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A long time ago on courts not so far away, a Colombian man named Camilo and I got into a routine of doing an equal amount of hitting the ball and trash talking. While he moved to Sarasota, Florida, it remains easy to pick up where we left off, which we began when I met him at 10:30 on Friday night.

We hit the courts Saturday, Camilo having to get so low on the grass he was kneeling while hitting backhands, and me alarmingly anoxic after every point. We had lunch on the porch and watched the big kids play for a while, talking about what we could do better next time.

This is us last year

Because of Camilo's ability to be equally content anywhere, and our penchant for long, involved discussions, in some sense it doesn't really matter where we are. So when I had it in my mind I wanted to go to Worcester on Saturday after tennis, there was no convincing needed, we just got in the car and went.

A year or so back, Worcester Art Museum had been my client, and not having been to Worcester since a Grateful Dead concert in the 80s, it seemed a good idea to have a look around before I began the search. Worcester is a city at an interesting inflection point, with a mix of old and new buildings, neighborhoods, stores and residents. Some of the museum reminded me a tiny bit of the Gardner, without the good smell of the Palace that likely comes from the green courtyard.

WAM Courtyard

Cool wall at Seed to Stem

If you go out there, lunch at the Birch Tree Bread Company is killer, and a browse at neighboring and really nicely laid out Seed to Stem entertains. There's also a great used bookstore in the same building and good and not overcrowded antiques in the basement. But the other day, we had a different destination.

Worcester World Cup at Foley Field, Brazil vs Nigeria

We went to Foley Stadium to catch Day 2 of the Worcester World Cup, a single elimination tournament with 16 teams, from Togo, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana, El Salvador, Somalia, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Albania, Jamaica, Nigeria and Brazil, all teams made up of local residents.

We were met with delicious smelling food at the entrance on the left, pho on the right, and further along, a table with Ghanian handcrafts and fabrics. We paid our admission and tried unsuccessfully to find a place to sit in the shade. My neighbor was an 11 year old Honduran boy who clued me in on what was going on. Albania beat Jamaica handily, Brazil beat Nicaragua (lost $10 on that one), and Ecuador looked posed to send Cameroon packing. In the stands was a delightful assortment of people from the different parts of the world that represent over 20% of Worcester's population, all there to support their country's team. There was a spirit of camaraderie in the stands, within the teams, and also on the pitch.

All this is the work of a woman named Laura Suroviak, who founded Cultural Exchange Through Soccer 20 years ago at a Worcester school yard. She brought kids of different nationalities together, creating a dialog through a shared love of soccer. Since then, she has formalized programs that include year round soccer for 7-12 year olds, encouraging kids to stay in her "system" by moving them into team building for teens, then leadership, a scholarship program.and finally, board seats. All with the intention of some day having governmental leadership in Worcester that more closely reflects the makeup of its residents, and leaders who understand that soccer is as important as baseball, literally and symbolically. The World Cup we attended is the annual fundraiser and showcase, bringing together people who are involved with CETS at all levels. It was a privilege to be able to witness the spirit and joy this one woman has created.

The drive back to the city was mostly taken up with indulgent deliberations of where to go to dinner. We decided to shoot for the South End and hope that through some crazy turn of events on a perfect summer Saturday evening, we could score two seats at the bar of either SRV or Toro. When we pulled up, there was our sole table on the sidewalk at Toro, and even more miraculous, five cars away was our parking spot. A Winter Hill IPA and cold glass of white burgundy, bacalao, patatas bravas, charred broccoli, panne con tomate and conversations about the paramilitary's no mans land, ayahuasca and online poker made for an engaged ending to a perfect day.

Toro on a summer Saturday night

I was really ill the next day, perhaps from the patatas bravas, but that's a whole other story that isn't very interesting, involving not much more than my couch, cancelled dinner plans, and gasp, me missing a meal.

This coming Saturday, Nat and I head for Salt Lake City, a (hopefully white) pick up truck, the open road and the big sky, so stay tuned.


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