Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

La Afición

La Afición

I first learned the word “afición” from Hemingway, and because he didn’t bother to give me any guidance I mispronounced it for years afterwards. It should sound like “a-fee-thion.” For Hemingway in the 1920’s afición meant a passion and understanding of bullfighting. He always spoke of it as something almost secretive and meant only for a chosen few, and of course he was one of the chosen. As much as I’d love to write about Spanish life like Hemingway, I can't for a lot of reasons. Besides my lack of writing talent I can say that things are radically different here in Spain many decades after Hemingway’s time. I think the changes are almost entirely for the good.

This is my fourth trip to Spain. I have spent a lot of time in Mexico and Peru and now in I live in Spain. I have yet to go to a bullfight. The season for the corrida, as it is called in Spanish, is still months off. I will probably go at least once while I am living here just to see what it is all about although I must say that I’m not very curious about it.

Even as a young kid reading Hemingway, I thought that having afición for the bulls was probably not my style—no matter how much I wanted to be Hemingway, or Spanish, or French, or some kind of Euro-weenie. I admired Hemingway because he spoke French and Spanish, not because he went to bullfights. I completely didn’t understand his thing about fishing, either. We pretty much see eye-to-eye on the whole issue of booze but I would imagine that his eyes were a lot more bloodshot than mine.

Since my first visit to Spain I have witnessed a drastic change in the standard of living and the overall progress of this country. My first visit was in 1979, a few short years after the fall of a brutal and stifling dictatorship. Back then I remember Spain as dirty, inefficient, and rudderless. Today the country is liberal, progressive, and highly modern in almost every way. It is only natural to assume that their attitudes about bullfighting and soccer have also evolved.

Afición now relates more to soccer here in Spain than it does to anything having to do with bulls. You don’t see little kids imitating matadors when they play, but they try their best to duplicate the artistry of their favorite soccer players. There are several daily newspapers dedicated almost entirely to soccer. It is a national obsession unlike anything we have in our country. If you were to combine basketball, football, and baseball you might approach what soccer means to the Spanish public. Hemingway would be writing about the games being played in the great stadiums of Spain were he alive today. As a disciple of the one of the greatest American writers I feel that it is my duty to chronicle the most important Spanish obsession of my era, and that obsession is fútbol. There isn't anything exclusive about afición for soccer, it's the most inclusive club in all of Spain.

Some of the most difficult passages that I have thus far read in Spanish have been florid accounts of soccer matches. Instead of recruiting their sports writers from the country’s journalism schools, Spanish newspapers must troll university poetry departments. Every Spanish Hemingway wannabe must be a sportswriter. Today the newspapers are filled with accounts of Valencia’s “glorious tie” with Champion’s League rival, and Italy’s best club, Inter Milan.

The match was played in Milan’s San Siro stadium in front of only 35,000 fans while back in Valencia every bar with a television was standing room only. Every seat faces the screen making the restaurants look more like movie theaters at game time. In the three bars in the Valencia stadium plaza there were hundreds of fans screaming and cheering. It was a terrifically exciting match. Twice Valencia came from behind to tie the game, the second time with only four minutes left to play. The two teams will meet again on March 6, 2007 to determine who goes on to the quarter finals. You can bet that Valencia will play in front of a packed stadium.

I could completely ignore bullfighting while living here in Spain but trying to avoid soccer would be next to impossible. You are literally hit on the head with it; at least you are if you don’t pay close attention when walking by a group of young boys kicking a ball around. It is especially hard to become a fan when you are living in a city whose team is doing rather well and has high hopes of a championship season.

I don’t claim to have afición, I just like to drink beer and watch sports on TV.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you can't say something nice, say it here.