I’m finding that I’m reticent to talk about soccer. For one thing, I don’t know much about the game. I have never followed a league championship and, despite being from a soccer-loving country (Colombia), I have never rooted for any local team. After having followed religiously seven World Cups, my ignorance has never subsided and my interest has not increased. With few exceptions, I don’t even remember who won when. I ignore soccer history and my memory seems to be refractory to it. Should I confess, then, that I don’t really care about soccer? But why, then, am I glued (happily, wholly, obliviously) to every single match during the World Cup? Perhaps it’s true that I mean it when I say that I watch the tournament religiously.
In language, my love for the World Cup takes the form of frustration. I’ve made useless attempts to communicate my pre-ecstatic mood. Yesterday, at the end of a faculty meeting, I came up with “So, tomorrow…” Two or three people looked at me, and so I tried again: “Mañana. El mundial.” It felt as if I was uttering an empty prophesy. My colleagues started talking about teams, players, training, choices. I didn’t want to listen. I felt I had been imprudent. I wanted to be left alone with my expectations, alone with my World Cup. All I could say was “Ojalá que gane Argentina.” And now I realize I may have chosen Argentina because it’s the most religious team of all. (Remember “La mano de Dios”.)
If I don’t care to learn about soccer, what is it that makes me love the World Cup? Am I expressing a childlike curiosity for a make-believe world war—for a world war in peace? Am I watching the World Cup the way I would watch a very long opera? Do I love the World Cup just because it makes me see the form of my idleness?
There is someone with whom I share this non-discursive adoration. My old friend Andrés, who lives in Washington D.C., is the most fervent World Cup fan I’ve ever met. He doesn’t care for soccer either, but he has flown around the world just to be at the places where the World Cup takes place, not even bothering to get tickets for the games. Since South Africa was too expensive and far-flung, this time he flew to Bogotá in order to watch the first games of the World Cup in a soccer country—and to watch them with me. He arrived early this morning. We watched South Africa vs. Mexico. I fell asleep for 1/8 of the game, approximately. We rooted strongly for the host (if it is a religion, then you must be good). Andrés tried to convince Dalia, my dachshund, to look at the TV set instead of insisting on licking his smiling, beatific face. He explained to her how important, how sublime the World Cup was for dogs and humans alike.
When the game ended, my friend and I didn’t comment on the teams or the outcome. We went downstairs and YouTubed the World Cup official song. One thing led to another, and soon we were googling and printing the lyrics of the South African National Anthem. We tried to memorize the lines:
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo Iwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho Iwayo.
We taught ourselves how to pronounce those words, without knowing what they meant. We noticed that “thina” sounded more like “tzina”. We were drinking whisky before noon. Soon it was time to listen to La Marsellaise.
Noticing that one is unable to speak about one’s love, reasoning with an animal, and, now, trying to write in English for the first time: it’s all part of my distraction’s religiousness.