Boyd Tonkin: The View From Here

'So cool is Brand Brazil that only a jerk could object to this orgy of second-hand patriotism'
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The Independent Online

Long ago, in the City of Light, the great and gorgeous diva Josephine Baker famously warbled that, "J'ai deux amours..." - "I have two loves, my country and Paris". Not a sentiment that many fans of suburban social harmony, or even of fluent football, would echo just at the moment, perhaps.

Never mind: the yearning to embrace a second cultural identity to make up for the flaws of the first burns just as brightly close to home. The startling sight of Abul Koyair - one of the brothers wrongly arrested in the Forest Gate anti-terror raid - leading a protest march in a Brazilian shirt with "De Menezes" on the back, flanked by a bunch of supporters in identical strip, confirmed that the Irish now have a serious rival as the planet's alternate nationality of choice.

The "My other soul is Brazilian" message can be seen all over London right now, fluttering from pizza delivery mopeds or draped from the balcony of council flats, where the gold and green banner mounts the only proper heraldic opposition to the cross of St George. Many of those would-be Cariocas who fly the Brazilian colours have never come closer to their chosen spiritual homeland than the inside of a bottle of suddenly fashionable Brahma beer, but that's hardly the point. So cool is Brand Brazil that only a jerk could object to this orgy of second-hand patriotism. What a shame, then, that on current form their team would be played off the park by Argentina, whose national insignia does not as yet go down a treat on inner-city estates. Still, one fearless (or foolhardy) heretic in my neighbourhood has dared run up the flag of... Germany.


There's only one really exciting story coming out of Germany these days. I refer, of course, to the daredevil adventures of Bruno the Bear, the ursine fugitive from Italy now running rings around the Bavarian police. The Alpine rozzers have tried to pin a rap sheet that names 25 sheep and four goat victims on to his elusive pelt, but the Brown Pimpernel merely mocked them by sauntering into a lakeside resort and stretching out for a nap outside the cop shop. Bruno has also baffled an imported crack squad of Finnish hunters. Good luck to him: I've seen smoked bear's paw on the menu of a Tsarist-style restaurant in Helsinki. (A friend misread it as "boar" and ordered the poor beast.)

Meanwhile, a friendly word of advice for Bavaria's head of environmental protection. Some of us, Christoph Himighofen, spend quite a bit of time and effort trying to wean our less-enlightened countrymen off the redundant German stereotypes that they take such puerile pleasure in. So maybe you can help us by not replying, when asked about Bruno's great escapes, with the classic 1950s B-movie interrogation-chamber line: "It sounds funny, but one day it may not be so amusing..."

* Much consternation last week when a Sutton Trust report revealed that if you want to get ahead at the posh end of the media, it rather helps to have spent a couple of years fagging at Eton for a future editor of The Telegraph. (Online readers in the US should apply for a full translation now.) Such sadly predictable evidence of the persistence of privilege will shock only those unfamiliar with the prolific research of the Department of the Bleedin' Obvious at the University of the Foregone Conclusion. More alarming is to see flagrant evidence of cross-media mutual aid creep into the summer reading list of that bastion of cultural democracy, the Richard & Judy Book Club.

One of six novels picked for guaranteed success by the sultan and sultana of afternoon chat comes from Victoria Hislop, a writer not entirely unacquainted with Private Eye editor and Have I Got News for You stalwart Ian Hislop. So, will the Eye and HIGNFY become a Richard & Judy joke-free zone forthwith? We will be watching. Another R&J choice is The Righteous Men by one "Sam Bourne". So close is this debutant thriller writer to leading Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland that the pair are always and forever seen in the same room at the same time. Surely the least that Mr Freedland can do is to don shades and a comedy beard on the sofa?

* Forget Marcel Proust's tea-time madeleine: it's fruit that drops you fastest into the past. Waitrose has just struck a small blow against body fascism in the aisles by opting to stock less-then-perfect "class two" fruit at some of its branches. So the jolie laide strawberry and the strikingly featured peach will take their place in the supermarket sun at last.

The news awakens fond memories of non-standardised forms and flavours from a time before the armour-piercing apple and the billiard-ball tomato. Take seedless grapes, which used to offer small and sweet explosions of delight. Now the ubiquitous but ultra-bland Thompson bullets have all but wiped away recollections of how they used to taste.

Then, two months ago in India, at roadside markets in the hills of southern Rajasthan, I spotted barrows piled high with just the grapes that I remember. Being a well-drilled tropical traveller, I didn't indulge... but maybe they would have been well worth a couple of days of agony. And I can forgive Fidel Castro a lot (if not quite everything) for the deliciously and nostalgically thin-skinned breakfast bananas at the Hotel Nacional in Havana. If I had more space I'd probably get on to childhood drives through rural Essex as August drifted into September, where rosy-cheeked wenches sitting at orchard gates would sell baskets of dozens of distinct varieties of apples and still give you change from half a dollar... Oh, and figs ain't wot they used to be either.