to finish the race this time.

A maratona #maratona #marathon #saopaulo

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I have completed the London marathon a couple of times before and I’m used to 10km and half-marathon distance runs so the marathon is longer than usual, but it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. I had trained really well and was looking forward to it. In fact, based on my training runs I was expecting to do it this time in about 3.5 hours.

But once I started running I knew something was wrong. Within 3-4km I didn’t feel at all as if I was warming up. By that point I should have been hitting a regular pace and enjoying the early part of the run, but I was feeling really odd, a little out of breath and way too hot. That wasn’t helped by the water stops only appearing every 5km – so I knew I wanted some water and had to keep running to find some right at the start of the race.

It was hot yesterday, that’s true, but we started at 8am when it was about 27c. It did go up about another 10c, but in the early stages I don’t think the heat was my problem. I just felt like I couldn’t warm up or get going – as if there was no energy in the tank.

I rested for six days immediately before the marathon to ensure any little injuries were fixed – I had a niggling foot pain and a cut on my leg that was healing up – and all this was fixed. In the week before the rest I had run two half-marathons and several 10kms in training.

During the marathon, I kept going until 12km, but it was hopeless. I still didn’t feel at all like I had warmed up and I couldn’t get a regular pace going, it was like a constant struggle. I quit the race, took off my number, walked away from the track and found a taxi to take me home.

I then went to bed and slept. I’d had a really good sleep the night before, in bed by about 9pm, but I just felt shattered. Clearly something was wrong – whether I had a bit of a cold or something I don’t know, but the moment I got back from the race I just crashed out for a couple of hours.

It’s a shame as I was looking forward to the race. I’m feeling OK now so I don’t have any illness I can actually detect. I’ll head out for a 10km around town this evening just to see how I feel and to get the trainers back on.

I knew that I probably could have run and walked the race, just to get the medal regardless of how long it took, but I was keen to do this marathon in quite a good time given how much I’ve trained for it. I’m also aware that if I had forced myself to carry on for another 30km when I wasn’t feeling well then I might have ended up injured – because I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I just didn’t have any speed.

The Rio marathon is in July next year and I’ve got my eye on a few half-marathons before then so I’ll try again, but this time all I can say is that despite being well prepared I just didn’t feel right on the day. Better luck next time eh..?

A maratona #maratona #marathon #saopaulo

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Lake Villas in Amparo – my birthday 2014

I visited a new hotel this week. It was my birthday on Wednesday and I usually try to get away for a few days around my birthday, but with it falling in the middle of the week it seemed a better idea to just take a single day off and to check in someplace relaxing.

Because I didn’t want to spend a long time travelling, my wife found a place quite close to our home. It might be close, but it’s still nice to getaway and to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning for a day.

Fortunately our house is in the countryside anyway, so there are a lot of nice places nearby. We chose the Lake Villas Charm hotel at Amparo. It’s actually about halfway between two towns called Amparo and Morungaba in rural São Paulo.

I had vaguely heard of this hotel because I see signs for it on the main road near Amparo. It’s about 25km from our house so I see the signs fairly often, but I had never seen the hotel.

It was quite remote so that’s no surprise. To access it, you need to leave the main road and enter a dirt track that runs for about 10km into the countryside. The hotel is not really as you might imagine a normal hotel to be – a big building containing hundreds of rooms.

Arriving there, it was more like entering a golf course. The reception building was close to the entrance, but it was a separate small building just for the purpose of greeting visitors. The hotel itself is laid out in enormous grounds featuring lawns, woods, waterfalls, and forest – as far as the eye can see is basically all the grounds of the hotel.

Various buildings are dotted around the grounds. A spa and gym, a café, a restaurant… they are just scattered around and are usually placed next to features such as a lake or waterfall.

The rooms are not rooms at all. Each guest basically gets a house – an entire house that is so well equipped they look like something out of a home decoration magazine. Each house has a terrace with hammocks and beautiful furniture.

Lake Villas Charm Hotel

The place is so big that you need bicycles or golf carts to get around – we opted for a golf cart. After arriving and checking in we headed off to an enormous lake and swam in the water with a black swan. We drove around the grounds and explored a waterfall and some islands, then went to the spa to swim in the pool and relax on the terrace watching the waterfall.

But aside from this being probably the largest and most enjoyable hotel I have stayed anywhere in the world – and I’ve been to a lot of hotels – what I really noticed at this place was the dedication to customer service. It’s funny that the best customer service I have ever experienced turns out to be at a place that is just a half-hour drive down the road from home.

Here are a few examples:

  • When we arrived at the room, there was a letter from the manager of the hotel with his personal mobile phone number saying we could call or text him directly at any time if there was anything he could help with.
  • When the booking was made, my wife had mentioned that I’m vegetarian. When we arrived at the hotel restaurant the evening for dinner, the waiter greeted me by name and explained how the chef had prepared five off-menu options especially for me in case I wanted more choice of vegetarian dishes. This was not just an extra risotto – they had some really special options.
  • When my wife told the waiter that the mint in her pre-dinner Mojito tasted incredible, he arranged for the hotel gardener to show her where it was grown – and he pulled out a few entire plants for her to take home.
  • My wife had mentioned my birthday when booking the hotel, but had not made any specific plans for a cake, yet after our dinner the waiter arrived with a delicious chocolate cake and a card offering birthday wishes from the team.

Of course, any hotel could copy these actions. For example, a policy could be created to always bring a cake to a guest when the restaurant team is aware of a birthday, but what struck me at this hotel was that nothing appeared to be forced – it was an attitude rather than a policy.

I have never seen a general manager offering to accept messages via Whatsapp and the gardener did not have to go around pulling out plants, but if these people work within an environment where the culture is to try helping guests however possible then why wouldn’t they do that?

Great hospitality depends on the level of service to customers and hotels are in the frontline. Travelling guests are often tired on arrival and require service 24/7, which can often lead to situations where the old adage that the customer is always right just plainly wrong. The customer is not always right when he is jet-lagged, exhausted, and light-headed after some chilled Chablis.

The motto of the Ritz Carlton group is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This strikes me as the perfect attitude for the hotel business. The guest is not more powerful than the waiter because he is paying the bill. The hotel team can make your stay memorable for the right or wrong reasons and I’m pleased to say that for my recent birthday the team at the Lake Villas in Amparo made it a fantastic stay.

Check their website here.

2014-09-24 15.57.29

Brazil: I’ll do it tomorrow if that’s OK?

Business Daily on the BBC World Service today was focused on the possible decision by FIFA to cancel the World Cup games in Curitiba because the stadium is not ready. The BBC is being cautious and waiting for the actual announcement from FIFA, but ESPN has already started reporting that FIFA has taken this decision and Curitiba is officially out of the World Cup.

Of course this would be a disaster for Curitiba. It’s a fantastic city that is clean, safe, and has buses that people actually use. A complete contrast from the edginess of São Paulo or the favelas dotted all over Rio. It’s the last place that you might expect to fail when Brazil has also been building new stadiums in places like Manaus and Cuiabá.

But what I found irksome when listening to the BBC coverage was the vox pops they used when characterising Brazil. There was a university professor who talked about the culture in Brazil that everything can be done tomorrow. There was the miserable commuter who spends hours travelling to and from work each day – on a good day. There was the small business owner who said how terribly difficult it is to do business in Brazil.

The coverage wasn’t balanced or fair. I have complained a fair few times about the challenges of living in Brazil, notably things like the bureaucracy associated with buying an insurance policy or registering a car. Simple transactions that should really be easier, but on balance I actually like it here. It sounds irritating to hear the BBC doing a cultural hatchet job on how all Brazilians are lazy, feckless, and would rather not do anything today because there is always tomorrow.

I run a business in Brazil. If a contractor delivers anything late then I don’t pay them. If they let me down more than once I will never work with them again. If they don’t deliver a quality service then I negotiate a new price. I haven’t had very many problems at all with this idea that nothing ever gets delivered on time – I had far more trouble when I ran a business back in the UK.

Small businesses in Brazil benefit from a simple tax structure. You just pay tax on the revenue coming into your company. No need for complex offsets or depreciation, just pay a fixed percentage on your revenue. Imagine if Starbucks was doing that in the UK, rather than transferring profit to Switzerland therefore reducing the local profit to nothing and therefore paying little or no corporation tax.

And small business owners get paid on time in Brazil. When I send an invoice to a client I tell my bank that I have sent it and who it has gone to AND when they are going to pay. If the company doesn’t pay then my bank will chase the company – like my own debt collection service. Imagine if small companies in the UK could rely on their bank to help them this way? Why don’t they do it?

There is a very vibrant start-up culture in Brazil and loads of technological innovation taking place in the big corporates and the tiny micro-businesses. State governments are handing out cash to entrepreneurs all over the country without demanding equity in return because they are actively trying to stimulate the start-up culture and the benefits that one big success can bring to a region.

My own wife is a part of this scene. She is travelling all over Brazil meeting traditional artisans and joining them together into a collective called Gift Brazil, so they can harness the power of social media tools like Facebook to promote their traditional art and culture. Can you imagine the market a traditional artist in the middle of the Amazon might usually have for their work? Just the odd tourist wandering past perhaps… now they can be seen by the entire world.

I know that balance doesn’t make for a great story. It’s easier to get clicks on a story if you tell a miserable story, rather than try spreading the good news, but in the year of the FIFA World Cup Brazil is getting showered in bad news. Everything is late, the people don’t want it, it will all be a disaster…

Well there are some great interesting projects taking place in Brazil that are redefining how people work, people are demanding and starting to get more political transparency, and some of us are looking forward to the World Cup – even though I don’t have a single ticket for any of the matches!

Toucan eye

 

Photo by Doug Wheller licensed under Creative Commons