Saturday, 22 June 2013

It's A Dog's Life - The Story of One Man's Confederations Cup Boycott

As surely everybody knows by now, Your Life Is An Impossibility spent last year, perhaps the longest of his weary life, living in Goiânia, in the desolate mid-western flatlands of Brazil. For all its many charms (cows, country and western duos, and, um, plastic models of cows), Goiânia is not what one would describe as a footballing hotbed. And as some may have noticed, YLIAI is quite partial to the odd bit of football. Therein lies the rub, caralho, as some old goat once said.

Only the sweet tedium of life in Goiânia can explain the giddiness with which, in December last year, as soon as tickets for the unlovely beast that is the Copa das Confederações went on sale, YLIAI whipped out his credit card (a copper-bottomed bargain at a mere 122% interest p.a.) and promptly handed over the price of a couple of PatekCaliber 89s, all for the pleasure of attending three Confederações games in Belo Horizonte this June.

Ah, what fevered nights YLIAI passed between then and now, fitfully tossing and turning, mind racing as he imagined the treats that lay in store! Perhaps he would see Spain, and their diminutive midfield whizzes! Perhaps he would be treated to the homoerotic joys of those chisel-jawed Italians, not to mention the King of Bahia, the magnificent Mario Balotelli! Perhaps he would get a glimpse of the Seleção itself, and be left wordless by the glorious sight of Hulk´s gigantic gluteus maximus

Not quite. The lottery of life, or FIFA, gave YLIAI not so much the short straw as the raised finger. Tahiti x Nigeria was a laugher in both the literal and idiomatic sense, but once the chuckles had worn off, with only 20,000 rattling gloomily round the Mineirão, it was hardly the stuff of which YLIAI´s dreams are made. Still, YLIAI suspects that compared to the stultifying fare that is likely to be Mexico x Japan today (no offense to this blog’s vast Mexican and Japanese fan base intended), Tahiti x Nigeria will soon come to represent some kind of footballing golden age.

But he will never know, for he (gasp!) shall not be in attendance.

Because in the middle of the tsunami of protests currently sweeping his adopted home, it feels to YLIAI like the Copa das Confederações has been swept away like a house made of straw. Before, the talk of the country’s bar-room bores (and YLIAI proudly counts himself among such ranks) was of Cavani’s luxurious tresses, Pirlo’s sculpted chin, Neymar’s ragamuffin charm and faint whiff of sexual deviancy, and absurdly expensive new football stadiums. Now it is of Feliciano’s faint whiff of sexual deviancy, Calheiros’ sculpted chin, PEC 37’s luxurious tresses, this, and absurdly expensive new football stadiums. 

While YLIAI has enjoyed odd moments of the Confederações, and would even venture to say that the football on display has occasionally been spectacular, it is clear that the rather 40 watt importance of the tournament has been obliterated by the sound and fury in the streets outside the grounds. And even when the stage has been grand, the protests have taken over. The Brazil x Mexico game in Fortaleza was surely more notable for the crowd’s rousing and prolonged signing of the national anthem, than for anything that happened on the pitch (Neymar’s ragamuffin charm and faint whiff of sexual deviancy, and the magnificent beast that is #JôSeleção, aside).

And there’s more. While the urban myths of just what happens when the FIFA alien mothership touches down on the soil of the lucky, lucky country that gets to host a World Cup are legend, not much prepares your common or garden merry luddite football fan (such as YLIAI) for the true claw-the-skin-from-your-face-horror of attending such games.

As previously mentioned, on Monday YLIAI attended the Tahiti x Nigeria game in Belo Horizonte. All started normally enough – the traffic was awful and the driver of the specially laid on “fan bus” got lost and dropped YLIAI and his fellow passengers off in the wrong place. Which was where the fun began. As YLIAI started to walk down Avenida Antonio Carlos in the direction of the stadium, he was prodded in the chest by a surly member of the local municipal guard.

“You can’t walk down this pavement,” he said. The pavement lay enticingly ahead of YLIAI, gleaming, pristine, tantalisingly out of reach.

“Why not?” YLIAI queried.

“You have to walk down that pavement,” the guard said, pointing to the pavement in the middle of the avenue, flanked by three lanes of roaring traffic on either side. This pavement had been fenced off to form a kind of cattle run. The cattle run led onto to a flyover, which curled up and over Antonio Carlos, then descended from a dizzying height to the left, joining Rua Antonio Abrahão Caram, the road that leads to the Mineirão. YLIAI is no mathematician, but he estimated that the cattle run and the flyover, from which there would be no chance of escape until he reached the gates of the stadium itself, looked about twice as long as simply walking down the pavement in front of him, and then turning left.

“Can´t I just walk down here?” YLIAI asked. “It’s a lot quicker.”


“Why not?”

“Just can't.”

No match for such sharp wit, a defeated YLIAI trudged forlornly down the cattle run. And kept on trudging. And trudged some more. In total, it was about 30 minutes of trudging until the Mineirão. And YLIAI is a fast trudger. Along the way, shops, bars and restaurants were shuttered tight, victims of FIFA’s no-fly zone. Not that it would have mattered – YLIAI couldn’t have escaped from the cattle run to buy something even if he’d wanted to.

Still, the Mineirão itself looked pretty spiffy. As did the Emirates Airline stalls (handy if YLIAI had recklessly decided “Tahiti x Nigeria be damned! Fly me to Dubai this instant!”) and a rather alarming Budweiser bar, which looked like a cross between Castle Grayskull and a nuclear warship, and poured forth pumpin’ euro trance as well-dressed youngsters lolled smugly outside. YLIAI considered the idea of sipping on a chilled “Bud” with the peachy skinned young people, and perhaps even “cutting a bit of a rug” to the pumpin´ euro trance, but then thought that perhaps there might be a FIFA spy or two lurking nearby, who would immediately identify YLIAI as a “weird old fart” and eject him from the premises.

For similar reasons, YLIAI thought it best to skip the rather terrifying looking “interactive fan experiences” dotted around the ground, and which looked like good places to lose an eye or two. Instead, he hurried through the airport style metal detectors (“keys and cell phone in the tray please sir”) and on into the stadium. He did not stop for a R$12 beer or a R$10 ice lolly.

Inside the ground, YLIAI was relieved to find things were much like they usually are in Brazilian football – a big rectangle of grass, 22 players, a half empty stadium. He also made a mental note to congratulate FIFA on their decision to make all stadium announcements in English first, then in Portuguese. He imagined briefly the cries of “O que significa “Fire! Fire! Please evacuate the stadium immediately?”" from Brazilian fans, the flames licking their boots, as their gringo neighbours clamber over them in the race to escape. Then it was on to the game, which has been previously discussed, if not at great length, then certainly as much as it’s going to be.

Taking all of the above into account, then, YLIAI has decided not to sample the pleasures of today’s fixture. This is however, unlikely to be one of history’s great rebellions. YLIAI is no grotty-bearded activist, no tub-thumping rabble rouser, no great leader of the people like Guevara or Paisley. He is not against the Copa das Confederações per se, and would would even go as far as to say that the World Cup is perhaps a symptom, rather than a direct cause, of Brazilian society’s eternal woes. In fact, if Mexico x Japan didn’t look like being such a turgid affair, he’d probably even go to the game. But with these blowing outside the stadium (YLIAI loves his German soft rock), the idea of spending the afternoon at the FIFA World of Fun Theme Park would seem to be a joke in very bad taste. To wit:

YLIAI (on the streets, chanting Vem Pra Rua! Vem Pra Rua!): “Great protest, companheiro!”

Grotty-bearded political activist/student to YLIAI´s left: “Yeah! Let’s change Brazil!”

YLIAI: “Yeah! But, um, can we do it this evening? It’s just I´ve got to head off to the Mineirão for Mexico x Japan. But I’ll be back later! See ya!”

Not good protesting etiquette, YLIAI imagines.

Afterword: YLIAI has given his ticket away to a friend, who shall remain nameless. In return, the friend will make a R$60 donation to a Belo Horizonte dog’s home. YLIAI, who likes dogs quite a bit more than he likes football, will top up the donation to R$100 (meaning he’s taken quite a financial bath on the whole affair, but hey ho).

Viva La Puppy Revolución!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Times They Are A-Changin' (A-Bit).

Bollocks to the football.

It was always going to take something special to bring Your Life Is An Impossibility out of retirement. A third World War. Santa Cruz winning the Libertadores. The return of Guinness the Dog from the dead (we’ll save that story for another time).

Or more improbable than any of those (the first one excepted), Brazil finally stirring from its torpor, getting its arse off the sofa and its introspective gaze away from the novelas and the futebol, and hitting the streets.

YLIAI doesn’t mind admitting that he’d almost had it with Brazil. This is not an easy statement to make. Eight years. A few million words. Enough memories to last several lifetimes. And at times a love that was both deep and soaring for a country that is somehow simultaneously the best and the worst place in the world. As Fernand Braudel almost said (by way of the immortal Peter Robb), “Brazil made YLIAI intelligent." Or less stupid, anyway. No matter the weariness, hard to throw all that away and head back to chilly, gloomy Norn Iron.

Now though, electroshock paddles have been applied to the YLIAI temples, an adrenalin shot pumped into the YLIAI veins. Hope, as it always does, springs eternal.

By now, everyone must know about the wave of protests sweeping the country. Brazil, and the povo Brasileiro, seem to have awoken. Nobody knows where it will end. The #PasseLivre movement, and the hundred or so other factions involved in the protests, the biggest of which is of course the Brazilian people, have diverse and often confused goals and dreams (the sacking of Castle FIFA, the heads of Feliciano and Calheiros (and maybe even Dilma) on spikes outside the city walls, the quashing of PEC37, reform of the country’s brutish military police, free bus travel, and political change on a massive leve, are just some of them). It is to be hoped that it will not all simply f-f-f-fade away, that a few token gestures by the political establishment (the reducing of bus fares by a couple of centavos, for example), will not cause the movement’s energy to dissipate. Brazil’s problems are bigger than that by several galaxies, as is the potential for change that the protests represent.

The facts of the story have been dealt with in great detail by journalists from Teresina to Tashkent. YLIAI (now a pretend/proper journalist writer himself) will, in time-honoured fashion, take the easy way out with a couple of personal observations, thus:

(1) Now back in stolid old Belo Horizonte, the sticky, sweaty, even occasionally sensual charms of Recife a distant memory, YLIAI has recently made a new friend, a wildly intelligent, socially caring tax lawyer (these varied characteristics are not always mutually exclusive, though they almost always are) who we may call Captain Ahab (this is not his real name). Captain Ahab recently charmed the socks off YLIAI and his regionally inclusive soul by saying that the Copa do Mundo, for all its many faults, would at least make Brazil “one country for the first time”, in that snooty Paulistas and Cariocas would have to acknowledge that places like Cuiabá and Manaus actually existed, by watching World Cup games from said outposts. Captain Ahab, however, was just plain wrong. The protests have beaten the World Cup to it, and in a far more profound fashion, by making Brazil’s hideously divided society (rich: shopping malls+4x4s+condomiums+clubes / poor: favelas/buses/bars with dead rats in the toilets) almost whole. The manifestantes, it seems, are black and brown kids from the periferia, whiter than goat’s milk playboyzinhos from the walled apartment buildings, student political leaders and chancers, history and literature professors, not to mention those just along for the ride and to post photos of themselves on Instagram (eu estava lá!). In Brazil, this in itself is truly a marvellous thing.

An anecdote. Yesterday lunchtime YLIAI was chomping down some torresmo and feijão tropeiro at a restaurant in BH’s leafy Savassi neighbourhood (living in Minas does nothing for one’s waistline). A big TV blared images of the local police shock troops, surprisingly terrified of a bunch of scrawny/podgy students, chucking tear gas and rubber bullets around and generally beating seven bells out of said scrawny/podgy students. A sharp-suited lawyer, sporting de rigueur wrap around shades (not Captain Ahab), wandered past. Seeing the alarming images on the TV, he paused. Stared. “Fucking bastards,” he said (referring to the police, not the protesters). Not marginais (the standard war cry of the Brazilian privileged classes). Not Brasil não tem educação (“bunch of bloody savages in Brazil”, to translate with the heart, rather than the head). The sharp-suited lawyer and the unwashed masses in joyful congress. Not since the days of the caras pintadas (if even then) has such a phenomenon existed.

(2) TV Globo. Ah, where to begin? (one might start with the last post on YLIAI, almost eighteen months ago). TV Globo is the undetected cancer of Brazilian society, the cheap mouthwash for the mind that keeps the country and its citizens hypnotized in a state of slack-jawed, drooling imbecility. The fifth (at least it used to be, last time YLIAI heard) biggest TV network in the world, as rich as the pharaohs, and purveyor of at least eighteen hours of mind rotting, morally and intellectually bankrupt trash per day. Excluding Big Brother Brasil (which makes its British equivalent look like In Our Time), YLIAI’s favourite Globo segment is Sunday afternoon, when Esquenta! (gurning, deeply unpleasant female TV presenter screams things like what a party!, come on guys!, and woo-hoo! at a studio audience seemingly hopped on ketamine) is followed by Domingão with Faustão (gurning, deeply unpleasant male TV presenter screams things like what a party!, come on guys!, and woo-hoo! at a studio audience seemingly hopped on ketamine). Globo has never knowingly broadcast any intellectual content of any description, other than hard hitting documentary series Globo Reporter, which makes This Morning with Richard and Judy look like Woodward and Bernstein. A didactic aside to o povo brasileiro – next time you feel like saying “the problem in Brazil is a lack of education,” remember that education doesn’t just happen in schools. It can also occasionally, magically, come from that box in the corner of the room (though not often, admittedly).

YLIAI digresses. Last night, the Globo news (probably the least spine-chilling program on the network – YLIAI will even admit to having a soft spot for the Posh and Becks of Brazilian news reading, William and Fátima. Of course, Globo had to then go and split them up) covered the protests in São Paulo. The journalist-on-the-spot mentioned that some of the protesters had (shock horror) been shouting rude words, some of which were foda-se (“away and feck yourself”) and Globo. Cut to the studio. Earnest, toothsomely attractive newsreader Patricia Poeta (Patricia the Poet, no less) turned to camera. “Now listen,” she said, suddenly the stern spinsterly schoolmarm, “TV Globo has been reporting on the demonstrations since the beginning, and has hidden nothing: we’ve shown the police brutality, the #PasseLivre demands, the peaceful nature of the protests, plus of course the vandalism. It’s our duty. The right to protest and demonstrate peacefully is the right of every citizen.” Or something like that. YLIAI can’t quite remember exactly, though such a defence of journalistic honesty and integrity did make him recall the immortal Peter Robb’s (again) account of Roberto Marinho and Globo’s sinister meddling in the 1989 Lula-Collor elections. Still, the message was clear. Globo isn’t calling anyone vandals or hooligans (though they had earlier, several times). Globo understands the protesters. Globo cares.

YLIAI retired for the night and lay awake, pondering what he had seen. Could it be that Globo was, well, bottling it? Abandoning its normally stout championing of Brazil’s upper middle classes, and its contempt for the country's poor? Like the sharp-suited lawyer, there was no shrieking “marginais!” here. Did Globo believe something big was happening? Was Globo concerned that the trendy left wing liberal gringo press had its eye trained on Brazil, and that it wouldn’t be too clever to be seen to be aligning itself with the side of police brutality, political corruption, and (Everybody Hates) FIFA?

Globo (almost) apologising. Asking for acceptance? It felt like an historic moment. In his grave, Roberto Marinho was probably spinning wildly.

There is much more to be said, but YLIAI is tired and wants to go to bed, and has already said more than enough. Maybe he will be back. It feels like there is much more to come. Perhaps the Brazilian people will turn their backs on the novelas and the rest for good, and make their voices heard, not just now, but permanently. Perhaps the rancid colossi that stand astride the Brazilian political landscape, from Feliciano (the gay cure! The Curse of Ham! Oh Marco, with such treats you are really spoiling us!), to Calheiros, to noxious whiskey priest Jose Marin, will be toppled. Perhaps, the bus companies really will bring their fares down by 20c.

YLIAI dares to dream.