Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Ex-Girlfriend is someone who attracts attention. It is not because of one thing in particular, more a number of things – a scrawny beauty, a fondness for clothes like the girls wear in jittery hip-hop videos, a toothy smile, an openness of demeanour. She says she is not aware of this attention and could not explain it if she was. I believe her no less than 50% of the time.

On Tuesday we go out. We go to Terça Negra in the Patio Sao Pedro but when we get there things are finishing and people are already drifting home. Then we go to Recife Antigo and stand in the street and drink. It starts to rain and the goths and playboys and punks and rastas and students shriek and run and plaster themselves to the walls of the alley. We go to a reggae club where the air is hot with the smell of trouble on the brew. Two boys begin to fight – their heads dart back and forward like lizards. We leave. On the way home we stop at the Praça Maciel Pinheiro for a last drink. Everything is often unhinged in the Praça Maciel Pinheiro. The last time I was there a man walked past wearing swimming trunks. It was 3am. With the swimming trunks the man wore a diving mask and snorkel. He didn’t walk – he pretended to swim. He made breast-stroke motions with his arms and took big deep-sea diver wading strides. When he had walked away a little while he did a pirouette and came back. No-one paid much attention.

Tonight it is 3am again and there is a group of four men staring at the Ex-Girlfriend. She stares back. All the men are big and all of them have tattoos and all of them are wearing Inferno Coral shirts. Inferno Coral is the name of the Santa Cruz torcida organizada, or organised football supporters group. They have a well-justified reputation for ghoulish violence. But life is nothing if not lived fully so we go and sit down and talk to them.

What do you do, I ask one of them, the one who looks least likely to stick a fork in my eye.

I´m the Inferno Coral Commandant for Zona Norte, he says. He tells me the other men are Inferno Coral Commandants for Recife´s Zonas south, east and west.

There is some silence at the table.

The Inferno Coral Commandant for Zona Norte seems to be suffering from tooth trouble. Occasionally he puts his fingers in his mouth and waggles them around and scowls. Then he takes a used bottle top from the table and puts that in his mouth and gnaws at it. When he reaches in and removes it I see his fingers are speckled with black marks, like quails´ eggs, only the black marks are, unlike with quails´eggs, tooth blood.

I think about asking him what being an Inferno Coral Commandant involves, but I think I might not enjoy the answer terribly.

When I have been to Santa Cruz games before I have noticed that despite the absence of visiting supporters violence is constantly exploding amongst the Santa Cruz support. I respectfully ask the Inferno Coral Commandant for Zona Norte why this is so.

He stubs his cigarette out on the table. The last commandants, he says, were weak. Not like us. We are organised.

As we talk the Ex-Girlfriend is flirting then ignoring the man sitting next to her, like a butterfly that is impossible to catch. I feel and remember his pain.

After an hour we go home. We swap phone numbers with the commandants and agree to go to the game together on Sunday. Social engagements are flexible in Recife – I don’t expect that the commandants will call. Anyway on Sunday it is wet and we decide not to go to the game but to go to Olinda instead, where it is old and romantic and we can walk the damp streets and watch the sunset through the clouds over Recife, and where no-one will break a bottle over our heads. Though later when we sit in a bar and drink the brightest lights of all the lights in the city below us are the lights of Arruda where Santa are playing and I wonder if there is fighting there down below or whether our new friends are keeping things in order and organised.

Note: While the tone of this post is lightly comedic (or at least intended to be so) it is not my intention to imply that all torcida orginizada are murderous thugs (as is the commonly held middle class stereotype in Brazil). Quite the contrary – many such organisations have strong community roots and are a force for good in otherwise neglected neighbourhoods. Many others are simply interested in watching football and supporting their team – an artificial respirator for a Brazilian domestic game which has largely been abandoned by (again) the country´s middle class.

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