The Complete Angler
Donavan Hall

…a new kind of narrator is born: no longer a man who describes things he sees, but at the same time a man who invents the things around him and who sees the things he invents.

—Alain Robbe-Grillet, “Realism to Reality” in For a New Novel

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Diary. Today I read the last twenty pages of Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd. When I came to the last couple of pages and encountered the images which opened the novel, naturally I felt that satisfaction of having taken a journey and then returned home. Not that everything neatly resolved. I like my novels messy, with gaps and unresolved plot lines. Luiselli too harbors a horror of the “horribly boring novel in which each line is there for an ultimate reason: everything links up, there are no loose ends.” [Faces in the Crowd, p. 124]

Sunday afternoon, sitting in my garden drinking a shandy. “It’s important to bear in mind that more than referring to the book by Laurence Sterne, the word shandy invokes alcohol. Shandy is commonly drunk in London—a mixture of beer and either fizzy lemonade or ginger beer—and a pint of shandy with ice is thirst quenching in the summertime.” [A Brief History of Portable Literature by Enrique Vila-Matas, p. 25]

The shandy is also popular in Barcelona where one is not challenged to find Damm Limon on tap. In several cafes on my recent trip to Barcelona I discovered that one could order a radler, the German equivalent of a shandy.

Footnotes. The latest issue of Howler (8) concludes with an essay by Carl Bromley remembering the life of Eduardo Galeano the author of Soccer in Sun and Shadow, one of my favorite books. If I ever write I book about soccer, I will call on Galeano as my muse. One bit of biographical information I learned from Bromley’s piece was that Galeano was a supporter of FC Barcelona during the time he lived in exile in Spain, 1978 to 1985. Galeano it seems had a profound appreciation of the play of Lionel Messi.

A few months ago on Dummy, the Howler magazine podcast, David Goldblatt said that his desire to write his massive global history of soccer, The Ball is Round, came from reading Galeano.

Yesterday, I watched the US lose to Panama (on penalties) in the third place match in the 2015 Gold Cup. Chris Wondolowski, a player who could of sealed his place in the US soccer pantheon if he’d finished an open goal chance against Belgium in the first elimination round of last year’s World Cup and who distinguished himself by grabbing a share in the golden boot in the previous Gold Cup with his five tournament goals which equalled the number scored by US legend Landon Donovan and Gabriel Torres of Panama, was called upon to start in that match. Panama’s disciplined play seemed to make Wondolowski’s presence on the field nearly unnoticeable for sixty minutes. Why wasn’t this capable goalscorer succeeding at the international level? Was it just the accident that the balls weren’t going in the net? I was reminded of something I read in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, that “the sniffer centre-forward had all but vanished.” Then quoting Zoran Filipovic, Wilson continues, “Those half-chances that poachers used to seize on don’t exist any more.” [Inverting the Pyramid, p. 348]

In two hours, Jamaica and Mexico will kick-off in the final match of this year’s Gold Cup. Mexico have made it thus far on their ability to cause the other team to foul in the box and thus draw penalty kicks. I’m curious to see if Mexico will win (yet again) on a controversial spot kick.

While I’m decidedly neutral and only hope to see an exciting matching, as much as I would like to see Jamaica beat Mexico, my preference would be to see Mexico prevail so that the US can face them in October for the Confederations Cup playoff match. A rematch against Jamaica just doesn’t have the same mystique as the possibility of another Dos a cero.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Footnotes. Last Wednesday, the US was defeated by Jamaica in the semifinals of the Concacaf Gold Cup, 2-1. Today, the US will play the consolation match against Panama who lost the other semifinal (in a highly controversial manner which Panama was punished by a red card and two penalty kicks) to Mexico also by a scored of 2-1.

Before the US took the field to face Jamaica, I was out walking the dog and excitedly anticipating the coming semifinal match when I asked myself, “What does it matter? What does the outcome of a particular match really matter?”

Of course, I want my team to win. What fan would want anything else but victory for their side? In the moment, the outcome of the match is supremely important, but the result is ephemeral even if though it will be recorded in the history books. While it might seem that my question was a trivial one, but it seemed to me to strike at a central issue concerning the game and my devotion to it. What I was really asking was this: If it didn’t really matter in any lasting sense if the US beat Jamaica and progressed to an equally ephemeral final, then why was I giving up so much of my time following this transitory game?

When the US lost to Jamaica, my disbelief gave way to amusement and then resolved itself. We would play Panama in the consolation match. The boys in white would take to the field again and play Panama. Whether playing for third place or first place, what did it really matter? We’d won the Gold Cup two years ago and had that affected my life in any lasting way?

The message here is not that I decided football and watching it were meaningless activities, that would be missing the point. No, by asking these questions I’d arrived a important realization about the game. And perhaps even discovered something important about my own psychology.

The appeal of soccer is in the spectacle of the moment. Soccer is an improvised performance with a simple but compelling narrative. At the heart of the game is the confrontation of skill and struggle against the forces of chance and uncertainty.

Last night, I picked up my copy of David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round and read the conclusion of his 900 page global history of soccer. There Goldblatt states clearly why those of us who devote so much to the game in various capacities are justified. “No game embraces both the chaos and uncertainty and the spontaneity and reactivity of play like football.” And later he adds, “We are lucky then that the game we have chosen as our collective metaphor, the avatar of our social dilemmas, should so closely parallel our predicament.” [The Ball is Round, p. 907]

Diary. On my recent trip to Barcelona I went to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona to see a special exhibit, Sebald Variations, a collection of art and video art works inspired by the prose fiction writer W.G. Sebald. One of the artists who contributed work to the exhibit was Valeria Luiselli who, herself, is also a novelist. And I happened to have picked up a copy of Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd back in June, so when I returned last week from Barcelona I decided to read the book.

The narrative consists of (mostly) short fragments by several different first person narrators. The fact that the novel had multiple narrator only registered after I’d read half the book and was starting to ask questions about the internal consistency of the perspective. If I’d only read the blurb on the back of the book first, I would have been clued in. Once I knew what the game was, things started making more sense. Admitting that I was slow to pick up on this might be also admitting that I’m not a very perceptive reader.

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