Sunday, August 24, 2003

Lazy day. Mireia (Murph's wife) has a family house out in an exurb the other side of Granollers called Santa Eulalia de Ronc(s)ana. We went out there this morning, farted around with Patrick and Kira (the Murphy-Comajuncosa vastages), went swimming--they have a small pool and a lovely rambling house which is just enormous. It better be because Mireia's got like nine brothers and sisters and they all use the place too, of course. We had it all to ourselves today, though. Had some lunch, shot the shit (Murph's been reading Steven Pinker's latest and found a lot of interesting stuff), and drank some cheap beer. Anyway, we made it home all right, driving down the most dangerous road in the world, the N-152, in the dark.

Patrick's language development is fun to watch. He speaks Catalan and English and understands Spanish. He can distinguish between the three, e.g. he speaks English to his dad and me and Catalan to his mother and her family and understands Spanish because of TV and the other kids in school. He's noted that I don't talk like Dad, who has a London Irish accent. The funny word is "water"; I pronounce the final R and Murph, of course, drops it. Patrick has decided he wants to be like me and Clark and the Barney videos he used to watch and pronounce "water" the American way. He's decided this consciously; he likes the sound of the word in American better. One thing I've noticed is that whenever you say something new to him, he repeats it and gets it right, and then he's got it. He's about 3 1/2 years old, so he's in that heavy language-acquisition period. He'll also code-switch; if he's talking English and doesn't know the English word for a thing, he'll interject the Catalan word for it. Same thing vice versa.

Note which seems sensible: Europeans, I think, and Spaniards, I know, dream of having a second house, much more so than Americans do. For us, one house is enough; we aspire to buy a nice one in a good neighborhood and then we just buy a lot of crap we don't need to fill it up. Spaniards really want that second house, though, since their first house is most likely a ninety-square-meter flat in a middling Barna neighborhood. Fortunately, since families are tighter than in the US, eight different couples plus Dad and Mom and a cxouple of stray aunts can easily maintain a five-bedroom house out somewhere fairly close but much cleaner and better-smelling with, like, trees and a yard.

Our house out in Vallfogona, being "rustic"--they were illegally hotwiring the electricity off the power line until I made them stop, and it has a medieval basement (really) and almost-medieval plumbing--is sort of an exception because Remei's dad didn't sell it when he moved them to the city back in sixty-five. All he probably could have gotten for it back then was maybe five hundred bucks anyway, people didn't want houses in the middle of nowhere then. So he kept it and now we're very glad we have it. God knows how much we could sell it for but I bet plenty. Of course, we'll sell everything, even my mother-in-law, before selling that place.

Sports: The Royals have been caught but don't count them out. Both Chicago and Minnesota are better on paper, but with so little time left in the season, anything can happen. The Royals have used 27 different pitchers this year. Only Darrell May has been consistently good, if you don't count Miracle Jose Lima who they picked up from an outlaw league and then he proceeded to go 7-0, then injured his groin, and is now 7-1 (OK, he did lose to the Yankees, no shame in that, but he got creamed rather than giving up five in six or some sort of respectable way to get beat.) Sweeney, their best hitter, and Beltran, their all-around best player, have also been injured, but Angel Berroa, their rookie shortstop, is for real. Watch for him in the future. I'm not betting against the Royals.

Barca is not looking too bad. The latest dumb thing they've done is announced that they'll make their non-Catalan players learn to speak Catalan. Asturian Luis Enrique, an admirable player, made a try today at using Catalan in a press conference. Hey, I think that's great. He said he used Catalan because he wants to feel closer to the fans. Terrific. That's my kind of player. You do something really embarrassing like speak a foreign language in front of fifty reporters with mikes and cameras, that's taking one on the chin for the team. And if a pro soccer player actually changes his behavior in order to make the fans happy, that's a guy who appreciates the privilege of his position as a millionaire pro jock.

I did see a sensible letter in the Vangua today, though, which pointed out that Ronaldinho might much more profitably use the time he spends studying Catalan on, say, practicing direct free kicks.

It's NFL time! Earth's best sports columnist, Gregg Easterbrook, America's only sports guy who moonlights at the Brookings Institution and writes tech, scientific, and environmental articles for the New Republic, is back on ESPN Page 2, the funniest (though rather Lettermanesque) and smartest collection of sports articles there is. This week Gregg covers the AFC; last week he wrote on off-season developments, and next week is the NFC. You might even want to look up some of his older stuff in his archive.

While there, go to the Jeff Merron archive. He has some funny bits, but the best one is when he told the true story behind the making of the greatest sports movie ever, Slap Shot. Turns out it was based on a real minor-league Pennsylvania hockey team and that the "actors playing" the Carlson brothers were real bottom-of-the-barrel pro hockey players who specialized in brawling. One of them got himself kicked out of the league for being too violent.

If you're really into the NFL, you might check out this site called Football Outsiders. They're trying to take a Bill James approach to NFL football; they weight yards gained or lost according to eight million variables and have all sorts of new stats. One thing they came up with is that the Chiefs should have made the playoffs last year, and they would have if Priest Holmes hadn't gotten injured with two games to go. They rank KC as the fourth best team in the AFC last year. Another thing they discovered is that Dick Vermeil is very much below average at on-field coaching; his teams regularly lose a game or two per season than they should have won. Well, go check it out yourself. It's just started up, so when it becomes famous three years from now you can say you were an original reader.

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