Few events seriously dent a major city's busy pace. And with more than 13 million people in its metropolitan area, Buenos Aires, Argentina, is always hectic. Nearly a million people buzz around downtown every day, and 8,000 cars per hour jam the saturated Avenida Leandro N. Alem.
But every four years, Buenos Aires grinds to an utter and absolute halt during Argentina's World Cup matches. For as long as the national team remains in the tournament, most people's work, meetings, meals, gatherings—all of life, basically—is scheduled around the games.
This Wednesday was Argentina's third game in the 2014 World Cup, finishing the group stage of the competition. Although Argentina's earlier victories had already secured the team a spot in the knockout phase, pretty much everybody stopped to watch the match against Nigeria, creating an ad-hoc three-hour holiday in the middle of the week.
Which was really fine: About 90 percent of companies in Buenos Aires said they would allow employees to watch Argentina's games. One judge even moved a hearing scheduled during the game, with the excuse that gathering to watch matches is a "rooted tradition" in Argentina.
Game time represented a sort of midday curfew downtown as everyone headed for a television. Office workers carried stacks of pizza for office parties or crowded into restaurants for a long lunchtime viewing. People still caught on the street huddled around sets that suddenly appeared at every store, café, candy counter and magazine stand. Security guards and police officers blatantly gazed at whatever screen was nearest. Many stores simply closed for two hours.
Over 24,000 people gathered to watch in nearby Plaza San Martín, where the municipal government set up an enormous screen. Kids playing hooky, groups of friends, and besuited office runaways gathered in a tight mass together. Several said it was the next best thing to actually being at the stadium in Brazil.
It's incredible to walk through a city focused on one thing alone for an entire two hours. The streets were cloaked in an eerie silence punctured only by whoops announcing that Argentina had made a goal, and groans when Nigeria did.
In his 1995 book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote that, for fanatics during a match, "the city disappears, its routine forgotten." On days when Argentina plays, we're all fanatics here.