The World Cup is under way in Brazil, and even if you have minimal interest in soccer – or football as the rest of the world calls it – information seeps into your consciousness. For example, I am now thinking about Brazil, a country I’ve never visited, and Brazilians, people whose paths have crossed with mine over the years. I know they, like many in South America, are known to place a premium on beauty, especially female beauty. Brazil is one of many Latin American countries that stage a lot of beauty pageants throughout the year. In fact, Brazil has Las Gatas do Paulistäo, a contest to find the best looking female soccer fan in the country.
One time, a man told me of his visit to his wife’s family in Brazil and a conversation he’d had with a group of local men. There are three ways you can tell how old a woman is, he was told: Check out her neck, her hands and her elbows. I know about the neck. Just as Nora Ephron’s hilarious book I Feel Bad About My Neck pointed out, no amount of skin cream and sunblock can stop the neck’s downward slide into wrinkledom. You can try to hide things with a cleverly tied scarf if you’re handy that way or a turtleneck if you can stand the itching. But eventually, you need to give in: This is what my neck looks like, you’ll tell yourself.
As for the hands, they’re a lost cause unless you want to spend the rest of your life indoors, hands perpetually encased in gloves. Someone told me the juice from an aloe plant will remove brown spots on the hands caused by the sun. So I planted one on the deck but have yet to try it. Sounds sticky. And yes, I know sunblock will prevent the spots but how many times a day are you willing to reapply the stuff that gets washed or sweated away? So again, these are my hands; they are hands that work.
But elbows? How funny. It conjures up images of a guy sidling up alongside a woman and angling his head in a way to glimpse an elbow. I have a dim memory of a pre-teen me reading in a magazine the benefits of rubbing one’s elbows with a lemon half – or two halves, one for each elbow, and doing it. I no longer remember the benefits of the procedure and besides, at SEVENTY-NINE CENTS EACH in the supermarket this summer, there are better things to do with a lemon. Think gin and tonic.
Our cleaning woman back east was from Brazil and would periodically return home to visit family and have plastic surgery. She was a very pretty woman about my same age and the flaws she thought needed fixing were, to my eye, infinitesimal. But their eradication was important to her. When the World Cup was on and Brazil was playing, she’d move from room to room to clean, turning on the nearest television to follow the game and occasionally, when things got interesting, just sit down transfixed. I wished I could be that enthralled with the sport or, in fact, with any sport.
To my mind the best thing about international sports competitions is all the extraneous information that comes across in the commentary provided during down times. One couple I know became so taken during the last World Cup with what they learned about the country of Uruguay they’ve planned a trip there during this year’s event. They’ll get to see the country and also witness reactions of soccer fans with considerably more interest than exhibited by most people here. Someone else told me they could get the same thing by leaning out the window in Queens. But I don’t suppose it would be altogether as satisfying.
[Photos: wikipedia.org; commons.wikimedia.org;bbc.com]