The Brazilian World Cup is not all samba and Jesus statues

Curitiba, Brazil, June 24, 2014

By the time you read this the World Cup will already be done and out of mind, something of an issue for any monthly column. For now I’m in Curitiba, Brazil, attending the odd World Cup game and generally sponging off people to whom I’ll owe a great emotional debt in the years to come.

“Curitiba is not Brazil” is a phrase I’ve heard bandied about at least twice, once by a Spanish journalist who informed his entire country of the ‘fact’. Yes and no. Curitiba is quite like Melbourne, in its winter cold, its numerous gardens and its unusual public transport. I’d be curious to see hot, poorer, mulatto, festive, dangerous “Brazil” up in the northeast but my so-called World Cup plans were ad hoc at best, so it’s stick with my friends here or bust.

But Brazil still shines through around the edges, in the somewhat broken appearance of houses and streets outside the flash shopping centres in the city centre, in the raucous get-togethers of people watching each game involving Brazil. I was at one last night, where beef chunks and beer got passed around and we watched young Neymar Jr. rescue Brazil yet again.

Neymar is the most fun Brazilian player I’ve seen for a while, handsome, charismatic with his Gen-Y hair, smiling, funky. Incidentally onfield he’s an excellent goalscorer, an X-factor who, when things are nervous can pull a scoring play out of nowhere to lighten the load. By now we’ll know if he took his chance to become emblematic or not. On the other side of things is the uncharismatic, silent Leo Messi and Argentina, identically looking to drag his spluttering team upward to glory on his own back, but at the time of writing with slightly less support from his people back home than Neymar has. Messi left for Spain when he was 12 and, as with any emigrant, there is suspicion back in Argentina that he isn’t really ‘one of us’ compared to someone like Carlos Tevez. A World Cup trophy would change that, but it’s probably now or never. Did he do it, o future reader? You tell me.

The Aussies arrived to Curitiba en masse a few days ago, cramming one of the squares on Sunday night, one guy getting into a scuffle while dressed as a kangaroo (literally, I saw the guy although not the reported fracas). We came, saw Australia go down to Spain meekly without Cahill, didn’t conquer, and left the city to enjoy Jesus in Rio and other future endeavours.

At least half of the people at any game are always from Brazil, giving each stadium a yellow tinge (Ecuador and Australia supporters also wear yellow, confusingly). Among the passionate support for Ecuador and Australia, Brazil-themed chants will suddenly spring out of nowhere, echoed by much of the stadium. Outsiders don’t care about your stupid Brazilian turf wars, I feel like telling them, but then how meaningless is Collingwood outside Australia, right?

It’s strange being in South America, with its crumbling façade and vague edge of danger. It scared me when I arrived but, as I once read on a tourist brochure here, ‘You have to feel it’. Being away from home is a feeling, and it can’t be described or replicated. Feelings can’t, unfortunately, be bottled, stored or remembered. They just creep up on you, and you suddenly think: I remember this.

Marty Gleason

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