Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO – As Gollum famously said: “We hates it! We hates it!” Tolkien’s character in The Lord of the Rings was lamenting the Thief! Bilbo Baggins! The Curmudgeon is lamenting the dreaded vuvuzela. Those of you who were in the US or on another planet during the buildup to the World Cup will not have noted that “bafana bafana” (“the boys! the boys!”) and “jabulani” (“come to bring happiness to everyone”) and “vuvuzela” (“loud obnoxious elephantine snorting snoring noise have mercy please!”) have entered the everyday vocabulary of millions of Brazilians who do not speak Zulu or Tswana or Xhosa or variations thereof.
Those of you who do not work downtown or in Copacabana may not have had the sublimely ineffable pleasure of hearing, from sunrise to sunset and often thereafter, the Brazilian plastic knock-off equivalent of the vuvuzela, called the “corneta” or “buzina” or “trompeta” in Portuguese. In English they are called (we think) “air horns”, and indeed some of the noisome gadgets being hawked by the camelôs wearing yellow and green fright wigs are powered by cans of compressed air. Some, the kinder, gentler versions, are simply powered by human lungs. Some are long, some are short. All are loud.
In most soccer-playing countries no self-respecting fanatic would dream of using one of these infernal inventions, which are, according to quasi-reliable sources, 37 decibels louder than a chainsaw or a jackhammer, when held up against your ear. [Children, if you’re reading this, the Curmudgeon says, DO NOT hold a vuvuzela (or a jackhammer or a chainsaw) up against your ear!] Instead, fans sing their club songs, for instance “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rogers and Hammerstein. Anfield shudders when fifty thousand Scousers sing it unison. Much closer to home, after any Flamengo victory, all of us must put up with a drawn out “Mengo!”
But we digress.
“We hates it!” We said it, and we mean it; however, we live here in Rio, where loud street noise is part of our lives, every single day and night. We almost get used to it, we hear it when walking towards the metrô at 6:30 PM on Fridays (or, now, even Thursdays) when the local dives have put out dozens of folding metal chairs and tables on the sidewalks and are serving beer to hundreds of happy people who make incredible amounts of noise by shouting over the din simply to make conversation with their table-mates. That’s normal in a tropical country, where the climate lets people be happy out of doors 24/7/365.
But in “futebol”, the air horn is not normal here, except in World Cup competitions. The Curmudgeon was in Brasília in 1970 when the entire country witnessed, for the first time on color TV, the triumph of its stalwarts over the rest of the world. After each victory, the blaring, flaring, glaring sounds of plastic trumpets filled the air.
Truth be told, we did not hate it then. Then, the grateful, joyful noise made by millions and millions of people was enthralling, invigorating, enrapturing. Today it’s nothing of the kind, it’s annoying. Much as he doesn’t want to, the Curmudgeon has to admit, it’s not the vuvuzela’s fault.