Summer Blog Post Eleven

Writing about family; translation; football

Summer Blog Post Eleven

Summer Blog Post Eleven

Dear readers of my blog,

if father and son are both writers, the chances they see similar things similarly and at the same time, while not necessarily talking about their parallel activities, are high. This is what I found out two years ago when trying to find those papers that should be preserved by the Westphalian Writers’ Archives at Münster that had agreed to take my father’s literary estate. Mind, he is still alive and now again an active reader, something he had always been but mostly with a purpose in mind. In his present situation, he can do what he likes, and so I send him my current work once it is published.

His father before him, my grandfather, who was born in 1894 and who died in 1976, had been a writer as well as an amateur painter, musician, and amateur ornithologist, keeping a falcon at some time, while earning his family’s living as a teacher in the Rhineland. Originally, a knife-grinder, he had to change gear after Black Friday in October 1929 when he was already married with two children. Taking an exam specifically meant for those who never had a chance to sit their Abitur and study at university, he was able some years later to become the breadwinner for his family, while his wife, a primary school teacher before marriage, had stepped in when he was in teacher’s training – without remuneration then – and the couple’s daughters were cared for elsewhere. Socially speaking, at that time, ninety odd years ago, it was out of the question that a married woman be perceived to exercise her profession, so both husband – a student – and the children needed to be out of sight where she taught. In World War Two, she once again took up teaching – this time it was because so many male teachers were at the front. My grandfather seems not have appreciated this at all – being reputed to have exchanged but very few words in the year his wife taught at school.

Why am I telling you this? Ever since I watched the feature film on the German Basic Law and on the story of how the sentence that “Men and women enjoy the same rights”, meaning that both in court and in every day life they are on an equal footing, I have been unable to stop thinking about how stereotypical behaviour has continued to mar our existence. It is not only for women that equality is still a thorny question in many professions, for example, where they still earn a lot less than men. Men, too, have changed a lot, facing, however, conflicts if they insist on enjoying the same rights as fathers as women do as mothers.

Wilde who had been dressed as a girl when a boy and wrote about men and women in their various roles might feel quite at home in the current situation – perhaps more so than in his own time. This makes him timeless both in terms of subject and treatment. While “cucumber sandwiches” in The Important of Being Earnest may be difficult to translate both in terms of the words and in terms of the cultural substance, they are still to be had and eaten at the time of writing. Not everywhere, of course, since making a sandwich presupposes having the raw material at your disposal, something you do not get everywhere, even in the present globalized world. Either the toast you would want to use is too thick – being of the American variety – or there is no bread you could use. It is even more difficult to translate “sandwich” into any other language. By contrast, the term has reached the status of an appropriated noun in German, too, where you even speak of a “sandwich” child, being one born between an older and a younger sibling.

Some of the ideas I have just talked about are inspired by the following article: ttps://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-importance-of-being-earnest-in-translation-1.3923291?mode=amp

I thank Danny Morrison, Belfast, for having alerted me to that article.

Leer, Monday, 17th June 2019

While the club season has reached its summer recess, the international scene is especially lively this year. And while I am going to continue my journal from 2014 in a minute, let me remind you that this year’s calendar is identical with that of 1974, so that those among you with a weakness for reminiscences in that vein may well have quite a few more moments to recall.



23

Over lunch, some people discuss the perspectives of people moving to the top of the prediction table in the last two weeks of the World Cup. I don’t fancy winning the contest, nor do I think I ever had any chances of doing so. In this World Cup where the outsiders have had more than one field day and where the favourites seem to be either weak or unable to liberate themselves from the public pressure weighing down on them, it seems inconceivable to have reasonably foreseen all the volte necessary in order to plan one’s heading the prediction tables. Those who head them, however, would like to do so on their own merit alone, admitting, though, that the result of a knock-out match turns on the pivot of a single shot at goal or at aluminium.

       Personally, I would prefer Germany not having to play either France or the Netherlands, teams I like to watch myself. If they are eliminated tonight, I wouldn’t mind that much because the secret gain of that unprecedented event in the last seven World Cup tournaments would be I could sit back and follow the football with the necessary objective detachment. I last did so ten years ago, and I cannot say I regret having watched Greece win the Euro in Portugal.

Monday, 30th June 2014, before tonight’s games

 

***

Predictions are enormously difficult. Even you are eventually proved right, this doesn’t mean very much in the sense of having had foresight. Of course, telling people before the kick-off that a one nil or two one win would also do the trick while they had been fancying Germany five Algeria nil, simply conveys a sense of reality as opposed to their sense of possibility.

       Still it was with some sense of anxiety about the German team that I sat down in the community centre at Logabirum. Far fewer people, among whom some of the usual suspects, not all of them of a certain age as myself, had assembled to follow what turned out to be a far better game than either Brazil vs. Chile or France vs. Nigeria. I had watched the second half of the latter in the early evening. It was owing to a mistake by the goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, playing at Lille where I once was an occasional student, and an own goal, both after a corner from the right, that France got away with a two nil victory.

       Germany vs. Algeria was much faster and better because of Algeria’s ingenious tactical scheme of catching the tricky German dribblers, Götze and Özil, that is, in their flexible network of ever-moving defensive walls, so as to profit from any loose balls or losses of possession by means of one or two vertical passes toward their sole striker Islam Slimani.

In this, they were helped first by a change in the German defensive formation. Since Mats Hummels was out with an infection, he was replaced by Mustafi, Sampdoria Genoa’s defender, who was to play on the right, while Boateng moved into the centre alongside Mertesacker. The latter had been mentioned during the France vs. Nigeria game when his colleague at Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny, had misjudged a long ball, something which Mertesacker is said to correct when they are in the Gunners line-up.

Second, it was soon revealed that Mustafi faced with such quick moves as the Algerians initiated was unable to assist up front, so that in order to start promising attacks on their own the German midfielders all moved to the left, causing both some congestion in space and a scarcity of offensive options in general.

Third, Neuer soon became the most tested German defender, running out of his area several times to kick or head a ball into touch or to tackle an Algerian forward who the others couldn’t catch offside. In fact, this happened quite often throughout the match but the German journalists, both on TV and, more harshly so, on the radio, as my wife told me, relentlessly continued to talk about a “disgraceful performance”, so that the offside trap as a defensive ploy wasn’t mentioned once.

       Of course, it is difficult for them to remain loyal to their own team and to be objective at the same time. Rather than running down Germany or praising them when there is nothing to praise, they could simply have sat back once or twice to take in what was really happening on the pitch. And things started to change even in the first half.

       Likewise, the 5.40 a.m. news flash rather than conveying a visceral sense of relief as I had experienced it when the two goals were scored only presented three harshly critical statements made by commentators who merely gave good marks to three German players: substitute Schürrle who with his left heel had opened the score three minutes into extra-time following an irresistible run on the left edge of the area by Thomas Müller; Neuer who, according to the speaker on TV, had revived the part of the traditional centre half or sweeper to keep a clean sheet as once interpreted by Beckenbauer; and, finally, Müller himself who was, however, also chastised for having missed two chances the conversion of only one of which would or might have spared them the extra 30 minutes.

Once again, no mention was made of how extraordinarily well the Algerian keeper, Rais M’Bolhi, succeeded in keeping a clean sheet until the 93rd minute. It was not due to one of his early mistakes that Germany opened the score! Caught unaware by several long shots he allowed to bounce off straight ahead rather than deflecting them, he saved twice against shots from short range at the very end of the first half, inaugurating an apparently interminable period when he caught, fisted, blocked off as well as kicked away any ball the Germans fired at his goal. Only once did the reporter refer to the ever-increasing discrepancy between the numbers of shots fired by the two sides. He did, however, say that Neuer had hardly any balls to catch. His part was that of the playing goalie which his Dutch counterpart, Jasper Cillessen, isn’t at all good at, thus accounting among other reasons for Louis van Gaal’s original defensive formation of the Elftal this World Cup.

       The Germans had to change their defensive set-up once more when Mustafi injured himself, so that with Khedira and Schweinsteiger on the pitch skipper Lahm moved to his former position as right back, which worked out rather well since he had neither forgotten any of his old instincts as a defender, nor did he have to abandon completely his more recently acquired superior offensive skills. If German stay in the World Cup, I might see him score one of his rare goals. He has a habit of scoring just once in two years. His last was the opening goal in the quarter-final of Germany vs. Greece at the Euro in Poland in 2012 which they won by four goals to two.

Tuesday, 1st July 2014, on the train to Norden

24

Walking to school from Norden station, the subject of yesterday’s match is soon broached, not to be abandoned until the first bell calls for all teachers to leave for their separate classrooms. Most have watched part or all of the match, some do not hide their satisfaction, while others echo the tone if not the words of the media whose representatives continue to be harshly critical of a team that for them hasn’t at all been up to the mark yesterday. One colleague admitted only to follow the emotional aspects of football, while another to whom I explained the one scene that to me stood for splendour and misery of the entire 120 minutes finally conceded I had a point in insisting that not all had been bad.

That moment occurred close to the end of extra-time when Germany were one nil up, still pressing for a second goal, when Boateng had to chase the sole Algerian striker pushing ahead in the centre of the field, only just succeeding in deflecting the ball. Arguably the quickest of the four German defenders on the pitch, Boateng thus had for once set off early enough to stop what might have been the option foreseen, imagined, figured out, or projected by Coach Valid Halilhodzic as the move most likely to provide his team with a 100 per cent chance to score against the Germans. When this attempt had failed, the camera caught the coach’s gesture of frustration before he turned round as if not to have to face the details of this failure.

Once he faced pitch and camera again, a few seconds later, I perceived a look of satisfaction in his eyes, to me a clear suggestion of my having just witnessed the tactical move he for up to two hours’ of play had hoped might win his side the match. I’m not sure whether I’m right but immediately afterwards the Germans initiated the attack resulting in Özil scoring the two nil from the rebound. I may have omitted what happened in between, telescoping two moments in memory that had been most impressive.

In additional time, Algeria did pull one back, looking in my mind’s eye as if successfully threatening to equalize as well when I heard a single voice in the room state flatly as well as calmly: “It’s less than thirty seconds to go now.” This was the elder brother of Germany’s team doctor speaking, a retired Lutheran priest. Everyone around me calmed down, watching the game and the seconds on the clock ebb away. Referee Ricci from Brazil who never had any problems with either team and who didn’t make any mistakes either but for those many situations where offside needed to be signalled actually blew his whistle on time.

An anticlimax to the back and forth of the game, like the German media reactions, this scene went almost unheeded in the room. The relief and satisfaction palpable after such an experience was only enjoyed by few people who remained behind for after-match commentary both in the media and spoken live. For a 12-year-old, it was surely a unique experience to have shared this moment with the grown-ups. I will remember having made up my mind about accepting a German defeat when it still looked likely in terms of saying: “If Algeria wins, they will have deserved it.” This is actually what I tried to come to terms with 24 years ago on attending Germany vs. Argentina in Rome. That being a totally one-sided match, I continued to wonder throughout how to live with a German defeat. They did win, after all, and most people I later talked to about the game were highly critical of what they had seen as a “boring football match”. Yesterday it was different, never boring or tedious because of the Algerians whose achievement commands the utmost respect.

Tuesday, 1st July 2014, on the train back to Leer

 

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