Saturday, June 14, 2014

Soccer, Saint Days, and Hedgehogs

            For those who don’t keep up with important world news, Croatia played Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup on Thursday. I did not grow up in a soccer family and honestly do not know much about the sport or keep up with things such as the World Cup. And in the United States, it is fine. I might see some results on facebook, but for the most part, there is no much evidence that such an event is even happening. It is NOT like that here in Croatia. For the past month, every store has been selling Croatian jerseys, t-shirts, mugs, horns, thundersticks, ect. Cars all of a sudden are decked out with the red and white checkered pattern of the national team and flags can be seen everywhere.
            Then on Thursday, the real excitement began. Every café (of which there are hundreds in this city) brought out their TV’s or set up a large projector in the street. The three different squares of the town also set up their own screens so people could come out and watch the game together. Even though the game didn’t start until 10pm, you could hear loud music all over town with horns honking and people singing. I decided that I would watch the first half with strangers in the main square. I wanted to observe all the festivities as I rode my bike the fifteen minutes from my dorm to downtown.
            At the main square, a live band was playing Croatian music before the start of the game. People were gathered, all wearing red, white, and blue, drinking beer and laughing with friends. Even those who didn’t believe Croatia would win (we were playing the home team) was caught up in the atmosphere and singing along to the national anthem. And then when Croatia scored the first goal, chaos erupted. The whole crowd was jumping and yelling. Fire crackers were set off and the police just stood there smiling. For a moment, the whole country was together, celebrating.
The rest of game didn’t go so well. I watched the rest in my dorm, which was not nearly as full of excitement. But the referee (is that what they are called in soccer?) made some terrible calls against Croatia, which cost us the game. Even non-Croatians agree the calls were bad. But then again, Brazil did hold procession for most of the game, so they might have won anyway. The next game Croatia plays Cameroon, so hopefully that will go better. I am just excited to people watch again and be a part of all the festivities.
And then yesterday was the saint day of Saint Anthony, who is the patron saint of children and the saint of one of the Catholic churches in the old city of Osijek. (Once again, I am not sure the validity of this information… I am not Catholic and this information was roughly translated to me.) To celebrate, a huge festival was set up.  It felt like a county fair in the United States, with cotton candy and carnival rides. Booths were set up selling goods and the streets were crowded. The only part that had to do with the Saint was going to the church to receive lilies, the symbol of Saint Anthony. I had a great time with one of my good friends from the library. And afterward we got to hang out a bit and I experienced a little bit more of Croatian hospitality.
On my way home last night, I happened across a hedgehog on the side of the bike path. This was my second sighting in  a week and the second sighting of my life. Although he was terrified of me, he didn’t run away as I stopped, took pictures and petted him. Hedgehogs really are prickly! And cute! Too bad they are not nearly as common in the United States, at least where I have lived. All in all, it has been a pretty fantastic last couple of days. 

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