On this, the day the European tournament wipes the cold out its eyes and opens them wide, it's important to remember why we watch.
The opening of an international tournament excites partly because we're allowed to look upon what has been a familiar world with fresh vision. The same names with different shirts. Hundreds, thousands of years of history; different, perhaps unlikely faces fronting for those centuries. Old alliances (Austria!), older enemies (France! Germany! Holland!) and new allegiances (Brazilians?). Colonialism's colonials standing with their former empires. Club teams broken apart and reformed again under flags and colors. And what colors! Oranje!
Incredible names. Ruud. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. Ruben de la Red. Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (and he is a referee). Incredulously styled hair (by nearly everyone). Derek Rae and Andy Gray's magisterial voices and generous charm as applied to international football. The weight of the past offset by the lightness of Deco's touch. The spirit of nations and the individual brilliance of Ronaldo. How G Patrice Evra is. French North Africans. Basques. The fact that a man named Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for Sweden and another named Mario Gomez does for Germany. People's faces. Ruud. The endlessly fascinating Franck Ribery. Finding one's way to love and hate, tolerance and idolatry (This generally involves Germans and/or Italians).
But we're still on that icebreaker tip right now. Buying drinks. Talking gamely about "what we do." Smiling a lot. Complimenting one another. "Oh, that's so interesting." Catching profile glimpses in mirrors and glasses while imagining futures. Keep an open mind. Don't talk about politics. The poetry and pathos comes in the final third of the group stage and of course in the succeeding rounds. There's always time for tears later. Right now, just be easy and allow yourself to be seduced. The passion will come. If we're lucky, at 2:45 today.