Welcome to the new and improved brain space of KP.
It's been far too long since my last Ramblings, June to be exact. To bring the uninitiated up to speed, I spent a second summer in the lovely 'burb of Montagnola, near Lugano, Switzerland. My days were filled with attempting to quiet an overabundance of Italian speakers in my beginners class, and evenings desperately trying to sort out how I would quiet them the following day. I spent a final week in Lisbon with friends before embarking to the newest of KP dwellings in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (LOO-bee-YAHN-ah, and yes Easyjet fly here!). More details to come, but first a look back to the summer, most importantly the fantastic wonderland that was Euro 2004.
ONE. BEFORE THE MADNESS. EARLY JUNE.
The countdown has begun. Actually, the countdown has been ticking at various sites throughout Portugal since I moved here nearly two years ago, but that’s beside the point. Now it’s really happening, and it feels like some sort of massive New Year’s Eve-type hype – something that has been anticipated for so long it’s destined to be a bit less extraordinary than expected.
It hit me yesterday while watching TV with my flatmate. We were giggling at an Adidas advert where the big names ride ‘the road to Lisbon’ on Vespas. It ends in one of the main squares, Rossio, with dozens of Vespa-riding footballers driving toward a fountain. “We’re the centre of the world right now,” she said, quite poignantly. Calling it is an exciting time to be in Lisbon is putting it mildly.
(States people: think anticipation of the Super Bowl-Final Four-NBA champs combined but between countries with national pride at stake, and some of the guys play on the same team during the ‘regular season’. Then add that Portugal is obsessed with football. Their direct translation to ask what team you support is “What are you?” The answer is “I am (no article) (enter team name). “ Example: “What are you?” “I am Benfica.” “What is your wife/brother/dad/etc?” “She is Porto/He is Beleneses/He is Sporting.” Etcetra.) They have no less than four daily newspapers dedicated to football plus the regional weeklies. There are five prime time TV programs that analyse the games. And this country has 10 million people.)
Banners with the Euro logo are hanging from streetlamps in all the host cities. Hotels are popping up in places never expected. Police are everywhere, usually in twos or fours, and most are armed, which is odd for Portugal street cops. Portugal flags are everywhere, hanging out of dingy windows and flying from taxicab ariels and plastered on the sides of buildings. Decorations for the Lisbon annual festival, Santo Antonio, are twinned with red, green and white flags. This city is holding its breath until Saturday afternoon. Portugal will either shine and show Europe what is possible here or fall flat on its face.
TWO. IN THE MIDST OF MADNESS. MID-JUNE
The first round has come to a halt. The weekend was out of control. On Saturday we all got together in Cascais, a beach town an hour or so from Lisbon, to watch a proper thumping of the Portuguese by the Greeks. The first half was atrocious – Portugal didn’t bother to have any sort of spark and the Greeks were defending their goal extremely well. The fifteen-minute intervalo was incredibly tense. Enter Deco and Ronaldo in Part II, who rejuvenated the team to a point. Greece was playing so well, though, and poor Portugal couldn’t deliver. The 2-1 score to Greece makes the game sound much better than it actually was.
Nothing like a little disenchantment to put a damper on a party.
The Santo Antonio festival in the Alfama district of Lisbon is usually chaotic, with sardine and sangria stands blocking the cobbled lanes and snakes of people rumbling through the ancient streets. This year’s festivities were a bit sulkier than usual. For the few hundred people who could care less about football, the festival was on as usual. However, the majority of Lisboetas retired to their homes or to fluorescent-lit restaurants to banter about the horrible performance of their team.
Sunday began with a wander to Rossio, one of the main squares and the designated meeting point for any legion of fans. Sunday was England Day. We could hear the cheers and chants from literally five streets away. Entering the square, I got my first real feel for the passion that international football ignites. Literally thousands of red and white shirts (and hundreds of fat red bellies without shirts) chanting and singing inaudible off-key lyrics, people splashing about in a fountain with the nastiest water known to man inside, drunken ladies atop bus stops mooning the crowd, not to mention the dozens of flags from places I’ve never heard of. All crosses of St. George, of course. It was worth a fifteen-minute stare in the 35-degree heat, but not enough to warrant an afternoon missing the first match, a rather dull Croatia v Switzerland draw.
The Pump House is a usual watering hole for international matches, and it was strange seeing it filled with strangers. We sorted out a spot to watch the match with a hundred of our brethren. I was pleased to discover that a woman I met in the bathroom (clad in a white bikini top with crosses on the breasts) told me she so enjoyed coming to Spain on holiday. (International ignorance, for an American, is always rather fun to discover from Europeans.) And while the match was great, the injury time at the end proved fatal for the poor laddies; Zidane scored two goals for France and England lost. We tailed it out of the bar as quickly as we could among the sounds of breaking glass. One man kicked a bar stool out the door whilst screaming threats to burn down Lisbon. (My First Hooligan Experience!) Thankfully most of the nutters stayed home and Sunday in the Bairro Alto was left to the mellow French and a few Portuguese.
Monday the Swedes invaded (power to my people) and the red and white became blue and yellow. Lisbon has never been so beautiful. For every gorgeous man there was an equally gorgeous woman. And then they beat poor Bulgaria 5-0! Our gang reconvened later that evening and the main pedestrianized street, Rua Augusta, was a mess of blue and yellow. We were shocked to realize that bars were selling cans of beer for €5 (which cost around €.70 at the store and usually €2 at a bar) – ahh the screwing of the tourists. We did, however, discover this after ordering 11 beers and getting a bill for €57, so we promptly gave them back – thanks to having dear Liz with us to properly argue in Portuguese. Gregor and his dad found some kilts with blue and yellow tops, so the rest of the evening was spent in a tiny Alfama bar listening to traditional Scottish songs.
Tuesday was the last of the first round of matches, and of course I had to work. Result was Czech Republic 2, Latvia 1, Go Cheskies!, and Germany and the Netherlands drew. I am very excited for the Cz/Deutch matchup next Wednesday.
And now…tonight’s game. Forca Portugal! Very very very happy. Let me set the scene first. It is Wednesday. It is the second and muito importante match of the tournament. So of course the bus drivers decide to go on strike (from 5pm to 10pm, conveniently). I take the metro to the bar and it stops, half a car into the tunnel, and the doors open. Five minutes go by and no movement. So I get out and walk. Upstairs the employees are murmuring about a greve (yep, strike). What do you do when you want to watch a match and your boss won’t give you the night off? You talk to your buddies and just stop working until after the game.
And finally, a good match, too. Portugal played very well and beat Russia 2-0. The crowd at the Pump House was mainly Portuguese, with smatterings of Dutch, Swedish, English, and French – all cheering loudly for Portugal. Such good fun.
So now I will sleep little tonight, as they will drive past all night long honking their horns and screeching “POOOR-TOOO-GAL” out their car windows. Deserved. Next up: SPAIN on Sunday. More than just a game at stake there. And tomorrow night is England v Switzerland; if England lose, they are essentially out of the tournament. Let’s hope the city of Lisbon isn’t burnt down.
THREE. THE AFTERMATH
The past week has been such a whirlwind I’m not sure where to begin.
As first-round matches took place in ten different cities throughout Portugal, the fans meandered in and out of Lisbon daily. Things calmed a bit at the end of the first week, which ended in the second-best match of the tournament, Holland v. Czech Republic. As an ex-Czesky I was thrilled they came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. That was Saturday.
Sunday was the most intense day I have had in many moons. I met friends in Cascais to watch the Portugal-Spain match, and hooked up with ex-students of mine from Prague who were in town for the Czech matches. I was seated beside my friend Liz who breathes and bleeds Portuguese football (her brother and father play/played professionally) and I thought she was going to go into convulsions. Portugal played like they can when they want something badly enough. The score was 0-0 at the half, and the second half had everyone shouting and banging on the tables and literally praying for Portugal to pull it through. And they did, beating Spain 1-0. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but some reporters are giving it equal importance to a battle in the 1300s when Portugal won its independence from Spain, and others are calling it the most important match win in Portuguese football history. Yes, this is a Latin nation, drama abounds. And when Portugal win, everyone takes to the streets to celebrate. People hop into cars and drive around for hours, hanging body parts and flags out the windows, screaming, honking. Cascais was a mishmash of screeching people dancing in the streets. The train home runs alongside the marginal road to Cascais, and all the cars were stopped and the people were dancing beside and on their cars. This continued throughout the entire journey back to Lisbon. Once there, we regrouped over a pint and then walked through the city and just soaked it all in. I have never seen such organized chaos (not even when Kansas won the national championship) and truly never heard such a cacophony of sounds. We stayed out until nearly 4am just wandering around and watching and being a part of it all.
Monday was a waste, as nobody talked about anything else other than the win. The nation was advancing to the quarterfinals and they beat Spain and it was a glorious day. Needless to say the students weren’t exactly in learning mode. Which was fine, because I got a ticket to the England-Croatia match and had to get things sorted in time to make the match before the chaos began. The metro was mobbed with fans, literally bursting out of the doors and bodies pressed to the windows. We decided to get a taxi instead, and found ourselves outside the Benfica Luz (Stadium of Light) alongside 55,000 England fans (the stadium holds 65,000. Also keep in mind some of these fans are why Carlsberg beer wasn’t allowed to sell actual beer in any of the stadiums during the matches; non-alcoholic only, for €5 each.) We were supposedly seated in neutral territory, but we were in the middle of a madhouse. The guy next to me was huge, 6’7” or so and portly, with a gigantic England top on with huge sleeves that became wings when he saluted his team during chants and songs. His name was Bear. Touché. His wings were not only smelly but also incessantly smacking me in the face. The match was standing room only, and the atmosphere was a collective anticipation I’ve never experienced before. I can see why these matches are such a rush for the fans. Then I made the very bad mistake of muttering something about a poorly defending England to my friend and got my head bitten off by the man in front of me in a language I didn’t understand (apparently it was indeed English). We were all silent for the remainder of the match. Once England got to 3-2 they became a bit calmer, and the team won 4-2. Our seats were fantastic, and it was a bit surreal to be able to make out the facial expressions on the faces of Owen and Beckham. Since it was a win, we got a chance to exit relatively calmly.
Here's one for the ladies:
I got to see the Czech Republic play Germany on Wednesday night, my last night in Lisboa before going to Lugano for the summer. The feel of the two stadiums couldn’t have been more different. Our seats were great, about five rows from the front near the corner. We were surrounded by families, tourists, and locals, all cheering for their respective teams. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the match. The Czech fans were fantastic, jumping up and down whenever possible and endlessly waving their flags. The B-team solidly beat Germany, and the Ceskys were the only team to win all their matches to advance.
Thursday was madness – arrived to Lugano and pathetically did my best to ensure I’d be watching the England-Portugal quarterfinal somewhere. Nothing like being in a roomful of England fans (including an English flatmate) and cheering for Portugal…and what a match, ending with the Portugal goalkeeper scoring at penalties. I felt like I had worked out, my heart was beating so fast. From emails from friends, it sounds like Lisbon was a mess, even crazier than after the Spain win. Also heard England fans ruined a couple of metro carriages by slamming the ceilings and defacing the windows. As mentioned before, when the Portuguese win, they take to the streets, which sounds like a conflict when an estimated 80,000 England fans were sharing the same small country. Apparently, nothing too crazy happened.
So it’s semifinals time, I’m no longer in Portugal so any more of these mails would be irrelevant. What a fantastic time to be in the country, though. To watch people from sixteen countries share one experience is pretty incredible. My friend Lynn so eloquently said, “I wish people would pay hundreds of euros to watch me do something.” It is more than a game, it’s a culture, and anything that can bring people together and allow them to share cultures and explore new places gets my support.
So now it’s Portugal-Holland and Czech Republic-Greece. Three of the four with around 10m people living there. An advertiser’s nightmare, a nation’s dream. God that was cheesy.
FOUR. RESOLUTION? EARLY JULY.
Two heartbreaking losses; one solid win. Watched all of them in the I.P., as we call our local Irish Pub down the road from school. There’s nothing more strangely satisfying than watching your home team lose; while you’re upset, part is quietly happy because you’re not there to share in the celebrations. My buddy Paul is married to a Czech woman, and we spoke of this during and after the Czech loss to Greece. Portugal did play well against Holland to advance to the final, but I think that horrible person within me partly didn’t want to watch. The hype was incredible; all the magazines and newspapers saying Portugal had it won before it began. Not so much. The I.P. was full for the first time for the final, nearly everyone cheering for Greece. So when Portugal forgot to show up it was tossed in my face. It was anticlimactic, however – I really felt like I got off a quickly moving train into another dimension. Apparently the Portuguese still partied into the night, many of them citing the Spain win as the best thing that happened anyway. I, however, retired to my flat. My friend Andrea was at the match, and called it ‘sad.’ To make it to the final and lose playing poorly is unacceptable; it hurt everyone. But the Portuguese are survivors, and perhaps the most important thing is that they pulled it off. The country may be lacking in some ways, but it certainly flaunted its assets during this tournament. As well it should.