Lord knows that both the Italians and the Spaniards need something to be cheerful about. With both economies not so slowly hurtling down the proverbial drain, unemployment figures well into the double digits, and lowly paid part-time jobs the norm for college graduates, soccer has provided some respite from the doldrums.
It’s with an ear to ear grin that I think of the victory of a few hours ago of Italy over Germany, in the semi finals of the European Soccer Championship taking place in Poland (Spain beat Portugal at penalties yesterday).
It’s impossible not look at such a match against the backdrop of the European mess, with Germany dictating economic and bail-out conditions to the weaker countries and the struggling Southern markets trying to regain their footing, without the invaluable tool that would have been available before the euro, of devaluing their currencies to make their exports more attractive.
On the soccer court, the younger, defensive and more disciplined German team was poised to win against the older Italians, despite the jinx of never having beaten Italy in a single major championship match in living memory. The unruly, inventive and downtrodden Italians prevailed 2 -1, with two goals in the first half.
A basketball fan through and through, I never followed soccer (as distant as one can possibly be growing up in Italy where soccer is more revered than the Bible) but, on the occasions of European or world championships, it’s hard not to join in, mostly for patriotic reasons.
In my case, it’s the camaraderie of watching the games with a rowdy group of friends, ordered-in pizzas getting cold on the table, windows flung open in a futile attempt to cool down roasting hot living rooms. Even in congested cities like Rome or Milan, the odd car or ambulance will pass by but traffic looks like a nuclear explosion took place, everything coming to a halt to watch a match. When goals are scored, collective cries of joys or despair will fill the stale and humid air, creating a soundtrack played in unison across the boot.
In the event of victory, every city, village or resort suddenly comes alive – throngs of people waving flags making their way to designated monuments, traffic rapidly coming to a standstill with lines of cars honking, people shouting and policemen ostensibly loitering at key points, joining in spirit if not in action. Everyone will have watched: doctors and nurses in the ERs, waiters and cooks in restaurants, barmen, firemen, all lackadaisical-ly performing their duties with an eye to the tv screens. I would bet good money that the rate of ER admission drops in those 90 minutes.
It’s that feeling of collective joy that I miss in this sprawling metropolis of mine and one that was brought to life through friends’ texts keeping me abreast of the score while I was driving around LA, and letting me hear the ruckus on the other end of the line.
The final, between Italy and Spain, will take place on Sunday and hopefully I will be airborne and unable to see it. No doubt, the Alitalia captain will let us know the final score. No matter who wins, either country deserves to revel in a bit of partying. Although my personal wishes are firmly rooted in one particular camp.
PS It was a good day in more ways than one. In an unexpected ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Health Care Law. Now, to keep it in place and funded, we have to re-elect our President. Possible light at the end of the tunnel?