Fool for France

My night at the World Cup

My grandson and I were sitting in a cafe watching a World Cup game, Netherlands vs. somebody, I forget. When he asked who I was rooting for I said it had to be Netherlands; I live in Europe now. Little did I know at the time how much fun it might be to root for the other side.

Moses was back in the States by the time the finals came around, so I decided to head over to my favorite pub, the Highlander. I was a little curious about how much interest there would be in the game when there was no one to root for. Is this whole soccer thing about the game or is it the tribal ritual?

So, Metro to Odeon, the center of tourist life in Paris. Of all things, the tourist joints were filled with French families. Go figure. The TVs were on but the French were all there having proper family meals, pretending they weren’t actually watching. I’m not nearly cool enough for that, plus there’s the no family aspect, so I moved on and hit pay dirt.

I had the great good fortune to wander past Le Nesle, that night’s home of the Argentines. I imagine the Germans keep a pretty low profile in France these days but the Argentines do not, or did not that night. They were in full Argentine team tribal regalia, most of them having adopted the name Messi. Baby blue and white, sweet, gentle colors, clothed these wild maniacs. They had cheers. They had songs. Amo amo, Argentina! They had a skinful. Every close call was greeted with cheers, with cries of grief, with loud protestations against yellow cards given or missed.

But, you know, soccer, hardly anyone ever actually scores in that game. At half time, tired of standing on the street looking through the window at near misses and fake falls worthy of a stunt man — I was far from the only one, believe me — I moved on, down the narrow alley that holds the Highlander.

I love the Highlander. It rarely makes the ten best lists, for one thing, which means you can get in and not have to fight your way to the bar. And so it was that night. Pelforth in hand, I leaned against a column — hey, it wasn’t that empty — and joined my own tribe, I guess, a convivial group who figured one pint would do for the evening, thanks, or maybe two, interested in the game but not all that worked up about it.

End of game, no score. There would be another 30 minutes of play. The Highlander was filling with girls looking for boys, wondering what all those adults were doing there and as disappointed as I was that the game was not yet over. I had to go, so I did, back past Le Nesle.

It couldn’t have been more different. The Argentines had taken to the streets, where they were spending the break engaged in tribal dances. No bare-breasted women, hoping for their Nat Geo moment, but lots of singing and dancing. Traffic just stopped and waited; this is Paris and we are all used to delays here. At a signal from within the bar, they finally headed to their seats for the next period of play.

I headed home. By the time I got there the Germans had scored — wailing and gnashing of teeth at Le Nesle, no doubt, or maybe just another round ordered to ease the pain. Okay, both. A few minutes later Angela Merkel was smiling and shaking hands all around. I live in a French neighborhood. The streets were silent.

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