Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rugby Widow by Janine di Giovanni

We are now down to the final countdown of the World Cup semifinal. This is good news because I have not seen my husband in ten days, and I no longer have a family life.
He disappeared a few weekends ago to go to Wales for the big France-New Zealand match, and has not been seen since. Nor have I spoke to him, because he no longer has a voice. He screamed so hard when France defeated the All Blacks that he bruised his vocal cords. All that night, someone kept phoning me but I kept hanging up because there was nothing but croaking on the other end.
Then I left for New York and he was meant to come back home and take charge of our child. Instead, my three-year old son was found dancing in a suit and tie at a Filipino wedding on the outskirts of Paris with his nanny, Raquel.
“Where is my husband?” I asked Raquel, when I phoned transatlantic ally.
“He said he went to the rugby,” she said.
He did eventually return home, and his voice has returned, huskier and two octaves lower. Now he is spending his early mornings with the French team who are in training at the Stade de France. And he has gotten himself into a total state over Saturday’s match, so bad that he can’t sleep at night with nervous anticipation, and is smoking even more than usual.
France will win, he predicts: “It’s the revenge of 2003 when the bloody Brits beat us,” he says. “I hope we gonna humiliate them.”
Humiliation is the key here. Like a lot of Frenchmen, England is my husband’s nemesis, “Our best enemy,” as he describes them. While he will admit to liking Monty Python or Sting, he often mocks me for my British passport. If he is really annoyed with me, he calls me a “bloody rosbif” – the worse insult he can come up with. If pressed about why he does not like England, he will say: “They drink beer and eat pudding! And they are vicious players.”
But even he admits a soft spot for Johnny Wilkinson, the team captain. The one match I watched, I said: “He’s cute! Doesn’t he look like Prince Harry?”
My husband looked at me with disdain. “What are you talking about? Cute? This is a man, a real man. He’s a fantastic player, a remarkable player.”
Now Wilkinson is his greatest fear, his bĂȘte noir. “He’s the key to the match,” he says miserably. “I hope Chabal is going to crush him.”
Chabal is the hairy yet sexy monster on the French team nicknamed “the anaesthesiologist” because everyone he touches gets put to sleep, permanently.
Being totally outside the frame of rugby, I find it hilarious and ironic that France is playing England. It would have been so much easier if it was Argentina or Fiji. But no, playing England means so much is at stake for the French. Their massive egos, for starters. How can they face themselves if the red-faced “rosbifs” win? Will another Hundred Years war begin?
So many Frenchwomen have lost their husbands over this past month, and this weekend it all ends. There’s something anticlimactic to it. But it all could end horribly wrong. On the Air France flight flying back from New York to Paris on Wednesday night, I noticed that nearly every man was reading L’Equipe, the sports newspaper, and all of them were focused on something to do with England. All of the women looked neglected and bored.
“It will be a terrible thing if they win,” whispered the man next to me. “I think that France will not recover.”
After tomorrow, my life returns. I will have a husband again, and gradually his voice will return to normal.
If France wins, he will be in a great mood and I plan on asking him several delicate requests I had put off during the tense rugby period. But if France loses… well, I’ve got a spare Eurostar ticket tucked in my drawer for emergency purposes.
Posted to TMP with author's permission by JSL

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