Tomorrow, it’s a big day, and these Hawks supporters are getting ready for the razzmatazz and the security men: yes, President Obama will be in town, but that’s not why these guys are warming up their tubas. Football kicks off on Saturday: Iowa Hawkeyes (yay!) vs Iowa State (boo!). Hope I got that right.
So tonight as I get ready to go out walking with Barlen from Mauritius and Abdullah from Saudi Arabia, the town is swarming with football fans and party animals out to bring in the winter’s entertainment – pigskin chasing.
It’s a great state for that: plenty of hogs to slay for your footballs and it’s extremely flat, so you don’t have to run uphill. I bet they never have to play in swamps and on frosty tundra like we did in my youth on the West Coast where I grew up in New Zealand.
So we leave them to it and take a long stroll around the park, chatting and discovering each others countries. I get asked to tell the others what we are doing, in Māori, please: “Kei te hikoi mātou ki te pāka – we’re walking to the park”.
I ask Abdullah about the rulers of Saudi Arabia and what’s going on there now: it seems the internet is breaking down restrictions, but it is still hard to be a writer there. He offended the Islamic Brotherhood with one of his novels and was in danger for many years.
Barlen tells me his island nation won the Football World Cup in 1966 – “when we were still English” – then laughs slyly. He’s a hard case. The English, who kicked the French out after the Napoleonic wars in 1810, left themselves in 1968 and the country became a republic in 1992.
We walk back now to the city, we three a United Nations of Information. This is half the joy of the Iowa gig. As we come into town and mingle with crowds of party mode students, a guy taps me on the shoulder and asks me what the “Blake 7” means on the back of my T-shirt.
Does he play for some team? I explain that no, it’s a joke T, from philosophyfootball.com, a tricky English website. “Blake 7”, I explain, “was a UK TV show, and the text of William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem is on the front of my shirt, in tiny white print, surrounding the Cross of St George”.
Turns out his name is Blake. I tell him no, I’m not a British football thug, even though the T-shirt seems like one they wear. He promises to check out the website, while his poor girlfriend, walking alongside this weird conversation, looks bewildered by its random turn.
I don’t blame her. We walk on, Barlen and I discussing the virtues of Eric Cantona as the night draws in. He’s Francophone, after all – he knows real football too. The beautiful game. I’ll keep my thoughts on American Football to myself around here.