Le foot et moi

Supporters de foot

Let me begin by saying that I am no sports fan. This applies equally and unilaterally to all sports, with the exception of any that I happen to be doing. That means no Olympics, no Rolland Garros, no Tour de France, no golf, no baseball. Not even hockey, my home country’s national sport.

I am especially grateful for having married a man who is not particularly interested in watching televised sports. The sound of cheering fans on TV makes me vaguely nauseous. The inane banter of the sportscasters and their hysterical cries in anticipation of a goal make me crazy. If I had to listen to that every weekend we would probably not have made it out of the starting blocks.

There have been two notable exceptions to this policy. The first was in 1998, the other on Sunday. When I discovered a horrible truth about myself: it’s probably just as well that I’m not a regular sports fan. Because when I do root for a team, I become a nasty, screaming banshee with murder in my heart.

But French. Down to my deepest primal self.

In 1998, we had only recently moved outside of Lyon to the sleepy village of Soucieu-en-Jarrest. We barely knew our neighbours when word came that the final was going to be shown on a big screen at the football field just around the corner from our house. When it looked like things were going well for Les Bleus, we packed up the kids and joined every other inhabitant of our village out on the field at the stadium. Suddenly it seemed like we knew everybody. The mood was high and the draft beer flowed freely. When we won, there was a collective sense of joy that took over every last one of us. We were the Champions! And we joined arms and sang the theme song of our team along with everyone else: I will survive. It was epic.

So when it happened that we were in our old village on Sunday visiting friends, we were not-so-secretly hoping that we could stage a rematch performance on the football field. Alas, it was not to be. Times have changed, our friends explained, and it seemed the town could no longer organize such an event without proper security measures, bla bla bla.

That didn’t stop us from watching the game. And perhaps it’s just as well that no one but my closest family witnessed my performance. In between a spectacular flow of curses in both languages, I would have cheerfully ripped the pony tail off that Croatian player.

And then it happened. We are the champions again!

You can see the difference that 20 years has made to the celebrations in the video below from Le Monde. Due to the risks associated with terrorism and crowd control, the bus carrying Les Bleus along the Champs Elysées on Monday was segregated by police and a separate lane from the public. It zipped through in less than 20 minutes whereas in 1998, the players were surrounded by their fans and the whole procession lasted two hours.

Still, I think that all this sports fan malarkey isn’t really for me. Patriotism, nationalism, bigotry, competition against those who hail from other places. In the end, this kind of display represents everything I detest.

Not to forget the violence against women, out-of-control crowds looting stores and other drunken behaviour that often accompanies such events.

And yet. People need heroes. Kids need dreams. We all need a reason to cheer. The Elysée Palace invited kids from all walks of life to share in the VIP event. Sport can indeed be a great leveler. And so I will probably make an exception and wave the flag for France again.

Once every 20 years isn’t bad, right? And If France makes it to the World Cup Final in 2038, that should just about give me time to recover.

Are you a sports fan?

 

Dans la joie et la bonne humeur

Les Bleus Euro 2016Sadly, the joy was short-lived. But for a few days here in France, we were on top of the world again. Et bon dieu did we enjoy it!

Despite the fact that Les Bleus lost the final match, it feels as though we’ve turned a page. ‘Passé un cap’, as we say in French. Summer vacation is upon us, the sun is shining, and today we are celebrating our Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day. Spirits are higher in this country than they’ve been in a long time.

It hasn’t been an easy year in France. At times it has felt like the terrorists were winning. At others, the overriding disappointment in Hollande’s government and the back-biting from left to extreme right, has been depressing. The latest saga of resistance to change over the new Loi Travail (labour law) has been unending, along with the seasonal round of strikes and demonstrations. Then Brexit comes along and it feels like the end of the EU as we know it.

I surprised myself by actually watching the last two matches of the Euro 2016. This goes against my normal black-out policy towards all televised sports: golf, tennis, the Tour de France – not even the Olympics get my attention.

I don’t dislike sports. I just don’t like watching other people do them.

So although I know next to nothing about football (soccer for my North American friends), I found myself turning on the game ‘just to see’ and then getting drawn in. I watched the first half of the semi-final, and observed that while France was doing a very good job of preventing Germany from scoring, most of the game seemed to be taking place near the French goalposts. The Germans seemed to have good team work, and there was coordination and strategy in their moves.

Any time the French got the ball, things got a little chaotic. A burst of energy and astounding performance followed by – nada. They just didn’t seem to have a plan of attack. So I turned it off and went outside to enjoy the sunset. Then I heard a collective cry of ‘but!’ and the car horns honking – not just once but twice.

It seems that when the French get going, a certain magic kicks in.

During the final with Portugal on Sunday, that magic wasn’t quite there. Les Bleus gave it their best but the drama queens (who I found myself absurdly calling ‘Les Portu-gays’) on the other side got lucky in one single score. See why I don’t like sports? It brings out the worst kind of nationalism and name calling.

But although we may be down we are not out. The collective pysche is revved by the fact that we made to the final, the team did their best and now we get to enjoy some well-earned vacation time. Dans la joie et la bonne humeur!

One thing is certain: Le Coq Gaulois will be crowing again soon.

Coq_French flagHappy Bastille Day!

Trouver le courage

SUP‘Je ne suis pas très courageuse,’ as they say in French. I am no brave heart. I’ve shared before my challenges in coping with fear – in life and on the ski slopes. Rather than trying new things and going outside my comfort zone, holidays most often find me navigating between the bar and my beach chair, where I happily get lost in a good book between dips in and out of the water.

I do love the sea though, and was determined to try something new on this beach holiday. The resort program said ‘Introduction to Stand Up Paddle’. How hard could that be?

So I wandered down to the beach the other morning and joined a small group of people curious to find out what all this SUP fuss was about. It was a perfect day: blue sky, sunny and warm but not too hot, a light breeze.

Our bronzed surf instructor, a laid-back type of the beach-bum variety, coolly rhymed off a few instructions while showing us how to position ourselves in the middle of board, first on our knees, then in standing position. The paddling itself was old hat – any self-respecting Canadian knows their way around a canoe. Paddle left to go right; paddle right to go left. Back paddle to turn.

Then it was time to get into the water. We fastened our life jackets and secured the ankle straps to make sure we stayed with our boards. I stood at the water’s edge and looked out at the vast expanse of ocean, stretching to the horizon.

For a moment I pondered the unknown depths and breadth of that expanse. And then I felt it: a nudge of fear. Barely a ripple. Just the familiar fear of trying something new, a touch of agoraphobia at the unknown waters with vague shadows of fishes moving about near the bottom.

And I thought for an instant of what it must take for someone to take that giant leap into the unknown. To risk life and loved ones for a chance to make the great escape. Someone who may not be able to swim, who doesn’t even have a life jacket. Someone who risks it all on a rickety boat ride to foreign shores.

That is courage. Courage born of desperation. The kind of courage I will likely never know. There I was, on my stand-up paddle board, a privileged tourist just steps from safety, comfort – even luxury. And I dared to feel afraid?

Propelled by irony, in a sort of guilt-edged dream, I pushed out from the shore and took my first shaky steps on the stand up paddle. It wasn’t very hard. In fact, I barely even got wet.

Guilt is a fairly useless emotion, unless it spurs us on to do something good, to be better people. The refugee crisis is all around us in Europe, yet we blithely go on holiday and, when confronted with the all-too-human drama taking place on our shores, feel powerless to do anything about it. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between the way we as citizens feel about the refugees and our government’s response. I don’t have the answer, but I am thinking about the question. That’s a step forward. How about you?

Le ski: It’s all downhill from here

Ski tips above the cloudsI grew up in a country where snow was abundant. Even in the southern-most climes of Canada, we have plenty of the white stuff every winter. What we don’t have is mountains. The biggest ski hills in our parts have a vertical drop that’s less than the average apartment building.

Still, I learned to snowplow and do the herringbone at an early age and became a competent if not adventurous skier. The biggest resort we went to back then was Blue Mountain. We would line up forever for the lift, then come zipping down the slopes in two minutes to do it all over again.

None of these things prepared me for skiing in the French Alps. The vertical is, well…vertical. Chair-lifts can feel more like elevators. And most of the pistes require a level of skill that is beyond my comfort zone.

My first experience of skiing in France was at Les 3 Vallées, a massive domaine skiable that claims to be the world’s biggest ski area. I don’t know whether that’s technically true but it certainly felt that way to me on the day I got lost in a blizzard somewhere around 3,000 meters.

My husband learned to ski at Les Ménuires, one of the resorts in the 3 valleys area, shortly after learning to walk. He loves the snow and anything to do with mountains. The higher the better. He was keen to show me around its highest peaks. It was un grand moment in our marriage. Right up there with learning to drive a standard and arguing our way around French Polynesia.

The first shock was the accommodation. The resort was above the tree line, with forests of high-rise buildings perched in a lunar landscape. We stayed in a borrowed apartment that managed to squeeze 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen-living area into a space about the size of a walk-in closet. I felt claustrophobic from the start.

“Don’t worry, it’s the altitude. Just wait until you get on top of the mountain and see the view,” reassured my husband, ever the optimist.

I have only a vague memory of that first day’s skiing together. So the details are blurry. But I’ll never forget the name of the place where I lost any remaining illusions about my spirit of adventure: Cime de Caron.

To cut to the chase: I lost my way down whatever slope we were on and became immobilized with fear in front of a piste noire (black run for expert skiers). My husband disappeared into the white-out and I ended up, shaking with fear and cold, in some sort of refuge with a snack bar until someone took pity on me and showed me the way to the nearest lift down.

I learned a few important things from that first ski trip:

  1. Always check the plan des pistes (map of ski runs) before you go up to make sure you can get down
  2. Avoid going anywhere with the word ‘cime’ or ‘col’ in the name. It will probably end in tears, or a nosebleed. Or both.
  3. If all else fails, head for the bar

Oh, and one more: never trust my husband if there’s a mountain involved.

I still enjoy skiing from time to time. But I’m a fairweather skier – the conditions have to be just right. Mostly I stick to the blue runs. I can manage the reds if I have to – even if it means sliding down part of the way on my derrière. But there’s only way I’m heading down a piste noire:

How to descend a black run

Et toi? Are you a snow bunny or a lounge lizard? Schuss or snow plow?