On Not Going to the World Cup

For the first time since 2002 (when admittedly i did not pay so much attention), i am not going to the World Cup.  Notably, neither is the USMNT, but Russia is not a nice place they stole it, later other things, from us, and doesn’t deserve more of my tourist dollars.

In four years, i’m not going, either, because Qatar is not a nice place and they stole it from us and they do not deserve my tourist dollars.

In eight years, happily enough, i won’t have to go anywhere because it’s coming here.

Some words about the above:

A lot of ink’s been spilled about the USMNT fucking it up royally, but this relatively recent article best reflects my assessment of it (which is not of course the same as being most accurate, necessarily, but it’s very well-reported).   For me, Klinsmann always struck me as a button-masher with pretensions, someone who had success at the highest level (and obviously on-the-field) but could never communicate why.  And it grated on me as a lifelong defender that he never seemed to care about running out a good, or even consistent backline.  The best i could say about him is that he asked the right, provocative questions, but he’d also sold us on the idea that he had answers to them.  Arena, on the other hand, might well have succeeded if he took over earlier and the US did not dig such a large hole, but he shared a major problem with Klinsmann (hardly unique to either of them).  They both leaned on certain players as binkies no matter what kind of form they were in or where they fit on the field.  Really, neither of them actually got their best 11 on the field as often as they could have, which is an insane thing for us to have been accustomed to.

And that sucks for the tens of thousands of Americans who are still going to the World Cup, because it’s an amazing time, it really is, and it’s a damn shame that a big part of it they could have reasonably expected and planned around is going to be missing.  I feel sad for the people who aren’t going to get to sit in Gelsenkirchen and endure the taunting from an opponent who kicked your ass.  Worse for the people who never have the adventure of fording a river of sewage to get to the match in Recife in the 88th minute.  Worst for the people who won’t get to sing and shout madly for 90 minutes at altitude in Pretoria until that goal happens.  For the stories that are still numerous, amazing, indelible, i hope, but disconnected from the drama of the 31 other countries’ worth of frenemies butting heads.  It sucks that all they get to do is be a spectator.

Past Streams of Consciousness from Past World Cups:

Brazil [Photos]

South Africa [Photos]

Germany [Photos]

Notes from World Cup 2010 and South Africa

Originally posted with the nice people who presumably still run SoccerBlog.com, miraculously still up eight years later. Reposted here because i don’t want to lose it.

6/13/2010
hello there. my name is rob colonna from boston, massachusetts. i support the usa, new england revolution, and charlton athletic. in 2006, christian and shourin were kind enough to invite me to write about some of my adventures in germany, and after hearing that i was off to south africa, asked if i could do the same. hope it’s entertaining. (us/england match discussion is at the bottom, after some local color)
– i got up at 0600 on friday morning in boston and flew BOS-ATL-JNB, arriving at the latter at 1710 local (1100 the next day in boston). had an exit row on a 777, near the galley and bathroom, where people gathered to chat. there was enough room to practice charlie davies’ stanky leg dance over the fifteen-plus hour flight, and talk strategy with other people who would also be landing with three hours to get to rustenberg.
– the typically modern, glass-and-steel airport was filled with the periodic blasts of vuvuzelas. i missed a great shot of some wildly dressed locals blasting away from an upper-level walkway, because we were trying to figure out the fifa ticket machines. they work fairly well, and probably would have been no problem at all if there wasn’t such a hurry. it’s also easy to find them at local shopping malls, assuming you have a car. (if you don’t have a car, i don’t know how you’re planning to get around.)
– so, we were not entertaining the option of making the nice lady at our lovely guesthouse stay up until 2am. after checking in, we were down to about two hours before kickoff to make a roughly two-hour drive. but: we got directions from the proprietor of the house, and set off, hoping that the tom-tom app on my iphone would get us there.
– the r24 to rustenberg is a windy, narrow road with crumbling edges creeping into the lanes, sharp turns, and poor marking. people pass recklessly in oncoming lanes. it’s in the middle of nowhere, and while it was nice for this city boy to glimpse the milky way, it was a bit of a white-knuckle trip.
– all that being said, somehow we wound seeing the lights of royal bafokeng about five minutes after kickoff. great news! unfortunately, the stadium signage disappeared at a key moment. this was a good thing and a bad thing. on the one hand, we were totally stumbling around looking for parking that wasn’t sketchy looking. on the other hand, we actually found a dirt lot that would let us park really pretty close for 100R (it was actually 50R but they didn’t have change and i didn’t care). walking around the stadium was no more clearly marked than the surrounding roads or parking.
– i desperately wanted to walk in (nearly halftime) and find it still a match. every roar of the crowd made us nervous. we’d just punched our tickets and heard the sound that could only mean a goal. we saw england flags waving and our hearts sank, but then the american flags rose and the chants of “u.s.a” were heard. the announcer said dempsey’s name, and when we finally glimpsed the field and squeezed into our row that already had extra people getting cozy, we had a match.
– it was tense, but not terrifying, if i had to sum it up. england’s buildups were threatening, and i suspect the usa’s multiple nearly-in-on-net missed counters probably made the english fans feel the same way. maybe. rooney couldn’t ever be marked tight enough for us. cherundolo was a beast down the right, always finding an extra step to get the tackle just right. clark couldn’t hold the ball well enough, but made key stops. donovan and dempsey were most visible (remember we were only there for the second half) for their contributions on defense, which were timely. hustle back saw dempsey’s orange boot snatch the ball from rooney at the 18 at a nervous moment, for instance. gooch noticeably stepped it up in the last fifteen minutes, as if he could sense that more was needed of him. the extra time actually was a bit anticlimactic, if you can believe it; it actually felt under control, maybe even a chance to steal it, at that point. the steep, packed, usa supporters’ sections erupted at the final whistle.
– it was a great feeling to be able to applaud the whole team as they came over after the match. you really felt like you were helping to propel every throw in and corner in the attacking end, and it was nice to see they heard us.
– the english were mostly good sports. at halftime, there was a spirited discussion begun by a shocked “how the f*** can england not have a goalie?” out of an england supporter in the wrong section. nobody had an answer for him. lots of handshakes after the match amongst fans.
– i’ve got to be honest, especially after dealing with the efforts required to get parked for the upcoming matches at soccer city and ellis park, things have not been that smoothly organized here. royal bafokeng is simply not up to the standard needed for this event (we were keeping our own time in the stands, for goodness’ sake!). but that shouldn’t be a reflection on any of the thousands of volunteers, police, and private security, as well as any other citizens of south africa we’ve encountered. they’re all extremely friendly and cheerful and helpful.
– netherlands-denmark at soccer city tomorrow; hope to share more photos and other stuff later this week.

6/17/2010

hello again from freezing cold johannesburg.
– it’s pretty clear that the folks who are running things are learning as they go along. the parking and logistics situation at soccer city improved markedly between netherlands-denmark on monday and argentina-south korea today. for instance, they mowed the grass in the parking area–of course they mow the grass by lighting it on fire and now it’s a charred wasteland. the biggest improvement they could make is a boldface mention of the fact that you need to buy ticket for a park-and-walk lot or a park-and-ride lot for ellis park and soccer city, and that you need to buy this from a computicket outlet (online, pick it up in a local supermarket). once you figure this out, all that’s left is to leave for the match a good 2.5-3 hours early. going to an afternoon match is an all-day commitment.
– the empty seats everywhere are a bit disappointing, but the atmosphere in soccer city is certainly not lacking because of it. it’s a vast, covered stadium which does nothing to dissipate the noise of vuvuzelas, but still allows you (at least in person) the ability to hear singing and drums and yelling. on monday, the dutch were in predictably good voice, and today, there were two small but very well-organized south korean sections which drummed and chanted until the end of the match (as well as pulling off some great flag displays).
– the crowd roared today when maradona randomly side-footed a ball that came to the technical area. messi is not too bad either.
– vuvuzelas are as little as 30R, but are surprisingly hard to use. i have two already. i plan to give one to the small children of all of my friends, so that they will hate me forever.
– it’s unfortunate that so much about johannesburg is so decentralized. security concerns, whether or not they’re warranted, have you going from hotel/house, to car, to mall/restaurant/stadium, and it’s a rare treat to walk even a block, in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods like melville or newtown. it’s a huge switch from the fan-fest/city-center centric experience in germany. even so, we’ve met/talked with/had drinks with people from dozens of countries already, which is half the point of coming to the world cup. it’s an unstoppable social experience.
– both the locals and the americans we’ve run into love rooting for the underdog–even if it’s north korea.
– we were downtown last night cheering on bafana bafana at the fan fest, which for once was actually populated (see previous statement). the locals we’ve talked to apparently detest the cold, which explains some of this. the penalty/red card call took a lot of the starch out of them, which made us sad; we’d all like to see our hosts have as good a time as they’ve helped us have. even if many of them still prefer rugby.
– is it me (with a limited-commentary, live/foreign viewpoint on the matches), or have there been a ton of short corners, free kicks that don’t clear the first guy, etc., and can we blame the lack of scoring and underperforming of the superpowers on this? i will choose to until proven wrong. argentina-south korea at least delivered some truly high-quality scoring plays as opposed to the parade of mostly soft goals or o.g.’s that preceded.
– us vs. slovenia tomorrow–come on, usa!

6/22/2010

– let’s talk about the usa-slovenia match and get it over with. i was seated in the usa supporters’ section near the second half offensive end. it was utter bedlam after the equalizing goal; we all knew it was coming and it did not disappoint. beer flying, hugging strangers, jumping up and down. the third goal was almost a continuation of it, and upon catching a glimpse of the referee, i was trying to get people to stop celebrating and look at the field. by the time it had calmed down, it was practically too late to boo and swear. i think a lot of the hardcore supporters took it better than i did; it felt like the party we’d righteously earned had been stolen from us.
– practically everyone we ran into (still wearing assorted usa jerseys) for the next 48 hours would stop and tell us how screwed we got. practically the entire security staff at the stadium in durban wouldn’t let me through until they said as much, and barely patted me down.
– durban is a six hour drive from johannesburg, but couldn’t possibly feel more different. the walled-garden/gilt cage secured houses/malls/parking lots of johannesburg feel a bit stifling after a while. durban, on the other hand has miles of lively boardwalk along the beach, dotted with high-rise hotels. couple that with warm winter weather, drinking beer outside, and the fifa fan fest in the sand, on the beach, and it’s a great part of the world cup.
– beyond that, moses mabhida stadium is one of the most spectacular sporting facilities i’ve ever been to.
– i made a point after the netherlands-japan match on saturday of complimenting japanese fans we met on their team’s performance. their support against the netherlands was great, and they’ve been a fun team to watch.
– brazil-ivory coast at soccer city on sunday night did not quite live up to the billing on the field. it was, however, the first time my hearing felt threatened by the vuvuzelas. the brazilian fans do not take no for an answer when attempting to expand their party to fill the available space. the stewards were very patient in repeatedly removing the drum corps and dancers from the aisles.
– my internet connection here is slow and i’m not around to use it much so i haven’t kept up on news coverage. is anyone talking about the dust situation at soccer city? it’s surrounded by giant plateaus of old mine tailings, and empty lots of red dirt that blows around like mad and makes it hard to breathe on the 2km walk to the stadium. between the dust and the smoke (at any given time, i’d bet that there are 50 fires of various size burning brush or structures in the johannesburg area) and the altitude, soccer city may as well be the new azteca.
– leaving the country on thursday, usa-algeria on wednesday beforehand. looking for a happy plane flight home.

 

Notes from World Cup 2006 and Germany

Originally posted on Soccerblog.com, twelve years ago, but reposted here because it’s kind of amazing that i found them again.  i was young and naive about a lot of things, soccer being only one of them, and i hated capitalization even more.

09 june
frankfurt is a very modern-looking city, with a striking skyline quite atypical for europe. after getting here and checking in, i went immediately to the river area, where the first game between germany and costa rica was kicking off. they had giant video screens moored in the middle of the river, and people lined the shores and nearby bridges, taking it all in. there was much singing and shouting, but it was actually very mellow, and the police seemed primarily concerned with making sure people had a good time.
since germany won, there was much rejoicing about town. at one end of the zeil, a shopping area for pedestrians, people were forming a gauntlet of black, yellow, and red and demanding cars honk before allowing them to pass.
they have open-air grills in the street, a giant grate hanging over coals, covered with sausages. it smells amazing. beer is everywhere, also sold on the street. there are people wandering around with both beer and sausage, dressed in all the colors of the world. even paraguay was represented. oddly enough, the toughest jersey to find is the us jersey.
10 june
the english team is staying at my hotel. they’re being rather cautious about letting people in, as you might imagine. it took me an hour to get back into my hotel room after going for a run, because they blocked off the entrance so that becks and crew could get onto the bus without much hassle. there was a large crowd watching.
the train ride to the waldstadion was actually as fun as the match. on a lark, i got in the first-class compartment with the loudest, singingest bunch of drunk englishmen i could find. they had fun and cheered on mexico, too on behalf of a few mexican interlopers.
pretty much every one of their songs says the word ‘england’ er, ‘enger-land’ as many times as possible. they are also adept at changing the lyrics of the songs to suit the situation, such as ‘nice trousers’ to salute a german still on the platform who had a truly reprehensible pair of pants. this batch had no love for the germans, though, for the most part, and were frequently not very tactful about it, perhaps owing to history on-field and off. it was sweaty,
cramped, loud, and smelly (someone farted) and spectacularly fun. i wish i’d had my camera, which reminds me: whatever i’d read about not being allowed to bring cameras was clearly false. d’oh.
the match was actually relatively calm. the singing continued for most of it, but the fans were fairly calm up in the nosebleed seats. they even did ‘the wave’ which shocked me. everything was extremely well organized, and the stadium was so clean that i felt bad for leaving peanut shells on the floor. the match was entertaining, but had its rough edges. england profited from a gift goal early, and was making paraguay look fairly second-rate to start with, but as the game went on, they had trouble finishing plays, and seemed to always make one pass too many. in the second half, paraguay came out strong and played a better half, and the refereeing was decidedly one-sided against the english, making them have to hang on for that 1-nil win.
the english fans were, it seemed, pleased to have won, but hardly blown away by the performance.
i wore my charlton athletic jersey today. i have an england jersey somewhere, but i couldn’t find it before i left. at any rate, more than a few charlton supporters stopped me to shake hands. even after i explained that i’m an american who adopted them ’cause they were the first premiership match i went to, they were still happy to have met. nice folk indeed.
later that night:
the english fans are still at it. they’ve totally taken over the romer, the old-fashioned-looking, half-timbered house-lined city square. they’re mostly singing, dancing, but also occasionally throwing bottles, or kicking the ball around. lots of shirtless guys jumping around. it looks like the night the red sox won the world series, and all they did was win their first game. i am thoroughly impressed. either way, they’ve been at it there pretty much ever since the game let out; i walked by and gawked no fewer than three times. the polizei have been mostly good sports; they’ve got nasty-looking dogs, and riot gear, but they’re mostly letting the english run amok. even though they’re kicking balls around and windows are occasionally being broken, the police have more than once thrown the ball back to the fans, to great cheering. some of them seem kinda bemused by the rest, but the singing, the singing is unanimous, and it continues.
there’s a good crowd on the river tonight, too, watching argentina and cote d’ivoire, but it’s clearly not where the, uh, action is.
june 11th
it has been a quieter day in frankfurt thus far, although that’s not to really say it’s quiet. there is no game in the city, nor is the aftermath as significant. of course, the english are still here, many of them returning to the same bars that they’d taken over the night before, bursting into song again whenever they spot kindred fans. which is reasonably often. there are more mexican fans about today, too, but they’re more cordial than boisterous so far.
later in the day, the mexican fans are doing the driving around and honking thing following their win. there’s a more significant delegation of fans from iran here now, and they don’t seem to know their side lost, because they’re dancing wildly still, having fully taken over and densely packed a side street off of the zeil. their music is pretty good, too. the polizei don’t even have anybody watching them, and after all, why not–they probably don’t even drink, and they’re clearly having a blast anyway. the english, on the other hand, are still there in force, even if nothing compared to last night. they’re still encamped in the romer, a painted limousine parked in the middle of the square, and have fully taken over a bar’s outside tables on one side of the square. they’re playing the same game that some folks were playing in the hauptwache the night before, which is to say, take a ball, and kick it in the air as hard as you can. cheer when someone volleys it, boo when it’s missed. windows narrowly miss being broken. a ball got lost in the fountain in the center, which is fenced off; initially, the police seemed disinclined to let them retrieve it, but eventually relented (or, as likely, were too late to stop it), and a man got in there to get it, adding a nice cannonball dive before exiting the fountain. while most of the police had been pretty easygoing before, eventually this ball was confiscated. another was produced within moments, naturally.
12 june
it’s good to hear american voices on the train to koln (then to dusseldorf, and gelsenkirchen); hopefully we make a good showing for us soccer fans. according to my dad, their flight from jfk had the new york fire department’s soccer team on it, who were hitting some of the us games, and playing a few friendly matches with local clubs. gelsenkirchen is kind of tough to get to. rather than one large city, it’s in a cluster of other medium-sized ones, thus there are a lot of regional trains that one might ride on to get between them. these tend not to be very fast.
it was good, though, to see so many americans on board, and from all over the states, too, particularly considering this was still a pretty faraway place to be staying from the venue. a friendly but slightly crazy-looking german predicted a 2-0 victory for the us team. it was still a fairly long trip, and very hot (a thermometer in gelsenkirchen after the game, quite late in the evening, still read 29 celsius).
once the train reached gelsenkirchen, that’s where the fun began. as in, multiple entire trains full of people all attempted to pile on the platform to board a single tram car. they refer to it as a u-bahn because it is underground for 3 stops out of 10 or so. it was a long, chaotic wait. which i avoided, and was an early adopter of the bus alternative. which was packed, exceptionally sweaty, and slow, but steady. progress was so slow, in fact, that many disembarked to walk, realizing too late that it was a 7-km trip to the stadium. if you have tickets to a game in gelsenkirchen, allow some extra time to get there. it took about an hour and a half for me to get from the hauptbahnhof to the stadium.
after getting there, it was a chase to find the ticket pick-up. as in, if you get conditional tickets, go to the ‘stadium ticket center’, and do not settle for the ‘ticket service center’. the latter will not help you. in the case of gelsenkirchen, this is like a quarter-mile hike outside the stadium. by this time, myself, a czech, and four scotsmen have made the rounds of the wrong places, and are running like mad to the right place. eventually i get my ticket. section d, row 1, seat 1. hmm… sounds interesting.
i get in, 5 minutes late. i knew that the ticket was as good as it sounded when the usher arched his eyebrows at me. i must have been a sight, dripping sweat, unshaven, and entirely out of breath. it’s entirely possible i wound up on worldwide tv looking like that, since i was literally right behind the us bench…
…and in the middle of the biggest czech section, a field of red. they had pretty good chants going, honestly, not that i could understand any of it, but they were clearly organized so that there was something they could all stomp their feet to in every verse. they were shaking the place. or at least this half of it. a couple of nice americans i chatted with on the train back to dusseldorf sat on the opposite corner of the place, and said that they couldn’t even hear them from there. judging by shirt color and cheering activity (lack thereof, that is), it looked like the place was over half us supporters. impressive, considering that the czechs were a drive or a train trip away, mostly, and not a long plane flight, then a train trip. of course, the fact that you couldn’t hear the american fans wasn’t entirely their fault.
because the us team played mostly badly. for 25-30 minutes after the first czech goal, it was encouraging, ’cause they were really taking it to them, hustling to the ball, winning balls aggressively, and threatening repeatedly. you felt like it was a matter of time before they punched one in, particularly after the shot that struck the post. but it turned out that the czechs would put another one in first, and that pretty much ended the game. after that, the us team couldn’t connect cleanly on more than a couple passes in a row, for the most part. there were a couple of chances, even good ones, but you got the sense that those were flukes. by the last ten minutes, their frustration was plainly evident. it was just ugly at that point. the czechs plainly felt aggrieved by the officiating, but while it wasn’t perfect (there were a few situations where they were seemed to be allowing the players to make the calls for them, wrong calls), it was reasonably balanced. they really didn’t like seeing their players carted off the field hurt, and it was probably better that i didn’t understand some of what they were saying. the field seemed to be an issue, as a number of players were seen losing their footing, or tripping over lines on the field, or something.
the american fans were pretty frustrated by the game, and pretty quiet, too, on the way back. not that they were terribly loud on the way there, either, really, but it’s also not really their way. many chose to walk back most or part of the way, as did i, but i was told later that the wait for the tram wasn’t as endless as it seemed (see previous statements). there were pockets of people doing the math, figuring out whether or not to root for ghana to win, or to merely tie the italians, and what had to happen to advance. the figuring wasn’t terribly reassuring, to say the least.

Five fucking times

At least this time i’m not in a car heading back from RFK with the fresh taste of heartbreak to distract me when i’m not even driving. Seriously i’d like to pull all the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins fans over here to have a talk about what this feels like because if you weren’t a Sox fan in 2003, you have no fucking clue.

This was kind of the golden moment. The chance for our Revolution to lift one of the last early MLS Cups. You know those old Super Bowls in grainy color with Namath before he was a sexual-harassing old drunk, the early days of the league we all pat ourselves on the back for lifting up on our own middle-class driving-to-foxboro-every-week shoulders. This is one of three we probably should have hoisted. Before the league gets out of our middle-class ‘the-players-make-as-much-as-i-do’ era when they still reply to us on twitter and can walk through Whole Foods with a nod, not a mob. Cherish this, MLS fans, for our reward for building the league will be to have it taken from us, and it can be no other way.

It was there, a mere inch or two below Teal Bunbury’s aim, from Lee Nguyen’s last feed, a dagger suddenly appearing at the vaunted Galaxy’s throat. The momentum was on our guys’ side, as was the possession. But as i fretted, a full half our backline had their mind on something other than defense, and even though Wellesley’s own Chris Tierney scored the equalizer, he also played the winner onside. He’s not a left back, never has been, speaking as someone who plays the position 40 times a year, he was switched off at a bad time and a great player made it pay.

other than that, i think you probably have to give the penalty for lee nguyen earlier. juninho could have played it clean, but he didn’t. he ran him over, all body, no ball, you have to call the pk. different game.

so proud of all our guys, though. chuck d. coming back hungry against impossible odds, teal bunbury pwning people after being counted out, patrick mullins, earning time, teal bunbury, an inch away, lee nguyen, tantalizing us with the prospect of what he can do when people are marking dempseys and altidores, aj soares, an inspiration to beleaguered centerbacks everywhere, and jermaine jones: trade los angeles for boston, i promise we are your kind of people. and scott caldwell and chris tierney and charlie davies and diego fagundez and jay heaps, new england is so, so proud of you.

for someone who loves soccer and baseball, now march is really the best time of year. cold nights with the revolution at gillette, neck and neck with those hideous nights in the bleachers at fenway.

can’t wait.

Player Ratings from MLS Cup 2014:

Bobby Shuttleworth: 5: Next year is big for him. He either needs to grow into Matt Reis’ shoes or move on (down). Fact: Matt Reis would have sent this to penalties. Shave your head. Become immortal.

Farrell: 5: Abused today, but rebounded quietly in the second half. Out of position forward of the play. José’s probably not going anywhere so it’s an interesting question what to do with Andrew.

Soares 5.5: Can’t claim impartiality here, as i identify too much with AJ’s need to clean up other peoples’ fuckups. He’s done a super job, but with him pushed up to cut shit out, with Goncalves as the daddy CB and Farrell pushed up too far on offense, this was bound to be trouble.

Goncalves 6: He fucked up, but he cleaned up his fuckups so well today that he’s far from the problem. Enjoy winter in Cambridge, José, and if i see you in a bar, i will still buy you all the beers.

Tierney 6.5 Not there for defense; not fast enough nor motivated enough, but damn if that goal didn’t embody everything that our revolution stand for. You are an excellent masshole, Chris Tierney.

Teal Bunbury: 6 You were so close to being the big damn hero. We would like to see you in the Dedham Whole Foods next year.

Scott Caldwell: Kyle Beckerman’s not immortal. Lie in wait.

jermaine jones: America loves you, but only revs fans can admit it now. who gives a shit where you come from, but you embody everything that is american about soccer and we are pleased to have you here. Visit Boston when it is nice out, pls, i will personally sell you on it.

Lee Nguyen: Don’t leave us for Southampton or Fulham, because on our day, the Revolution are a better team and Jürgen will see you just fine here because you have eaten José Torres’ sandwich. Make Bob Kraft pay you.

Kelyn Rowe: Next year is your terrifying year, where you and Lee split the goals, yes?

Charlie Davies: We are all behind you, and this is all our shoulders shoving you to score against MEX in a couple years, right?

Patrick Mullins: Any game a 4-4-2 is penciled in, you cause the opposition to shit their pants, right?

Diego Fagundez: Motivated? We wanted you to be the hero, but we still know you have it in you. Trust your mom to feed you good.

Jay Heaps: Proud.

Notes from Brazil

Please forgive any lapses in tense; some of this was written varying amounts of time after the fact. Look on the bright side, it’s not handwritten this time.

GIG

• Rio’s airport (GIG) is like a sleepy, more run-down version of Terminal 1 at CDG. It is not air-conditioned, and the shopping and food is roughly on a par with what you’d find on a T platform, although they at least serve overpriced (actually, overtaxed) beer ($6.50 for a Brahma, $2 of which is tax, we think). There are about 12 wifi networks, with varying levels of sketchiness. The one I connected to wanted my name, email, and passport number, but made no effort to verify these, because obviously i did not use real ones. We’ll see how secure my iPhone really is, considering the lack of hygiene, so to speak.

• It’s amazing how easy and great it is to get back in the flow of things for the World Cup. Everybody wants to talk soccer with you, as soon as you’re identified as a fellow pursuer (usually because we are all wearing our country’s jerseys in the airport). You compare notes about games, cities, figure out if you’ll maybe cross paths again, take pictures, trade stickers.

• The big hurdle, is of course, next, as we hope to meet up with Herbert’s friend Rafael and secure our place to stay for the next three weeks. This better work.

Salvador

• No spoiler for those of you who read me on Twitter: it didn’t work. That’s right, 5,000 miles from home, we got stood up by our Airbnb host for a planned 3-week stay. Sure, we were highly under-charged for it, but it still kinda fucked us a bit. Here‘s the story:

We waited a while at the airport in case his unclear text meant we were to meet there, but then we got our rental car and set off for Itapua, which we pictured as a nice beach community. The satellite views made it look harmless and suburban, and the house looked good. We’d spent over 6 months talking to our host, Herbert, so while there was some apprehension, problems seemed unlikely.

We navigated ourselves well using printouts and a phone with a spotty data connection, and got through one gate in a neighborhood that looked close to Soweto (livestock and trash in the street), but without the friendly faces. The moment of truth, I show the address and the name of our host to the man at the next gate. It’s the right place, but Herbert’s not there. We know this, but we’re being met, aren’t we? No, no one’s there. No one answers the phone when the man at the gate calls the house. I call him on his mobile, no answer.

Sometime after that, a man in a VW shows up, starts talking with the guy at the gate about us. Turns out he speaks English and is Herbert’s neighbor, and he starts to intercede on our behalf. He’s got completely different phone numbers for our host, and gets him on the phone promptly. But he doesn’t want to speak to us. Because he’s had a heart attack. And a divorce. Not at the same time, i imagine. But recently, and the latter means his ex-wife, very angry at him, won’t let anyone into the house. Including us. Who have traveled thousands of miles. As the sun goes down, this ugly part of Salvador swarms with bugs in vast numbers, and we start to really question what the hell to do next. His neighbor, Carlos, a kind, hippy musician type who’s done all the talking for us, insists we come up to his house, and regroup from there.

Which we do. It’s modest, cluttered, but with a friendly golden retriever around; how bad can anything be with a nice doggie? It’s hot as balls. He bids us sit down, and we are just trying to get a hold of Herbert’s other contacts, desperate to get let in. Later, Herbert says (to Carlos, never to me, to whom he’s been emailing for months) his brother could bring us to another place, but we wanted no part of that; it could be dangerous, faraway, or both. Eventually, we thank Carlos profusely and get out of his hair. It’s amazing how you can watch a trip you planned for four years get nuked in moments, and yet still have a stranger warm the cockles of your heart. Traveling is just the best.

• Back to the car; the car is at least our sovereign territory, even though it’s fighting through crowded streets and bottoming out on speed bumps and stalling on hills. Now we’re hunting a hotel, all but blindly. Almost no internet. no sign of where to go, and about five hours to really do it. The winter sun has already set, so now it’s dark. Not that there are many street signs to work with anyway. With myriad turnarounds, we get a couple hotels attempted, and each tells us a couple others to try. There’s never quite enough wi-fi to get Expedia loaded in the lobby. The first one was dire, but eventually we found some that are typical European standard. Finally, we find a cluster of them and Steve and i get out and hustle around a long block to get in through some crazy security. At this point we have no idea what to make of Salvador, and are getting distinctly pessimistic, but at last we manage to get two rooms in a nice place for $120 a night. Better than we deserved. A safe bed, parking, and the Internet (which we would begin to learn is nearly universally flaky in Brazil).

• And a patio bar across the street, full of locals mostly. Here we learned about Brazilian beer customs; this is to say that you don’t necessarily order four beers for four people, you order beer for four people. It comes with four glasses and maybe two big bomber bottles in giant plastic branded cozies. Periodically, waitstaff will refill your glass for you. Also, we found a local dish that’s just steak cooked underneath a humongous layer of multiple cheeses. It’s delicious and deadly.

• Later that night, four of us decamp to the lobby holding our assorted internet apparatus out like a Geiger counter, looking for a steady connection. Ultimately, not liking any of the options in town (expensive, shitty, badly located), we found a good deal at something kinda resorty out of the city. Quite a change from our planned, in-neighborhood dwelling. But not in the middle of disastrous, paralyzing traffic, and with less livestock and trash.

Salvador Norte

• The mall, a.k.a. the hub for our transit in and out of the city, as it turned out. We stopped in on the way up the coast to our new digs, mostly in hopes of getting a SIM card for a couple of our phones. It turned out, though, that, there was a FIFA info desk there, including a sales point for buses to the stadium.

Now, after South Africa’s plan for parking (visit an old-school ‘ticketmaster’-type counter in a grocery store), we knew we had to scout it. Earlier in the day we were lucky to escape from a driveby of the stadium, and it was all but clear that there was no parking at all. But there are buses! And now we knew about them. With everything that had gone wrong, it looked like we were finally making progress, and were likely to be able to do what we came to do. And in the process, we met a helper that works for the mall named Felipe. Originally from Easton, Mass. Not, we think, one of my favorite sister’s former pupils, but still. Hell of a world. Also, nice guy; he spent an hour trying to help some other nice Americans from DC get their phones working on local SIM cards (you can’t even get a SIM for an iPhone 5s here, turns out). Eventually we decided it was futile, and thanked him profusely.

• It was time to bug out and head north to try and find where we’re staying in the daylight.

Itacimirim

• It looks like paradise, but there’s a big asterisk: they charge you up the nose for bringing in your own food and beverages. We are smuggling ours in at night, out during the day. Pity, there’s a gorgeous pool that really deserves a beer waiting on the edge of it. They want you to buy their food at the restaurant and pool bar, but outside of their pasteis, the food is not terribly good. And they run out of beer, which should not be possible.

Rainstorm in Itacimirim

• It was here we discovered that the fireworks stands are doing business in service of people buying fireworks (fogos) to shoot off during Brazil’s matches. The start, the end, goals. Since they’re nothing if not confident, i’ll assume that they’ve bought a lot of them, but there’s a perfunctoriness in the guy at the bar here’s lighting them off. No joy in it. Then again, Brazil was lucky to beat Croatia.

• i have just now realized that the stains on our walls here are all slain, fully fed mosquitos.

Salvador

• Today, we finally got into Salvador, and finally got to feeling like maybe our trip won’t be a total disaster. A place to stay, a plan to get into town, and we went to a game. Walked a few streets, met other soccer fans, drank some beers, and watched the Dutch completely annihilate Spain.

• It’s a long way into Salvador from where we’re at, but honestly, they really do have a good system for moving people into the stadium. There’s zero parking around it, and the neighborhoods are old and cramped on one side, and crappy on the other side. Instead, the local shopping malls are running buses into the stadium, with dedicated travel lanes in some cases. It’s a long ride, but it goes very smoothly. The area around Fonte Nova is closed off, too, with no one on the streets but beer vendors and fans, for the most part.

• Crowding around a TV with a bunch of other soccer fans on a hot day trying to get a glimpse of a game, drinking a cheap beer and watching a parade go by outside is not a bad way to go.

A singular focus

• Oops, the parade is cool-looking, with some capoeira performers (dancers? fighters?), but composed entirely of jesus freaks and a lot of anti-abortion crap.

Itacimirim

• Since we’re inadvertently staying on the beach, today we went for a walk on the beach. In the morning, at least. Games to watch in the evening, you know. While the weather’s not bad, not unbearably hot, we learned that if you are out from maybe 12-2, you will surely cook in the midday equatorial sun.

Typical Brazilian Beach Day

• Rain here shows up with all sorts of wind, dark clouds, whipping waves, and feels like the foreshadowing of a hurricane. Then it rains a little and then it’s gone. Never seems to be lightning or thunder, but it sure looks impressive anyway.

Not so azul right now

• Practically right next door to us is a nice town that has a small, but walkable main street, multiple bars and restaurants, we discovered. So, the important thing is, having had 6+ months to plan, we came up with a singularly bad one, and have accidentally stumbled into a better one.

Salvador

• Today we drove into Salvador without much of an agenda, without a game to go to. It turns out that our intel about Brazilian cities being deserted on Sundays is good, because the traffic was a total breeze. It resembled a normal city, with normal, calm driving, no gridlock, no insane wedging of cars and buses, and no danger of Guy wrecking his knee working the clutch on the Fiesta.

• Unfortunately, there’s not so much to do where we went. Miles and miles of ridiculous coastline on the peninsula that Salvador lies on, and it’s got the occasional restaurant or two, and it’s all fine in the daylight, but it’s deserted, practically. All the while we’re searching for the FIFA Fan Fest, the big screens and beer gardens set up in all World Cup host cities. It sounds cheesy, and it is, corporate-sponsored, carefully-branded fun, but it’s still a damn good time.

• Turns out that in Salvador, it’s set up at the Barra, at their iconic lighthouse. Or rather, it’s not. We find out that the city’s found a way to cheat their obligation to FIFA and its sponsors, and while ordinarily we’d approve of anyone throwing mud in the eye of Sepp Blatter and friends, it’s sort of a pity to miss out on watching games outside with lots of other enthusiastic fans from wherever.

Sunday morning pickup and more

• The Barra turns out to be another isolated thing to see surrounded by not a whole lot; a couple places to eat, a beach with some locals playing soccer, the few pretty crummy-looking restaurants are filled with Swiss fans waiting for their game, probably also disappointed by the lack of outdoor screen. Again, it’s such a pity because it’s absurdly picturesque.

• With a couple of shopping trips under our belt, we are pretty confident that grocery cashiers in Brazil are the surliest, most unwilling-to-do-their-job people on the planet. You can see the evident effort they put in to working so slowly.

Mundo das delicias

• Before GERvsPOR, we actually wandered further afield in Salvador. It turned out that the nice part of town is really close to the stadium. So now we have a nice place to drink some beers before the game. And if all goes well, a nice town square to drink beers with our fellow Americans with if our guys get to the round-of-16 match.

• Salvador is such such a weird city, though. It’s got suburban shopping malls in the middle of not-quite-favelas, dirt roads next to nice apartment towers, abandoned circuses next to permanently-unfinished skyscrapers, sheds that pass for bars with identical yellow plastic chairs, pedestrian overpasses turned into teeming bazaars, horses grazing in grass lots, and pedestrians running across highways.

Praia do Forte

• After we showed up and drank a lot and started making a huge damn racket during USAvsGHA, about five times as many people joined us. Pretty sure the bar owes us one.

• We’re working on making this our next home base, of course, and hoping that airbnb works better this time.

rural futebol field

Lençois

• This town reminds me of Mykonos, sort of. Lots of tiny shops and restaurants, mostly catered to tourists (in this case, backpackers, nature tourists), and tons of B&Bs (they call them pousadas). It’s impossibly quaint, extremely hilly. Very harmless, still sorta run-down (stray cats everywhere, occasional dogs, wrecked buildings, but very picturesque. Gaily painted, cobblestone streets, but way the hell away from everything; it was a 7-hour drive.

• There’s an ever increasing tally of bug bites, as we go on. It’s so much less bad than i expected, but they are still proliferating. If you look hard enough at many surfaces in your room , you’ll eventually see tiny ants running around.

• A fireworks stand by the bridge is doing fantastic business; every 10 minutes there’s a big boom, earlier during the match it was staccato explosions, loud because they echo in the tight streets and the valley. It’d have been a bit dangerous had brazil managed to pull out a win.

• Steve learned this morning that the giant party in town last night (which ran until 2am, near as we could tell) was in fact the start of the festival of São João. Meaning that there should be more, and that i don’t have to feel bad about being too sick and exhausted to go find the party.

Someone's got to do it

• Happily, whatever stomach bug i had seems to have gone away after a bit over a day.

• A word about food. The last two places we’ve stayed have been bed-and-breakfasty places, with enough similarities in their breakfast spread to tempt me to draw conclusions about what you might expect: hot dogs in what’s like a spaghetti-o’s style sauce, cold cuts, mini cheese bread balls (these are oddly disappointing), and obviously, chocolate cake. which is obviously my go-to. Ground up manioc is intended as a condiment for something we never quite figured out. Boiled cassava or yam, which was unappealing. And obviously, the universally de rigeur scrambled eggs.

• Also napkins are typically paper, and in a variety of odd little holders, always folded in a triangle. Nearly ubiquitous.

• Today we went on a hike. I was so pleasantly surprised that no plants and animals of the Brazilian forest had any interest in killing me. Honestly, it felt a little bit like California, insofar as there were insects, but they mostly kept the hell off of me and did not consume my blood. Lençois is a very crunchy town, catering chiefly to the ecotourism crowd, with lots of guides and crafty stores and stuff. At the same time, it’s mainstream enough that they did actually build a bar a couple kilometers down the hiking trail. Not fully stocked, and it’s clear that they portage their wares in and out, but seriously a bar in the middle of the woods in a national park. Further down the trail was a river in a rockfall that formed a huge natural pool of cool, cool water, brown as coffee, but still clear in the shallows. i sort of regret not being prepared to fully dive in, or to climb up the mossy angled rocks that people were ‘surfing’, down. But then again, the few hospitals we’ve seen in this country have done nothing to make us feel good about risking injury.

The ol' swimmin' hole

Almost touching

• So far, the best food we’ve had in Brazil was made by an Italian. Who owns a nice pousada here in Lençois. Also, he and his (Brazilian) wife were easily some of the most welcoming people we’ve met.

Praia do Forte

• Croatia’s team is staying here, and now so are we. Even if it is am Epcot Center style town, it’s comfy, still cheap ($4 caipirinhas, $3 beers), and there’s lots of people around to watch games with.

Farol

• Finally we succeeded in getting into a place where we can set up shop and do what we want. Our airbnb came through just fine, and we’ve got a fridge full of beer, and our American flag hung over the couch. Incidentally, at least two Bostonians have visited here and left gifts. Typical of everywhere in Brazil, this place can only approach ‘nice’ so closely; it’s a luxury-condo building with immaculate grass, but the fountains are off and the furniture’s put away (oh right, the ‘off-season‘). And the apartment is beautiful, but has lots of expensive broken appliances, and i think other guests have partied hard here. fewer ants, though.

The festive season

• Steve and i weren’t the only ones out for a run this morning. There was even a local doing it. It’s really pretty comfortable walking, but when you are exerting yourself, you get sweaty and dehydrated pretty damn fast.

• The beach has vendors walking up and down all over the place; in Praia do Forte, they’re regulated, elsewhere they’re pretty much whatever. Here, there’s one that carries around a bucket of hot coals, and roasts a stick of cheese covered in oregano on it. Marshmallows can go straight to hell from now on, as far as i’m concerned.

Cachaça is dangerously cheap. Do people here have drinking problems, because if so, the ready availability of high-powered liquor for the equivalent of about $3 surely can’t be good for society, right? And it’s great, it mixes well in lots of things, you can shoot it, even.

• Some of the locals in the bar last night were pretty pleased when our guys got scored upon late, and were sure to use our chants against us. We more than deserved it, considering how loud we and the other Americans were. Both of us have to deal, obviously.

• That was tough, though. We were hoping to drive up to Recife and go support our team without so much on the line, but now it is serious business time. There will be large numbers of both teams’ fans there so let’s hope we’re all happy.

• Tipping is almost never done here, as there is a mandatory 10% ‘serviso’ on your bill. Not coincidentally, for every restaurant that’s great, you find two where service is less than motivated. Waitstaff will frequently hide from you outright.

• In planning our drive to Recife, we lament other countries’ lack of roadside motels. Our suspicion is that for the probably comparatively few who make drives like that, that’s why pousadas on top of gas stations exist. Of course, as the ads on tv would tell you, a gas station is a place where you get a fine meal with jovial company. Some of the ones we’ve been to, i might even believe that. Most, though, not so much.

• We’re practically in full rainy-vacation-day mode today. When the skies open up here it is a sight to behold. Even the gentle misting rains are splendid, so light as to do nothing but refresh.

A patch of smooth road

Maceio

• Steve was excited to get points at his beloved Holiday Inn Express here in Brazil, and was glad to find that they existed. We showed up so very late, and naturally, guards manned the locked door. We said we were there to check in; the skinny, shifty-looking guard asks, “Do you need beaches?” “No, we need to get into the hotel, to check in.” “Bitches. Quinze, desesseis.” Gutturally: “Hookers.”

“No. Let us in.” Figures that the trustworthy American franchise is the one that best manages to skeeve us out.

Recife

• So, we didn’t get to the game on time, but we did make it. Even though a lot of people might have called it a day, and called it a bad one, we turned it into a good one, one we’ll always remember. One that involved us running in sewer water, and us nearly bottoming out the car on a dirt road through a slum. An adventure among adventures, and something no sane person would call ‘vacation’.

Porto de Galinhas
• ’Galinha’ means ‘chicken’. Which is why everything here is unabashedly chicken-themed, from cheekily painted chicken sculptures (like other cities’ cows), to souvenir trinkets, to sandals, to phone booths. It’s kinda hilarious.
• The pousada we’re staying at is perfectly all right, although there are no panes of glass, much less screens in the windows. It’s bright and airy during the day, but necessarily closed up and darkened against the hordes of mosquitos at night. It’s a weird reminder of just where peoples’ priorities are, cost-wise. Air conditioner, sure, glass for windows, not so much.

Afternoon storm

• On the bright side, i taught myself how to make caipirinhas. Importantly, i learned that you can’t short-change any element of it, you have to beat up the limes some, you need a lot of sugar, and it needs ice and a straw. But it can be done, by the likes of me, even. i just hope that cachaça and limes aren’t too much more expensive at home.

Maceio

• It turns out the coast roads between Porto de Galinhas and Maceio are mostly far superior to the supposed intercity highway, BR-101, which was sporadically so potholed as to be nearly undriveable, never mind narrow, curvy, clogged with trucks that struggle up even the smallest hill, and under permanent construction.

Brazilian farm country

Hang on tight

• While we were distinctly discomfited by our first visit and stay here, Maceio has treated us a lot better the second time through. We arrived along the beachfront strip of hotels about 15 minutes before the start of the Brazil-Chile match, parked, and found a nearby umbrella bar with decent tvs, and a good empty table. It was getting busy, and initially our waiter seemed overwhelmed, but at some point he brought us a couple free caipirinhas (we were drinking beer). And then a couple more. And a couple more. At some point Guy had to slyly pass his on to me, since he had perhaps a mile further to drive. Tipping here is not customary, not expected at all, but we tipped the hell out of him.

• We were, of course, kinda hoping for Chile to pull off an upset. It’s somewhat rude to root against your hosts, but their general attitude of inevitability and their team’s underwhelmingness made them a tempting target. The crowd at this bar was also insufficiently involved, seemingly not taking the threat seriously until it went to penalties. At that point, a couple crazy old ladies appeared, and one of them was passing around her lucky teddy bear, so in the end i’m okay with them moving on. For now.

• The Radisson was Ghana’s headquarters hotel, during their regrettably brief stay here (they played well, although i feel less bad knowing their players apparently behaved somewhat badly). There were a few people who were obviously players in the lobby when we arrived, although we couldn’t piece together who they were.

• i am getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the lobby as i wait for a facetime call with the girl. In Brazil, as we’ve so often noted, even nice places can find ways to be shitty.

Morning at the fruit stand

Aracaju

• Aracaju is unlike other cities we’ve been to, in that it’s full of new infrastructure, shiny new cultural buildings and facilities, and the large apartment buildings are actually well-kept and clean, not dingy and destroyed up close. Wikitravel knows precious little about it. Upon reaching the shoreline, and seeing it dotted with oil platforms, we suspect we have the explanation.

• Bugs here are simply harder to kill than their counterparts at home. They’re both more evasive and then once you get one, you might not even succeed at squashing it the first time.

Salvador

• And so after our northern odyssey, we returned at last to our ‘home’ city of Salvador, which we’d honestly sort of kept at arms length thus far. And as a reminder of why, we were still half an hour away on a familiar stretch of highway when a column of thick black smoke rose ahead, and traffic came to a halt. Now, after seeing that every rural police station has to own supply of burned out husks of cars, we quickly assumed that that’s all it was, a beat-up car’s fiery death (goodness knows we had ample reason to fret that our own car was not going to make it). After a while, i got antsy and jumped out of the car, as has become my custom. I jogged down the empty oncoming lane and just kept running until I got closer to it, after all, why turn back until I had an answer? The answer was, it was no car, and no accident. A line of what looked like oil, or pitch, or something was strewn across both sides of the highway, lit, and fed with large tree branches. Beyond that, a throng of protesters, chanting loudly at a comically small number of police. Finally, one of the riots we were promised. After ascertaining that the party was unlikely to break up too soon, i jogged back to our car, again communicating as best i could to other stopped cars my information about what was ahead. Mostly arm-waving, really. One lady rolled down her window and replied ‘parler Français?’ to my ‘nao falo Português’. She went on to tell me that riots like this are obnoxious and very common, although increased police presence during the World Cup meant a break from them, since ironically that’s part of what they were protesting.

Now that we've got your attention

• Thus began a fun 24 hours in Salvador, wherein we were delayed by a riot and fire, ripped off three times by three different bartenders, interviewed by multiple TV networks, and finally, taken for a R$60 cab ride to a bad neighborhood by a cab driver who was at best an idiot, but most likely an asshole or even someone who meant us harm.

• It is normal for Salvador cab drivers to flagrantly run open red lights late in the night. This guy started off in the wrong direction, which we chalked up to trying to get on bigger roads back to the hotel, but kept going. Fortunately for us, we know this city pretty well by now, and smelled a rat pretty quickly. Eventually he turned back into town, ending any fears of getting stranded in some rural shithole, and prompting the question of whether he’s taking us somewhere totally wrong, or to some buddies of his in a dark alley. We try to point out to him where we actually want to go, and our knowledge of the town is sufficient that he’s not misunderstanding us. So he blows through red light after red light, and we’re officially concerned. In the end, he’s got to stop at one, since a cop was sitting there. I figure that’s the safest harbor. Steve, on the other side of the car was noting that it was across the street from the Sheraton (there’s a Sheraton, apparently). “We’re getting out.” We do, and hustle onto the sidewalk, and i cuss the guy out as i walk away. He throws it into reverse, and I keep yelling at him. “Wrong! Bad!” with thumbs-downs and worse. He gestures for money, then points at the cop. So now I’m the criminal. I throw a $R50 note at him, flip him off and bid him get the fuck out of there. The friendly doorman at the hotel meanwhile finds us a cab that he’ll vouch for, further proving that doormen are the best people. The next cab driver was fine, although riding through Salvador at night with him listening to Phil Collins’ treacly worst was a bit surreal. From then on, we had someone in the back seat double checking our route with the magic blue dot.

• I’d be remiss if i didn’t mention the hotel that was so much work for us to get back to. A formerly no doubt opulent 70’s-modern palace in mustard-and-red with a concrete/stucco angled facade overlooking the beautiful eastern beaches of Salvador, it should by all rights have been perfect. Or, instead, musty, smelling of urine in places, and with pry-marks by the handle of every single door. This is what we got for not having good enough internet and having to wait one more night to book rooms in Salvador after all our American brethren had taken all the good ones. And it was not cheap either.

And it could so easily be amazing. This is about the most descriptive statement you can make about Salvador. It could so easily be amazing. But just like the rest of the city, they just find a way to screw up a can’t-miss place.

It's for sale...

• Take for instance our last day in Salvador, before the USA-Belgium match, a beautiful (hot) day to walk through the beautiful old town and see just why it’s worthy of being a UNESCO site. It’s like a hilly, older Vieux Carré, but without any drunk yahoos, and it’s totally amazing. People would get on planes to see this, to walk the streets, to eat at an outside table, to gawp at the old churches. But it’s an island, connected to the airport by untrustworthy cabs, with few hotels in a walkable radius, and surrounded by places you’re better off not lingering in. Who knows how it came to be so; our suspicion was that a lot of the bigger companies, best employers seem to be in office parks around the city, that it’s some form of Brazilian ‘white flight’. And Salvador is maybe their Detroit. It’s the sort of thing where you wonder what they were protesting. And whether or not their government spent too much on bringing you here, and not making here better.

Lazy day in the Pelourinho.

• It was disappointing to find that there really wasn’t an organized cheering section for the USA at the match. Apparently it really was quite something when the “U-S-A” chant got rolling, but to us it just felt like the only thing that worked, and we felt like we missed the chance to really belt some things out like we did in South Africa. It would have been good to be able to get back at the Belgian contingent, who were nice in person, but as a group felt like they needed to taunt us when they took a lead. That noted Belgium-USA rivalry apparently boiling over.

The home of the brave

• The real sign that we were tired and ready to come home, though, was the reaction of the locals, many of whom delighted in making throat-cutting signs and shouting “bye-bye, USA” at us. That’s nice. We just traveled thousands of miles and spent a buttload of money in your hole of a city and this is how you treat visitors? Way to undo the work of all the nice people we met, assholes. But there’s the problem, and maybe the news articles at the outset were true; people here just aren’t that excited to welcome visitors, for the most part. It’s a job, it’s a thing that’s happening, but there’s no joy in it. Just business. On the bright side, the people that we met that were the exception to this rule are that much more special to us.

Rio de Janeiro

• It’s like night and day here. A couple nights ago, Steve coined the term, to ‘Brazil’ it, which is to say they take something that’s intrinsically nice, or pleasant, and make it slipshod, or downright shitty. There’s almost none of that here in Rio. Proper highways that do not at any point pass through a major bus terminal, bridges that exist, no speed bumps or crosswalks in the middle of 100kph traffic. A clean, efficient subway that’s safe at all times of day. Streets full of people going to work, not livestock.

• Never mind how beautiful it is; forget the beaches, which are not so big a draw for me, i’m talking about the absurd drama of these enormous 2000-foot-tall rocks, like cartoon lumps after a mallet to the head, jutting out of the coastline, stretching the city’s fabric. It’s breathtaking, even from the street.

The picture postcard

• Not a connoisseur of beaches, i, but i suspect, given mere walk-by experience that these probably are justly famous. They’re wide, soft, and at least on this day, caressed by waves that are enough to remind you you’re in the ocean, but not the sort to rough you up. And naturally, there’s private enterprise from makeshift pay showers, to wi-fi-tents, the obvious beverages, and more fixed bars and restaurants. It’s a hell of a thing to sit and drink a (still inexpensive) caipirinha, while watching the sun leave the beach in late afternoon (short days + hot weather still registers as some sort of an error for me).

• Notable here is the familiar configuration of the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana beach, multiple giant screens, pristine sand, thousands of other futebol fans. We’d have partaken the hell out of that, as we had in Johannesburg, Durban, Frankfurt, and Berlin, and shame on Salvador for cheating its visitors of such a great way to have a good time and good cheer with locals.

Summer-winter sunset

• The trip up Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf) was amazing, sort of a great unofficial end to the trip; a madly steep cable car ride, watching the hazy sun finish its day, and the lights of the city come on. Watching the insane approach of flights landing at SDU from uncomfortably close. Sitting and having a beer and reflecting on how many unvacation days went into this vacation and how truly earned a beer on top of a mountain can be.

A morning swim

• By contrast, getting up to Corcovado is a shit show, and we failed at it. They Brazil’d it. There is this and plenty of other reasons to come back someday with the girl.

• There’s even a small craft-beer scene around Rio, mostly beers that are dark as hell, presumably as a reaction to the weightless, clammy riceyness of the likes of Skol. It’s about damn time.

In Summary

• Met and chatted with (22): Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Uruguay, France, Chile, England, Venezuela, Australia, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Germany, Nigeria, Netherlands, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belgium, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina
• Photos with (9): Ghana, Uruguay, France, Chile, Venezuela, USA, Germany, Brazil, Canada
• Media from (3): Brazil, England, USA
• Distance covered: 3,450km
• Speed bumps (they call these lombadas): too many
• Bottomed the car out on speed bumps: approximately 35 times
• Days without being dry: 3
• Ate at McDonald’s: 1 time
• Bug bites: 33 (approximately)
• Caipirinhas: lost count

Cheering for laundry

The other day, i had to have an honest conversation with myself.  A conversation about how to justify my laughter at Derek Jeter’s season-ending injury.  It’s customary to admit that it’s wrong, 100% wrong to cheer for opposing players’ injury, but i think that most of us  here did not have that reaction at first.  Laughing at the Yankees was wrong, distasteful, childish… but honest.

Thing is, i don’t think any of us wish the person harm.  Baseball players are held to a high standard of civic responsibility by virtue of being on TV every day for six months, and by all accounts he meets and exceeds this.  The difference is the uniform.  In the pinstripes, he becomes that smug fuck with no range and a closet full of Gold Gloves who’s never taken a called strike.  A hated enemy.  So i laughed at the player’s injury, and ultimately, i’m fine with that.

But i find an interesting parallel with the reaction to the monthly report of the unemployment numbers, in particular this most recent one.  Goodness knows, i’ve anxiously hoped they’d be good.  Not because they exactly affect me (heck, recently i suppose i just made them worse by one), but because good numbers are good for the person i want to be the next President.  But the crucial question is, if the reverse were true, if i were pulling to unseat the guy, would i then be cheering for bad things to happen?

It’s fairly clear that plenty of us in this country are doing just that.  Yet another obvious manifestation of Mitch McConnell’s repugnant rallying cry.  Of all the disheartening things that have happened to this country in the last twelve years, it’s possibly the worst.  At best, an open admission that the opposition party wants the government to fail utterly, at worst, a brazen exhortation to partisans to impede anything which might reflect well on the administration.  And no matter how cynical and how partisan you are, there’s strong correlation that runs in opposition to that idea—a successful president must by definition be bringing some of that success to the citizens of the country.  Therefore, Republicans are cheering against us all.

So if fewer people are unemployed, they’re disappointed (or sadder still, in denial).  Because they’ve tried so hard to eliminate public jobs that might’ve helped that number, but also put money in the hands of middle-class pockets, who might’ve spent it and helped other Americans make a living. Wouldn’t want to help that along.

It’s laundry.  For four years, Republicans’ loyalty has been to laundry alone.  Red versus Blue.  Awkwardly, my metaphor means that i am exactly the person i started out mocking.  Indeed, we’re all (gulp) Derek Jeter, lying on the field.  Except, to continue abusing the metaphor, the Republicans aren’t the cackling Sox fan at home on the couch.  They’re more like the maniac that ran on the field and kneecapped him with a tire iron at shortstop.

And i don’t think any part of me would be cheering for that.

Revolution 0:1 Impact de Montréal

Because they’re pissing me off, and i don’t write enough here, i’m going to start writing up match reports of the Revolution matches.  The number one rule of this site is to write about whatever you please, after all.

So yet again, the Revolution found a way to lose a game in which they had all of the attacking possession, and all but one of the actual serious chances.  Never mind crossbars, posts, or penalties not given, the promise of the earlier part of the season has well and truly slipped away.  Players who were having palpable fun on the field are now frustrated and sulking, and the crankiness in the stands is well and truly back.

What’s the problem as far as my inexpert opinion is concerned?  1. The shortcomings against physical sides like Kansas City and Toronto were obvious; the skill players such as Nguyen and Feilhaber were getting clobbered, the refs didn’t call it often enough, and even when they did… 2. They can’t score a set piece to save their lives.  McCarthy got his head to a couple late tonight, but he’s really the only big body you can throw in the mixer, and is not who you’d want to rely on anyway.  3. Their patience is gone.  For all the talk of playing the game the right way, of passing the ball, playing possession and building from the back, they resort to blasting it far too often.  Finally, 4. the personnel is not right anymore; earlier in the season, it seemed Heaps could do no wrong with his substitutes, and the 11 were more up to the task.  Now, we’re back to seeing useless, clanking mismatched parts out there, waiting for them to be belatedly subbed out.   Seeing players get pushed around with no steel to strengthen the formation, and others being asked to do things they’re just not suited for.

If they put away one or two chances tonight, then we’re probably talking about a good performance, but they didn’t, so we’re not.  It’s not fair, but perhaps it’s more useful to not have continued shortcomings sugar-coated.

Player Ratings (per the typical 1-10 scale with its glorious shortcomings; 10 is perfect, 1 is dreadful, 5 is average):

Reis: 5.  Only save he had to make was one he really couldn’t be expected to.  Still nearly got a palm to it.  Calm as ever with the ball at his feet, but the long distribution still mediocre at best.

Tierney: 4.  Burned for speed only once, still tenacious going forward.  Even if you look at him as the offensive outside back and Alston as the defensive one, it’s not a good enough trade.  He dribbles the ball well, but the quality of his passes has been inadequate this year; he’s left Soares, Benny, Simms, Nguyen, amongst others way, way too short too many times and rolled too many balls to the opposition too often.  Time to give the rookie a shot.

Soares: 5.5.  ‘Megged on the goal, which i suppose should count against him, but it’s awfully unfair considering he’s running full stride to match a much faster player.  Calm and collected as always, with the usual well-timed steps to nip attacks in the bud.  The yellow card was the product of an excellent dive, not any sort of foul.

McCarthy: 6.  An excellent offensive header across goal from the post on a corner probably would have been put away if a certain dreadlocked guy was still around.  Good positioning all night. Both center-backs were very steady tonight.

Alston: 6.  Made good runs, was constantly open out wide, put in one excellent cross, one lousy up-the-line ball.  Completely untroubled on defense except when Felipe tried to win a penalty against him the same way Philadelphia did two weeks ago.

Nguyen: 5.5. His work is very commendable, and for a good ten minutes, he’d actually taken control of the middle of the field, which the Revs seemingly hadn’t done for weeks.  Having said that, his effectiveness is less than what it once was; he can’t dribble around everyone all the time, and now he’s double-teamed and roughed-up constantly.  Couple this with the loss of the close-quarters triangle passing and lack of off-the-ball movement, and he’s having to reach too deep into his bag of tricks too often.

Feilhaber: 4. Simply needs to do more.  It doesn’t help that he’s being asked to sit really far back.  The problem with this is that when he makes a loose pass or tries something opportunistic (read:reckless), there are fewer people behind him.  Maybe it’s harsh to hold his (terrible) giveaway accountable for the goal, considering it was in the offensive half of the field, but the trouble was, it put a fast runner right on your two centerbacks. Never mind the fact that for every nifty play that comes off, for every impeccably slotted through ball, there are five failed ones that end with him dribbling at people, leaving it for no one, or passing optimistically into traffic.  Not effective.

Simms: 5.  Better tonight than he has been lately, more active.  But the Revs were at their best when he, Benny, and Nguyen were constantly running off the ball and completing triangles.  It’s not happening anymore, and since Simms seems to have so many fewer touches of late, and the skill players are getting whacked, i feel like there’s some causation here.

Guy: 5.5.  It’s unfair to give him less than this, because he did everything he was asked to do.  The fact of the matter is, he’s a tiny player without the speed or the skills to compensate.  No idea why he keeps having to do so much work with his back to net.

Sène: 6.5. Maybe it’s a bit fashionable to bag on Saer Sène right now.  While he has missed some chances of late that would have changed results, you simply can’t ignore the fact that the dude is doing pretty much everything right now.  He drops back, he shepherds the ball through the midfield, he is distributor, provider, and finisher all in one.  There’s no way i fault him for having not everything work, considering that at least he’s trying.  He’s trying everything.

Bengtson: 5. Sorta on an island up there, unfortunately.  Was badly offside one time when it’d have been nice if he wasn’t.

Subs: Cardenas: 5.5.  Very bright start, good enthusiasm and fresh legs, but petered out after the first five minutes in.  Rowe: 5.5.  Same thing i said about Cardenas.  Fagundez: No rating.