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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Let the Anxiety Commence


Back from Paris, where my wife and I spent nine days. The trip was wonderful. Parisians are friendly people. With the exception of a snippy little man in an information booth in Gare de l’Ouest, every person I came in contact with was thoughtful and kind. If you try a little French, they appreciate it, and all I possess is the ability to create broken sentences with verbs in the present tense. Hello, thank you, I'm sorry, please, and good night were pretty much the only things I said. It was like being a robot programmed for only politeness, or maybe a simple child.

There are no fat people. It's extraordinary to visit a place where overweight people are the exception to the rule. And a walk down any busy street in Paris for an American is striking because very few people are on their cell phones. Very few are playing with their iPhones. In a city as large as Paris, there is excellent, efficient and predictable public transportation. Big book chains are the exception in Paris. Small bookstores are everywhere. In Philadelphia, we are down to barely a handful of really good, small bookstores while the colonizing force of Borders has retreated, leaving a desolate browser’s landscape in its wake.

***

Though the United States gropes even more blandly toward the precipice of total economic collapse, at least the National Football League and its players have come to an agreement. And although I was hoping that Brett Favre would start flirting with his final disaster by thinking about the Oakland Raiders, his story has gotten even better now that he appeared recently in a Phillies hat, signaling that he's interested, perhaps, in playing backup to Michael Vick here in town. Just when I thought Andy Reid had done all he could to court collective dysfunction, he does me even prouder. What can anyone say? He's like a woman who picks all the bad men and knows it. The ego of Favre and the personality disorders of the Eagles' fans would make for awesome combination. Alien versus Predator. I only hope it happens. And now we watch to see which receivers the Jets will hold and which will leave. How much disorientation has there been to the offense due to the impasse? Let the great anxiety commence.

Before getting back to work, I will first tell you of two stories from my trip. I saw a surprising number of Parisians walking around in Yankee hats. While dropping into a park along Boulevard Haussman, we came across two people being entertained by a guy who looked crazy wearing one. Seeing an obvious tourist, he came up to me and, much to the entertainment of others, began kidding me in French, knowing I wouldn't understand. I pointed to his hat and said, "Yankees?" He stopped and stared at me, blankly. "Monsieur," I said, tsking and shaking my head. "Mets." I don't think he knew what I meant, but then I don't either.

This man doesn't know that he's confused.
Then there's this. You might think this is a photo taken on an autumn day in any major American city, but the weather in Paris was wet and cool all week. This is a Parisian and not an American. Crossing Boulevard Sebastopol, he is wearing a bastardized Patriots jersey; you might not be able to make out that instead of Tom Brady's name on the back it reads, "New England." His hat reads, "New York;" you see the Yankees logo in the right hand corner. It's kind of like an American wearing a Real Madrid baseball hat and an FC Barcelona basketball jersey. That was worth stopping in the middle of the street to see. I live with a lot of contradictions; most of us do in some way or another. Are we any better off for knowing what they are or why they exist? Do we benefit from really knowing which were given to us by Fate and which we chose for ourselves to carry around? Does it really do any good for us to know that others see them as easily as I was able to see his from across the street? At least he lives in a culture where this particular paradox doesn't matter. He's lucky. Would that I could live with such contradictions, so blithely and untroubled, going about my day.

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