One of the joys of travelling for me is in understanding a nation's psyche, and here in Brazil I've witnessed a population boiling over with anger at the World Cup. Paulista socialites bitch about being scared to walk the streets at night, that Brazil doesn't know what it's doing and the transportation and infrastructure are poor. Favela dwellers lament at the state of public health (for the majority of Brasileiros, paying for adequate healthcare is a prescient concern), a minimum wage equivalent to £50 per week and that the transportation and infrastructure are poor. I haven't heard a single conversation about the World Cup without the word 'corruption' being spat amid the prickly opines.
Most pained and incensed are the capitalistas - residents of the 13 World Cup cities at the epicentres of their states, who sit in a picture perfect country that has sewage lapping its beaches, serious levels of crime and violence, widespread corruption and wildly substandard education and health. (The average school-leaver has received half the hours' education of their European counterparts). It's they who will be left staring at the Fitzgeraldian symbols of the shiny new stadia that nobody wanted or asked for - Brasilia, which has no state football team, had £900 million spent on theirs.
The populous is hissing that the most triumphant team in World Cup history won't succeed because the public isn't behind it: they don't want the World Cup. The deaths of the eight workers during the assembling of the arenas are overshadowed by the wider injustice perceived at spending £3.6 billion on some football stadia when 280 million people are living in a country with little functioning infrastructure. "It's what we call a work-related accident here," one friend shrugs, as if par for the course.
Everyone is up in arms except for the Cariocas. Because if the World Cup were the Hunger Games, Rio is the pre-selected surviving Tribute. Brazil can almost afford to mess up this week because it's guaranteed a lifeline to wipe the slate clean in Rio in 2016. No one is complaining about what's happening in Rio. The newly-pacified favelas have been cleaned up and are now achingly en vogue. Roads are being improved and the beaches sanitised. You still don't want to be flashing your Rolex around Copacabana at 2am, but the sun is undoubtedly rising on Brazil's golden city.
I was staying in the Jardims neighbourhood of Sao Paulo during the 2008 World Cup. As Cafu said his prayers in the changing rooms in Germany, the country's businesses locked down, roads became gridlocked, the sleazy crawl peppered by horn salutes. Fellow spectators in the hotel bar I was in, shades drawn, coffees stewing, dropped to their knees as Ronaldo scored. "Why would you want to live in this country?" One Paulista asked me. "Because the lifestyle is incredible." I replied. My new friend looked at me forebodingly. I now understand why. Brazil certainly has the glamour, the cool, the warmth and the excitement, but it's no place to be in a crisis. I have to agree with Charles de Gaulle on this one: "Brazil is not a serious country".
The mood is lightening as I finish writing this. Flags are being raised, the streets painted, flyers are circulating explaining where to catch the opening match. For the next four weeks, Brazil will forget its corruption, its injustices and its failings, just as it does during Carnival each year, to revel in the Bread and Circuses of the World Cup.Suggest a correction