Favelas and Futebol at the Copa

Juliana Barbassa's book Dancing With the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink is a frustrating and fascinating tour of Brazil's most celebrated city . . . you journey from the beautiful but polluted beaches to the lucrative but labyrinthine real-estate system to the seediest of brothels-- "at a place called Vanessa's Bar, the prices were posted on the wall, starting at $15 dollars for 15 minutes of straight-up oral or vaginal sex with protection"-- Barbassa details the history of the favelas (made famous in the awesome film City of God) and the slow improvements, including the firefights between police and gangs -- especially the Red Command-- and the UPP, police units stationed inside the shanty towns . . . and the current dilemma: the ongoing battle between the residents of the favelas and the city, which is preparing for the 2016 Olympics and attempting to raze many of the shantytowns; the Olympic Park is moving out into the far western suburbs of the city and there are caimans on the golf course and terrible sanitation and sewage problems, but Brazil managed to get it together for the World Cup, and Barbassa has faith that they will figure this one out as well; her chapter on living on Brazil during the cup is fantastic, especially her description of the awful 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany; she sat with her relatives and cousins and watched "dumbfounded" as the players came forward; team captain David Luiz spoke for all of them when he said, "I'm sorry everyone, I just wanted to give my people something to be happy about," and that is the theme of the book: the Brazilians are an emotional society that wants to live in the moment and be happy, partying on the beach, drinking beer in the street, dancing in costume to the samba during Carnival, but they are also realizing that to take a major place on the world stage takes planning and foresight, and they are slowly, with lots of bumps and hiccups, learning to do that as well; the book is excellent and really makes you appreciate living in America, which may not be the most efficient, most environmentally pristine country, but it sure beats the byzantine corruption, pollution, and class stagnation that Brazil is trying to overcome . . . the book ends on a hopeful note, and I think all the world is rooting for Rio to get cleaned up and do a fantastic job hosting the Olympics (except, perhaps, for the Uruguayans, who still relish their upset victory over Brazil in the 1950 World Cup in Rio and are angry that no one ever considers them for hosting major world events).

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