Thursday, July 27, 2006

A conversation in Beacon Hill Park

A duck eats grass.

Carley: Ducks eat grass?
Heather: No, well maybe.
Marco: I think they eat bugs, or guppies.
Carley: A guppy?
Marco: Yeah, it's a baby fish.
Carley: No. A guppy is a kind of fish. They have them in Australia.
Heather: No a guppy is a baby fish.
Carley: No. It's a KIND of fish.
Heather: So why in the Little Mermaid does Ariel say: "Flounder stop being such a guppy."
Aaron: It's a racial slur.

A duck walks away.

Credit: Heather Lisi, Victoria, BC; Travel Notepad, July 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

On art

I attended an opening at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria last night. I had never been to an opening before, and I expected to see a lot of pretentious people, but then I realized that pretension is not necessarily something you “see.” You'd never know that Frasier and Niles Crane ooze pretension unless you had heard them in conversation. So, since I didn’t talk to anyone except my girlfriend, I couldn’t tell you how many people in attendance were, in fact, pretentious.

(“Pretentious” is spelt with a “t” instead of an “s.” Now that’s pretentious.)

The exhibit is called “Safety Equipment for Small Animals.” Bill Burns created and built it with a small team of helpers. He’s mostly bald and wore an open black sweater over a closed red sweater which was tucked into his pants. He speaks with a weird accent, clears his throat frequently and leaves long pauses in the middle of his sentences. He lives in Toronto. I didn’t like his work very much.

Art galleries are strange. Whenever I’m at one, I analyze everything – not just the paintings and sculptures, but also the lighting, the stairways, the water fountains, everything. I know very little about art, since I’ve never read a book about it and don’t expect to in the near future, so I’m never quite sure if my reads are any good.

The main problem is that at an art gallery, I’m never sure what’s art and what’s not. The theory of postmodernism that says “anything can be art,” has created a sort of post-Warholian syndrome. “What’s bad is good!” “What’s ugly is beautiful!” “What’s mundane is fascinating!” So why shouldn’t I spend half an hour staring at the snack machine?

I guess it's a question of objectivity. If I know nothing about art and anything can be art, then how do I distinguish between what's good and bad? Can I make distinctions without the historical and cultural knowledge of the critics? Does my virginity as a critic make me a purer judge of what is good and what is not? Or does my ignorance as a critic render my opinion irrelevant?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On soccer

Soccer is the world'’s most popular sport. The usual reasons given to account for this are: the game is simple, the game is cheap, the game can be played anywhere. If for some reason you are assigned to write an essay that explains why soccer is the game played around the globe, use these three points as the foundation of your argument and you will have a good essay. If you are assigned to write an essay that explains why soccer is the game watched around the world, use these three points as the foundation of your argument and you will have a bad essay.

Part of the problem lies in the assignment. In North America, soccer is widely played but rarely viewed, analyzed, and scrutinized as intensely as it is in Europe, South America, and Africa. "Soccer in the suburbs serves mostly as bridge between Barney and Nintendo," Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker, "it's a pleasant diversion." After Sunday'’s World Cup final, which is expected to be the most watched event in human history, many people, not just in North America but all over the world, will not watch another professional soccer game until 2010, when the next World Cup starts in South Africa.

And yet plenty of people, most of them male, will watch hundreds, even thousands of games over the next four years. And they won't be watching these games because they are simple, cheap, and can be played anywhere. "The ball is the round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That's a fact. Everything else is pure theory." So says a strange man at the beginning of a strange and terrific German film called Run Lola Run, a line borrowed from Sepp Herberger, who coached Germany to their 1954 World Cup victory. The strange man and Herberger are right, but miss the larger point about the game from a fan's perspective: it's the theory that makes it interesting.

Because soccer cannot be statistically analyzed in the same way as baseball, football, or even basketball, the debates surrounding it are more philosophical. Is attacking soccer better than defensive soccer if a defensive style is more likely to win games? If you put too many stars on the field, does your chance of winning actually decrease? What's the best time to make a substitution? These debates are endless, but they continue to rage anyway.

The best soccer commentators debate and discuss their chosen sport with poetic eloquence. On Sunday, this year's World Cup will end. The final in Berlin will see a dynamic and hard-working Italian side playing against the classy and experienced French. When discussing soccer, "“dynamic"” and "“classy"” are perfectly apt words for describing a team. When discussing soccer, we may use "side"” in place of "team." When talking about soccer, we may call soccer "“football."

History and global politics tie in as well, especially at the World Cup, where colonies face their former rulers and countries that once waged war on each other do battle on the pitch. Much of the language used by commentators is warlike: "strike," "attack," "defend," "resistance." Pele called soccer the beautiful game, but often it is anything but. A nil-nil draw can be like the First World War: lots of battles with little territory lost or gained and a lot of beat up bodies at the end.

Goals come rarely and we could argue that this is one of the reasons the sport isn't popular in the States: Americans are used to having all of their urges gratified instantly. It's the same thing in film. In America, we want action and payoffs. In Europe, the story is what's in between. The same thing applies to soccer.

I watched more games this World Cup than ever before, after watching more club play and Champions League games than ever before. You might think that I could use a break from the game, but you'd be wrong. I want more. More, more, more. Because although the game might not always be beautiful, it's always fascinating.