Monday, August 21, 2006
Sick cats and vet bills preclude crosscountry travel, so I hadn't yet realized that my vacation, scheduled to start last Sunday, actually started the previous Saturday evening. And it started not in Seattle but New Jersey - a bad sign had I been anywhere but Giants Stadium.
I'd been drawn into Barca unwillingly by Franklin Foer's praise, and no sooner had my newly adopted team won the Champions League than a friend, a regular Virgil of futbol, pointed out they'd be here for this friendly in August against the Red Bulls.
It wasn't Camp Nou, but in our case that was another good thing, because we'd never get 6th row seats there like we had here. I hadn't realized how close the 6th row goalside really is - it's *right there*, and I see could all Puyol's messy locks bouncing up and down as a trainer led him through pre-game warmups (later I figured out he was injured, and as captain, and a Catalan local, he's a crowd favorite, and couldn't not make a showing). Gio looks just as much a little kid in real life as he does on bigscreen bar TV, possessed of the unselfconscious sangfroid of a 10-year-old. Except, that is, when his own team's goalie yelled at him for invading his territory, and Gio tried to pretend he wasn't bothered (as when you didn't want to admit your parents were rightly admonishing you for torturing the neighbor's cat). I finally realized that my soft spot for Gio is not actually a la the hottie kind of soft spot, but because he actually reminds me of a friend's nephew, who is (objectively) the sweetest and most darling 10-year-old ever. Unlike Deco, Gio doesn't sport any haught in his attitude, hence he comes off more 10-year-old than worldly futbol player with athletic charisma to burn.
That said, Deco's slightly haughty athletic charisma suits him well, and Marquez is in the same category. Giuly I just like because it's fun to say his name over and over in my faux French accent, and because he's more than solid. Favored star child Ronaldinho would normally bore me as the overdog, except he smiles too much and has too much fun the whole time - he's all joy, plus all talent. (Towards game's end, when it was time to vote for the player of the game, his name showed up on the board as Ronlahdo de Assisi....eventually fixed). Eto'o - love his compact efficiency, even if he didn't have the greatest of nights. And, while Messi is great fun to watch with his longhair wonderboy partner on the pitch, I was a little annoyed with the ungraciousness of the large Argentinian contingent in the crowd who more or less "Messi-ed" Eto'o off the field. I know that in reality this was coach Frank Rykaard's decision, but Eto'o put up an excellent effort and just ended up having a bit of a crappy night.
I never got a good enough look at Rykaard to see if looks in life, as he does in still photos, a bit shaggy and not very attractive, or looks as dashingly handsome as he does in moving pictures. But in any instance, his exuberance when his team performs beautifully is arresting. When there's any decent reason to explode into a smile, Rykaard easily throws off the serious look that other coaches often envelope themselves in. Better yet, he transforms into Brother of Gio, as he did during what I think was Barca's 2nd and winning goal in the Champions' League game: running 'round with arms out, like a kid who's imagination and ecstasy (natural, not synthetic) transformed him into a airplane on a runway, about to take off. Contrast this with the tight, controlled downward pumping fist and dour face of Arsenal's head coach (I'm not a real futbol fan, so I don't know the guy's name) and it's easy to prefer Rykaard. I also love the noncomittal, everything is everything, zen attitiude about his team that comes across in the few interviews I've read. All that relaxed control equates to something close to mastery.
The evening's 4-1 victory was made all the sweeter by the happy accident of having found the Nevada Smith's Barcelona contingent right above us, next level up, keeping the spirit. Not that more spirit was needed in the sold out crowd that seemed to be about 95% Barca supporters, home turf for the Red Bulls notwithstanding. And when finally we made our way out ensconced between cadres of Brazilian and Argentinian fans trying to out-do each other in post-game chants the bubbling panic in my gut told me that no matter how much fun it might be to squeeze into popular bar matches between sweaty futbol boys, I probably do not have what it takes to get through a match outside the U.S. (So funny that Ronaldihno and Messi compliment one another so well on the field, but their respective national fans haven't found the way to translate that cooperation to their fandoms.) We made it out to the outrageous bus line, and got lucky to find a friend of futbol's virgil to let us cut the line. Hours later back at the Port Authority, I stumbled my way to the E train back to Queens, futbol-star-crossed and half asleep, surrounded (judging from all the jerseys) by lots of other Barca fans.
Also, I make no apologies for naive or ignorant omissions or misstatements above. I'm new at this, and gaffes are permitted and necessary.
Now, which way to Camp Nou?