SAO PAULO -- At some point at the restaurant table, the concern shifted. Maybe that planned post-match walk through the streets would be unwise. Maybe this group of savvy "Paulistanos," longtime inhabitants of the metropolis of 20 million, should step outside and gauge the mood before we all took any stroll. No, wait, surely it would be smartest to shelve the concept altogether, in case anger roiled.
Halftime came and brought unimaginable sights. Restaurants, packed and boisterous only 45 minutes earlier, suddenly had deserted tables. Wait staff wiped them idly with an entire half still remaining in the biggest sporting event in Brazil in 64 years. The usual phalanx of TV screens showed a brief montage of people crying in the stadium 300 miles north in Belo Horizonte: a bespectacled kid trying to hide his eyes, a woman sobbing with an expression that suggested less sadness than horror. She had seen something unbearable.
Among all the plausible scenarios of Brazil vs. Germany in a World Cup semifinal colossus, this one had not featured.
We're forever given to hyperbole in sports. It adds to the fun. Every time we behold something that seems new, we want to say it's the biggest, most unbelievable ever.
Yet this really was the most unbelievable ever. In scope and depth and significance, Germany's 5-0 halftime lead on Brazil surpassed anything in our lives. Germany's eventual 7-1 romp beat everything before it for profundity, even if you factor in the absence of two major Brazilian players -- Neymar with a broken vertebra, and Thiago Silva with a double-yellow-card suspension.
Such details do not begin to account for this humiliation of a home-standing global kingpin. Brazil is the most decorated nation in the 84-year history of the World Cup; the fifth-largest nation in the world, near-unanimous in its passion for futebol; and a country whose energy had built across 26 festive days of the World Cup. By midday in Sao Paulo, the fireworks made it sound as if South America's largest city underwent a slight bombing.
Has anything of such expectancy ever undergone such an emphatic unplugging? Has it? Take the build-up over seven years since this World Cup got booked here, the stepped-up hype in the 12 months since Brazil won the Confederations Cup last summer, all the oomph about a record sixth World Cup victory, and Brazil's knack for peerless joie de vivre, and had it all amassed peerlessly.
Then it all went numb. So many goals kept coming from Germany's beautiful 21st-century passing -- one at 23 minutes, another at 24, another at 26, another at 29 -- that it got almost confusing. Was that a new goal or a replay of a prior one? Is the score really 5-nil? This was neither a qualifying match nor a group match. This was a World Cup semifinal gone amok, steamrolling Brazil's Luiz Felipe Scolari, one of the very few men to manage a World Cup winner.
So people did something they never imagined doing upon arrival. They went home. Riding through the streets during the early stages of the pointless second half, you could see the unthinkable: clusters of fans in their Neymar shirts, walking around, presumably toward home. There would be thinned crowds, still sitting at sidewalk cafes, looking up at screens, watching perfunctorily.
Once you were hunkered in a Sao Paulo apartment, you could fling open the window and hear the sounds of the giant city. One came when Oscar scored on 90 minutes to change the score from 7-0 to 7-1. Just up Rua Santo Amaro near the center, fireworks boomed almost sardonically. Their owner apparently had plenty left. Brazilians began finding the jokes online, like the one with the German beer mug smashing the Brazilian cocktail glass. Soon, players such as Julio Cesar and David Luiz cried openly on TV as they apologized to the Brazilian public. Scolari said Germany's four-goal binge in six minutes had disoriented his team.
When it came time to take that walk at last, through the edge of the center, the Paulistano host warned to keep the eyes open. In English, he cautioned that Sao Paulo can be "dangerous." But the walk turned out almost eerily calm. A man hollered at his fractious dog in a small park. An elderly man used the permanent exercise machine nearby. The interpreter said it felt like a routine Friday afternoon, even with Wednesday a city holiday. All the nights in all the towns, and never one that felt quite like Tuesday, when booming Brazil's World Cup croaked.
Every so often, you'd pass a café that kept the Brazilian penchant for reveling alive. One place had hired a singer, and as she belted one out, men twirled women on the sidewalks. (Bless them.) At another indoor-outdoor place, the whole crowd sang the Brazilian staple about the man saying farewell to the woman as he catches the 11 o'clock train. (Bless them, too.) Inside an open-air gym, about seven guys worked out. "You can lift more when you're angry," the interpreter said.
Maybe, the interpreter also said, the severity of the loss had short-circuited some of the anger. Maybe the later hours would tell. Maybe it was just that nobody had ever seen anything like that, because there had never been anything like that.