If in Summer 2014, during the World Cup, someone, anyone had told me I would see Brazil play live three times within the next 9 months I'd probably have thought he - or me - had had too many Caipirinhas.
Yet, here I was, at the Emirates on Sunday March 29 2015 with my youngest daughter beside me, both of us yelling ourselves hoarse with "Brazil! Brazil!"
How did this come to pass?
First of all - I couldn't have done it without Denny's help, probably. So, here's, once again, a deep and thankful bow to my acquaintance Dennis Woods, fellow victim to the incurable but seldom fatal sickness of Brazilianitis who had made sure we, me and two of my daughters, could spend an amazing weekend in and out of London.
We flew in on Sunday morning with Ryanair from Frankfurt/Hahn, which isn't even remotely Frankfurt. In fact it IS remote from Frankfurt, almost 200 km. but an airport by another name is still an airport and while Lufthansa passengers at Frankfurt/International are strolling through air-conditioned halls, sipping wine, never getting a drop of rain on their suits, Ryanair passengers are huddling in dilapidated halls, being ushered from one queue into the next never exactly knowing what they're queuing for and finally hustling through the rain across an airfield looking for the right plane like they would at a bus-stop.
Having gotten up at 3 a.m. (2 a.m. really, since daylight-saving started that night) we arrived in England bleary eyed but determined to make the best of it. At least I was. My daughters were content to let me be determined to make the best of it and stuck to a less determined but more thruthful state of tiredness and bad temper. They both had a "Why did I ever consent to do this?" clearly written on their foreheads once or twice.
Still, providence is in charge for me and Brazil. I went to see them play in Vienna and it was superb. I went so see them play in Paris only the other day and it was divine. I was going to see them play in London and it was going to be smashing. Watch me!
No trains from Stansted Airport? So, what! A bus is a fully equipped vehicle to transport people to London and once at Liverpool Street the smell of adventure wafted even through the drowsiness my daughters had succumbed to.
Liverpool Street. The magic that name evokes. Back in the good old days, when we had less than one smartphone each, dreams were found on DVDs and one of the most powerful of them was Les Miserables. The slightly different musical! The book that would capture me and my oldest daughter for hours! The reason we went to London five times, five solid times! to see it on stage at the Queen's theatre and haunt the stage door afterwards to talk to the actors. And each of these trips had started at Liverpool Street.
At the McDonalds, to be precise.
So that's where we went this time, too, and thanks be to God who doubtless is Brazilian still and was sitting on His favorite cloud decked with things in yellow and green that day, McDonalds was open (it was Sunday, after all! Palmsunday!) and we had our breakfast after having been awake for about six hours, already.
In front of the McDonalds and before breakfast we said Hallo to the monument for the Jewish children sent to England to save their lives during the III. Reich.
Franziska had done a school report on that subject years ago, actually spoken to one of this children, now well in his eighties, and received praise and top grades for it. It was good to see the monument still there.
Tickets, trains - all were in our favour and we arrived at the hotel Denny had recommend to us in a considerably well shape and state. That it was all in purple - carpets, logo, cards, you name it - was soothing, somehow. Here is a business with a sense of corporate identity.
Stefanie, who hadn't slept a wink the previous night, decided to stay at the hotel and catch up with sleep. Her younger sister Rebekka and I met with Denny, though, and set out to do what we had primarily come for: to see Brazil play!
I had never been to an English football stadium before and I'm glad it was the Emirates I saw first. I might have preferred Anfield Road, but this will have to be a totally different story.
I come from Mainz 05, a quaint, little club in Germany, around tenth in First Bundesliga most of the time, with history going back more than a hundred years but a stadium so new and shiny it really resembles the furniture-shop it's often compared to. Tradition at "Stadion am Europakreisel" is still in the making.
Not so at the Emirates. Here, tradition lurkes in every corner, gleams in bronze from the pavement, seeps into my skin from every nook and cranny I pass by. Walking around the stadium I'm very much aware I'm at the birthplace of football.
Of course, providence couldn't resist a little joke. While Rebekka and I walked in with the season tickets Denny had procured for us, he himself was denied entrance AGAIN. What was wrong with his ticket and how he finally managed to get in, we couldn't pick up in that moment, because iron bars fell between us and all I could hear was his intent shout "Don't lose the tickets". As if we would!
Rebekka and I decided to worry later and give ourselves over to the atmosphere for the time being. This decision was helped by the necessity to solve an immediate problem: Rebekka's shoes were torn at the soles and her feet were very wet. Not an ideal condition for to sit through a football game, especially when the sky seems determined to pour down more water any minute.
I had bought her some dry socks at the Arsenal fan-shop, tried to dry her feet and together we settled into the situation.
What. A. Game.
It wasn't a bit like Thursday's game versus France. Might have been a different sport. Thursday was football. This was a clash of several things. Neymar compared it to wrestling afterwards, it certainly was, some of the time, and of more than two opponents.
There was Chile, of course, having lost to Iran two days ago (To Iran, I pray thee! Are they even allowed to play football there?) and eager to do better this time. Then there was another Chile, who had lost to Brazil at the WC's round of last sixteen in penalty shooting and was most eager to do better this time and level a score. Then there was Chile who had always been a rival to Brazil if not as ardent as Argentina, but still ... south-american teams HAVE to beat Brazil. Or die trying.
So, that makes at least three different Chiles.
Then there was Brazil who had won to France two days ago and thus secured seven wins since the WC. And they weren't nearly enough. Since they're all of them friendlies and you can paint them over the WC semifinal with a thick brush and it will still shine through. So,. another win was inevitable, if ineffective in the end.
Then there was Brazil who had won to Chile in the said penalty shooting but it hadn't been the triumph it might have been. For reasons best known to everybody who has ever talked football with me, I won't go into detail of THAT game, but one thing was clear: a defeat to Chile was absolutely out of the question. It would have turned THAT day's win into the loss it actually had looked to be THAT day in June.
And finally there was the Brazil who still proudly wears five stars on the jerseys, still is the world's champion N° 1, still means to win the Copa America, the WC 2018 and next weeks charity lottery if there is any. The Brazil who is THE champion. Still. Or why else do people in Germany talk more about the semifinal than the final they won? Because anybody can win an old WC but to beat BRAZIL is still special.
So, there were at least three Brazils facing three Chiles.
And that was what it looked like.
The English referee Atkinson (I do remember that name, but don't recall the incident) worked hard to keep the 66 players from ripping each other to pieces. He did it by means of yellow cards. Whoever dared stretch a leg in the direction of an opposing player got a yellow carton shoved into his face. Atkinson was very busy that way.
The player weren't. They couldn't. They had to pick up their bones and try to get into gear again. As has became a habitual occupation in La Liga the Chileans sent Neymar flying. I don't think he's a deliberate diver, it may be his weight and stature that make him fly where others roll. Fact is, he spent more time in the air and on the ground than on his feet.
My preferred focus of attention, Thiago Silva, preferred not to draw attention to himself too much this time. I hate so say it, since it's a pet ceterum censeo of mine that the three still looks wrong on Miranda, but the defence looked right on Miranda that day._There, I said it, and that must be the last of it.
On the pitch I liked to watch Coutinho. He obviously enjoyed playing on - more or less - home soil and wanted to excell. In the second half, when Dunga started exchanging players, that role fell to Firmino who equally wanted to shine and succeeded in scoring the day's only goal. To the public's surprise as much as to his own, it seemed.
Off the pitch I liked everything. The atmosphere was much, much more what I want football to be, than Thursday's had been and than the average Bundesliga game is. Rebekka, being used to Mainz games, was thrilled to see the passion of South-America weaving through the stadium in one La Ola after the other, she screamed and hollered like her mother and the group of Brazilians sitting behind us. The Chileans in the stands did much the same. It was much more being in it than watching it, being part of the game, what we ask of football in a way that head and heart cease to be separate entities in perceiving the game but emulsify into something different: passion.
Her attitude after the game is possibly shown best in this picture:
With Brazil having won, a little bit worried by the sight of Thiago Silva lying flat on his back with what may have been a slight injury or cramps or both, and hungry to boot, we set of for Brentwood again, picked up Stefanie and dived into the experience of having Pizza, elation and a headache at the same time. At least I did.
If I had needed proof that there is something supernatural about me and Brazil it would have been the fact that this non-descript Pizzeria Denny had chosen served glutenfree pizza.
I repeat: I got a glutenfree pizza à la carte. Without having to pre-order. And a delicious one, too.
What a miracle this is only a fellow-coeliac con fully apprehend. All you gluten-eaters must take my word for it.
On Monday we did what we hadn't done for far too long - we slept. Till half past nine. Then had breakfast at the hotel, bought some shoes for Rebekka - with Denny's help again, this time seeing Brentwood's nicer and ligher side it being daylight - and then finally followed the irresistible London calling!
We had two ideas about our approach to London. First, we did not have a lot of money. This is partly due to my stubborn refusal to use a credit card, and partly to the undeniable fact that a big family usually has less money to spend than a small one. Second we had discarded any sense of organization and wanted to leave it entirely to London what we were in for. It is this, according to our experience, the best and only way to get a new place to dance WITH you rather than FOR you.
We went to Liverpool Street again, first, and discovered the Candy Waggon we had missed on Sunday was back. It's a traditional stop for us and we did it credit. If you buy candy for more than 10 GBP you get something for free. Did I say something about not having much money? Now it was even less.
Then we went on the tube and while dangling from the handles decided to go to St.Paul's. Maybe we would even be able to go on top again.
Turned out that exceeded our budget but Millenium Bridge is free and features prominently in a book and film my girls know, so we crossed the bridge imaginging we were in that film, now.
Speaking of films, on the other side we were greeted by an old black man playing an indefinable instrument which nonetheless made a strangely beautiful bell-like music. He pointed at my yellow beanie marking me as a Brazil-fan and hollered an approving "Brazil" thus earning himself two pounds rather than one as a bounty. Second we came upon Yoda.
We knew it was meant to be Yoda since we are all familiar with Star Wars but none more than Rebekka who is especially taken by Yoda. Afterwards we realized it must be annual Yoda-day because there were people all over London posing as Yodas, heavily made up and never moving a muscle. And getting money for it.
Having given Yoda his share we crossed back towards St.Paul and hopped on a bus that happened to stop beside us. Of course we went upstairs and decided on Trafalgar Square as next stop. I wanted to loaf on the steps under Nelson's Column for a bit.
To my barely hidden pride I managed to haul myself up to the lion-crowned fundament of the column without help by my younger and nimbler daughters. We posed with the lions, enjoyed the sight - after all, we were on a sort of holidays.
Our next idea was to pay the Queen's theatre a visit where we had seen Les Miserables five times. It was still there. Les Mis is still running. 30 years in a row, now. We did pictures of one another in exactly the same spot we had done them on our first visit. Do you hear the people sing ... We still hear them!
Eating isn't that high on our priority list when touring a city but some drinks were welcome by then, so we entered a kiosk to buy some soft drinks. The cashier asked where we came from and when I started talking football he joined in readily and even stated he knew Mainz 05, asked how they were doing in the league. He said he had been to Hessen, Frankfurt, and liked Bayern München. Strange combination, but a pleasant encounter.
Since we still had to buy some souvenirs for our loved ones at home we next made a bee-line for one of the countless booths on Shaftesbury Avenue that sell cheap things for high prices to tourists. We were tourists, after all.
The booth we entered was occupied by a young guy who looked indian and had music playing that sounded indian - an irresistible mixture for Stefanie, who started dancing. And she does know how to dance, especially indian style.
The young guy was enraptured. He repeated the song for her and urged her on to show some more of her talent. Stefanie absolutely enjoyed it, let him take a video and a selfie with her and earned Rebekka a free plektron for her guitar that way. Just by creating an atmosphere of pure bliss out of music and talent. We were four persons feeling the better for that incident when we finally left. And this is something guided tours not always provide.
The day still had to offer: looking for something to relieve Rebekka's blisters, find cigarettes for Stefanie and a coffee for me, haunting a crypt at Picadilly's McDonalds and being envolved in a conversation with a German lady who lives in London at Cafè Nero, before we finally set out for the last highlight of our stay: Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.
It was - well, phantomenal. That plush luxury of the nineteenth century (or even earlier), that music, that special effects, those voices - and it didn't really matter that I neither knew nor understood the story line. Stefanie filled me in, later, she had read the book, of course.
Need I mention that never-sleeping London presented us with the streets still crowded afterwards, the tubes still running every three minutes and even the train to Brentwood ready for departure and just waiting for us to board it at Liverpool Street? Divine Brazilian travel agency still running the show.
We went to bed almost immediately but still the fact prevailed that our alarms would ring at a quarter past four in the morning. Time to catch Ryanair again.
I lay awake from three o'clock on, worrying. First that my mobile wouldn't ring, second that the rising and soon howling wind would pose a problem to the plane.
The first problem was solved that way that I didn't go back to sleep, anyway. At least the taxi arrived dead on time, the taxi driver proved to be a nice chap who brought us to Stansted with plenty of time to spare and the wind was still howling. It probably identified with Chile.
At Stansted we were greeted by queues all over the place. You weren't always told why you were queuing, nor if it was the right queue at all. You just let yourself be pushed on and hoped. At security the dark-skinned security woman probably was as tired as we but unlike us she could vent by bullying us. Rebekka and I sent the metallic rod going and had to empty all our pockets. I heeped spare coins in two different currencies, paper tissues, train tickets and pictures of Thiago Silva on a tray and thought to myself: you want it, you deal with it, my dear friends at security! But of course they had the whip-hand in the situation. I tried to keep an eye on my things, another one on Rebekka who was struggling to understand what Mrs. Security-woman asked her and a third one on Stefanie who was busy picking up everything else that belonged to us and came rumbling on in those grey tray-sleds they had presented us with.
And all the time the feeling of being in a hurry itensified. It emenated from the security people and was totally pointless, since on the displays hanging all over the place most of the flights, including ours, were labelled "Gate will open in 40 minutes".
Having scooped up what we hoped were all our belongings, we went to Starbuck's. Take that , Mrs Security-woman. But the queues and the hurry were there, too, and we nervously watched the display counting down our flight to "Gate will open in 20 minutes". Mind you, they still didn't announce, which gate.
When they finally did, they proceeded without unnecessary hesitation to "Final call", so we hurried again into another queue that resulted in dropping us at Gate 30. We were queueing patiently through urgent "final calls" while absolutely nothing happened due to a total lack of staff at the gate. Finally, ten minutes before scheduled departure time, Ryanair staff began to arrive and slowly started boarding passengers.
Then the wind got his appearance. It was blowing so hard that I had to hold on tight to the rails while climbing on board the plane and through starting the plane shook precariously, but that was nothing compared to what it did when landing.
After 55 minutes above the clouds in blissful quiet the captain informed us that due to strong winds we were not yet able to descent. I swear, all the passenger had a blin king red "Germanwings" on their foreheads that moment. Only my daughters giggled happily when the pilot finally decided to try a landing. I even heard one or two small screams from somewhere on the plane. The wings were tilting, the whole plane was shaking, two or three times it suddenly lost hight - that's when the screams occured - and when we finally touched ground the habitual round of applause for the pilot was more spontaneious and heartfelt than usual.
So, Germany got us back in one piece and immediately threw storm and rain in our face as if she was all but happy to get us back. Jealous of Brazil, I expect. And with the weather like that has reason to be.
We arrived home tired but happy, the girls indulged in turning on their familiar fore-noon sitcom and I busied myself in the kitchen which clearly hadn't seen one cleaning touch since I left on Sunday.
Since I WON'T go to see Brazil play IN Brazil I should have plenty of time to clean up my household before the selecao might come back to Europe in September. But if she does, I'm quite sure I'll go again, and am equally sure it will still be a different game I'll get to watch. DFB is still an open invitation from Brazil's side. The cowards won't accept of course, but maybe Holland will.
The adventure continues.