In this episode, we go home and write up all the miscellaneous details that didn’t fit in the rest of the story.
EPILOGUE: I’M NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING ANYMORE
After a layover in Brasília, we flew to Miami, whose airport has improved considerably since 2008, the last time that was my re-entry to the US. We quickly cleared customs, where they did not mention that since the duty free bottles we’d bought on the way out were in one sealed shopping bag, not individual ones, we needed to check them through to Boston. At least we weren’t charged for the extra bag we had to check through, but re-entering security did require cleaning out the laptops, taking off the flip-flops, and all the other TSA rubbish we did not miss in a month of flights.
Also, I made sure to flush a whole bunch of paper at a restroom, just because. AMERICA FUCK YEAH
We landed in Boston just before midnight on the 14th, and the baggage return chute spat out the backpack with the duty free booze, but not any of our other suitcases. One of which had my house keys. Why did I check my keys? They have a pocket knife on them. Why didn’t I take off the knife? ‘Cause, uh, pocket knives come in handy on a long trip stop judging me okay. If the luggage didn’t come back, I’d have to take an extra day to telecommute, since Mike leaves for and returns from work after I do.
We weren’t the only ones, either; most everyone on the flight who’d re-checked bags from customs had them waylaid. Including that melonhead who’d just returned from six weeks on ESPN duty. In South Africa and Germany, we ran into US press folks at every turn. This time, we saw only two–Grant Wahl at the airport when we first landed in São Paulo, and Taylor now that we were all home. So, I mean, as far as name-dropping vacations go, this one was pretty thin. Don’t even think we ran into any obvious player families.
After filing a lost luggage claim, we made it back to the house at about 2 am. Mike’s work gave him an unexpected recovery day off, so he could wait for the luggage delivery while I went to the office. AA dropped off our bags that evening. 32 days after we left, we were home.
APPENDIX: THE LEFTOVER OBSERVATIONS THAT DIDN’T FIT IN THE STORY
My two new favorite Portuguese words: Temakaria and Borracharia. Temakaria is a fantastic portmanteau–it’s the term for “sushi bar,” just like “taqueria” is a taco stand. Borracharia is a tire shop, usually of the mom and pop variety that will fix a flat or sell you a used tire for cheap. However, “borracho,” in Spanish, is “drunk.” It took me several days into the trip to figure out why there were all these signs directing people to “drunk store.”
As mentioned, I did not come away with the greatest impression of Argentine fans; it seemed like the country was South America’s frat house. I am sure they’re all lovely people individually, or out of the World Cup context, but within it, they were somehow more obnoxious than Americans, which takes work. Also, every last one of them had their own little thermos full of mate, complete with gourd and those weird metal straws I’ll never figure out how you don’t sear your lips while using.
I know a lot of folks back in the US wish Spanish-speaking fans would stop yelling “PUTO” at goalies taking kicks, because the word has homophobic undertones. That taunt isn’t going anywhere, and if it is to fall out of favor, it’s gotta come from the people born into those teams’ fandoms, a long-term cultural shift. Well-intentioned gringo interlopers used to US stadium rules don’t have a whole lot of pull on this.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise we saw at least a dozen Pope Francis cosplayers per Argentina game. He’s a really popeular guy.
As in South Africa, I did not bring banners, and I probably won’t for any future World Cup hosted outside the US or Canada. When it’s not your house, they’re a liability. It pays to attend a game with the bare essentials, not just because of avoiding bringing anything you’d be upset if you lost, but also because you never know when you’re going to have to clear out of a scene in a hurry. You want to be able to leave quickly if the weather turns bad, or the crowd gets sketchy, or someone in your party is sick or injured.
How far will I go for a cheap Simpsons reference? I bought a 49 star flag to carry to the games.
This year’s big trend with US fan gimmicks was “silly shit on the backs of your jerseys.” More so than the last two tournaments, I saw a lot of folks with goofy names and numbers. Getting your state plus the year of or order of its admission to the union is always popular, as is your AO chapter name and number. Saw several presidents and year of first election (CLINTON 92) or order of election (OBAMA 44). European fans who eschew names/numbers almost entirely may wonder why we do this. Answer: It comes from American football jerseys, which don’t look right if they’re blank. We’re just used to naming and numbering our jerseys, any sport. The silliest, I think, was the white dude who looked in his late 50s with “SHAKUR 96” on his. My favorites were the guys I saw in the Manaus convenience store with their own last names: PATEL and SUBRAMANIAN, pretty much “Smith” and “Jones” in India, but on bomb pop jerseys those names are as American as all hell.
THE PART WHERE I TALK ABOUT TV
If you turn on Brazilian TV expecting to find pretty ladies in bikinis teaching the alphabet to little kids, you will probably be disappointed. You’re more likely to find religious programming, which may or may not involve pretty ladies in bikinis. At any given time on Brazilian TV there are at least five different religious shows.
I really, really want to watch Meu Pedacinho de Chão from the beginning, although I don’t know if my Portuguese is good enough to get it ‘cause I don’t think anyone fansubs Brazilian novelas. It was the show that ran at 7pm, almost always after a game, and involved this over-the-top candy fantasy kingdom, all pink hair and massive costumes and stage makeup on the screen.
The state and federal governments ran ads in which government employees and everyday people talked about how much the government has helped them. The subtext was obvious–please do not set things on fire while the tourists are here to spend money–but it was still weird seeing an ad where factory workers sang about how great Bahia’s state government is.
Who was I pulling for once the US train stopped? Neymar’s underpants and Dani Alves’s eyes. I wanted Brazil to win just to see how big a party the country could throw, but I’ve also always got a soft spot for the Netherlands just because their fans are always great. The best team from first to last whistle won the whole thing, though; Germany knew what they had to do and went out and won it. “Die Mannschaft” will never not sound totally gay, however.
Who were Brazilians pulling for? Germany. A. Like hell they want to see their biggest rivals win on their turf. B. If you must lose, lose to the eventual champion. C. The 7-1 loss was bandied about as a wake-up call for change within the federation, except then they went and re-hired Dunga, so who knows D. Germany turned out to be good guests, donating their training camp and some players’ winnings to local kids.
What I miss being back in the US: Juice bars that serve fruit juice because it is tasty, not because it has any bullshit magical powers (if your body had toxins it couldn’t cleanse, you’d be ICU-level sick, you dope). Juice that is fresh squeezed but not US $5 per glass. All right, I suppose it helps when all those fruits grow in everyone’s yard, which is not exactly possible here in Boston, but still, give me a glass of passion fruit and pineapple, and fry up that goddamned kale with garlic as an entree, not a drink.
I did not realize just how much this trip was going to take out of me. It didn’t help that when I got back, I immediately got assigned to a huge cataloging project at work that would run through late October, so there was no easing back into the office after a month. But it took me a good six weeks to pick up the paints after being back, I didn’t finish this whole trip report for over two months, and hell, it took me a month just to send out everyone’s souvenirs. At least I unpacked and got the laundry done as soon as the luggage arrived. I really did get back from vacation and just not want to do much on weekends besides nap on the couch and maybe go to a Revs game once their losing streak ended. A year of planning, a month on the road, yeah, that’s gonna take some recovery.
I collect traditional dress from countries I visit, like kimono or hanbok or dirndl. This was the easiest place of all to get the national costume, because Brazil’s official traditional attire is a soccer jersey, shorts, and Havaianas.
They don’t have the creepy militaristic undertones lurking alongside it, but Brazil is just as nuts, if not more so, than the US is about making every possible thing in the colors and pattern of the flag.
Speaking of militaria, Natal was used as a US air base in World War II, and the local paper announced the US-Ghana game with a headline reading “60 years later, the Americans are back!” Brazilians would like you to remember they were right there with us in that fight, and are a bit upset the story is usually presented as Anglophones + Russia vs the bad guys.
There is a popular fast food chain called Bob’s Burgers, and I am a little sorry I did not get a photo of me wearing my capoeira outfit, glasses, and a black wig to cosplay as Tina in front of one of their stores. The episode where she does capoeira is mostly accurate, although some of it is changed to make the moves read better in animation. The game does not, however, involve anyone yelling “BRAZIL” at random moments.
While I was writing the Rio chapter, I finally saw the episode of the Simpsons where they go to the World Cup. Except for the joke about Luxembourg, which would have worked just fine if they’d used the Netherlands, and not drawing the stadium in Brasília right, that entire episode is a documentary. They got everything, including most of the venue cities we went to, even Manaus and Recife. The dejected Brazilians hanging their heads and singing a mournful, muted “olé, olé olé” really was what happened after the Germany game.
Doors in public buildings tend to open inwards, which threw me off; you don’t realize how used to them opening outwards (a fire safety feature) you are in the US.
Traveling as a vegetarian wasn’t too difficult, though there were a few meals made out of side dishes, and you’ll note I keep mentioning pizza. My favorite meal of the trip was the muqueca in Salvador; Mike’s was the sidewalk fish in Manaus.
Brazilians really seemed to like the mascot for the tournament, a three banded armadillo named Fuelco, whom we immediately decided was really named Fanculo. I was a fan–that particular species was the mascot for my service club in high school. Little dude was painted or plastered on everything, though not too many people were buying the toys.
It was incredibly hard to find official souvenirs with the US team on it. Every store, sold out. It wasn’t until the airport on the way out, in fact, that I got one of the rattles FIFA made as official noisemakers that everyone immediately banned from the stadiums. Awful lot of unsold Spain and Italy merch, though.
There is no reason to hire anyone besides Shakira to do the official tournament songs. I thought we learned this in 2010, people.
In the event the US hosts another World Cup, and Boston is selected as a venue city, Mike and I want to volunteer. All of the local volunteers for the tournament were tremendous. Friendly, helpful, and really glad to see you. The best were the people they had stationed in lifeguard chairs at every stadium gate, who used bullhorns to direct people to the right lines. I’m guessing those guys had to audition or something because we did not pass one who wasn’t using their job to make multilingual jokes at passing fans, calling out flags, costumes, jersey names, etc. to welcome everyone.
HOCKEY JOKE: There’s a hair color brand in Brazil called Fleury, which I imagine looks great for five months and then disappears in the playoffs
Whenever the sea came up to the porch steps in Serrambi, I wanted to turn to my housemates and ask “Now, we’ve all read The Awakening, right? Any Virginia Woolf fans in the house?”
Favorite player name of the tournament: Costa Rica’s Yeltsin Tejeda.
POWER RANKINGS: BRAZILIAN AIRLINES
(we did not fly Gol)
Everyone has a dog. Makes sense; they’re cheap burglar alarms. Brazilians also absolutely dote on their dogs as much as they do babies. Saw many, many stores with cute dog accessories. Also, the dogs all have national team jerseys.
Sporting goods stores do not have baseball (and usually not golf, either) sections. Why would they? Instead, they have huge mixed martial arts sections.
Biggest pests new to this version of the tournament: People wearing GoPro cameras on their bodies or waving them around on sticks. You will never, ever fucking watch that footage. Put the camera away.
I think I saw at least one fan from every single team, and that was mostly by the time we landed in Natal.
Language combos at a World Cup are great; got to watch one chat between an American and a Brazilian where the common language was Japanese.
Turns out if a Brazilian tells you “parabens!” the correct response is not “sulfites!”
Every Brazilian we met had a cousin or aunt or buddy who lives in Boston or close to it.
The Welsh dude in Salvador and I had a good time commiserating about how our birthplaces (remember, mine is WV) are local shorthand for “inbred livestock molesters.”
Got some great Zé Carioca comic books and Havaianas. Skipped Monica, but did see the animated version where Neymar’s a character, except, unlike Ronaldinho before him, Neymar is not drawn in the same style as everyone else in Monica/Maurico de Souza world. It’s kind of jarring.
“Are you going to Russia? What about Qatar?” Christ almighty this trip took so much work I can’t even plan past next Friday anymore. Next up on the calendar is the Women’s World Cup in Canada, and three of the venue cities are within a day’s drive for me. After that there’s the wacky 2016 Copa Western Hemisphere they’re talking about. Yes, we intend to go to Russia; as of now we can’t quite see doing more than a group stage, possibly round of 16. More importantly, ask me again in 2017, when qualifying is in the last stage and real money needs to be put down for tickets and accommodation. Qatar, who the hell knows. It’s a long road, and we’re in it for the travel as much as the soccer. After all, it’s the chase we really love.