Yes, they do exist, and they’re on the Rio Tera dei Assassini, just round the corner and downstairs from Nathan’s apartment. And back in the days where we lived not that far away, in Campo Santo Stefano, we used to go there quite a lot.
They’re actually called the Caffè Brasilia. But they will always be The Magical Brazilians to me. Why? Well, if you’re a British man of my age, you will remember a time when football on television wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is now. The only live game you were likely to see was the FA Cup final, and highlights were restricted to a couple of games on Match of the Day and The Big Match. Football, even if you watched it in colour – hell, even if you watched it live – was one of those things that seemed to exist in black and white.
Except when the World Cup came round, with agonising slowness, every four years. When, for a month, there would be football on television almost every day. But not football as we knew it. This was football that – even if you watched it in black and white – seemed to be played in the brightest of technicolour. I was too young to remember the great Brazilian side of 1970, and so my first experience of what football could actually be was the Brilliant Orange of the 1974 Dutch side, carving out patterns of Mondrian-like geometrical perfection on the pitch. I saw Johan Cruyff in his pomp. Even if I was eight years old, and it was on television.
Flash forward to 1982. The Dutch have declined, a lad called Diego Maradona might just be a bit too young to steer Argentina to the title, and the Germans, as ever, are a bit useful. Italy? They’re reduced to playing some guy called Paolo Rossi, just back after a two year suspension following a huge match-fixing scandal. Nobody expects anything from them (*).
No, there’s only one team in this competition, and that’s Brazil. They’ve got Zico. They’ve got Falcao. They’ve got Socrates, the chain-smoking, hard-drinking Marxist doctor of medicine. And they’ve got, well, some bloke that no-one really remembers in goal, but that doesn’t really matter because the basic philosophy of this team is : if you can score three, we can always score four. They are, after all, Brazilian.
Except that they’re not. Because for four weeks in the summer of 1982, they were inevitably referred to as “The Magical Brazilians”. And ever since then, in my mind at least, the word “Brazilian” must, by law, be paired with the adjective “Magical”.
And so the caffè Brasilia became The Magical Brazilians. The staff weren’t Brazilian (I changed this in the book, so that Ed, the barman, is) but they made a magical Negroni. The piece de resistance was to rub a little orange peel around the rim of the glass, and then carefully, oh so carefully, crush the zest and set light to the fumes giving a burnt, bitter-orange perfume to the very first sip. It was no ordinary Negroni. It was a Magical Negroni, a work of art worthy of the most Magical of Brazilians.
They changed hands a couple of years ago. The Negronis are still good, but they don’t flame any more and it’s not quite the same. Still, it’s time I paid them another visit. It was almost certainly there, nearly five years ago now, sitting outside with a Magical Negroni that I started to think…”Street of the Assassins, eh?”
(* Rossi always denied the match-fixing claims. In the end, his hat trick would knock out the Magical Brazilians in perhaps the World Cup game to end all World Cup games. They would go on to win the tournament. Those images and stories from 1982 – Sandro Pertini playing cards with Dino Zoff, Rossi’s three goals, Tardelli’s scream, Bearzot implacable on the touchline with his pipe – are, in all seriousness, the very foundation of my love affair with this country).