Paris and Rennes revisited

July 21, 2010

It has been so long I am at a loss for words as I face a white screen.  What may I add to what I have said and the world has said about Paris and Rennes? Almost nothing.

Into that nothing one may dig and discover a touch of disappointment.  This blogger is beginning to see in what he sees the ugly side of things, to the point of saying things like “To enjoy being in Paris, stay indoors and read a book, and remember Paris”, or “Buy a bagette and a piece of cheese and eat in your hotel room”, or “Shut your window to avoid hearing the nasty honks of chic cars”, or “You should write down the words and describe the attitudes of some of the sales people, and run indoors to avoid being totally depressed”.

In Paris, in July, it is fun to walk here and there: all you hear are  languages other than French.  So Paris and Rennes revisited is about nostalgic moments.  It is getting tiring to revisit and yet there is something ethereal and enjoyable about climbing into a taxi, buying metro tickets, avoiding some cafés, and choosing to stay indoors and let the masses of humanity walk all over those blessed sidewalks in search of the stone beauty that is certainly here.

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Soccer emotions and gestures

July 4, 2010

As we near the end of the month-long world soccer cup held in 2010 in South Africa, here are one man’s observations on soccer emotions, gestures and lessons learned.

1/ National teams are very artificial constructions linked to flags, politics and national pride.

2/ FIFA the ruling  body is tough in its dictates, not flexible in the least, wrong on Ghana’s goal, and financially powerful.

3/  Officials, fans and spectators behave funny and look childish when happy, jumping up and down when a score is announced, and doing dances and rolls and every gymnastic trick in the book to express the joy felt.

4/ Tens of millions of us are glued to TV screens, large and small, in individual homes or in public spaces to follow 22 players running after a ball for ninety minutes, even when nothing much happens, except a lot of running and a great deal of kicking.

5/ Victories are meaningless because to judge a victory by a ball entering into a goal is not very convincing, and does not reflect the strength of a team, even those artificially constructed with “star” players.

6/ The only satisfying proof of a team’s superiority is a clear and present score, such as 4-0 or 7-0 or such impressive numbers.  Anything like 2-1, 1-0 means so little that one wonders about wasted time looking at adults running after a soccer ball.

G & G

July 4, 2010

Ghana and Germany, two teams that have shown style and beauty in the soccer kingdom. When Germany  wins they really win.   Both should have been in the final in South Africa.

G & G  an ideal final, that will not happen. Germany has not yet gotten past the semi finals stage and Ghana was eliminated for reasons I will never grasp.

FIFA’s rules on “hand ball” and penalties

July 4, 2010

The following is extracted from FIFA’s rules concerning using hands in the penalty area.

“Strangely, the term “Hand Ball” is commonly used, but is not defined in the official FIFA rules. It is a “direct kick foul” if a player (other than the goalkeeper inside his own penalty area) deliberately handles the ball (meaning to deliberately touch the ball with any part of the arm from the finger tips to the top of the shoulder). If the player handles it for the purpose of preventing an opponent from gaining possession, it is a “cautionable offense” and a yellow card should be given. If a player deliberately handles the ball to deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity (e.g., to prevent a breakaway or to deliberately stop a shot), a red card should be given and the player “sent off”. However, a hand ball foul should not be called if: (1) a player is instinctively trying to protect himself from injury or (2) the player did not deliberately touch the ball but the ball hit his arm & he did not move the arm toward the ball (however, if the player’s arms were in an unnatural position such as above his shoulders or sticking out to the sides, then he should be called for a handball). (See “Fouls“).”

How does all that apply to the situation that arose in the Ghana Uruguay game? Well in my opinion the above does not deal with a “deliberate” use of hands to STOP a ball that was ON ITS WAY IN, with no ambiguity as to where it was going since it was already IN.  Giving a red card and giving a penalty is not justified by the above-mentioned rules.  The penalty could have been given if, as mentioned above, the Uruguayan defender “handles the ball to deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity”.  In this case it is not an “obvious scoring opportunity” but a REAL SCORING EVENT, since nothing could have stopped the ball from entering given one hundredth of a second later.  

Was and is wrong

July 4, 2010

The FIFA referee who gave a red card and a penalty in the Uruguay Ghana game was wrong.

The Ghana kick sent the ball into the famous rectangle.  The ball was about to enter and would have entered and scored were it not for an Uruguayan hand that stopped its trajectory. 

So the ball was in and all the laws of physics indicate that the ball would have hit the net.

Therefore there was a goal.  Ghana won.  Period.

Giving a red card is interesting and meaningless.  Giving Ghana a penalty is giving them a fifty fifty chance of scoring. Giving a penalty for a hand anywhere near the goal would have been ok, but giving a penalty for a hand that definitely stopped a goal that was a definite goal is a mistake and is totally wrong.  FIFA was and is wrong and if rules say they are right those rules should be overruled and Ghana should have won that game.

To speak of Ghana’s fair play, and mention the lousy penalty kick, or show the sad crowds all over Africa at this unjust loss, is besides the point.

That kick was a goal and Ghana should be playing one of the semi finals.

Koro-koro?

June 22, 2010

On the day of a major train accident near Yanga station, sixty kilometers from Pointe-Noire, (imagine the horrendous sight of four overturned cars -four out of six-with casualties and injured on the one hand, and on the other hand panicked families all over the city running from hospital to hospital from 10 pm last night until this afternoon, franticly checking names, it is nearly impossible to describe the horror, so I will write, for now, on what appears irrelevant to the sadness lived by many, just to get my mind off the tragedy: the imaginative and practical transportation solution used within the city, and within the marketplace, to move goods. 

Pili-pili and saka-saka abound in any local market, and you could move tons of them on koro-koros or pousse-pousses.  And thousands of articles sold on tables and other surfaces need to be constantly moved, back and forth, between the market and their depots day in and day out.  Whereas extremely heavy bags, wood, iron bars, cement bags and furniture get to use pousse-pousse (“push push”) vehicles, koro-koros serve small loads.  Planes, trains and cars are scaring more than one passenger these days, so we shall dwell on the koro-koros instead.

Koro koros are sturdy one-wheel carts or elongated wheelbarrows, whereas pousse- pousses are two-wheelers, with recycled car wheels.  The pousse-pousse has a rectangular metal container (imagine a large metal box with no lid) with front and back raised bars so it can carry heavy and extra long items like extra long poles.  The koro-koro on the contrary is a simple contraption that carries heavy bags from point A to point B within the market, for small change.  The advantage for their owners is that they can sit and sleep on their koro-koros, because they act as a comfortable and sturdy metallic chair.  And for clients the clear advantage is that they are quick, practical and inexpensive. 

I have never noticed these things till the other day.  And now their funny name keeps ringing in my ear.

3 pneus

June 21, 2010

Three gigantic tires (“pneus”) were seen a week ago by the narrator, stacked like 3 fat bagels in the middle of a road intersection in Paka 120, a large popular and sandy neighborhood of Pointe-Noire.   Those three stacked truck tires have been in the same spot for the past fifteen years, as a marker or a monument that didn’t cost a dime to taxpayers.  It is a convenient reminder to cars and pedestrians that around here you can create symbols with next to nothing.

Last week friends were meeting in that part of town, and to describe the house, we were told to find it at the “rond-point 3 pneus” (round about or traffic circle).  And during the dry season (our winter) since no rain wets the sandy roads, driving in that area is a bit rough and slow.

The perception of those tires, a black monument in the middle of the road, depends on the identity of the beholder.  To the neighbors they are just there, untouched over the years.  For tourists, visitors or those of us who live here and tend to travel from time to time to Europe, we look at the stack with a smile.  Those “bagels” bring to mind other well-known monuments sitting in famous traffic circles in other corners of the earth, imposing structures with a similar function, but not as down to earth.

Urban landscaping, which is in full sing in the capital, will one day surely find an appropriate replacement for those tired tires.

They shall be missed.

Big Upsets

June 20, 2010

For soccer aficionados and for the the not so aficionados the big news is that the World Cup in South Africa is not just a noisy affair with the much celebrated plastic vuvuzelas but an exciting series of games between nations in which some of the major countries have lost in a surprising way.  Lost games not the real thing.

Spain lost to Switzerland, and France to Mexico.  Just two examples.  The Serbia-Germany confrontation being played as these words are written shows Germany loosing to Serbia.  The outcome of this match will be noted in the last paragraph.  I write as they play.

Last night I started writing into the France Mexico game at the 74 minutes 13 seconds mark.  At that point Mexico was leading one to nil.  I was following this game trying to cheer for France, but France looked doomed.  Mexico’s team looked full of motivation. The English-speaking commentator reminded his audience that France qualified for this World Cup ingloriously because a French player scored with his hand!

There must be some sort of justice through chastisement.  Something to do with the arrogance of some, or their lack of humility.  There is always something psychological that pops up when dealing with sports.  The commentator added that whereas Mexico played like a team, France was just a bunch of very talented individuals playing.

The French coach looked impassive and a bit lost in one corner,  analyzing the action with the eye of an eagle.  He sent Valbuena to replace Govu.  Nothing changed. The Mexican fans looked happy and excited by the minute, understandably.

Frustration mounted.  At 77 minutes a penalty was given to Mexico, because a defender tripped an attacker!  A 37-year Mexican attacker, the second highest scorer of all time in Mexico who had just come in to inject experience and strength, kicked the penalty and the score became to 2 nil.

And everyone was waiting for a miracle to save France.  Last night no miracles were forthcoming. The Mexicans were opening champagne bottles before the end of the game.

And back to the German Serbia game: the Germans received a red card, so they had to play with only 10 players.  That also happened to Nigeria and caused their downfall.  As we move from game to game, nationalisms are confronting each other, as if the soccer field mirrored the political and economic arena, and the Big Upsets in green fields stood as a symbol of what could occur in the real world…

Germany did loose! And now…as I write these notes while watching the Slovenia USA game at the 42 min 12 sec Slovenia leads against the USA 2 to nil!!  That was not supposed to happen.  Within the hour we will know if another Big Upset was in the making!

Well, the news is that the game is over and the USA came from nil to 2 and there was no Big Upset this time.  The two million inhabitants of Slovenia settled for a 2-2 score.

Shall we listen to the vuvuzelas?

June 17, 2010

The contrast is striking.  Yellow balls have flown for two weeks in Roland Garros in a semi hush and will fly for another two weeks in Wimbledon in a respectable silence, but in between these tournaments and during four long weeks in South Africa thousands of spectators have the absolute right to sound the plastic vuvuzela horns made in somewhere to stir feelings and create a noisy ambiance in stadiums across the land.

There are complaints; players have a tough time hearing each other and their technical staff, hearing the referee’s whistle, and spectators fear for their eardrums, and those at home prefer to lower the volume on their screens and wait for a goal to up the volume.

It is indeed an annoying non-stop noise nuisance emanating from a mass of fans cheering for the two teams for over 90 minutes.  Those noise producers must be having the time of their lives, and the only redeeming value of those unpleasant decibels coming from all those improvised musicians is that they are not getting into trouble or causing havoc so long as they are playing those plastic horns.

The omnipresent insistent celebratory insane vuvuzela sound reminds me of the annoying buzzing singing sound of ten billion mad mosquitoes that won’t quit even when you are safely hiding under a brand new mosquito net.  So for the duration of sixty four international soccer games everyone has to put up with thousands of colorful vuvuzelas that are likely to turn off millions from the artistic feats of a few soccer players.

“Are you in the real estate business?”

June 14, 2010

Driving on French toll freeways is not as pleasant as driving in toll-free national and regional highways or even village roads.  When you have the added pressure of seeing radars ready to photograph your license plate when you go beyond the speed limit you long for the days when you could enjoy the scenery by hitchhiking or by train.

On one of our return trips from Bretagne, as we were headed for the Auvergne region in the heart of France, we suddenly left the A28 toll freeway to have some lunch.  The inspiration to leave the freeway came from a sign indicating some sort of château worth seeing.  It is always a mistake to stop for lunch past 2 pm because with the exception of imported fast food restaurants of renown, almost no one serves lunch past the sacred and official lunchtime.

It took us more than twenty minutes to reach the château town, but the château was being cleaned or renovated and there was nothing to see and do at that time.  And no one was open for lunch.  But as we were going back to the freeway I remembered seeing, on the way in, a corner café snack bar at the intersection of two roads.   I had seen it coming because when I saw it I could have taken the road to its right or the one to its left, and that snack bar stood in that angle, a very appealing white structure.  It was time to stop and ask for lunch and by the same token, I told myself, a snapshot was calling to be taken.

Once inside the dark café I asked the owner/bartender if he was serving lunch, and he looked at me, then at the lonely man by the counter across him, and at the wall clock, before saying something in French which would be the equivalent of « Can’t you see that it is almost three and by that time you can go anywhere in this country you won’t find a soul willing to fry you an egg, so thank you for coming and good bye monsieur and I don’t really care if I ever see you again.»

On the way out I chose a spot from which I could snap the historic shot, to keep it in my memory bank.  The name of the snack bar had changed from « Au bon coin » to « Le bon coin », roughly meaning the « right corner » or the « good corner ».  Indeed it was a fitting name, the good angle and the right angle in that imaginary triangle, in an isolated corner of the county.

I went back to the rented car and as I was about to start the French engine, a police car with two very tall and serious « gendarmes » parked to my immediate left, almost blocking the car.   They basically came from nowhere.  I was so puzzled that I stepped outside to see what I had done in a car that had not moved an inch for over ten fifteen minutes.  It is at that moment that one of the « gendarmes », came around his unmarked car and asked me with a straight face: « Etes-vous dans l’immobilier ? » (« Are you in real estate? »).  Frankly I had no idea what he meant, and within seconds he mentioned the fact that I had just taken a picture of the snack bar.  Oh my God! I thought.  Did they see me take a picture, or did the snack bar owner phoned to complain about my asking for lunch at a suspicious time and THEN take a picture once outside.

I said that I was American and that I was fascinated by French towns, buildings, streets, trees, and I may have mentioned that my wife was French, and that I had spent my life reading French literature till my head went dizzy,  and that I was not in the real estate business.  That was all they needed to hear before they left as fast as I they had arrived.

So much for lunch at 3 pm in quaint French towns.