Thursday, March 30, 2006

Last Night was the Night

I don't know what the exact qualifications are for the descriptor "glorious," but when in such doubt, I would prefer not to describe last night's victory as such. It was simply a victory. Ypiranga was under pressure from the first whistle to the last. About twenty minutes into the game, which was still scoreless, I said to the man sitting next to me, "Sport will win this game 3-0." And what do you know?

Ypiranga is from a small town, a few hours from Recife, called Santa Cruz do Capibaribe. (The Capibaribe is a river which runs from the interior of the state through Recife to the Atlantic. On its way through the city, it passes through some of the nicest neighborhoods in Recife. If your humble blogger could live anywhere he wanted in Recife, he would live on the banks of the Capibaribe. But only on the South/East bank. The other bank is no good. I don't know why. That's simply the case.) Between forty and sixty Ypiranga fans attended the game, and the police duly cordoned off a section of the stands for them. To the annoyance of the Sport fans (about 23,000 were in attendance), the space allotted to Ypiranga could have held a thousand fans, easily.

Glorious or not, it's always good to watch a winning effort with twenty-some thousand of your friends. Now on Sunday, at home, Sport needs to beat Vitória, the lanterninha (no one can explain the origin of the term, but in Portuguese the last-placed team is the "little lantern") to win the second round of the championship. Last Sunday Vitória let Náutico score six goals, and Sport is much, much better than Náutico. Sunday can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tonight's the Night

Sport messed around enough at the beginning of the second round that every game is do or die now. They have to win tonight, but that's doable. Then they have to win on Sunday, but that should be easy. And, if they manage that (or Santa helps out by losing), then they are through to the final, which is do or die by definition.

I had a class scheduled for 5 pm tonight, but it was cancelled. It would have been just one student who is in his last week in Recife before he moves to Brasília, and he's going crazy trying to get everything squared away at work before he leaves. My evening is easier now -- I can go play soccer from 7:30 until almost 8:30, then take a quick shower, dry off, and walk one block to the stadium, buy a ticket, watch Sport's surely glorious victory over Ypiranga (currently in third place), return to the "society" where I played, get my bag, walk to the bus stop, and go home. Sounds good, but in Brazil there's always the chance of a strange complication...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Sunday went okay. It didn't exactly go well, but it was okay. (Blogger somehow screwed up the time and date of the last post -- it most definitely wasn't Friday, it was Saturday afternoon that I wrote it.)

Sport managed to go more than eighty minutes in the belly of the beast without conceding a goal. And in the eighty-sixth minute, Santa scored to equalize the game. Had Sport managed to win the game, I would be writing about the upcoming final between Santa and Sport. Still, Sport is in front with two games to go, and if Sport can win both games (both at home first against a mediocre team, and then against the worst team in the championship) then Sport will have booked a place in the final regardless of how Santa fares. Sport should have won the first round as well, but it took about five games before Sport really got it going. Still, things are looking good. The team has gelled and they are playing really well right now.

In Brazil, on Sunday, it's easy to forget that anything other than football exists. Starting at about 10 am there is an Italian or Spanish game on one network, immediately followed by a game from whichever league was not shown at 10, and then again at 6 pm the same network shows another game from Spain. (Spain has a tradition of 10 pm kickoffs on Sunday. Don't ask me why.) At 4 pm Globo (imagine a combination of ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, and you understand Globo's dominance) shows a Brazilian game. From the end of April until December, that game will be the Brazilian first division, but for now it's a game from the state championship, at least here. In some of the states with less popular championships (i.e., not -- from South to North -- Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Bahia, or Pernambuco) it might be a game from Rio or São Paulo. I have spent many an enjoyable Sunday lying in my hammock watching football.

But this Sunday I ignored the European games and went to the beach with some friends. The beach experience here is different than that of the US. There are vendors who pass up and down the beach all day selling, among other things hot dogs, ice cream, popsicles, sun screen, sunglasses, crappy art, pirate cds and dvds, kites, charcoal grilled queijo coalho (a cheese that is only found in Northeastern Brazil -- it's hard, very low in fat, and its consistency and flavor changes when it is grilled over charcoal or fried) on a stick, crabs, shrimp, raw oysters, and caldinho -- a kind of soup, and possibly the most popular of all the offerings. And, of course, there is beer. The beer (and water and soda) is served by the man who rents you chairs, because in Brazil no one sits on the sand. And people sell grilled fish, but it never looks very good, so I never eat it. The water was full of some kind of seaweed, which I am still discovering on the floor and walls of my apartment. (I was sure I had cleaned myself before I left the beach. And then I took a shower as soon as I got home. I wonder what those two women did while I was in the shower...)

Friday, March 24, 2006

O Campeonato Pernambucano

If all goes well tomorrow, I'll be writing a lot about the Pernambuco state championship (Campeonato Pernambucano), so here's some background info.

The state championships have a long history. Until 1959 there was no national football (soccer) competition in Brazil. There only state championships (and occasional all-star games -- between Rio and São Paulo, for example). The first Campeonato Pernambucano was held in 1915, and Flamengo (not to be confused with the more famous team from Rio) won. The next year Sport won (and the year after that), and thus began the finest footballing tradition in Pernambuco, if not the world.

The Campeonato Pernambucano is presently organized into two divisions, the top division consisting of ten teams. Each team plays each other team once in the first round, and then again in the second round. If the different teams won the two rounds, they play two games (home and home) to determine the champion.

Since 1944, the championship has been dominated by the three largest clubs in Recife (the smaller clubs either moved to the interior of the state or folded) -- Náutico, Santa Cruz, and Sport. Náutico, the oldest of the three, has won 21 championships (six in a row from 1963 to 1968). Santa, the youngest, has won 24. Sport, the best, has won 34 35. (América, one of the oldest teams in the state, is in fourth place with 6.)

Náutico began as a rowing club, and is (according to tradition) the team of the elite level of society. Santa Cruz is, again according to tradition, the team of the poor. Sport has no such identifying characteristic, but rather serves as the unifying figure of Pernambucano football. Some people say that in Recife there are only two torcidas (groups of fans), those who cheer for Sport and those who cheer against Sport. A Santa fan once told me, "I hate Sport more than I love Santa."

The three teams are known by their colors. Náutico is red and white (alvirrubro), Santa is red, white and black (tricolor), and Sport is red and black (rubronegro). I heard a story once about the colors of the teams that I didn't believe, but an alvirrubra told me (and another alvirrubro later corroborated it) -- and since the story reflects poorly on Náutico, I suppose I should believe it. She said that Náutico was formed to represent the white, rich Recifenses, so the colors are red and white. Sport formed shortly after Náutico, and chose black and red because Sport represented the black people in Recife. Then came Santa, combining the three colors, to represent all the people. (Náutico was the last team in Pernambuco to integrate its roster, and the fans took decades to accept the presence of non-white players.)

While the national championship is the bigger prize (Sport won it in 1987 -- the only team from Pernambuco to do so, although Náutico was runner-up in 1967), the state championship is the most important. The state championship is the subject of far more discussion, more intense rivalries, and bigger crowds. The state championships involve more teams, more players, and are thus the source of Brazil's football tradition. The state championships involve everyone. Not every state is represented in the top two divisions of the national championship, but everyone has a stake in their state's championship.

In the past, the state championships lasted almost the entire year. Now they go from January until April, although some of the states with no representation in the top divisions may stretch their championships until June. The national championship begins at the end of April and lasts until early December. Brazil is truly football heaven.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The most common question

Today a student asked me what aspects of Brazilian culture I find most difficult to get used to.

It's a deceptively difficult question. I have been here for almost three years, and Recife is what seems normal to me. Were I to go back to the US, I'm sure it would seem strange, at least for a week or two. When he asked me, I didn’t have an answer ready, and hours later I still don’t. I said something about the pace of life here, and that’s true. Sometimes it’s annoying how slowly things move here, but most of the time I like it. I still need to slow down, to be more like the locals. It finally occurred to me, only two weeks ago, that people walk slowly as a survival technique. I walk at what seems like a normal pace, which is much faster than anyone else in the state. And I sweat and they don’t. You would think I would have figured that one out long ago, but you would give me too much credit.

It’s not the first time someone has asked that question. Two years ago I’m sure I had a ready answer, and I’m sure the answer was almost always “I could trust people in the U.S., and I can’t here.” At some point I’ll examine how I was correct and incorrect in that assessment. But now I’m not exactly Brazilian, but I’m not a visitor, or a new arrival, either. It's hard to say what's different about Recife. It would be easier to see what's different about other places, now that my perspective has shifted. The one glaringly obvious difference is carnaval. There is no carnaval in the US (with the exception of Mardi Gras, which may or may not have survived Katrina), and carnaval dominates the culture of Recife, if not Brazil. The time between New Year's and carnaval is just dead time, everybody waiting for the year to really start. After carnaval people go about their lives for a few months, recovering, before they begin preparing for next year's carnaval. In August or September people start talking about carnaval again, discussing what they will do, where they will go, and who they will be with. Carnaval is the single most important part of the culture here, even more important than bikinis. And bikinis are very important.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Greetings from the country of the future

That's Brazil. Everyone knows the old joke, so I won't repeat it.

This morning, a couple of hours after breakfast but still a couple of hours before lunch, I got hungry. I didn't have a lot of options in my kitchen, and I didn't want to go out to buy a snack. So I made popcorn. I poured the oil into a pan, and then the popcorn. And out of the bag of popcorn (Prato Bom, if you're curious) fell two beans. Better still, two different kinds of beans. One was black, perhaps to represent the Southeast of Brazil. The other was pink (I'm not sure what its name is in English), in Portuguese feijão mulatinho, perhaps to represent the Northeast. It made some sense. No matter where you are in Brazil, if you have a tv, you have the Southeast in your living room. And on the streets of any city in Brazil (except for Recife and the surrouding area, and maybe Salvador) outside of the southern half of Brazil, you see jerseys of teams from the Southeast. But I'm in the Northeast, and at lunchtime it is much, much easier to find restaurants serving feijão mulatinho (any restaurant that is not Chinese, Japanese, or barbecue) than black beans. So there it was, Brazil in a bowl of popcorn. Or something. I hope the extended metaphors get better as this blog goes on.