Sunday, June 15, 2014

Side trip to Recife for Japan v. Ivory Coast

Opening ceremonies of the Japan v. Ivory Coast game
The first full day in Brazil was dedicated to going to the Mexico v. Ghana game.  And I cannot emphasize enough how great the Mexico fans are.  They're fun.  Loud.  Enthusiastic.  Helpful.  Despite the weather conditions, it was a great start to the World Cup part of the trip.

The second full day was dedicated to the drive to Recife for the second game of the four-game trip:  Japan v. Ivory Coast.  In fact, three of the first four days of the trip feature game attendance.  And, after that, only one game.

So let me tell you about Recife.  One of my favorite Swedish indie pop bands, The Mary Onettes, do a song where they filmed the video in Recife.  The song is called:  "The Evil Coast."

The Mary Onettes: Evil Coast

After getting soaking wet walking home from the previous night's Mexico v. Cameroon extravaganza, it made sense that the drive down to Recife would be in a rainstorm.  Only one wrong turn, in the kind-of-purulent city of João Pessoa, and we were in Olinda.  Google maps functioning as a GPS proved helpful in getting from the main highway (BR 101) to the Hotel 7 Colinas in Olinda, an old and interesting colonial town north of Recife.

View of the Hotel 7 Colinas from the parking lot
The hotel is best described as a compound up a hillside a few blocks inland from the ocean in Olinda.  It is walled off from the city proper and really has a colonial era feel.

View of the parking lot from the room
We were going to leave for the game at 8:00pm, two hours before "kick off," which we thought would give us plenty of time.  But, at 7:30pm, a young couple from Connecticut was talking about leaving right then and there.  So we grabbed our stuff.  Stuffed four of us in a cab.  (Fortunately, the couple, especially the girl, were petite.)  We headed off for Arena Pernambuco, which was placed like we did in the United States a few decades, way outside of the city in undeveloped suburban territory based on the hope it was spur development.

This meant the cab ride was long.  And the cab didn't even take us to Arena Pernambuco, as cabs are not allowed to do that.  Based on the hotel recommendation, we took a cab to the Recife metro stop "Rodoviária," where we took a metro train for one stop.  Which still was a long distance.  Then we caught a shuttle bus to take us to the stadium.  Did I say "to"?  I meant "near."  We got off the bus and did not see a stadium.

But we started walking in the same direction everyone else was walking.  Then finally:

Arena Pernambuco.  Somewhere on the same continent as the City of Recife
Arena Pernambuco!

Did I mention it was pouring rain.  Even though the forecast said 10 percent chance of rain.  I guess that's why 10 percent is a percentage greater than zero.  But the weather forecast did say zero percent chance of rain by 10:00pm, the scheduled start time.

Yes, that is a rather late scheduled start time.  But it was necessitated by this being the only day of the World Cup that required four separate game-start times.  And the home viewers in Japan probably appreciated it.

In the house.  And in the dark
We had seats under the overhanging roof.  The field and the expensive seats are exposed to the elements, but the cheap seats are protected.  I like redistribution of wealth when that's the form it takes.

The game started at 10:00pm and, sure enough, the rain had stopped.  Maybe this incessant drenching rain would finally end.

Opening ceremonies begin
Of course, by 10:15, the rain starting pouring again.  Well, they were right about the zero percent chance of rain right there at 10:00pm.  And at 10:00pm, the opening ceremonies were nice.  They brought the national flags of the competitors.  The rising sun flag of Japan, and the green white and orange stripes of Ireland.  Oh wait.  That's Ivory Coast.  Why they compete under the Irish flag I don't know.  (I'm joking.  I take national flags seriously.  The Ivory Coast and Irish flags are very similar.  Maybe the green and orange are reversed, but that's it.)

The atmosphere at these World Cup games is electric.  The constant pounding of the drums from the small Ivory Coast contingent really did add to the atmosphere.  And the Mexicans were in the house, loudly singing that "ay yi yi yi" song that was so thoroughly co-opted by American marketing in the 1960s so that I still to this day think of it as the Frito Bandito song.  So the party was there, even if the Japanese contingent was too reticent to have brought the party all by themselves.

The game itself was awesome.  Japan took the lead midway through the first half, on its only real shot on goal.  In the second half, Ivory Coast substituted into the game its super-duper-star Didier Drogba.*  It was a bolt of energy went through the Ivory Coast team, who then got two quick goals.  They held on to win 2-1.

Right before the closing whistle
The crowd was mostly Brazilian.  Few Japanese or Ivorian Coastians were in attendance.  And maybe it was the 10:00pm start time.  Or the downpour outside.  But I thought I was at Dodger Stadium, with so many people heading for the exits little more than halfway through a tight, competitive contest.

Ivory Coast looked great.  Japan is in trouble in the group.  We stayed until the end of a great game.  And the adventure began of trying to get back to the hotel in Olinda, reversing the convulated inward journey.

We did make it back to the hotel by 2:30am.  And it only took one-half hour in the pouring rain, at 1:30 or so in the morning, with visible gridlock on the road outside, to hail a cab at the Rodoviária metro stop.

"Down at the coast.  Down at the EVIL coast."

 * Why do I call Didier Drogba a "super-duper-star"?  Yes, I know he is in the twilight of his career, and cannot even play a full game anymore.  The man once single-handedly ended a civil war in hihs native Ivory Coast by demanding that the two sides meet with him and talk.  And no one -- neither rebels nor government -- wanted to cross Drogba.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a star.

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