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    Volume 9 Issue 28| July 9, 2010|

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A Roman Column

Futebol and Brasil

Neeman Sobhan

A city of surpassing beauty on the sea, its white sandy beaches and bays edged with green mountains and rocky outcrops, and the figure of Christ standing on a high and lonely summit protecting and embracing all below with his outstretched arms. I don't have to spell it out or hint that its name means the city on the River of January. Yes, I'm here in Rio de Janeiro, sitting under an umbrella on the Copacabana beach sipping a green coconut and writing this.

It's a mild winter morning here, and I am in Rio to attend the wedding of a Brazilian friend, while taking the opportunity to see a continent that I have never visited apart from within the pages of its lush literature.

South America has always exerted an influence on the student and lover of imaginative prose. Having studied Magical Realism as a genre of literature, only now do I understand how this style of narrative could only have taken root here. The call of birds shrill as parakeets; laden coconut palms alongside flowering trees; the perfect blossoms, yellow and purple, lying on pavements like paper imitations; the eternal sea-kissed breeze; the array of tropical fruits---pink papayas and 'guabas', mangoes and custard apples (our own 'aata', here called the fruta di conde) ; the richly flavoured rice and black beans with succulent curries similar to our cuisine, specially the delectable beef tenderly flaking off the bones in a rich stew; the mesmerising beat of drums and samba music; the layered, intense beauty of the people reflecting their complex history: this extravagant landscape is a reality that assails the senses like a painted picture. And fiction here has to surpass the flamboyance of this painterly reality. Only magic will do.

On my first morning I walk at dawn on the clean stretch of beach. Many locals are out walking and meditating like me. There is a mystical moment, when I watch the sun brim and burst open from the direction of the Pao di Azucar or the Sugar Loaf Mountain in the horizon. The surf curling and licking my toes wash away all worldly thoughts and a new day comes floating on the burnished waves, full of promise and peace.

Today is an important day for Brazil. The national team is playing against Holland in this elimination round of the World Cup, here called the Copa do Mundo. We drive to the suburban neighbourhood of Neteroi and up the hills to the light filled apartment of our friend, and sit with other wedding guests (family and friends, many of whom have arrived this morning from Panama and the U.S) to watch the game.

Brazil's defeat hits us all. I remember the silence in Rome after Italy's disgraceful elimination, and now the hush around Rio and Niteroi is a painful déjà vu. As we drive back to our hotel the city, earlier festooned and now forlornly fluttering in the yellow and green colours of the flag, is a sad sight. I should be upset that we have been denied the pleasure of watching Brazilians celebrate victory in a carnival mood, but what we will discover about the nation in its defeat is also an experience.

The next morning, at breakfast in the hotel's café, the waitress, Ana, mournfully shows us her nails painted green edged with yellow. We make sympathetic noises, our Portugese limited to the word for 'thank you': obrigado/obrigada.

Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura gives a red card to Brazil's midfielder Felipe Melo (5) during the 2010 World Cup quarter final Netherlands vs Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth.

I am surprised at how little I understand of the spoken language although I can understand the written form. Portugese, like French, is pronounced differently from how it is written, unlike Italian or even Spanish. Even a thing like 'tea' written 'chaa' is pronounced ‘shaa'. The Portugese know almost no English, and even Spanish or Italian doesn't help us communicate. We are finally down to sign language. But we are able to show Ana that we are with the Brazilians in their defeat.

However, we didn't realise what sympathising with Brazilians football fans entailed. As we leave the hotel , our young taxi driver, Vinicius, tells us that today is the game with Argentina against Germany.

''Who do you want to win”?” I ask.
He turns sharply to me, surprised I should even ask, “Allemania, of course!”
Of course. My enemy's enemy is my friend.
Later in the day, as I re-enter the hotel I find that the staff at the reception are leaning over the counter watching the two TV screens in the lobby. Some of the guests are clustered there watching the game in progress. The score says: Argentina-0, Germany-1. I catch the eye of the barman who is standing with his hands frozen midway while shaking the lime, sugar, ice and the special spirit that makes the popular drink 'Caipirinia'. I raise my eyebrows asking what he thinks of the score. He puts the glass down and says “Yesss! Germany has scored.”

My husband and I sit down to watch the rest of the game. Every time Argentina almost makes a goal and misses, I breathe in sharply to bemoan the team's plight, only to find that the people in the lobby, along with the staff are jubilant, vindictive, adamantly anti-Argentina. When Germany makes the third goal, my dismay is covered up by the shout of triumph around me. I never realised how deep the competitive and antagonistic feeling of Brazil against Argentina is. After the fourth goal, we hear the fire crackers go off in the distance. All the celebrations prepared here on Copacabana beach for a Brasil victory is now being used for the Argentine defeat.

This has been a strange World Cup. All the hoped for victories have been dashed. I had thought that at least in Brazil I would be able to witness the joy of victory, but that was not to be. Vinicius had told us that once when Brazil had won the World Cup, the people of Rio had put a giant Brazil <>futebol<> tee-shirt on the statue of their beloved statue of Christ. Pity, that today when we are about to set out to Corcovado to see the statue, Cristo will not be dressed in Brazil's colours. But I am sure true sports fans know that empathy and compassion in another's defeat is more noble than the raw pleasure of victory.

Well, tell this to a Brazilian futebol fan. I don't know enough Portugese to do so. And even if I did, I don't think I would dare. Obrigada very much!

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