June 26th, 2006

So Italian

One thing I like about international soccer is that teams have such well-defined identities, often at odds with the stereotypes applied to the nations they represent. Italy is a great example, since they tend to be so disciplined and conservative on the pitch. Today's match with Australia exemplified their approach. Down a man for most of the second half, they bided their time, hoarding their energy until they had a chance to push the action forward with the prospect of success. When Grosso broke down the left flank at the end of injury time I said -- aloud, in the presence of the other fifteen people in the Student Union game room -- "They're going to score." Whether the way they scored was fair is another matter. But I have to give credit to Grosso for his effort, both at beating the first defender in his approach to the box and at selling what seemed to many to be a phantom foul by a second defender once he'd crossed the line. Overall, it was hardly an impressive showing by the Azzurri, but that's par for the course, since the Italians seem to prefer winning without doing much of anything that stands out. As anyone who has spent time living with Italians or people of Italian descent can tell you, that sort of restraint is not likely to be the first quality one ascribes to them. Of course, it may be that the national side's approach to soccer actually does a better job of capturing the reality of the Italian character than initially seems to be the case.
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Skylar's maternal grandmother came over this evening to help sew fake flower petals onto a mosquito net. She left before any progress was made on that project, but did manage to demonstrate her apparently limitless capacity for unprovoked spitefulness. Indeed, she was angry the minute she walked in the door. But that's not the point of this entry.

Before everything blew up, she gave Skylar the comics from the Sunday paper to look at. Skylar must have told her about the cartooning unit she did last week at art camp. Anyway, once Nana was gone, probably not to return for some time, the comics lay on the kitchen table forlornly. Two hours later, I started reading them as a way of distracting myself from the emotional gravity of the evening. One made me laugh out loud.

That got Skylar interested in reading them. I looked for something appropriate for her, but was shocked at how few strips were comprehensible for children. Most presumed either an experience of adult life or an understanding of our historical context that pre-teens lack. And the general tenor was considerably darker than the comics of my youth. Doonesbury, the most consistently "real" strip when I was Bean's age, actually seemed light-hearted when compared with some of the newer ones I read.

Eventually I came to Funky Winkerbean, a strip I had read many times before, but had never tried to size up. My recollections were that its humor fell on the "soft" side of the comic spectrum. Beyond that, however, I didn't bring any expectations to yesterday's number. That's part of the reason why it floored me:

I had already ruled the strip out for Bean by the time I got to the second frame, given its adult theme. But I never expected it to bring me to tears. I've always been moved by the serious moments within comedy. Tonight, though, the negativity still floating in the air, coupled with the realization that the comics I was reading might be Skylar's last gift from her grandmother for a long time, made me especially vulnerable.

Right before I went to show the strip to Kim, she was talking about how Russ would comfort her whenever her mother behaved badly. Earlier today, I had a talk with someone about cancer survivors and then ended up playing Sufjan Stevens's "Casimir Pulaski Day" for Skylar on the drive from the Tucson Museum of Art to the Cancer Center to pick up Kim. Somehow, all the energy generated by those superficially unrelated moments has become a vortex of sadness right now. I can't even wrap up this entry in my usual fashion. But it felt important to share.