Despite sharing baseball as a national pastime, a national U.S. baseball team hasn't been to Cuba since the revolution. “Baseball diplomacy” never happened, though the potential has been there. (For non-American readers: The United States has had a trade and tourism embargo against Cuba since Castro's alignment with Krushchev forty-six years ago. But you, dear non-American reader, get to go as you please, drink Havana Club rum, and smoke a Cohiba without reproach. Vale entonce, as we say in the diaspora.)
In the Middle Ages a form of sports diplomacy punctuated the politics and intrigue of daily life. It was a great festival, known in Middle High German as hôchgezíte. Notice the word's resemblance to the New High German word for wedding, Hochzeit. Knights from different territories and families accepted invitations to compete against each other in games, sports, and poetry competitions.
In the Nibelungenlied, a collection of 39 books from the 12th century about the sword-wielding Lady Kriemhild, a sports festival honors the dubbing of Siegfried as knight. It's the first festival scene in the Nibelungenlied and the last in which all participants are at peace with one another. Happiness-to-grief is a running motif.
“mit leide was verendet | des Küniges hôchgezíte”
Here's hoping today's soccer diplomacy doesn't foreshadow more grief between the two countries. There are some tough times ahead for Cuban and American relations, if past examples are any indication. The activist in me would love to see the embargo lifted and relations normalized. The philosopher in me doesn't mind the embargo, because lifting it will mean a Starbucks on every corner, hordes of tourists, and aggressive neocolonial business dealings. Therefore, here's to the Nibelungenlied – with its mix of emotional sensitivity and martial brutality – it makes for propaedeutic reading in uncertain times.