Two Hearts

Two Hearts

I always go to the first car – the Quiet Car. To read. Conversations, if they are absolutely necessary, are supposed to be kept at whisper level on SEPTA’s Quiet Ride – no phone conversations. My kind of train ride.

The iPhone in my handbag buzzes and I pick it up, careful not to elbow anyone around me. It’s about 4:50 pm, hot June day in Philly, and Suburban station is crowded.  An email from my sister, saying Neymar, Brazil’s attacker, scored twice against Cameroon. Brazil leads 2 X 1. As soon as I get a seat on the Quiet Car, I start browsing the Web for footage of the match. I hit the arrow to roll the video and the sound explodes in the Quiet Ride car – Goooooooaaaaaaal!!! In my haste to watch Neymar’s two scores, I forgot to minimize the sound. God almighty. That same God everybody claims is Brazilian (Deus e Brasileiro!) and that stands atop the Corcovado mount, arms wide open, embracing the Bay of Guanabara in Rio. The same God we always ask to bless America. My face turns as red as my nail polish.

Saint Neymar, as the country is calling him now, lighting up candles for him and for God to keep him strong and inspired and unhurt. The Cameroon guys were rough on Neymar and although he never flinched, it is clear a lot of people would like to see him injured or expelled from the pitch via red card; soccer’s ultimate punishment. When asked how he dealt with this World Cup’s pressure (his first), Neymar shrugged. No pressure. I am doing what I always dreamt of doing, since I was a little boy. Cool, Neymar! I am glad you feel no pressure because I am terrified.

Considering Brazil’s performance as a team up to now, I do believe Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, 22, winner of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Best Player Award, is the country’s only hope. So skinny, so young, so fast. So famous now, too; let’s hope that all this glory does not turn his head the wrong way, however, that is almost too much to ask – even from that same Brazilian-American God. His name written on the stars, his smiling face on the cover of magazines, Neymar is already dating a local celebrity – Bruna Marquezine, 18, a soap opera actress. It doesn’t get any more Brazilian than this – a famous World Cup player dating a soap opera actress!

If soap opera is serious business in Brazil, the World Cup is a national concern; a matter of life or death. Classes are suspended on the days Brazil enters the pitch; employees go home early, people who couldn’t care less about sports in general and soccer in particular drop everything to turn on their TVs.  Fans of both genders and all ages cry, laugh, scream, pass out, jump of joy, pray with fervor they did not even think they possessed. It’s hard to find words, in Portuguese or English, to express and justify such passion, after all Brazilians did not invent soccer.

It is with a deep mix of bliss and pain that the country watches Neymar – jersey number 10 as soccer icon Pele, Neymar’s idol – and his fellow team players run for 90+ minutes in the heat and humidity of the Northern Brazilian so- called winter. You cheer for them with all your heart and you fear for them as if they were playing for their lives. It means the world when you hear someone on the train describing how he loved Brazil’s match last night; how Neymar’s strong leg and precise foot left the goal keeper scrambling for the ball, found at the back of the net at last; alas too late. Nothing triggers patriotism in Brazilians like a win in a World Cup match, played at home, in stadiums Brazilians themselves did not believe would be erected one day, let alone in the four years since Brazil was announced as the venue for the 2014 World Cup.

My husband asked how long the World Cup, the event itself, lasts. Two weeks? I hope not !!! We will be suffering and rejoicing for each beloved country until mid July ! I never cared much for local soccer in Brazil – the weekend matches, the Thursday evenings at the stadium (my city, Porto Alegre, has two; one featured in this World Cup). In fact, after a few years in America, I came to enjoy football more than I ever did soccer. But the World Cup is a different story. The World Cup changes everything.

Even more so this June because of all the horror stories we heard for months. Behind-schedule construction, accidents resulting in serious injuries and even life loss; protests on the streets against the funds spent ($11 billion) on new construction and remodeling, and endless tales of FIFA’s arrogance and straight faced corruption. For months I heard alarming news about the preparations for the mega event. Coworkers asked a thousand times whether I would be going to Brazil for the World Cup this June. Based on those pessimistic (and often realistic) views from family and friends, horrified, I said no, God forbid. From South, where I was born, to North, which I never visited, twelve Brazilian cities – including Manaus, two steps away from the Amazon rain forest – rushed against the clock to finalize construction or remodeling of stadiums that, to my surprise, look great on TV. Everything turned out fine. The mother of all World Cups, as Brazil’s president is said to have declared. God almighty. Wish He could have spared us of cheap politician babbling. But that may be beyond even Him…

(John Oliver has a hilarious take on FIFA and the World Cup passion. Here is the link, thanks to my good friend and co-worker, Andie Kirschner, always well informed:

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/09/must_see_morning_clip_inside_the_cartoonishly_evil_organization_of_fifa/)

The 2014 World Cup is special because this time I cheer and root and suffer and celebrate for two nations. It’s not like having a divided heart. It’s like having two hearts! I love Dempsey as much as I love Neymar. It hurt when Altidore fell injured and Dempsey’s nose got broken as much as it hurt when the Cameroon player pushed Neymar, sending him sliding on the green of Mane Garrincha stadium, in Brasilia, for no reason at all. When the Cameroon player finally turned to apologize, Neymar simply avoided him, visibly annoyed, and to get even, scored twice !

A special World Cup because Brazil’s coach is from a town near mine. I cringe when he talks to reporters (in Portuguese, with subtitled translation) – he has absolutely no people skills. He doesn’t like the press and saves no effort making it clear for the world – I do mean the world – to see. His name is Luiz Felipe Scolari, nick named Felipao (Big Phil) as everything about him is huge and heavy. A good old gaucho (that’s how we call natives of our state, Rio Grande do Sul, a type of Brazilian Texas), as opposed as night and day can be, to the U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann, soft spoken, slim, pleasant, and perfectly comfortable around the press. “It’s a World Cup of many surprises”, he recently said. “And we want to be one of those surprises.”

It would be America’s first World Cup win in history. For Brazil, it would be World Cup number six. From what I’ve seen so far, America is perfectly equipped to win – except that most Americans don’t seem to care much whether their national soccer team wins or loses. I see nothing wrong with America’s soccer; we can win as much as anyone – it’s just that Americans are not into it.

America being America, the large screen TV placed in my office’s kitchen area is largely ignored while it broadcasts soccer. I don’t think most people know that England, Spain, and Italy went home early and that the U.S. and Brazil are not safe by any stretch of the imagination, as Germany, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica, to name a few, are still alive and kicking However, some Americans must enjoy soccer as America was the foreign country to purchase the largest number of tickets for the matches, losing only to Brazil and followed by Australia.

Considering that you are having a glimpse of Brazilian soccer and the World Cup through the eyes of a woman, what happens when women watch soccer? We notice different things. Celebratory dancing, for example, when someone scores. I love that in football, I adore it in soccer, no matter who scores, no matter who dances. National anthem emotions – another item high on my list. Dempsey’s tense face, right hand on his chest as the American anthem sounded. Neymar’s heartfelt tears, impossible to disguise. If I forget everything else about this World Cup, I will forever remember the teams entering the pitch with kids by the hand, one child per player, so serious, so well-behaved.

Another example of what a woman sees when she watches the World Cup: the colorful shoes! Electric yellow, orange, green; and how about one shoe of each color – one blue and one pink? How about the hair styles? From U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s long dreadlocks to all types and variations of the Mohawk style and shaved heads and the glorious mess of Neymar’s dyed blonde coiffeur (Brazilian kids will now want that same disastrous haircut). My sister swears Cristiano Rolando, the acclaimed Portuguese player, fixes his hair every time he notices the camera approaching. He knows millions of female fans will be sighing in front of the screen.

As for the uniforms, two thumbs up to the longer shorts, up to or beyond knee height. I know soccer jerseys try reflecting each nation’s flag colors. Got it. But nothing beats the jerseys of US football players; like the Eagles’ handsome combination of silver and dark green or the Saints’ gorgeous mix of gold, black, and white. As far as jerseys go, American football is light years ahead of FIFA fashion designers.

On the down side, soccer injuries. They are far more – what? exotic? colorful? – than football’s. A Uruguayan player bit his Italian opponent on the shoulder! Uruguay ! Always so polite and gentleman-like; who would say such a wild thing could come from that tiny South American country, Brazil’s friendly neighbor, and so close to my heart? We see fit and muscular young men rolling on the field as if they had instantly sustained multiple fractures, in agony, making faces. Just to stand up and get on with their running thirty seconds later if that long. Hmm… do they need better equipment? Sturdier leg and foot protection? Helmets like football players? Hmm… I don’t think so. After almost ten years without watching a good soccer match seriously, with interest and intent, from begin to end, I suspect the acting is now part of the game. No pain no gain, right? So let’s be in horrible pain to increase the gain. Not saying real injuries don’t happen in soccer. In a match performed at Beira Rio stadium, in Porto Alegre, one of the players sustained a concussion and was rushed to the hospital. The point is, so many interruptions caused by fake injuries not only make us doubt when someone is truly hurt, but they also make the match hard and boring to watch. We want the game to flow, the passes to grow and multiply, the dancing feet to mesmerize us. Add too many interruptions and I will go water my flowers or put the dishes in the dishwasher.

It’s a remarkable World Cup, most of all, for the matches played in Manaus, almost in the jungle. A two-million people city, capital of the state of Amazonas, where soccer had never been played with such grandeur, for the entire planet to watch. For the first time in decades of World Cup, bowing to the Amazon’s relentless humidity and heat, FIFA instituted a water break. For those who watched U.S. Vs Portugal biting nails (I don’t bite my nails; I walk back and forth like a caged lion the moment the match starts to the end of the 90 minutes plus extra time ), that was a historic moment. The referee interrupted the match, wet-to-the-bone soccer players approached the coolers of water and Gatorade alongside the pitch, had their drinks and then returned to their positions thirty seconds later, orderly and quietly. I was proud of everyone!

I guess by now you figure I am enjoying this World Cup so much I could go on and on about it. But I am not a sports commentator, this is not a sports blog and by now my poor U.S. readers probably had enough about soccer to last them two life times. Let me run, light up a few candles for good measure and post this before both the U.S. and Brazil enter the pitch again. May the Force be with Neymar Junior and Captain Clint Dempsey!

 

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