Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rugby, Husbands, Paris, etc... by Janine di Giovanni

… a recent missive from TMP's Paris-based friend and correspondent…

A few months ago, my husband came home and calmly announced: "It's the rugby world cup this year so you won't see me for a few months."
Whatever. Rugby, like most sports, means nothing to me. I grew up in a household of four brothers, all athletes, and a father who was a track and field star. I was, and am, a terrible athlete. The worse tennis player, a pathetic ice skater, a mediocre skier, a panting runner.
More important, I hate sports on television. The racket of my brothers crammed in a room watching The Super Bowl left scars. All that testosterone turned me into a bookworm who hid in the kitchen baking cookies with my mother.
There are many reasons men and women are different species, and this is one of them. Why would anyone sit in front of a box watching bulky men kick around a ball when you can read a good book, take a walk or lie in the bath?
And so, it was my karmic fate to marry a man who was the French equivalent of my brothers. There is not an ounce of feminine yin in him, not a touch of metro sexual. And Rugby is the most male of all sports. It is, as one male friend (gay) told me, "American football without padding."
I did not realise how serious my husband was about the rugby until a few weeks after his declaration, when he said he was leaving for New Zealand. He was going to film a mythic group of men called the All Blacks for about three weeks. It had been his dream since he was 12 years old and a budding rugby player in Burgundy. His father took him to Paris to see the All Blacks.
"They are masters," he says in the same reverent voice he talks about the Cohen brother films or the trumpet player Lee Morgan.
We do not have a conventional marriage, or life, for that matter, so I did not complain, and off he went for three weeks. He packed his cameras and left whistling for the airport. I don't think, aside from the day we got married (I like to think) I have ever been so happy.
"Do you understand what this means?" he said. "it's the ALL BLACKS."
What is weird is that my husband is a journalist like me who usually reports foreign affairs and conflicts for a major French television network. He was the Africa correspondent for years and is more at home in a coup d'etat than interviewing rugby stars.
A few months ago, he interviewed Mohammed Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president who is impossible to get an interview with. He called me from Teheran totally blasé.
But the All Blacks, no, that to him was a real score, more important than Iran building a nucelar weapon. Even their name, dark and sinister boggles my mind. My husband shows me a film of them doing something called The Haka. It’s an aggressively fierce dance meant the opposing team. They remind me of the monsters in my son’s book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
It was all so weird that I did not believe Bruno had really gone half way round the world to meet them until he started calling me from Auckland.
When he came back, he had ALL BLACK t-shirts for my son, and him (not for me, I got some kind of Maori necklace) and they sat together like a different breed watching rugby DVDs and hooting. My son is three.
And so, rugby has divided the males and lone female in my household. And I think I am not the only woman experiencing this. The country is engulfed in Rugby fever. At the Galleries Lafayette, the Harrod's of Paris, there is an evening of Rugby dating planned for single fans so no one feels left out.
And every metro stop I passed today had a pink or purple poster with weird 1960s lettering: PARAMOUR DU RUGBY 1987-2007. Paramour du Rugby? For the love of rugby? Where does all this passion come from? WHAT ABOUT ME?
"Rugby," my wise friend Ariane explained to me when I whined. "is the yuppie sport, the more chic sport. Everyone is following it these days because it's cool. Football is for peasants."
My husband confirmed this, sort of. "It is bobo," he said, using the French term for bohemian beaugoise, which I guess is what people in Notting Hill are (and I guess what we are). "but it also has roots in the LAND." He talked about the roots in the Southwest where Basque players are short, dark and bulky. "REAL MEN," he said.
I try to enlighten myself. In bed, I read Suite Francaises, a weepy romantic novel, while he reads the sports pages of Le Journal du Dimanche. He pointed out that there is a new book I might buy, written by a wife of a rugby player called LE PETIT GUIDE DU RUGBY POUR LES FILLES. "It will help you," he said sweetly.
I am not so sure. Still, as each day goes by I watch him transformed by the excitement of the world cup, into a different being. He even told me that Poilane, the famous French bakery on Rue du Cherche Midi, has a bread baked into a rubgy ball and perhaps I should buy one.
Rugby has also brought out a sexist side to him.
"Can I go with you to a rugby match?" I asked when he left to go to meet his film crew for a "rugby meeting."
"No." he said. "it's not a game for little girls."
I would like to point out that I am 5'8", nearly the same size as him. And before we were married, when we were posted on the same reporting assignments, I was always the one who managed to get further to any front line, much to his annoyance. So much for little girls.
But I do have a secret weapon. He's called Sebastian Chabal, aka The Caveman or The Anesthesiologist (because if he touches you, you're down for the count). All over France, neglected World Cup women have fallen in love with him. He plays for the French team and is beautiful, in a scary, Neanderthal kind of way.
"He's a monster," my husband sneered.
Still, I detect jealousy. Perhaps The Caveman has had the desired effect. My husband asked me out on a romantic date tonite, just the two of us, and no rugby in sight.

Janine Di Giovanni is the author of "The Place at the End of the World" and other books. Posted to TMP by JSL

No comments: