This week in the village of Londinium, in a modest extended stable, a child has been born and the people have taken pause to pay respect and discover the spiritual richness that unites poor and old. Or that’s what UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be soon telling us. Twitter has suddenly become infected with the easily excited stating the obvious. ‘It’s A Boy’ they say. Yet the less deferential describe it differently, ‘It’s a billionaire’. For those dependent on hysteria but needing something more substantial than monarchy madness there is always rock and roll. Or if that is too introverted for your taste, how about religion?
The Pope is in Brazil. And just to prove that, despite the presence of the Vatican in Rome, the sun does not always shine on the righteous, it has snowed in the land of samba football. Once the skies darkened, people knew something special would happen because as we all know God has his reasons. Either the Pope or Dracula was in town, and so close to the World Cup it had to be the Pope. But recently there have been dark days and at least a million Brazilians have rioted.
A few Goths hoped it could have been Dracula. Indeed, there have been Brazilians in the streets protesting about the $35m that has been spent on the visit by the Pope. We are not against the Pope, they say, with one eye on the strange white substance that is falling from their skies. It is the politicians we hate, they add.
The Brazilian authorities allocated 30,000 soldiers and security guards to ensure the Pope was not harmed during his visit. If this appears excessive, remember that he is Argentinean and recent mock up photographs on the Internet of the Pope in the blue and white Argentinean soccer strip will not have helped.
The crowd who waited for Pope Francis on the Copacabana beach in Rio had to huddle in the cold, drenched by rain from unfamiliar grey skies. The devout were there in thousands to celebrate, with Pope Francis, World Youth Day. Some had crossed the planet especially to see the Pope. The world now has people who trample air miles in the thousands because they want to feel connected with everyone else on the planet. ‘It feels like the whole world is here,’ said a visitor to the beach. Sweating in a crowded discotheque is no longer sufficient for the modern extrovert. When the news of the arrival of another probably plain English billionaire was announced the pavement in front of Buckingham Palace was lined with exiles from Republics, countries with crowds that have celebrated the assassination of monarchs. Well, another year and another celebration. As Glastonbury proves every summer over the din of flat vocals and missed notes, a crowd is a crowd and some people just have to be there.
Unfortunately, the crowd on Copacabana beach had to celebrate without their favourite Pontiff. Earlier, the Pope had travelled through the streets of Rio in his Pope mobile. Vatican officials describe the vehicle as a modest Fiat with an extended roof so he can stand, wave, smile and throw the odd blessing. The smile should not be discounted. Unlike his predecessor, this Pope has a grin that has real appeal. The modest Fiat, though, sounds harsh. Admittedly, the Vatican will have comfortable bedrooms but we all know that the man has to suffer certain important privations. A modest Fiat plus all of that appears excessive, ascetic enough for even St Francis of Assisi to approve. In the middle of the crowds that lined the streets, the driver took the modest Fiat down the wrong street. With the 30,000 security guards elsewhere, it soon became intimate. It appears, though, to have been a successful initiative. In fact, the Pope later communicated his pleasure on Twitter. Without any stage management to thwart enthusiasm, the Pope met real Brazilians and from close quarters experienced the Brazilian amiability that makes so many fall in love with the place. But the Copacabana is a big, very big, beach and there were a lot of people so the absence of the Pope was noticed. Perhaps it is for the best. His appearance could have caused confusion about what would have been sartorially acceptable. In a strange way, it already had. Prior to the visit, a local artist had created a large sand sculpture of Pope Francis relaxing in a deck chair and blessing distant beachcombers. In between the Pope and a cathedral, the artist had placed a curvy bikini clad Brazilian beauty. Some Catholics considered the sculpture to be unseemly. The beauty was given extra sand in the form of a modest pleated skirt. Inevitably, this has led to more protests. Rio caricaturist, Lan, said, ‘Rio is an exuberant city. Curves are part of the city’s collective imagination.’
Perhaps, but the authorities are becoming sensitive to exposed flesh. They think the city has a surfeit of exposed nipples and more than enough to embarrass visitors to Brazil. Topless football fans could be banned from the Maracanã stadium in Rio. In case English fans are already imagining women like the lady in the sand, we are talking about men. No doubt the innovators in Newcastle and Leeds thought that their idea would travel well, and it did because it was adopted by young men without pale skin and beer bellies. But locating exuberance in the right place can be as difficult as finding a Pope and one small Fiat. The authorities are also unhappy about fans using bamboo poles to wave their flags. Sports fans are indignant, really indignant, because in their written responses they have used words like ‘gentrification’ and ‘colonisation’. This is serious, very serious. Sports blogger with the Globo Esporte, David Butter, has called it ‘a war against the people’. As Sly and the Family Stone almost said, ‘I feel a riot coming on.’ Those who yearn for relief from never ending debate and conflict, though, should be wary about what they wish. One man has escaped it all but not in a way that inspires envy. Joao Maria de Souza died after a cow fell through his roof. After wandering on to the roof of the house of de Souza, the cow fell through, hit Joao and missed his wife. More than one woman has complained about a man taking more than his share of the bed so perhaps if Joao had been more obliging the cow would have hit his wife instead. The brother of the wife, though, is indignant rather than relieved. He says and quite rightly, ‘Being crushed by a cow while you are sleeping in bed is not how you expect to leave this earth.’ This makes sense but he adds, ‘But in my view it wasn’t the cow that killed him but the time he spent in hospital waiting for attention.’
Joao was not as fortunate as the woman whose husband shot a harpoon through her throat and lived to tell the tale, albeit quietly. No doubt, God can explain it all and, while he is talking, he might mention the latest problem with thalidomide in Brazil. The drug is prescribed for skin lesions caused by leprosy. Brazil has the largest number of people with leprosy in the world apart from India. Having 20% of the population living in poverty is a cause. Prescription of the drug is carefully controlled but tablets leave packets, and occasionally poor desperate people become confused, and pregnant women take the tablets thinking they may be a pain killer. Thalidomide will continue to be used for leprosy because it helps alleviate suffering. But 100 thalidomide babies in 6 years means that the medical experts have to produce an education programme that will prevent future errors. Maybe God can help and maybe not. He has not been seen for a while. His fans, thinking that they can embrace the whole world, are crowding together on beaches. Nothing beats a crowd but do not expect to see any lepers there.
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