Wednesday, July 23, 2008

100% Independiente

Humberto Lombardi.

I love tight old men. Old fellows with devilishness in their eyes, dignity in their bearing, dandiness in their threads (ascots, berets, pocket squares, popped collars) -- any and all of these are hallmarks of old-timers whose enduring vigor bespeaks a life well lived.

Humberto Lombardi is a tight old man.

I'd heard of the Lombardis of my dad's youth, but didn't know much about them other than that they were close friends in Argentina, and that the Lombardi men were strong enough of spirit and muscle that they wouldn't be intimidated by the Peronista goons when it was voting time. Today, we met Humberto and his wife Rosa at their modest home in Avellaneda, the neighborhood where my dad grew up -- which, apparently, has deteriorated drastically in the last 50 years, going from a genial suburb of newly arrived immigrants to a blighted, neglected little burgh, where the old folks really only feel safe walking on their own street because it's also home to the police station.

You can't go home again. Unless home is the 19th century.

Humberto is 88, but moves like he's 20 years younger (he literally ran to open the door at one point). He is a renaissance man. Started out as a barber, then a bicycle mechanic, professional singer, brick-and-cement man, designer of wrought iron. He finally retired last year. (Tight.) Tells jokes, sings, and basically feels like the key to long life is not to worry about anything.

Lombardi belts out a tango.

Also, he's a die-hard fan of the local soccer team, Independiente. And when I say local, I mean their rival's stadium is two blocks away. Proudly on display in the living room, among the team memorabilia marking various Argentine and South American championships, is his certificate from the club that indicates he has been an official member since 1946. (His wife is also a proud 50-year member).

El Sr. Lombardi's certificate marking 50 years as a member of Club Atletico Independiente.

See, we sometimes call our professional teams "clubs," but these in South America really are clubs -- like social clubs. So there is a connection that extends beyond just a team shirt and a logo. And with it comes a deep sense of fraternity, a hyper-local sense of place, an identity. Something to stay loyal to. Come what may with the passage of time, the business of sport, or with the erosion of the neighborhood, the club endures, and the roots that one lays down are not broken.

If you don't have that over your lifetime, be it 28 or 88 years, you're not really living.

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