Naturally, I'm hungry and head straight to my favourite Italian eatery nestled in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy.
Actually, it's a family run grocery store that happens to serve lunch. All meals are prepared daily. Lunch in a restaurant can run you $15 and up these days. Not here. For less than $9 I get a slice of pizza (I usually settle for either the sweet sausage and rapini or pancetta with black olives), soup (whatever is fresh for the day — I jump at the stracciatella [egg soup] any chance I get), and an espresso.
It's a beautiful June day and I took the usual five minute walk towards the establishment to catch the Croatia vs. Germany game.
I'm greeted with a spirited and warm, "Sandro!"
Like all Italian places with a television feed, the grocery store shows every single game. With it naturally comes a play-by-play commentary served up by patrons. It's a rather small place, providing immediate intimate spacing. In such a setting, you’re automatically part of several conversations simultaneously orchestrated and conducted.
If I had better hearing I'd probably partake in all of them.
"I'll just be having an espresso today, Dora."
"Ah, came to see the game with us."
"Bravo. Sit down."
I take my place and I'm immediately immersed in the intense but jovial conversations around me.
"A visto l'Italia?" One man asked. (Did you see Italy?)
"Che schifo!" Dora replied. (How disgusting!)
Her colleague added as she served customers, "Speriamo che domani vada meglio." (Hopefully tomorrow will go better)
"Insomma, e buono di perdi qual che volte," an Asian man chimed in with an impeccable Italian diction far superior to mine. (Whatever. For heaven’s sake, it’s okay to lose once in a while!)
My espresso is served and I sit quietly observing the game. Croatia simply looks fantastic on this day. For their part, Germany quickly realized they had a fight on their hands.
The conversation moved towards the two sides contesting the soccer match. A passionate discussion ensues about the quality and history of both sides.
It was quite the scene. Azzurri fans taking delight in a game that does not involve Italy. Isn’t that what soccer is all about? Besides winning, of course.
One man recalled Croatia defeat of Italy at the World Cup in 2002.
"Italy always knew of Croatia's quality. England overlooked it. They paid the price.” As everyone talked and ate, the occasional "oohs" and "ahhs" interrupted the flow of all discussions with each scoring chance created by either side.
Croatia strikes first.
"I told you!" the man shouts. "They're very good!"
No one is surprised.
Germany attempted to equalize before half time but failed.
Life goes on in this typical of Italian places. Indifferent people not interested in the match asked questions about the various items for sale. A man and his son speaking French looked for a table while carrying their food. As Dora attempted to clear a table for them I offer mine.
"Grazie," he said to me with a French accent.
"De rien," I replied.
For the others, the conversation shifted to Italy and what they needed to do to qualify for the next round. People are hopeful but sceptical.
Taking a few seconds from the busy lunch hour, Dora later spoke with the man and his son and she suddenly kissed the boy on the cheeks, "T'e pas mal cute!" (Quebec slang for “You’re so cute!”)
Soon enough in the second half, Croatia doubled their lead. The Germans are rattled. Croatia eventually wins 2-1.
Two giants have now been slain in one week.
Are we about to see another tiny nation take Euro 2008 by storm?
"Ma, fano bene." an old man who sat quietly for the whole match stated irreverently and walked out doing his best Count of Monte Cristo impression. (In any event, good for them.)
Several heads nod in agreement.
I got up and paid.
“You’re coming tomorrow, right?” Dora demanded.
I answered with a nod in the affirmative and a smile. Did I have a choice?
With that promise firmly in place and another game in the books, I walked out and wondered about the next fixture.