FORTALEZA-To say that football (pronounced 'foo-chee-BOW') is big in Brazil is the sort of understatement that renders words like 'big' utterly meaningless. Such a statement is comparable to calling the universe 'big' or the mathematical concept of infinity 'big'. But if you're used to using the word 'big' in that way, then yes, football is big in Brazil.
Today, June 30, 2002, was the final game of the world cup: Brazil vs. Germany. I had the immense luck to be in Brazil to watch it. It was a massive cultural event, a fascinating glimpse of a unique aspect of Brazilian culture, and it gave me a disease.
Due to the time zone, the game was broadcast live at 8:00 and due to the distance we had to travel it was necessary to get up at 6:30 in the morning. We were late in leaving, held up by a cripple (this household is a motley crew). The owner of the house I'm staying in lives in Fortaleza, northward on the coast. His son, David, was to take my brother, my brother's friend, and me to a club to watch the game projected on a big screen. We arrived late, however and David had already gone to the club. We followed.
There was some difficulty trying to get into the establishment without identification, but we played the dumb foreigner card and lied about the ages of my brother and his friend, and were granted admission. Perhaps the ID was never really necessary.
Once through the gate, we sought a place to watch the game, which had already begun. It's Sunday, and I imagine that if anyone has gone to church in this most catholic of countries, it's to pray for a Brazilian victory. The shaded area in front of the outside screen was packed, and standing in the sun for ninety minutes three degrees south of the equator was not even considered. My brother, who had seen the Brazil vs Turkey semifinal game, suggested one of the indoor areas. The place we went was similarly packed, though air conditioned. We clambered over people's heads to an upper balcony where there was a bit of room. I even found a cushion to sit on. The room was an aquatic-themed dance hall and some sort of fishnet sculpture partially blocked my view of the screen.
The game itself was fine, though I can't claim to be a connoisseur. Both teams seemed to play well, but the real show was put on by the Brazilians watching them. They were piled on cushions and railings and each other, enraptured by the contest taking place on the screen. They would spontaneously break into sporty fight songs, or cheers. The fellow sitting next to me tooted a horn incessantly. Others also tooted theirs. Whenever a close shot was made they all yelled in anticipation, and moaned in disappointment. Another boy rubbed his brows hard in anxiety, particularly when Ronaldo bounced a shot off the crossbar. When Ronaldo did score, the noise was deafening. The spectators jumped up and down and screamed and yelled. They hugged and shook each other. A girl sitting near me broke into such heavy tears that she had to be held by a friend. When he scored again she sobbed with joy.
The entire edifice shook from the joyous thrashing of the spectators. As the game neared its closing, a low rumble mounted and rose in a trembling crescendo through the octaves. When the final whistle was blown; and Brazil had won its fifth World Cup; and Ronaldo had scored eight goals, two more than he'd promised, breaking some record or other; when it was over the tremor broke into a joyous cacophony. There was jumping and dancing and hugging and kissing. Cushions were torn up from the balcony and tossed onto the floor below, leaving a large pile. The weepy girl seemed to have a nervous breakdown. The dimwitted hornblower grabbed my brother's friend, Nick, and shook him around, screaming something in his ear. Poor Nick, who couldn't understand a word of Portuguese, just shrugged and was shaken some more. I tried to intervene, with little success, but he wasn't really in any danger. He was just getting tossed about by a happy Brazilian.
No, the aforementioned disease I caught is not soccer fever or football madness, but an ordinary sore throat. I did contract it as a result of the euphoric feeling that filled everyone after the match. As soon as the game was over, the venue converted back into a dance hall. We found David and some of his friends, and danced around a bit. I felt a hand on my shoulder. A girl was trying to get my attention. Employing the only way to communicate verbally through the loud music, she cupped her hands around my ears and yelled something in Portuguese. I told her I didn't understand, I was American. She pointed to her lips, and I thought she wanted a cigarette. Then I got it, and it was confirmed when she yelled 'Kiss!' into my ear. So I did. She was sort of spicy-tasting. She kissed so hungrily that I was sort of taken aback and had to pause for a moment. I was not accustomed to kissing strangers so. Then she disappeared. I looked for her a bit, but never saw her again. She gave me a sore throat.
Almost everyone was wearing Brazilian colors. Many people have jerseys, some authentic, some handed out by the club. The girls were wearing various form fitting articles of clothing on their tops and bottoms depicting the starry blue globe on yellow diamond on green field of the national flag. One young lady had ordem e progresso printed across her breasts. Many were sporting the declaration Orgolho de ser Brasileiro, Proud to be Brazilian. This kind of nationalism is fascinating to me. I find it interesting to see a sort of patriotism that is quite different from the kind that is prevalent in the USA at the moment. In the USA, what passes for patriotism is little more than a sort of shared victimhood, insularity, and fear. Americans have in common a great ignorance of the world, and they call it national pride. Patriotism, if it is really to be a positive thing, should have nothing to do with death, neither of 'our kind' nor of those we are bombing in retaliation. Brazilians have a much better idea; they celebrate something they're good at, something fun. They declare the day after the victory a national holiday. Also, nobody's left out of this kind of patriotism. Muslim Americans can testify that the same is decidedly not true for the United States. The current flavour of American patriotism is loaded with too much gravity and import. It's serious, as our president would say. This seriousness can only lead to trouble; just ask last generation's Germans. It is much better to be happy and proud about something as trivial as a sport, something that hurts no one.