I haven't been slacking off, honest. Been going to my favorite New York sports event, the Open.
Working on a piece about night matches. The players love it.
This is a bittersweet Open because Kim Clijsters played her final singles match on Wednesday. Anybody who caught her interview on ESPN2 last evening will understand why she is widely called the nicest person in tennis.
She talked about her late father, Leo Clijsters (whom I saw play defender for Belgium in the World Cup) as a role model, even if he didn't start off knowing much about tennis.
Her praise for her father matches that of James Blake, who is playing a match late this afternoon in Armstrong. He also gives credit to his late father for encouraging him. Blake is having a modest resurgence this summer.
We cannot have too many mature and gracious athletes like Blake and Clijsters.
Off to the Open.
Doctor, I think I’ve had a breakthrough.
I’ve actually taken two summer vacations of nearly a week long.
I’ve always been busy in the summer, working overseas at major events or schlepping off to the inane din of ball parks. My wife used to say, why don’t you be smart like Dave Anderson and take a whole month off and relax? (For that matter, editors and readers always asked why I couldn’t be more like Dave Anderson.)
Anyway, I thought I’d try it.
The first vacation to Cape Cod was a little scary because I kept getting reports of marauding sharks and infectious sea lions and wandering bears and skittish foxes.
The second vacation began in western Massachusetts, where I did things like swim in a lake and watch ducks and kayakers glide past, and hang out with friends in a delightful home.
Sometimes we watched the clouds and the sky and the hills. Sometimes we talked about the Yankees or politics or thwarted hoop dreams.
Then my wife and I drove to central New York to visit my kid brother and his wife who are on the faculty at Colgate and live out in the country in an 1842 stone house. While the women went to an all-day antique fair in town, my brother and I picked vegetables in his garden and watched the farmer’s cows on the other side of the fence.
But the highlight of upstate was having time for two trips to Cooperstown, for the Glimmerglass Festival – a total revelation. I had always thought of it as an outdoor summery diversion, but in fact it is an indoor auditorium used only a few months a year with a very high level of performance and staging.
We sat in the third row for an old French opera, Armide, with a strong cast including a charming ballet corps, and on Monday we came back for Lost in the Stars, the pre-Mandela South African story of a tragedy striking black and white families.
From the third row, we were especially captivated by the bass, Eric Owens, and the tenor, Sean Panikker, two Pennsylvanians on their way up. After the performance, the principals came out in street clothes and answered questions from the audience.
Afterward, the four of us went out for home-made ice cream and zucchini bread on Route 20, and talked about making this excursion to Glimmerglass an annual event.
Then my wife and I drove back toward the city under a gathering storm, seeing more sky than we ever can around New York.
I know I am not saying anything profound here, Doctor, but I think I have proven the point that I can take a week away from cities, from work, and not go nuts.
Of course, now I am back in high gear – drawn back by the Lance Armstrong saga, getting ready for a few cameo gigs at the Open tennis in the next two weeks. Deadlines. Assignments. Anxiety. The dreaded R-word is taking its own well-deserved vacation. Still, this is progress, isn’t it, Doctor?
It is always instructive to get a glimpse of the inner core of Yankee fans.
The other day I was walking down a pleasant street in the Berkshires with my wife and four friends.
Puffy clouds played in the clear New England sunshine above the soft green hills.
Most of us were fixated on lunch, some on art or window displays. My new friend Joe from Queens was otherwise preoccupied. Great career, family man, terrific shape, funny. And a Yankee fan.
“Ha!” he gloated. “Look at this! Not a Red Sox cap in sight. For years that’s all you saw in this town. Red Sox caps. Red Sox banners. Red Sox t-shirts. Red Sox bumper stickers. Red Sox tattoos. Red Sox flags. Red Sox schedules in the windows. Red Sox art. Red Sox names for sandwiches. Guess they’re not so cocky now. How’s that Bobby V thing going for them? How are Beckett and Lester doing? Where is Papelbon? What ever happened to Red Sox Nation? Ha!”
That is how I remember his spontaneous monologue.
(I told my new pal I might try to reconstruct his diatribe, and he said, not to worry, that no matter how I remembered it, he probably said worse. Or would have, if he had thought of it. Joe from Queens was thoroughly delighted at the downswing of Ye Olde Towne Team.)
I did not see any Yankee regalia in the Berkshire streets. The only ball cap I saw was from the University of California. Go figure. The entire Red Sox nation had vanished as the Sox plummeted downward in the Eastern Division.
That night my new pal excused himself after dinner and disappeared to his room. Yankee radio and Yankee television were apparently jammed in that corner of New England, but he was following the Yankees on the computer.
The next day he supplied details of derring-do by Kuroda and Swisher, Jeter and Chavez, or some such combination. Yankee heroics, Red Sox disaster. The mixture made him downright giddy
There are millions of reasons to love Brazil – Sonia Braga, for sure, plus the throaty way Brazilians speak Portuguese, Brazilian music from Villa-Lobos to Tom Jobim, feijoada, Brazilian football fans, Brazilian football nicknames, and then good old joga bonito itself.
Being emotionally acknowledged as the best in the world, based on the record and the way Brazilians carry themselves on and around the field, is mostly a blessing, but this superior image can also be a burden.
Everybody wants to knock off Goliath, even a nimble and attractive one.
The Brazilians were a moving target again on Saturday as Mexico outwilled them, 2-1, in the gold medal match of the Olympic tournament. (At which point the Games ended for me, except for those highly entertaining clips of Usain Bolt. Time to get back to baseball and joga bonito of all nations.)
The Brazilians wanted this title badly, never having won the Olympic gold medal. The nation put together a squad that included three allowable over-23 players back in June and prepared hard for this tournament. But Mexico came into Wembley with the grim mission and skill that has often not traveled well from Azteca.
The only category Brazil won was nicknames, employing reserves known as Hulk (in English) and Pato (which means Duck in Portuguese.) That's what it said on the back of their classic yellow jerseys.
Those are the football names of Givanildo Vieira de Souza and Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, opposites in physique but teammates in odd nicknames. Brazil has a long tradition of giving nicknames to its sporting heroes. (In the '80's, its star basketball gunners were Oscar and Hortencia, their given names.)
Brazil football had Pelé and Garrincha in the long-ago past, and when I started following in the early 80’s it had Sócrates
(one of his many classical given names) and Falcão (I always assumed this wavy-haired bird of prey was named for the way he soared but in fact it was his last name.)
Then there was Alemão, the Portuguese word for German, who was called that because of his light hair and complexion and also for his efficient work at midfield, or so I was told.
And who can ever forget the mainstay of the emerging Brazilian women’s teams of the 1990’s – Mariléia dos Santos, who sported the name Michael Jackson on her jersey long enough to score a reported 1574 goals. I saw her play a few times and never saw her perform the moon walk – or score, for that matter; Brazil had better players – but now she is the coordinator for women’s soccer in the Brazilian federation, having a far better middle age than her male namesake.
On Saturday, Hulk came on early in the disastrous final. British broadcaster Arlo White said it was pretty apparent why he got his name – the man’s shoulders and chest swelled out his No. 12 jersey. (His father was said to be a fan of the television series, and the son wound up having large pecs.) The Hulkster was mostly ineffective until extra time when he scored a goal and nearly set up the tying goal.
Another sub was Pato, who does not waddle or quack, but does come from the town of Pato Branco, which means White Duck.
With their wonderful nicknames, the Brazilians now must prepare for the 2014 World Cup, when they will be hosts and once-and-future favorites as well as beloved symbols of the world’s game. That’s not a burden, is it?
Have I forgotten any epic Brazilian nicknames?
(NB: In my earlier version, I called Pato's home town Prato Branco, which would mean White Plate. He's from Pato Branco, of course. My fault. One of the flaws of Underwear Guys filing precious little essays untouched by human or even editor hands. GV)
The hard part of watching the Japanese and Americans battle for the Olympic gold medal on Thursday is knowing there is no sustaining model for big-time women’s soccer.
The 2-1 victory by the Americans was terrific television, just like matches last Monday, last July, in 1999, in 1996. But two American professional leagues have failed since the United States allegedly discovered women’s soccer during the Summer Games in Georgia in 1996.
NBC did right by the women in this Olympics. I can recall an American soccer federation official, Hank Steinbrecher, screaming at NBC functionaries right after the 1996 final in Athens, Ga., when the network played catch-up ball in showing the American gold medal celebration when it hadn’t bothered showing the match itself.
''NBC must think the world is full of divers,” Steinbrecher snarled.
In 2001, it was a shock to me when the league known as W.U.S.A. opened a few miles from my home on Long Island – with tens of thousands of registered female players within driving distance – and Mia Hamm and the best players in the world could not fill a dinky so-called stadium.
That league went down, as so did something called the W.P.S., not because the media did not publicize them but because ratings did not attract sponsors. Apparently, people – girls, women – would rather play soccer than watch soccer. That’s probably good.
Now there is talk about a few teams forming a new league in 2013 but I will believe it when I see it. To a soccer buff who loves to watch the women’s game, it is sad to think there is no showcase for charismatic players of this generation – Americans like Hope Solo, who made three terrific saves on Thursday, or Carli Lloyd, who scored both goals, or Alex Morgan, who won Monday’s semifinal over Canada with a sensational leaping header, plus that great bridge to the past, Abby Wambach.
Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and the rest can be secure in what they accomplished, but Solo and her teammates have earned the right to wear the t-shirts they broke out Thursday that said Greatness Has Been Found. It’s kind of a passive statement, but the point was made. They are the champions, my friends. And the highly competitive Solo can be assured that her three magnificent saves Thursday probably trump anything the resourceful Briana Scurry ever did during the golden age.
Plus, the game itself keeps improving. As great as Michelle Akers was – she’s still the best female player I have ever seen – the skill and tactical level of these players keeps rising.
On Thursday, I saw fine points I don’t think were being performed in 1996 or 1999 (admittedly, memory is tricky.) Megan Rapinoe forwarded a ball with a flick of the back of her head; Morgan chased a ball along the end line and pivoted and blindly centered it to create the first goal; and Lloyd dribbled over 30 yards and split two defenders to find her space for the second goal.
Have the new champions learned from coaching? From competition? From watching the Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world, as I suspect female basketball players have learned from watching the Jordans and Kobes? The women have expanded the art of the possible in their sport.
The new wave has produced three hugely entertaining matches – Thursday’s final, plus Monday’s American victory over Canada, plus last summer’s shootout victory by Japan over the U.S. in the 2011 Women’s World Cup following the terrible tragedy in Japan. The matches were gripping; the players admirable; as an American with friends in Canada and Japan, I could not root in either match. But I do root for women’s soccer.
I’ve never taken many summer vacations because there was always an Olympics or a World Cup that seemed more compelling. However, after choosing the buyout last December, I decided it was time to learn to relax.
Part of our family rented a complex in the woods on Cape Cod for last week.
Then I started getting ominous news about wild life on the Cape.
In June a black bear was spotted roaming the narrow spit of land where nobody had ever seen a black bear before.
When they knocked him out, they decided he had been able to swim over from the mainland, possibly in search of a mate. The authorities deported him to the woods in central Massachusetts, but my theory was if one lovelorn bear could make it across, there must be others.
The next frightening sign was a poster in the library saying an expert would be giving a talk about the expanding coyote population of Cape Cod. Who knew? A real-estate agent said a coyote and pups had been sighted in the woods outside a house he was showing. One of the hobbies of Cape Cod appears to be makng videos of foxes, frolicking. .
What was next? I found an item on line saying Cape Cod residents are being warned about ticks and Lyme Disease. So much for the woods. We would head for the beach.
Then I heard that sea lions off the New England coast have been showing signs of influenza not unlike the bird flu that has begun impacting humans in the last generation.
On that charming note, we arrived on Cape Cod. The first news to greet us was that a man had been bitten on both legs in the ocean right off Truro and a great white shark had apparently been sighted. The man was treated and eventually released, and swimmers were reassuring themselves that sharks do not single out humans but more likely are attracted by the numerous sea lions in the area.
I was starting to get flashbacks of Australia in 2000 during the Olympics, when visitors were warned of killer sharks and killer flora and killer fauna, including poisonous puffballs in the earth that could kill you if you happened to scuff one with your foot. Could the Cape be as lethal as Australia?
The first day of vacation, we decided to swim on the bay side. We decamped at a lovely beach with warm and gentle salt water and I inflated the kayak and my grown son and I paddled out a few hundred yards.
Then I noticed a head bobbing 50 feet away.
The head disappeared.
“I could have sworn I saw something in the water,” I said.
The head popped up again.
“It’s a sea lion,” my son said. “Look at the whiskers.”
We weren’t so much worried about the bird flu the sea lion might be carrying as the hypothetical white shark that might be looking for sea lions.
We started rowing fast until the water was only a few feet deep. Children and adults took turns in the kayak and nothing bad happened.
In fact, we had a lovely six days on Cape Cod, escaping with no damage from nature.
The only injury I sustained was self-inflicted. Early one morning, while waiting for a family Wiffle ball game, two grand-daughters charmingly tutored me on how to run. I forgot I had not yet performed my daily old-guy stretching. As I ran to catch up with them, I felt a quad muscle wrench loose. I came home from vacation using copious amounts of Advil and ice. I cannot blame the wilderness for my pain -- but I do have a new and fearful vision of summer vacations.
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Oops, this just in. Not to sound like Woody Allen, cowering in the presence of lobsters in Annie Hall, but Grandchild 2/5 reported seeing jellyfish ("that looked like prunes") in the bay, and Grandchild 3/5 reported a snapping turtle in a bucolic pond that we fell in love with. None of it was as fearsome as the traffic on and off Cape Cod. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.