“El Clasico” in Haiti

By | April 12, 2010

Laura Wagner, a UNC Anthropology graduate student who was in Haiti during the earthquake (and wrote a searing account of her experience at Salon.com), has recently returned to continue her research there. On Saturday, she took this photograph in Port-au-Prince, in the neighborhood of Delmas 32. The chalk board in front of this damaged building — you can see a broken gate inside the building, and the tarp is a necessary addition now that the rainy season has begun — invited fans to come watch the Real-Barca game, something that is of course not to be missed under any circumstances. (For a history of “El Clasico,” click here).

Written in Creole, the message invites passersby to come “in a crowd” to “watch Messi,” for the reasonable price of 10 gourds (about 25 cents). As Laura wrote to me, the sign signals a “certain return to normality.”

What would we do without the solace of football?

The photo reminded me of the amazing, crystallizing scene in Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Life and Nothing But,” which he filmed in Iran in the wake of the 1990 earthquake there, which took place in the midst of the World Cup. In the scenes below, he discovers that, even in the midst of the devastation, people still have their priorities.

The version below is with French subtitles (the film is in Persian), but watch how, starting about 3:45, when he finds a boy he has been looking for and asks him to tell him about the earthquake he ends up hearing a lot about football instead. Later in the scene, starting at about 4:55, he meets a man setting up an antenna above a refugee camp to watch a match. When he asks whether its appropriate to watch football in the midst of so much death, the man replies that the World Cup is only every four years, and you can’t miss it. “Life goes on,” he explains with a smile. My thanks to Negar Mottahedeh, a colleague at Duke and specialist on Iranian cinema, who told me about this film last summer. It has turned out to be an important form of solace itself in the past months.

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About Laurent Dubois

I am Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University. A specialist on the history and culture of France and the Caribbean, notably Haiti, I am the author of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in the Fall of 2009 as part of a Duke University course called "World Cup and World Politics," whose students helped me develop the site.

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