Rio’s problems are its scale and its obviousness and its yawning inequality. It whacks you in the face with its dramatic igneous rock formations, fabulous beaches and tropical rainforest. It offers sunshine, sushi and samba, but it also rubs your nose in the crushing poverty and violence of the favelas. It’s too big and too much, and impossible to get around.
Bournemouth offers the more understated drama of the New Forest and the Jurassic coast. Its East and West beaches rival Rio’s Ipanema and Copacabana and are more democratic: there are no areas of sand claimed by hotels, no zones reserved for volleyballers and bodybuilders. Instead of beach gyms, there are beach huts.
To put it bluntly: you could spend six weeks in Rio and only scratch its surface, bamboozled by the heady brew of music, sweat and threat. Bournemouth is restrained yet knowledgeable. Ask politely, and Bournemouth will share its secrets in a weekend. And it’s navigable on foot.
You will find no monument in Rio to Heloisa Pinheiro, “The Girl from Ipanema”: when she tried to open a boutique named after the tune that immortalised her, the songwriters’ families sued her. But wander through the Anglican St Peter’s churchyard in Bournemouth and you will find the tomb of Mary Shelley, proto-feminist and author of Frankenstein, in which the poetic heart of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley also lies (the rest of him is in Rome). You could spend days searching for a fabled sushi joint or juice bar in Rio, while restaurants offering almost every cuisine under the sun are ranked along Old Christchurch Road in Bournemouth, including the Little India Curry House – formerly Original Balti – from which rapper Ice-T once ordered £3,000 worth of food to be flown to New York. Rio’s gay scene is vast and diffuse. In the Triangle in Bournemouth, you can find three gay bars and clubs within a few yards of each other. Here you will also find the Mad Cucumber vegan restaurant and the Smokin’ Aces Cocktail Bar and Whiskey lounge, where I had a Martini as good as any I’ve sipped anywhere in the Americas.