Posts Tagged With: Shakespeare

Brazil’s winter of discontent…

 

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

An eerie calm has descended on the streets of Brazil – or at least my bit of it down here in sunny Porto Alegre. The World Cup may be a fast fading memory, but the scars haven’t quite healed. There is still a mood of bewilderment. The other day I met an elderly woman who doesn’t even follow football, and yet she told me she has the numbers 7 and 1 going around her brain like a curse (Brazil were hammered 7:1 by Germany in the semi-final). In Brazil, the number of the beast is no longer 666, but seven and one. Nowadays, no Brazilian would buy a car with 7 and 1 on the number plate, and you can bet no-one will gamble those numbers on the lottery.

But the war is over. Germany won and everyone has gone home. We all got patriotic for a few weeks and now we’re back to being global nobodies. We all imagined our blood was better than Johnny Foreigner’s blood and shouted it from the terraces, or from the safety of our living-room sofas. Global football tournaments are one of the only times when nations meet to do battle and the fans can put on their war paint and jump up and down like demented warriors. Of course, it’s not that long since real wars were commonplace. It’s only 500 years since the War of the Roses, for example, that glorious Yorkshire victory! Yes, the House of York (white rose) trampled the House of Lancaster (red rose) and I still have my white rose cufflinks to prove it.

Richard III had a few problems...he wasn't from Bradford

Richard III had a few problems…he wasn’t from Bradford

War or World Cup, men still love the chance to be macho and aggressive. But what happens when the fighting has stopped – what do men do when the war is over? According to Shakespeare, after the Wars of the Roses they started prettifying themselves to win invites into ladies’ chambers so they could try out their amorous talents. But not all men are made for love-making. If you are deformed and ugly, like Richard III, you cannot join in the passion and the poetry. Richard’s response was to avenge himself by killing all his rivals and crowning himself king. It was one way of dealing with his exclusion. But today, for us men who live in peaceful times, we can’t just pick up a sword and let fly: we have to be happy with the bedroom antics. It has led to what some people refer to as the “feminisation” of culture. Men are now more like women. So, the World Cup was a chance for us men to be tough guys again for a few weeks.

Yet more growth at what human cost?

Growth: the only solution in town?

But now Brazilians have more important things to consider. There is an election looming and the country is crying out for change. People are demanding more investment in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Like most economies, Brazil has taken a tumble and the “boom” years appear to be behind. What the politicians tell us is we need more “growth”. It’s funny. The solution always seems to be the same. The magic word is growth – all we need is more people spending and everything will be all right. Well, I agree with Professor Tim Jackson who, in his book Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet, says that every society clings to a myth: in ours it is the myth of economic growth. “The days of spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not care about are over”, says Tim. Or they should be.

Here is what all Brazilians should do: STOP. Stop for a few minutes every day. Turn off that stupid ‘Smart Phone’ and think. Reflect on your life. What are you doing with your precious time on earth? Do you just want to be richer and buy more stuff? Who are you when you are not at work? How much time do you have to grow as an individual? What are you doing for the planet?

I'm looking after Number One...that's me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

I’m looking after Number One…that’s me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

Most people will tell you that work and money are not so important for them: what comes first is the family. As if “the family” was the panacea for a perfect life. Well, I say STOP that as well! Stop thinking your family is more precious than mine, or any other. It’s another myth, I’m afraid. One that has been so successful ideologically that we dare not even question it. Believe me, it is not “natural” to dote on one’s family; it is “cultural” – and culture is always part of the broader economic system. The truth is that the “family unit” is a divisive little institution. Through our blind obsession with our own families we have simply stopped caring for anybody else in the wider community. Love stops at the front door of our house. It’s every family for itself – like every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Sad, but true.

No, my friends! Consumerism is a blind alley where you lose your soul. Increasing your buying power – the very thing everybody seems obsessed with – won’t make you any happier. What makes us happy is feeling good about ourselves, and we get that from generosity of spirit. Doing good things, helping others. Kindness.

Of course, in Yorkshire – under the shadow of the “glorious sun of York” – people don’t have a problem buying things they don’t need to impress somebody else. That’s because Yorkshire folk are notoriously tight-fisted. Let me put it this way, if a Yorkshireman owned Siberia, he wouldn’t give you as much as a snowball. I met a bloke from Leeds in Rio de Janeiro a few years back. I kid you not, he would walk a mile to save 5 centavos on a glass of beer. I went with him, of course. I had to.

"Eat all, sup all, and pay now't!" Stingy Yorkshire folk

“Eat all, sup all, and pay now’t!” Yorkshire folk hold on to their dosh

And another thing, Brazilians might still be suffering deep down, but at least their boys got to the semi-final. My army – the ones waving the flag of St George – were annihilated. England were atrocious. We lost twice and drew 0:0 with Costa Rica. What a shower! But at least I have plans for my huge England flag – I’m waiting for a fancy-dress party so I can go as Richard the Lionheart. On second thoughts, after looking in the mirror this morning, I’d better go as Richard III. “Now is the winter of my discontent…”

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Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

World Cup Brazil – three lions and a few white elephants…

 

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

One damp morning last week I was sitting on the rocky bus to college when suddenly my heart leapt: I spotted a picture in the local newspaper and a story about the Red Devils, coming to Brazil for the World Cup. Not Manchester United, but a group of ecstatic South Korean youngsters coming over here to support their national team. The photograph captures 120 excited, smiling faces, full of hope and expectation. It’s a far cry from the mood of many of my colleagues and students here in Porto Alegre. So why has the mood soured just before the greatest sports tournament on the planet? Why can’t Brazilians get behind the national team?

The Red Devils - 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Brazil

The Red Devils – 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Porto Alegre, Brazil

Well, the short answer is FIFA. The all-powerful football federation has had the Brazilian government in an arm-lock for the the last year, insisting its high standards are met. Sod the poor state schools and hospitals – get those stadiums finished and up-to-scratch, whatever the extra cost. So the government has forked out billions in tax-payers’ money to build a host of white elephants, just so FIFA executives don’t lose face (and the odd million in profits). Of course, having unfinished stadiums has had its funny side. One English ex-pat here in Porto Alegre, on seeing a Facebook picture of his mate’s England-Uruguay tickets bought back home posted a note: “I take it you’re coming a couple of weeks early to help build the stadium?”, and the mate posted back, “Of course – I’ve already packed a bag of cement in my suitcase!”.

It seems the 2014 World Cup will be remembered for the wrong reasons, particularly in Brazil. But in fact, they will be for the right reasons. Like the fact that World Cups are hideously expensive spectacles that do nothing for a country’s economy but everything for FIFA plc. These tournaments suck countries dry, leaving black holes in government coffers and stadiums that will never again be even half-full. One economic analyst has calculated that the total public spending on the tournament would be enough to pay Brazil’s annual social welfare bill – the Bolsa Familia – twice over. So Brazilians are torn: most of them believe the cup has done more harm than good for Brazil. And yet.

The newly refurbished Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre

The new look Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Wow!

When the boys in yellow take to the field and Brazil’s national anthem begins to play millions of stomachs will be aflutter and hairs will be standing up on the backs of necks in living rooms and bars across this vast expanse of a country. Perhaps there will be some tangible euphoria if Brazil keep winning their games. Perhaps people will be singing and dancing in the streets. Last year Brazil gave Spain, the current holders of the cup, a good trouncing, so the squad has a great chance of going all the way to the final. It’s going to be fun to watch, with 5 games happening in the newly-refurbished Beira Rio stadium, less than half-an-hour away from where I am writing this.

The Three Lions - "Come on England!" (and no penalties...)

The Three Lions – “Come on England!” (and no penalties…)

Trouble is, I can’t support Brazil. Not with body and soul. I love Brazil, but I am English through and through. If you cut me open I’m full of warm beer and Bird’s custard. So what am I to do? Paint a St George’s cross on my face and get behind the Three Lions, of course. The World Cup seems to make patriots of even the most liberal-minded people. I have often asked myself why I feel so strongly about the England football team. They are usually appalling to watch, the fans are mainly saddos and when the penalty shoot-out comes, it’s time to run for the exit. So why do I continue this madness?

 

My childhood...watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

My childhood…watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

Well, it’s love. A strange kind of love, but love nonetheless. It’s hard to describe, but I suppose it’s a love of childhood, hearth and home, the streets where I played tin-can-squat with my pals. It’s all my English travels and the wacky people I met on the journey. It’s old black and white photographs of Bradford buses. It’s Philip Larkin and Monty Python, The Rolling Stones and Al Read. It’s the rolling English drunkard and the rolling English road. It’s salt and vinegar and cheese and onion. It’s Shakespeare and J. B. Priestley and the English language. But it’s more than all that: it’s a kind of feeling you just can’t define in words. I don’t think most people know why they feel emotional about their nation. It’s a question nobody thinks to ask.

Half-time snack, anyone? Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

Half-time snack – Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

However, there is one big question I’d like to ask FIFA as this global extravaganza is about to kick off. What happens to the billions made through sponsorship and TV rights? I don’t mean to be churlish, but I think Brazilians and the rest of us watching this World Cup have a right to know.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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