Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sport 1 Santo André 0

Because I know that the millions of people who read this blog are desperate for more news about Sport, here it is.

Sport defeated Santo André last night, in front of 900 people (about 300 of whom, according to the radio announcer, were Sport fans). This gives Sport three wins in three games, and more importantly, two away wins. What's funny about the whole thing is that a lot of Sport fans are now making a big deal about having sole possession of first place. Three games into a thirty-eight game season. As old people say, that and a nickle will get you a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Third World

No expletive this time. Just a taste of what the third world is like.

At the end of last week Recife emerged from a black pepper shortage. Now who could ever imagine a black pepper shortage?

There was clearly some problem at the warehouse of the spice distributor, because all of the supermarkets had big empty spots on the spice aisle. Apparently somebody forgot to do inventory, and the distributor found itself without, among other things, black pepper, cumin, and rosemary.

In the first world, the inventory is in a database, and when something is shipped, the shipment is logged in the database, and as long as no one steals black pepper, the database will show when it is time to order more. And then, of course, the spice company also has everything on computers and they can ship immediately, and so on. Not in Recife. Not in the third world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Third Fucking World

I love Brazil. I want that clear, before you read anything that follows. I love Brazil, third world though it may be. Uncaring, injust, cruel, the very representation of injustice though it may be. Even though my neighbors might occasionally throw their garbage through my kitchen window, I love Brazil. And part of why I love Brazil, part of what I cannot explain to people who have not lived here, is the very third worldness of it. That doesn't mean that what follows is only found in the third world -- it isn't. That doesn't mean that I like what follows -- I don't. It just means that there is something about Brazil -- its beauty, its slow pace, its shocking lack of humanity -- that I can't, now that I know it well, imagine living without. I guess I could leave Brazil, but I would never want to. Where would I go? Peru? Liberia? I don't need to live in a warzone, but neither can I imagine living in the US again. There's an impact that Brazil has, and once it hits you, you can't even consider going long without it.

I haven't left Brazil since I arrived here. Or, I left once, to spend a week in Buenos Aires. Which was nice, but it wasn't Brazil. And as nice as it was to walk on clean streets (which don't exist as such in Recife), I was happy to get back. And I haven't felt a desire to leave since then. I have been thinking about leaving Brazil recently (not by choice), and these are not pleasant thoughts.

But that doesn't mean that all of my experiences here in Brazil are positive.

This afternoon I just wanted to read Tbogg when someone knocked on my window. (I had meant to write something about this. Because I live on the ground floor, next to the gate to the building, people seem to think it's okay to knock on my window at whatever hour to ask if their friend is home.) She had meant to ask how to buzz my apartment, but due to dumb luck, she knocked on my window, so I let her in. She was about an hour early for our dinner (to celebrate her birthday).

She became, without telling me, a vegetarian about three months ago. No problem. I spent six and a half delicious years as a vegetarian myself. (Of course, then I visited Peru and moved to Brazil, and those two acts alone guarantee that I eat a lot, and I mean A LOT, of pig meat.) So to celebrate her birthday I made an "Indian" dinner for her -- chickpeas simmered with cinnamon, cloves, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro, and a little bit of black pepper (which was, oddly enough, to be the subject of tonight's essay before life threw me something of a change-up). She liked it. So did I.

We drank mango nectar with vodka, and because her reputation had preceded her (I jest -- it wasn't a reputation, it was my experience in her company), I had bought a second bottle of vodka -- just in case. And that case, unsurprisingly, happened, and we kept on drinking even after the mango nectar ran out and we had to drink peach nectar (no great sacrifice).

And, after dinner, she suggested we go to a bar to drink a beer or two. And that seemed like a great idea to me, so off we went.

The bar in question is, if not my favorite, one of my favorites (bet on the first option). We drank three beers, at which point she wanted to leave, so I offered to pay. She said, "No, let's drink one more so we both pay five reais." And that made sense, so I asked for one more.

During the fourth beer she started talking about personal tragedies. (This after I had told her a hilarious story about a cousin's wife insulting my grandmother after the wedding.) (Which has nothing to do with the third world. Everybody hurts.) And goddamn, were her tragedies ever tragedies. Okay, that's fine. It deserved a fifth beer. I paid the bill while she was in the bathroom (it was her birthday, after all).

We drank the beer (if I haven't mentioned this before, Brazilian beers are bigger than American beers and they are meant to be shared) and then left the bar. We said goodbye to the owner (a friend of mine -- his bar will some day be the subject of an ode [believe me, if a Grecian urn deserves an ode, this bar deserves one, too] -- who she had met that night) and set out toward the bus stop. She almost made it to the corner before asking me, "Is it full of animals, or is it just my impression?" Was I wrong to misunderstand the question? I asked her what she had just said, and she repeated herself. And then fell backwards onto what passes for pavement in Recife. Very softly, I must say, without even dirtying here clothes. I held her hands and waited for her to come to. Which happened quickly, without too much trouble.

When I had her on her feet again, she was all the more determined to take a bus (actually, she would have to take two busses) home. I purposely steered her toward the second-closest bus stop so she would have to pass a taxi stand. As we passed the taxies one of the drivers (who all know me because during the carnaval season I would come home at four or five in the morning by bus and stop and talk to them -- and the prostitutes, who are by nature interesting -- and so I know that any taxi driver who works at the night-time stand near my apartment can be trusted) asked if we needed a taxi. I told him that yes, we did, but my friend was insulted and declared that we needed no such thing. (The third world has yet to enter into this tale of unhappiness.)

We made it all the way to the bus stop, arguing every step of the way, me telling her that I loved her and wanted only the best for her and could not take the bus with her and did not trust her to get off the bus (I could tell her which bus to take at first) at the right stop and then get the second bus to take her home. The result of which was her cursing my neighborhood (unfortunately, I more or less agree with her) and declaring that she didn't want to spend her money on the taxi. (Let's see -- I bought the food, cooked the food, paid for the beer, and she ...?)

And the, out of nowhere, she decided to take a taxi. I would have walked her across the street to the taxi stand, and the only drivers I trust, but a taxi happened to be passing at that very moment and she hailed it and got in. Probably because of my (very foreign) presence, he declined to give her a discount price, and I gave her ten reais to pay half of her fare and (hopefully) get her home safely. (There has yet to be mentioned anything to do with the third world.)

The taxi drove off and I resisted the urge to send it on its way with a one-fingered salute. I had almost reached the corner when the light changed, and I looked across at the very driver who had originally asked me if I needed a taxi. I shrugged my shoulders at him, but something sent me across the asphalt to encounter the true unhappiness of the night.

When I arrived on the other side of the street, the prostitutes' side of the street, I saw a girl of about fifteen years old, in a skirt that would make Ally McBeal blush, telling a key-ring vendor (the third world involves some strange professions) that as much as she liked the key-ring showing a woman lovingly embracing a penis as tall as her (and twice as thick), she didn't have the money to buy it.

I told the taxi driver that I had told my friend to take his cab. I told him that I trusted him, and the other drivers (who were nowhere to be found) who used the same taxi stand. I told him that my friend was in such a state that, if her cabbie wanted to, he could do whatever he wanted with her and she probably wouldn't remember in the morning. (Minutes after it happened she didn't remember passing out on the sidewalk.) He nodded. I looked at the children, who I guessed to be seven or eight years old, playing next to his taxi, and I looked at the two prostitutes, sitting in front of a closed newsstand. I told him that I loved Brazil, and that I chose to live in Brazil. I asked him how old the prostitutes were. He said that one was nineteen, and that the other was eighteen. I reminded him of the fact that I'm not retarded. I asked him if he had seen their government-issued ids. He said that one was nineteen, but that he didn't trust the other one. I asked him which one. He pointed to the obviously underaged one. The one who had no fear. The one who was clearly not on her first, nor second, nor third, night on the stroll. I told him that as much as I love Brazil, as much as I don't want to leave, I told him that sometimes I wonder why I'm here.

And I walked home.

At least I had the chance to read Tbogg once I was back inside my apartment.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I decided to indulge my vanity and look at my blog before going to bed. Maybe today I'll get my first comment. And how about that, I did. And then I looked at the comment. Oh, well.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


It just occurred to me that yesterday I criticized, or at least linked to posts criticizing, my country. And I did that from the comfort of foreign soil. And, according to conservatives, that makes me a traitor, doesn't it? If I remember correctly, Bush the Smarter made a big deal out of Clinton's participation in a Vietnam War protest in England. The issue for Bush the Smarter wasn't the fact that Clinton protested, but that he did it in a foreign country. And here I am, doing the same thing in a smaller way. Maybe this means I'll be president some day...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It's all so funny...

Brazil is lurching its way through its very own Watergate (Porta de Água?) right now. Eventually I'll try to post some kind of summary of the various scandals that have surrounded Lula and his party, but for now it should suffice to say that in the face of extremely strong competition Lula has established himself as the most corrupt president in Brazilian history. (It is only fair to point out that he may very well be the U. S. Grant of Brazilian history -- fairly honest, drunk, and completely innocent of any clue as to what his advisors are doing.)

As serious as educated Brazilians take the various scandals unfolding in their own country, the Cheney administration strikes them as some kind of joke. Brazilians were bewildered (and hurt) by the 2000 theft. Brazilians are angry about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Around the time of one of the various "handovers" or "transitions of power" in Iraq -- I think it was that first one, in June of 2004 -- a Brazilian daily had the headline "Partial Sovereignty is Like Partial Pregnancy".)

I wasn't in Brazil when the US invaded Iraq, but I imagine that up until the moment it began the Brazilian people were sure that it was a bluff, that the US would never do such a foolish thing. Despite five years of Bush-Cheney idiocy, they still retain a charming belief in the overall goodness of the US government and people. Most Brazilians have never seen a coup, but most of them have experienced the resulting government, so the 2000 theft didn't appear particularly strange to them. (The cynic in me wants to say that they admired our ability to take the coup so gracefully. Just like Cokie Roberts did.) The 2004 election did, however.

"How could you reelect him?" They kept asking me (and occasionally still do ask me). I tried to tell them about the media in the US, about how Americans feel isolated from the rest of the world and thus unconcerned about our image abroad, about how conservatives reject any information that does not confirm their belief system (and how in the absence of evidence to confirm their beliefs they will invent such evidence -- saying that every tax cut has resulted in increased tax revenue, for example).

These are things that politically aware Americans undestand, and in some cases have assimilated so well that they seem normal. Of course Uncle Norm doesn't believe that the Abu Ghraib photos will affect world opinion of the US occupation of Iraq. Of course Bob at the office thinks DeLay is the victim of a witch hunt (while Clinton represented a genuine threat to the survival of American democracy). For most of us who are aware, there was a moment when the scales fell from our eyes (I thought the Clinton investigations were valid for a few years), but we all know, and we understand how the system works. But the Brazilians have no idea, and how can you explain all of this? They have enough trouble understanding the electoral college. I can't suggest that they read atrios or bartcop -- they won't understand the references to American political institutions, even if they can understand the English.

So when I read something like this or this, and I agree, I can't express that to my Brazilian friends. Despite the invasion of Iraq, until the bombs actually start dropping on Tehran, the whole idea of another invasion will be a joke. Just like everything relating to Halliburton, Diebold, Jack Abramoff, and so on. They think it's funny that they can describe Lula as "Bush minus the war." I wish I thought it were funny, too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sport é campeão!

It wasn't pretty, but it sure feels good. Sport is the 2006 Pernambuco champion.

Early Saturday afternoon a tv station reported that Sport had already sold the majority of the available tickets for Sunday's game. So Sunday I left home almost three hours before game time to make sure I could still get inside the stadium.

As I crossed the bridge over the river Capibaribe someone offered me a ticket for thirty reais. That frightened me, since the ticket usually costs around ten. I thought, the line at the ticket window has to be very long before thirty reais sounds reasonable. And the line was extremely long. Fortunately, just as I began to turn to find another scalper I heard someone say "Eightteen reais! If the money's in your hand when you approach, there won't be a problem." I got my money out and approached, and there was no problem.

Still more than two hours before kickoff, I entered the stadium hoping to find a decent place to stand. (The few times I have arrived close to kickoff I have spent the entire game on the lowest level of the terraces, with the grass at eye level.) The "geral" section of the stadium (behind the northwest goal) was already full, and the arquibancada frontal (along the south side of the stadium) was about half full. Or would have been, except for the inconvenient fact that the police had blocked off about half of the section, so ten thousand people were packing themselves into a section that could uncomfortably hold five. After what was probably only twenty minutes of hot, crowded, sweaty hell -- but what seemed like much longer -- the police opened the area and the crowd surged forward to claim their spaces.

I found a spot about two meters from midfield, and three steps up the terraces, from which I was close enough to the action but not so low that I couldn't see the other side of the field. And then I waited -- two hours in the tropical afternoon sun, in my fan's uniform (a red and black clown wig). Every fifteen minutes or so I took out my sunscreen and rubbed some into my face and neck. After some time I noticed that the man on my left had a large cardboard sign that he was using to give himself some shade.

"Move that sign over to the right," I said with a laugh, and he complied.

"Hold up your side," and I did so willingly.

After some time in the welcome shade of the sign, I asked him what it said on the other side.

"Mirela te amo," he replied.

I thought about the implications of holding a sign declaring my love for a woman who, to the best of my knowledge, I had never met.

"Yeah, I love Mirela," I told him.

"What?" Not yet angry.

"She's giving me shade."

He laughed. And a few minutes later we worked out that we had played soccer together once. For a city of three million people, Recife is a pretty small town.

Eventually the game started, and there's really no need to go into detail here. Sport needed to tie the game to win the championship, while Santa Cruz needed to win the game to force penalties. And, in the last minute of the second half, Santa scored off a corner kick to force penalties.

Santa shot first, and Gustavo -- Sport's goalie -- saved. Then Léo Oliveira's shot was saved, but the linesman ruled that the keeper had moved to early, and Léo Oliveira got a second chance. Which he clanged off the crossbar, and Sport had wasted a great chance. Both teams then converted the next two penalties. Santa found success on a third consecutive penalty, and their star forward was sent off for his obscene celebration in front of Sport's fans. Sport was denied, and the championship was at the feet of Santa Cruz. Grown men were crying in the stands around me. But Gustavo saved Sport, Sport converted the next penalty, and then both teams were successful.

For those of you who are right now thinking, "How lucky you were to see such drama!" I would like to say, "Fuck you." Drama is nice when my team isn't playing. I had no desire for drama. I wanted to see Sport win the championship emphatically, to the tune of 5-0 at the very least. The last thing I wanted to do was sweat through my clown wig while adults cried.

And then, on the next penalty, Gustavo dove to his right and swatted the ball away. Sport needed one penalty to win it all. Up stepped Hamilton, who was born in Alagoas (the state to the south of Pernambuco) but will represent Togo in this summer's World Cup, to set off the celebration. We chanted happy chants, we chanted obscene chants, we sang about our love for Sport.

Sport is the 2006 champion of Pernambuco. The natural order has been restored.

Olé olé olé olé olé
Olé olé olé olé olé
Sou rubronegro do coração
Eu sou do time que é sempre campeão!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sport 2 Santa 1

The multitudes who read this blog will have to put up with more posts about Sport and the Campeonato Pernambucano.

It should have been 3-1, but the referee disallowed a perfectly valid goal. That goal would have made it 3-0, and further crushed Santa's spirit, but these things happen on the way to the championship.

Prior to last night's game Santa had played 44 straight at home without losing, a record that dated back to 2004. Neither had Sport defeated Santa Cruz in any venue since 2004. But this year everything has changed.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

True Story

Several months ago...

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, or so I assumed, since I was sleeping. At 8:30 in the morning, this is what almost everyone was doing unless they were on their way to the beach (or on the beach already). My doorbell buzzed angrily, jarring me from what was no doubt a lovely dream. I sat up, swung my feet over the side of the bed and stood up. I looked at the clock to confirm the ungodly hour, and walked through my apartment to the door, wondering who would risk my wrath. Surely it was important.

As I opened the door I saw first a middle-aged woman. Moving with a shocking rapidity for the hour and nature of my awakening, my mind calculated that perhaps it was the landlady, since the rent was due. I couldn't, in that state, remember what the landlady looked like, but I could remember that she always called first. It probably wasn't my landlady. As the door opened further, I saw a younger woman standing behind her. And she looked good. Involuntarily, I smiled. This might be worthwhile after all.

"Good morning," said the older woman pleasantly, while the younger one smiled behind her.

"Good morning," I replied.

"Do you like to read?" She asked me.

"All the time. Why?"

"Because I have something," and her arm stretched out toward the grating that I had not yet opened. I looked at her hand and saw, across the top of a small pamphlet, the word "Jesus."

"I don't believe you woke me up for this," I growled, and closed the door, locked it, and went back to bed.

I couldn't sleep. I was too angry. How dare they disturb me? Who let them into the building? And why didn't I say something Al Jaffee would have approved of?

I tossed and turned, and then got up. I put some water on the stove for coffee, and walked into the living room. Outside my window, I heard the older woman complaining to someone, "...and he just closed the door, right in my face. The nerve."

And someone, a man, was agreeing with her! "Yeah, that's bad."

"How rude! I couldn't believe it."

Neither could I.

Monday, April 03, 2006


This may not interest anybody (does anything about this blog interest anybody?), but I just received spam with this subject: "With Generik Viagra you can smoke as much as you want."

Can someone explain this to me, please?

Does "Generik Viagra" prevent emphysema or cure cancer? Maybe the pills are minty fresh. I don't get it.

Everybody's a Winner

Almost. As I explained before, the Campeonato Pernambucano is divided into two rounds, followed by the final (if necessary). Yesterday Sport won the second round. And for that accomplishment, Sport won a trophy. I had no idea the rewards were so liberal. Should Sport lose the final to Santa Cruz (the first round winner, who presumably also won a trophy), nobody will care about that trophy, but there it was, all the same. The team even took a lap with the trophy and the crowd, myself included, screamed and cheered. There were vendors selling banners that read "Sport: Second Round Champion 2006." I was surprised by the number of people who were buying.

The game itself was one of the best non-clássicos I have seen. Sport was tense at first, whatever the soccer equivalent of holding the bat too tightly is. (They laced their shoes too tight?) About ten minutes in Vítoria, the worst team in the championship and the home town of my dinner companion tonight, scored first. I saw tears welling up in the eyes of a few people near me. The goal seemed to relax Sport, and not long after Sport scored what looked like a weak goal. (Later that night I saw a replay on tv, and it was a perfectly placed, if not particularly hard, shot.) Fifteen minutes later Sport scored again, and the party began.

Wednesday night in Arruda (Santa's stadium) and Sunday in the Ilha do Retiro, Sport and Santa will dispute the state championship. The structure is bizarre -- goals don't count, only the wins. Should Santa defeat Sport 1-0 in the first game, and then Sport crush Santa 8-0, the championship will be decided by penalties. In theory, all Sport needs to do is tie the first game and then beat Santa in front of the home crowd. The games would ideally both be on Sundays, but the CBF (the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol) is run by men who neither understand nor like the sport but who love money. They want Brazil to be like European countries, which have no state championships, and so the state championships are more compressed every year. It's questionable who has the advantage here -- Sport or Santa. Sport leads the overall championship (first and second rounds combined), and so has the second game at home. This means, theoretically, that Sport only needs to tie the first game and win at home. Of course, there are plenty of people who say that this gives the advantage to Santa, who can win at home and then play for the tie on Sunday. Financially, it gives the advantage to Sport, because more people are liktely to go to the game on Sunday than on Wednesday night (with a 9:45 kickoff for television's sake). Santa will have a better presence in Sport's stadium, since the game is on Sunday. And so on. Regardless, one thing is certain. No matter what the outcome, no matter what the advantages of playing the first game in Santa's house, we can all agree that Sport is by far the better team.

I Thought it was Autumn...

Jesus H. Christ is it hot today. I was working on a longer post, but I have to put it off until I can stop dripping sweat on the keyboard. I'm actually jealous of you people in the northern hemisphere, who get to experience temperate weather right now.