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The World Turned Upside Down?

You may have noticed there’s a rather large and important football competition taking place at the moment. (A swift glance at TV schedules would be enough to tell you that.)

Four years ago I expressed my fear that a period of Germanic hegemony was upon us. Notwithstanding Portugal’s efforts at the last European Championships the young German side which triumphed at last year’s Confederations Cup boded well (or ill, according to view) for that prospect.

It seems that hegemony is not to be. In three performances of stunning inadequacy Germany have been so poor as to finish bottom of their group, only a moment of individual brilliance on the part of Toni Kroos yielding them a solitary win over Sweden.

It’s been a topsy-turvy sort of tournament what with England playing well (so far) and Argentina, like the Germans, struggling badly – but still managing to reach the second round.

I’ve not been overly impressed by anyone – though I thought Colombia looked good against Poland. But that may have been because the Poles were totally ineffective.

Brazil seem unbalanced to me; too much in thrall to their star player, Neymar, who doesn’t look fully fit. Belgium may be dark horses but haven’t played anybody of standing yet.

Judgement must be reserved till the knockout games. Too often before, a good showing in the group has unravelled at the next step.

But… Could this be Uruguay’s year again? They’re the only side yet to concede a goal.

(Cue a Portugal win on Saturday.)

The Team That Made All Brazil Cry

So. There is to be no redemption. Brazil’s historical trauma of the Maracanã in 1950 known as the Maracanazo has been surpassed. Will this one become known as the Mineirãoza?

The country of Brazil has never been involved in a war (except, perhaps, internally.)* The national consciousness has been invested in football. The 1950 defeat was akin to a national humiliation. How much worse, then, a 7-1 hammering by a team who had never beaten them in a competitive game? And a first home defeat in competition for 29 years.

It’s been coming, though. They weren’t convincing in the group games, Chile pushed them close in the second round and Colombia didn’t deserve to lose to them either. Both those sides perhaps had too much history with Brazil to overcome. (And the hoo-hah over Neymar’s injury is over-confected. Brazil spent most of the Colombia game kicking “Oor Hamish” – James Rodriguez – all over the park. Given the outcome of the semi-final the real loss was in fact Thiago Silva.) The Germans didn’t care about reputations or history; they did what German teams do.

Brazil’s scapegoat in 1950 (“Look! There’s the man that made all Brazil cry!”) was Moacyr Barbosa. At least this time they can’t blame it on a black goalkeeper.

Make the most of the last few days of this Brazil-hosted World Cup. I doubt there will be another one.

*Edited to add. I have since found out that not being involved in a war is only true of the Brazilian Republic and not of the Empire which preceded it. The Republic has had internal conflicts.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Translated from the Spanish El amor en los tiempos del cólera by Edith Grossman.
Penguin, 2007, 348 p. First published by Editorial Oveja Nregra Ltda, Bogota, 1985.

The opening sentence, “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love,” hits us immediately with two of the great triumvirate of literary preoccupations; love and death. (Bitter almonds is the smell of cyanide.) The only one remaining is sex. Sex does come later but not till well into the book.

By this gambit we are invited to believe that the story is to be that of Dr Juliano Urbino de la Calle, who has been called in to certify the death (by suicide) of his friend and chess opponent Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. The main focus of the novel is, however, on Florentino Ariza, who conceived a passion for Dr Urbino’s wife, Fermana Daza, in both their youths, and has maintained it ever since. In some respects this aspect of the novel has echoes in Orhan Pamuk’s similarly obsessed protagonist in The Museum of Innocence.

The action of Love in the Time of Cholera mainly takes place in an unnamed city somewhere on the delta of the River Magdalena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, though there is a late voyage up and down the river.

The narrative flows between the three main agonists, detailing aspects of their lives in the decades over which the story rummages back and forward. Marquez does nothing so crude as to devote sections to one character, he weaves in and out of the three’s concerns without a break. In the background are other colourful characters but the lives of these people are well-to-do, we see little, if any, of more impoverished inhabitants. Flashes of the history of the country, which has seen several civil wars which were really all one war, appear only in passing, which is, of course, how the well-to-do would have experienced them. Only by inference is the possibility of atrocities hinted at, for example, “For as long as I can remember, they have killed us in the cities with decrees, not with bullets.”

Joseph Conrad (in his pre-novelist incarnation as Joseph T K Korzeniowski) gains a brief mention as being involved in some sort of arms deal.

Interspersed through the novel Marquez gives us some acute aperçus.
“The toilet must have been invented by someone who knew nothing about men.”
“If he had told the truth not … anybody in this whole town would have loved him as much as they did.”
“… too young to know the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,”
“… nothing in this world was more difficult than love.”
“Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.”
“It is incredible how one can be happy for so many years in the midst of so many squabbles, so many problems, damn it, and not really know if it was love or not.”
“But when a woman decides to sleep with a man, there is no wall she will not scale, no fortress she will not destroy, no moral consideration she will not ignore at its very root.”

There was an instance of odd wording in the translation, “for he did compete not out of ambition for the prize, but” surely ought to be either, “for he competed not out of ambition, but…” or “for he did not compete out of ambition, but…”

Love in the Time of Cholera bears the stamp of a novelist who knows the inner workings of the human heart, its constancies (and inconstancies.)

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