14 July 2014

The beautiful game

For the time being, I think it's fair to say that I'm 'soccered out'.  I've followed more World Cup games in this year's competition than I've ever done, recording almost faithfully the outcomes of each.  This is all on top of the live trainings and games and tournaments in which my own son plays and which I orchestrate as the family's resident soccer mom.  So, while I wished Messi, the magician, had been able to help his fellow Argentines win, I found the goal by the German "Super Mario" yesterday to be a magnificent end, for his team, and for my 2014 World Cup viewing experience.  (An earlier experience, in 1990, culminated in a similar result, except then I found myself in Germany, celebrating that victory in the streets of a small town.  It's hard to believe that this year's hero, Mario Goetze, was not even born then.)

Soccer/football has been widely called the beautiful game.  It's the name of a documentary film on African football, and apparently, the soccer great Pelé has referred to football as such.  It's definitely beautiful because it is so simple, anyone can play, with very little equipment and space.  The game has also been called an illogical one and an anxious one, because it's not often the team with the greatest possession or the best shots at goal that wins, and this World Cup certainly showed us this a few times.  But why do I enjoy it so much?  I've never played it, not even as a child.  I suppose having children who play, especially at an increasingly higher level makes it beautiful because the experience feels very academic to me.  I learn so much from each game; I absolutely enjoy watching a game and then reading analyses or talking with knowledgeable individuals about what I've just seen.  I also learn about how the sport is organized in different societies, like what I learned about le foot in France: Un certain regard May 2013.

Friendships have also come about through this sport and that's a beautiful thing too.  It's not just our son who hangs out with his football buddies; our entire family spends a lot of time with football families.  We travel and socialize with them: we've recently  attended a wedding with our U.S. soccer friends, and in France, we camped several times over tournament weekends.  I even shared a humble bungalow with a French dad and his son.  Not all of the moments were beautiful ones, even in Provence, but the French penchant for proper pique-niques alongside the soccer pitch, complete with wine, (see A table, May 2013) and the many language and cultural lessons learned make for many cherished memories in my book.  (See Allez les gars for what we learned about Provencal cross-town rivalries, Nov. 2012, and Le bonheur, Dec. 2012, for the challenges some French girls face if they love the beautiful game too.)

The ultimate beauty of fútbol for me though is how sociological it is and how well it reflects social life.  David Brooks at the New York Times captures this, yes, beautifully, in his op-ed piece last week: Baseball or Soccer? 10 July 2014, where he argue that soccer is in a sense a mini-sociological platform, and how each of us in our social worlds is playing soccer.  We all have our roles, and these roles may be enacted in different ways depending on all kinds of social factors: who is filling the other roles--the ones with which we are interacting, what are the constantly changing environmental conditions (on the football pitch, in our workplace, or at home...) and so on.  Even when we feel tuckered out, by sometimes overwhelming social demands, by too many football matches, too many hard tackles on the pitch, whatever it is, we may retreat for a short while, but never completely.  Who we are, the game(s) we play, and the life we live are all inherently social.  I'll let Brooks sum this up:  "Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize."

08 July 2014

Game nights

Instead of those languid summer days we had in Provence the past few summers or that I seem to remember from my own childhood, I've had an exceptionally full June and July.  My teaching schedule is much lighter and my kids are out of school, but those same kids seem to have more activities than ever, plus we had a French exchange student for a few weeks.  So, the food and organizational demands on this household have been much greater than ever before.  That said, over the past weekends, we haven't done anything too much out of the ordinary for a summer spent in the U.S.: some swimming, some shopping, some fishing, a summer solstice festival day in town, a World Cup and birthday party, a day trip to Mt. Rainier, and a 4th of July weekend on Hood Canal.  From our visitor's perspective, several of the activities were probably no different from the ones he and his family would participate in at home, such as the various summer festivals and day trips.

The big difference though is in the weekday activities this summer, especially the scheduled kids' activities that persist year-round in the U.S. In France, music lessons and sports trainings are on hiatus for the summer so the weekdays are much, much quieter.  Being inner city dwellers the past few summers in France, our only real recreational options on foot during the day were to the neighborhood pools or parks, which weren't that attractive, to be honest.  There wasn't much to do at the parks in the broiling heat, and the pool area wasn't even properly shaded.  (This summer, that same pool in Aix is closed for renovations, which I really find to be strange timing!  See my blogger friend's post on this at Aixcentric.com.)   Here in the U.S., we easily fill each summer weekday and evening with sports camps, trainings, music lessons, games and competitions.  Just this week, I've already driven a carpool to soccer camp, am attending two evening swim meets, and am sending a child off to a five day national soccer tournament in North Carolina. I am hoping to fit in a water aerobics class or two for myself, make some raspberry jam, and get to the grocery store again, before I collapse on the weekend!

Apparently, our U.S. style summer did not overwhelm our exchange student like I thought it might; his father reported that his son arrived home to Marseille this past weekend radiant and 'very pleased' by his visit to the U.S.  I think that our activity level here in the U.S. does appeal to many: we just don't sit still much around here. (I've commented earlier on my quieter and more reflective life in France: En famille Oct.2013, Un été en Provence Aug. 2013 )  Even unscheduled activities seem to be more engaging or involved here: musical jam sessions between the boys (our guest brought his saxophone, one of my sons plays piano and guitar) became recording sessions and mini jazz concerts for the rest of us, casual fishing off a dock became a game of how many can you catch, the lighting of an enormous pile of safe and sane fireworks (the only kind I buy) morphed into a late night teen campfire circle, and the pile of board games in our basement led to a few game nights à la façon Américaine.  The fireworks and the game nights were especially novel to our guest because such fireworks are interdict in France and playing board games en famille is just not a common activity.  Both ended up being great ways for our guest to practice English and for us to share how we spend our time here, in this family, in this community, in this society.  And that is what a cultural exchange is all about.