Wednesday, 30 June 2010
The World Cup in Brazil is about as much fun as one can have with one´s clothes on (or without someone else´s clothes on, for those so inclined – Your Life Is An Impossibility maintains an equal opportunities policy regarding sexual orientation). No-one does much work, everyone talks about football all the time, there are pretty green and yellow flags hanging from cars and gas stations and shops and houses, and there is a permanent excuse for a sherbert or seven – it´s Greece v Nigeria, let´s go to the pub!
It´s also perhaps the only time when gringos become poor and ordinary Brazilians as rich as Midas, at least in a footballing context. Is it strange to come from a country which is never going to win the World Cup?, I´m asked, and The Argument opines that she can´t imagine watching a Copa and not being pretty sure that Brazil are going to win the whole caboodle. Men lounge, bored, in front of pub TV sets, rubbing their ample bellies, sucking down litres of Skol and munching on fatted goats, and grumble that even though Brazil are probably going to be champions they´re still not as good as they were and they could at least try and do it with a bit more pizzing and pizzazz. I can´t help compare all this to how things might be back home in Norn Iron, where maintaining even a mathematical chance of getting to the bloody thing after the first few qualifying games, more than a year ago, would have been a reason for national celebration (aka the burning of effigies of opposing religious and political leaders atop large bonfires).
It can be draining though, and somewhere in the middle of a seven hour TV autopsy of one of Brazil´s games (it seemed to me that in the second half Maicon´s throw ins were falling a few feet shorter than they were in the first half) I wander out into the streets for a look around. It is a fine night and downtown Recife is all astir with rush hour rough and tumble. Girls in tiny tops and shorts clamber aboard their sullen boyfriends´ Hondas and Dafras, ready to be sped home to Ibura and Camaragibe and Casa Amarela and suburbia north, south, east and west. It might be the world´s most sexually thrilling commute though I´m probably the only one who thinks so. Husks of corn and kebabs and popcorn and chips and hot dogs are being fried on every corner, and Recife´s newest form of traditional local craftwork is on sale everywhere – I can´t help but marvel at the time, skill and effort that must have gone into making so many pirate DVDs of Twilight, Robin Hood and Avatar. In the tiny garret of a gutted building in Patio Santa Cruz (it is the building that became the Hotel Texas in Amarelo Manga) merengue is being played very loudly. I look up, though all I can see is a hole in the roof and a red dress hanging in the window.
With the World Cup comes great boozing and therefore great conversation. Brazil´s last group game is played on a Friday at eleven in the morning, which means if you want to get a decent seat in front of the TV at the Mercado Boa Vista you´ll need to get there around nine. And no matter how much shower time incantation you indulge in (just an orange juice to start, just an orange juice to start), it just doesn´t feel right by the time you get there, and anyway everyone else is already drinking hard, so. And after the game it´s lunch time, and the Mercado serves great food, so you may as well hang around, and then after that there´s the afternoon game, and by the time that´s over, well, it´s Friday night and you´re already out, so.
The great conversation, funnily enough, comes not so much after this game but after Argentina vs Mexico on Sunday. I am out with one half of the Louth Media Mafia, ablaze with fiery passions because East Louth have beaten West Louth in the Irish Bog Rugby championships and will now play North Louth in the final (no-one knows what happened to South Louth). We are talking about Brazilian peril and paranoia, and the talk drifts around to Lula getting to third base with that fetching young Ajmadinejad chap. Without getting into too much detail about what is said or not said (or more to the point remembered or not remembered), the general consensus is that Lula´s crush on Mr Ajmadinejad is not entirely easy to understand, as Iranian boys can be tempestuous and not always the kind of date you want to bring home to meet your parents (particularly if the parents are, as in this case, most of the UN). Good reasons for this particular East Side Story, such as not alienating even further already potentially hostile states, and the pros and cons of sanctions in general, are also touched upon. We are clever chaps, me and the Louth Media Mafia, or at least the Louth Media Mafia is, whereas I´m just pretending to be clever now that I have a subscription to The Economist.
What is interesting from a personal standpoint happens when I tell the Louth Media Mafia that I can now understand, or if not entirely understand at least empathise with, Lula´s (and much, but not all of Brazil´s) willingness to align himself (and the country) against the American and European powers from time to time. Ever since the dictatorship, or even ever since colonial year dot, Brazilian foreign power phobia has run deep, and large parts of the population live in fear and mistrust of Tio Sam. This is why you see pro Iraq and Palestine graffiti strewn across walls, and why Lula is happy to pal up with Notting Hill´s Hugh Chavez and the nice Castro brothers in a big pro-socialist, contra-rich countries love-in. And while the old four fingered socialist spin doctor likes his hobnobbing and glad-handing with Angela and Nicky and Barack and the rest, once he gets back home he can´t crank out the old it´s all the paises ricos fault spiel fast enough. The Americans fucked us once (during the dictatorship), and they´ll fuck us again given half a chance, runs the thinking. They´ll take the Amazon before we know it if we´re not careful!
The Louth Media Mafia is nonplussed by all this, as many right thinking people seem to be, and as I once was myself. It´s paranoid and out of step, so it is, he says, do they really think there are US troops waiting to pounce on Amapá? And when I think rationally and coldly about it I agree with him. BUT what´s really interesting, given that this is not a blog that knows very much about politics and is not entirely willing to get into political debate, is that at the time, blathering away with the Louth Media Mafia, I realise I am arguing quite strongly that I can understand why Brazilians think the way they do! I can understand, even though I can´t entirely agree with it! While the Louth Media Mafia, a few months off the boat, can´t and won´t, and puts it down as crazy Brazilian paranoia, even though we both have exactly the same factual interpretation of the thing! AND THEN I realize that I had the exact same argument with Celine from Belo Horizonte (see entry dated: 19/11/09) just a few months ago, and he was saying the same things as I am now (albeit with much less eloquence), and I was cocking my snook and staring furiously into my beer (or at the waitress´s cleavage) while thinking jesus give it a rest comrade. And now I get it! Now I empathise! And it´s not that I have learnt anything new, or have expanded my knowledge on the subject, it´s just that, well, that´s the way it feels now!*
Though then I started to wonder if maybe empathy is really always such a good thing or not. Bad empathy: Iraq war? Well, what would you have done after 9/11, and anyway those Arabs are a bit mental, aren´t they? Austrian sex monster who locked his daughter in the basement for twenty years, impregnating her a dozen times or so into the bargain? Well, a man has his needs, and aren´t we all just a bit uptight about sex these days? Good empathy: The Argument looks longingly in my direction as I pour the last of the chocolate milk into my glass. Her eyes are moist and she is licking her lips plaintively. No, no, go on, you have it, I say.
So maybe it´s all a question of moderation.
But how far will this peculiarly Brazilian empathy go? Will I soon start to believe that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did their crazy space thing not on the moon but in a back lot at Universal studios? That Ronaldo was drugged in his sleep before the 1998 World Cup final in some madcap Nike-FIFA-Frenchie conspiracy? That Santos Dumont flapped his wings long before those chancers the Wright Brothers learnt to tie their shoelaces?
Then, spinning on from all that good stuff, I wonder, really just how much we can change, should we allow ourselves, and how Brazilian (or anywhere foreign that we choose to live) we might become. I make a list. 1) I no longer get angry, or at least not particularly angry, at preposterously long queues. 2) I enjoy making mindless but very friendly small talk, at great length, with people that I do not really know. 3) It has become completely normal for me to kiss women on both cheeks upon meeting and to even put my arm around men I know, quite spontaneously. 4) I no longer feel strongly enough about internet piracy for it to stop me doing it and have even been known to justify it (It´s all a capitalist plot! Look at these prices! They´re denying me my right to cultural enrichment!). 5) When I meet people I used to know but who are no longer friends, and they tell me to come round to their house or to give them a call, or when I am invited to social engagements to which I have no intention of going, I say yes, of course, fantastic, see you there. 6) I believe a queue is an entirely flexible and informal structure and one´s participation in it is wholly voluntary. 7) I no longer care about being late, and if anyone protests about my lateness I consider them to be unreasonable and anally retentive, and even a bit gringo.
And then I realize I am mere seconds away from starting to 8) beep my horn furiously when stuck in long, motionless traffic jams, even though the cars in front are as gridlocked as I am.
Maybe it´s time to go home.
* In case he gets cross, apologies in advance to the Louth Media Mafia for misquoting and misrepresentation.