Thursday, October 16, 2008

Any Given Domingo

Last Sunday Chris and I woke up at a decent hour and went out to breakfast at a little café not far from where we live. Then we walked the few blocks south to Estadio Olimpico Universitario, home of the Pumas of UNAM.

The UNAM is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and I should really devote a whole blog post to it in the future because it has a really cool campus with true athletic and political spirit. Actually, Chris should post on it, because she has spent a good amount of time there, researching in several of its libraries and eating lunch in its vast green space. There are over 100,000 students at the UNAM, so the Pumas have plenty of fans.

On this day the Pumas were playing Cruz Azul. There are three professional futbol clubs in Mexico City, and the Pumas and Cruz Azul are two of them. Crosstown rivalry, anyone? (The other team in Mexico City is América, who are the New York Yankees of the Mexican futbol league. Needless to say, we are not rooting for the Yankees.) Cruz Azul (yep, it means "blue cross") is named after a cement company here. Just like NASCAR and Major League Soccer in the U.S., Mexican futbol teams have no problem plastering their jerseys with advertisements. The Pumas escape some of this because they have a giant Puma face on the front of their jerseys that crowds out the Banamex and Cablevision ads on the edges. The worst, though, are the Chivas of Guadalajara (our future team!), whose jerseys feature the name of a bread company in giant letters across the chest. The bread company`s name? "Bimbo."

Anyway, Chris and I had been to two other Pumas games this year (you gotta a stadium within walking distance). Usually we just walk up and buy tickets in the cheap section on the North end, which is usually not very crowded and rather peaceful compared to the fanatic sections on the East and West sides (visiting team crowds sit on the South end). But this time the match was sold out when we got there. Stupid crosstown rivalry.

So we snapped up two tickets from the first scalper we ran into, who gave us a good deal because the game had already started. But we were in such a hurry to get seats that we didn`t ask where they were. We looked at our tickets. Uh-oh...we had just bought ourselves two tickets to the crazy section! (How do you say "soccer hooligan" in Spanish?)

We got in line. It was an extremely long line, with people covered in Pumas gear - thank goodness I bought a Pumas jersey the week before! (Chris: "Uh, Matt, I hate to break this to you, but even with the jersey you still don`t exactly blend in.") Another interesting fact about this line of fans waiting to get into the game: The line was surrounded by riot police in full riot gear, with the plastic shields and everything. This was going to be interesting.

First they separated the men and women into separate groups, to be fully patted down. I was scolded for wearing a belt, and pointed to where I could check my belt and pick it up after the game. The same thing happened to Chris, and then she had to check her rally scarf too. I shuddered to think what kinds of things must have happened to prompt rules that make you check belts and scarves.

After the first outer gate we approach the stadium itself, where there are more riot police in full riot gear, and we are again separated into separate groups, male and female, to enter the stadium. Apparently we can meet up again once we are in the stadium. We hope. (I should pause here to mention that the stadium itself is really cool. It was built for the 1968 Olympic Games, still has the basin for the Olympic torch, and features a Diego Rivera mosaic on the outside depicting the annual Aztec ritual of lighting the "new fire" for the new year - cool connection to the Olympic flame there. The stadium is also built to loosely resemble a volcano - maybe the still-active volcano of Popocatepetl, which is not far from here.)

I enter the stadium through a long tunnel, at the end of which there is bright light that gradually turns into a waving sea of gold (gold and navy blue - azul y oro - being the Pumas` colors). The noise, too, is incredible - fans are already into their collection of chants, of which there are at least two dozen different ones, and there are brass and massive drums pounding, pounding, pounding away. If you have been to a Chicago Fire game, particularly near Section 8, you know what I am talking about - the constant and elaborate chants, the sustained intensity level rivaled in few other sports - except multiply the people and noise level by, oh, a couple hundred percent. Soccer fans are ridiculous. And I love it.

I manage to find Chris, and we find a spot on the edge of the crowd. The impromptu chants/songs continue, and change, and we learn a few of them. Some are really catchy, and stay stuck in your head all day, and some are, Chris tells me, quite vulgar. (I`m telling you, soccer fans are ridiculous! Case in point: Look up the song "Vale Vergara el Guadalajara" by the Mexican rap group Molotov, written at the height of the rivalry between the Pumas and the Chivas.)

As for the game, well... It starts really well, with the Pumas buzzing the Cruz Azul net again and again. Cruz Azul could hardly get off a decent shot, and the Pumas goalie is really good (and wears the coolest goalie jersey ever - black jersey with silver Pumas head on it). Unfortunately, the Cruz Azul defense is like a wall, and the Pumas were constantly repelled. This was not a good sign.

After the bizarre halftime show - a bunch of crazy games, but with oversized inflatable things featuring ads on them, like a crazy ad fiesta, complete with a tiny remote control blimp flying around over the crowd - things went downhill. Cruz Azul scored 2 goals, both flukes really, but even flukes count, so the Pumas found themselves in a hole and never got out of it. The Cruz Azul fan section went nuts, and started their own chants. You know how sometimes the home crowd goes silent when their team starts to lose? Not here. The Pumas fans just got louder and louder, and directed their chants in the direction of the Cruz Azul fans. And regardless of the score, the Pumas cheering section always sings this song at the 85th minute of the game:

¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
Si mi corazón azul es,
Y mi piel dorada,
Siempre te querré.

Translation:
How could I not love you?
How could I not love you?
If my heart is blue,
And my skin is gold,
I will always love you.

Have I mentioned that soccer fans are ridiculous? And that I love it?

After the game we wandered outside through the maze of Pumas gear, official and otherwise. (My personal favorite items: Jesus opening his robe to reveal not a sacred heart but a Pumas jersey, Bob Marley smoking pot in a Pumas jersey, and Che Guevara proudly sporting a Pumas beret.) Chris bought a sweet white Pumas jersey so that we can do the boy-girl matching jerseys thing that we see everywhere in Mexico City. As we were getting ready to leave, the superfans finally left the stadium by parading out of it into the center of the gear stands, playing ginormous drums and brass and chanting and throwing confetti. They kept this up, chanting in place, for at least twenty minutes. Have I mentioned that soccer fans are...yeah, you get the picture.

We went home for a quick rest, and then headed back out to enjoy the sunny Sunday afternoon by walking the hourlong route over to Coyoacan, a funky colonial neighborhood whose name means "place of coyotes." We took the scenic walking route, which included a couple of 200-year-old churches and lots of cobblestone streets. At one park we discovered that - lo and behold! - the leaves on the trees were actually changing colors! Chris`s favorite season of the year is autumn, and she`s been missing all of the traditional autumn things like leaves, apples, apple cider, apple pie...yeah, she`s from the apple capitol of Michigan, alright. So being in an autumn-leaved park...it was nice.

Chris and I, we need weekends like this sometimes. We need them as often as possible, actually, as I continue to struggle through a contentious, fractured community and Chris continues to struggle through her first year of pure solitary research time. So we soak up these free days. This weekend we`re headed to Puebla, two hours southeast of Mexico City, where Chris spent four months in a study abroad program in college. We`ll see how much it`s changed. And we`ll see what other wonders Mexico, land of the Pumas, place of the coyotes, has in store for us...

1 comment:

From Michigan with Love said...

I never knew how much apples meant to this crazy crazy state! Tis true!