Today’s report is on Olympic volleyball. It’s being played in an arena called the Maracanãzinho, which is Portuguese for “A word that you cannot pronounce, but if you make enough volleyball-like hand gestures the driver eventually figures it out.”
The Maracanãzinho is quite close to my hotel, so it took more than an hour to get there. Traffic was heavy of course, but the big problem was the geography of Rio, which is very scenic but also insane.
My theory is that when the original settlers arrived in this area, the land was flat, and it seemed like a practical place to put a city. So they built Rio, using a logical grid pattern. Then one night there was a massive earthquake combined with some volcanic eruptions, and when the citizens woke up there were all these new mountains, breaking their formerly logical city into hundreds of isolated sectors scattered up and down the hillsides as far away as Uruguay. (This is when the citizens invented their signature cocktail, the caipirinha.)
So now, to get from one part of Rio to another, you have to go through a tunnel. Sometimes you go through multiple tunnels. Sometimes, I am convinced, you go through the same tunnel several times, like the movie Groundhog Day, except with tunnels.
Anyway, eventually my daughter and I made it to the volleyball match. We were excited to see it because the U.S. women’s team was playing the Dutch women’s team. There were a lot of Dutch people there, wearing orange and shouting Dutch things in unison. They are big sports fans, the Dutch. Also they are very tall.
Q. How tall are they?
A. The tops of their heads are dusted with snow.
Also on hand — this is now, unfortunately, standard at Olympic venues — were a DJ and an MC, hyper-perky microphone-wielding people whose role is to ratchet up the fun level by playing loud music and constantly ordering you to MAKE SOME NOISE! until you are having so much fun that you want to disembowel yourself.
But the match itself was great. Olympic volleyball is not like the game you play at picnics, where the object is to hit the ball over the net without spilling your beer. Olympic volleyball is a spectacular, extremely fast-paced sport requiring athleticism, quickness and — at least in the women’s game — a lot of hugging.
The Dutch team took the early lead, much to the delight of the large Dutch fan sitting in front of me. He was cheering so obnoxiously loud that I almost made a cutting remark (such as “Calm down, Tulip Breath”) but I did not, because (a) I believe in taking the high road, and (b) his biceps were really big.
Q. How big were they?
A. They were so big that I was too scared to think of a joke about them.
Anyway, the U.S. women, through a combination of gutsy play and hugging, made an exciting comeback, and they won. The American fans went nuts, and I was so pumped that for a few brief moments — call me an unashamed patriot if you want — I almost stopped hating the MC.
Speaking of hating: Because of a misunderstanding, I appear to have angered some Brazilians, and I want to straighten it out.
Here’s what happened: When I arrived in Rio, I encountered a guy in the airport wearing a large goofy-looking red box-shaped costume with big eyes and a big smiley mouth. He was promoting a mobile phone company called Claro. I think his costume was supposed to represent a telephone SIM card, but to be honest he looked more like a giant feminine hygiene product with legs.
Anyway, I thought he was pretty comical-looking, so I had my picture taken with him, and I posted it on Twitter with following caption: “Here I am at the Rio airport with a person wearing a traditional Brazilian costume.”
Ha ha! I was clearly joking, right?
Apparently not. In the past few days my Twitter account has exploded with responses from hundreds of Brazilians reacting to this photo. Some of them understand I was joking, but some of them do not, based on their comments, which (according to Google Translate) describe me as an idiot gringo journalist, as well as names that I cannot put in the newspaper.
So I just want to clarify: I do not, in fact, believe that Brazilians traditionally wear SIM-card costumes. OK? That would be the Peruvians. I truly love Brazil, and I am hoping we can put this matter behind us.
I am also hoping Peru doesn’t have Twitter yet.