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.

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12 strikes, 4 goals, who’s out?

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

blame it on the

Through some fatal alchemy, São Paulo beat its own awful record yesterday: the longest traffic jam in the city’s history, perhaps in the world, 344 km of frustrated, idling motors. Worst of all, at least in terms of finger-pointing, is that there were no protests that day, no demonstrators blocking highways — just a broken city and bumpers stretching the distance between Washington and New York. (What a caravan that would be.)

The same rains that pushed paulistas into their cars have come to Rio. The Saturday feira was both underpopulated and more crowded than usual, garlic sellers and bag-laden shoppers jostling for space under the vendors’ covered stalls. The banana lady, whose table groans under her green-and-yellow display, was rushing to deal with a small line of customers. A woman walked by and asked if she had any banana-da-terra. “Not today. Banana-da terra‘s on strike.” At least in this case, you can direct your complaints to the union.

a countdown to what?

“Why don’t you keep a diary about the World Cup?”

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With less than a month left before kickoff, and although I’m too preoccupied with my own impossible tasks to even consider going to either the matches or the popular assemblies, I might as well write something.

The government claims that in two weeks (make that one week, now), Brazil will get in the mood for the Cup. But in the non-activist circles I frequent, the air is more of resignation than jubilation. The forward-moving outrage of last year has slipped into browbeating, a refrain of caveat emptor: we asked for a Copa and we got one, all right. My half-joking “Não vai ter Copa” was met yesterday with a “Vai ter Copa, sim. There won’t be hospitals or working stadiums or anything useful, but there will be a Copa.” One cabbie was already looking to August with dread: once the cameras are gone, what will become of us? Another ingredient in the mix is the perverse, thrilling anticipation of disaster, as if before a high school fight scheduled that afternoon in the hallway.

At first I saw two streets, one in Glória and one in Flamengo, all painted and bestreamered in green and yellow. Then more. My supermarket was soon festooned with decorations and images of the Cup’s armadillo mascot showing a remarkable degree of coordination in holding a soccer ball. Then another shop hung yellow-and-green soccer balls in its display window. It feels like a slow-moving landslide, something beyond people’s control. Pure inexorable capitalism? Habit? Peer pressure? Defeat?

In Cinelândia, activists hold a pick-up game in front of the City Council chambers, after dark, with the perennially vigilant police as their spectators. The teams are called FIFA Terrorista and Fuck the Cup. Neither side wins, though, because the police wind up telling them that they can’t play football in the Praça Floriano. The police are shown a red card by the ref, but refuse to leave the pitch.

The Brazilian giant, once sleeping, then awoken, now dozing fitfully, seems to be waiting for a sign to rise. It may never come. Buses are burned in São Paulo, the police cross their arms in Recife, and Dona FIFA rolls on sternly but serenely, trademarking the terms “Brasil 2014” and even “Pagode,” dispatching cease and desist notices with impressive zeal. The cabbie waxes almost nostalgic for the days of military interventions.

Karim Aïnouz has a new film out; last week it opened in cinemas all across the Zona Sul. It has an exciting title and an elliptical trailer, and the posters are eager to highlight the popular, handsome actor who stars in it. Within days of the premiere, one movie theater started instituting a screening process of sorts for would-be spectators. “You know that this movie has gay sex scenes in it, right?” If the spectator didn’t walk away from the ticket office in disgust, then their ticket would be printed and stamped with the word AVISADO. Forewarned. No getting your money back after steely-eyed Wagner Moura falls in love with another man. No more people walking out of the theaters (hopefully).*

The film’s distribution was cut to limited screenings in just two theaters in Rio.

(Some things, everyone is willing to protest about.)

If only FIFA had used a similar system during the bidding process. “You know that more than half of the promised infrastructure won’t be done in time (or at all), seemingly impressive projects won’t even be started, thousands of families will lose their homes, and this whole mess will wind up supported by torrents of public money, right?” AVISADO. Enjoy the show.

 

 

*The theater says they did warn people about the scenes, but that the stamp was related to a half-off discount. Regardless, when a film with Wagner Moura tanks this badly at the box office, you’ve got to imagine that plenty of Tropa de Elite fans must have walked out.

on the beaches of laranjeiras

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Up here it is bright, warm, and quiet, and I can flee from the constantly refreshing feeds and urgent work requests in order to settle into the stories of the Caesars. These prolonged baths in ancient history have a strange effect.  When I leave the apartment I find myself contemplating the people in the streets and the supermarket shelves with the bewildered gaze of one so recently arrived from plague-ridden Constantinople. I put togas, tunics, and ruffs on passersby, and the brightly colored uniforms of shop employees seem both quaint and gaudy, a relic of a past yet to be. Before the Empire, the Romans wore wool. The Cariocas of this period favor a wide variety of spandex blends. The grain lines to the Italian peninsula could be interrupted by a commander with a stranglehold on Egypt; and the viceroys of São Paulo, if they deemed their drought severe, could sap the water from the Paraíba do Sul. Epochs reveal themselves dizzyingly distant and frighteningly close, and the pages of the Universal History appear as the dry shorthand for an a story too huge to be recounted.

Recently I’ve been driven back down my own timeline, to see what I can remember of the teachers who first told me some of these stories. My hard drive is packed with bureaucratically executed outlines and notes that reveal the monotony of 180 semi-identical school days, my own unimaginative responses and gross generalizations, and I’m cringing and wondering how I made it this far. The answer must lie beyond the records, in that which is lost: the jokes, the encouragement, the contagious enthusiasm and improbable trust. These intangibles must either discourage me entirely, by virtue of their fleeting irrecuperability, or remind me of the storytellers whose example I am challenged to carry on. Let’s go with the latter. Thank you, Mr. Kishore.