City of Phlegm

October 3, 2008

Many visitors liken São Paulo to an organism, with its cinder and cement follicles and thick avenues pumping grit, labor and oil. They call it a city of indigestion. But I disagree with that metaphor, for its notion of specificity, of traceable limits. São Paulo is more like a metaphysical trick, a cinematic trick, in which all its images are strikingly similar and unmistakably unique. Its streets branch randomly –almost absurdly— in nervous patterns, so that the routes in between images, its guiding algorithms, coalesce in my mind as dreams do.

And what are the textures of such dreams? The dusty pallor of concrete laid flat against the grey-blue-yellow sky opaque like construction paper… the murky rivers soaking up tattered metallurgical hopes, chemical memories, the heavy consciences of industry… the hues of dilapidation, rotting tiles, human mold, and the sweat of modernization: the marbled shanty skins of the outskirts… the collage of cars, their European visages and monogamous colors, under languishing traffic lights, and delivery boys on cheap Japanese motor bikes weaving through automotive fabric, buzzing like infernal wasps… the facades of bakeries, shops, and boutiques arranged as delicate elements in a composition… I remember all these images and their subtitles, air sprayed on the margins of edifices, sometimes even speaking the language of commercials.

I remember the flux of people, day laborers, executives, children selling peanuts at intersections, young girls in shopping centers, old women browsing fruit markets, football games in courtyards, tumultuous bars and restaurants, and the over-arching dissonance of sighs and voices seeking respite… it was night, cool and crisp. I saw the trail of street lights curve down a hill like an elegant glowing necklace. I remember meeting a girl whose eyes were faded green like frozen grass and vibrant yellow like the bands of a yellow jacket. Her name was Patricia, every Wednesday she walked to an evangelical church to pick up a free basket of provisions for her two parents, four brothers, two sisters and three grandparents. I remember how my ears swelled, my eyes burned and reddened, and my throat inflated like a phlegmatic balloon.

Cannibals & Soccer Balls

August 16, 2008

Man is a product of history, many histories in fact
tugging at the corners.
I am succumbing to a history at this very moment,*
while watching a live Olympic soccer game, between Brazil and Cameroon.
We Brazilians don’t watch our national team because we hope them to win,
we watch them because we expect them to play well -that is to say:
queremos ver um futbol bonito -to play beautifully.
We become indignant with am ugly, malaccomplished victory,
and such expectation is a product of our history,
our Pele history, our generation of World Cups,
when the soccer game crystallized into moments of authentic grace,
small ballets with a ball, transcending mere display:
the triumphant perfection of the act of football as an aesthetic act.
Our history is a heavy burden for a football team,
when Brazil lost the World Cup to France and three goals,
we defined such an ugly loss as a conspiracy of sorts,
the machinations of capitalists… our players were drugged!!!
You may find us arrogant for such an attitude,
but what about the nation that names its basketball team the “dream team”,
as if their men were beyond history,
as if they were some conjured product, some Hollywood fantasy.
Then again, America wouldn’t take a day off for a world cup match.
Proud and drunk as we are, we aspire to our own history.
Our absurd nationalism is backed up by our absurd playing style:
Our aim isn’t to defend ourselves from football,
from the joy of it, the pass, the dribble…
Our aim is our history and our history is one of cannibalism
-that is, of appropriation.
At its best, our style is a kind of jazz:
the joy of the instrument, the ecstasy of the moment, the authenticity of the player
-that is, at its best.
Football is a human sport
and with our history we tend to become complacent with ourselves,
with our own technique, with our niches in Europe.
Our football team has never won an Olympic gold medal
-five world cups but no gold medals.
It’s true, not all of our famous players are on the Olympic squad,
most are under twenty-three,
but we’ve never cared that much for gold medals,
never cared beyond complacency.
Come to think about it,
FIFA has a good stake in our history

* – if I were a film, this statement would always be true