It’s a cool Sunday morning, the type that lends itself towards coffee and nostaligia. I suppose the fact that I’m starting to pack my stuff into boxes isn’t helping the nostalgic side of me. You’d think I’d be used to that by now, but my mind still gets loud from time to time. Is Des Moines really the spot for me? Is it going to be just a larger version of Cedar Rapids? I have lots of tricks to quiet my mind like all of us. Some of my favorites are music, running, reading, and even watching sports.
The French Open is on this morning and I’m instantly transported back to Paris. Sports, just like any other type of entertainment at its best, can do that. They can take us to other places and times. Last year I was watching this same match, Djokovic vs. Nadal, this time in the finals instead of the semi-finals. This year watching alone with a cup of coffee on my couch in Iowa instead of in the courtyard of Hotel de Ville, drinking wine surrounded by thousands of people.
Hotel de Ville’s courtyard was a constantly changing landscape that holds memories from my first days in Paris to my last. It was an outdoor ice skating rink the first time I happened upon it, an essential part of my first great story in the city. It was a makeshift nature preserve my last time, where I spent time reflecting after my last great story there had its conclusion. For a few weeks in late May and early June, the courtyard transformed into a mini-Roland Garros, complete with a clay tennis court and a sixty foot long Jumbotron with plenty of seats around to catch all the action. Gorgeous weather brought out gorgeous people to enjoy the food, wine, and scenery. Tennis wasn’t secondary or even tertiary, it was the background noise; the excuse to be there.
Sports at their worst can be hard to admit you enjoy. Fan is quite literally short for fanatic, and sometimes it feels like you either have to be completely involved or not at all when it comes to sports. The amount of vitriol that gets spewed on a daily basis, both by the general media and social media, is enough to turn off anyone. Tonight, The Miami Heat will play a basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs. The ten players on the court will all do things we could not possibly fathom doing for three hours. After the game is over, win or lose, LeBron James will be called a traitor, a pussy, and all other variety of names you can imagine. This need of others to tear down people in some sort of effort to validate their own shortcomings makes me ashamed to enjoy sports.
The whole reason I started liking sports was to have more to talk about with my dad. My weird memory combined with the propensity towards numbers and statistics in sports made it easy for me to pick up quickly. It’s entertaining to me to watch people compete at the highest level of almost anything. I remember sitting with friends talking about all manner of subjects last year in that square. Hours went by and it appeared Nadal would handle Djokovic as expected. Then Djokovic started to rally, and you could feel the entire energy in that courtyard change. The side conversations stopped as everyone started watching intently and discussing only the match. People walking by on their way home from work, to see Notre Dame, or just out for a casual stroll, stopped to watch; filling the courtyard. By the middle of the fifth set, you could not find a place to stand. People were climbing trees and lamposts to get a better view of the Jumbotron. Here we all were, in the middle of one of the most beautiful and romantic cities on the planet, and people had stopped everything they were doing to watch two grown men hit a fuzzy yellow ball back and forth. Five hours had gone by before Nadal finally claimed one of his hardest fought victories at the championship he has made his career on. People smiled and chatted with complete strangers about the match before slowly dissipating into the Parisian evening. Nadal claimed this year’s title as well, with a significantly easier victory than last year. Even if it could never live up to what I experienced last year, I was thrilled to sit with the windows open on an overcast Sunday with a cup of coffee in hand, remembering why I still watch sports.