Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hurried notes on god and football

I've carved enough space for four countries in my overcrowded heart: Australia (the country where I was born and spent my life until five years ago), England (where the remnants of my ancestors are lying about), France (my current home) and now, Portugal (H's country).

I've already talked in this blog about our trip around Portugal last summer.

I spent last Sunday in Little Portugal, in a suburb of Paris where H's parents live. There’s a little Portuguese bar right near the entrance to his parent's block of flats. A bar well-lit by the television and well-hung with the smells of well-oiled men and fish, and burnt coffee.

Portugal was a poor country - this has been changing steadily since it joined the EU - and a massive part of its population has migrated. Many of these immigrants live in France.

When I first met H. he played down his Portuguese origins. Although of course he did tell me that both his parents are Portuguese, it was uttered in an airy, offhand way, never taking on any solidity or any substance during our courting days. He presented himself in his French birth suit and with his heavy French accent there was no reason to doubt his Frenchicity.

Growing up in Paris it wasn't uncommon for him to be mocked for being Portuguese. Ahh to be Brazilian, now that was cool: samba, big hair and football stars; but Portugal was considered a nation of concierges, to be Portuguese was to clean boots, peel potatoes, to be a dirty-worker. I guess H sub-consciously played down his Portuguese roots because he was so accustomed to derision.

But I probed further, having just come out of a relationship with someone very French, I was keen to explore other terrains. I wanted the pauses in our conversations to be swept away by hot winds from the south and filled with images of blue and white tiled cities smoking in an orange heat.

Casa H, the television sits alight at one head of the table like a particularly loud and talkative guest, who speaks decibles higher than everyone else. The conversation around the table sways in and out of Portuguese and French, everyone nodding at me for confirmation, not realising that the conversation has moved to the Atlantic ocean and I’m flapping around unable to understand, pulling Portuguese vowels out of my ears, my throat parched by H’s father’s porto and his mother's bacalhau. His mother empties the contents of her jewellery box and her medicine cabinet on the table for me to admire and his father shows me his stocks in case of war: a dozen radios and a hundred clocks.

This Sunday the television was switched to the Portuguese station, the entire day devoted to Football and Fatima. It was the 13 May, when thousands upon thousands of people collide and unite in Fatima, the anniversary of the day when the Virgin Mary is believed to have first appeared to three shepherd children in this place. Every day is football day in Portugal.

The two things that make this country's heart beat. The spectacles of religion and football draw the crowds. We watched everyone standing around waiting for Mary to appear, or apparently the next best thing, the pope. But they were both no shows. Even though the pope had rsvped he failed to come to the party. Mary is a diva, so unpredictable.

But now for the football. And then news on the kidnapping in the Algarve. Which brings us back to football and god. Everyone is praying for the safe return of Madeleine. Portuguese footballers (little gods) are appearing on television and asking if anyone knows anything about her wherabouts, please report it.

It took me a while to decide god probably doesn’t exist (well at least not in any of the shapes given to him by religion), a bit longer than with santa clause. I still occasionally catch myself whispering a little prayer at night out of old habits and checking under my bed for apparitions.

I’m always surprised when friends or acquaintances who I didn't realise have those tendencies say “you’ll be in my prayers” or "i'll pray for you".

"Oh? Really? That's nice, makes me feel loved."

All these people praying. Pray away. It's a bit like, whatever works for you, tiger. If I could genuinely pray I’d probably be less scared of death and have less existential moments. But i'm enjoying coming to terms with acceptance of a limited existence and instead of giving thanks for the opportunity to live, I prefer to just feel thankful, which steers me into action in the here and now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I think I'll go and eat worms

I’ve been too drunk to write lately. The kind of drunk with so many blanks that you forget what words look like. The kind of drunk where if you sew all your patches of blank together you’ll have a blanket.

The kind of drunk where you think everyone you know hates you, because you can’t remember if they like you. And to fill in the blanks you imagine what you might have done to make them hate you. Perhaps you did a ploppy in their wicker chair. Lay on the ground naked and screamed that you’re melting can somebody lick you all over. Vomited on their chandelier.

Finally my brain was leaking neuroses, so I've turned it off. I feel like being numb for a moment.

I’m always batting for the wrong team. With the conservative Howard government eating up the power for the last million years in Australia I’ve become accustomed to that, I guess.

But here in France for my first Presidential Election I was overcome with positive, against the odds kind of hopes. Here I am, barely integrated, a scab half hanging off the country’s knee, and last weekend my heart was all chewed up with nerves. Would the favourite lose the election? Just for once.

And over in Portugal, another country close to me, would my napped kid get found?

It was a pregnant weekend, waiting for the waters to break. Saturday we went to Père-Lachaise cemetery, not seeking anyone famous this time, just trying to shoo the day away. Deep in the green-grey, no one around, we chased cats from grave to grave, my shiny shoes
covered in some dead person’s riff-raff, worms and dirt. We were killing death, waiting for news.

No news. Portuguese secrecy laws won’t give us any leads on the missing girl. The surveys still say Sarkozy leering ahead.

Sunday the whole city is tip-toeing around us. We walk to the 17th to a brocante to look at other people’s worm-ridden belongings, and then on to the 8th and down down down to the 1st. Truck loads of authority everywhere on the Rue de Rivoli, police guns poised, pompiers hoses ready to shoot.

We hide out in a Japanese restaurant where no one looks like they care. I’m surprised at how much I care. And then the message comes through on my phone. Yes, he won. Easily. No news on the girl.

No cheering in my quartier. But no boo-ing either. As if we’re still waiting. For a better result.

My locals are all scowling this week. About the Sarkozy regime. I’m in a bar with too much noise and light and any space that is left is filled with the shouts of karaoke. One of my companions turns to me and says vehemently: "What are we doing here? I hate this place. Look. It’s full of people who voted for Sarkozy."

"But you didn’t vote!" I said.

He didn’t vote. I’m at a table with four people all with full voting rights and not one of them voted. They say that they had faith in neither of the candidates. I say, "but don’t you get it? You HATE Sarkozy MORE. It feels like together nothing is possible anymore!" I’m probably drunk so obviously not eloquent.

On my way to the toilet a guy grabs me and says: "Who did you vote for?"

"I can’t vote", I say, "and you?"


We high five each other, but I’m seeing double now, so it's more like a high ten.

Back home my favourite footballers who couldn’t win the World Cup are pleading to whoever has her to give the little girl back. "Come on, against the odds, just give her back would you!" I slur.

I just want to eat worms.