Saturday, August 30, 2008
Physics, fish, soccer
This evening finds me tired, though rested, gratefully looking forward at the latter two thirds of a three day weekend.
Today Jon and I went out driving with a Paraguayan friend who teaches here. We are planning a fish fry/cookout tomorrow night and so Elder (the friend) drove us ~30 minutes to the place he usually buys his raw fish. We went to a small fish market in the town where he grew up. When we pulled out, a handfull of middle-aged ladies walked up to the car compelling us to buy fish from them. Elder talked with the salesladies, while Jon and I were free to poke around the market. There were fish of all types there... from meter long lunkers to oddly shaped catfish like none I'd ever seen. One in particular was fascinating. It was definitely a catfish of some kind, but had broad, black and white stripes, and an exxageratedly long and flat head. Elder says he's going to take us fishing on the river sometime. I would love to hook something like that. The tone of the place was pitch-perfect. The posture and shuffle of the fish-ladies rung of the integrity of the experience. They weren't actors in some movie, type cast to be believable... they were home. This was their place, and they fit it. Their husbands' worn wooden boats moored just behind the stand weren't there for effect. They were there from bringing the morning fish in for sale... yet they had effect... a free gift of the real. Beside the fish market was a small restaurant with outdoor dining, where a live band was playing Paraguayan music. I watched them from a distance, and would have loved to sit in a chair there for a few hours, but I thought our freshly bought "El Dorado" would've complained from the back of the car... I thought it best to get it home and into the fridge, so I didn't say anything to Elder.
We drove then around his town a bit, as he waved and honked to cousins and friends who animatedly gestured towards him as we passed. We met his dad and mom. He said his entire family lived there in that town. He is dating an American girl. I asked him if he would ever come back to live. He said no. It made me a bit sad inside. I thought the place was beautiful.
From there we went to a park nearby where another friend of ours from the school named Victor (also Paraguayan) was playing soccer with a group of friends. They were crazy good. I watched them play with fascination beyond the game. This place felt so different than the soccer fields I've seen in the states. The guys playing it wore mismatched jerseys. Victor's was from ACA. I think he coached our team last year. He fit there. He was good too. But it wasn't the players, or their garb, or the field, or the ball, or the surroundings that held me back so fascinated... it was everything at once. It was like the negative of a moment of fascination... rather than the game being in focus, the peripheral jumped out, and the presence of the action seemed taken for granted. I tried to explain the moment to Jon and Elder... but didn't quite find the words... The game felt like... an old hat that you've been wearing for years... when you put it on. It's been on your head so much that you don't think of it as being a hat... it just goes on your head, and it feels like it has a thousand times, but only feels that way because of the other 999 times that you've worn it, and you wonder if it might feel the same way about sliding onto your head as you do about putting it there. I watched that ball kick up little clouds of dust from bare spots in the field worn through by cleats and feets of semi-pros and tweens alike, and then puff again off the shin of some agile footballer. And this soccer ball was different to. It didn't have lines. They'd been worn of months ago, at least, maybe years. I'm pretty sure they had worn the seams off of it too (but it never slowed enough for me to know for sure) leaving just a dusty white orb spinning through space, tying together everything it touched, in some mystical romance of right-ness. And I think these guys are happy playing soccer. Matter of fact... I'm fairly certain of it. I wonder what we have in the states like that... I'm sure we have things. But... it does me good to get third-person perspective on the beauty of it. It's hard to see a picture when you're in it.
The photo above and right: I'm not in this one. These are some of my students working on a physics lab. I'm discovering labs to be much much better than lecturing... but I think there's a balance in there somewhere. This lab was really effective after a solid week of seemingly worthless lecturing. I really don't know how to teach physics, no matter how much I love the subject. It'll take some time, I think. Church tomorrow. Gotta sleep.