World Cup in Buenos Aires
July 18, 2014 Kristance Harlow
I have gone through phases where I am into sports, but right now it just isn’t my thing. During the World Cup I wasn’t that invested in the games. If the US was playing at the same time as another game, I’d ask my boyfriend, Alejandro, to switch to the US game. Then I’d end up diddling around in the kitchen or in the other room with my trashy reality TV obsession.
The one time I did watch a game just me and Alejandro, Argentina wasn’t doing so hot. I didn’t want to get into any sports superstition, but with a nervous Argentine on my hands, I wasn’t going to risk being associated with sending out any bad juju. I left him to bite his nails alone and headed downstairs to go for a swim. The water was warm, the weather was calm, and I was in the zone swimming laps. I was in my happy place and all thought of the World Cup game was gone from my mind. At the end of a lap before I could touch the wall in the deep end, the entire city erupted in screams. People ran out onto their balconies and were banging metal spoons on metal railings. Buenos Aires drivers were laying on their horns while other residents hollered and whooped in unison. I treaded water and listened to their excitement. It was obvious Argentina had made a goal, and only a short time later the city screamed again when the game ended with Argentina as the victors.
I had never experienced anything like that before. It wasn’t a few people celebrating. The heart of Argentina was beating with the rhythm of the World Cup games. It was as if the entire city became one. The city was hollering through the voices of its people.
Future games Alejandro went to watch with “the guys.” I usually stayed at home (as goes the life of a writer). Every Argentine win I was caught off guard, since the last time I left a game in the middle of it they won. I didn’t watch them for fear of jinxing the win. If you heard the entire city celebrate as one, you’d have done the same thing. Although I kept an eye on the score, I was doing other things while the games were going on. Without fail, I was scared shitless each time Argentina made a goal.
I was also terrified during the Netherlands vs Argentina game. There I was, minding my own business when instead of uniting in victory – the city erupted in fury. Angry voices growled, “BOOOOOO!!” Furious shouting came from every direction around me. Dogs, who must have felt the negativity, began barking madly. The tone of Buenos Aires shifted from nervous excitement to discontented anger. I checked the lock on the door and after a few moments of fear, the shouting died down. I watched the penalty shootout for that game, primarily because I wanted to be prepared if Argentina lost. Thankfully, they won and it couldn’t have happened on a better day. It was Argentina’s Independence Day and fireworks went off across the city while happy Argentines danced in the streets.
Then came the finals. Buenos Aires was beyond excited. Alejandro was trying to coordinate with as many people as possible to find a great place to go watch the game. I was excited too. It was the finals and the country I was living in had made it into the last round of the World Cup. Argentines are passionate people and I knew that if they won, it would be a party I’d never forget. The day before it was pouring rain and I spent a good chunk of the day painting my nails white and sky blue. I wore one of Alejandro’s Argentina futbol jerseys and we met up with a friend at her apartment in downtown. She painted my face with flags on each cheek. We took off to find a place to watch the game.
Buenos Aires is nothing like your typical North American city. It is not chalk full of bars with big televisions. Sports bars are not a thing here. Flat screen TVs have only recently become a big deal down here, before now they were too expensive for almost anyone to buy. As the prices have gone down, they’ve become more prevalent. But it’s so new, very few restaurants or bars feature them. The first place our friend suggested we try was a little café on the corner. It was definitely not what I was expecting for watching the game – tiny, cramped, and featuring tiny televisions.
We followed our intuitions and kept walking a few blocks. Everyone was jumping with excitement. Vendors sold flags and big goofy blue and white hats. Children rode on their parents’ shoulders as they paraded down the streets waving tiny banners. It was an hour before the game and 9 de Julio Avenue, the widest avenue in the entire world, was already shut down to traffic. There was no place to watch the game. Any place with a television was already locked up with security guarding the door.
Luckily, we decided to turn down a second street to circle back to where we began and that’s where we came across an awesome restaurant called Almacen y Restaurant Suipacha. The staff that was stationed outside to act as bouncers told us there wasn’t any space left inside. For some reason, the manager noticed the three of us standing at the door and welcomed us in. I guess we didn’t look too scary. Every table was taken aside from an out of the way one that didn’t have a view of either of the two televisions. Again, luck shined down on us, and a couple who had been occupying an amazingly located table left and we took over their seats. Two friends joined us as the game was starting.
The game itself was surreal. Everyone was so nervous and anxious. Recalling it makes me feel a little nervous again with them. Dozens of people gathered outside the restaurant to peer through the window and try to get a glimpse of one of the televisions. With their painted faces and solemn looks, I could have sworn the zombie apocalypse was about to go down. The restaurant jumped and screamed when they though a goal had been made and everyone slumped in their chairs when the off-sides call destroyed that dream. As the game continued, tension grew in the restaurant. One girl was shouting and screaming at some guy on the other side of the room. We were all on the same team, but people were getting angry at each other as if they could have anything to do with the outcome of the game.
Then when the game ended, no one would look at each other. I peered around and I could feel their heartbreak. I started to get nervous about leaving. The sun had set and the loss had aroused a myriad of emotions in the Argentine people. Some were hurt and didn’t want to talk about it. Others wanted to celebrate because it was amazing to have gotten so far in the games. Then there was another group that wanted to take the opportunity to cause utter mayhem.
We walked quickly back to our friend’s apartment to decide what to do next. None of the busses were running to downtown. Alejandro told me the subway was shut down because if it was open, people would smash the windows. We sat in her apartment and turned on the news. The news quickly shifted from the huge celebration happening at the obelisk (which was only a couple blocks away) to “incidents.” Groups of people, mainly men with their faces covered, were throwing rocks at the police. The cops shot tear gas to try and disperse the mayhem. I was just hoping that no one back home could see the same images we were seeing. Outside the window we could hear police sirens and there was no denying that we were all a little nervous.
After hours of no change, we finally decided to leave. The roads were covered in trash and down some smaller roads huge trash bins were knocked over. I wanted to record it and take photos, but even with my awesome Lumix waterproof and drop proof camera, I wasn’t going to take it out on those streets. It didn’t feel safe. I was walking with three men who were all much bigger than me. They kept shifting to make sure I was next to someone or walking next to two at a time.
After asking the police where we could catch a bus, we walked down to the train station. It was a bad environment. These guys, who are born and bred Buenos Aires natives, felt nervous. I had wanted to take a taxi and once we got to the station, they talked and decided they wanted the same. Alejandro went to try and hail a cab while his friends kept moving me from one place to another. I was strictly instructed not to speak English and to try and not speak at all because my accent is so noticeable. I gripped my purse tight and tried to look as calm as possible.
We took a taxi to another area of the city, a much calmer and peaceful area away from the Obelisk. After munching on several hotdogs, the group split again. Our friends went to a bus stop to head to their neighborhood while Alejandro and I waited by our bus. I wanted to just hop in a taxi so badly and after nearly an hour of waiting in the cold, I finally convinced him to stop waiting and to just splurge on a cab. It had been a long day and we were both cold and tired.
At the corner, I raised my hand for a cab but noticed that standing in front of us were two guys who had also just hailed the same cab. I figured it was first come first serve and was just hoping to see a second cab soon. In a moment of clear sexism, that I was actually grateful for, the cabby stopped for us because I was a woman. Normally, that kind of situation infuriates me because of how symptomatic it of societal gender inequities. That night, I thanked my long hair and pleasant looking feminine face for getting us a cab.
We had left our friend’s apartment somewhere around 10pm and didn’t get that cab until 1 in the morning. I was cold, tired, and still fairly fearful of the Buenos Aires mayhem and couldn’t wait to get home. When we finally got home, I crashed into bed. It was an amazing day and I had never before felt so connected with this city that I now call home.
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