Not A Safari

South Africa's World Cup, as seen from New York City

fleetness, furtherance

The schoolboy poet is involved in the games, but rarely is he ever the best schoolboy athlete or the focus of the activity. Even when he stands in the middle, he stands to one side, tracing arcs, noting the game’s intangibles. This is how it is in James Joyce, in Seamus Heaney, and in Orhan Pamuk: an involvement that focuses on everything but the writer’s own singularity. What’s evoked rather is a kind of collective soul. Take for instance this, from Heaney’s “Markings,” which is like a capsule world history of boyhoods:

Youngsters shouting their heads off in a field
As the light died and they kept on playing
Because by then they were playing in their heads
And the actual kicked ball came to them
Like a dream heaviness, and their own hard
Breathing in the dark and skids on grass
Sounded like effort in another world…
It was quick and constant, a game that never need
Be played out. Some limit had been passed,
There was fleetness, furtherance, untiredness
In time that was extra, unforeseen and free.


Filed under: magic, peroration

please help

From: “Mr Rakumi Tirin”

To: undisclosed-recipients

Please help Sir, or madamn,

My Name is Mr. Rakumi Tirin. I am 52 years old. Am a citizen of Untied Kingdom (London) but I am resident in Lagos Nigera. where I am currently on vacation.

I am the Official lawyer for an escrow fund established by United Kingdom, Republic of France, and Republic of Italy. The aforementined Republics and Kingdoms collected monies in the aforementioned fund to the tune of 20 million British pounds, 25 million euros, and 25 million Lira respectedly, to pay bonuses to their players when they win the world Cup.

With the shocking and unexpected loss of these contries, in the World Cup, this money can not be used for any other purpose than bonus, but the players have not earned the bonus. Therefore, the money will remain there. (seventy million pounds total ONLY).

This is not small money. Please I want to collect this deposit on my behalf and disburse thus 30% of the total amount among the Earthquake Victims in Chile and Haiti, economic crisis in California, oil spill victims and tsunami victims, and for the less Privileged, 30% for you for your time and efforts and 40% for my family in Nigeria who I have seen are in great Need.

I am writing out of our mutual trust. And confidence. I hope you will understand. Reply most urgently pls. Before the British senate of Cleg and Cameroon spend the money illegally. If you are TRUSTORTHY, send me the information below.

1.Complete Name
2.Contact Adress
3.Phone/Fax number
4.Marital status (single/married/divorce)

Yours faithfully,

Rakumi Tirin (Esq)
On behalf Of : Government of Great Britain, Italy, France, and Mexico.


Filed under: unexpected

at a loss

A fan of Mexico watches his team concede a second goal to Argentina.

Filed under: pessimism

not everyone likes it

By the time the ball is nestling at the back of the net, David Villa is already halfway to the touch line at which he will do his torero-inspired arm sweep. It is simple, direct, and beautiful.

Not everyone likes it.

In Spain, Catalan friends told me this weekend, in Catalonia in particular, some take a dim view of the bullfight echo because—this is the official reason, according to my Catalan friends, but not the real one—they find the killing of bulls objectionable. The real reason for the objection, my Catalan friends said, is that many Catalans find the celebration too Spanish. But, I said, why should this be a problem? Villa is Spanish, and he celebrates as such while playing for the Spanish national team so why should he worry about the sensibilities of Catalan viewers?

Precisely because Catalans are sensitive, my Catalan friends said, and anything too Spanish alienates them, and because Villa will soon be playing for Barcelona Football Club at the Camp Nou, and you don’t want to be too Spanish there, and because some say, my Catalan friends said, coming to the nub of the issue, the torero sweep is something Villa has used in a television ad and thus each time he does it he is sending a generous wink to his sponsors.


Filed under: peroration

a family in newark

Filed under: magic, unexpected


The insouciant sweep
of arm (he means you
to think “matador”)

after he stabs
yet another ball
into the back
of the net.

Filed under: magic

lusophone newark

Filed under: joy

unhappy families

Some fall into the temptation—but it is the nature of temptations to be fallen for—of saying that the problem with the teams of Europe comes down to the individual players. They suggest that with cannier substitutions games that were lost or tied could have been won.

Others fall into the different temptation of finding fault only with the tactics.

But there is a third factor: tactically excellent teams composed of brilliant players appear to be experiencing psychological breakdowns that reflect the psychological malaise of the countries they represent.

The two finalists from the last World Cup—France and Italy—were eliminated in the first round of this one. England stumbled their way out of the group stages without at any time looking like the world-beaters their teamsheet would suggest. Spain, possibly the best team in the world, certainly the most beautiful to watch, were listless in their meek capitulation to Switzerland. Even Germany, lively in their first game, slumped afterwards, and only eked out a place in the round of sixteen.

Each team is unhappy in its own way, but Europe’s leading economies share common maladies: vertiginous unemployment rates, tensions over immigration, credit-starved markets hungover from capitalist excess, the increasing popularity of rightwing politicians, Islamophobia: the post-imperial situation bears bitter fruit.

What, or who, are the men of the big footballing powers of Europe playing for when they take the field? What does it mean to be Italian or French or English in the summer of 2010? That little bit of heart and inspiration that wins teams games: where will it come from?

Who would willingly bleed for the coalition of Clegg and Cameron? Who would risk broken bones for Berlusconi or Sarkozy? It is better, the players must reckon, even if they do not articulate it, to save it for the club teams: at least there’s real passion there, and real money. It is grimacingly evident, watching them, that the players do not play for each other, as they would in their clubs.

In contrast, the body language of the players of Slovakia, Uruguay, Mexico, Ghana, and New Zealand is telling: they are from small countries and, whatever their problems, are eager to register something on the footballistic consciousness of the world. They have something to play for, something on which they are all agreed, something, whatever it is, that seems to matter a great deal to them.


Filed under: peroration, pessimism


This thing is also about finding the self in others, in the experience of others, in the experience of watching with others far away from home.

The angle is nostalgic, and nostalgia as a word has some positive uses. Watching with others—to watch with others is a privilege we have entered—one enters into their idea of the past as surely as their idea of the sport. None are new to football, and none are watching the Mundial for the first time. Spectatorship is keyed to invisible pasts, to “remember when.”

The surface of spectatorship, the surface of this spectatorship in exile, is excitable, but below the surface more complicated experiences lurk.

At Meytex Café in Brooklyn, a man now in middle age experiences a frisson. He is a working man. It is the banku with goat, combined with Ghana’s national anthem and a word spoken by someone else in Twi, a word not heard in decades, that all conspire to open a door into distant yesterdays. His face flickers with those pasts.

In Astoria, Queens, a specific Brazil is available, the Brazil of the correct color-range, the Brazil that made this great crossing. My sense of it is limited, but in the crowd of two hundred, only a handful are as dark as I am, none as dark as Pele. As with all stories of émigré communities, this one has its shape and borders, it has its relatively advantaged and relatively disadvantaged. But the crowd in Astoria sing—with fervor sing at the moment black Maicon scores a wonder goal—a single Brazil.

The Germans in Fort Greene are a younger crowd, male and female, and something complex races across their faces to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland. On 116th Street in Harlem, the Ivoiriens are older and all male, and in their faces is an even more intense experience of “remember when.”

I’ve mine too…

There’s lately been a slight shift in the Mexicanness of being Mexican in El Norte, if you look for it. Their team, beautiful to watch, incisive and intelligent in the footballistic arts, has inspired pride. The shirts of El Tri seen on trains and streets and kitchens code like the chain of lighthouses that keep merchant ships safe, the Mundial a personal Helicon for each.


Filed under: peroration

the geometers II

Football isn’t only dance. It doesn’t exist for its own sake or for the sake of its appearance. It has, as does any other sport, in-built agon. One main brief of all sport is to gain a result out of an oppositional situation. You are tested against an opponent (as in football) or against a field of opponents (as in golf).

This oppositional brief often contradicts the other important brief, the aesthetic one. To play beautifully is not always sufficient to guarantee victory over opponents, nor does victory always come about through beautiful means.

I am thinking of Xaviniesta and La Furia Roja again.

Their (I wish to say “his,” so linked are the two in my mind) footballistic intelligence, running in an inevitable but unpredictable circuit through David Villa, David Silva, Jesús Navas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Cesc Fabregas, and others, depending on Obelix’s* requirements in a given game, is called ticky-tack: short, smart passes, played along the ground (or “on the floor” as is sometimes said).

Ball comes to feet and in that moment, there are geometric questions that can only be answered by instinct and experience. The ball comes to you and you must pass it on; the number of bad decisions available tends towards infinity and, because football is oppositional and because there is a fit and highly trained professional athlete bearing down on you at speed with the sole intention of dispossessing you, the number of good decisions tends towards one. The angles, even with a second’s lag, quickly become impossible. You must find the one right decision, the least bad decision, so that the ball arrives safe at the next teammate’s feet in a way that gives him the second or two necessary to gather himself, and he must decide correctly too, and the man after him too.

Watching Xaviniesta, one is awed at the timing and perpetual correctness of the decisions. In any position there is a move to make and it is generally made without the benefit of a television camera’s aerial view.

You don’t hear Xavi or Iniesta’s name much when a game is being called. The ball rarely dawdles on their feet, and yet it keeps coming back to them. Xavi, who plays the more central role, generally completes 90% of his passes in the course of a game. The ball’s will and his will are united. It, the ball, wishes. It wants.

The art historian Alois Riegl described “Kunstwollen” as the tendency of forms to seek out, in the course of historical progression, their ideal forms, and I feel there is something correspondingly teleological about the mind of the ball when it collaborates with the mind of Xaviniesta and their Spanish comrades.

Will is expressed, and this is perhaps why, in the fulfillment of the aesthetic brief when Spain (or its club cognate, Barcelona FC) play, there is a satisfaction that can surpass mere victory. Ticky-tack is asymptotic towards a goal, yes, and goals do come, yes, sometimes in great numbers, sometimes not.

At times, the ball does not desire to leave its state of euadaemonia within the polygons. It hungers for the continuity of these blessed geometries, and so the passes ramify forwards backwards crossfield into the penalty box then out again and out to the corner and back to the center and on and on as if (as it indeed is) it were an end to itself. To aid this literal down-to-earthness, most players for La Furia Roja are around five foot seven or five foot eight. They are suitably close to the business.

Alas, life teaches that it is the inelegant teams at times, teams poor in possession and rich in aggression, that win titles, teams like Italy (or its club cognate, Inter). Little matter. Satisfactions vary, and to enter into agreement with the ball is a tremendous one.

*Obelix: current coach of La Furia Roja, Vicente del Bosque.


Filed under: magic