jeudi 19 novembre 2009

La main de Dieu, cette fois pour les Bleus

Cèpes on the dinner plate

and, yes, I have seen better food photography

It's a lot easier to photograph fresh, uncooked food than cooked food. I learned that when I got my husband to hold the table lamp (equipped with an energy saving light bulb, which I could have sworn was one word; it should be) so I could snap a picture of the cèpes, lovingly prepared with parsley, crème fraiche, garlic, and a Burgundy white in the veal juice, before they were eaten. You know, for the before and after effect. And, yes, I have been reading Muriel Barbery's Une Gourmandise, Gourmet Rhapsody, in English publication.

"Attends! Ne les mange pas encore!" I got back up and hunted for my camera, while the veal cooled (and congealed, ever so slightly).

"Mais tu ne vas pas prendre une photo?" I nodded vigorously -- why, yes! I was, as though this was the most perfectly natural thing to do in the circumstances (he doesn't read my blog) -- and circled the living room until I found it and the memory card, sitting in the reader attached to my laptop.

"Tu peux prendre la lampe, s'il te plait?" He grabbed the table lamp from the shelf over the radiator behind the table, the shelf I have been meaning to turn into a beautifully crafted radiator cover and join to the lower one next to it, directly behind my husband, and stuck it practically into his veal.

"Un peu plus loin? Je ne veux pas photographier la lampe. Seulement le veau." He rotated his eyes in their sockets just so that they met mine, his head remaining fixed toward his plate, into which he was rather pressed to tuck since it was le mi-temps and France was behind 0-1. It was an unacceptable situation, and he had hollered at the les Bleus from the first minute of the match, "Mais! Ils sont complètement désorganisés! C'est du n'importe quoi!"

We had visions of 2002, when France failed to pass the first round of the World Cup games and Roger Lemerre was immediately and summarily sacked in favor of Jacques Santini. Some blamed it on over-confidence (one of the sponsors, Adidas, had even made a jersey with the second star, indicating their second presumed World Cup victory before they even began to play), while others attributed the French disaster to fatigue from too many exhibition matches and poor communications about their schedule to the players). He drew the lamp back nearly imperceptibly.

"Comme ça?" I declined to press the issue.

"Ca va aller." That'll do. I clicked and set the camera down. "Allez, on y va." Then Sam piped up.

"C'est quoi ça sur la viande?" he asked, dubious.

"C'est des cèpes."

"Mushrooms?" he turned to look directly at me, speaking to the traitor in English.

"Mais Sam, c'est ce que tu as senti quand tu es rentré et tu disais que ça sentait bon dans la maison," protested my husband.

There is no sense reasoning with Sam about mushrooms, any type of mushrooms, whether they smell heavenly or not. They are on his list of nonconsumables, which is my literal translation from the French non comestibles, or inedible foodstuffs. He began to remove them from his veal scallop. I began to remove them to my plate, and dinner proceeded, but there was something missing; there was no exclaiming about the heavenliness of this meal as there had been the evening before, when I prepared the less cherished wild mushrooms in olive oil and fleur de sel de Guérande and served them with what turned out to be much better than usual steak. What was wrong?

"Ca ne va pas?" I ventured.

"Si, si. Ca va très bien."

"Mais, tu ne trouve le dîner pas aussi bien que hier soir?"

"Ben," he hesitated a second to compose his reply. I waited. "Je dirais que, étrangement, les cèpes ne sont pas aussi bons que les champignons hier soir." I was crestfallen. How was it possible that these cèpes were not as good as the lesser mushrooms from the night before? I had to accept his verdict; there is no arguing with someone's taste, but, was he jaded from having wild mushrooms three nights in a row? Were his taste buds merely overwhelmed? Was it that the drastically better steak had actually overflowed to the experience of the mushrooms with which it was served? Or, had I merely made a terrible mistake preparing a heavenly meal on an evening when les bleus were playing like merde against a team nowhere near as good as they on paper?

Whatever it was, I was crestfallen. It being the 20th wedding anniversary of my sister and husband, a wedding for which I had left France and my future husband, unbeknownst to either of us at the time, only to return 13 years later to marry him and join my fate to that of les Bleus, I had hoped to make a celebratory dinner both to recognize their 20 year survival, our 20 year more miraculous survival, and the brilliant victory of les Bleus, which was not going to be the case. They had a victory alright, but no one was acclaiming it. It was, in fact, tarnished, as les Bleus qualified for South Africa in 2010 à l'italienne.

From the morning press:
La France a tout intérêt à jouer "profil bas", poursuit l'Equipe. "Deux heures de jeu qui amènent à simplement souhaiter que notre équipe nationale soit, au Mondial, digne des +géants+ du football qu'elle a éliminés, à savoir la Roumanie et l'Irlande. Deux heures de jeu qui incitent les Bleus à la plus belle des modesties: ils ne forment pas une grande équipe. Forment-ils une équipe d'ailleurs ? Peu importe la réponse aujourd'hui. Espérons simplement qu'ils la trouvent d'ici au mois de juin prochain", stime encore le journal.

Former French national team defender and Bayern Munich player Bixente Lizarazu, seated in the post-game analysts' chairs next to Arsenal coach Arsen Wenger, the man many feel should be in Raymond Domenech's shoes at the head of the Equipe de France, put none too kind a spin on it right after the game, taillant, as my husband put it, une veste aux Bleus -- which translates quite directly to "a dressing down" -- saving his former teammates by telling the truth, as he best could -- saying, "They played a terrible game for, well, for 120 minutes, from the very beginning to the end. It wasn't the French tonight who were great, it was the Irish." The Equipe de France had played an astoundingly bad game of soccer against a motivated and capable opponent, "They won," said former defender Lizarazu, "but there was no glory. They should head to the locker room with their heads down."

In short, it was an embarrassment for the French national team and their captain, Thierry Henry. The French pride themselves above all for winning matches because of greater technical ability and maintaining a noble sense of fair play that the Italians, say, or the Portuguese in their estimation do not, and here, there was no denying it, the goal by Henry that saved France from the unacceptable ignominy of failing to qualify was the result of a foul, a handball at the goal, and not only did Henry touch the ball with his hand, as he strove to prevent it from leaving the field before he could get his foot on it to center it to William Gallas, who would head it into the poorly defended (for once) Irish goal, he seemed to touch it again, which made it so hard to say that it was accidental, the result, as he said, of a rebounding ball with two defenders between him and victory for his team.

But Rama Yade, the brilliant young French political figure in her present incarnation as Secretary of State for Sports, came to his defense, saying that only Henry himself knows if his gesture was deliberate or accidental, and spoke to the French sense of fair-play in sports:
"Thierry Henry lui-même a reconnu avoir touché le ballon. Il n'y a que lui qui sait si c'était volontaire. Tant qu'on ne sait pas si c'est volontaire ou non on ne peut pas parler de triche", a-t-elle estimé. "On ne peut pas jurer avec certitude qu'il a voulu délibérément tricher".

"Ce n'est pas le genre à pratiquer de l'anti jeu et à faire des gestes anti-sportifs. Je ne crois pas qu'un joueur de son envergure, avec son expérience, avec son palmares, le nombre de sélections qu'il a eues en équipe de France, avec l'amour qu'il a du jeu, qu'il soit un homme à faire de la pratique anti-sportive", a poursuivi la secrétaire d'Etat.

It was even more ironic because I had watched Gallas begin to surge from defense through the midfield, play after play in the extra time. "Il en a marre," I said to my husband. "Il va en mettre un but. Il en a tellement marre." I only didn't expect it to have to come from so inglorious a pass, from such a surprising source. Henry.

But, that is the nature of the game, until FIFA agrees that it's time to subject soccer, like every other sport played today, to video refereeing. Not one of the four referees saw the handball, and they will receive poor grades for this match. The Irish goalkeeper saw it, the players saw it, and Henry knew it, but if the referee doesn't blow his whistle, play goes on, and you don't argue with the referee. The goal was valid. Interviewed after the game, Thierry Henry said:
"Oui, y a main, mais je suis pas l'arbitre, a déclaré le capitaine des Bleus. +Toto+ (Squillaci) va à la lutte de la tête, je suis derrière deux Irlandais, la balle redondit et elle tape ma main".

"Bien sûr, je continue à jouer, a-t-il poursuivi. L'arbitre ne siffle pas main, mais je ne peux pas dire qu'il n'y a pas main".

And then game the question: "Should Henry have confessed to the referee? Should he have told him, 'I touched the ball with my hand'?" Stunned to silence for a brief moment by the question, a question that would be on the minds of many French, who hold the integrity of their players even higher than their technical and athletic ability on the field (yes), that had been raised as soon as it happened by the commentators, and which caused me to blurt out from the sink, where I was beginning the dishes, "Mais, l'arbitre n'a pas siflé. Le joue continue, autant que cela peut être terrible!", the question that begged to be asked so the answer could be given, Bixente Lizarazu drew breath and replied, "If the whistle is not blown, play goes on. Yes, there was a foul, but perhaps this time, the situation was in our favor rather than against us, as it often has been."

Like the end of the 2006 World Cup, like a long list of unwhistled fouls and penalties that left France the loser, but France will go to South Africa as Le Figaro says, "sans le mériter, les Tricolores iront en Afrique du Sud... pour espérer un parcours glorieux, les hommes de Domenech devront impérativement gagner en consistance, en sérenité et c'est loin d'être gagné, au regard de la pauvreté de leur prestation".

Do not let it be said that the French be dupe.

And, next time, I'll stick a store-bought pizza in the oven and save the cèpes for another evening. By the way, my husband knows I am head over heels for Bixente (Google images and swoon. Move over Orlando Bloom, here's a real man with real charm.). He approves.

It only confirms my good taste in choosing him.


Update: Thierry is said to have admitted to Ireland's number 5, Richard Dunne, while seated on the field after the game, that he cheated. The verdict is out in France, Thierry Henry, "le gentilhomme du foot", "handed" the qualification for the 2010 World Cup by cheating.

There is a panel discussion on national television, and to the credit of the French, the discussion is honest, open and leaves no alternative unexplored.

Bixente Lizarazu holds Thierry Henry to the standard of admitting the truth of his act because there is a sense of ethics and values that must be honored, or the sport becomes .

A political and soccer commentator argues, "we're painting Henry in too negative a light; we're making a bone into a mountain."

Another counts the number of handballs committed by the Irish, and not whistled by the referee.

On the one side, is what counts to qualify, or is it to hold yourself always to the highest standard? There are unwhistled faults in all games, but is it alright to say, "Tant pis, that's the nature of the game," or should the player at fault in such a situation say, "My honor is on the line. I have to acknowledge what I have done, even if so many others haven't before this"? For now, some take the strongest positions, others try to gather as close as possible to a next to impossible see and defend position between the two, arguing that the other side is wrong, while they are already there themselves.

"Mais, Henry ne peut pas aller voir l'arbitre pour lui avouer ce qu'il a fait, l'enjeu financier est trop important."

"Alors, tu es en train de dire que tout est bon dans le foot."

"Mais non."

"Mais si." You see?

The debate will go on, and Thierry will pass some sleepless nights, asking himself, "Ca vaut la participation à la Coupe du Monde?"

What will he finally answer? No one will ever forget, whether it wasn't as bad as Maradonna's hand or worse than Zizou's headbutt in Materazzi's chest. It will go the way of these sorry moments in sports and soccer.

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