The Year (and a half) that was

Yes, I know that, technically, I should only be covering the last calendar year. But the last half of last year was too amazing to leave out, and I didn’t have a blog to recap last year, so I’m including those six months here.

I think I could, without a doubt in my heart, say that the last eighteen months have been the most amazing and exciting in my life. I’ve never had so many wonderful experiences cramped into such a small timeframe (relative to the rest of my life, that is) that it needs to be commemorated somewhere. If and when I fall into a “my life sucks!” rut (which, let’s face it, happens to everyone, except maybe if you’re Gisele Bunchen or Kate Middleton), this will be a reminder that, no, not really. My wildest dreams came true last year and a half, so I pretty much have no right to complain about anything in the following year and a half (not that that would ever stop me).

So anyway, here goes. A recap of my wonderful 2010 (and July-December 2009):

1: Getting to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup live in South Africa: All football fans dream of getting to watch the World Cup, and I am no exception. But never, ever, in a bajillion years did I think that this dream would come true. It was just one of those things that was never goning to happen, unless of course I had another dream come true and ended up marrying Prince Harry (‘cause we would get VIP tickets, of course). But it did happen without Camilla being my stepmother-in-law.

I got to watch, not one World Cup match, but FOUR. Actually, sitting here and writing this, I still can’t believe that it happened. Thank goodness I have tons of pictures, because when I’m old and gray, I could prove to myself that, yes, I was there when Messi and co. beat Korea Republic 4-1, when David Villa scored that goal from fifty yards out,

"El Guaje" warming up, Chile vs Spain group match

that I was sitting right alongside the goal when Asamoah Gyan missed that crucial penalty for Ghana and was in the fifth row, alongside the goal during that tortuous match between Spain and Paraguay.

The moment that almost gave me a heart attack, Spain vs. Paraguay QF at Ellis Park

And as if getting to watch wasn’t enough, I got to watch Spain. TWICE. Which brings me to…

2: Spain WINNING the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: It was a two-fold dream come true. Not only did I get to watch the World Cup, but my beloved Spanish National Team deservedly won their first ever World Championship. And, really, like #1, I still can’t believe they did it, even when I watched every single second of every match, whether on the telly or in the stadium.

Viva España!

It’s amazing how something totally unrelated to me can make me this happy, but it did. And it still does.

3: My destined meeting with Andy Roddick: I guess it’s a theme, huh? As with #1, never in a million years did I think that I would actually get to meet Andy Roddick, much less get his picture and an autograph. But with what I can only and reluctantly describe as fate’s intervention, I did. And it’s a good thing I got a picture and the autograph for proof because I think I’ll be needing physical evidence of it actually happening, since it was so heartbreakingly unlikely to begin with.

4: Versailles: I guess among all my dreams that came true over this 18-month period, this was one of the more achievable ones, but that doesn’t make it any less special. I swore to myself I would visit the legendary chateau in my lifetime after watching Sofia Coppola’s screen adaptation of the Antonia Fraser biography of Marie Antoinette. I got my chance last, last August (in the summer too, when the seasonal features are open) and it was as grand and as beautiful as I imagined it to be. And while its beauty is surely reason enough to go, for the wannabe French history buff like me, Versailles’s historical significance is even a greater draw. The number of times my jaw dropped and the hairs on my arms stood on end at the sight paintings I only saw in books and of rooms I only saw in pictures were too many to count. And, yes, I must blog about the visit soon.

5: John Mayer in Manila: It had all the makings of a disastrous night, really (less than ideal location, less than engaging artist, RAIN) but it still turned out to be quite awesome. While a couple (or five) more songs would’ve made it a perfect night, hearing Edge of Desire, Heartbreak Warfare and Slow Dancing Room (aka the most heartbreaking song ever written) live made the long wait and the cold, wet rain well worth it.

So how can my 2011 top 2010 (and half of 2009)? If I get to go to Spain, watch the El Classico in the Bernabeu and Madrid beat Barcelona 7-0,  then get tickets to the Gentlemen’s Final at Wimbledon where Andy finally beats Federer then get tickets to the Backstreet Boys concert in Manila with ALL FIVE members performing, 2011 will for sure be better than 2010. But, barring that, 2010 has enough memories to keep me happy and grateful the next year… or decade.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Spanish team photo from FIFA.com

The longest 109 minutes of my life

It’s self imposed torture, supporting any sort of sporting entity, whether it be a school basketball team, a Formula One driver or a football team. When you’re crying the hardest you have in years after Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final, really, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. No one forced you to invest so much time and emotion into every match or race. No one was holding you at gun point when you bought the tickets or the team jersey for ridiculous prices. There is no logical explanation for the enduring, tortuous love fans feel despite the frustrations and disappointments their beloved team has dealt them. And it’s not even reciprocated, even if they always say “we love our fans”, it’s unlikely that it’s in the same rabid, gut-wrenching way. So, that love, that inexplicable, sometimes pathetic love that reduces even grown men to tears (have you ever seen a football match where a team gets promoted/relegated to the lower/higher division?), could arguably be the one of the purest forms of love in the world.

So, with that love in my heart, I made my way to Ellis Park in Johannesburg, to watch the FIFA 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Paraguay and Spain. I wasn’t as wired and stressed out as I was before the Spain v Portugal and Chile v Spain matches, because, to be completely honest, it’s Paraguay. I wouldn’t be way out of line if I said Spain were the overwhelming favorites here. But, don’t get me wrong, I was still plenty nervous.

And I was right to be.

My view from my seat

Throughout the first half, Spain wasn’t creating any real chances at a goal. Actually, there was only one, Xavi’s shot that when sailing above the crossbar. Either Paraguay was closing down the attacks, or the passes were either too heavy or Fernando Torres was just crap (but was still gorgeous, of course). I’ve described the feeling this way to friends: Imagine a hand, hovering over your heart. As the match goes on, the hand is closing in to grip your heart. When Paraguay hit the back of the net, that hand just squeezed my heart in its grip. When the offside flag was raised, it loosened its grip again. THAT’S HOW IT FEELS.

So  you can now imagine how I felt during that spell between the 58th and 62nd minutes. First, Paraguay was awarded a penalty. I felt like someone sucked the wind out of the stadium when the referee pointed to the penalty spot (or maybe it was just the anghit of the guy seated in front of me. I swear, every time he raised his arms to cheer, or wave his flag or take a picture, I got scent-ually assaulted. Gross). I could barely see what was going on, because I was seated at the other end of the stadium, and the taller people and waving flags were blocking my view. I’m not sure I wanted to see anyway. But the kick was taken. Then cheering. BUT WAIT. The people cheering were wearing yellow and red. THE PENALTY KICK WAS SAVED by Iker Casillas. The hand with the iron grip on my heart let go, and with that, a burst of joy and relief and “COME ON IKEEEEEEEEEEEEER!”. And I breathed a little easier.

But not for long.

Within 2 minutes, Spain was on the attack, and David Villa is taken down in the area, and again, the referee points to the spot again. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! This is Spain’s chance, so soon after that Paraguay scare. The hand is gripping my heart again, but not as tightly as when the penalty was on the other end. So Xabi Alonso (why not David Villa? Because he missed his last PK?) lines up to take it,

The penalty shot Alonso makes, but is disallowed

kicks and scores! The hand’s let go of my heart again! Fans cheer and wave flags and high five each other! BUT WAIT. The goal is disallowed. He has to take the kick again. And there’s that tight grip on my heart again. Xabi lines it up again

The second penalty

THEN MISSES. The imaginary hand punches me in the gut with my heart in its unwielding grip. Someone, I couldn’t really tell, gets another shot, and it’s either off the crossbar or off a defender. Point is, it doesn’t hit the back of the net.

And so we’re back to square one, 0-0, with about 20 minutes to go, and I could barely watch. The grip on my heart is constant, except when Iker Casillas flubbed a save (damn you, Jabulani!) and the hand tightened just that tiny bit more. There’s a funny thing that happens, when you’re watching these things live, it’s like time speeds up and slows down at the same time.  The balls bounces into an attacker’s path in slow motion, but at the same time, the oncoming defender seems to be approaching in a fast-forwarded blur.

And in a dizzying slow-mo/fast-forward combo in the 83rd minute, I feel my heart being squeezed to breaking (crushing?) point. Spain is on the attack. Iniesta brings the ball forward, passes to Pedro on his right, Pedro shoots, and HITS THE CROSSBAR. The ball rebounds to David Villa, and I think, could this be it? He shoots, BUT HITS THE CROSSBAR AGAIN. Just as I was steeling myself for one of the punches-in-the-gut-by-the-hand-holding-my-heart, the ball agonizingly inches its way through the air to the opposite crossbar, hits it, and (as if someone suddenly presses the >> button) the next thing I see is the back of the net moving. SCOOOOORE! I double check the pitch, in case it’s been disallowed again, but no flags were raised, no whistles were blown. GOOOOOOAL!

Now all Spain has to do is hold it together for the next seven minutes plus the added time. Ten minutes total. Ten excruciating minutes.

And then it’s over. Spain win. The hand gripping my heart disappears entirely and I finally breathe easily after what feels like 109 minutes of holding my breath (90 minutes plus half time plus extra time).

And it's over. They celebrate. For now.

But the hand will be back. On Wednesday. Most likely in a metal-spiked glove with slits at the fingertips to let extra-long nails with Deutschland-themed nail art through.Like I said. Self-imposed torture.