December 09, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
I am not a soccer player. Whatever distant knowledge I bring to the game comes from playing basketball when I was a girl: There is a ball; you want it to go into that net like thing; you want to take it away from the other team and sometimes you need to pass it. I learned a smidge more from that amazingly well done Netflix show, The English Game, which I have watched twice. But in the wonderful way that children take you through dark wardrobes full of moth-ball smelling old woolens and into entirely new worlds, my younger son has brought me to the world of soccer. He is eight, just a month ago. He loves soccer. Not in that way where you suspect it might really be a parental desire, not the child’s. No we are not those parents naming our child Beckham or Pelé, driving him all over the countryside, hoping he will be a star. Nothing like that. Instead, it’s all been a bit of a surprise.
When he plays, there’s just this incredible grace and focus that comes over him; he’s all in. Sensitive and intelligent, his athletic abilities seem to be something he accepts but doesn’t expect. Even when strangers he’s never met before want to shake his hand after a game, it doesn’t register much. He just wants to get to the car, eat his snack, go home to play with Legos. This, after all, is my come back kid. I almost lost him when he was ten hours old, and then we spent eight excruciating days in the NICU, an experience that became so lodged in both our bodies, we are still carrying it.
It became clear at first to others that he was gifted at soccer. Covid shut down the world when he was still in pre-school. And activities came to a halt. But every once in a while there was an outdoor game with friends and people would say, “Whoa. That kid can play.” Dan and I know nothing about soccer, so we would murmur some sort of vague, “Oh ok.”
But this all started to change as the world began unfurling a bit. And now, we can see it: when he’s on the soccer pitch and giving it his all, what we feel is joy, like our souls lift up a bit. Not because he’s good at it. We don’t need that. But because he loves it and every fiber of his being is thinking, working, moving—he just gets it.
My older son runs cross country and plays basketball. I love both of those sports. But now, for the first time in my life, I understand the intoxicating power of soccer: the smell of the damp fields, the fall leaves, the excitement of the game, the defensive strategies, the footwork. In the process, I’ve fallen in love with the game. And though I would never ever have thought I might say this, I might become a soccer mom, after all.
Now I bring up this joy, because everyone I know, even people who don’t follow soccer, have been gotten soccer fever as the World Cup comes to a head. Tomorrow, la France, or as we might call them, Team Handsome, will play England, a match that will resonate with hundreds of years of enmity between the two nations. But let’s talk about Les Bleus, as the French “Gallic Roosters” are known, for their blue jerseys. There’s the striker, Olivier Giroud, from a small medieval town in southeastern France; there’s the celebrity goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, from Nice; and the coach, Didier Deschamps, from Bayonne, the “all or nothing” guy. And then there’s Kylian Mbappé, 23 years old, born in Paris and considered by many to be the most talented soccer player on the globe today. He was only 16 when he started playing for the Monaco team and when he was 18 he was signed by the Paris-Saint Germain team on a transfer worth 180 million Euros, making him the second most expensive player and most expensive teenage player in the world. In 2018, he was the youngest French player to ever score at a World Cup, and the second teenager, after the famous Pelé, to score in a World Cup Final. Two things in particular touch me about Mbappe’s story: Apparently, he was academically gifted but unruly in school. Soccer focused him. And, two, he said in an interview with Time magazine that, “I did not have the moments of so-called normal people during adolescence, like going out with friends, enjoying good times.” Instead he had soccer. And now, the whole world is his stage.
If you love narrative stories, there’s nothing more exciting than soccer right now. Sure on the surface it’s about a sport. But it’s more than that: it’s about individual spirit and grit; it’s about joy; its about years of conflict and also years of peace; and it’s about coming together for an event that is less about nationalism and more about a passion that continues to inspire, delight, engage and excite both children and grandmothers in every single nation on the planet. It is truly a global activity that knows no boundaries, that really only needs a dusty patch of earth and a dirty ball or just a coconut to play. It’s something we all can come to the table to enjoy together. The match between England and France will air at 2 PM EST tomorrow, Saturday December 10th.
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
This week we published lots of holiday fare and I took the last two days to write up a thorough gift guide for Francophile families. Got a sulky teen who is hip and loves France? I have some ideas for you. A balding husband? I’ve got an idea. A mom who needs a restorative break on the couch? I’ve got an idea. Check that out, below.
Also, I loved this recent profile of Emma Thompson in the New Yorker.
Last week, three of you won copies of Yiyun Li’s new book The Book of Goose. But only one of you won some chocolate from Valrhona. Here’s that challenge again—there are still two chocolate prizes to be claimed.
You can still win a free trip to Paris next spring, here.
We are going to get our tree this weekend. And we always make hot chocolate as we decorate. But this year, because my family gave me a beautiful bottle of Chartreuse for my birthday, I am thinking of spiking my hot chocolate with chartreuse using this recipe. Check it out. Yes, Mom, I know you want me to take green apple flavored krill oil instead. Doesn’t chartreuse almost count? It’s got 130 herbs in it.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and are able to light some candles as we enter this oh-so-very-dark time of year. Loving this song, Brightside, by the Lumineers. Even the best love stories are always complicated.
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Cool & Smart French Gifts
Caitlin Shetterly is the Editor-in-Chief of Frenchly. She is also the author of 4 books: Fault Lines, Made for You and Me, Modified and the upcoming novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, which will be published in 2023 by Harper. She is a native daughter and she lives with her two sons and husband in an old house on the coast of Maine.