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Shadowed by the Hand of God

FIFA World Cup
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Brazil, and beer

MANAUS, Brazil -- Brazilians don't consider beer an intoxicant, or technically even an alcoholic beverage, but rather something to cut the brutal, descending heat, or to rehydrate, like Gatorade. They're on to something, and this distinction between the mind-whack of hard liquor, and the electrolyte-restock of sub-freezing pilsner, means that it's completely acceptable to move straight from coffee to beer at an alarmingly early hour of the morning.

A day ago, before 11 a.m., I found a table near the back of the most well-known bar room in the river town of Manaus, which serves as a gateway to the wilds of the Amazon in much the same way that St. Louis once served as the dividing line between the civilized east and the untamed west. My translator and I ordered a liter of Brahma, the local's choice, which comes in a plastic jacket. Only the neck shows, which insures that the beer stays cold, which is vitally important. Warm Brazilian beer tastes like I imagine horse piss might taste, skunky and earthy. But freezing cold? It's a little miracle. A waiter brought a small glass, and then some people joined us, so the waiter brought more small glasses, and then more liter bottles, this time my favorite, Antarctica Original.

The town is almost unreachable by road, and before modern air travel, to arrive here meant at least the possibility of not leaving again. These bar rooms first opened as places of salvation and escape, because Amazon heat isn't just the temperature of the air, combined with humidity, but a living thing, with malice and intent. The city isn't as remote as it used to be, but it still feels a little like the frontier, and the bars around the old opera house feel like western saloons.

We took it easy, merely replacing all the sweat wrung out by the sun. Then we left, before the plastic chairs and the waiters replacing empty bottles with full ones stole away an afternoon.