To be in Rio and not be seduced and lead by Tom Jobim’s tender crooning of Garota de Ipanema would be impossible. One free evening, from our hotel on Copacabana, Don and I hop a bus and shoot out to Ipanema beach, hoping certainly of spotting multitude of the alluring Ipanema garotas. Instead we are met with shoe shine boys harassing us every few minutes, little girls shoving chiclets in our hands and sub-teenagers pandering all sorts of little junk. Even when we sit at a beach front café, they brush by. A little boy goes from table to table,  placing two unshelled peanuts on every table, comes back after a few minutes to retrieve them, or if lucky someone would buy a paper cone full. A clever sales strategy. The whole scene is reminiscent of Chowpati beach in Mumbai.

So we submerge ourselves in things Brazil. But what spells Brazil better than its unbridled  passion for the Football? By then in 1979, already three World Cup championships under their belts, they would go on to win two more championships to the date. Have had our fill of feijoada and several kaipirinhas on Saturday, organized for us on Sunday is the football game. Playing today are the two arch rivals Botafogo and Flamengo, both of Rio de Janeiro. This isn’t an ordinary cross-town game. It’s the final game of the annual regional championship Campeonato Carrioca. The stadium is swarming like tidal waves of red and black and black and white colors representing the rival teams. The atmosphere is vibrant and the roar and the noise are sky splitting – a carnival incarnate of kicking the ball.

The general atmosphere is tenser than Chicago’s White Sox playing the deciding game against the Cubs in their annual six games series, Crosstown Classic. So we are in for some buoyant soccer treat. Our hosts have us delivered at the stadium and then unencumbered, disappear to spend the evening with their family and friends, watching the game on the TV in the comfort of their homes.  A smart move!

This is my very first live football game to watch. What can be a better place to be initiated in than Rio de Janeiro in Brazil? I am teamed up with Don (Stewart), Lee (Hall), Regis (Pagniez) and Laurent (Grumbach). We’ve got seats up front closer to the field with a perfect view. As we arrive, we hear a few hoots from up above, but none of us suspects as them being pointed towards us. We take it as no more than a part of the overall exuberance inherent to such games. But the assault begins in earnest at the half time when we stand up to stretch our legs. First come down the big blobs of fresh spits hitting us like targeted bird droppings. Then we are showered with the yellow gobs of phlegm and snot that smear my pants and the shirt. And then a plastic bag filled with piss hits Don’s shoulder and bounces off to the edge of a stair and splashes all over like the bursting of a punctured water balloon. We are confused and scared. Could it be because we looked foreign? Gringos? We look around and wonder, don’t notice anyone in particular, and the people sitting around us just shrug at us, and they are not being sympathetic at all. What the fuck? Don, Lee and Regis split immediately. Laurent and I dare stick around in the defiance to the attack. For whatever reason, the assault stops. We watch the game to the end and experience the jubilant spirit of bright and wide red and black strips of Flamengo floating in the bleachers – mostly across the arena on the other side, whereas the fans around where we sit with their black and white banners, hats and jerseys depart long faced and defeated. The scene reminds me of the two sides of a river story told frequently in India. The left bank is jubilant with music and laughs and dancing leading the bridegroom atop his prancing white horse while the mood on the right bank is somber with the funeral procession, the pall bearers carrying up above their heads the deceased body wrapped in white kafan, only the face showing. Laurent and I return to the hotel, with a feeling of humiliation still weighing heavy on our hearts. Not to mention how exhausted we are. But we still have the whole evening ahead of us.

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