I know almost nothing about soccer. There was no soccer in the small midwestern town of my childhood. It took falling in love years later in California for soccer to move into my visual field. My love–a man similarly deprived of soccer in his youth–had taken up the game in his 30’s and was fully hooked.
From him I picked up a name or two. Well, one. Messy, the 32 year old wonder from Argentina. But in spite of sleeping side by side with a soccer fan for years, I didn’t develop interest in the World Cup until 1998 at the end of our sabbatical year in central Mexico. We’d fallen in love with Mexico at that point and were in the process of buying property here in Guanajuato. We’d learned we had to have a notario, an attorney specializing in property law, and we were preparing to meet him when we received a call. Mexico was playing a World Cup game. Our appointment had to be postponed.
When Mexico plays in the World Cup, Guanajuato’s streets are empty. People crowd in bars or restaurants or anywhere else there’s a TV. In my house 203 stairs above Guanajuato’s historic center, I don’t need to watch TV to know that Mexico has scored. I can tell by the roar that wafts up from below.
After moving to Guanajuato we took up Danzón, a dance from Cuba that took root in Mexico. Learning the steps to a dance Mexicans loved brought us closer to our neighbors.
Watching Mexico’s World Cup games does the same. When I stop by the fruit and vegetable stand closest to our house I share the joy or sorrow of Mexico’s latest win or loss with the woman who weighs my papaya. And so, every four years, I find my way to a TV when Mexico plays. This year I marveled as Mexico beat Germany. I watched, too, Mexico beat South Korea. And, as did Mexico’s fans in Russia during Mexico’s loss to Sweden, I kept my eyes on my iPhone checking to see if by miracle Germany would lose to S. Korea, thereby propelling Mexico into the next round.
Toward the end of this year’s World Cup, I attended a concert of local musicians playing their unique mixture of jazz and Latin rhythms, and then I caught a taxi for the circuitous route cars must take to get close to my canyon-side home. The driver and I marveled at Mexico’s wonderous win over Germany. And we mourned for Messy once again losing the chance to play on a World Cup winning team. Afterward I walked down the stairs toward my home with a light step, basking in the connection with the driver occasioned by my fledgling fluency in Football, as Soccer is called here.
At the place just above my house where the stairway widens and then opens into a slant, a boy around half my height kicking a lightweight ball to two other boys said something to me that I took to be an invitation to play. Apparently it was, or the boys decided to go along with my misunderstanding, because when I asked them if they wanted me to join in, they said yes. And so I did.
As the sky drew dark and the stairs became difficult to discern, it occurred to me that running after a ball would be a good way for a 71-year-old woman with low bone density to break a leg. But I kept on playing. Waking the next day to a blue sky after days of grey, I felt grateful to the sun above and to the World Cup.