Thursday, July 24, 2014

Am I a kid or what?

I live near a park.  If you were to stand on my deck in the winter and look to your right you would clearly see a baseball field for adults.  In the summer, you can see the lights through the trees.

There is a game nearly every night.  In May and June the high school teams play here.  Then in the summer there are adult leagues, usually kids in their twenties.  And then there are nights when older players are out there. Last year, Doug Flutie, the former Boston College, New England Patriots, and Buffalo Bills quarterback was playing shortstop for one of the teams.  Flutie has got to be pushing 45.

Tonight, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I had to give up my regular Thursday night doubles match because of a nagging injury. So, I was home when I usually would be swatting tennis balls at about 9:30.  I walked over to the field to see who was playing.

It was old guys. Several of the players had major league beer guts on them.  Tough to see how they could play. This is hardball not softball. It is a regulation field.  If it has been a while since you were on a regulation diamond go over to a local park and check it out sometime. The throw from third base and short stop is a long one.  As I watched a few outs of the game, I wondered if I could play with these guys, gimpy right leg and all.

After a fellow hit a slow roller to second and came back to the dugout near where I was standing he surprised me by saying hello.  Maybe it was because I was the lone, as in only, spectator watching the game.

If I am standing still, as I was, nobody can see my gimp. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I am still in good shape. Do my situps and pushups daily. Go swimming or do the elliptical several times a week, and despite my horrendous eating habits, look relatively healthy.

At the end of the inning the third base coach came up to me and asked me how old I was.  I told him. He said there was a 55 and older league on Wednesday nights. This, what I was watching, was the 37 year and older league.  He suggested I come down next Wednesday and see if I could play for the Waltham Braves in this 55 and older league.

Now, I used to be a decent baseball player, but we are talking the Carter administration. Once, when I first moved here I played with a couple of kids in the park and took a few swings.  But that was it.

So, what do I do when this guy asks me if I want to see if I can play with the Waltham team.  Do I tell him, "hey buddy, I can barely walk back to my house." Do I say,  " I could not reach first base from third in less than three hops?"  Do I say, "If I ever hit the ball far enough for a double, I would need a cab to get to second base?"

No, I go back to my house and find my glove.

It needs some oil.  I figure if I oil it some it can be ready.  Next Wednesday, I will be unavailable, but the following one, I may try my luck with the Waltham Braves.  It looked like I could play with the 37 year olds. I could be DiMaggio with the 55 year olds.

Now, if I can only get out of my chair.


A group of we fraternity boys will be getting together in early August at the home of one of us on Martha's Vineyard.  We will tell tales exaggerating our history, ask if anyone has seen so and so, and is so and so still married to that goof, and whatever the hell happened to this one and that.

And we will relay to each other how we know we are on the other side of the hill.

Here are some signs that I have noticed lately.

I typically give a welcoming talk to the parents of our incoming students.  We have several orientation sessions throughout the summer.  I am the guy who comes in and says, on behalf of the college let me welcome you.  Then I make some comments about the salient parts of the school.  These meetings are often the first events of my day. So today I was ready at 815 to greet these parents as they entered the lecture hall where I would be welcoming them.  And I saw that one of the parents was wearing a sundress.  And she had tattoos.  So, now the parents of my students have tattoos.

My long term memory is unbelievable. The fraternity boys often go to me for the history of an event that for them is fuzzy.  However, my (and their) short term memory is from hunger. When we gather we often trade stories about how our short term memory is shot. I am now having to say to myself, "You put your keys in the bag" when I put the keys in the bag in order for me to remember that I put the keys in the bag.  I arrived at work on Tuesday and was aggravated because I had intended to bring a blank check so that I might pay a bill that was sitting in the office.  Later in the day I went to lunch, grabbed my wallet to pay, and saw the blank check that I had placed in the wallet but had no recollection of having done so.

My Thursday night old man doubles is going on without me. Still can't move to my right.

I kid the young director of admissions in our college because she has limited recollection of songs, movies, books, or tv shows from my era.  Today I asked her about the Jose Jimenez show which was popular in the 60s. She, of course, had no clue. Then the dean came by.  I asked him. He had no clue. Felt like Methuselah.

Yesterday this group of fraternity cronies was shattered by the news that one of the brothers--not one who regularly meets up with us, but one who had once-had succumbed to cancer. We had all seen him at a reunion a few years back and he looked healthy and so full of life.  Died in a hospice.

I see throw back Thursday photos of former students from when they were my students. And it felt like a stiff wind hit me when one of my first college students posted pictures of her grandchildren.

If we throw the old football around on the Vineyard, it ought to amuse the neighbors.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The tree again

The last two days I've awakened very early, around 5.  In the summer, it is light at that time or just getting there.  So, I have taken the newspaper that arrives around that time, brewed some of the Brazilian coffee I purchased on the other side of the Equator, and taken my cup out to the deck to read the paper and enjoy the morning view.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that my favorite tree in the yard was felled by a loud storm on July 3rd.  This is the tree that kept its leaves the longest and had an atypical green/yellow color.  So it was sad to see it go.

When I was gone in Brazil, the fellow who takes care of the lawn and shrubs came by and, by prior arrangement, sawed off and removed the branches of this favorite tree that had been affected by the storm.  I noticed something on Monday when I sat on the deck for the first time since the dead limbs had been removed.  While I missed the tree, the view that the absence provided was itself beautiful particularly as the sun climbed into the sky.  I could see right up the hill into the woods in a way that I could not before. The light from the rising sun was creating different looks in the forest moment by moment. The scene felt like I was living in a wooded park more than it had previously.  Almost as if I had awakened and climbed out of a pitched tent.

This morning I kept saying take a picture now, but then telling myself to wait a moment--because every second the sun was providing varied views.  I eventually took a number of shots and when I download them I will place one or more here.

I guess the point is that sometimes we can get blue because of loss, but then you get to realize that something else can open up. And the sun shines into it.

Not everything is related to sports, but this is a good message to relay to any competitor. The sun will rise again after a loss.  You lose a tree, but who knows what that will allow you to see and do.

The Burgess Boys--Review

Elizabeth Strout's newest novel is called The Burgess Boys. It is worth wondering why it is titled so, because the book is about three siblings, the Burgesses--a successful New York lawyer Jim,  a less successful but amiable New York lawyer Bob, and Bob's twin sister Susan who has remained in the small Maine town where the three grew up.

The plot line centers on a foolish act perpetrated by Susan's son, Zach.  The brothers are called on to help out Zach. They travel to Maine and otherwise occupy themselves with Zach's legal case.

But the events with Zach are peripheral to the essential story which relates to the relationships the three siblings have with each other, and with their spouses.  And the demons they wrestle with.

Jim is puffed up, famous because of a victory in an OJ Simpson like case.  He is full of himself and his relationship with his wife Helen seems to be a good one.  Bob, on the other hand, is a modest sweetheart but a boozer and smoker who misses his ex wife Pam. Susan's marriage disintegrated and she feels that Zach's asocial behavior is a reflection of some failure.

And then there is a family event and secret that creates less than terra firma for the three of them. The land shifts seismically during the novel with some predictable results.

This is not as good as Strout's Olive Kitteridge, but still an engaging read.  The Bob character will stay with me for a spell.  What happens to Jim is predictable, but at the end I found myself disappointed that the author did not tie up the knot there.  Susan and Zach I suspect will be Susan and Zach with slight changes ten years from now.

So all families and all of us have issues.  Those who stay the course and ride out the turbulence honestly may be those who, in the final analysis, have the most enjoyable ride.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Airport Suggestion

My trip to Brazil is nearly over. I sit in the International terminal having arrived in plenty of time for my flight.  Took a cab from the hotel for a stunning fifty Reals/(about 25 dollars)  less than the price that the crook from the airport charged me when I first arrived and traveled the same route to the hotel.  However, I should comment that the first car was not a clunker.  I saw something in today's cab that I have never seen before. When the driver opened the trunk for my bags, I noticed that the gas tank was actually in the trunk.  Not concealed in any way. When you put your gas in, it went right into a receptacle.  The tank must have been well insulated because there was no odor, but there it sat.

Also at one point for reasons I still don't know, the driver pointed to the glove compartment.  I went to open it thinking that that is what he wanted me to do.  He let out a yelp when I undid the glove door. And now I know why.

The cover kerplunked off letting a host of rags, maps, receipts and who knows what fall to the floor. With one hand on the wheel, the driver leaned over and attempted to put Humpty Dumpty together.  I gently pushed his hand away because what with the gas tank in the trunk I didn't want his preoccupation with the glove compartment to result in our demise. I was able somehow to get the thing back on sort of, but a couple of items were stuck in the cracks. He good naturedly waved as if to say, That's fine.

I got to the airport early because (a) I had to check out of my room and it was cloudy today. Not much to do by the pool or beach and (b) not knowing the language I wanted to make sure I did not have a problem negotiating the signs and lines.  It was a bit disconcerting when I arrived as the place just looks like a huge hanger and signage--even in Portuguese is minimal.   However, for reasons that must make sense but I can't figure out, there are very few international flights--at least that American flies--that do not begin at night and go over night. Here in Brazil, it is only one hour later than in the Eastern time zone, so I cannot fathom what is up with just the overnight flights.  But because there are only overnight flights and because I got here early (though not earliest there were a half dozen multi-luggaged people ahead of me. And within minutes of my getting on queue, at least a dozen standing behind me)  I sailed through customs.

I do have a suggestion for this International airport.  Sell space for a restaurant or two.  There must be a proscription on the sale of alcohol and dinners here, because despite a lot of people arriving during the dinner hour for a later flight on which they will serve a meal for your average moth, there is nothing here to eat.  There are a couple of duty free shops selling duty free overpriced items of which I bought a few, and a couple of spots where you can buy a cookie or a coke, but no place to park yourself and watch a game while you consume and imbibe.  In Kennedy there must have been a half dozen of these joints as I waited forever for my flight to take off last week.  Nothing here.  I've been to airports in small towns that have more in the way of restaurants.  The Brazilians are losing out on some business.

I will survive without the restaurants.  Ate a bunch at the conference and did not work out once-even though they had an excellent facility for doing so and two hotel pools--one for lane swimming. Did not swim a lap. Ate healthily. Eating like a moth might be a good thing for the next twenty four hours.

Boy in Brazil

Years ago I picked up a book my dad had recommended.  It was called The Boys from Brazil.  Can't remember once when I was steered wrong with one of his suggestions. The Boys from Brazil was no exception.  A thriller and I remember that I could not put the thing down.

I am blessed with a very good memory and I recall something about the book that is not especially central. That is, while it might take a little something away from the read, it is not a big deal to write that at one point the word "ketchup" is key.

I think a character says something like in a million years I would never have known that it was ketchup. Again, trust me, this does not take much away from the book. I don't assume armies read my blog, but if you are intrigued, I did not spoil the book for you with this mention.

I thought of "ketchup" during this trip likely because I have been a boy in Brazil during the last few days.  Quite an experience.  Every once in a while I have to remind myself that I am on the other side of the Equator, a hoot and a holler East, and it is winter. Of course, I am reminded that this is not home every time I ask a question.  Unlike many countries, it is an exception for a citizen here to understand English.  Of course it is an exception in Boston for most of us to understand any language except English.  Other countries' denizens, though, are typically multilingual.  Not here. There is one fellow at the desk who has some capability, and a bartender, and here and there a few who can make out a couple of words, but for the most part--you better know where you are going.  More than once on this trip I have had to yank out the address of the hotel as I somehow had gotten off the beaten track.  Just a couple of hours ago in fact I had taken a walk and before I knew it I was elsewhere.

It would be a nice thing if there was a key word that you could utter and then all would be safe. Say, ketchup, and you can find out where the bus station is.  I thought my good buddy Siri could help me earlier today when I got lost. but when I called on her services, the message came up that said Siri was unavailable.  If my uncle had programmed Siri it would have read, "You're on your own boychik."

That is the way I have felt some of the time here.  People have been friendly. Conference colleagues a joy and engaging in a way people often are at these meetings.  A guy last night who was feeling no pain had me and a couple cracking up telling me about his exploits during the day as we urged him to get in a cab as his plane was leaving not too far in the future. Still despite the beautiful surroundings, the learning, and the friendly folks, I think the story is always the same.  We are all connected and when we are not it is unnatural. And we feel lost.  It is ironic, or perhaps telling, that I am and have been a loner for much of my life. I enjoy traveling by myself or at least thinking about doing so.  Yet there are times when I sense the discomfort of not being connected.  At those times it would be nice to just say the word ketchup and feel those who are close to you.

To my left as I write this, three women are cackling uncontrollably. They are watching something on a smartphone and it is all they can do to stay on their chairs. I will bet that had they each been watching whatever it was individually, the enjoyment would have been muted.

boy from ipanema

Some things are universal.  The person in the room adjacent to mine is blasting music since 7 am in a way that is making it difficult for me to think.  This aside, the experience at this hotel has been most positive.  Many people at the conference have complained that the hotel is far from everything--the meeting site, the airport, the ferry to Rio, and Rio itself.  All this is so.  About a ninety dollar cab ride to the airport and it would be close to 200 in the US as the cabs here are not that expensive.  A thirty to forty minute ride to the ferry that takes one to Rio, and about forty minutes to the conference site.  However, the hotel is very attractive, the people friendly, the pool inviting and the place is near a beach that while not as famous as Ipanema or Copacabana, is very pretty.

There is a book written about Boston drivers called, Wild in the Streets.  It is a humorous shot at how people drive in the hub.  My favorite line in the book goes something like this: "A genuine collector's item in Boston is a moving violation."  Things have gotten a bit tighter in Boston and you can get a ticket now and again for doing something egregious, but still the motorists in town make you have to become one of them or else you will get hit.  However, having taken now three cab rides and several bus rides in Brazil, I can write from a comparative vantage point that Boston drivers are wusses relative to their Brazilian brethren.

The cabdriver who took me to the ferry looks like everyone's kindly gentle uncle.  He rode on the butt of every car from the hotel to the ferry. I sat in the front seat and thought it was a bumper car ride without the actual bumps. The return trip at the end of the day was with a young man in a beat up car.  He looked like the high school drop out who finally got a job driving a hack.  I was going to pass on the ride and take a bus, but I did not like the looks of the bus station.  So, I went back to the youngster, negotiated a price as best I could since our common tool was using hand gestures, and got into his cab.  Let me tell you. Only the cyclone at Coney Island was a more hair raising ride.  This guy was great.  If you look at a map of Niteroi you will see that the Camboinhas beach where the hotel is, is on the northeast coast, and is far from downtown where the ferry departs to Rio de Janeiro.

The taxi driver from the airport, the bus drivers, the taxi driver to the ferry all took inland routes.

Not this guy. He hugged the coastal winding highway. Again, if you look at a map you can see how windy the beach roads are, and this guy was flying. Dodging in and out, leaving inches between us and the cars in front who also were not shy. It was part taxi ride and part carnival experience and part sunset beach tour.  I literally and actually applauded when the kid pulled up to the hotel--in far less time than any of his counterparts.  I almost felt like asking him to take me back to the ferry and then up to the hotel again, like a kid who enjoyed a roller coaster ride.

The day in Rio was enjoyable as well. I am pretty good with a subway map and kind of enjoy trying to figure out how to get where I want to go.  Of course, not knowing the language provided greater challenges.  I found may way to Carioca, the subway stop in Central Rio and through the labyrinthine walkways underground (no more complicated than Boston or New York, but here I could not read the signs).  I took the train all the way to Ipanema.

I read after I came back that Ipanema is one of the ten sexiest beaches in the world.  And I remember the song, the girl from Ipanema. Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema...

Well, both the boys and girls from Ipanema have not hit the gym much since Frankie crooned that song.  Occasionally you noticed someone well sculpted, but there was no shortage of folks who had not missed the buffet line. The girth, of course, was highlighted by attire.  I saw thongs on folks who might want to reconsider their choice of bathing garb.  Still the beach was beautiful. I took a few photos and as soon as I can upload them, I will place one here.

Downtown Rio seemed like a lot of large cities to me.  I think in large part this depends on where you happen to go.  Very big, not unfriendly, lots of folks--the ferries were jammed both ways--outdoor vendors, plenty of police presence.

Back at the hotel at night I took a walk to a nearby beach, sat by the pool with a Caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil, and felt a little sad that this would be my last full day.

The conference was valuable.  I met people doing interesting research. Thought about sports in ways I had not, watched many many soccer games in an attempt to understand the fandom of this sport that does not seem to me to have particular allure, but sure has to others. And as is often the case with travel, gained a perspective I had not had previously. 

Off to the airport later today. Maybe I can find that same kid taxi driver from yesterday.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Let Me Nutshell it for You.

A break from my Brazilian travelogue.  I believe this will quickly make the point to those who care to be dispassionate.

Let's say you move into a house.  As soon as you do, your neighbors on all sides say that they want to kill you. They say it is their house. You say it is your house and you have the deed. They say they don't care if you have the deed.  You start unpacking. The next day the neighbors attack in an attempt to wipe you out. You prevail.

Eight years later they try and kill you again. You prevail.

Eleven years after that they try and kill you again. You prevail and this time you extend your borders to make it difficult for them to kill you.

Six years later while, say, you're in church for easter, or you are at church for Christmas, they try and kill you again. Somehow, you get out of church, mobilize and again, you prevail.

Tell me, if your kids were in this house, and your neighbors for forty one more years would not retract their comment that you will be forcefully evicted, and every so often killed some of your children, what would you do?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cantiague--in Brazil

In the summer of 1967 I reached my peak as a basketball player.  I played my best ball as a counselor in a summer camp against other camp teams and, once, against a visiting crew of New York Knicks. The Knicks with Willis Reed, Howard Komives, and Walt Frazier did not try all that hard when they and two hand picked 15 year olds, played against our counselor team.  But I was hot in that game, must have scored in the mid twenties. Reed actually came out to contest one of my shots, Komives tried to box me out (successfully)--I don't recall Frazier trying real hard.  But I do recall that after I hit two long shots and drove past one of the fifteen years olds, the counselors were up 6-0 and the Knicks called time out.  At the end of the game Komives came up to me and said, "Nice game, Blondie."

So, at the end of the summer I figured I could play with most good players my age.  And the place you went at night in my home town area to play pick up basketball games under the lights was Cantiague Park, referred to by high school players simply as Cantiague.

So in late August and early September in 1967 I would drive to the next town and see how I could do at Cantiague.  Still could not compete with the really great players who would come there to strut their stuff. But I could do okay.

There was a lot of arguing at Cantiague. You played "winners' in the park. That meant that when you went to the court you got a group of three or four players together and you called "winners". This meant your team would wait to play the winners of the two pick-up teams on the court. As long as you won, your team kept playing. Lose a game and you might wait a half hour or more before you got on the court.  So, you really tried hard to win those games.  A lot of squawking about who fouled who and which team got the ball out. Some intra team tension if a player messed up causing your team to fall behind and run the risk of losing.

Fast forward 47 years.  It is about 10:30 pm in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.   I walked to a soccer field that I mentioned in an earlier blog sits very close to the hotel property.

It was Cantiague Park. In 15 minutes I was transported nearly half a century.  The court was lit up and the teams were playing five on five not counting the goalie. A team was waiting to play winners.

 I can not understand more than a handful of words in Portuguese, and those words I have learned since Monday.  But I knew, essentially, what these guys were saying. Players were yelling at their teammates because they did not defend well, yelling at the opponents disputing calls, exulting when they scored a goal, and leaving the court despondently when they had succumbed.  After a game concluded, in bounded the team that had called "winners." All fresh and ready to try and hold onto the court.

Unlike Cantiague there was a bit of a viewing area and a refreshment stand nearby.  Spectators were drinking beer as they watched. Sometimes the imbibing spectators were the same players who were waiting to play winners.

A few other differences.  The danger level in these Cantiague-Brazil games was great. The soccer balls were kicked with alarming velocity.  There was a fence surrounding the "pitch" but a couple of times I flinched as rocket soccer balls smashed into the fence near where I was standing.  The goaltenders made saves which made me wonder if they would still have fingers when they were done. Two players kicking the ball simultaneously made for the potential of some real injuries. While the yelling at Cantiague was not insignificant, these guys were yelling more.  Almost incessant squawking at their teammates for making plays deemed foolish by the squawker.

It is winter here, but it feels like those nights at the end of summer, where we teenagers who thought we could play, started in the early evening and might play under the lights until late into the nights at Cantiague.

Could not understand a word being uttered, barely understand the game, have no real clue about the strategy, can't tell how good these players are,  but I know this: this was Cantiague in Brazil.

Common Ground

The name of the organization that sponsored this Sport and Society conference is called Common Ground.  The organization runs conferences all over the world on various subjects. I spoke at one previously that had as its subject, Knowledge, Organizations, Culture, and Change.  That conference was in Cambridge and had over 500 attendees.  I imagine the location made it more accessible to many. For those of us here from North America or Europe, it is a long flight to Rio de Janeiro.

There was also a long bus ride from the conference hotel to the university where the sessions are held.  Today I was on the front seat of the bus as we journeyed through the streets of Noteroi en route to the sessions. As I looked at the streets during rush hour, it struck me at how much the scene I was observing was common to many others I'd seen.

Hundreds of people were on their way to work. Busses picked up those waiting at stops for their ride to a job. Drugstores, supermarkets, eateries, and gas stations lined the streets. Motorists tried to switch lanes--a bit more aggressively than in Boston which is no slouch in the aggressive driving department.  Last night the bus driver actually bumped a motorcyclist waiting at a light. The reaction?  Bus driver put up his hand as if to say he was sorry. Motorcyclist looked back incredulously.  Not sure I have seen too many busses bump cyclists of any variety, but have certainly seen incredulous glances from cyclists and drivers alike.  Except for the language of the signs, the trip this morning was probably not a whole lot different from commutes in many large cities in the world.

At the sessions the topics presented seemed to be universal even if the sports discussed varied.  Use and abuse of drugs in various sports.  Effects of sport on athletes' self concepts. Bullying in professional sports. Use of sport for social change.  The politics of stadium building.  The use of facilities to promote national pride.  Merit of emphasizing physical success versus academic success.  Need for urban commitment to citizen health.  Representatives from Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, Russia and Eastern Europe, and of course South America were represented.   The issues seemed universal.

Common Ground throughout.  Even on the walls of the bathrooms.  I see what I imagine are pornographic scribbles because they are accompanied with vulgar caricatures.

Looking forward to taking a ferry to Rio tomorrow morning and doing some sight seeing.  Most of the time here thus far I have been sitting in classrooms that could have been anywhere.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Travel Blog Days 2 and 3

Arrived yesterday morning after sleeping about one hour tops on the 9 1/2 flight to Rio de Janeiro.  Three times at Kennedy the pilot told us to buckle up as we would be backing up and getting ready for take-off.  The first time was at about 11pm on Monday night.

We took off after 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning.  When we arrived in Brazil at around 1230 pm on Tuesday morning, a friendly attendant met us at the end of the ramp.  He told all Brazilians to go one way and all non Brazilians to go another.  Nearly 95 % of the passengers were Brazilians.  But I knew that beforehand.  Had the passengers been New Yorkers, there would have been a riot on the plane when the pilot, at about 2 am announced that we were 26th in line for take-off.  To his credit, the pilot shut off the engine and figured he would just wait for number 26 to come up. At that time, the attendants came racing up the aisle with candy bars and soft drinks.  After 3 a.m. when we had in fact taken off and were finally at a cruising altitude, we had dinner.  I think 3 a.m. is the latest I have had dinner in my three score plus four trips around the track.

About 100 dollars by cab to the hotel. Lots of graffiti in route. I have been told that graffiti is a cultural norm here in Rio. It reminded me of the worst times in New York City where graffiti was on every surface of a subway car.

The hotel is very nice, beautiful view of the pool, very modern indoor pool as well with a gym. Even a soccer court on the premises which has kids kicking the ball until at least 1042 the time I am now writing this blog and when I can hear the kids playing.  I told the fellow at the swimming pool that I might come back later to do some laps.  He suggested around 8 pm. Never made it. After dinner I collapsed and tried to catch up on the sleep I missed on the flight over.

Wednesday morning was the first day of the conference. The hotel breakfast was far greater than standard hotel fare in the US.  Looked like a buffet you might pay 20 bucks for at a decent hotel. Hopped on a bus and took off for Universo, the university which hosts the conference.  I sit on the bus next to a man who fascinates me with his knowledge of basketball history.  He would be and did deliver a paper on the 1974 basketball World Championship game between Puerto Rico and the US.  A woman in front of me was talking about her paper related to the commercialization of college sport.  All around me are conversations about issues that are interesting to me.  Later in the day I would speak with a man no more than 25 from Western Canada whose knowledge of the New York baseball Giants simply floors me.  And he is not alone. At this conference with people from all over the Globe people just love sports.

The first formal presentation of the day deals with referees and refereeing in soccer. He is a Brazilian and makes a reference to the difficulty of speaking about soccer after the demise of the Brazilian team in the world cup.  My waiter the night before had shook his head about the game as well. (I had, however, prompted him).

I listened to several excellent papers Wednesday.  Stresses on referees, bullying of athletes in sports, the history of fighting in hockey, the Russian approach to dodging protests from gay rights advocates before and during the Sochi winter olympics, and my friend on the bus's fascinating paper on Puerto Rican basketball in the early 1970s.

Interesting conference so far and friendly colleagues.  Heard a few stories from other US folks who had trouble getting a visa and made some new friends.

The host is not shy about feeding us. The coffee break after the plenary session was far more than coffee.  Cakes and snacks and juices and waiters coming around with more beverages in case we did not want to wait on the line. Watermelon, and pineapple, and melons of various types--for a coffee break. What followed the coffee break was lunch which was a feast of foods I had never seen before. The afternoon break--in case we were hungry God forbid--included mini sandwiches.  The reception at the end of the day had waiters coming about with hors doevres, red and white wine, glasses of beer, and juices.  And at the culmination of the reception there was a bus ride to a dinner.  The dinner was billed as a representative excellent Brazilian restaurant.  Quite an experience.  Various meats carved at your table for each individual diner, fried bananas, sausages, potatoes...and then a salad bar which was nothing like I have ever seen.

On television back in the hotel the only shows that I can make sense out of are the continuous replaying of world cup games on a sports channel.  I did get a kick out of watching a segment of the Simpsons. Homer sounds especially goofy speaking Portuguese.

Looking forward to tomorrow's events.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cats and Dogs

Day one of my journey to the Sport and Society conference in Rio de Janeiro.

I've made it from Boston to Kennedy so far. No further.

 I sit at Gate 5 where I have been for several hours waiting out one torrential rain storm that has, according to the attendant, shut down the runway.  The blast of lightning I just saw suggests to me that we are not getting out of here anytime soon.  Scheduled to depart at 930 pm, it is now 940, rescheduled for 1030.  I think it is time for me to get out the pajamas.  Two more lightning bolts just came my way followed, as it does, by some thunder that I could hear inside the terminal.  We are not leaving here until after 11 if not tomorrow morning. Check in time at the hotel isn't until the afternoon anyway.

Not a whole lot of English speaking folks in this waiting area.  Ours is not the only flight delayed so those waiting to go to Italy and Argentina are also sprawled about.

I've been warned by one out of every two people whom I've told that I am off to Brazil to watch my wallet.  It ought to be interesting getting off the plane.  I've flown into Acapulco and Tel Aviv, and chunneled into Paris.  I could speak a little of each of the languages in these cities. But Portuguese, as my mother would say, gournisht.  I know nothing.

I took out a How to Speak Portuguese CD, but I read the newspaper instead this weekend. I have printed out a couple of pages of phrases like how to get to the bathroom, and how much is.  I should study these phrases on the plane if I can't sleep.

Some real troopers of kids around here who are up way past their bedtime and haven't squawked much. I hope they don't find their screaming rhythm when we board.

I looked on a map and the conference hotel is a good distance away from Rio which might be a good thing if the 50% of my colleagues who have warned me of miscreants are correct.

Today, Wednesday, and Thursday are three of the slowest sports days in the United States. No baseball because of the All-Star break, football not yet even in preseason, and hockey, basketball still on vacation. With the World Cup done in Brazil, I imagine there will be a relative lull in sporting activity in Brazil as well.  A good time for a moratorium to consider the effects of sport on society.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Cup Final

I watched nearly all of the 120 minute final today between Germany and Argentina.

(An aside.  Having just completed a book in part about the Nazis I found myself cheering for Argentina.  Of course, had I watched this contest after reading Jacobo Timerman's Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number who knows who I have rooted for.  That book--thrust at me thirty years ago by someone I no longer remember--is about how Timerman, an imprisoned Argentinian journalist, found that the most derisive and caustic comments from his Argentinian jailers were not about his politics but about his ethnicity. The jailers saved their greatest vitriol for when they screamed one word at him: "Jew".  If a history of humanitarianism is a criterion for my rooting choice for the world cup, it will be tough to identify a country to shout for.)

Egalitarianism aside for just this one moment, my feelings about the world cup are still as they have been.  Unless I am pulling for my home team, I find the game not especially exciting.

In 120 minutes today, there were very few real chances for either team to score.  I had to run an errand for the first twenty minutes of the second half. When I returned the score was still 0-0 and I had the feeling that I had not missed a single thing in the time away.

I see post game images of German fans in the stands who are exuberant, and Argentinians who are tearing.  I am off to Rio tomorrow for a sports conference. I imagine I may see vestiges of German tourists' partying in the streets of the city.  The conference is about sport and society and is populated by faculty from all over the globe. I look forward to listening to conversations about the game to see if the same type of post game discussion that takes place after the Superbowl can be overheard at the conference.  I can't read a word of Portuguese but I will attempt to see if the newspapers write about the game in the same way the Boston Globe might write about the World Series in the days after the event. Since Brazil lost ignominiously in the semi final game (7-1), I wonder if the conversation on the street will be about the collapse.

I imagine what I will find in Rio is that there will be robust discussion about the competition.  And maybe I will catch the bug in a way that I sort of did when the US played Belgium in the round of 16. I don't think I will.  Even the final today seemed to be a snoozer to me.

And yet it is important to point out that at the same time the world cup final was being played, the Red Sox were playing the Astros.  When I flipped the channel at world cup half time, the baseball game was 8-0 for the Sox. Can anything be more of a snoozer than a baseball game in the sixth inning with one team up by over a half dozen runs?

It seems to me that the variable in terms of fan zealotry may not be the game, but the culture within which one is immersed.   Raised and weaned on futbol, you become a zealot come world cup time.  Probably accounts for prevailing attitudes about ethnicity, race, and religion as well.  Raised, weaned, and immersed in a culture of hate, you become a bigot when the wind blows a certain way.

The Boys in the Boat--Review

The Boys in the Boat is about the University of Washington 8 man crew team that won the Gold in the 1936 Olympics.  The focus of the book is on one of the eight crew members, Joe Rantz, who had a particularly difficult time growing up.  After Rantz's mother died and father remarried, the step-mother with the father's cowardly consent, kicked the step son out of the house and he had to live on his own without any support as a teen.  The book is in large part about the importance of others and connectivity for an individual's qualitative growth.

If you are not a fan of competitive rowing, you might find the attention to detail too much.  The author carefully describes much about the races and preparation to a degree that enthusiasts will enjoy, but others may not.  He does a very good job of juxtaposing information about Hitler's Germany and how the Nazis attempted, successfully, to create an illusion for the games that Berlin was not the antisemitic horror it was and would be.  I found these parts especially informative.

The reader knows how the Olympic final will end but still I found the description of that race and others exciting.  Much is written about a man named Bobby Moch who was the coxswain. I did not realize how significant the coxswain is to the success of a boat.  The depiction of Moch's leadership reflected how central he was to the team's victories.

One thing that was mentioned just once, and I would have liked to read more about it, was that Moch was told prior to going to Germany that he was a Jew. His father, for business reasons, had suppressed this information.  I remember reading that Marty Glickman--known by most in my generation as a sportscaster but had been an Olympic runner on the '36 US team--was replaced the day before his event because he was Jewish. And I wonder if Moch had been approached by anyone asking him to suppress his Jewishness when he went to compete.

Do I recommend the book?  Yes, particularly if you have had experience rowing competitively.  I am less enthusiastic otherwise. I was told the book was a page turner and beautifully written. It is written well, but I had no trouble putting the book down.  The stories about Rantz's survival and his realization about the potential for the group to transcend the individual makes the book valuable to any teacher or coach who wants to make the point that such can happen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

the tree

On July 3rd there was one helluva thunderstorm in Boston. Then on July 4th there was a downpour that made the national news.  When I awakened on the 4th I looked out the upstairs window and saw something that was startling and saddening.

We live in a wooded area.  It is great for privacy and has proven on two occasions to be great for burglars as well.   The good news is that you can sit on the deck without anyone knowing you are present. The bad news--in addition to adding to a burglar's comfort level--is that whenever it is windy the giant trees that nearly hang over our home from the adjacent woods look like they might snap and land in your lap.

When I glanced out the window on July 4th, I saw that one of these huge trees had, in fact, snapped. Fortunately it sprawled across an area of lawn, did not even hit the shed, just toppled over relatively harmlessly.

At certain times in the fall, the scene in the backyard is special.  Just a gorgeous array of colors.  Of course, come late November the trees become barren and the job is left for me to rake them up.

The last tree to lose its leaves every year is the guy who just fell down.  I was crazy about that tree. Its leaves had a pale yellow color in November and it was as if it was saying, "I am not leaving. I will not give up.  I am hanging in there and not dropping to the ground."  Sometimes there might be a leaf or two left up on the tree after Thanksgiving.  Then, we would get some wind storm and the last holdout would blow away.  And, it would make me momentarily glum to see that last yellow leaf take off.

So, of all the trees that had to go, it did not make my fourth of July to see the one that held tenaciously on to its leaves--and was just gorgeous in yellow--to leave the yard. Way up on the top of the tree there may be some leaves still, but they will not be automatically visible from a glance out the window.

Such is life.   Even the most tenacious of us, sometimes can't hang on.  It really was one beautiful tree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ortiz and Race

As I was driving to work today I heard an outrageous rant by a sportscaster nicknamed, Mad Dog. Mad Dog was disparaging David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox because of comments he has made.

The Mad Dog would rail at me if he were to read this blog post, and talk about all of his black cronies, to support the legitimacy of his vitriol. But the fact is that his attack on David Ortiz, and others' attacks on Ortiz which have a similar theme and are similarly excoriating have been directed at Ortiz because of his race-because David Ortiz is black.

Ortiz is one of the best clutch hitters of all time.  It is remarkable how often he has had to, and has, come through in difficult situations for the Red Sox.  Without Ortiz, the Red Sox absolutely do not get to the World Series in 2004 or 2013.

As significantly, Ortiz is a great teammate.  He is a valuable person in the clubhouse who encourages and exhorts others. He helped create a cohesive climate that facilitated the Red Sox winning three championships since 2004. Before 2004 the Sox had not won a single championship in the previous 86 years.

A pitcher from Texas was pitching a no hitter when Ortiz hit a bloop to the outfield that dropped.  The official scorer called it an error. Ortiz did not complain. Subsequently, another Sox player got a hit eliminating the possibility of a no hitter. Ortiz's bloop would have been scored a hit had it not been for the pitcher having a no hitter going.  In the next few days the league changed the ruling from an error to a hit since the no hitter no longer depended on Ortiz's ball being scored an error.  Ortiz commented that this was the right thing to do, though he would not have said anything had the pitcher completed his no hitter.

Why not hang the man.

On another occasion Ortiz did contend that another shot he hit should have been called a hit when it was scored an error.

He was skewered.

If David Ortiz looked like me he would be given more slack.  Any minor blemish is magnified.  A guy like Dewey Evans, really a journeyman, is identified in these parts as the Messiah.  Just an okay player. Always looking on the tv screen after a good outfield play.   There are other examples, Trot Nixon, Tom Brunansky. Just okay players that got a lot of slack. Ortiz is a bona fide superstar.

Saw a play last week called Smart People. About four smart people whose behaviors indicate that any claims that suggest that we are in a post racial society are flawed.  Not sure a play like Smart People does anything to help us get to a post racial society, but the playwright's message is not inaccurate.

The Mad Dog would be upset as would many others by my comments here, but I think I am dead on. If David Ortiz was white, he would not be taking this heat.

A Strong West Wind--Review

If you were in college during the late sixties and early seventies, you can recall the turbulence of that period. I often say that I was fortunate to have gone to school when I did.  I began college in 1967 when the norm was to be conventional and straight.  By the time I completed my sophomore year the political environment had changed considerably.  You were no longer the norm if you appeared to be apathetic about the war.  Peace marches, challenging authority, gender and racial consciousness became normal.  For sure, many of those spewing the rhetoric of the left and wearing the garb of the counter-culture were involved less because of genuine political leanings and more because such had become cool.  Nevertheless, one would have noticed the change and if you lived through it, and have a good memory, you can recall what it was like and the flavors of subculture within the counterculture.

A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell is a memoir which deals in large part with her relationship with her parents, particularly her father.  She is one year my junior so, while she writes about her early years as well, when she spends time discussing the late sixties and early seventies, I am there myself. She hails from Texas, and I from New York, but the tensions that surfaced between generations, and the behavior of students is something we both experienced though 2,000 miles apart.

Unlike mine, Gail Caldwell's parents were strong supporters of the war, so her anti-war stance created a division that manifested itself in sharp debate and domestic resentments. Caldwell, clearly, adored her father and mother, but the problems during that era were difficult for the family.  She dropped out of school, hitch-hiked here and there, lived there and here, and was up front about a lifestyle that so many of our parents' generation could not fathom.  There is more to the book than the sixties, but as she describes her past, the era and conflict with her dad are central.  The author emerged quite well. She became the literary editor of the Globe and a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Yet, as seems obvious in the book, there is some scar tissue.

I am glad I read the book. There are lines that will stay with me forever and I referred to one in an earlier blog.  Caldwell was and likely still is a prolific reader. Ever since she was a kid she piled books from the library into her arms and came back the next week for more.  One of the problems with the book is that she refers to books and characters in them regularly. The problem with this is, if one is unfamiliar with the character or book, and the point of the paragraph is made with an allusion to the character or the book, the message is lost on the reader.  So, one can legitimately wonder why all the references.  The only people who will understand the points made by the allusions are those who have read the various books. And you are not a philistine if you have not read like she has.  I spend more time with a book in my hand than the average bear and got only about half of the references.  Some times, even when I read the book referred to, I thought there were better ways to make the point.

My sense of her depiction of the sixties and seventies is that it is very accurate in that there was a segment of the counterculture who lived as she did.  She does not imply that the counterculture was monolithic, but if you did not live through it you might get the sense that her behavior was typical.  It certainly was typical of a good number and a meaningful percentage of my contemporaries, but there were other subcultures within the counterculture.  There is a scene where she is asked by her dad not to discuss her antiwar stance when company came to the house.  Company comes in, she joins the discussion, and immediately attacks the war.  You don't get a sense she is proud of such moments now with an ability to glance backwards. A reader from other eras should be careful not to extrapolate and assume this was always the way family tension played itself out.

If you are interested in a book that describes a slice of the sixties, and also describes the evolution of a voracious reader, you will probably enjoy A Strong West Wind.  I do think the value of the book could have been greater if there had been less references to literature, or the allusions were explained without assuming that all people have read the same works.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Drama Itself

I am half way through a book that begins its Part 2 with a line from William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun. I've seen the quote before though I have never read, Requiem for a Nun. Whenever I have seen the lines, the words make me nod in appreciation of its truth.

"The past is never dead.  It's not even past."

We are who we are which is a composite of the residual of what we've been.

This doesn't mean we need to lug around our bad decisions and display them like a scar or a foolish tattoo. We can learn from our I-can't-believe-I-did-that acts, and transform.  But whether we grow qualitatively because of what we learn or stay stuck in the muck of our errors, our past is present.  And therefore, "not even past."

The book I am reading is called, A Strong West Wind.   I'll spew my assessment of the book when I finish Part 2, but there is a line in Part 1 that made me rear my head and straighten my back. And it is relevant to the past/present quotation.

The book is a memoir written by Gail Caldwell.  The author used to be the literary critic for the Boston Globe.  It is clear from just reading the first part that she is a prolific reader. She refers to books constantly and can impress one, or at least me, by the sheer volume of books read, let alone her ability to draw from them to make several points. She makes the following remark about the effects of reading on page 67 when she writes, "All those places I visited in books were accessible realities, had I the courage and volition to go looking---to trade in my role as spectator for the drama itself."

I am not sure I agree that all the places we visit in books are accessible realities. I'll have to think about that some.  But I do know that when I read I find myself exploring possibilities that without the read I might not have imagined.  It's not just places to visit and adventures to pursue, but behavior and attitude to imitate or avoid.

I think that when we identify some path that we'd be wiser to pursue, the challenge for those who want our past to healthily inform, influence, and enrich our present, is to have the volition and courage to "trade in [our] role as spectator for the drama itself."

[P.S. For what it is worth on this day before July 4th, I reread a blog I wrote on July 4, 2010 called Independence and Anomie.  I think it is one of my better efforts, so an fyi for anyone who is inclined to read it.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tough Loss

I have a recommendation for the soccer rules' committees.  Allow for substitutions and player reentry.

The way the game is currently played a player who is replaced cannot return to the game.  What occurred during the United States-Belgium contest today is an example of why this change would make sense.

The game was tied 0-0 after the regulation 90 minutes.  In the thirty minutes of overtime there were three goals.  This would seem to indicate that the players had the energy necessary to score even after 90 minutes. I don't think that was what happened. Players who know they will be running for 90 and maybe 120 minutes cannot go all out in the beginning or they would collapse.  They pace themselves. At the end they do not pace themselves.  If players knew from the start that they could have a rest they might go all out, all the time.  Like ice hockey players.

In the second fifteen minute overtime particularly, the tension and pressure on the Belgian goalie was nearly continuous, and it made for a thrilling period. The rest of the game was not nearly as engaging.

With the United States down 1-0, we started pressuring the Belgian goalie. Perhaps as a consequence the defense was not ready for what amounted to a Belgian fast break goal that made it 2-0. Then, the US scored on a beautiful play to bring the team within one of tying the game.  And we nearly did tie it on a very special looking try off of a free kick. Problem was that our stud, Clint Dempsey, was so fatigued at the end that he missed this great opportunity.

The players were running for two hours with almost no break. What is most remarkable is that after taking a kick to the shins or face or gut that would level me until the 2016 election, these guys writhe for a couple of minutes and then they pop up. One fellow twisted his ankle in a way that made spectators hold their gut.  Next thing I knew he was bounding around.

Starbucks was packed again for this game. Very exciting at the end. Hats off to our goalie, Tim Howard. He made great saves throughout the game and if he had not been so spectacular we might have lost by three or four goals.