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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Day 3: Second game, Czech Republic v Ghana [20060617|23:26]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Ghanaian and Czech exchanging smiles


We arose none too early, partly because the game we were attending, the Czech Republic (0) v Ghana (2), was in Köln and partly because we were knackered. We ate pastries in the square near the cathedral (focaccia for me, apfelstrüdel for Marco) and drank coffee. We wandered down to the Rhine and lay in the sun, watching some Swedes have a kickabout dangerously close to some damp-looking people in suits setting up for a wedding reception with a string quartet, mimosas and champagne. When the sun became too hot, we walked to the air-conditioned Schokoladen Museum, run by Lindt, where we spent a few hours learning about the history of chocolate. We toured the demonstration floor where the apparati for processing chocolate were running, as well as a huge chocolate fountain manned by an attendant handing out freshly dipped wafers.

For a touch of class to round out the afternoon, we went to the Bier Museum to sample Alt from Düsseldorf, recommended to us by Christian, the guy we met on the train the previous day. It was too bitter for Marco, but I enjoyed it. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say it was a bit like a smoother version of London Pride. Once again, I was one of two women in the whole bar. Watching the Czech supporters made me feel slightly uncomfortable about donning my Nedved shirt, since unlike the Argentinian supporters, they were overwhelmingly male.

Halfway through the Portugal v Iran game, we left to catch the train to Köln stadium. Since fewer supporters of either stripe were around, it wasn't quite as much fun as the journey to Gelsenkirchen had been. The Eastern Europeans didn't have the complex songs and chants that the Latin Americans have.

I put on my ill-fitting Nedved shirt at the stadium entrance and was immediately swamped by a very enthusiastic Czech supporter who spoke no English but with whom I exchanged happy smiles and a vigorous handshake anyway. As we filed into the stands, the Ghanaians and the Czechs greeted each other joyfully, which was a great pleasure to watch. The Americans who were there to support Ghana, on the other hand, got up my nose. (The Czech Republic beat the USA in the opening game of the group matches.) We seemed to be surrounded by spiteful American fans who kept yelling stupid crap every time a call went against Ghana as well as insults to the Czech players every time they went down injured. During the first half, one girl had the audacity to say, "I don't care what anyone says, this is a racist game. Look at that, a bunch of white players playing a bunch of black players – " whereupon she was cut off by everyone around her who could understand saying, "No, it isn't." In a country where the people are tentatively trying to make amends for their previous sins, especially when you're from a country that is in the process of accumulating a litany of them, the sheer insensitivity of making such a statement loudly and deliberately made me furious. Especially after the conversation with Christian the previous day.

What you have is a bunch of Czech people playing a bunch of Ghanaian people. Most of the former happen to be white. Most of the latter happen to be black. Are you familiar with geography? Is a game racist every time you have people of different skin colors playing against one another? Are you blind to the fans around you, smiling, patting one another's backs and generally being kind to one another? Have you been watching the players do the same? I would have liked to share this with her, but as it was, turning around and glaring incredulously had to suffice. Fortunately, the responses of everyone around her seemed to shame her into shutting up during the second half of the game.

The Czech Republic's loss hit me much harder than I expected. I hadn't realized how much of an attachment I'd formed until they lost in front of me. The Czechs around me all tried to speak Czech to me and I had to admit I couldn't respond but loved their country, particularly their intensely passionate literature, anyway.

After a despondent return to the hostel, we watched the first half of the Italy (1) v USA (1) game there. It was a nasty game full of kicking and elbows, involving two red cards in the first half. I couldn't take any more of the ugliness so we went to find some dinner. We hiked around for a while but lacking direction, wound up returning to a lovely Italian place near the hostel just before it closed. Though expensive, it was worth it to have fresh grilled fish and crisp green vegetables after all the sausages and pretzels with a schön (beautiful) Chianti and a tiramisu to end. Almost too full to move, we returned to our room past the hostel bar filled with Czechs sitting around a case of beer in which they appeared to be drowning their sorrows with a great deal of success.
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