Last year, I went to this thing called the Feria de las Culturas Amigas. It was on the big main avenue in the centre of Mexico City with lots of stalls from different countries. There was food, crafts, other stuff. It was a nice way to see and taste things that you might not ever get to see or taste. This year, it was at the Zócalo—formally Plaza de la Constitución—the huge empty square downtown which has some federal buildings, the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Palacio Nacional on three of its sides. The other side has some shops and people selling stuff, and yesterday, a terrible saxophonist busking.
It was a far better location for such a thing, not having to walk along the packed pavement by a big road. Just like last year, the food was good. We had a nice wee brie sandwich from France, bacalhau from Portugal, a big fat white sausage and mustard from Switzerland (the queue for the German sausage, like last year, was big, so we gave their neighbours a go: it was tasty), mate cocido from Paraguay, and pão de queijo from Brazil.
We boycotted the Russia stand. I tried some North Korean food last time. It was greasy and grim. This year, there was no food at the North Korea stand. The USA stand sold hot dogs and popcorn. Exotic food which many Mexicans have never tried before, obviously. There were a few gringos stood chatting behind some books about jazz, comic art, and a few great novels. It was like they were a little bit too desperate for people to know that there is culture in the US. The UK stand was possibly even worse. They had a red telephone box, cutouts of the future king and his wife, and the Beatles. And you could buy Strongbow, Weetabix, and One Direction t-shirts. So proud of my home country.
At the Argentina stand, they were selling tickets for a football game. Boca Juniors vs. River Plate at Estadio Azteca. How had we not heard that this was happening? Argentina’s superclásico in this city. So we bought tickets and come Saturday evening, took a couple of peseros down to the Azteca. Peseros, as I’m sure I must’ve mentioned before, are cheap small buses. They have about 20 seats, and with standing passengers, can easily carry double that. Mostly because they are death traps and the drivers care more about getting an extra few pesos than not killing people in a horrific accident. It’s easy to joke about these buses, but, really, it’s not that funny. Every time I take one, I realise that I’m in the hands of someone who isn’t a good driver. But, they exist, and they cover parts of the city where taking the subway isn’t possible or would be a long convoluted route.
Estadio Azteca is a wonderful place. I like stadiums in general, but this one is huge. I’ve been to four or five games there, and each time I’m impressed by its size. It’s the seventh largest stadium in the world. But that’s not the impressivest thing for me. First, there’s a big Alexander Calder sculpture at the entrance. Second, it’s where Maradona beat England in 1986. Every time I’m there, I look at the goal at that end of the ground and can see both goals happening in my head.
Stood around the Calder sculpture were lots of people in Boca and River jerseys singing and chanting. Touts asked if we wanted tickets and stalls sold bootleg jerseys, t-shirts, scarves, bags, pins, earrings, whatever. They had Boca stuff, River stuff, and stuff from other Argentine teams. Club America, Pumas, and Cruz Azul stuff (those are the three teams in Mexico City). World Cup jerseys from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany.
Going through the turnstiles, a security guy indicated for me to turn around and hold my arms out. He frisked me. He told me I couldn’t take my lighter in, so I lobbed it into a nearby bin. A few yards later, there was a line of policemen. One of them asked me to stop. He did the same frisking. We walked around the side of the stadium to the gate where we were supposed to enter. Our tickets were scanned again, and another line of coppers was frisking everyone. Up the giant concrete ramps to the top of the stadium. We looked at our tickets to see which entrance we needed and walked around to the right. Again a bunch of police there, frisking.
We went in, and realised that the section where our tickets were was right in the middle of where the hardcore fans were, behind one of the goals. When we bought the tickets, they asked if we wanted the Boca or River section, I said Boca because I’d been to see a game at their stadium in Buenos Aires. Girlfriend, who had lived in Buenos Aires for a while, confessed after we’d got the tickets that she preferred River. What we didn’t bank on, though, was our tickets being right there amongst the people who were the most passionate. Jumping up and down, constantly singing, aping what happens at games in Buenos Aires. We decided to look for seats elsewhere, and one section over, there wasn’t riot police around the edges of the section, and other people seemed a lot calmer.
The other end was where the River fans were. Not as many as in the Boca end. Along the sides seemed to be neutral. Down in the lower level of the stadium, the expensive seats were all wet. The roof only covers the top tier, and it was raining. Most of those seats were empty. And actually, most seats in general were empty. Of the 105,000 seats in the Azteca, according to Marca.com, only 25,000 were occupied.
The teams came out to much cheering and chanting. Then they both lined up next to each other and unfurled a banner which read “VAMOS ARGENTINA.” The cheering turned to boos. The game kicked off, and to be frank, it wasn’t all that much of a superclásico. River took the lead in the 36th minute. Boca equalised in the 70th. At the end of the game, because of some fake trophy being given away by the sponsors they had a penalty shootout. Boca missed their first two, and River won 4-2. So far in 2014, the two teams have played one league match and four friendlies. Four! River won the league game and the last three friendlies.
All in all, it was a tad disappointing, but then, I don’t know why I expected one country’s biggest game to have the same intensity as it would in their own city. It was, though, good to see them playing each other, if only for the fact that aesthetically it’s one of the world’s most beautiful sports fixtures. Blue with a yellow band vs white with a red sash. Magic.
(Apologies for the crappy photos. My camera is bust and I kinda have to just use my iPod, which has a shitty camera. Thanks, Apple.)