Last week walking around my neighborhood was disappointing.
Things were quiet in Canasvieiras (my neighborhood in Florianopolis in Southern Brazil) – and that’s expected – it’s winter here, and the roads are filled with guesthouses and long term rentals for Uruguayans and Argentinians who vacation here in the summer. But what was disappointing was the lack of a buzz – a vibrancy expected of the World Cup being held in this country of all countries.
There are reasons for this. Talking to Brazilians, they tell me of the frustration that the people have, an anger caused by government corruption, billions spent on stadiums, some of which, like the newly built Arena Amazonia in Manaus, will probably never really be used again.
As a great Reddit thread on the subject mentioned, it’s not that there isn’t some good coming out of it. Badly needed infrastructure issues, ignored for many years in some of the host cities are being taken care of (though there are some hilarious exceptions). Unfortunately at times this has been done without regard for the social impact – stories abound of preemptive police raids in favelas and the forcible relocation of citizens.
The opening game started on Thursday, and as I looked out through my balcony, I saw two schoolchildren, dressed in uniforms, walking with their father along my deserted street, waving Brazilian flags.
Something was finally happening.
I’m not much of a soccer fan and though I tend to zone out while seeing matches, I understand some of the inner tension involved. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently did a comedic, but well worded rant about this. As a soccer fan himself, John Oliver explains his own struggle with the issues – on one hand FIFA and the Brazilian government have done some shady things. On the other hand…It’s the World Cup!
What hooks me is the feeling of coming together, what Emile Durkheim called collective effervescence – an amplifying emotional unification through a shared experience. And effervescence is the right word. It’s a bubbling vibrancy that swells around you irrespective of language or national ties…or in my case, a lack of soccer knowledge.
Later on Thursday, the flags became more apparent. A few honks from cars. A few more flags. Could that be a vuvuzela? As I walked to my local watering hole rows of stores were closing. One barber shop had given up all pretense of keeping to business hours; they were drinking beers and barbecuing out in the street. The only shops that seemed open were the ones selling Brazilian soccer t-shirts – the green and yellow that everyone was wearing.
The nervousness implicit is that Brazil wouldn’t get excited. That’s when you know that All is Not Right – when a passionate country is blank faced, robbed of joy while hosting what they love most. It’s not that the issues aren’t valid – its the fear that those issues, the actions of the government and of FIFA, might have broken a people’s spirit in a fundamental way. That is a thing of sorrow.
But at Brazil’s first goal by Namar fireworks thundered in the street and the suddenly crowded bar screamed in delight. And relief set in. Because there was a tension, even in a soccer heathen like myself, that Brazil might not get excited. And “Brazilians,” according to Anthony Bourdain in his newest Salvadore da Bahia episode of Parts Unknown “get excited about everything!”
Yes there are issues. But it’s also soccer in Brazil.
I’m still confused about the offsides rule. I don’t quite get how soccer players can dramatically fall to the ground clutching the wrong body part from a brush from an opponent. But on Thursday it felt like the country – or at least the part of the country in my small neighborhood – finally let out the part of themselves that still cleaves to delight. And there – amongst locals and a few expats that I picked out – we were a part of that moment together.
Will it continue? I think it will.
I’m heading to Buenos Aires tomorrow, then Iguazu Falls, Curitiba, São Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande, and Rio. In packing I always wonder about the trip – this one will most likely be crazy, crowded, and loud, and the rumors of the country being unprepared do worry me a bit. But it also just might be as inclusive and friendly as I imagine, a party like only Brazilians know how to throw.
I don’t know how it will go – but I have one last addition to my packing. Like a lot of people in my neighborhood on Thursday, I too picked up a green and yellow shirt…
Brazilian flag photo by Eduardo Amorim