I arrived in Belo Horizonte, Brazil at 1:13 pm local time on Tuesday in June, the summer of 2010. I chose June 15 as my arrival date, more or less, arbitrarily, but as it turned out, I arrived just 47 minutes before Brazil was schedule to make its first appearance in the 2010 World Cup tournament, hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa. Brazil had been placed in bracket G along with Cote D’Ivoire and Portugal, and was scheduled to face the final member of the bracket: North Korea.
I had arranged to stay with a friend of a friend–a family I had never met, but had been in contact with several times before my trip–and I was relieved to find Carol’s smiling face at the airport. We considered stopping for lunch on the way home, but remembering what day and time it was, we quickly realized that most restaurants would probably close down during the game. My head reeling from the 15-hour journey and from mentally scraping off the 2-year layer of rust on my Portuguese language skills, I was pleased to be heading to Carol’s house.
The ride home gave me the chance to get to know Carol better, as well as to re-learn the city. My last trip to Belo Horizonte had been in August 2008 in order to appear as a guest vocalist for the second studio album of friend and composer Robson Santos. [Robson released Límbico Trem in 2009 featuring my vocal work on four tracks.] The swift 10-day trip hadn’t allowed much time outside of the studio for exploring the CD, but I had remembered Robson mentioning that the state government in Belo Horizonte–the capital of Minas Gerais state–had decided to move their central offices out of centro and nearer to the airport. As we drove, I discovered Carol was an architect, and she pointed out the modernist architecture of Oscar Niemeyer in what is now referred to as Cidade Administrativa (Administrative City). Here is the Palácio dos Tiradentes:
This structure is architecturally fascinating to me. The central “box” hangs freely from the roof of the outer shell–could it sway in the breeze?–with the only visible entrance curling from the center of the glass box like a white ribbon. A striking building, I wondered how the average citizens interpreted this relocation of the physical reminders of the government’s presence from the Praça da Liberdade–a park located in the city center and a common gathering place for workers, families, lovers, tourists–to this remote site beside the highway that leads to Confins International Airport.
As we neared the western suburbs of the city, we noticed businesses starting to close their doors and traffic starting to slow us down. Futebol in Belo Horizonte, as in many places in Brazil, is treated much like a federal holiday, even if just for a few hours. Besides private businesses, lots of government offices closed up shop. Those that didn’t had a television going and workers and customers settled in for a pleasant break from the everyday. We passed cars decorated in green and yellow with green and yellow men, women and children cheering, chanting and honking the car horns.
Not everyone in Brazil loves futebol, just like not all Americans love baseball. But given the chance to gather with friends and family, many people are happy to love futebol for a few hours. I later met one friend, João, who took an entire week off from work to make sure he could watch the semi- and quarter-final games. When Brazil was ousted earlier than expected, João didn’t go back to work early, but found another team to support.
Carol and I arrived home a few minutes into the first half of the game. The neighborhood had quieted noticeably as we parked the car, aside from the occasional firework set off a few blocks away. Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais) are known for their hospitality, and, though I was greeted warmly, I had to smirk at the atypical brevity of it. I settled into the couch, accepting a beer and some pão de queijo and cheered Brazil’s 2-1 victory over North Korea, the first of many happy afternoons and mornings of watching great futebol and enjoying new friends.