Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I ate my Pop-Tarts while watching SportsCenter yesterday morning.

This is a far cry from how last week’s mornings were spent.

Last week I was eating fresh baked brioche and croissants covered in fresh butter and preserves for breakfast while conversing with friends in a foreign country that had never heard of SportsCenter, let alone broadcast it.

Last week, I was in France on a dream vacation (hence the absence of my byline from The Sun). One that included about three minutes of anything sports related.

My three minutes of sports included a drive by the Stade de France, an 80,000 capacity stadium that houses the French rugby and football (soccer) teams. Then I caught about 20 seconds of football clips on the French-speaking news station.

And I wasn’t even trying to isolate myself from sports.

The French culture does not put such a high value on sports like the U.S. does. The papers might have a page, at most, of sports coverage, not entire sections like we do.

For the most part, schools don’t put an emphasis on athletic extra-curricular activity. There are no basketball teams competing for district titles, no baseball teams running bases and certainly no dirt track racing.

A French native I spent a good deal of time with this week said her high school, which is considerably different than one in the U.S., had a fairly prestigious rugby team., which, again, was unusual for French schools. Her focus growing up had been spent on learning: She knows three languages, and is studying to become a journalist, which I understand to be a prestigious and hard-to-achieve status in France.

I did come to know that the French football team in Marseille, the Olympique de Marseille, is a pretty big deal. Say one word against it in a bistro and you might get knifed.

But other than the world fetish of football that the U.S. still has yet to grasp, I was without sports (which wasn’t a bad thing at all for me while on vacation).

Now that I am back in the U.S., I am amazed to see how much of sports consume my life, despite being the main theme behind my profession. I can’t drive five miles in any direction without coming into contact with it in any way.

Rolling into Reidland, Lone Oak, and Calloway County are highway signs proclaiming state champions of some sort. In France, signs like that might say, “Aix en Provence: Home of Paul Cézanne.” (He’s a famous Impressionist painter for the curious)

I’m not complaining, and I’m not praising. It’s just one of many cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries.


One of the highlights of my trip was touring the principality of Monaco, which just happened to be setting up for the 79th Monaco Grand Prix.

Monaco is an affluent “country” surrounded by France and the Mediterranean Sea that speaks French, is defended by the French and whose football team competes in the French National Championship. But it’s not in France.

Anyway, traipsing along the streets of Monte Carlo, we discovered all sorts of barriers being put up and construction. Upon further inspection, the barriers were for safety and the sides of the streets were painted with red and white stripes for boundaries. The grandstands were being built on top of store fronts and banners were everywhere advertising for the May 25 race.

The famous Grand Prix snakes through the city and is thought to be one of the most dangerous courses in the world. The streets are narrow, the course has a tunnel and two drivers have lost their lives when they tumbled off the course and into the sea.

Formula 1 might not be my kind of racing, but even I can salivate over one of the coolest events in motorsports history.


Jim-W said...

I find your statments about the French & sports interesting. Their Yahoo site carries the NBA team records. Yes, that is USA sports and we do carry French sports. The Winter Olympics are held in Grenoble. The USA has an American Le Mans Series. It seems as it was the 75th running but maybe only the 50th when I was there in '82. I found it interesting that in the three years I was at the 24 Heur du Le Mons it gave the local newspaper time to print front page news about the race as it is going on and there was live TV at the track. Then there is the French Grand Prix. Isn't Grand Prix a French name? They play the French Open Tennis Tournament in France and use the English "Love" (bastardized French) to mean zero in scoring. And the premier bicycling event in the world is the Tour de France. These are some that we carry on your TV. Difficult to find is the sport of fencing which uses an "eppe" to make a "touchee". And French judges for figure skating get bribed. There is a French site w/ petition to keep softball in the olympics. Maybe they're a little more layed back.

Jim-W said...

I have an old reference but at that time only 2 drivers had gone into the harbor at Monaco: Alberto Ascari (1955) and Paul Hawkins (1965). This is a quote, "neither was seriously injured, and neither needed the help of the frogmen who stand by in boats ..." "Car Facts & Feats" Bantam Books, 1971, edited by Anthony Harding. A different reference (Grand Prix, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1981, David Hodges, Doug Nye, and Nigel Roebuck, page 190)State that Ascari broke his nose & had to be rescued by the frogmen. At that time they were using hay bales for barriers. He was leading in the last lap. Late in the race in 1967 Lorenzo Bandini was second and trying to catch the leader when he had an accident in the chicane. The rescue men were poorly equipped and the car was afire. He died three days later from his burns. In 1952 Luigi Fagioli was either killed in or upon exiting the tunnel.