Beautiful. That’s Rio. Well, the public face. If you ignore the favellas. Which it’s hard to do from our hotel unless you wear earplugs. Then you wouldn’t hear the dogs howling or the shots at night.
But the mountains are beautiful. The sea and the beaches are beautiful. All the young people (it seems) are beautiful.
Long-limbed girls in teeny bikinis. Swinging so coolly and swaying so gently.*
Bronzed gods exercising on the kind of equipment I last saw in our smelly school gym – but on the beach.
Yes, the smart side of Rio is so lovely it’s depressing.
I had a perm not long before I left. Big mistake. I have to spend ages, each day, blow-drying it. And given my new routine, I could do without that.
I’m up way too early. Swimming lengths in the pool by five thirty. Just two of us sharing the cool hours. Me and the man scooping out last night’s shower of leaves.
The best part of the day comes next. Room service breakfast.
Lush little pastries, pregant with custard. A big orange grin of papaya. A fruit I’d never eaten before – now, I’m hooked.
But, all too soon, I must go. Sandra slips into my room so we can be seen leaving together.
It’s 40 kilometres out to the exhibition centre. Sandra drives us in a rented VW Beetle while I try not to fall asleep.
By the time we arrive the sun’s beaming, the sky’s impossibly blue and the mountains framing the distant view are – yes – beautiful.
The site is a reclaimed swamp. But no-one told the mosquitoes. Or the rodents.
My base is a subterranean room with no windows. And the air conditioning – such as it is – doesn’t work the long hours we work.
The cable ducts that open into the room are handy – for the rats. But that’s what chairs are for, right? For jumping on.
I learn early on that I must work with the ‘mañana’ thing. Book essential services to arrive way too early and keep my fingers crossed.
The opening day arrives, the ceremony happens, the speeches go well. The scurry of waiters arrives… half an hour after everyone’s finished.
I booked them for two hours earlier than needed. It’s not a great start. And it just gest worse.
The conference programme, nicely printed in booklets, distributed widely in advance, copies posted out around the world to all the particpants, is wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I scurry around telling speakers, posting notices and – yes – keeping my fingers crossed. But getting the right people in the right rooms is, it turns out, the easy part.
The first time we use the ‘flexible’ big room – designed so it can be subdivided – there’s a gasp as the lights go off for the slide show in room number 1.
The gasp is from room number 2.
Because the lights are all controlled from one side. Worse, they’re all either on or off across the entire, flexible space.
Luckily I have the electrician on standby. And he has a bright idea. (He’s a bright Sparks ha ha! Sorry.)
He gives me instructions in baby-Spanish, then dashes down to the fuse cupboard on the floor below. I take my position outside the meeting rooms, appoint people from each room to tell me when the lights should be off.
A volunteer stands at the top of the stairs, another at the bottom.
‘Lights off room 1.’
A stage whisper passes along the line – and it works.
It’s fun, you can imagine. No stress. No stress at all.
But after a week or so things settle down a little. I reprise the role of journalist now and then, visiting stands on the huge exhibition centre and – I will find out in due course – meeting my future employers at a well-known firm in The Netherlands.
We even squeeze in some sightseeing. Corcovado (‘oh how lovely’), the cable car up Sugar Loaf.
Basking, hump-backed islands. Like mythical sea creatures, marooned by old magic.
Yes, Rio is … beautiful.
But it’s not a great place for the morale. I mean, no tan to speak of, classic English pear shape. And don’t mention the thighs.
How come Sandra looks so good around the pool?
Eventually the penny drops – she’s wearing heels. I’d never have thought of that. But I’m not about to copy her. Two weeks in, the last thing I want to draw attention to is my feet. Which are peeling, badly, visibly, distressingly (well I am a young woman of marriageable age).
I visit the nurse. She tells me it’s fungus.
The office, the rats, the mosquitoes – that wasn’t enough? No, the heat and humidity have done their worst and now I must suffer the ignominy of having my feet painted, all over, with Gentian Violet.
I’ve never been painted with Gentian Violet before. It’s stained my feet purple. When it wears off I have to have it applied again.
I feel like a member of a secret society. Not one the girl from Ipanema would have joined.
But then, she probably wouldn’t have got foot fungus. And almost certainly wouldn’t have done what I did next.
*you have to know the words to the Girl from Ipanema to understand why I use these adverbs 😉
**which tbh I wish I’d never started 😦 And if you’re wondering why no pictures – I didn’t have a camera and it’s long before digital photography.