Sunday, 8 November 2009
Fútbol rules the world, minus the US
Under a freeway & the sole woman in this tourist free barrio, how the hell did I get here? It happened like this.. I wandered down some (random) side street, passing two guys I knew from my university in Los Angeles. What.. the.. how? At first, I convinced myself that my eyes were playing me for a fool. Trusting the instinct, I glanced over a second time. Indeed.. I knew them through friends of friends. They had been, by chaaance, visiting Buenos Aires and waiting to meet an elderly Argentine couple that they knew through friends of friends of friends. Damn.
In step with normal Argentine generosity, the sweet couple decided to fashion a connection between there and here by introducing the strangers to a pair of young Porteños. The elderly husband & wife (of course) asked (made) the young locals take the young foreigners to a River/Boca fútbol game. When I found this out, I laughed. My two friends stood out so starkly, even on this random side street, with their blond hair, blue eyes, and all-too-put-together clothes; they would scream intruders at the one location that epitomizes the strong and stubborn Argentine pride: a fútbol game. The Americans were nervously out of place, and the Argentines probably felt like.. Damn, really? We have to take these goobers to the biggest game of the season? True socios don't pollute the already electric atmosphere like that. This wold be a discredit to their name. However, the elders prevailed because at that very game, the unlikely group bonded over, and celebrated, their common passion: fútbol. No longer a obligatory date, Lucas even invited one of the visitors, the one confident enough in his skills, to play some soccer the following night. I laughed again. These guys were going to accept to play soccer with Argentines who live for it and spend e v e r y spare moment playing it?
Now, where do I come in besides as an amused observer?
When I happened upon these mutual friends, I became spontaneous tour guide. When I became spontaneous tour guide, I received free entrance to any side activities, aka, they invited me to sit with Mike on the sidelines and enjoy the show. Wonderful.. Inside access to Argentine life? I'm in.
The whole night suprised me. First, getting to Barrio Flores was an adventure in itself, being outside of the bubble that international travelers stay loyally within. Once there, I didn't know if Lucas would show up. I didn't really care at that point because it was ten at night, and I felt refreshed from the change of scenery. We found a small store to buy Mike & I some wine to go along with the game. The store owners were like the barrio: receptive, comfortable, real. We spoke in broken Spanish, gaining some respect for even coming to Flores, and even more, for coming to play soccer. After petting their pitbulls, haphazardly pushing the cork into the wine bottle (a desperate act but a solid team effort), and making new friends, we went to meet Lucas.
After a long digression, here arrives the highlight of my night, and the story behind the photos. The whole time leading up to the game, I was imagining this allll going down at some park under some weak lights. Lucas proved me incredibly wrong. We waltzed into some soccer playing haven. The sign on the outside boasted a place to play soccer, volleyball, and basketball, but let's be real. The only thing going on there is soccer, and the only people who partake are Argentine men.
Regardless, this place was awesome. Set up under the freeway, it included three 'indoor' soccer fields, divided by mesh netting. The guys that weren't (yet) playing sat with a Quillmes from the bar up front. The three of us were stoked at the chance to see something like this. I had no idea these places existed in Argentina, and apparently they're quite common. It's genius. Usually land under freeways are absolute wastes of space. Instead, this place provides somewhere for these guys to further their friendships, forget about their hardships, and play what they love. It stays open late and is always a healthy alternative to other spare time possibilites. If LA could every pull something off like this, it would be a much needed hit. Maybe it can?
The sense of comraderie and competition was overwhelming--my turn to be out of place. Still, I was welcomed, joking around with some of the players. The wine probably helped, and really, I think the regulars were amused that a girl had guts, reason, or especially a desire to make an appearance. Settling in with Mike on a bench, perfect for watching and picture taking, I was ready to see if Alex could live up to his word, and how the Porteños would receive a foreigner in on their game. He was definitely nervous, and the others he warmed up with seemed rather uninterested. As soon as he scored the first goal, though, everything changed. I was impressed. Mike was buzzed and stoked for his friend. The US unknowingly received instant fútbol-playing respect from a fútbol-playing kingdom. The competition upped a level, and the Argentines were glad for it.
After the game, all the guys hugged, kissed, whatever. Laughing and beers replaced sizzling (yet extremely respectful) competition. I talked with Lucas and his brother for a little, both I liked very much. The standard questions were asked: what am I doing here, what am I studying, how do I like it. My responses evoked the reaction that, by now, I know all too well. When I say I'm here learning their language, and yes, I'm in love with it all, pride washes over their faces. Literally, every time, with every local I've met, I watch as pride brings out their smiles and lights their eyes. Their expression says: hell yes, my country. They are so grateful that a foreigner, and a foreigner from the US no less, can see it too, see how amazingly unique this country is. Taxi drivers, colectivo drivers, strangers on the street, waiters, homestay parents, teachers, salsa instructors, strangers in bars, store owners, museum workers, band members, music goers, theater goers, coffee drinkers. I see it, everytime.
Saying goodbye to the guys, to the hidden gem of a soccer spot, Mike, Alex, and I settled in for a quiet but content cab ride home, until we, too, parted to go dream. Alex dreamed of soccer goals, Mike dreamed of BsAs' nightlife, and I, at least for now, keep dreaming about Argentina.