May 22, 2008

Foreboding on Neutral Grounds

Canada’s national team has announced fixtures for two upcoming international friendlies. I know, that really isn’t the most exciting news item. But the locations for the matches are noteworthy. Canada will “host” Brazil in Seattle on May 31. Then they “host” Panama in Ft. Lauderdale in June. The match against Panama is, for whatever reason, closed to the public. I can’t find any articles explaining why they're playing their "home games" abroad; North American soccer rarely piques anyone’s interest. Nevertheless CONCACAF, a FIFA-demarcated region for World Cup qualification, is getting more competitive. Baseball countries like Panama and the United States are improving in soccer, while soccer countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica have restless fans with rising expectations. Only three countries from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean (there are 40 countries in CONCACAF) can qualify for the World Cup. Canada hasn’t fared well. The national team didn’t qualify for the 2006 World Cup, though Canadian athletes are active in competitive leagues abroad. Providence could grant the team good results when they host their friendlies in a neutral country, however some examples in literature suggest trouble on the horizon. Festivities on neutral grounds are usually the high point before a heartbreaking denouement.

In Theodor Fontane’s 1887 social novel Irrungen, Wirrungen, two people of different classes, the humble Lene and the Baron Botho, fall in love. The highlight of their courtship is a party at Hankels Ablage, a waterside locale outside Berlin that serves as a neutral setting. After that their relationship sours. Botho realizes from the party that he can’t be normal with her in front of the other aristocrats. Lene realizes she’s better off with the factory owner Gideon, who is in any case less pathetic than the Baron.

Another pair of young lovers is Sali and Vrenchen from Gottfried Keller’s 1856 novella Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe. Entrenched enmity between their fathers means the two Swiss farmers’ kids can see no future together. They decide to spend one day happy together, enjoy a meal at an inn, and dance at the neutral grounds of the Paradiesgärtchen. They spend their bridal night on a barge and at dawn slip into the water to drown.

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