Maybe this is just the bit of fri­vol­ity that Europe needs

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THE LAST time I was in one, the floor was so wet it re­sem­bled a lower deck of the Ti­tanic as the great liner set­tled steadily into the wa­ters of the At­lantic.

Mind you, this liq­uid cer­tainly hadn’t come from the sea – even if women dressed more like mer­maids had served it.

All hu­man life, liv­ing and not so close to the real world, is to be found in a Mu­nich beer hall.

Young ladies who had clearly climbed into out­fits two sizes too small for their bur­geon­ing tal­ents had ar­rived be­side the sod­den wooden ta­ble armed with great jugs of Ger­man beer, like ter­ror­ist fight­ers wield­ing their weapons.

In this case, over a pe­riod of a few hours, the “weapons” – huge quarts of strong Ger­man lager – had much the same ef­fect as the tools of the ter­ror­ists’ trade. Fit young men were re­duced to wrecks of hu­man­ity.

Of course, this is a scene likely to be re­peated across much of the Euro­pean con­ti­nent in the next four weeks.

In Ger­many, the beer halls will be awash with their prod­uct, sunk in co­pi­ous amounts by the fol­low­ers of the Ger­man na­tional foot­ball team.

In Hol­land, the inns and bars will be be­decked in the na­tional colour, orange, and the share­hold­ers of the nation’s great brew­ing com­pa­nies such as Heineken, Am­s­tel and Grolsch will lick their lips in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the vast prof­its about to spill from a mul­ti­tude of filled glasses.

In Italy, they tend to do it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, in a lit­tle more style.

The small fam­ily trat­to­rias, those Ital­ian eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments which are less for­mal than a ris­torante, but more for­mal than an os­te­ria, will be filled with the noise, hub­bub and buzz of ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by a soc­cer­mad nation.

The bot­tles of Barolo, Chi­anti and, if they’re re­ally strug­gling, Valpo­li­cella, will be uncorked with due cer­e­mony and laugh­ter.

Few culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences are more pleas­ant than find­ing such an es­tab­lish­ment some­where in Italy and set­tling down to home-made, well-cooked food with a de­cent glass.

And talk­ing of food and fun, then there is France. On July 12, 1998, the year when France were the host nation, I watched the fi­nal they played in Paris in the un­likely en­vi­rons of St Jean-de-Luz, a small fish­ing port on the At­lantic coast tucked away close to the Span­ish border.

This was the Basque re­gion, an area of fiercely par­ti­san and proud peo­ple. Yet when the fi­nal whis­tle went in the fi­nal in Paris that night, it was as though the Basques them­selves had beaten Brazil 3-0, not the French.

Sud­denly, as if some con­juror had ar­rived, bot­tles of red wine ap­peared on the ta­bles cour­tesy of Le Pa­tron. We’d all but eaten our meals but the cel­e­bra­tory wine kept com­ing.

And when we’d had a de­cent chance to as­sess the mer­its of that par­tic­u­lar vin­tage as, all the while, our ears were as­sailed by the sound of blar­ing car horns through­out the lit­tle town and gi­ant tri­colour flags be­ing waved from the ve­hi­cles as they cruised around, a most ex­tra­or­di­nary scene un­folded.

At some­thing close to two o’clock in the morn­ing, a gi­ant, elon­gated snake was to be seen wind­ing its way through the cen­tre of St Jean-de-Luz; a hu­man snake com­pris­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple, your cor­re­spon­dent – nat­u­rally full of bon­homie as be­fit­ted the oc­ca­sion – among them.

Three very ex­cited young English chil­dren were also some­where in the line, shriek­ing their heads off, laugh­ing and smil­ing, amid the fun.

In Greece, of course, they don’t have a whole lot to laugh about these days. Well, is it funny if your coun­try is fi­nan­cially bank­rupt?

But the coun­try will look to its foot­ball team to help erase fur­rowed brows and, even if just briefly, lift the pall of gloom that has de­scended upon the likes of Pi­raeus and Pat­mos.

In Eng­land al­ready, flags fly from cars and most other ve­hi­cles like bunting from ships.

The cross of Saint Ge­orge is to be seen ev­ery­where in a star­tling de­par­ture from the nation’s nor­mal dis­in­ter­est in pa­tri­o­tism.

Here, too, the pubs will be burst­ing at the seams on big match days, cock­ney cries of “Go on, my son” fill­ing the London air.

Den­mark, Por­tu­gal, Spain, Slo­vakia and Switzer­land are the other Euro­pean coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing at this World Cup and in ev­ery city, town or vil­lage you can bet in­ter­est will be in­tense and, nat­u­rally, glasses fully charged. A soc­cer fi­esta of fun and fri­vol­ity? Maybe it’s just what fi­nan­cially bro­ken Europe needs at this par­tic­u­lar moment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.