The Copa, like everything else in the world, is experienced through screens — the blue wavy screen of my cell phone, the pixelated stream of the live feed from the protests, the high-definition FIFA-standard transmission that lags behind all of them. The endless replays from different angles still haven’t decided whether the penalty call on Fred in the game against Croatia last week was legitimate. Meanwhile, in Cinelândia right now the image is chaotic but the situation is clear: protesters trying to catch a bus down to Copacabana are arbitrarily detained, more than a dozen taken off to multiple police stations spread across the city. While Fred falls again and again in slow motion, calm lanky Cristiano is swarmed just once — that’s enough — and led away by the police. In both cases there is talk of justice.
Apparently this is the Best World Cup Ever. Van Persie’s header, upsets, avalanche wins. On my part, updates have not been frequent, and my work has been stuttering, due to an episode of back pain that left me alternately prostrate and hobbling, walking either like Quasimodo or like Christina Hendricks on Mad Men — hunched or mincing — and watching plenty of the matches from a prone position. Now that I’m more or less recovered, I find myself paralyzed in another sense.
Brazil has taught me to love football. This, while being wonderfully enriching for my life in many respects, means that it is very difficult to simply ignore the Copa that #tátendo on my TV, in the bars, and in the stadiums around me. I would love to disdain this Cup, but I can’t. But neither can I love it.
The bonds of nationalism have never been less appealing. I can’t disassociate the chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” from the floor of the RNC, and the flag-draped bros on the beach remind me of nothing less than the flurry of patriotism after September 11th, and then the war. It’s almost Pavlovian: a sea of stars and stripes fills me with dread.
And what of Brazil? This is where the anguish comes in. Apparently it would be a “sociological error” not to root for Brazil, to let my political objections to the event, the evictions, the violence that made me fear for my friends’ lives and Brazil’s democracy, mingle with the nation’s passion for the sport and for its team. I can recognize this, but I can’t bring myself to feel it. I love my club’s shield; when I see fans wrapped in the green-and-yellow, I think of the protesters who this did not protect.
And while I discovered football here, what brought me to Brazil in the first place was something else entirely. Tied in with my political objections is the raw indignation when the city’s popular culture is packaged and Disneyfied in the merchandising wave of the megaevents, and the fear that the turn-of-the-century port neighborhoods, silent witnesses to the time I fell in love with, will be summarily knocked down. These are more selfish protest cries, but they are mine. I would love to love the Seleção and the Cup at this moment, in this place. Instead I am sitting here with the lonely star on my breast, feeling similarly.
Wading through the green-and-yellow forest of Saara, a dream came to me. Not a vision, but the memory of a dream a few days or weeks old. Whether in search of something or to satisfy my curiosity, I had entered a thronged store selling World Cup merchandise and was soon swept along by the force of the crowd. The shoppers were wearing Brazilian jerseys and clutching baskets overflowing with official merchandise, and they coursed down the narrow store aisles while grabbing as much from the shelves as they could: jigsaw puzzles, beach balls, cardboard cutouts. I found myself shoved up and up out of the crushing yellow tide, perched on top of precarious product displays and trying to make my way over and out to the exit, past the cashiers and into the air. But — I felt myself taken by the spirit of the crowd — how could I miss out on these amazing deals? I tried to hold on to a display. The yellow footballs slipped and tumbled beneath me.
Everyone said it would happen, history has proven it, and I’ll admit it: I couldn’t resist. One of the tabs open on my screen Tuesday afternoon was a live play-by-play of the Brazilian squad’s penultimate friendly, against Panama. But — I scramble to defend my opposition credentials — I only flipped over to it every now and then. After all, when I’m at home I don’t need a radio to find out whenever Fluminense has scored a goal. I thought this would be no exception.
After 15 minutes of silence and fairly effective Panamanian defending, I forgot about the tab, and realized some time later, with a little jolt, that the match was almost over. Nothing from the world outside my window. Had this been a catastrophe for the Seleção? I opened up GloboEsporte, which was wall-to-wall Neymar, plus Hulk doing the Macarena (?). 4-0 for Brazil.
It was a friendly, of course, practically a training session, nothing decisive. But I had worked through a thorny bit of 18th-century text for almost an hour and a half without being disrupted by a solitary shout or a flurry of honks. Not at the first goal, not the second, not the third, not the fourth.
There are fewer and fewer holdouts on the blocks surrounding my apartment: it’s now rare to find an unadorned store. For a while only one of the drugstores was draped in green-and-yellow tinsel, but now the other has followed suit. The supermarket has ramped it up a notch and is hanging oversized soccer balls from the ceiling. The pet store is offering shoppers the opportunity to dress their dogs like Neymar. Cars sport flags. Bicycles sport flags. Bus drivers spread flags across their dashboard. This week I saw a bicyclist simply wrapped in an oversize flag making his way across Praça Floriano, perhaps hoping that this would win him some goodwill with speeding buses and harried pedestrians alike. Continue reading