The Zócalo. Ancient center of Tenochitlan, where Moctezuma II might have gone for a smoke. Next door to the National Palace, where Diego painted his incredible history of Mexico. A place to swear in a viceroy or to protest a rigged election.
Or a place to watch the World Cup. They are broadcasting La Copia Mundial, on a giant screen placed before the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos (don’t forget the “a los cielos” hombre!). Tens of thousands have gathered. The national flag flaps above you as you maneuver for a good view of Mexico versus Sweden. With every near miss of Chicharito, the crowd oohs and ahhs and moans in agony. With every amazing save by Memo Ochoa, the crowd goes wild. It’s electric. If only they could get the elusive “gollllllllllllllllllll!” the plaza could go nuts.
But they don’t. And Sweden scores. And scores again. And you hear a man say, “Adiós México de la mundial.” And you hear a boy say, “C#&@% tu madre.”
As it nears the end of the game, those who have studied their flow charts are asking, what about Germany? What about South Korea? Is there still a chance? For some reason there is no cell phone service in the ancient plaza and the municipal government doesn’t seem to have ponied up for the rights to broadcast the other game (it has something to do with Carlos Slim), so information is at a minimum. Then, suddenly, announcer comes on and suddenly tells the thousands that Germany is still tied 0 – 0 with South Korea and the crowd goes bonkers, bouncing, applauding, smiling.
But who could really hope that Germany would not score a late goal against South Korea? It’s what they do, after all. They have no interest in Cinderella stories. They crush hope for breakfast.
We wait. Mexico is now losing 3-0. They try desperately to get a goal. Then, a rapid fire announcement rolls over the crowd and they burst into a roar of applause. We bounce up and down and cheer too. Then we wonder, why are we cheering? Did the Koreans escape the final whistle? No, they scored a goal! Soon, another goal! Both games end. The Mexican players are on the field, crying, tragic, but the fans in the stadium have gotten word and are jumping up and down and we are jumping up and down, chanting, “Ko-re-a! Ko-re-a!”
It’s a strange scene in the Zócalo.
Later, as one driver put it to me, there is a great celebration of the loss. A mariachi band is sent to the South Korean embassy. The consul general is carried around on the shoulders of Mexican fans chanting, “Coreano, hermano, ahora eres Mexicano!” It is a strange path to citizenship and to the next round of the World Cup.
Days later, we return to the Zócalo after a long bike ride, rolling up just in time to see Russia knock off Spain in penalty kicks. The crowd appears to have mixed loyalties. Here, where Hernan Cortés launched New Spain, the giant screen, blocking the cathedral, portrays the Spanish being vanquished from la Copa Mundial.