September 06, 2008

Soccer Diplomacy, Meet Jousting Diplomacy

The U.S. Men's National Team plays a World Cup qualifier in Havana, the first time the U.S. team has been to Cuba since 1947. Today's game is special to me for two reasons. First, I need the U.S. MNT to qualify so I can buy a discounted follow-your-team ticket at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, second, my parents are from Cuba and I'm Cuban American. The broader reason why the game is special is that both countries are baseball countries, yet they'll be meeting today at a soccer match. Soccer is a sport both general populations know little about.

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.


ß. Andrigon said...

What's the relation between festival & wedding, besides being a party?

"Tourney" is a good english word, rarely used outside of tournament.

I'm all for baseball diplomacy, ping-pong diplomacy, & caber-tossing diplomacy.

Brains said...

Senhor Sandrigon! So nice to hear from you. I feel honored.

In the 12th century north of the limes you couldn't really talk about marriages or weddings without befuddling ze Germans. Gottfried's "Tristan" from 1210 AD tries to define marriage a little - horribly romantic Scheisse that you should read sometime.

Thanks for reminding me of the word tourney. That's exactly what I meant!

Anonymous said...

I have been to Germany and Cuba. Nice countries. In Germany I learned that every hot dog is actually a bratwurst, and there are various kinds of bratwurst. In Cuba I learned there are no hot dogs, except for the actual animal that wanders in the street sweating and looking for scraps. I appreciate your blog. I hope others do too. Long live Germanistik!

Paul Spinger said...

Lieber Brains,

statt eines persönlichen Kommentars hier die beiden letzten Verse des Nibelungenliedes, da ich meine sie passen sehr gut zu Deinen Ausführungen: (Text zitiert nach der Handschrift C)
2438 Ine chan ivch niht bescheiden waz sider da geshach
wan christen vn– heiden weinen man do sach
wibe vn– knehte vn– manige schone meit
die heten nach ir frivnden div [89r]aller grozisten leit

2439 Ine sage iv nv niht mere von der grozen not
die da erslagen waren die lazen ligen tot
wie ir dinch an geviengen sit der Hvnen diet
hie hat daz mære ein ende daz ist der Nibelunge liet

Liebe Grüße aus Springe

Brains said...

Mensch, Paul! Also optimistisch bist Du gar nicht. :-)

Paul Spinger said...

Lieber Brains,

aber doch! Wir leben ja nicht mehr in der Zeit der Völkerwanderung, und das Nibelungenlied ist schließlich eine "Mär".

Brains said...

Wohl wahr, Paul. Verzeihung, ich dachte, den Ausgang der US-Kuba Angelegenheiten hast Du als toedliches tragisches Ende gezeichnet. :-) "Der Nibelunge Not" so zu sagen.

peli said...

Sadly, the actual match was rough on the eyes. Both squads played sloppy, though it was lights out soccer.

Also, a seemingly overmatched Cuba played strategically conservative, yet the US certainly didn't look deserving of this approach,. . that is unless you. . . "blame it on the rain".

Brains said...

Hey peli, yeah, I was reading about Papa Bradley's "bucket system" (4-2-2-2) formation and it angered me. It looks boring to watch, too.

We need a non-American coach with real international experience. Bring in Guus Hiddink!

peli said...

Agreed. Absolutely. I can't figure it out. I wonder if they expect the coach to also be a sort of general manager controlling the top levels of the program (I think Arenas did that well). But this team definitely needs a sage, a creative coach, a new voice.