dimanche, février 25, 2007

07.02.25: Home Field Advantage

Rugby action for the week-end:

- France defeats Wales at Stade de France.

- Ireland defeats England at Croke Park, a stadium with emotionally charged history contre les anglaise. To wit:

o It's the first time a British team will play at the cathedral of Irish nationalism and scene of "Bloody Sunday," the darkest day of Ireland's war of independence. On November 21, 1920, Dublin police and British troops - infuriated by the Irish Republican Army assassination that morning of 14 British spies and associates - retaliated by firing wildly into the Croke Park crowd during a Gaelic football match. They killed 11 spectators and a player, Michael Hogan, while two other people were trampled to death. [http://www.rugbyheaven.smh.com.au]

Home field advantage -- get it when you can.

Last week-end I was in the mid-west, slogging thru the winter ice and snow. Loving every minute of having a fourth season again, and knowing, for me, it would only last 6 days, until the next non-stop back to Europe. In between snow plows, spent some time with Dad.

The locations to find some home field advantage are diminishing for him. He was having some difficulty with his cell phone, not sure which button is hang-up, which button is call. The few angstroms that differentiate between the colors red and green are not obvious to the color-blind, and to remember left vs. right is not so obvious to the early Alzheimer's crowd.

The cell phone ... a great tool for the elderly has become too sophisticated for it's own good.

We went to the Phone Store, you know, run by the local current Ma Bell to look for a simpler phone. Talked to the salesperson, explained we wanted a phone that was just a phone ... you know, no internet surfing, no text messaging, no extra features, just 10 digits, a call and a hang-up button, easily read, easily understood, no significant human memory or sophisticated thought processing required.

She looked at my Dad, my Dad of tall stature, with his long grey hair, his military straight spine, the handsomest man in his neighborhood, not the least bit physically tired, even though he had already swum two miles earlier that day, with his grey-blue eyes that look at you uncomprehendingly if you say a sentence too long. And so she looked at my Dad and she said, in a not overly pleasant nor kind tone of voice, "I'm sorry, sir, but we just don't make phones like that. I guess everything has just gotten too complicated for you." That's what she said. And then she looked at me and said, as though my Dad were no longer there, and she said: "Is there anything else, today?" I don't think I answered.

Dad has lost home-field advantage. Wherever he goes, he doesn't get to hear the home-town crowd, he doesn't stand firm, knowing the turf, knowing which direction the sun will come from, which direction the wind blows in the afternoon, which pub is next door after the game. Every day is an away game. Every away game, the odds are on losing. Every loss, just extends the streak. And he is not very happy about it. This is my take-away.

I live in France. I don't speak no good, very well, you know, that french language. I got no home-field advantage, either. I smile a lot. A lot. Either they think I am an idiot, or that I am happy for no obviously good reason. But I smile and always say please and thank-you. I get a lot of help, because of that.

When you don't have home field, do your homework, play smart.

samedi, février 03, 2007

07.02.03: Patience, Woody, Patience

I am in a Woody Allen movie. In fact, I've become Woody.

I have been observing for the last year how patient I am becoming. This is a forced response. I have attributed it to dealing with french people day in, day out. We don't always a share a common language. Patience, patience.

I imagine that there are multiple ways to learn a foreign language. A seemingly necessary evil is memorizing verb conjugations. Another aspect is actually talking to real people who (quite naturally) speak the foreign language you are trying to learn. This can be scary, intimidating, humorous, and sometimes enjoyable. A way to make take the edge off is to go to a structued environment where you sit in small groups with actual real-live french people and talk for 45 minutes in English -- ostensibly for them to learn english, but quite honestly I find it to be some of the more sane conversations I have here anyway, and then 45 minutes in french -- ostensibly to learn some french conversational skills, but actually a way to defend américain's honor in the face of several massively stupid international "gaffes" (le mot de la semaine this week on RFI, associated to M. Chirac and Iranian-awareness) by our gouvernement. The hour and a half for this exercise is acceptably banal, and perhaps a little educational. The shared lunch afterwards is actually the good reason to participate. At lunch I can manage an interesting conversation with one or two francophones, and honestly share some interesting perspectives.

So today, after the obligatory Bush-bash (or you don't get invited to lunch) we were walking up the street to a resto, when one of the elderly américaine participants asked me to wait for her while she managed her affaires. She said she knew where the resto was for lunch, which I didn't question. After I waited to accompany her, we walked around St-Germain des Pres several times while it became painfully obvious she had no fricking idea where the resto was to meet up with the others. So, I didn't get to have lunch with my frenchy friends today. I really thought I would kill her.

That's when I knew I had become Woody. Patience, patience. This time for an american in paris. Go figure.

She told me she met President Eisenhower when she was a young woman. Namedropper. In Paris, no less. She looks like Diane Keaton will look in another 10 years. She told me she was very attractive when she was young. These are the other things she told me: her father was abusive, her mother was an alcoholic until the day after her father died, her ex-husband, now deceased, was french, haute bourgeoisie, and non-communcative, she is much younger than my father (who is 77), and she loves living in Paris -- in fact, it was her destiny, fulfilled.

All this while I had a little pasta and a glass of vin rouge in a little Italian restaurant off Metro Odéon, on a brisk, sunny winter day. It really seemed like a Woody Allen movie. But a little less funny. But then, the character played by Woody in his movies doesn't see the humor either.