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‘Glory to Hong Kong’

September 20th, 2019 · No Comments · Beijing Olympics, Hong Kong

In a previous lifetime I spent four months as a temp editor for the Asian edition of the International Herald Tribune.

Many of the entries from this blog, commencing in October 2008 and continuing through January 2009 were about our experiences there.

First memory: The crowds. Second memory: How different it was from Beijing, where we had spent three weeks in the previous August at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

HK had a different spirit. A different ethos. It did not seem as uptight and severe as the capital, where the Communist Party exerts tremendous authority.

Hong Kong seemed like a place that did not belong in the same state as Beijing. It still felt a little British (from the long colonial period) and progressive and forward-looking and ready for self-determination.

Twenty years later, many people in Hong Kong, and especially college-age kids, want to see HK gain some sort of independence from Beijing, and if you want your own state, well, you are going to need a national anthem.

Hong Kong has one, and I love it. It instantly makes my list of top-10 anthems.

First, let’s listen to the Masked Orchestra playing “Glory to Hong Kong“.

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Learning French: Don’t Try It This Way

September 19th, 2019 · No Comments · France

“Je suis Americain!”

That was all the French the Red Buttons character knew, in the sprawling D-Day classic movie “The Longest Day” — and he repeated it to himself like a mantra as he and his fellow paratroopers were flown to Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“Je suis Americain.” (I am American.) So the French on the ground would know he was not a German. “Je suis Americain!”

I am a fan of the sprawling old (1962) Second World War movie in which Buttons plays the real-life U.S. paratrooper John Steele, who survived the day when his parachute became entangled in a church steeple and he hung suspended but unnoticed above a massacre in a French town.

It is about learning French, which apparently I have decided to achieve by watching French television and listening to townspeople, here in the south of France. My goal is to be vaguely fluent in five years.

So, three-plus years into my plan, how is it going?

Let me answer with the other sentence of French I know.

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France 89, USA 79: Good for World Hoops and USA, Too

September 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Basketball, Olympics

We live in France. We can vouch for this.

The 89-79 French victory over the United States in the Fiba World Cup quarterfinals yesterday was such a big deal over here that at least two national news shows — including that of government flagship TF1 — led their prime-time broadcasts with the news from Les Bleus, called a victoire historique by both stations.

Some stateside observers might see the result as a disaster for American basketball, snapping a 58-game winning streak stretching back to 2006 in world tournaments that include NBA players. That is, the Olympics and the World Cup.

But that is short-term thinking.

In the long run, France’s victory is likely to encourage international teams around the world, and grow the sport — which might already be the second-most popular team activity in the world.

The result also could jolt the Yanks out of the apathy that led to exactly one American All-NBA player — third-team guard Kemba Walker — accepting the call from the U.S. federation to play in the quadrennial tournament.

Which Americans ignored the call? Pretty much everyone else with any sort of star status in the NBA.

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It’s NFL Time: Ready for ‘RedZone’; Not Ready for Fading Rams or Fishy Patriots

September 8th, 2019 · No Comments · NFL, Rams

In a few hours, NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson will begin firing National Football League news at us, with accompanying action clips. To me, that marks the true start of the NFL season. Not some bad Thursday night game that left people wondering about the competence of Mitchell Trubiski.

I consider Hanson’s work some of the most impressive in all of modern sports. How many of us can stay informed about six or seven or eight NFL games simultaneously and bring us quickly up to date as each game unfolds? Seems like a nearly singular skill, and Hanson has it. He also has the ability to sit in a chair for six-plus hours, apparently doing without a bathroom break on some Sundays. Does he wear an adult diaper?

What I am not looking forward to is the third season of the Los Angeles Rams under the guidance of coach Sean McVay.

I am not yet over the 13-3, “fewest points scored, ever” egg the Rams laid in the Super Bowl. They were the ones with the “3” in the 13-3. And, of course, what made it ever-so-much worse was that the “13” was scored by the New England Patriots.

Which leads us off in a few other directions.

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Note to Self: Dry Southern France Can Burn, Too

September 6th, 2019 · No Comments · France

It was about 1.30 p.m. when the fire equipment began arriving. As I try to reconstruct it, it began with a siren that we attributed to a health emergency in our little town among the hills.

But it was not a lone rescue vehicle. Another came behind it, heralded by the sing-song European sirens. Then the planes came over. At least two. Perhaps a third — and a helicopter with a payload. Water, maybe?

Wait. You mean those of us in the south of France, which has gone through a particularly dry summer, worsened by gusty high winds, might be at risk during brush/forest fires?

Because we are not in California … living, instead, in a country where most areas get quite a bit of rain … doesn’t that leave us immune from the worry that our town could burn?

When I realized the answer to that was “Hell, no; this neighborhood could burn, too,” well that was a jarring moment.

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For Once, a Proud Arsenal Fan

September 2nd, 2019 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, soccer

Anyone with the patience to follow this blog knows that every now and then … OK, maybe once a month … I go on a rant about how feckless is Arsenal FC, the London club I chose, a decade ago, to offer my support (mostly in the form of psychic energy), in all their competitions. Before I had really thought this through.

I have explained how it happened that, as a mid-life soccer-team free agent, I landed on the Gunners (Stade de France, 2009), when they were still considered an elite side. And how I soon realized I had connected with a team sliding, almost imperceptibly, but steadily, towards mediocrity.

That led to headlines here like the following:

“The Trials and Tribulations of the Arsenal Fan”

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Arsenal Fan”

“Arsene and Arsenal: Time for a Breakup”

“Arsenal Angst, as Always”

“The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans”

And like that. At least once every disappointing season — which has been pretty much all of them since The Invincibles (2003-04).

Of late, the default psychological position for Gunners fans has been this: “Please, not another humiliation by one of the other Big Six. Or one of the Little 14, for that matter.”

Then came yesterday, when Arsenal gifted north London rival Tottenham a 2-0 first-half lead, including a Harry Kane penalty from the kind of ridiculous challenge Granit Xhaka has nearly perfected, and then fought back (you read that right; fought back) to turn in the sort of inspired, semi-crazed, lung-busting, thoroughly entertaining, full-blast performance some of us had come to believe was the province of any club that wasn’t Arsenal.

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The 20th Century Gas Station: Refuel, Repair, Reorient

August 28th, 2019 · No Comments · Journalism, Long Beach, Newspapers

When considering the industries and local businesses that mostly disappeared, ahead of the 21st century, I tend to focus on newspapers.

That’s what I did for a living: Newspapering.

Papers were important to readers, back in an era when not everyone was online, and they made a lot of money for their owners. Also, journalists got to work in an industry most of us loved, most of the time.

A cartoon I noted in the New Yorker today reminded me of another industry I knew fairly well, another that bears almost no resemblance to its established past and seemingly secure future, back then. And that is/was the gas station.

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Dodgers, World Series: Can We Keep Them Apart This Fall? Please?

August 26th, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

The New York Yankees came to town to play a three-game inter-league set with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a matchup of the clubs with the best records so far this season.

Excuse me if I, a lifetime Dodgers fan, was a little creeped out by it.

The Yankees took two of three, outscoring the Dodgers 16-5, out-homering them 9-2 and beating up their two best veteran pitchers — Hyun-jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw.

These are the Dodgers who have lost the previous two World Series, and one of the first things I did today, in the wake of the Yankees demonstrating their superiority, was check out a painful statistic:

Which was the most recent ballclub to lose in three consecutive World Series?

That would be the New York Giants of 1911, 1912 and 1913.

If the Dodgers return to the World Series … well, the New York Giants of 106 years ago may want to make room for the boys in blue in the three-times-running Fall Classic losers club.

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‘Ball Four’, 50 Years Later

August 21st, 2019 · 1 Comment · Baseball, Books

As a sportsman, Jim Bouton was best-known as a pitcher for three early-1960s New York Yankees teams that reached the World Series.

As a careful observer and serial pot-stirrer, he was best-known for the diary he kept of the 1969 Seattle Pilots season, which led to the 1970 book Ball Four.

It was an endeavor that drew back a curtain of self-censorship that for decades obscured how Major League Baseball players lived, outside the lines, and hammered home to fans how little we really knew about them.

What we didn’t know made for a long list: How players spoke, how they interacted. How they were exploited by clubs who underpaid them and essentially owned them due to the Reserve Clause. How they went boozing at nights and pepped themselves up before games with stimulants known as “greenies”.

How they spent their free time in dissolute pursuits up to and including attempts to peer up the dresses of women during ballgames or even from hotel rooftops, with the aid of binoculars.

And for some of us who were high school juniors, the book was like a little bomb going off inside our heads. “Those guys do all that?”

On a wider level, “Ball Four” was important because it came at a time when baseball was entering a new era, one in which the players would organize to take on, collectively, the owners in a fair fight, one that yielded contracts worth millions — when in 1969 the basic one-year contract was $7,000.

Bouton died last month at age 80, and for those of us who can remember their lives as fans before and after “Ball Four”, it marks an end of innocence — or perhaps an end to the lying. Some of it, anyway.

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France and Its Summer Vacations

August 19th, 2019 · No Comments · France, Languedoc, tourism, Travel

If you are reading this in the U.S., brace yourself.

In France, all employees get five weeks of paid vacation per year.

Five weeks. More than a month. And that does not include one-day public holidays, which can reach double digits in a given year.

We know about France and its summer vacations because we live in the south, about 30 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea, where plenty of sun is dependable and vacationers come chasing it. Most of them live in the northern half of the country, which can be gloomy even in the summer.

Catering to millions of internal tourists is a big industry, in France, and a significant source of revenue for businesses in the south.

Tourists will need to be fed and housed, unless they are camping (and more than a few do) and entertained.

The trouble with those five weeks off is that, historically, the French, like most Europeans, prefer to take several of them in August, thank you very much.

However, it does not make sense to have the whole of the country vacationing in the same month, so in recent decades France (at least) has spread out the “high” season to include most of July. (Yes, revolutionary.)

And observers have noted that the folks who travel in July are not quite the same as those who hit the beach in August, leading to epic traffic jams, especially on the north-south routes, on freeways rarely more than three lanes wide, and with every second vehicle some sort of camper/RV.

These separate sets of tourists have their own names, in French. The July people are known as Juilletistes (zwee-eh-teests). The August people are known as Aoutiens (oo-tee-ins) — based on the names of the two summer months.

And let the stereotyping begin!

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