Last Tuesday, Brazil played its first game in the World Cup and I missed it. I don't mean that I missed the actual game – although I didn't watch the match itself, I could have done so in any one of numerous Brazilian bars located in my sister's neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. No, I missed the experience – and for that I would have had to have been in Brazil.
When I was still there a month ago, the country was already in the throes of pre-"Copa" jitters. Everyone and his brother was opining about which players would (and should) make the final Seleção (team), and when the final pick was announced, everyone and his brother criticized the choices.
In the meantime, stores started filling up with Copa paraphernalia in the vivid national team colors of verde e amarelo (green and yellow). There were the official Nike Seleção team jerseys, the special edition Havaiana World Cup flip flops, and (at the check out counter of my local deli) the official, limited-time-only, tropically flavored, verde e amarelo Tic Tacs.
Turn on the TV or open a magazine and the number of special reports on South Africa was mind-boggling. Even more so were the commercials and print ads: buy a new car now in 36 installments and if Brazil wins the World Cup, becoming hexacampeão (six-time champ), don't bother paying the last three. Most enticing were the ads hawking new TVs; the wider, the flatter, and the plasma-ier, the more discounts and payment options were available. It's a fact that every four years, when the World Cup rolls around, sales of TVs in Brazil skyrocket. With the Brazilian economy back in boom-ness and more Brazilians than ever before with cash to burn, it's expected that this year, Copa-driven TV sales have soared by 30 percent.
In Salvador , friends of mine were coerced into buying a 32-inch flat screen during the first in a series of important meetings held in a favorite local bar. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, several such strategizing sessions were held concerning the Copa. Major topics under discussion were at whose house each Brazil game would be watched, the list of attendees, the menu, and the how many beers each person would provide. When I receive e-mails describing the intensive planning process, it fills me with saudades  for Brazil; I've never known a country where fun is taken to such serious extremes.
No matter that, due to the time difference, many of the World Cup games are played (and broadcast) in the afternoons. Soccer is so sacred that workers across the country are permitted (encouraged?) to stop whatever they're doing and congregate in offices, cafeterias, bars, or homes to watch the action. Many factories and businesses invest in their own wide-screen TVs so employees can cheer on the Seleção during their shift.
Not to be outdone by the private sector, municipal governments erect giant outdoor screens in public areas where all World Cup Games are broadcast live, all day and everyday, to thousands. In São Paulo , fans can cheer on the team from a 76-square-meter telão (giant screen) installed in the Vale de Anhangabaú, right in the heart of Sampa's busy Centro . Meanwhile, the largest-scale futebol festa of them all is taking place in Rio de Janeiro  where a telão measuring 120-square-meters sits upon the sands on Copacabana Beach  (between Rua Duvivier and Avenida Princesa Isabel). In between games, a roster of big name musical artists – including Marcelo D2, Fundo de Quintal, Monobloco, and Dudu Nobre, not to mention reigning samba schools such as Mangueira and Beija Flor – will ensure fans' energy levels don't dip.
It's been said by many that futebol is Brazil's true religion and, without a doubt, there's no greater example of the force and fervor of Brazilians' worship than the World Cup. It's truly transcendental and very heady. I still remember my first World Cup in Brazil in which the Seleção played. I was in Salvador and the normally rambunctious city was so quiet that one could hear a proverbial pin drop.
Windows of every single building were lit by the glow of television screens and the suspense was heavy and electric, like a gathering storm. When a player missed a goal, the collective groan of despair that could be heard throughout the city was nothing less than dire tragedy. But when a "gooooooooooooooooolllllll!!!!" was scored, the collective euphoria that erupted was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
Imagining this collective orgasm (that was what it felt, and sounded, like) repeated in every single town and city throughout Brazil by close to 200 million people was – and continues to be – an unforgettable experience. Even those who have no interest whatsoever in the "beautiful game" can't fail to be impressed.