World’s Next Door: Getting Swept Up in Football Fever

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I’m not going to lie; I am probably one of the least qualified people to speak on the topic of football (or soccer, as some would call it). I’ve never been an avid follower of the sport like my cousins. I’ve never had strong opinions on the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid debate like my die-hard Real Madrid supporter grandmother in a family of Barcelona supporters. I can barely name the different positions played on the field. That’s probably why I figured it would be an interesting challenge to write about a particular phenomenon for my next article: the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Ever since coming back to El Salvador for the summer, there’s not a place I can turn to without hearing or seeing things related to the World Cup. The radio pauses always give recaps of the matches played in the morning. There’s always a conversation going on about the latest games, upcoming matches, or predictions for end results. And some things just leave me confused at the correlation between the World Cup and whatever product is being advertised (what does yoghurt have to do with football?). Still, one thing remains clear to me: football has officially taken over.

That passion for the sport (or rather, the event) surrounds everything I see in El Salvador, which some might find odd considering the fact that the last time our nation made an appearance on the international FIFA stage was in Spain in 1982. Although we managed to score our first ever goal at the tournament during a match against Hungary, we still suffered one of the biggest defeats in FIFA history with a final score of 10-1. We didn’t win a single match in the qualifying group. We haven’t qualified since then.

But how can a tournament that we haven’t participated in since 1982 still have such a large significance to so many salvadorans in 2018? I think that there’s a lot of factors that contribute to this passion, some of which you might identify with if you’ve also found yourself getting carried away with the football madness as of late.

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For one, there’s the classic supporters of the tournament itself and of the sport. Much like the hype for any other world tournament like tennis Grand Slams or the Olympics, there are people who love watching the World Cup due to passion for the sport and for a large event such as this one. Fans that work for months to fill out their FIFA sticker albums with all the players from all teams, fans who could give you the entire history of a particular country in all their past World Cup appearances, fans who watch every single match in whatever ways they can. There’s those who are fans of the major teams in the tournament, having chosen their favorites and supporting them throughout in hopes of them taking home yet another trophy. These supporters will always be present, no matter what.

Then there’s also football team supporters in other major leagues and cups, who follow the World Cup avidly to see how some of the best players in the world fare off playing with teams they don’t usually play with. This can also encompass casual fans of the sport, who recognize big names at the tournament like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar, among others. Most people have heard of these players at least once in their lives before, and the World Cup brings the perfect opportunity to watch them adapt to the different teams they play with and how their strategies may vary (or remain the same).

A particular factor this year, for me at least, has been the unconventionality of the World Cup so far, by which I mean how unpredictable matches have become. Like I previously stated, I’m not the best person to speak on this topic given my limited knowledge of the tournament, but I’m still aware enough of teams that are considered the “major contendants” to know that a match such as Mexico v Germany on the 17th of July took everyone by surprise. When looking at results alone for other matches, it’s easy to see that many teams expected to win have indeed managed to do so, but watching the matches as they aired provided the full picture of the efforts from both teams, as many matches have ended with last-minute (and even last-second) scores after having held ties for the majority of the match. It might be a little too soon to say, but the thrill of nothing being certain is definitely something that drew my attention to the World Cup this year.

I think that one of the biggest factors that contributes to the football obsession is the sense of community that the tournament brings to different people in many ways. I might not always enjoy watching the matches on my own, but I have a great time whenever I sit down with my family and we watch together. Due to the time zone difference, a few matches have had us waking up at 6am – something I can barely bring myself to do in most cases! And my family is not the only one – there’s countless of people around the country that tune in to Canal 4 (our official FIFA Broadcaster) at 8am sharp, and make an effort to watch every single match they can.

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Then, of course, there’s the larger sense of community when it comes to the countries playing in the World Cup. My mom has always made a point of supporting all the Latino teams that play, claiming that they’re out there still representing us all. Colombia’s win over Poland, Uruguay’s win over Russia, and others have led to chanting in the streets, and cars driving around with flags of these teams flowing proudly behind them. It’s truly remarkable, if you ask me.

In other cases, such as with my other grandmother who has never been quite the football fan, it becomes a matter of conversation. My family in El Salvador can get quite caught up in the World Cup, with matches and standings, following every detail they can. Whenever we visit each other, it’s bound to come up at any point of our conversation. Knowing that is the case, my grandmother makes it a point to ask my aunt about the matches and the results for the day (even if she herself didn’t watch any), so that when we visit she’ll always have something to contribute to our discussion. Now that I’ve started working for the summer, I haven’t been able to continue watching the matches as I did when the tournament started, but I always make an effort to check up on match results by the time they’re all done, since I know all my co-workers will be talking about it during our lunch break and asking what the results for each match were. For people looking to become a part of this conversation, following the World Cup has become a part of their routine.

Of course, these aren’t all the factors that can help explain the phenomenon that is Football Fever in the times of the World Cup. Some of you might not relate to any of these at all and remain indifferent to the tournament as it unfolds, and that’s understandable as well. My sister still can’t understand how I caught the fever and why I’m suddenly interested in a sport that I’ve previously shown no interest for, and I’m not sure I can give her a solid explanation for it.

I think for me, it comes down to the experience I’ve had watching games with my parents and family. It’s the gleam in my mother’s eye as the underdog teams put up a fight against major ones. It’s the way my dad leaps up whenever a team gets close to scoring. It’s the way my grandma raises her arms in joy whenever any team scores, claiming that she “supports the team that wins”.

It can be fun to let yourself get swept up by football fever.

 

Credits: eurosport, programme-tv.net

World’s Next Door: This Is How Shrek and Harry Potter Taught Me English

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If I had to mention something I am certainly not talented at – aside from singing -, it would be languages. My country’s disastrous language education did not help. As my 11th grade German teacher explained quite concisely: « A French student is not taught German so that they learn to speak it ».

What is France’s problem with languages then? Is our broken English a product of our aversion to globalization? Is our German poor, because of an enduring ‘Germanophobia’ after two World Wars? Facts do not support either of these hypotheses. A Chinese friend recently told me, to my surprise, that she thought it was easier for her to learn English than it had been for me; because it was a completely new alphabet for her, there was no possibility of confusing English with her mother tongue. It is true that as French is a language that is both very close to and very far from English, it can indeed get confusing. English conjugations are a blessing compared to French ones (that certainly considerably enrich our language but could also be considered a crime against humanity). That being said, English words are stressed whereas French words aren’t. While it is true that English and French have many words in common, there are several “faux amis” such as ‘deception’ which in English means ‘dupery’ whereas the French ‘déception’ is to be understood as ‘disappointment’… that’s enough for anyone to get mad. And added to this, the natural French tendency to not dare to try, here is, Madam, Sir, the perfect cocktail for one not to improve.

Anyway. To me, the main reason for our love-hate relationship with languages, and particularly English, lies elsewhere. I hold school responsible for this. The French schooling system is known for its very academic, traditional, ‘you’re-gonna-learn-this-by-heart-and-not-think-about-it’ approach. Though it may be quite efficient for mathematics; it is an uphill battle when it comes to learning English. This explains why we end up with French Presidents who say « Sorry for the time » when apologizing for the weather, or « You can be, do what you want to do » in a supposedly inspirational speech.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to study in a bilingual primary school, with a native English teacher who had a very personal way of teaching. Stephen initiated us very early to the sarcastic British sense of humor, a mix of pitiless French bashing and jokes that he would utter in complete deadpan, his eyes sparkling with joy and mirth. He taught us vocabulary by use of hand-made drawings, making us play rugby, and by giving us dozens of British songs to learn. Secondary school happily destroyed my level in English by its merciless French teaching method, but I thankfully retained the ability to sing ‘Message in a bottle’ (The Police), ‘White winter hymnal’ (Fleet foxes) and ‘What a wonderful world’ (Louis Armstrong) (those give you a very good insight in Stephen’s taste in music).

 

A few years later, after high school studies in a so-called ‘international section’, a two month-long exchange in Australia, and a year of university with all my classes in English: a friend from Honduras and I stopped to randomly talk to a woman who has asked us a question in the street. After a fifteen minute conversation, she asked us where we were from, and looked startled when I answered I was from Lyon, France – ‘You’re French? But you speak French with an accent!’

My first reaction was to laugh, astonished. And then I remembered that French people would now often start to speak English to me, ask me with genuine curiosity how long I have lived in Great Britain, or even have this flattering but surprising question ‘But are you sure you are from France? You have a British accent!’

For someone who was used to having a Frenchy-arguably-Australian-ish accent, this was a revolution. But after thinking about it, I started to realize that indeed – completely unconsciously, I was now speaking French with a bit of an accent on some words. So now that my level in French is even decreasing, that my level in English is certainly not perfect, and that after eight years of studying German, I am still not able to ask where the toilets are, I am the last person who should give advice on ‘how to learn a language and improve’. But considering that the situation would have been worse without those, I’m still gonna do it.

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First, learn some songs. Pick up one that you particularly like, print the lyrics, translate them yourself, and learn it, while you’re queuing at the supermarket, sitting in the bus or walking to school. After I left primary school, my Father would walk me every morning to secondary school; and every morning, we would rehearse English and German songs that I loved and that I would translate with him. Years after, even though my German is still as poor as a college student, I can sing Nena’s 99 Luftballons by heart. What is great with songs is that they endure. I would strongly advise you not to try Adele’s – no one sets fire to the rain or rolls in the deep in one’s everyday life -, but Abba’s are quite easy and catchy.

fundo de tela sherek.jpgSecond, watch movies. And put subtitles in the language that you’re trying to learn; if not, it won’t help. I would particularly recommend animated cartoons; their stories are easy to understand, so you can more focus on the language – plus, if you’re 30 years old without kids and your friends catch you watching Cinderella in secret, you can argue that it’s because you want to improve your English/German/Spanish/Khmer and show them my article as an excuse (do not say thanks, my pleasure). After years of watching cartoons and animated movies to improve my English, I can say that the best choice, without any doubt, is ‘Shrek’. First because it’s brilliant; the characters speak a very clear English, with different levels (Donkey’s accent is quite hard to get, Shrek is very understandable but quite familiar, the Queen speaks more formally); and it’s a clever criticism of authoritarianism, discriminations and sexism. It’s brilliant.

ZR3l1ez.jpgEventually, read books, and books that have been written in the language that you’d like to learn. The best choice you can make is to read books that you’ve already read many times. This way, you’ll already know the story and will be free to focus on the words, sentences and idioms. A few years ago, I decided to reread ‘Harry Potter’ by Joanne Rowling, in English this time, and wow – I couldn’t have taken a better decision. It helped me a lot, because the puns and writing make the book a thousand times better in English than it is in any other language, because it is catchy, entertaining and captivating, and because Rowling’s style is both very good and very pedagogical.

 

Here are three simple, fun, not time-consuming, and almost magic means of improving in any language you’d like to learn. They are way less expensive than travelling or going on exchange, and way easier than finding a native speaker to talk to – even though I strongly advise you to do that -, and they’ll make you want to improve. Because even if you’re the laziest person on Earth, you’ll want to finish this funny movie, to finish this fascinating book, to learn this moving song! Wanting to improve is probably the best thing that can happen to you.

 

That being said, it is now to be done. My plans for the Summer include using the Harry Potter Method to improve my Spanish and German and re-watching the whole Shrek series because let’s be honest, my English still sucks – and I also really want to watch Shrek.

Feel free to add, on Facebook or in the comments, your most useful tips and life hacks to learn a language, and good luck with that!

 

Credits: super kuka, Nightflights, and Harry Potter wallpapers on wallpapercave.

Norway: the Unknown Artist both Made and Ripped Apart by Louis-Philippe

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It’s quite telling: all the way up in the corner of the Louvre – in the innermost corner of the Northern Europe-section – there hang 26 small paintings by a Norwegian artist: Peder Balke. Virtually unknown in his home country – but one of the only Norwegians honored with a spot in the Louvre –, here is the story of how France’s last king both ruined, and possibly also made, one of Norway’s most undermined and under-appreciated artists.

Balke was born in a rugged town in Norway while Bonaparte’s war was raging in France and Europe – then of course completely and blissfully unaware of the role the events of the tyrant would play in his personal life. Balke – growing up surrounded by mountains and farmland in the Norwegian countryside – miraculously managed to save up enough money, with the help from local farmers, to pursue higher education – where he would later serve as a pupil for some of Norway’s finest national romanticists. Balke finished his education at the same time as legends, like Gericault and Delacroix, were becoming notorious for the paintings we today all know – and embarked on a journey to pursue the love for nature that the Scandinavian national romanticism was trying to emphasize. In 1830, Balke completed several long hikes in the fantasy-like Norwegian paysage, later going on trips to Russia, England and France.

In 1832, Balke completed a journey alongside the Norwegian coast – the same one as Louis-Philippe had conducted right before the end of the last century – and the outset of the French revolution. There, he captured in his mind the vivid pictures of the sea hitting cliffs, of the sun breaking the cold and unforgiving Arctic air and of the feebleness of people, in contrast to the great nature surrounding them. The same things Louis-Philippe had seen.

Balke knew this – and in 1845-47 he managed to get an audience with the Orléans king in Paris. The king accepted the offer from Balke, and ordered more than 50 pictures in commemoration of his journey. Balke delivered. And shortly after he presented 54 oil paintings as examples for the king. The king, however, then told him that the time was not right, as the embers of a new revolution were glowing bright. Balke spent the following years trying to convince the king to pay him to finish the mission properly, which never happened. As Balke gave up, so ended what could’ve been the future career of an artist in the ranks of the Norwegian Edvard Munch and Peter Nicolai Arbo. Balke would never return to painting, other than for the sake of feeding his own artistic taste.

Only recently Balke has received renewed interest by international galleries, such as the London National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Balke is only now being recognized for the methods he was despised for at the time – his creativity and imagination, that amongst other things, included painting by imagination, more vividly demonstrating his own emotions and thoughts in accordance with the nature that he was actively displaying. In Paris, 26 of the small and iconic oil-paintings are now on display, as they have been since 2001 when they were put up after having been hidden away when Balke was turned down by Louis-Philippe – for more than 150 years. But the lack of conservation and care given to Balke’s painting can still be seen on some of them, where long cracks spread through the Norwegian landscape that he was so touched and moved by.

France: ‘The Angkor Massacre’, by Loup Durand

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Four years ago, I encountered one of those life-changing books that made me want to travel so much that it became viscerally painful not to.

It began as a love-hate relationship. I used to read a lot, at least three hours every day, and more than two-hundred books a year. When I turned fourteen, my father decided to introduce me to the novels that had changed his life. He brought me a pile of books, all of which smelt old, with their yellow pages and damaged spines after having been open too often. All of them were from different authors – except for two. These were written by former journalist Loup Durand, and my Father instructed me to read ‘Daddy’ first; and then, ‘Jaraï’ – which translates into ‘The Angkor Massacre’.

I loved the first one. It immediately reached a good ranking into my Top 10 Favorite Books Ever. The second one gave me such a headache by its endless explanations that I would have given up on it, were it not for my absolute rule to always finish a book. I don’t know why, but I read it again. And again. And again, and again, and again, until it became as essential to me as breathing, and my second favorite book ever.

There are as many summaries of the book as there are readers of it. The maelstroms of locations, characters and events, in a period of almost ten years covered by the story, make it almost impossible to objectively define who the main character is and what the book is really about.

The only thing I’ll say is that it takes place in Cambodia in 1969. Most of Indochina is still under the French colonial control while the Vietnamese war is tearing the world apart. Everything begins when Jon Kinkaird, a young American soldier, deserts and disappears. Financially supported by her grandfather, his sister Lisa flies from the US to Asia with the fierce will to find him and reason him. And there, she meets Lara – a plantation owner that her grandfather used to vaguely know, who he contacted from the other side of the world to help her.

 

‘Lara nodded, his heart aching with crazy love for the small country. Few men had loved or used to love Cambodia as he loved it; even fewer were able to survive all of its events. None was more determined to stay there no matter what happened.’

 

But as the French Denoël edition very clearly and relevantly states: “‘this is neither a story nor a war novel. It is first and foremost the story of Lara, the last White, and of his crazy love for a small country with the unimaginable sweetness of life, Cambodia, which today is almost dead; it is the story of Lisa, Ieng Samboth and Roger Boues, O’Malley, Charles and Madeleine Korver, all of whom have existed under other names; it is even more, perhaps, the story of Kutchaï, the giant Jaraï, with strange and silent laughter. And it’s upsetting.’

It’s upsetting, because in the frame of a Cambodia at the dawn of one of the most horrible genocides that has ever been committed, we follow the story of two young men, soulmates and almost brothers, who embody the two sides of the broken country. On the one hand, Lara, White and eighth-generation heir of colonizers; on the other hand, Kutchaï, native khmer who will join the khmers rouges. In 1969, when the story begins, the Vietnamese war is about to spread to Cambodia like a mortal disease. In unstable Indochina, the balance of powers is upset between the French colonial administration, the American imperialism, the indigenous revolts, the declining authority of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, and the rising influence of the Khmers rouges who, from 1975 to 1979, will seize power in Cambodia and kill 1/3 of its population in a genocide that left the country ‘almost dead’.

But from this cruel and grotesque environment, emerges the sublime light of a story about solidarity, love, loyalty, and friendship. ‘The Angkor Massacre’ is about a fantastic network of absolute mutual aid, federated around the character of Lara. In this book, a person from one side of the world only has to speak a word for other people he has never met and doesn’t know, to mobilize all their resources to help beyond their means. ‘The Angkor Massacre’, is about friends from China, French Corsica, Cambodia, Thailand and many others, rising to help an American deserter, because his grandfather happened to have met Lara eleven years ago. All of these people are friends of Lara. All of them owe something to him, and he owes something to all of them. And what is beautiful about this network is its openness and the absolute confidence of all its members in each other, because all of them are incredibly far better off trusting than remaining on their own. While this network goes far beyond Lara, and works because every individual within it is ready both to give and to receive, this man remains its keystone whose name can trigger marvelous achievements.

 

‘Had it been announced to Roger Boues that Lara had just left with two or three men to conquer China while annexing the Tonkin on his way, he would have immediately packed his bags – ‘in fact, I only have one’ – to go and wait for him in Beijing’

 

To me, this network is the main character of the book. And what I love even more is that us, the readers, cannot help but believe in it because of the delicateness of Loup Durand’s unique writing. Every time I read it, I would forget that it was a book, because its characters are not realistic, but real. Not credible, but incredible. They shine even outside of the pages. I can only read ‘Jaraï’ (I do not like the English title – how can such an enlightened and positive story be called a ‘massacre’?) when I’m alone, ready to be touched and moved, to smile and to live along with these characters. I can only turn the yellow pages with deference and almost veneration, because ‘Jaraï’ is far more than a book printed on paper – the smell of its paper is enough for me to leave this world and join Lara, Kutchaï and all the others within a story that gives me a fantastic amount of hope and trust towards the world.

This whole book is a marvel and sometimes, its moments, sentences, and words are such a breathtaking slap that we cannot help but close the book for a while, close our eyes, turn our head back and breathe in deeply. Still, this is not enough for us to leave Cambodia.

Besides becoming one of my favorite stories ever, ‘Jaraï’ also made me fall in love with the ‘small country with the unimaginable sweetness of life, which today is almost dead’. I would not call it an obsession, exactly. I only watch every TV show related to it from near or far, and I only buy books without looking at the content because there’s ‘khmer’ in the title, and I only instantly notice every word written anywhere on it, and I only crave to go there one day. I feel like going to Cambodia would be, somehow, like going back to my roots – because ‘Jaraï’ played such an important role in my Father’s life and in mine, that I need to see this country with my own eyes.

Cambodian inhabitants could feel insulted by me saying this – after all, I do not know anything about the reality of this land besides what I have read. I know nothing about Cambodia. But that is the inevitable irrationality that falling in love necessarily contains. I need to go there, would it be to discover that everything I thought I knew on this culture was wrong.

It is difficult to write about a masterpiece because we’re always afraid we won’t find the words to do so. Eventually, I’ll let you make your own opinion about it. I just want you to know that I read this book once a year now, during holidays in my paradise on Earth (the southwest of France); that last year, when I finished a series of months working on highly selective application contests, the first thing I did was read it again; that once I decided to write every quotation I particularly loved on a notebook and that I stopped after realizing that if I continued, I would have had 751 quotes; and that eventually, to me, it is both a story that always manages to make me smile and cry and be crushed under the power of its words, and an inspiration that is part of me now.

So please trust me. Please read it – it is not very easy to find, as all hidden treasures. Allow this book to change your vision of life and mutual aid as much as it made mine evolve. And next time a letter from the other side of the world will ask you to help the friend of a friend, don’t even think about it. Life becomes strangely easier when we let ourselves trust.

 

‘ “There’s nothing in the world like Angkor”, said Lara. “Angkor moves your skin and your blood. Angkor is to be breathed, as much as it is to be seen.” ‘

 

MY TOP 10 FAVORITE BOOKS EVER (Today – that may change tomorrow)

  1. ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, by Edmond Rostand
  2. ‘Jaraï’, by Loup Durand
  3. ‘Harry Potter’, by J.K. Rowling
  4. ‘Daddy’, by Loup Durand
  5. ‘Here, there are dragons’, by James A. Owen
  6. ‘I’ll give you the sun’, by Jandy Nelson
  7. ‘Airman’, by Eoin Colfer
  8. ‘Emma’, by Jane Austen
  9. ‘Hygiene and the assassin’, by Amelie Nothomb
  10. ‘The Trojan War Will Not Take Place (Tiger at the Gates)’, by Jean Giraudoux