Julio Jesus sells marijuana on the breathtaking Porto da Barra beachfront, his open-air office. His bare chest is plastered with tattoos, one of them advertising his wares. It’s got three marijuana leaves nailed to a cross. “Herb my god. It put food on my children…,” he says, trailing off to draw out a circular plate with two index fingers. “But today I think they go hungry.” Why, I ask. “Copa do Mundo bad for business. Selecao make all of Brasil high. Very high.” And they do it for free.
Between four and six on Tuesday evening, Brazil’s second group game against Mexico, a little over 200,000 potential customers walked right past Jesus and on to the FIFA sanctioned fan-mile in Porto da Barra. Only a handful, about 40 he claims, stopped to slip his plastic wrappings into their pockets. The rest — all 199,960 — marched right past and on to what could perhaps be the biggest drug-free party in the world.
Framed between a baroque church and a 17th century Portuguese fort, the magnificent Porto da Barra gives new meaning to the word quaint. It was this shore, incidentally, that attracted the first set of colonisers, making Salvador the oldest city in Brazil. But today, quaint Barra is a different animal.
Three larger-than-large screens are stapled to its heart. And a quarter-of-a-million football fans behave like lunatics around it. There may be no drugs, but there’s plenty of cerveja. And beer sure adds to the lunacy.
Every 10 metres or so on a seven kilometre stretch, a local lady sits with a thermocol basket the size of your washing machine, stuffed almost to the brim with beer cans and ice cubes. Each lady quotes a different selling price, but the standard rate is ‘quatro parra dois’ or four cans for R$ 10. I offer a R$ 100 note. Thrilled, the cerveja-lady throws in 10 extra tins to make it a round fifty. My thirsty company will be pleased, I think. They were. The cans are drained out even before the screens spark to life.
We move as one, all 200,000 of us, as the satellite beams images live from Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza. A mother of four, standing with her litter not far from our herd, holds up a banner in English. It reads: “Neymar I want to have your babies.” She perhaps changes her mind when the cameras catch him descending the bus with half his head bleached blond. Javier, the Mexican in our group, cannot stifle a laugh. But his Brazilian girlfriend stares him down. I can see it coming: for the rest of the evening Javier is going to be quiet as a mouse.
A Mexican wave in ocean
Only, he isn’t. And neither are the rest of his countrymen — a few odd thousand, just a sprinkle in this fest’s ocean. They hold their own during the anthems, just as their side, El Tri, soon do in play. But before that, seconds before kick-off, two Rastafari men with microphones clutched in their hands climb atop large boomboxes, placed a short distance from each other. Facing the crowd, they announce that they will be our commentators for the day.
Together they mike-test. “Um-dois-tres,” says one in loop, keeping it conventional. “Goooooooooooooooool! Brasil! Gooooooooooool” yelps the dreadlocked brother above us, keeping it Brazilian. The Rastafari seems to emit those cool, easygoing vibes that you associate with Rastafarians. Reggae, in short. Then the match begins. Now he’s cool no more.
Angry, he’s cursing, spitting and rapping faster than Dr Dre. Little makes him happy, until the earth below him shakes when Oscar releases Fred into Mexico’s box and the finish crashes against the net. “Goooooooooooooool!” he takes off once more, with eyes closed. And then he opens those lids to realise that it was just the side-netting that rattled.
The chance of the day, however, belongs to Neymar. One-on-one with Mexico’s goalie Guillermo Ochoa, Brazil’s number nine winds up his right leg to break the deadlock. It should’ve, would’ve, could’ve been broken, had an airborne Ochoa not palmed it away at the fullest of stretches. “If Higuita (the legendary Colombian goalie) was the Scorpion, then Ochoa is Superman,” says the Rastafari. “Correct,” adds Javier. “Only Superman can hold back a comet.”
Ochoa holds back a lot more than a comet. He stops all of Brazil itself.
It ends 0-0, only the first time since 1978 that the Selecao didn’t score in a group game. Match over, many walk towards the waterline to catch the sinking red disc in the sky (Porto da Barra is one of the only beaches in Brazil’s 8000 km coastline to face westward, making it sunset friendly), while the rest of us head back homeward.
Behind the church walls, I notice that Julio Jesus is doing raging business once again. When Selecao disappoints, Jesus saves, apparently. His children won’t go hungry tonight.