In continuing with “WTF? When did Tony’s Tumblr become a World Cup Tumblr?” Soccer Theme, I decided to wear my Boca Juniors training jersey to kickball tonight.
Which calls for a little storytime! Specifically: Why I like Argentina. Well…
Back in my undergrad days, I wanted to study abroad something fierce, but none of the standard options (Europe, Europe, Europe, and Europe) really appealed to me then. I wanted to go somewhere, but not somewhere everyone around me was going. Also, being a film student at the time, I learned quickly that I hated Asian cinema - and you get a lot of Kurosawa shoved down your throat - so that turned me off of the Eastern options right quick. There really weren’t any African programs relevant to my study at the time, and Oceania wasn’t on my radar. However, I did really love Latin American film. Memories of Underdevelopment was (and still is) one of my favorite foreign films. Certainly, The Hour of the Furnaces will stay with anyone who watches it. And, on a completely different note, Gilda-set in a fictionalized Buenos Aires at the end of WWII-was my favorite Hollywood film ever until Children of Men (directed by a Latin American director [duh], Alfonso Cuaron) bumped it to #2. (Oh, and, as horrible as it is, I totally loved The Three Cabelleros when I was a kid.) In many ways, my cultural affinity for Latin America set the stage for the day a certain email rolled across my University of Minnesota email account: “Study Language and Culture in Buenos Aires, Argentina!”
I knew before I even opened the email that I was going. There was never a question. I applied immediately. Sure enough, that next fall semester I found myself on a plane to Argentina, where I lived for 4.5 months. Many (many, many, many) other stories aside, I crushed hard on certain beautiful Argentine girl who worked the front desk at the hotel where we lived. Fortunately for me, the crush was mutual (though chaste and, uh, from afar…mostly). We struck up a friendship (as, sadly, she was married for 4.25 of the 4.5 months that I was there), and I discovered her father worked for Boca Juniors. For those unaware, Boca and River Plate make up the heart of football in Buenos Aires - the town is literally split in two - you’re either a fan of blue and gold, or red and white, and there are no in betweens. We’re talking 100 times more serious than even the most serious Man U/Arsenal rivals. Deathly serious business.
Being in that environment piqued my interest, and the girl helped it along. Eventually, I visited Boca’s stadium in the wonderful La Boca neighborhood, and made the trek out to the far suburbs to see the Juniors play Quilmes. I hadn’t seen anything like a Latin American football match - all the myth and hype is true. The energy was off the charts. We had to glue ourselves to the back and keep our mouths shut lest we be discovered as Americans, and, despite doing so, a fellow student-abroad got her jewelry ripped right off her neck on our way out, cheap gold chain links and fake diamonds flying everywhere. I heard, firsthand, what a truly authoritative “puta” sounds like. I was scared shitless, stupid little American boy that I was. I loved it. A defining moment for me trip-wise, and probably life-wise. Since then, I’ve been a football (soccer, futbol, whatever) fan.
Oh! And I was also there when Tevez played for Boca…and when he made the controversial move to Corinthians in Brazil (eventually, he wound up in England, playing for West Ham, Man U, and now Man City). The politics and public reaction to his move, relatively unprecedented for a player of his standing (as the best Argentine players usually do not pass Go, collect millions of dollars, and go directly to Europe, so his move to Brazil was seen as a sort of cultural betrayal) was fascinating.
Also, I was living there when the US re-elected Bush. As you can guess, on those nights when I wasn’t pretending to be Canadian (or, on one extremely drunken occasion, Norwegian [by cranking up the MN accent and trying not to laugh]), I, as an American, wasn’t very popular. But football was a great way to hedge - they hated our politics (and so did I!), but, you know, the Argentine national team could absolutely crush the United States’ team. So, on some level, I guess we were even.
And that’s pretty much where I stand today: I’ve got even love for the US and Argentina. I always give some happy nods to Mexico and Portugal, and this year South Africa! (we’re all secretly pulling for an African team this time around, aren’t we? ZA won’t bring it home, but Côte d’Ivoire could do it, and I’ve got outside hopes on Ghana, especially since they aren’t in the same group as the US this year). But, above all, La Albicelestes and the Americans are what drive me to drink at 6:30 AM, for better
or for worse.
And I have Argentina to thank for it.