Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Lost Samba – Chapter 7/1 – A Jewish boy in Rio

Part_11I was proud to be one of the chosen for the commando troop to capture the enemy’s flag. Our madrich’s, or instructor’s, plan was to cut through the bush and make a surprise raid to capture the blue team’s flag which stayed under a canopy in the centre of the football field down at the foot of the hill. This would be our tactic to win the simulated war and claim the trophy. To help us, another team would divert our enemy’s attention by staging an attack on the main road. Our group stealthily progressed, weaving our way through enemy lines. Whether through lack of commitment or carelessness, one by one my comrades fell prey to the blue team’s scouts, who “killed” them as they read out the numbers on their arm-tags. This ended up leaving me as the sole survivor. Now alone, I managed to hide and stayed waiting for the right opportunity to advance.

They were worried. “There is still one hidden in the bush,” shouted an enemy. “He’s there! I can see him!”

But he could not: as a decoy, I was throwing stones, just as I had seen in my favourite war television series, Combat. At one point, their feet passed a few centimetres from my eyes but I managed to creep silently away to the edge of the field, only a short run from the enemy’s flag.

As I waited, one of their number returned from our camp telling everyone that their attack was succeeding. The premature celebration was my opportunity and I went for it. When they noticed what was happening, a mob came running and caught up with me as I was a couple of meters away from the base. As soon as they could touch me, a storm of anonymous arms tried to throw me down and to “kill” me by taking my right hand off the tag around my left arm and reading my number out loud, but I only had two steps to pull them along with my weight and I made it.

I was such an oddball, half a gringo – unknown to most parents, from a different school and from the rich part of town – that no one knew how to react to such an unlikely victor. As for me, I felt as if there was no one to celebrate with.

The exercise was the closing event to a ten-day seminar-cum-holiday camp, or Machaneh, in a countryside resort with the Yiddish name “Kinderland”, organized by the Ichud Habonim, the Zionist organization to which I belonged. To be honest, the ultimate goal of this and the several other available “movements”, as the Jewish community called them, was to convince us that as adults we should move to Israel and serve its army. To do this, they tried to inject us with a strong dose of Jewish nationalism by lecturing on how the Jews – like any other nation – had the right to live in their own land without fearing pogroms, inquisitions, expulsions or holocausts. However, the success rate was low as most parents saw them just as a way of preserving their children’s Jewish identity and dreaded us leaving them, not least because of the possibility of being involved in a war. For us it was just about having fun and making friends, none of us saw the Machanehs as being part of a wider political project. Although no madrich ever brought up basic questions regarding the legitimacy of an exclusive Jewish state in that piece of land or of the fate of the Palestinian people, hate or racism were never on the agenda.


Combat TV series

Yes, I am a Jew, and all of my life I have felt in the flesh the contradictions, unexplained myths and pre-conceptions attached to perhaps the strangest people on Earth. It is still not clear if being Jewish means belonging to a nation or belonging to a religion. Regardless of the answer, the induction was a painful one: when I was ten days old, a bearded man in black clothes approached me with a sharp blade, sang something strange and then proceeded to cut off my foreskin without any anaesthetic. The rabbi blessed that snip which was to be my passport into an extended family that, according to the Bible, began some 4,000 years ago with someone called Abraham. The acceptance ceremony also meant that my penis was to look different to the ones of my football mates, that I was obliged to sit through religious services in a language that few in the congregation understood and that I was to observe holidays that none of my school friends observed while pretending to ignore their own holidays.

At home, my parents considered being Jewish good; their family and their friends too – after all, that is what we were. However, in the wider world, not everyone seemed to agree. When I was about five, I accidentally opened a big book about the Holocaust. I could not read but I could understand the pictures of religious Jews crying moments before the Nazis murdered them, of soldiers threatening children with machine guns, of skeletal people with expressionless faces in striped pyjamas behind barbed wire, and of piles of corps in mass graves. Their only crime was to have been as Jewish as I was. In the community, the experience was a recent wound, and it lived on in locked up internal repositories of pain. The grown-ups seldom spoke about their ordeals, we only knew about them by hear say though we could sense something deep and heavy through their unspoken fears and their mistrust of non-Jews.

On the other hand, in a Latin American country ruled by a dictatorship, Roman Catholicism was a strong presence in everyday life. Even in the sport so dear to my identity, the heroes of my team and of the national squad made the sign of the cross every time they scored while my favourite football commentators used a lot of religious exclamations. Apart from this, in every day life, Christian imagery and expressions came out in most conversations. At the British School, due to the Church of England link, things were slightly different. My friends both at school and at the club were mostly Protestant and, as the only Jewish boy who played with them, they considered me as somehow different from the stereotype Jew. This made them feel comfortable to tell me strange things they had learned at home about my people, comments that I could not agree with. Based on my personal experiences, I knew that we were neither stingy nor evil plotters bent on world dominance and I had never come across anyone drinking the blood of Christian children during Passover or, for that matter, at any other time of the year.

As boys do, I wanted to be part of the group, and although I pretended to accept what my friends said, in my heart I knew that there was something fundamentally wrong in my being forced to be a closet Jew. Living amongst the “goyim”, I felt an affinity with Moses growing up in the Pharaoh’s court and sometimes wondered where this was going to end. One issue that intrigued me was that my Christian friends had a human respect and a sense of brotherhood that I never found with my Jewish ones. It never crossed my mind that this goodwill derived from their religious commandment to love one another, neither did I know that this love could be selective and that one or two generations back this duty would never have encompassed “non-believers” such as me.

The one thing that I knew for sure, was that belonging to God’s “Chosen People” was strange. Membership of this select group had nothing to do with personal choice and being Jewish had too much weight in every aspect related to it. The very word “Jewish” would turn people away or produce smiles without any logical reason, depending on who heard it and who spoke it.


Vintage book about the Jews in Brazil

Jewish culture had flourished during the Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula. The Portuguese had only recently reclaimed their country to Christianity when they landed in the New World, which in many ways made Brazil have close connections with my tribe. The Portuguese kings adopted a brand of Catholicism emphasising the Holy Spirit, preaching paradise on Earth through the universal understanding among men, they saw people beyond their beliefs and therefore turned a blind eye towards infidels. Their system of belief was far less dogmatic than the one of their Spanish rivals, and ended up producing a more accepting and a far less ruthless spirit, at least in relation to Jews. When the Vatican tightened its control over the Christian world and forced the Portuguese monarchy to fall in line and to turn up the pressure, they went to great pains to convince Jews to convert. Many of them did, but maintained Jewish rituals in private while outwardly accepting Catholicism. A large number of these “New Christians” found refuge in the tropics. Many of today’s most common Brazilian surnames referring to trees, metals and animals, such as “Silva”, “Leitão” (piglet), “Figueiredo” (fig orchard), “Pereira” (pear tree), “Nogueira” (walnut tree) and so many others descend from them.

Dad and his friends were part of the most recent wave of immigrants of the Jewish faith to arrive in Brazil. They came because of the war and most considered themselves as temporary residents who were waiting for a United States residency permit. The ones who decided to remain in Brazil were part of just another group of people flocking in. Japanese, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Germans and Lebanese also arrived seeking a share of Brazil’s newfound prosperity. The long haired, reinforced concrete Jew blessing Rio from a vantage point in the Tijuca forest welcomed his patricians and all the other foreigners with open arms.

For most cariocas, our people were a welcome novelty. Behind the wall of prejudice, they discovered thinkers who carried with them sophisticated and cosmopolitan European cultural baggages. In business, most people recognized Jews – or the majority of them – for their strong working ethos and high moral standards. In general, they passed unnoticed in a society defined by its ethnic and racial diversity and many rose to positions of prominence. This was to be the case for my cousin, Bibi Vogel, for the Israeli born actress, Dina Sfat, for the writer, Clarisse Lispector, for the mega-popular television presenter and media mogul, Silvio Santos, for the tropicalista poet, thinker and composer, Jorge Mautner, and for the humorist, Bussunda, to name but a few.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Fishermen of Copacabana beach

Fishermen in Copacabana

Lost Samba – Chapter 06/03 – The heyday of the Maracanã.


Photo by Bernardo Mello Franco

Rio de Janeiro became the undisputed capital of world football. Needless to say, the players of the national squad became super-heroes for kids of my generation, and playing football was an absolute must for all of us. Supporting a team was also an essential part of the package. I opted for Botafogo, because it was the neighbourhood where I was born and because of its cool emblem: a five-pointed, white star on a black shield resembling Captain America’s. My team was among Rio’s “big four”, competing alongside Flamengo – the team of the masses, Fluminense – the team of the rich, and Vasco – the team of the Portuguese community and their descendants. Botafogo was the odd one out and attracted those who somehow did not fit in any firm social category. The opposition would say that this was the team for the weirdos.

If only for a moment, football produced the magic spell that every totalitarian government longs for: it brought people together as equals. For me this worked; football was the best way to fit into a country that was completely alien to my parents and I took on this mission with absolute conviction. Whenever I could, I would stay in my room following the football championships on the radio, which was altogether far more fun than anything else that went on within the confines of our apartment. Radio Globo’s presenters were funny, clever, eccentric and over the top. When a player managed a great trick, the commentators, Jorge Curi and Waldir Amaral, went wild; when a player scored, they became orgasmic. Mario Vianna, the comentator for the referee’s decisions, would shout “Errou!!!” for mistakes, “La mano!!!, Cadê o echo?? La mano ôo ôo ôo!!!” for an apparent handball, “Banheiiiiira!!!” – Bathtub!!! – for an offside, and, on for penalties, he would make a solemn comment before offering his verdict: “Penalidade maxima”. After a match, it was time for João Saldanha. His considered, hour-long post-match analysis employed allegories of known and made-up folk tales, involving metaphors such as giraffes dating monkeys and elephants marrying ants. He was never boring..


Rio’s four big teams

These characters made mini transistor radios an essential gadget for football fans who, even in the Maracanã, held them closely to their ears. During important matches, there were so many that, providing there was a silent moment, all the fans could hear the station’s jingle echo loudly throughout the stadium.

With Brazil’s heightened international status, the two tournaments that the carioca teams participated in – the state’s one in the first half of the year, and the national one in the second half of the year – acquired a special flavour. Rio’s league was only rivalled by São Paulo’s and, as the commentators Waldir Amaral and Jorge Curi liked to say, here was the three-times world champion football being played at the biggest – and greatest – venue on the planet. I was dying to watch a match in the Maracanã. All the other boys who I knew had already gone – or at least they claimed that they had – and I badly needed the kudos. As ever, the obstacle was Mum and Dad’s irritating attitude of “What I don’t know, I don’t like”. Coming from Britain, for them football was for the working class and for the local riff-raff. Going to a stadium and mixing with those types would somehow be a blot on their social position.

My fate changed on the day that Peter, one of Dad’s friends, offered to take me to a match together with his two sons. He was the adventurer of my parents’ social circles: he had crossed Latin America in an old jeep, he smoked, he was toned and suntanned and spoke English with an American accent.

Peter and his two sons, Rob and Tony, came to pick me up in their jeep early on a Sunday afternoon. They were older and supported Fluminense – which was not ideal for a Botagoguense – but the game was against Flamengo, everyone’s arch-rival. This would make it OK to shout “Nense!!! Nense!!! Nense!!!” instead of “Fogo!!! Fogo!!! Fogo!!!”. At first I felt uncomfortable in the car, the two older boys kept on talking about electronics, mechanics and other subjects that were alien to my existence. However, the further we travelled, the more apparent it became that all the traffic was heading to the stadium and I forgot the feeling of being left out. The other cars were filled with Flamengo or Fluminense supporters who would make fun or cheer each other from the car windows. Surely their radio sets were tuned into the same station as us, we were one of the guys!

We arrived about one hour before kick-off time. While Peter negotiated the parking fee with a car “minder” – who would, of course, not be there when we came back, I stepped out to look around. The atmosphere was frantic: people, very few of them from the Zona Sul, were heading towards the stadium. The Maracanã was at least three blocks away but even so, it looked colossal; the batucadas and the cheering coming from inside were loud, and appeared to be attracting the crowd like a butcher’s light attracts flies.

Seat reservations were unheard of – everyone had to queue at ticket booths. Rusty bars separated the ticket vendors from the public and while we waited for our turn, beggars and drunkards came to bother us. Further away, improvised stand owners shouted their lungs out trying to sell their stock of flags, mats to sit on and team shirts to the fans rushing by. After getting our admission, the next step was to make our way into the stadium. This was no simple matter. There were only two gates for our tickets, one on either side of the Maracanã. The mass gathered in front of them and funnelled in like sand passing through an egg timer. The mood was tense and filled with testosterone; this was not a place for women, children or the elderly. Amidst the pushing crowd, I clung to Peter’s eldest son’s shirt and had to be careful not to fall down and risk having hundreds of anxious feet trampling me.

The turnstiles were a surreal oasis of peace separating the madness outside the stadium from the one inside it. Before passing through the turnstiles, frail middle age clerks, guarded by fearsome-looking bouncers, carefully inspected the tickets one by one. Those without a legitimate one – or those trying to sneak in without any – had to choose between turning back and pushing their way through the on-coming mob or being escorted to the police station. I could tell that the inspectors had little patience and no sympathy, as one of them was yelling at one of those trying to smuggle themselves in “Who cares if you have no money!? For f..ck sake! Decide fast! Can’t you see the people behind you?”

When our turn came, the grey haired mulato in glasses examined our admissions, tore the thin blue papers, threw his half in a bin and loosened the turnstile to allow us in. We regrouped and ran with the crowd up the wide ramp that lead to the upper ring. Police officers with ferocious dogs grabbed hold of drunkards and people carrying dangerous objects. At the end of the ramp, the fans separated according to their team loyalties and there were no further risks of fights breaking out between rival supporters. We followed the Fluminense fans and took the left corridor, rushed past the toilet doors and the half-empty bars, the mixture of urine and spilled beer producing a sickening smell. There were entrances every thirty meters, and Peter had to decide quickly which one to choose.

He pushed us into one of the narrow corridors where shadows obscured the light at the far end. We ran up feeling the immense energy emanate from the crowd. When we finally entered into the arena, I was in awe: the stadium was gigantic – I could well-understand how it could take a hundred and sixty thousand spectators. Down below, encircled by the oval construction dressed with all the paraphernalia necessary for the spectacle, with advertising and fan’s banners hanging from the balconies, was the green and impeccably maintained football field that captured the dreams of an entire nation.
In the crowd, the areas around the supporters’ associations were the most fun. Those were the places where the most fanatic fans stood, where the batucadas happened and from where all the booing and the cheering originated. When one of them started, moments later – as in a chemical reaction –tens of thousands of people would be shouting out the same message. The problem was that it was also there where most of the fighting broke out. That was a bad choice for Peter to take three children and, perhaps wisely, he ushered us to the boring neutral zone between the two sides.

As we found a place for four people, there was a preliminary match going on between the juniors from both clubs. Although everyone was more concerned about the main event, there were cheers and the tempo of the drums went up when one of the future professionals scored. Also, things went silent when one of them was about to take a penalty. When the match finished, the stadium woke up. It was already completely full, and supporters began waving their super-sized flags, releasing balloons with their teams’ colours and setting off firecrackers. The samba and the chanting and counter-chanting also heated up. Down on the field, photographers with several cameras and long lenses hanging on their necks, and reporters with oversized microphones and headphones, ran to take their positions behind the goal posts. The uniformed gandulas, or ballboys, sat around the field while policemen with dark glasses and German Shepherd dogs patrolled the aisles and periphery of the field. Now only the players were missing.

The fans sang the same rude tunes that we taught each other at school and threw crushed empty paper cups onto the heads below. The worst thing I remember seeing were guys peeing down onto the lower stands where the poorer fans went. They called that section the geral; it was the cheapest place in the stadium and was certainly a place to avoid. The spectators there watched the game standing up with their field of vision at the same level as the player’s feet amidst gang fights that broke out regularly.

A friend told me the story of a reporter who was in one of the press cabins that hung over the geral. In order to amuse himself, the reporter started shouting out obscenities at them, in the middle of his rant his false teeth fell out and landed on the ground right below him. Despite his pleadings, they trampled his teeth as soon as they hit the floor.


A surprisingly monotone and formal voice sounded out of the loudspeakers announcing the match and reading out the players’ names. The electronic panel was turned on and began to display the “Flamengo 0 and Fluminense 0” score line.
Because it was the team of the white social elite, Fluminense’s symbol was rice flour. In preparation for the team’s entrance, members of its torcida, or fans association, walked around with buckets full of sachets of the stuff, distributing them like farmers throwing feed to animals. As soon as Fluminense came onto the field, the fans opened the sachets and threw the powder up into the air creating a thick, white cloud. When the air cleared, it looked as if the supporters had just come out of a dust storm.

Flamengo’s torcida was bigger than Fluminense’s, covering almost two-thirds of the stadium. The club’s symbol was a vulture due to its colours: red and black. For every match, supporters brought in a real vulture – the tradition was to attach a flag to its feet and release the bird as the players came onto the field. If their mascot flew out of the stadium, they considered this a good omen. At this particular game, the confused creature ran the risk of changing colour because of the cloud of rice powder, and of being mistaken for a white eagle when it returned to its nest.

The two teams walked onto the field together, the referee with his auxiliaries opened their way and the teams’ young mascots came right after. They were free to run around after their squads posed for the press photographers. The next morning those images would be on the back pages of every newspaper in the city and whoever had been in the stadium would feel as if they had taken part of a major event. As the players warmed up reporters ran around the stars in the field trying to get them to comment on the stories they had been working on; now we could actually recognise the owners of the voices that we had been following since we left home.

Once the field was clear, the referee called the two captains to the centre of the pitch to choose who would kick-off the match and on which ends of the field the teams would start. The players took their positions, the referee whistled, and a celebrity player gave the first pass. The match had begun and the tension grew higher. Some of the players had been world champions in Mexico and the fans could recognize them from their haircuts, the numbers on their shirts and their style of play. When they did something wrong, people criticised them loudly as if they knew them personally. When attackers were close to scoring, everyone stood up, and when the opposition did something threatening, they kept silent while the opposing fans cheered. In the second half, Fluminense scored and although I did not support them, I could not contain myself and went crazy as if I was one of them.

Back then, Brazilian clubs did not sell their stars abroad and television was still in its infancy. Our football heroes did not have agents planning golden careers for them in European leagues. Instead, horizons began and ended with the state and national leagues and, for the very best, selection to the national team. They played for the torcida and did what they could every Sunday afternoon to confirm their status as craques, or football idols, not for television viewers or for foreign scouts, but for those present at the stadiums. Therefore, the there and then that was crucial, and this made the quality of those games not just world class, but the best in the world. The Maracanã of that era holds special memories for Rio’s football fans, rather as Woodstock does for rock lovers. There were moments of absolute magic, unforgettable goals, tricks and plays, and outlandish crowd deliria. As in the colliseum in Rome, the aura in those matches is an unrepeatable phenomenon.

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Eike Batista: The Symptom or the Cause?

No Se Mancha

James Stranko, Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative and author of Avenida America on the looming collapse of Brazil’s financial super model.

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Your Photographer on Vacation – Images from Brazil

Cool pictures of Brazil

priscilla ouverney

No, I am not on vacation anymore! I just want to share a few of so many photos I did in this beautiful, but full of contrasts country that is Brazil!


Mico, Atlantic Forest, Rio de Janeiro.


Praia do Françês, Alagoas. Under low tide.


Falésias (clifs), Praia do Gunga, Alagoas


Praia do Gunga, Alagoas


Praia do Gunga, Alagoas. Natural spring water on the left side of the photo.


São Francisco River, between Alagoas and Sergipe. More information about this important river on the northeast of Brasil here.


São Francisco River, between Alagoas and Sergipe. More information about this important river on the northeast of Brasil here.


View of São Francisco River, Piaçabuçu, Alagoas.


São Francisco River, between Alagoas and Sergipe.


Houses made in mud between Maceió and Maragogi, Alagoas. On the door we read: “Many follow me, but only God accompany me” and on the small sign on the right…

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Lost Samba – Chapter 06/02 – Brazil’s football triumph in 1970

Part09The first game of the 1970 tournament was between the Soviet Union and Mexico, which my family watched in Paulo’s flat. To my relief we had a place to see the games. Despite being a dedicated left-winger, Paulo belonged to the twentieth century and owned a television set, despite the fascist propaganda, as he saw it, that set continuously spewed out. The fans dismissed both these teams as minor football potentates and we were only interested in the opening ceremony. From our vantage point, however, the situation was a bit different: Paulo was supporting the team with the inscription “CCCP” – the USSR – on their tops. The presenter called the team “Russia”, mentioning them as little as possible, which provoked a few grunts from our friendly-faced host.

Brazil played its first game a couple of days later. It was at night and on a weekday, too late and too awkward to watch at Paulo’s place. However, my parents allowed me to listen to it on the radio during dinner, ignoring my sister’s protestations. To the shock of Brazilians throughout the land, Czechoslovakia scored the first goal. The commentator’s dry words fell as a knife into the nation’s chest and outside there was a silence as though the end of the world had arrived. Sarah made the mistake of laughing at my anguish so I hurled a chicken thigh at her face and Dad sent me to my room. At least there, I could hear the game with no interruptions. Soon after, to everyone’s relief, Brazil scored and went on to win by four to one.

The next game had a greater significance to my family. Brazil’s adversary was England, the reigning world champion, and everybody kept asking my parents where they stood. Whom were they supporting? What would the result be? What did they think of the English players? How did Pelé compare to Bobby Charlton? Although neither of my parents knew any of the answers and in truth were wholly disdainful of football, there were enough reasons for us all to watch it. The Brazilians were about to challenge the British pose of world champions. Moreover, by coincidence, the referee was going to be the Israeli Avraham Klein: our surname!

The awaited game was on a sunny Sunday afternoon. From the early hours the bangs from occasional firecrackers were like church bells reminding Rio de Janeiro that this was a special day. Since I had woken up, Radio Globo, my indispensable source of football-related news, had been busy stirring-up the excitement. On the days that the national team played, Radio Globo suspended its regular schedule of programmes. The presenters spoke about nothing else and every now and then they interrupted whatever they were saying for live broadcasts of reporters who had managed to grab a piece of news from Mexico.

As usual, we went to the Paissandú Club at around 10 am. Caught up in the atmosphere, I put on my canary yellow shirt and, as the car emerged from the garage, I opened the car window and waved my giant yellow and green flag that I’d tied to a broomstick. Whenever we passed someone with the same shirt, I shook my fists outside the car and shouted out, “Brasil!!!”, and the responses echoed back with the same euphoria.

Arriving at the club, to my shock I immediately noticed perhaps the only Union Jack flag to be flying anywhere in Rio de Janeiro. It was hanging from a palm tree above a group of pale, middle-aged men drinking whiskey at the poolside. The other boys, the service staff, and I mumbled to each other comments questioning those Brits’ masculinity as well as the virtues of their mothers.

Some of us interrupted listening to the radio to take a dip in the pool, but did not stay long in the water. Instead, we massed around the lifeguard’s radio like a swarm of bees, falling silent whenever a reporter managed to interview one of our players. Around lunchtime, the increase in the number of fireworks going off across the city indicated that kick-off time was approaching. Television started transmitting live from Guadalajara and the streets emptied.

In order to catch the beginning of the game, we had an early lunch in the club’s restaurant. On our way to Paulo’s flat, we passed crowds of people gathering in front of the windows of electrical goods shops to watch the game on the TV sets that they had left on for the occasion. Almost all of these spectators held tightly a mini-transistor radio to their ears, much as people attach themselves to mobile phones today. I managed to convince mum to put the car radio on to Radio Globo so that I could hear what João Saldanha, now a commentator, was saying about the imminent game. As his slow and deep voice came on, I forgot the flag and concentrated on every word every word he said.

Paulo lived in a modest flat in front of our butcher and next to the bus stop on Avenida Barata Ribeiro. We arrived ten minutes before the game. The television was already on and we settled down in time to watch the players entering the stadium, stand in line and sing the national anthem. Soon after, the referee blew the whistle and the game started. The names of players who would soon belong to the world’s football pantheon resonated in the nervous silence: “Jair to Pelé, Pelé with the ball, to Tostão…. Gerson…. to Rivelino”. In Copacabana, every citizen was performing his or her duty of supporting their national team. The game shut out the rest of the world. The streets were completely empty: shops, police stations, hospitals, fire stations – everything was closed. If you were to have a heart attack, if your flat was to catch fire or if you were about to give birth, it was just your tough luck!

The beginning was somewhat nervous and boring. Zagallo used the tactic of holding his team back in the first half to then try to liquidate the adversary in the second half, trusting in his players’ greater fitness and in their natural Brazilian flair. However, nothing was guaranteed. Everyone was tense and the opposition was tough. In the second half, the heat had taken its toll on the English team and exhaustion was setting in. Their goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, was doing miracles to keep the match scoreless. We could sense that Brazil was about to mark a goal – it was simply a question of when and not if, but the wait was agonising. The excitement drew in even Dad and Paulo, and by now they were silent and fully concentrated. When the Brazilian attack finally broke through the English defence and Jairzinho scored, no Brazilian could contain his or her emotions and there were primeval screams in every home.

Of course I went berserk to the amusement of the adults – everyone in the room but me. We could hear the madness outside but the atmosphere in Paulo’s flat was very different. Mum was not supporting Brazil and despite her being in her fifties, she was the youngest grown up in the room.  As soon as the game was over and the television transmissions returned to the studios in Rio de Janeiro, they all went back to serious topics – mainly Israel. I took advantage of having the TV entirely for myself, picked up the bowl of cookies, took a coke out of the fridge and switched over to Tarzan.  My parents stayed waiting for the “savages”, whose shows of excitement had boiled over into the streets, to calm down before going home. As Brazil progressed through the tournament, celebrations lasted longer and the samba became wilder.

In the Cup final, Brazil beat Italy four to one, in one of the most famous games in football history. The campaign ended with Pelé setting up Carlos Alberto for a cinematographic shot from outside the goal area into the back of the Italian net.  That convincing triggered a national catharsis that allowed the whole country to temporarily set aside its political differences and social problems. As this was the country’s third World Cup, the Jules Rimmet Cup came to Brazil for good, which sealed the glory. The victory also meant a success for the military’s PR machine. The relentless propaganda was successful in tying the regime’s image to that triumph and in injecting the country with nationalistic fervour. Now the regime felt legitimized to tighten their political grip on Brazil.

No one noticed that this was the way that the golden days of Copacabana found to say goodbye in a grandiose fashion. Within a few years, the beach side neighbourhood’s glamour would fade. People from alien social circles would replace the elite of Rio de Janeiro in its Hollywood style buildings. The upper class would move to the neighbouring up-market areas of Ipanema and Leblon, and even further south to São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca. Meanwhile, at night, the Avenida Atlantica would become the world’s biggest open-air brothel.

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Celebrations in Copacabana for the 1970’s Word Cup Championship.

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