The View from Montpellier

From start to finish, from the stands, the Canada-Cameroon game had an “anything can happen” feeling to it. Cameroon were interesting to watch. A controlled chaos; tornadoes tearing up the game to, in essence, free the ball from any sense of team intention. This was, of course, the problem as once the ball was theirs, they got smothered.

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Both Cameroon and Canada played heavy, physical defense. Canada seemed to struggle with the ball — some strange touches, passes too heavy and too light. I couldn’t tell if that was nerves, the pressure the Lionesses were providing, or the slick surface. But they got the job done. Overall, for me, the match was a lot of fun to watch.

Mosson isn’t huge; so even though the crowd was a meh-10,000, the atmosphere was great. Everyone was in good spirits, even though it rained, got very cold and windy. Many of us left our seats to watch from covered bits; but we all stayed till the bitter end because, again, it felt from start to finish like Cameroon might punch through Canada’s back line. But they didn’t.

The last time I was at Stade de la Mosson, it was to see Zidane play for France, against Côte d’Ivoire, just after he’d announced his return to the international game. SO, that was a while ago. It’s an Aunty of a stadium.  To my eye, the stadium’s design invokes a late 1970s/1980s sense of the future. Metal, cement. The color orange. The sort of vision of the future that has always felt dated.

The stadium is much in the local news; if I understand things correctly, MHSC (Montpellier Hérault Sport Club) is pushing, with city leaders, for a new stadium. La Mosson was constructed in the 70s and essentially rebuilt for ’98; it has gotten some renovations since but not a proper, complete overhaul. A couple years ago, plans for a comprehensive revision of the stadium were abandoned in favor of building a new sports complex on the other side of the city.

The stadium is very much attached to the life of the neighborhood; this is the source of local ambivalence about moving MHSC from Mosson. The stadium is often at the center of conversations about the city’s efforts to “rehabilitate” this grossly underserved neighborhood — La Paillade.  La Paillade, historically, has been a home for recent immigrants, refugees, and the working-poor. According to a recent article describing police efforts to “take back” the neighborhood, La Paillade “is home to 21,600 people, 46% of whom are under the age of 25, 75% do not have a high school diploma, and 57% live below the poverty line.”

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The neighborhood is basically “the projects” of Montpellier, featuring regularly in local crime reports and in national discourse about dangerous neighborhood. It is characterized by tall residential tower blocks (some of which are right next to the stadium). These are being emptied, destroyed and rebuilt. The  beginning of the neighborhood’s rehabilitation/development was signaled by the installation of good tram service and its renaming in official lingo as “Mosson” — the latter makes clear the material and symbolic entanglement of the stadium to the project of improving the quality of life for people living near it. At various points, it looked like la Mosson was slated for destruction but now it seems it’s to stay — to what purpose is unclear, beyond a sense that it would continue to “provide employment for local people who need it“.

Over the past two decades Montpellier itself has seen an enormous amount of building, and gentrification. No part of the city is untouched. The story of this stadium is clearly bound up with the speculative energies that swirl all that.

This month, the city’s mayor was supposed to lay a symbolic first stone on the site of the new stadium. That event was cancelled: they’ve had to relocate the whole project because that site did not pass feasability/community impact tests. The original intention, it seems, was to locate the stadium near the new TGV station on the city’s periphery. Sounds…ok? Until you learn that this station is itself a big scandal: only 8 kilometers from the city center, this new station has no direct train/metro service to the city center! So, not only can you not get to/from the center of Montpellier easily, you also can’t connect with regional trains. An October news article describes the station as deserted.  In any case, the original site chosen to replace La Mosson was near this station and really much harder to get to on public transport. One would describe that part of the city’s periphery as a switchpoint for people who are coming from one place and going to another, but not going to Montpellier. It’s the sort of place where you put, oh, an Ikea. It’s next to the airport.

supporters-1Speaking of IKEA: the powers will now try to locate the stadium at L’Odysseum. A few miles from the original proposed sites, this place is as close to an American-style big box shopping and large venue complex as you’ve find in France. It is where you’ll find the area’s IKEA. It is, at least, well-serviced by the tram. It’s better than the dead train station idea.

In any case, the debate here rages on. The region’s center-left Green party launched a petition to keep MHSC’s stadium its original neighborhood. Local papers feature discussions on the subject. Conversations about La Mosson, furthermore, are often shaped by ideas about La Paillade.  The head of MHSC says, that one way or another, the club won’t stay in the old stadium. 

SO, one should see the petition to save La Mosson as more than a neighorhood’s nostalgic attachment to its team. It is a defense of a sense of value and quality of life centered on cultivating connections between people living and working at the margins of the 21st economy. It strikes me as a rightfully critical take on the public-private, nontransparent financing deals that are pushing these big development projects forward with nary a concern for the people who will be most impacted by them. 

I’m still trying to figure this story out. The general gist: Welcome to France!

 

Crowd Out

A friend texted me just before the start of the Champions League Final — someone gave him last minute tickets to a performance of David Lang’s Crowd Out, did I want to go? I ran out the door.

“Crowd Out” was inspired by the stadium noise at a football match; it involves dozens (hundreds?) of performers located throughout the crowd. 1000 people participated in the performance above; it was hard to get a sense of their numbers in Disney Hall. Sitting amongst them gave you a sense of being not just surrounded by but absorbed in a social body voicing its own aural script — the sum of so very many parts. The experience at Walt Disney Hall was thrilling — the concert hall’s seating is very close to stadium-seating in its layout. You are encircled by a crowd-chorus. The lyrics cycle through expressions of loneliness. The composition manages to achieve the sense of a stadium crowd — it has rhythms very much like that of a football match. It only runs the length of a half, however — I was back home in time for the second half of the final. That second half wasn’t nearly as thrilling as this performance. Honestly, this is one of the strongest sports-related performances I’ve ever, ever seen.

The video above is from its premier in Birmingham — experiencing this in a public space like that would be astonishingly beautiful and moving.

You Got to Run

 

I am very happy to share this 2017 collaboration between Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq honoring champion musher George Attla. File under music that makes you feel forward motion — a kind of unrelenting forward motion. Inspiring.

High Gloss Finish

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In preparation for collaborating on an op-ed about the meaning and importance of the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo’s team paid $375,000 to a woman who had accused him of sexual assault I thought I would watch Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2015 self-titled self-hagiography. I was curious about its gender story.

The only woman who features in this languid cinematic pan over Ronaldo’s material and physical assets is Ronaldo’s mother, and she features significantly — she is no small part of his domestic life. In the film, she identifies herself as a victim of violent domestic abuse at the hands of Ronaldo’s father (who died in 2005). She takes tranquilizers to calm herself when watching important matches. She describes Ronaldo as an “unwanted child” — she had wanted an abortion. Abortion, however,  was only recently decriminalized in Portugal, in 2008. Thank goodness, she and her son declare. This is no small part of CR’s personal mythology. He is the redeemer – the man who redeems his father and his mother. The man who redeems his own unwanted existence.

And then there is the peculiar erasure of the identity of the mother of his cherubic first child, named, like the film, after him. No one knows who the mother is or the nature of the pregnancy. The film underlines Ronaldo’s insistence on keeping this information close. Normally it is not a child’s maternity which is in question but its paternity. Cristiano Ronaldo has the money, the power and the legal team to reverse even this most basic ordering of things. 

He is surrounded by marble, steel and glass — he lives in a corporate fortress not quite as imposing of that of his agent, Jorge Mendes who, at one point, says that not only is Ronaldo like a son to him — Ronaldo’s mother, Mendes says at a family dinner, is the mother he wished he’d had himself. 

Women who are not Ronaldo’s mother figure only in the background as they gather in screaming hoards outside his hotel, outside practice fields — at one point in the film a woman runs onto a field and is tackled. She is actually introduced to him. Benevolent god that he is, he takes a picture with her. As she is led away, tears streaming down her face, she says to the camera that she hopes he will follow her on Twitter.

Feeling this.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia"France v Croatia"

Pussy Riot’s World Cup final intervention.

Kick Him When He’s Down (Mood)

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Yrsa Roca Fannberg, The Death of a Former Giant (watercolor on paper, 2009)

Follow Caster

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Caster Semenya’s Twitter (@caster800) & Instagram (castersemenya800m) are everything. That is all.

A pick me up

Apologies for posting an official pop music video, commercial and all. This got me out of a political funk for just a few minutes. Its weird sport energy reminds me of The Knife’s (much more minimal) video for “A Tooth for an Eye”.

Locker Room

Brian de Palma’s Carrie opens with a nightmare. After a humiliating gym class, Carrie retires with the girls to the locker room. Her classmates are filmed in a dreamy haze — brushing silken hair, slipping perfect bodies out of and into their clothes. Carrie is taking a shower; water courses over her white skin. The camera is so close, her hands reach between her thighs and water streams between her legs. The scene is sexual. She starts to bleed and freaks out because she has no idea what a period is. Naked, wet and bloody she flees the shower and runs into the pack of teenage amazons. These beautiful monsters tease her by waving tampons in her face, they call her names and push her back into the shower — she cowers in the corner, still wet and naked, as they throw sanitary napkins at her. Blood is everywhere in Carrie. The whole film circles back to this moment — Carrie, bleeding; a pack of girls, laughing at her. By the movie’s end, she will be covered in blood and set her world on fire. Sex and horror; sex as horror. Her mother’s prophetic warning loops and warbles over the soundtrack: “They’re all going to laugh at you!” And they do — the whole crowd, gathered in the space where the film began — in a high school gymnasium — laughs at Carrie, as she stands there — humiliated, shamed again in her naiveté.

This locker room is a social space of a certain kind of privacy; it is where we learn that the private is always already public.This locker room is coercive: the locker room of our nightmares is not that of the spa, it is that of the school. This locker room is the space of sexism’s subconscious — this is one reason why it figures so often, and so prominently in film. It is where we imagine our private self is exposed. It is where our bodies are forced into the most primitive disciplining structures.

That “you can see there was blood coming out her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” did not disqualify Trump — in either the media or the public’s eye — is a neat reminder of how deeply disgust with women’s bodies is integrated into everything that feels normal. Thus the exchange between Trump and Bush: they are sharing the fear of/disgust with women’s bodies as a kind of sex talk. This is how sexists shake hands.

You can hear the violence of this locker room in the phone messages that Richie Incognito left for his teammate Jonathan Martin — he promised to shit in his mouth, slap his “real mother” across the face and more. The player who complained is mocked for not being a man. This sexualized violence frames the locker room at Penn State — the place where Sandusky took boys to shower. In this not-quite private place sexual assaults were witnessed by athletic department employees. None of these men knew, really, how to talk about what they saw.

This locker room is a real and an imaginary space. It is an overdetermined space in American culture because we have absorbed sports and its changing rooms into the nation’s architecture. This locker room is a threshold space, a space of transformation. It is where our bodies are absorbed into the grid, as either sexual subject or sexual object. As human or as thing. We all pass through this space — much as we pass through women’s bodies — and emerge into the world as one thing or the other.

Qualifier: Brenda Martinez leans in

US Olympic Track and Field trials, final for the women’s 1,500 meters. Just watch.

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