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Thirty Years of Surprises

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral

My sister got married thirty years ago today, a small wedding celebrated at our family’s favorite restaurant on Long Island. She and Jacques went up to Montreal the next day for their honeymoon, returned a week later for the wedding of our cousin John and Joan, and then were off to France, where they have been ever since (and, of course, where Jacques was before too). They would live in Clermont-Ferrand for three years, and I was fortunate to visit them there a couple of times, in summer and winter, before Joëlle and after Joëlle.

By the time I was ready to make my third visit, in August 1983, they moved to Paris. I was at a conference in Antwerp that month. Since they were just about to move when the conference ended, I temporized by heading up to Amsterdam, not a bad place to kill a couple of days. More good fortune — my friend Paul (a New Zealander then in England who would join me in Seattle three years later) was heading up to Amsterdam from the conference too, so we hung out together part of the time. And then I took the train down to Paris, arriving on their third anniversary, just in time to babysit for ten-month-old Joëlle in their new apartment while they went out to dinner.

Some time during my stay at the apartment, I decided to call this woman I had gone out with a few times just before heading to New York, London, Durham (another conference), and Antwerp. She was rather surprised. She would have been even more surprised — outright disbelieving — if someone had said that two years later we would ourselves be married and visiting my sister in the very same Paris apartment as part of our honeymoon. And on the list of surprises, who would have thought that Joëlle would now be living and working in Montreal, thirty years after her parents honeymooned there?

Well, yes, life is full of surprises. That’s hardly news. Nonetheless, it’s fun to watch as the surprises wash ashore.

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Categories: Family, Life

Bobby Thomson

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

[Associated Press]

Bobby Thomson died yesterday. See, among many others, the NYT obituary. I grew up in the shadow of his Polo Grounds home run — you know, the one on October 3, 1951 that ended the Giants-Dodgers three-game playoff in favor of the Giants, earning them a trip to the World Series against the Yankees, who resided just across the Harlem River. I missed it, but not by much. Five months later, I was born into a home of Dodger fans. (But by the time I came of age, both teams were gone and baseball may as well have moved with them.) I would read of Thomson’s home run and imagine it as an event deep in history, along perhaps with the Civil War, or the fall of Constantinople.

I can hardly do justice to the event. Don DeLillo devoted the first 50 pages of his mammoth 1997 novel Underworld to it, and hey, I’m no Don DeLillo. (I’ve read this part of Underworld twice, but have yet to get far into the remaining 777 pages, to my continuing regret.)

As a shorter alternative to DeLillo, you might look at a Roger Angell piece in the New Yorker in 1991 that Jon Michaud quoted at the New Yorker blog today. (See the post here, and if you have access to the New Yorker archive, you can follow the link to the full Angell article.) Here’s part of what Angell wrote:

I gestured urgently to my wife, just then passing from kitchen toward bedroom with a jar of Gerber’s in her hand. “You might not want to miss this,” I said, unable to lift my gaze from the screen. “It could just be—”

“Be right back,” she said, disappearing from the room.

Too late. Several other things now disappeared as well—in rough succession: the ball into the lower grandstand seats at the Polo Grounds, above the left-field wall; self-control (“They did it! They did it! My God, they did it!” I yelled, rushing distractedly from room to room, bumping into walls and dogs and relatives); Bobby Thomson, the batter (who had just written the meaty portion of the first sentence of his obituary, whenever that would be), into embraces of his teammates around home plate; the Dodgers (severally, slowly, slumpingly, across the littered outfield and up the steep stairway to their clubhouse); and—soon thereafter, it seems—all further memory of the day and the game and my own succeeding emotions and remarks and celebratory gestures and exclamations on this the greatest moment of my life as a deep-eyed, native-born Giants fan, fan of baseball, fan of fable, fan….

The four-run ninth-inning rally, capped by Bobby Thomson’s killing homer against the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca, not only won the 1951 National League pennant for the Giants (the two teams had finished the regular season in a tie, and split the first two games of their best-of-three playoff) but stands as the most vivid single moment, the grand exclamation point, in the history of the pastime. So we believed then—knew it, on the instant—and so I believe to this day, and it’s funny that I can remember nothing else about that afternoon.

I’ve seen my share of big moments in baseball history, but I wouldn’t presume to argue with Angell’s assessment.

Categories: Baseball, Obituary

This and That

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Harborview Medical Center

It’s been a while. Sorry about that. A little too much going on, as I’ll briefly explain.

In my last post, I wrote about death panels and demagoguery, a post that might be described as “political rant meets family crisis.” The crisis (revolving around the health of Gail’s brother) continued last week against the backdrop of a conference hosted by our math department in honor of an old friend of mine who for decades has spent his summers here in the department. And just to add to the complications, Gail began serving last week as the new president of the local community council. We had busy days and nights, juggling hospital visits, conference talks, council meetings, conference dinners, and additional social occasions with the many friends of ours visiting for the conference from around the world, including my former thesis advisor, as well as our continuing house guest from Scotland, who was one of the conference organizers.

The weekend might have given us a chance to relax, but we had a golf tournament to follow, the fourth and final of the year’s majors, the PGA. We spent Friday evening with an old friend before his midnight flight back to Milwaukee (not far from Whistling Straits, site this year of the PGA), took our Glaswegian friend to the airport Saturday morning, and then it was golf, golf, golf for the rest of the weekend. No way we were missing that.

But more about golf another time. Meanwhile, we’re on to new things. The start yesterday of a small house project we’ve been waiting for years to do. (Flooring.) The final arrangements for our return to Nantucket in three weeks. (Seattle-New York flights, New York accommodations and rental cars on the two ends of the trip, Nantucket restaurant reservations, and so on.)

As for the family crisis — it’s still on-going. Gail’s brother is still with us, and no one can say for sure which way things are going to head, least of all him. We continue to watch and wait. And learn.

Be on the lookout for posts on:

1. The PGA golf tournament.
2. Alex Rodriguez and career RBI numbers.
3. Bobby Thomson, who died yesterday.
4. Food notes from recent weeks.
5. Another entry in my “Change We Can Believe In” series, on Gitmo military tribunals.
6. Cordoba House, aka the Ground Zero Mosque.
7. A series that’s been on hold for ages, and that I’m determined to get to eventually.

Categories: Life