Cross-posted from RT
It's high fever time in Sao Paulo. The Dutch are chilling in Ipanema, right in front of the beach. The Italians are in their own Riviera 100 kilometers from Rio.
The Germans are in a sprawling beach bunker along the coast were Brazil was "discovered" in 1500. The English team is visiting a favela this Monday. The whole country is slowly being draped in green and yellow. One hell of a party is about to begin.
And yet, all across the planet, the nagging question remains; will Brazilians set this World Cup -- literally -- on fire? Is this show worth over $11 billion? Well, that's actually a non-issue, picked up by those who don't know how football -- it's not "soccer," it's "football," as the English invented it -- is embedded in the Brazilian psyche.
Emerging from a bulletproof SUV into a trendy Japanese restaurant where she is greeted like Madonna, my good friend Barbara Gancia -- arguably Brazil's top social critic -- went for the jugular: "There will be protests until Neymar strikes the first goal. Everybody, no exceptions, will root for the national team. And then, even if Brazil wins the Cup, the protests will pick up again."
So far, the whole world also knows this has been a glorious mess -- a running soap opera featuring everything from corruption at the higher echelons of the FIFA racket to paramilitary police "pacifying" favelas in a Kiev-bombing-Slavyansk mode; from Adidas (joined at the hip with FIFA) and Sony pontificating about bribery to dodgy municipal, state and federal shenanigans where major profiteers have been large construction companies, the top among well-oiled Brazilian lobbies -- and yet another case of wealth trickling up, not down.
The mind-boggling complexity of how to concoct a flamboyant carnival out of a logistical nightmare is also typically Brazilian; like one of those nonsensical samba school "plots" displayed with plenty of glitter during Rio's carnival. At the same time, the legitimate questions won't go away; why privilege this FIFA-tailored, corporate sport consumption "experience" (or folly) -- instead of steady, long-term investments in health, education and public transport?
I ran a fascinating experiment last Thursday; I decided to go from the fringes of old, decrepit downtown Sao Paulo to the gleaming white, gloriously unfinished Itaquerao stadium -- where the Cup starts this Thursday -- only speaking English, impersonating a foreign fan. Oops, bad move. That was the day metro workers decided to start an "unlimited" strike.
Everyone I met was invariably helpful, if only via sign language. No metro, so I walked a lot, and ended up in a hellish open air bus terminal, only to be told I would need prodigious amounts of luck to (almost) reach the Itaquerao, and then keep walking. So this is what a Croatian this week or the vast English contingent when they play Uruguay should expect. A taxi is out of the question; drivers told me they plan to charge at least $100 one way on match days.
At the bus terminal I met an extraordinary character, Aden -- a bus company controller -- who, interrupted every few seconds by hordes of clueless humans looking for their buses, gave me a one-hour crash course on (non) urban mobility in Sao Paulo, stacked with corruption and negligence examples (I temporarily switched to Portuguese so we could have a conversation).
Finally I walked -- what else -- all the way back to downtown to board the only certified way to get to Itaquerao: the Cup Express train (the metro guys were unable to explain the trains were not on strike...) Well, I could always have pulled a Blatter -- as in FIFA's capo di tutti i capi Sepp the Slick Swiss -- who was granted by the Brazilian Air Force the right to breach at will, in his corporate helicopter, an aerial blockade to be set up during World Cup matches.
Sao Paulo, the Babylon of the southern hemisphere, is a Blade Runner-ish urban dystopia crisscrossed by 20 million people -- so a metro strike affecting at least 4.5 million of them is a big deal.
And it's all about peanuts. The 10,000-strong metro workers union wants a 16 percent pay rise. The state government is offering them 8 percent -- and it won't budge. This 8 percent does not even cover the costs of real inflation. Brazil may be on almost full employment at the moment -- Europeans and Americans would literally die for it -- but now GDP growth has stagnated, and inflation is rising, so hardcore tension is also rising.
This strike -- still ongoing, although declared "illegal" -- is part of a whirlwind of social movements across Brazil. The night before my quest to Itaquerao, 4,000 people affiliated with the Homeless Movement were carrying out their own protest near the stadium. That's Brazil in a nutshell; a brand new architecture marvel that could be in Germany side-by-side with an army of homeless people.