Original Art by ModoGráfico

In case you don’t know, most Venezuelan cities have several immigrant clubs, like Casa Portuguesa, with everything you might expect: a swimming pool, a soccer field, a large hall with art from the old country and a pretty decent restaurant, open to the public, with a giant TV that has become a sanctuary to their national team during the World Cup.

It was hard to imagine what to expect when I went for lunch and to watch the Portugal vs. Iran game. I pictured it as a half-empty, poorly lit restaurant in the middle of a slow, unassuming agony which is pretty much the vibe in most restaurants in Venezuela today.

The first sign I get of being wrong is a man selling Portuguese flags to put on car windows at the club’s entrance, which resembles a castle. These sellers are ubiquitous —the flags too— and now that I see one for the first time in the season, I realize their absence. In the parking lot, mostly filled with large SUVs, I see he had at least one customer today.

It was hard to imagine what to expect when I went for lunch and to watch the Portugal vs. Iran game.

We present our IDs at the entrance and go to the restaurant, which is the only place in the club filled with life. Half a dozen old-school waiters buzz around changing tablecloths and pointing customers to the buffet. Even though not all tables are occupied, you can tell they’re unused to this crowd.

On the walls there are posters of Lisbon, Coimbra, Madeira and the Azores and a large window looks out to the empty swimming pool, touched by a light, warm rain. Most eyes are set on four TV sets —three smaller ones scattered around and a large one in a corner, dominating the room.

The large one and the one at the bar are dedicated to Ronaldo et al against Iran, while the other two are for Spain-Morocco. We strategically sit where we can watch both games.

I have a Parmesan lebranche with fries and vegetables, and a cold glass of papaya juice. It’s the second time I eat in a restaurant since my birthday last January, so I might as well enjoy it (still on the more affordable side of the menu).

The game is uneventful. There are some close calls but every now and then I find my head turning to Spain vs. Morocco. I’m not really a soccer fan —if anything, I’m the most casual baseball fan you’ll ever meet— but I’ve found myself taking an interest in the game thanks to the influence of my Caracas Chronicles coworkers.

What I do notice is hard to explain; it’s not exactly decadence, but like a sense of precariousness and melancholy, there’s something missing but you can’t pinpoint exactly what, though you can make an educated guess.

These are games that used to attract massive audiences from Maracay and across the region, events that unified children and grandchildren of a nation that came here running away from hunger, poverty and an authoritarian government under a common identity embraced by peace, solidarity and prosperity.

There’s something missing but you can’t pinpoint exactly what, though you can make an educated guess.

Now, that’s something of a relic. It’s a ritual people follow not only to distract themselves from the harsh reality, but also to get lost in a connection with something bigger than themselves. It’s a post-modern spiritual experience, probably the last true nationalism, devoid of everything that made it a tradition here.

I finish my lebranche, which was uneven, and have cheesecake for dessert (the best I’ve ever had). People are bored with the game, talking with each other, checking their phones, ordering beers. I look for our waiter, Quaresma scores and everyone turns around.

The group of middle-aged fans wearing Portugal jerseys stand up and hug each other, cheering as if they won the cup (or even the game). For a moment, everything’s good in this world. The spell is eventually broken, some leave and the game ends in a tie.

Venezuela is traditionally a baseball nation. Names like Luis Aparicio, David Concepción and Andrés Galarraga are the stuff of legend and the team you follow, its rivalries and superstitions, were, for a long time, part of what defined you as an everyday, arepa-eating Venezuelan.

Until the 2000s, soccer was somewhat niche. Outside the World Cup, it was mainly territory of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian immigrants —and some South Americans— who founded and supported amateur teams, fiercely promoting the Beautiful Game they loved so much.

If it weren’t for yesterday’s Portuguese baker, the Italian bricklayer, and the Spanish bookseller, we probably wouldn’t have a Vinotinto today, or a World Cup tradition that isn’t what it used to anymore… for now.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. You just keep sending your Venezuelan beauties and béisboleros to the United States.

    Oh. And your nurses, doctors and engineers.

    FWIW, a good read. World Cup is huge here in the States right now. We have a 43″ plasma (old/new school?) monitor set up in the shop. We did it two years ago for the Euros. Everyone brings in an appetizer. The aunties set me up today with arepas Reina (chicken salad and avocados for us gringos) that were a HUGE favorite with the lads two years ago. Barbacoa yesterday for the Mexico game. We’re about split 50/50 between Colombia and England in the shop.

    Wish you guys the best.

        • Played soccer in V. when I was ten. Came to the U.S. … soccer is a girls’ sport … elliptical footballs and crash helmets … tennis … no Gaggia’s … all coffee is drip … espresso is unheard of … lots of hamburgers … jelly doughnuts … no serrano … no mangos … no guanabana ice-cream … no arepas con carne mechada … “tacos” (yick – I refuse – that’s as sacrilegious as saying an hallaca is “kind of like a taco”, or Joanna’s infamous “mozzarella sticks”) … impossible to find a good haircut … shock and tears, being in such a backwards country! Gotta be tough ….

          Today the only thing I haven’t found is guanabana ice-cream (great export opportunity for someone).

  2. Why is soccer by far the favourite sport arround the world except in the US ??, taking its place in the US (and in some caribbean countries including Venezuela) is baseball a much different game , wonder why the American ethos in this regard is so different from the rest of the world , someone should take his hand at attempting to explain that ….!! and strangely enough the rave for baseball is not shared by the US anglo cousins arround the world .

    • Because American arent dominating the sport, not offense but Americans have the tendency to be a little bandwagonish, also soccer in America is considered a rich kid sport and the pay for play system is very blatant, in south america, europe and africa no matter the social status of the kid and his family if he got talent he will end up in a good academy most of the time

    • Both Baseball and american football were invented in the US. They have been played for generations and over time they have become a traditional sports played at all levels and ages.

      As anon07 states soccer at one time was a rich kid sport in the US played a a few elite universities and private clubs. That has change drastically over the last 20+ years. Soccer is now played starting at a very young age by a large percentage of the population. It is a common sport in community park districts, primary schools, secondary schools, universities thru out the US. Many Schools Sports leagues now have local, state, and national championship competitions. Over the last 10-15+ years professional soccer has started and become more popular with European soccer stars on US teams. Many professional teams that used to share stadiums with American Football teams now have their own stadiums.

      I expect that the popularity of soccer will continue to grow as the youth of today play the sport and carry that knowledge and appreciation into the future.

      • Yeah, but they still play it like football, or like Maradona plays: force and aggression. I played some Central Americans up here in the U.S. once – little guys, by U.S. standards. Trying to get the ball from one of them is like trying to catch flies with your fingers. You have to anticipate and be quick and already have someone to pass to, know where your guys are located all the time, read your formations against the opponents. That’s how you play – as I see it. It’s not a boxing match. I was taught to play clean.

    • We enjoy it when our national teams are involved, but games are so infrequent (Olympics, World Cup where not every team even gets in), that it falls under the radar. That’s reason #1.

      Reason #2, a lot of us Gringos find it tortuously boring.

      #3, we have too many other sports to focus on.

      #4, we have so many other leisure time activities and the resources to enjoy them that are preferable to watching soccer on TV.

      And #5, see #2 above.

      Try not to read it as any ego-centric disdain for soccer. We just don’t like it, and think the penalty rules and bullshit fake injury acting is absurd.

      • As Pedro Jose noted in his post above, things have changed dramatically in the U.S over the last 20 years that have helped make soccer/futbol more popular in this country.

        Changing demographics due to both legal and illegal immigration to this country…not only from LatAm but also from many other futbol loving countries.

        U.S. style “American football” is dwindling in popularity even at the pro level as politics have been introduced into the mix in the NFL.

        Even the youth leagues in the cities and towns across the country are reporting lower participation because of increased awareness of concussions, knee injuries, back problems etc that are occuring in large numbers at early ages. I guess a lot if parents are opting for soccer because they see that as a “safer” alternative.

        I am a huge college football fan (GO SOONERS) and Dallas Cowboys fan but there is certainly room in this country for soccer/futbol and it’s fans. People are going to watch what they prefer to watch and that’s as it should be.

        • They’ve been saying that soccer is getting more popular in the states since the 70s. Except it isn’t.

          Like they say about Brazil, soccer is the future of American sports…and always will be.

          Unless our kids are playing in some community league, we just don’t…as a whole…like it very much.

          Cue Canucklehead to call me an old white racist for saying this.

        • The page on this link is a quick, simple, easy illustration of the changing demographics here in the U.S. over the last almost 30 years. I have to think this at least partially accounts for the increasing popularity in U.S. In 2010 Hispanic surnames occupied 6 of the top 15 most common surnames in this country, in 2000 they occupied 4, in 1990 they occupied zero places on the list.

    • Oh my NET., a big swing and miss. A man with José González Vargas’ impressive credentials, even though he writes the disclaimer “if anything, I’m the most casual baseball fan you’ll ever meet” creates a CC item from Maracay and doesn’t even mention Maracay’s mega-star native son Miguel Cabrera! “Miggie” as he is known in Detroit, has already garnered all of the awards and accolades available to professional baseball players. Except for election to the Hall-of-Fame but he undoubtedly will go in by unanimous vote the first year he is eligible. Unfortunately he has been injured this year and I’ve recently read that he will need surgery and for this yearm his season is over. He is under contract to the Tigers for 25+ million dollars per year until 2023. Yup, Jose, the Maracay native is a hero to millions of Americans, you’re welcome on his bandwagon anytime.

  3. To my fellow Americans:
    Please join me in wishing a HAPPY 4th of JUlY to our CITY ON THE HILL!

    HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, AMERICA!!!!!

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