Out to the Ball Game, in Brazil

Out to the Ball Game, in Brazil

    If one of our players makes a mistake he’s an asshole. If a referee
    makes a call favorable to the
    other side, he’s a son of a bitch. If one
    of their players fouls ours, he’s a motherfucker. Not even at the

    most rabid American football game I’ve attended have I heard so much
    cursing. We feel more ourselves.
    We feel like men.




    May 22. Is it that in the United States Eva and I are simply locked into our own habits, our own routes, our own
    class? Another bus, another long trip. It’s 732 kilometers from Maringá to Florianópolis. We’d like to rent a car, but are
    advised that the drive is simply too dangerous, especially because of the construction on the road after crossing over from
    Paraná into Santa Catarina. So we take a bus and for awhile try to content ourselves looking at the rumpled hills, dotted mats of
    trees, and red-brown earth of Paraná, or noticing how the roadwork beginning in Paraná is an affair of hoes and shovels rather
    than tractors and earthmovers.

    Suddenly Eva becomes fascinated by the conversation between two drivers in their closed compartment below. One
    works for another bus company. Our driver is giving him a ride. They both hate no one so much as a driver who refuses to let
    another on board. One almost cries when they recall another who died in a bus accident some time ago. Both laugh at another
    whose wife, it seems, regularly puts "horns" on him. Eva laughs when at one point one curses an auto that swerves in front of
    our bus by calling the driver a pau de
    bosta, "stick of shit," an expression she’s never heard.

    Mostly, what the two drivers talk about is money, money, money. Ours is buying a house. With overtime, he can
    make 1,000 reais a month. The other doesn’t make as much, and doesn’t like it. What fascinates Eva, I think, is that the two
    are completely immersed in their lives, so typically Brazilian, trying to make do. A female version of this life could have
    been hers, and was, once, albeit from a more upwardly mobile class position. What fascinates me, on the other hand, is that
    we literally sit above the two drivers, as if in judgment, or at least contemplation. The life of these men could have never
    been mine, and, rather than a reverie of kinship, I can only experience one of detachment. I wish I could get lost, but I can’t.

    All four of Eva’s children, who live in Curitiba, are able to meet us when the bus stops and then accompany us after
    a few hours on another bus to Florianópolis. For the first time they will meet Ricardo, who has invited us all to his beach
    house. Ricardo is an eighteen year-old who lived with Eva and me last year, after his study abroad program fell through in
    Providence and he wound up being stranded in Dallas. The son of one of the sisters of the husband of one of Eva’s nieces, Ricardo
    eventually became closer to us than any of Eva’s own children, who have each lived with us in the United States, at periods ranging
    from three months to two-and-a-half years and who each eventually decided to return to live in Brazil.

    There was never any doubt that Ricardo would return. Maybe, paradoxically, this is why he became closer to us. He
    could afford to. Nothing is more sad about her own children now than that her son, Daniel, remains distant. A squat, chubby,
    clownish thirteen year-old when we last saw him, he’s now a six foot two, lean, and reserved eighteen year-old. Let him represent
    his sisters: Virgília, twenty-one, and Sara and Luci, the twins, almost sixteen. All are variously absorbed in the daily
    commonplaces of his or her own life. While for Eva and me this time is transcendent, for the children it’s accidental; in another month,
    each might be different—Daniel less vain, Virgília more emotionally poised, the twins more solicitous.

    So we all make our improbable collective way, switching seats on the bus and talking, five hours to Florianópolis,
    one of the most beautifully situated cities in Brazil. It’s on an island twenty-five miles long. The island has forty-two
    separate beaches. Ricardo has a beach house on one, from where he surfs. Florianópolis is where he was born, has lived all his
    life, and wants to live. Eva’s children, on the other hand, have lived all over the place in Brazil alone, from Maringá to Rio.
    Is it any wonder that they meet Eva with no gifts, whereas Ricardo presents Eva with a big bouquet of flowers when she
    steps off the bus? I like to think that he picked it himself from mother earth.

    I’ve never seen a soccer game in Brazil. Today is the state championship, between Ricardo’s team, Avaí, and its
    rival. Ricardo wants to see it. Daniel and I go along. The girls decline, and, when we finally get to the stadium, it’s easy to see
    why. There are few women to be seen and no teens. This is a strictly macho scene. The men in the center of the home side
    sing songs, wave flags, and jump up and down, just like you see on television. But television gives you nothing of the beery,
    raucous, ecstatic atmosphere. Just as surprising to me is that many of the men aren’t so young, not even those comprising the
    little drum-and-horn band.

    The game begins. The men are focused on every move. Anything that goes wrong for Avaí draws their curses.
    Anything! If one of our players makes a mistake he’s an asshole. If a referee makes a call favorable to the other side, he’s a son of
    a bitch. If one of their players fouls ours, he’s a motherfucker. Not even at the most rabid American football game I’ve
    attended have I heard so much cursing. It doesn’t seem to be that we hate the other team. It’s that we want to get
    hot. During a moment when the cursing and singing and shaking abate a bit, I hear a guy down in front shout up at our section, "cold fans." But
    when shortly before halftime a goal is scored against us, all becomes acceptably frigid.

    There are bathrooms down below the stands. But so many men can be observed pissing against the walls that the
    scene becomes another gender display, and I think again of one of those men-only, post-Iron John camps in the U.S. that I’ve
    read about, where men splatter mud on themselves and try to get back in touch with the Wild Man within. Either these
    Brazilian men are preprogrammed to be Wild or else attendance of the game puts them in touch with this Man. Though that lone
    goal holds up, and we lose, it seems to me that we had so much fun even crying out against the injustice of so many missed
    opportunities in the second half that we feel better afterwards. We feel more ourselves. We feel like men.

    Anhatomirim Island is a couple of slow, easy hours by boat from Florianópolis. It’s a perfect day, flush with sun.
    The sea is smooth as the bluest glass. Our hosts, Ricardo and his parents, Américo and Lúcia, assure us that we might see
    dolphins. The kids sun themselves like lizards. We adults chat. Even the maid, Dirce, from deep inside the state of Santa Catarina,
    is along. I thought we were headed for a close encounter with Nature. It turns out we confront History, sort of.

    The island is very small—hardly more than a rocky splotch whose only claim to touristic interest is that it’s the site
    of an old Portuguese fort. The fort was constructed in seventeen something, and then in eighteen something—something
    happened. I don’t pay much attention. It’s just too resplendent here. The views of the glistening sea over the luscious palms,
    ipês, peroba, and
    jacarandá trees are irresistibly seductive. Even the guide seems more intent on making jokes about how
    some sealed tunnel once promised a fate worse than death (that you would change your sex) or repeating the legends of a
    hanging tree (where resistors to the federal government were taken in the nineteenth century). Yet of course appearances are
    deceptive, and more the seductive, the more deceptive.

    Florianópolis was settled by Portuguese from the Azores. Hence, the original name of the island, Ilha de Nossa
    Senhora do Desterro, "Island of Our Lady of Exile." It has a history of rebellion against the federal government. At last century’s
    end, Governor Floriano Peixoto changed the name of the city after he crushed some rebels. Now, it seems, there’s some
    local movement to change the lovely name of the city back. Meanwhile, this island, whose name means, "cave of the little
    devils," abides as a premier touristic site whose impeccably preserved adobe and brick buildings, washed in white, accented by
    green, and surrounded by blue, are covered by something that can’t be seen: blood.

    Américo is second-generation Brazilian. Eva opines that he’s the most thoroughly Brazilian Japanese she’s ever
    met, completely at ease with himself as he cooks all manner of wonders
    (churrasco, kibe) on the big grill to the rear of the
    beach house, drives us around the city (stopping on a mountain so we can exclaim at the island’s gleaming lagoon), and talks
    to Eva about points of comparison between Brazil and the United States. Américo’s grandfather came to Brazil without a
    penny to his name. It’s an interesting story.

    His grandfather owned a mine in Japan. The government confiscated it during the First World War, and told him to
    fight or emigrate. Américo’s father was two when the family came to Brazil, and began working in the fields of a farm.
    Eventually, the grandfather was able to buy some land and build his own farm. It became successful, eventually through the
    subsequent work of Américo’s father. Américo himself still remembers his grandfather, who insisted upon a degree of personal
    refinement to the end of his days. He kept a white linen suit, and wore it to church every Sunday.

    Américo, a lawyer, appears to have continued the refinement of his grandfather (I’m not sure about his father)
    through his love of travel. He’s been everywhere in Brazil, just went to Europe for the first time, and wants to travel more in the
    United States. He’s never been to Japan and has no desire to go. Lately, the Japanese government got in touch with him.
    Something about his grandfather’s confiscated land; Américo could take possession of it. "Keep it," he told them. "I don’t want
    it." "Imagine," he tells Eva, "going back to be slaves to those Japanese."

    Beach-hoppin’ around Santa Catarina Island, north to south, courtesy of Ricardo & family: first stop is Barra da
    Lagoa, which has the placid charm of something in Tahiti. We eventually try to help some fishermen work their net. It’s a lot of
    time for only a few fish, as it turns out, but we get a touristic thrill anyway. After lunch, on to Joaquina, a long, lopping curve
    with choppy waves, where surfing championships are regularly held. We buy some postcards and pass on some T-shirts.
    Then northwards to the posher beaches of Ingleses, Canavieiras, and Sambaqui, each more fashionably and expensively
    appointed with more houses and condos than the last.

    Indeed, after the first two, we really don’t
    see the beaches at all. What we behold instead is the wealth that has been
    invested at their locations. Some of the houses are fabulous. "Such a shame that there’s so much luxury in a country that’s so
    poor," remarks Américo at one point. "Be quiet," Lúcia replies. "we’ve got a house too, and it looks like one of these to some
    people." No wonder they’re somewhat discomfited to hear that Eva and I prefer the more rustic, utilitarian beaches—such as
    theirs—on the southern end of the island, where the Azorian fishing community is still to be found, in simple villages of colorful
    old wedding-cake houses.

    It’s winter here now in late May. If this doesn’t mean it’s cold—temperature in the 80s—it does mean that the
    beaches are unpopulated. So, we’re treated on an off day to the world’s imaginary of Brazil as a tropical paradise, or at least as
    an estimable example of the fun-in-the-sun tropics. In the tropics, as we know, there is no sin. However, in the tropics, as
    we must forget, there is class. The plentiful beaches of Santa Catarina Island turn out to be as marked by how much money
    you have as the neighborhoods of Florianópolis. The only thing that binds them all together, poor and rich alike, is the
    promise of the beach. At, or rather on, the beach, there is no class.

    To be continued. Next: "Curitiba"

    This text is part of an essay called
    South of the Border, South of Brazil: Reflections on Another Life.

    Terry Caesar is the author of, most recently, a collection of essays on academic life,
    Traveling Through the Boondocks. He has been traveling to Brazil for some eighteen years, ever since he first arrived in Rio de Janeiro on a Fulbright. He
    welcomes your comments at caesar@clarion.edu


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