Monday, November 26, 2007

Things I miss about England #5: Being in the loop. Funny story this weekend. I had been itching to take Theo to watch a bonefide Brazilian footy match and several weeks back I spotted that America RN's last game of the season was on Saturday at home. Just up the road in other words, to watch America (relegated and looking up the table at everyone else) play Gremio (fighting for a place in the Libetadores South America Cup). In English terms, it would be like watching Derby County vs Everton, based on present form.

As Perry Groves frequently says in his biography: "Job Done". Or so I thought. We built our day around the 17.10 KO and came back from the beach early to make sure we didn't miss anything. We made the 5 minute drive from our house to the stadium with half an hour to spare. Down at the Machadao I parked nearby. Hmmmm, no trouble with spaces today and where's that guy who usually wants money for keeping an eye on the car? We saunter over to the stadium and, oddly, nobody is there. I'm expecting to be bothered by touts anytime soon. We wonder round the edge of the desolate stadium. Have I got the wrong day? I must be going mad. No wait, stewards are guarding the entrances, the police horses are out and what's that? Some of the away support are banging the gates to get in. They can't have shut the doors already? This game would never sell out. America can barely fill one block in this 38,000 capacity megolith. In fact, we're early. But why is it so quiet outside and, more tellingly, inside?

So, using my finely tuned Portugeuse I asked the nearest steward what was going on. He told me the game started two hours later and that the stadium was closed. Huh, I'm sure the website said 17.10. Perhaps it's something to do with the TV station deciding to broadcast at a different time.

And perplexed, we went off home so as to help Rach put the little one to bed. I decided to check the TV and internet to work out what was going on. Strangely, the internet was running live coverage of the game - and it had already started - at the time I thought it would: 17.10! Rach started frantically searching google for more news, and we called Rachel's brother to find out what was going on.

Eventually, this is what we discovered: America RN supporters had got into trouble with the CBF (Brazilian football authority), probably for throwing things on the pitch, so they were banned support at their last home game. The fixture was taking place behind closed doors in complete silence, but they still needed the police there to check nobody attempted to get in. I wondered if Theo and I should go down and explain: "We're tourists, we just want to look around the stadium. We promise not to look at the football if you don't want us to! Just let us in. We won't be coming back ever again and we certainly weren't the people throwing things on the pitch!".

As for those away fans banging ont he doors to get in? All I can say is, I hope they didn't drive from Gremio for the showdown only to be denied entry. Gremio is in the state called Rio Grande de Sul (big river of the south) and Natal is the state called Rio Grande de Norte (big river of the north). The two cities are at opposite ends of the country, Gremio being just a stones throw from Argentina and Uruguay. It would be like a Turkish football fan travelling all the way from Istanbul to Aberdeen only to find the match was called off because of snow. And, as for the steward I asked giving me mis-information? Well, probably he was speaking the truth and I just misunderstood him say 7.10 and not 17.10. When he said the stadium was closed, he really meant it was properly closed for the whole night...

This all illustrates my point. If I had more football-loving friends around, if I listened to the radio as much as other Brazilian football supporters, if I checked the right internet sites, if I had known it was possible for the support to be denied entry but the game to continue, If... if... if I was in the loop I would be less prone to making gaffs such as the one I made. Being in a foriegn country is all about being out of the loop to an extent. Sometimes it felt like that in York, and I was just a Londoner! So, Theo will just have to wait until next weekend to watch his football match when we go down to Recife. Rachel's Dad is lining us up to watch the local side Nautico play in their last league game of the season. I think we'll double check to see if their support are banned from entering before we set off, although I suspect Steve will have his finger on the pulse a bit more than I did.

(A small footnote to finish this tale. If you were an America RN supporter you were doubly gyped on Saturday. Not only were you not allowed in your own stadium, but you had no way to watch the game on TV either. The match was broadcast nationally but blocked in the home state of Rio Grande de Norte - the point being to discourage people from sitting in their beach huts watching the game on the box when they could be at the game live and in person. But, seeing as "watching live" was no longer an option, the genuine hardcore fans were caught between a rock and a hard place, between not watching it live and not watching it on TV. Well, at least they had the radio...).

Things I love about Brazil #5: If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air... On Sunday, as if to make up for the dissapointment of the football or lack of it, we all had a terrific day in Maracajau, a beach village further north. Rachel and Nelson went to the Ma Noa waterpark and Theo and I went snorkelling (see Ruth's last blog for details of the same expedition). After a glorious lunch Rachel and I decided to settle an old bet about sand dunes, and this is how it happened.

When we first visited Maracajau I spotted an inviting sand dune a short way off the road and suggested I would like to run up it in 10 minutes. Rach adamantly suggested that the distances were deceptive - the dune was miles away - and climbing sand was virtually impossible. In short, Rach reckoned I'd be lucky to do it in less than half an hour. Well, we found the sand dune in question, Theo was official arbitrator and time recorder and so off we went. I'm happy to report I scaled the sand dune in 8 minutes, with time to spare for Theo to take a few pics on the way up.

But actually, when we topped the peak of the sand dune we were greeted by a glorious vista of miles of Brazil's interior. In the other direction, the rich blue of the Atlantic ocean. With no soul for (what seemed like) miles around we ran like madmen over the lunar landscape. It was the most exhilirating, refreshing, dreamy, surreal thing. I was falling about with the reckless abandon of an 80s pop icon shooting a music video. It was therapy for the soul. The white sand was totally undisturbed, it looked like computer-generated snow. If you ever get the chance to take a few hours off to sit by yourself or with a pal in the middle of some sand dunes, go for it. All worries will float away. I think you'll only really grasp this if you actually do it once. Running on sand dunes. Definitely one of my favourite things about Brazil.

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