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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I on the Ball by John von Daler

                 Europeans were a little bit of an unknown commodity in Tulsa where I spent my first thirteen years. We had Mexicans, South Americans and American Indians as the exotic spices in our section of the great melting pot. I remember filling out some questionnaires in fourth grade where we were asked to check off whether we were 1. Caucasian 2. Negroid 3. American Indian (these categories were not chosen by me!). I don't remember there being room for Oriental, Scandinavian, middle-European, Romanesque, Inuit, or Greco-European or anything else for that matter. But I do remember thinking how boring it was to have to check off Caucasian.

                When I moved to Norwalk in 1959 I took to going to the beach (trying to take some of the chalk out of Caucasian?). In Norwalk there were lots of Europeans. They frequented the beaches as much as I.
                One of the best sights on the the Norwalk beach, if you could take your adolescent eyes off young ladies preening in the sun, was the Greek father contingent. They stood in their bathing suits with light brown stomachs presumably full of Tzatiki, Moussaka and Retsina and juggled soccer balls with their feet and short legs - never their hands. The right foot would scoop up a ball from the sand and swish it up to their balding head where it would hop up and down five or six times after which it plopped down onto one knee and then the other knee, finally to land someplace near the instep of the foot that started it all and by which it would be kicked in a great arc across the sand to another dark-haired, pot-bellied little man who would imitate the same movements without a hitch.
                Instantly I learned to love European football.
                Since I moved to Europe I have followed all the ball geniuses, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino, Ronaldo II and Messi. I have learned to love this non-stop game that starts at eight and always is finished by ten, with its revolving, swirling, handless kaleidoscope of movements.
                To me European football is to ballet what jazz is to classical music: an open, improvised, fast-thinking version of the same thing, be it movement or music or both.
                Now my son stands with his son and juggles the ball back and forth while I make do with the Retsina and Tzaziki. Nice to feel my worlds getting tied together.


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