Roger and Rafa, Legacy and Kitsch

NEWS FLASH! Rafael Nadal, a short-ish lefthander from Spain, of all places, just won the United States Open tennis championship! It was a stunning, unforeseen victory that left him flat on his back, overwhelmed by exhausted emotion, utterly shocked by this incredible result in one of tennis’s greatest venues, and one of its most important tournaments of the year.

Well, no. Not really. Although he did lie prone on the court, absorbing the admiring roars of 22,000 at the Arthur Ashe court, attracting millions of viewers and hundreds of millions of GIFs and dramatic stills, it was hardly a shock. Nadal is the king of contemporary tennis. This was his 13th major championship, and a 2ndvictory in New York. Pardon me for probing the sincerity of his reaction – from all I’ve read and seen, Rafa is an astonishingly fierce competitor on court, a dedicated trainer and a fine gentleman off it – but haven’t these amazed post-match collapses become a little clichéd?

This was’s photo of Nadal in victorious distress. Way in the background, Djokovic waits to be acknowledged.

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Fighting Off the “Irish”

I’m on a heckuva roll: it was another St. Patrick’s Day without green beer for this might’ve been an Irishman. Most Howdens appear to come from the north of England – not far from York, there is a village called Howden, which has a miniature, half-ruined, poor Gothic cousin to the magnificent York Minster Cathedral. My Howden forebear, though, came to Canada from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.

Fermanagh: my home and (pre) native land?

My preferred fantasy is that this Howden man was a poor, dashing poet like the central character in Thomas Flanagan’s novel The Year of the French, an adventurous soul who set out for Canada spurred not only by famine but by his lusty curiosity and spirit of adventure. In my dim family memory bank, he was also a James, and I’m reluctant to puncture this thought with actual research. I rather suspect, too, that he was a comfortable man who saw a chance for cheap land in Upper Canada, now the narrow wedge of Americanized soil called Southern Ontario. Still, for reasons mainly mysterious, I have a special affection for things Irish, though I’ve never been there. Two of my sons have it, too, even more strongly than me: one of them is a real scholar of Irish history, and couch-surfed there for several months.

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