Because of deadlines on another commitment, I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit, but it’s also because most recent off-season news from the Southern Cone has been topics that don’t much rouse my interest, most notably soccer and religion. Though to some people the two apparently overlap, to me they’re the cultural equivalent of Ambien.
First, chronologically, is the fact that Chile hosted the 2015 Copa América soccer tournament and defeated Argentina in the championship game a few days in a so-called “penalty shootout” (roughly equivalent to deciding a basketball game by shooting free throws). It still mystifies me that soccer players are incapable of continuing in overtime until somebody actually scores – at the very least, this would determine which team had the best-conditioned athletes.
Chileans were ecstatic, Argentines rather less so – especially the 7,000 who were caught on the Chilean side of the Andes when snow blocked their return to Argentina (the photograph above, taken from the Chilean side in summer, shows the snow-covered summit of Cerro Aconcagua in the distance). Some of those Argentines, apparently, responded to the border closure by staging rowdy protests and even robbing chickens and empanadas from a restaurant in the city of Los Andes.
I’ve managed to avoid soccer games since playing briefly as a schoolchild but, decades ago, I actually attended a Mass with a Chilean friend who has since become an atheist. It was a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience I’d prefer not to repeat, though I do occasionally enter churches – and once, even a mosque – in the course of researching and photographing my own guidebooks. While I can acknowledge their historical significance, that’s the limit of my interest.
Admittedly, that’s not true for everyone – as will be apparent in Paraguay this weekend. Since adopting the alias “Pope Francis,” the artist formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio has still not returned to his native Argentina, but a million Argentines may overrun border crossings this weekend as the Pope is due to make an appearance in the capital city of Asunción.
If so, they’d better do so soon. According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, Argentine customs agents will go on strike tomorrow. Whether those who manage to cross the border will be able to return could be another question entirely, and we can only hope they won’t emulate the soccer fans who were stuck in Chile.