Friday, December 24, 2010

The Queen of Clubs

Planning for Christmas has not been easy this year. We're flying home in January to spend a week in each of Ireland and England, and both sets of relatives have kindly decided to postpone their own celebrations until we're there. So we get to have two entire weeks of over-indulging and over-spending and I only hope I'm up to the challenge! But as we're not leaving Brazil until Jan 6th, this leaves us with the tricky question of what to do with ourselves until then.

Our first plan was to do what nearly everyone else is doing and head to the beach. However, the problem with this is that nearly everyone else is doing this and so the beaches are heaving. It's basically standing room only, plus it's baking hot, plus it's upwards of three-times as expensive to do it now as at any other time of year. Just try and imagine the scene... now imagine it with two children.

Plan B was to go inland, up into the hills where it's cooler and the air is fresher. There are quite a lot of small towns there which offer peace and quiet and their own version of an Alpine getaway, with chalet-style hotels and quaint little shops selling things like Swiss chocolate and posh cheese and whatever else you can buy in Alpine villages. Sadly, the cost of the hotels is also Alpine, rising to Himalayan over the Christmas period, but even despite this they all still managed to sell out in November as far as I could tell.

So we were left with Plan C - spend the holidays in São Paulo and just keep reminding ourselves that our true Christmas was coming in January. At least, as we were informed by another non-traveller, São Paulo is a lot nicer with eight million fewer people in it. Everything is still open, you just don't have to queue, or wait, or make reservations for it.

However, to sweeten the deal even more, we finally sorted out joining a club. The club, or clube as it's spelt out here (pronounced cloobie) is a cross between a sporting complex and a social centre, set in generous grounds and nicely hidden away from the riff-raff by a huge great wall all the way around it. Some are modest affairs and offer the basics of a gym, football pitch, a swimming pool or two and a few tennis courts and then a couple of places to sit and eat. One or two of the bigger ones would give Disneyland a run for its money.

As it happens, we have two within ten minutes walk of the house and one of them, Clube Pinheiros, is possibly the biggest and most exclusive in town. It's also appears to be the most difficult to join. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. It's quite easy to join. All you need is big pockets and you're in. Basically, this is what you need to do. First off, you have to buy a titulo. This is like membership and you can buy it from anyone willing to sell you one. Fortunately, there always seem to be plenty of people offering theirs for sale and the price is negotiable between the two parties. Our inquiries would suggest that one will cost you about R$20,000 (£7,655). That is, of course, just for one of us. We would need four of them for the whole family. Of course, when we leave in four years' time, we could resell them and hopefully make back most, if not all, of our outlay. So it may actually cost us no more than four years' worth of interest on £30,000.

Next up is the joia (the word means jewel). This is, quite simply, a gift to the club. It's non-returnable and gives you nothing except the satisfaction of having contributed towards the welfare of the club and its owners. This is R$22,000 (£8,420). Per person. Still, after that, things come down in price quite substantially. The monthly fees are then only around R$700 (£268) and that's for the whole family. And on top of that there are individual fees for certain activities and classes, but at that point you probably wouldn't even notice another few hundred reais dripping out of your wallet.

So, unsurprisingly, Clube Pinheiros is not going to be receiving our applications for membership. Fortunately, however, there is a second clube just around the corner from Pinheiros and although it's on a more modest scale, it's still ideal for our needs. And it doesn't require us to clear out the bank account in order to join. It's called Hebraica and as the name might suggest, it's a Jewish club - although clearly they're happy to accept godless heathens onto their books as well as jews.

So far we've been members for four days and Helen has been there on every one of them, come rain or shine. I skipped the second day because I got a bit too much of the shine on the first and was glowing a little for a while, but the boys have been loving the chance to play in any one of the five swimming pools we now have access to. And when we've finished messing about in the water, we can go and play in one of several play areas there are, or kick a ball around, or go for a jog, or whatever we feel like, until we're ready to visit one of the two restaurants or numerous snack bars there are dotted around the place so we can pile back on all the calories we've just busily burned off. And if, after all that hedonism, the urge for more cerebral persuits comes upon us, we can avail ourselves of the library, complete with sound-proofed children's area, or even the on-site synagogue!

I think Christmas week will be a lot more pleasant thanks to Hebraica. In fact, I think the next four years will be greatly improved because of it and I feel I ought to say here and now that it was only thanks to Helen that we actually became members at all. My view was that the whole thing was too much grief to sort out and that the kids' paddling pool was all we really needed in the way of recreational aquatic facilities. Hopefully, she'll not feel the need to remind me of this every time we visit.

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