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I'm a social worker from the UK who moved to São Paulo in February 2012. Blogging about the many humbling day-to-day episodes I am experiencing as I attempt to adjust to life here in Brazil. More Info

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January 2013
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The Book Is On The Table

Brazil’s war on peace and quiet

January 3, 2013

6am, Sunday 16th December 2012

I am awoken by a volley of explosions which, despite my state of half-consciousness, give the impression that some armament has been detonated somewhere in the close vicinity of our apartment. To be awoken at such an ungodly time on a Sunday morning is rarely pleasant, especially when you appreciate shut-eye as much as I do, but to be disturbed in such a manner is even more distressing.

Under attack?

Under attack?

However, after stirring back into the real world much quicker than I would normally appreciate, my initial shock soon became reluctant acknowledgement, for the bombardments had begun sporadically the previous day and crescendoed throughout the night and the early hours of the following morning before ceasing at around 2am. Evidently the early morning blast was the sign that the ceasefire had been broken. By whom it was not known.

- – - – -

After seven years of working with refugees in the UK, it was always an ambition of mine to go and ‘work in a field’. As such, I had anticipated, and sometimes still do, that one day I would awake to commotion like the above in some war zone in the Middle East or Africa. However, on Sunday 16th December I was in no war-zone, I was in São Paulo, Brazil – although with 4000 murders in 2012 (of whom 100 were police) I guess it could be argued otherwise.

Yet, as far as I am aware, the explosions in the sky were not in anyway related to the escalation in violence between the PCC and the police, and neither were they the result of live ammunition.

They were, in fact, fireworks.

But for what reason would anyone ignite a firework at 6am on a Sunday morning?

Well, in Brazil a short barrage of fireworks can be known to signify the arrival of a shipment of drugs to your neighbourhood.  However, given the recurrence, as noted, of the blasts over a 24 hour period it was also unlikely to be explained by the arrival of illegal substances – or if it did then this was one hell of a payday for the local dealer.

No, the reason my locale (and most around São Paulo), was erupting was because Sunday 16th December was no ordinary day. No, it was that of the final of the World Club Cup between Corinthians and Chelsea – and kick-off was a mere two and a half hours away.

Yes, whilst most of Europe (or maybe just England) took barely any interest in the World Club Cup, in Brazil it was a very big deal and the subsequent victory of Corinthians provided the perfect opportunity to flick two fingers in the face of us arrogant colonialists from Europe.

It also, of course, entreated us to a further 24 hours of pyrotechnics.

Which is fair enough I guess, because Corinthians had just officially become the world’s best football team.

Unfortunately, unlike the awe in which I observed the whole horizon erupt after Corinthians won the Copa Libertadores (the equivalent of winning the Champions League in Europe), this time it was entirely predictable and barely added anything to how I internalised the significance of what they had just achieved – and not only because it was mid-morning and you couldn’t even see them.

No, it was because of the realisation that such displays of firepower are not just reserved for events as momentous as winning the Libertadores –  as it became apparent a week later when an equally vast barrage accompanied Palmeiras’ relatively less impressive triumph in the Copa do Brasil (Brazilian League Cup).

A classic case of one-umpmanship if ever you did see one.

As a result I have become desensitised to the explosion of firecrackers and the smell of sulphur over the past year. In the UK they only assaulted my senses on Guy Fawkes night – a commemoration of when in 1605 the naughty Mr Fawkes was caught guarding explosives under the House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate King James I.

Tut tut.

Apart from this you would probably only chance upon them if you ventured into Central London on New Years Eve, but you only did that if you were a fool…or a tourist.

Alas, not so in São Paulo (and around the whole of Brazil from what I hear), where it often feels like there are more days in the year that are cause for fireworks than there are without.

It’s someone’s birthday? Boom.

It’s Christmas? Boom.

It’s New Years Eve / Day? Boom.

It’s Carnaval? Boom.

Your football team has won the World Club Cup? Boom.

Your team has won the league? Boom.

Your team has won some crappy cup that no-one cares about? Boom.

The youth team of your football team has won the Under 10s São Paulo futsal trophy? Boom.

It’s Thursday? Boom.

You’ve got feijão for dinner? Boom.

Etc, ad infintum.

Like the US, Brazil has created it’s own abstract war, although this one isn’t on terror: it’s on peace and quiet. And as we know, silence is an evil and omnipresent threat that can only be thwarted if you are proactive. As such, in acknowledgement of this pesky threat to civility, since the Cold War Brazil has, whilst the rest of the world armed itself to the teeth, forsaken the trivial business of participating in wars and instead stockpiled the world’s largest cache of lethal pyrotechnics.

And where there aren’t fireworks there will always be a man in his car blasting Axé at 2am.

Where will this tedium end? Who knows, but here’s a thought…

Attendances at football matches in Brazil are often pretty poor and this is commonly explained by the expense of tickets in relation to the average wage of most fans. And this be true.


Imagine if football ‘fans’, for they truly are the worst culprits in the war on peace and quiet, rather than buying fireworks and competing in a battle of pointless one-upmanship instead saved that money and used it occasionally buy a ticket for a game? That way, you’d actually be supporting your team whilst also increasing the life expectancy of my sister-in-law’s traumatised dog.

Alternatively, maybe us Brits are too uptight and I’m just a grumpy killjoy.

Happy New Year all. Bah humbug.

by andyhpmartin. Find out more about andyhpmartin here.

Categories: Lessons Learnt