[Photographs by Eduardo Leal]
There have been other parties on this beach. Not just the annual Carnival bacchanal or the New Year’s fireworks, which are massive and can run ragged (as a friend here told me, “you watch the fireworks and then run home so nothing bad happens to you”). Copacabana beach, the “billion dollar crescent”, as the New York Times called this strand fifty years ago, has hosted everyone from the Rolling Stones to Pharrell. Three million people showed up on its shore for Pope Francis last year, even more than that came for Rod Stewart a decade earlier. Five years ago, 100,000 people turned out just to celebrate the announcing of Rio as 2016 Olympic host—a party to celebrate a future party.
But it’s still worth appreciating the unique wilding that is Copacabana this month during the World Cup. The Argentines are camping, the Chileans are chanting, the Costa Ricans are weeping, the Brazilians are hustling, and everywhere are the Americans, baying and bro-ing. Kiosks sell Ruffles and Lucky Strikes and Prudence condoms while sidewalk touts shove apitos and off-label FIFA tchotchkes in your face. Beach cruiser bikes weave around clusters of flagthumpers on the swirled stone promenade. A Uruguayan takes off running to the west for no apparent reason. A naval warship lingers just offshore; police helicopters buzz the beach. The atmosphere is somewhere between Spring Break and the Fall of Saigon.