Being a Botafogo fan in exile is a decidedly mixed bag. On one hand, as I’ve been amply reminded, outside Rio there is no-one to shove the humiliations of last night’s game into my face. (My mom still recalls with dismay the time “the bus driver cursed you out,” and I always have to remind her that the driver was the one who shouted “BOTAFOGO LOST!” and started laughing, and then I cursed him out.) I’m vastly better at dishing it out than I am at taking it, and Botafogo’s most recent travails — including an exquisitely painful loss on the eve of my departure — had me on the verge of a sporting-emotional breakdown. But, as I argued to a freshly wounded baby botafoguense as we stalked out of the stadium, the joy of a well-placed goal can be the highlight of one’s week. (Even if the defense is also so overjoyed that it falls all over itself and lets another goal through about 5 minutes later.)
I miss being close to the game. The pain is incomparable, but I still miss the sensations of the match, from the birds swooping in the rafters of the stadium to the vendors who walk in front of you just as the offense sweeps down the field to the bizarrely delicious tiny pizzas eaten on cracked yellow tables while a trumpeter plays the team anthem. There are few things more pathetic than watching a game alone in one’s room on a spotty streaming feed, clicking away ads every couple of minutes and simultaneously streaming Globo commentary in case the video drops (rather, for when the video drops). If someone yells “GOOOOOOL” during a Botafogo match in Charlottesville and there are no cariocas around to hear it, does it make a sound?
I miss my people. Today the universe conspired to produce a small miracle — I was walking back from the corner market in Washington wearing my jersey, arms full of milk and eggs, when I heard a friendly bellow from a truck at the stoplight. “BOTAFOGO!” I almost dropped the eggs as I spun around.
“E aí!” I said happily. “We must be the only ones!”
“Que coisa!” he yelled, and then the light changed and he revved off, waving. I couldn’t stop smiling all the way home.