Archive for the ‘Eduardo Galeano’ Category

Football in Sun and Shadow

June 14, 2018

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America’s most famous voices, was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lover of football. Though when we think of South American World Cup winners Brazil, with five victories, outstrips every other team, and Argentina, with two wins and four finals, is likely to be our next thought, Uruguay was, of course, the very first winner of the World Cup in 1930. Perhaps they would have been even more successful if they hadn’t refused to defend their title in 1934 in protest at Italy’s decision not to travel to Uruguay for the initial tournament. They won again in 1950, and, though that was their last appearance in a final, they have since finished fourth three times, most recently in 2010 – a record England might envy, and Scotland can only dream of.

If such facts are to your liking, you will find them in Galeano’s Football in Sun and Shadow (translated by Mark Fried), originally published in 1995, but since updated to 2010 (and recently reissued by Penguin Classics). However, one does not read Galeano simply for the facts (meticulously researched though his work is – there are nine pages of sources) but for the poetry. Eusebio was “long legs, dangling arms, sad eyes”; of Jimmy Greaves he says, “They would see him land, but they never saw him take off”; Pele “climbed into the air as if it were a staircase.”

The book begins with a history of football, its origins, the development of its rules in England (and the discovery, in Scotland, that everyone chasing the ball wasn’t the most effective way to play), and the spread to South America via its ports. Until the 1930 World Cup, the book is very much focussed on South America; from that point on it is largely a history of the World Cup rather than football. Each World Cup is introduced with an outline of world events at that time; this being Galeano these sketches are truly international, with 1930, for example, covering an earthquake in Italy, Marlene Dietrich, Mayakovsky’s suicide, Mahatma Ghandi in India, and August Cesar Sandino in Nicaragua. After Castro’s revolution in Cuba he inserts the following every four years:

“Well-informed sources in Miami were announcing the imminent fall of Fidel Castro, it was only a matter of hours.”

At each World Cup he picks out the key moments and players, including the most memorable goals (I can’t resist offering his take on Archie Gemmill in 1978, Scotland’s only World Cup mention):

“The Netherlands, which was doing well, was playing Scotland, which was doing poorly. Scottish player Archie Gemmill got the ball from his countryman Hartford and kindly asked the Dutch to dance to the tune of a lone bagpiper. Wildschut was the first to fall, his head spinning, at Gemmill’s feet. Then Gemmill left Suurbier reeling in the dust. Krol had it worst: Gemmill put it between his legs. And when the keeper Jongbloed came at him, the Scot lobbed the ball over his head.”

The main attraction of Football in Sun and Shadow, however, is its international perspective on the game itself: we are frequently treated to stories of Scottish and English football in our media, but rarely is it proportionate to our place in the world (like so much else): here England only feature for Charlton’s goal against Argentina in 1962, Stanley Matthews, and their 1966 win.

Even in a book about football, politics will never be absent with Galeano. He outlines football’s early racism in South America, with Chile in 1916 demanding that a 4-0 defeat by Uruguay be disallowed as Uruguay had two ‘Africans’ in the team. Italy’s’ victory in 1938 is greeted by the Italian press as “the triumph of Italic intelligence over the brute force of the Negroes.” More recently, Galeano reminds us that that when France won in 1998:

“Nearly all the players wearing blue shorts and singing ‘La Marseille’ before each match were immigrants or the children of immigrants.”

Though a lover of football, Galeano is not admirer of the men who control it. He begins by describing the story of football as a “sad voyage from beauty to duty.” Joao Havelange, who became head of FIFA in 1974, is an “old-style monarch.” Another chapter is titled ‘The Telecracy’ – “television rules,” and he also covers a number of corruption scandals. He points out that players, for all their celebrity, have little say:

“Up to now the stars of the show have been blindingly absent from the structures of power where decisions are made.”

Still, he ends at the place we all hope to be – placing a sign on his door which says ‘Closed for football’ only to be taken down once the tournament is over.

Football in Sun and Shadow is a perfect World Cup book. Galeano has a knack for including everything that is important while still finding space for the unexpected fact. It is also delivered in short, bite-size chapters, ideal for devouring when the ball goes out of play.

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Mirrors

June 21, 2010

Eduardo Galeano became news-worthy in 2009 when the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, gave his American counterpart his book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Mirrors (subtitle: Stories of Almost Everyone) is a more ambitious project, a history of the world in less than four hundred pages. Galeano has described his style as:

“…stories that are integrated, always integrated in a huge mosaic of other stories interlinking, sort of a conversation between different experiences, emotions, ideas, sounds, colours…”

Mirrors is similarly made up of hundreds of shorter pieces of text, each around a third of a page, telling its individual story but also building a larger picture.

Of course, a history of the world that will satisfy everyone, or indeed anyone, is unlikely, no matter how expansive and all-embracing it attempts to be. This is not, however, where Galeano’s ambitions lie. Instead he presents the reader with a particular viewpoint, so much so that the image of a lens seems more appropriate than a mirror. But in Galeano’s view history frequently reflects itself, generally as a battle between freedom and tyranny. His heroes are those who resist; his villains are rulers, colonisers, and religions.

Strictly speaking, this is literature not history: Galeano uses the techniques of fiction (juxtaposition, irony, symbolism) in order to convey a truth about the world we live in. His early sources are mythical rather than historical, with stories from Africa (Exu), South America (Quetzacoatl), the Middle East (Gilgamesh), Polynesia (Maui), Egypt (Thoth, Osiris), India (Ganesha) and Northern Europe (Odin). These stories are presented neither with belief nor disbelief; similarly, not one of them is characterised as superior to the others. Galeano has established within the first few pages that his book will range across the continents and not seek to rank them. His political views are also clarified in his titles for these myths, such as ‘Origin of Social Classes’ and ‘Serfs and Lords’.

Galeano also frequently uses juxtaposition to make his point. For example, an early story that begins:

“When Iraq was not yet Iraq, it was the birthplace of the first written words.”

transports us to the near present within a few lines:

“In our days, George W. Bush, perhaps believing that writing was invented in Texas, launched with joyful impunity a war to exterminate Iraq.”

No pretence at objectivity there, though the cheap if amusing remark about “believing writing was invented in Texas” suggests a less restrained anger than is typical. Indeed, the few references to the Iraq war betray a less artful side to Galeano’s writing that may unfortunately date an otherwise timeless book. The same technique working in reverse is to be found in ‘Forbidden to Be’ which begins by listing all the prohibitions, including bathing in public baths, aimed at Muslims by Philip II of Spain in 1567, but ends with the line:

“A century before, there had been six hundred public baths in the city of Cordoba alone.”

Galeano also themes sections of the book, so, for example, we find a series of stories on war or writing or the Devil (the titles alone here make a point: ‘The Devil is Muslim’; ‘The Devil is Jewish’; ‘The Devil is Black’; ‘The Devil is Female’…). Others are brief biographies, though even those of figures from the arts focus on the political. Beethoven “had a prisonlike childhood and he believed in freedom as a religion”. Goya was court painter for Ferdinand VII, but “artist and king detested each other”.

“The artist had no choice but to do the job that earned him his daily bread and provided an effectual shield against the enmity of the Holy Inquisition.”

This may well be true, but you can almost hear the sigh of relief when Goya loses his job and retires to the country to paint his Black Paintings. If the artists himself isn’t amenable to politics then his work maybe. Kafka’s writings are seen as an echo of the First World War:

“In a certain way those stories, those books, continued in the newspapers, which day after day told of the progress of the war machine.”

This determination to remain faithful to his vision, however, is a strength rather than a weakness, particularly as it is a view of the world that we so rarely get to see in our own media. This strikes me as a book to be gifted to the young, not as the history of the world but as a history, and one that should not be ignored. If it is a mirror, it is a broken one, where every piece reflects the same truth in a myriad different ways.