Sunday, 27 July 2008
Chronicle of a Tragedy, Part II
It had finally come, the day of the great ...match! (Flaubert).
So, let's pick up the story where we left it. Me and Dan were wandering around the street like leaves in the wind. 6:00 pm: In the sheer terror of finding ourselves in the same situation of not being able to find a pub again, we entered a place at something like six in the evening, with the match that started at quarter to nine. The implication was, of course, that we started swigging considerably early.
So we're having a couple of beers and everything, and by 7:00 pm the place is already jammed. We look at each other in satisfaction, complimenting each other on how clever we had been, and how wise it had been of us to have come here early, and sat ourselves right in front of the TV. At around eight, when the place is so packed we barely have room to breathe, with an ocean of Romanisti rubbing elbows with us, I suddenly realise the critical problem: me and Dan are only speaking English. Around us it's like we've suddenly time-warped into the Colosseum and are now watching tigers eating up slaves, everybody's slobbering out in the Roman dialect like orcs around a camp-fire, and we two there, speaking in the Queen's English - we look like fucking Manchester United supporters!!
I realise we are not being eyed with great friendliness, especially considering we've tadpoled the two best seats, and they are also the most exposed ones. Oh God. Sweat starts breaking out of my forehead. Dan is oblivious to the problem still and since the beer is getting to his head he's starting to laugh and raucously recount some story about what happened to us in England last week. 'Look, Dan,' I begin, spying around, and he booms out to the guy at the other side of the bar to get him another beer. I am going to tell him to quieten down when these two youngish lads with Roma scarfs around their necks come and take place right next to us. Immediately I turn towards the TV and explode in 'E ROMA ALEEEEE ROMA ALEEEEE ROMA ALE ROMA ALE ROMA ALE!!!!!!' The two kids seem initially confused. Then a sort of ripple of relief goes around, and they say - in Italian - 'oh, so you're supporting Roma, are you?' (I respond in Roman dialect): 'But of course! What do we look like, Englishmen?' Dan, on whom the situation seemed to have dawned, suddenly became like that German soldier in Saving Private Ryan and he started yelling: 'Me no anglese! Me Americano! Fuck Manchester!'
They then proceeded to shake hands and share drinks and peace was had all round. To this day Dan doesn't know that I saved both our lives with a Roman chant. Then again, considering what came later, I kind of wish I hadn't.
So the match begins. Excitement is palpable. This almost feels political. Everybody knows that we have won the first leg, and that there's a very decent chance we may pass - and get for the first time in years to an historic Champions League semi-final!! It is around this stage, as the ball is kicked off and everything, that I turn towards Dan, put a hand on his shoulder, and knowingly tell him: 'Dan. Let's play a game. As the match goes on, let's buy each other a shot for every goal that is scored, and let's see how drunk we get.' And Dan looked at me laughing, and he agreed.
The match ended with Manchester United steamrolling us 7-1. Seven. Fucking. One. We barely had time to metabolise the first shot and another goal came along. No-one there was even laughing, because they understood this wasn't a defeat but a tragedy, an authentic, Attic tragedy, one of those things which happen once every mammoth walks the earth: the game settled the record for the highest scoring quarter-final in the history of the Champions League. Seven - One. For those who are not familiar with football, this is not one of those retarded sports like tennis where the logic behind the score-system is so inscrutable you'd think it's been devised by Tibetan monks as the code to protect the treasures of a forsaken city (seriously: fifteen - thirty - FORTY?? What the fuck? Isn't it meant to be forty-five? And just what the fuck is 'Advance - Love'?? I remember when I was seven or so I asked what the score was in a tennis match and I was told 'thirty to nil' and I was like, what the flying fuck? What is this, Agassi plus Federer against a blindfolded quadruple amputee on a broken wheelchair?). No, in football the score actually makes sense. So if a game ends seven to one, it's about as inconceivable and humiliating as being outrun in the 100 metres sprint by a bunch of paralytic turtles.
And in all of this, I was drinking. By the end of the first half the score was four-nil and I had already had so much alcohol that I was starting to see the world around me leaving streaks of colour when I turned my head. To the four shots one had to add all the several beers; honestly, I wasn't expecting there to be so many goals in the entire game, let alone just the first half. The second half begins amid general despair - I don't know why I didn't leave the place during the interval, really - and immediately Manchester score another one. Jesus Christ. The barman is already pouring the Whisky without even waiting for instructions, and I think it's a good measure of what an utterly pitiful wreck I must have looked that as he sends it over he says, 'This one's for free. I can't bear to see you like that.' I have since then attempted a highly miserable and dejected appearance at other pubs in the hopes of getting some free drinks, but, irritatingly, it never worked. I guess I never managed to reproduce quite that seal-puppy expression which I had in Rome.
The match ends and we walk out into a night as welcoming as Scylla and Charibdis. I am basically weeping pure alcohol: 'Dan,' I tell him, with the tone of Absolom's father holding the body of his dead son, 'O Dan, my comrade in the agony [I was talking in iambic pentameter by then], behold the night that welcomes our despair! Let's go and drown our sorrows - anywhere!' So we walk - trip over ourselves for half a mile is more like it - until we find something like lights gleaming before us, and we walk into what we perceive to be another pub.
The place is comparatively quiet. I walk up to the bar and formulate a request for a shot. The blonde barmaid turns around, and I am struck with a vision of enchanting beauty and mineral indifference. We were in the same pub of the Aphrodite girl where we'd had absinthe the night before! 'Not this again,' I think to myself as I lean towards her and ask: 'Can I have some absinthe, please?'
'Not this again,' she exhales, rolling her eyes. She turns around without further words and grabs a shotglass. I feel perhaps I've said something wrong, so I try to make it up. I ask tentatively: 'By the way, where are you from?'
'America,' she says, with the tone of someone about to reach into a bucket of fish and slap you in the face with a trout. Jesus, what do you do for a living, girl, the stormtrooper? Then she turns around and there they are: green like distilled evil and smooth like your mother's breast. Two double shots of absinthe. And, like a surgeon's equipment, two tablespoons and sugarbags next to them. Me and Dan take them, we dip the sugar into the absinthe, then set fire to it, mix it into the shot-glasses once it's molten, and with the eyes of two paratroopers about to jump into a battle-zone, we down them. Bat-in-the-fucking-teeth.
The thing about drinking to drown your sorrows is that you sort of imagine it can't get any worse than the situation you already are in, so you can swallow anything and it's never gonna hurt. That's a pitiful lie when it comes to absinthe. Most alcohol gets you drunk by messing with your brain. Absinthe goes straight for the soul. Something inside you just starts screaming and you feel like you should be hearing it, but you're not, and somehow the more you enjoy the drinking the more an awareness nags at the back of your brain that something, somewhere, is dying.
I'm not sure how far I went down with that stuff, but I think it was somewhere after the third or fourth shot of it that, in the middle of the usual couple of words exchanged between us and Mortisia, I put my arm around Dan's shoulder and bellowed 'BECAUSE YOU KNOW, WE'RE THE TWO GREATEST POETS OF THE 21ST CENTURY!!!' Not that so far we had been giving proof of extreme intellectual capacity, but if there was any need for us to decisively validate our status as the two most perfect idiots of the continent, then this sentence hit the coffin-nail on the head and drove it in till it came out the other way and you needed to replace it with another one. This is the kind of sentence which they place in the dictionary for the sample-section under the voice 'idiotic.' But even as we must have looked like idiots of the first category, take a guess: what's her reaction?
She melts like an ice-cube on a Cuban virgin's thigh. Suddenly she wants to know everything about us: where we're from, where do we study, what do we do. And, naturally: what do we write. I no longer recall if it was she who asked me to do it or me volunteering, but at some stage I had to read out a poem to her (sorry if this is getting confusing - this is around the part where I step out of the thresholds of my memory and into the wild, dark nothingness). I couldn't do it. I sounded like I were ingesting potatoes. Or raw car-tyre. I slurred my words so bad even Dan couldn't understand me. Hell, even I couldn't understand myself. Furthermore my memory of that poem was acting like a streetlight, going on and off whenever it pleased. So she asked me to write the poem down. The hardest thing in nature. Samson would have got on his knees and wept at that. My hand was shaking so hard it looked like I was masturbating the pen. Eventually I managed to put down something, but by the swivelling runes I'd left on the paper it looked like I had been writing while leaning on one of those thumping machines they use in the street to break down the concrete. I gave it back to her, avoiding her gaze.
While the memory of making a perfect idiot out of myself in front of that girl remains as distinct as a Nordic sky, all the other memories are somewhat more shady (trust my psyche to remember the one thing I really wish I could forget). At some late time we separated and I went to the bus-stop - I was terrified then because it was late and I thought I'd miss it and have to sleep inbetween two garbage skips with a flight next morning for Amsterdam, but in a moment which had me on the brink of religious conversion, the bus arrived!
The trip, I completely blacked it out from memory. So I did with getting home at my grandma's, where no doubt I must have looked too fucking great to believe. My memories resume the next morning, with a pain like a nail being driven at the back of my head, and my grandma nudging me and passing me the phone for my parents to discuss the tragedy. Me, I was still drunk. Despite the gallopping hangover, the inebriation still hadn't faded.
Getting up was a torture. But we did manage to catch the plane, and went to Amsterdam, and that's for another blog entry. I wrote a sonnet on that occasion too, to bemoan the sad destiny of my team, but that sonnet is now in the possession of my American friend and for my part, it's been lost. Yeah, that just completes the tragedy, I know.