June 21st, 2006

me: wrong side of the mirror

Day 7: Fourth game: Portugal v Mexico

The motorcycle nearly ran him over

I seated myself at a window where I could people-watch. A group of unconscious German boys sprawled on the pavement with only their backpacks as pillows. They slept, unheeding of luggage bumping them, curious stares, pokes, and even nearly being run over by motorcycles. When they woke, one by one, they walked round in circles, blinking – although we noted that they were not so out of it that they forgot the half-finished beer sitting next to them.

We found a park to pass out in ourselves, just as the clouds gathered ominously and the wind picked up, chilling me to the point where I couldn't sleep. Despondently, we returned to the hostel's luggage room to change our clothes and shoes. We decided to eat a second breakfast to stay awake and shopped for another small backpack to carry all the football shirts we had accumulated at the Fan Fests and stadiums. My little black backpack that has accompanied me all over Europe and North America for the past eight years looks like it may finally be giving up the ghost. I mourned it a little before selling my loyalties to a much more comfortable new pack.

A train full of excited Mexicans on the way to Gelsenkirchen for the Portugal (2) v Mexico (1) game meant no more sleep for us, as did a lack of seats. I wedged myself in behind a row, quite a feat of contortionism even for me. The seats at the stadium weren't nearly as good as the ones we'd had for previous games, but we couldn't fault the company. We were right in the midst of a band of irrepressible Mexicans who managed to consume an ungodly amount of Bitburger beer during the game. (Of course they'd managed to find the good stuff. Since Anheuser-Busch was a FIFA sponsor, most of the stands were only selling American Bud. Gross.) Every time the Portuguese keeper took a goal kick, the entire Mexican contingent would herald his actions with, "Ayyyyy…PUUUTO!" ("Heyyy…WHORE!") Mexico played well but they just couldn't get the ball into the net. Magnificent passing and drives from midfield would peter out in the penalty area, a fact much lamented by our amiable companions.

After the game we stumbled blearily to the train station, our intentions to stay to watch the next games at the Gelsenkirchen Fan Fest and drink with the Mexicans decimated by weariness. We rode to Köln somehow, a journey I had difficult recalling a mere twelve hours later. Sick of eating near the Hauptbahnhof, I used my seventeenth wind of the day to coax Marco into the U-bahn station to go to Barbarossaplatz, an area that was supposed to have lots of great bars and restaurants. We found a tiny Ethiopian place that was playing the Holland-Argentina game on an incongruously large projection screen. The staff (i.e. one waiter) and what looked like his family filled the pavement in front of the restaurant, watching avidly. They were happy to serve us some truly rocking doppi with mixed meats, crumbly cheese and oh hooray for some fresh veg. We sipped Kölsch and enjoyed the spectacle from a booth so comfortable it felt like we were at home. We swayed gratefully back to our new and much improved* hostel room to pass out.

* Both rooms were egregiously overpriced for the World Cup, but the first room, at 70 euro a night without a bathroom and reeking of beer, was much worse than the one with the double bed and private bathroom at eighty euro a night.