Watching Neymar and Brazil Win Gold With the Three Old Ladies

Our writer watched the men's soccer gold medal match in a neighborhood in Rio, where three older women talked to him about Brazilian pride, love and life.

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Aug 21 2016, 1:50pm

Photo by Aaron Gordon

VICE Sports staff writer Aaron Gordon is in Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics and filing daily dispatches.

After Neymar scored the game-winning penalty and clinched the gold medal for Brazilian men's soccer, the three women whom I had been sitting next to during the entire game at a restaurant in Rio jumped out of their seats and hugged each other, then me, because, as they later said, "You are one of us now."

I had ventured to Jardim Oceanico, a neighborhood in Barra da Tijuca where the new subway line ends, to catch the men's gold medal match between Brazil and Germany because it is the only place in Barra that feels, almost but not quite, like the rest of Rio. I got there an hour early, but most of the restaurants were already full, so I squeezed into a table next to three women who were already three liters of beer deep into their evening, and were working their way through a pack of cigarettes each.

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We exchanged pleasantries and stolen glances of angst or anticipation during the match itself, but little else until the end and the hugs. After the delirium resided into residual jubilation, we began talking. Only one of them—who said her name, and I think it sounded like Hecinia, although I honestly have no clue if that's right, but for our purposes here we'll pretend it is—could speak English well enough for a conversation. I mostly talked to her. She wore a yellow Brasil hat and had narrow-framed glasses. All three of them were always smoking a cigarette and I was downwind. Hecinia had to speak slowly in her low, raspy voice, but always chose her words correctly.

They called themselves the Three Old Women. Hecinia told me what I've heard from a lot of other Brazilians: the country has a lot of problems, but being able to put on the Games successfully makes them feel a little bit better, even if they know it doesn't really solve anything. She said the same about the soccer gold medal. It means a lot to her as a symbol for something positive when there isn't much to be positive about.

Neymar and Brazil's gold medal win has restored some pride in the struggling country. Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

She asked me when I was flying home. Monday, I said. "Ah, yes. Saturday, Sunday, Monday," she laughed, counting off the days on her fingers. "You leave, just like eeeeeeeeveryone else," and made the upwards hand motion to signify a plane taking off. "And we will be here. With everything back to normal." She didn't mean this in a positive way, but she smiled through it, which I've gotten used to over these three weeks in Rio. People here seem to smile through a lot.

By this time, they had already gone through something like nine liters of beers and could still stand up, not to mention the half-a-pack of smokes each, which put them on a consumption level far more resilient than my own. They asked me where I was staying, so I reciprocated and asked where they lived.

My absolute favorite thing about traveling to foreign countries is that stunted, language barriered conversations have a habit of revealing blunt truths. When you only have so many words to choose from, you're forced to say the simplest version of your thoughts, which can often be the most accurate. It strips away what we often call nuance, but more often is self-deception. It reduces us to the basics.

Hecinia said they all live around the area. In the same answer, she pointed to herself and one of the other women, Diana. "Our husbands..." she began, before looking for the word. "Widows?"

For the first time since Neymar's penalty, her face drooped, as if she had been keeping it afloat with great effort, and it was suddenly taking its natural form. "Sad. We are very sad," she said. "So we drink! And we try and love life." Then her face returned to its previous, buoyant form.

As most old ladies tend to do, she asked me if I have a girlfriend and I said I did. She said I better love her, and I told her I do. She also said I should tell my girlfriend that "I love you and I want you to marry me," which I am going to chalk up to her respective three liters of beer. But I agreed to pass along the message anyways. I also told Hecinia that I hope, one day in the very distant future, my girlfriend will tell some 26 year old guy in a bar that she had a husband and that she loved him very much but she is doing her best to enjoy life without him. We raised our glasses to that, and to the Olympics, and to all the parties that help us forget about the sadness when everyone eventually goes home.