Saturday, March 13, 2010

Between St. David's Day and St. Patrick's Day: rugby.

And Rhys is watching Wales play Ireland in the Six Nations Rugby tournament. Of course growing up in the United States things like the World Cup and the Six Nations were not on my radar screen so it has been interesting marrying into a rugby-obsessed Welsh family. I'm talking lifetime seats and memorabilia collection and a fucking emotional rollercoaster every time they play. I to this day find it hard to understand the emotional intensity of the relationship of the European nation to these competitions. The relationship between the Celtic nations and their rugby is incredibly intense. The French, Irish, Scottish and Welsh play with all the fury they used to funnel into their frequent protracted wars. It's amazing. And the identification my husband's family has for the Welsh team is so pronounced. Their victories inspire this proprietary joy and their defeats are tragic occasions of regret and loss and darkness. They are incomprehensibly (to me) sad. I try to divert my husband with a little clowning around but it doesn't always work.

The way the Celtics play rugby is fascinating for an American. Not for them the steady clear-eyed victories of the Patriots or the Yankees or the Bulls. One minute balletic grace and preternatural judgment and the next minute the kind of crap you wouldn't see from nine-year-old girls playing under duress during gym class. It is mind-blowing. I think this volatility may be a Celtic characteristic. I really do.

Besides volatility, another particularly Welsh characteristic emerges every time they win a game. It's a severe lack of self-worth. Every single time the Welsh win, even when they won Six Nations in 2005, the universal opinion among the players and coaches was that they had been unfairly lucky and they didn't really deserve it. It is a cliche. The Skysports camera frames the star Welsh player or maybe the coach at the end of the game and instead of screaming a primal cave-man "YEEAAHH" into the camera (American football) all they do is ruefully shake their heads. They then explain in that beautiful lilting accent why they really should not have won, how the tries (touchdowns) they scored were accidental, how valiantly the other team played. They seemed to only have the capacity to only remember their mistakes and they do not adequately give themselves credit for deploying their talent. They don't feel like they deserve to win.

They also feel injustices very keenly. One of the only times I have scored serious points in this culture was at a rugby game in Cardiff. The ref made a borderline call (according to my husband, I have no idea) against the Welsh. The fans in our vicinity were unhappy so I introduced a chant I learned at ice-hockey games in Chicago: "Got a rope, got a tree, all we need's a referee!" The crowd around us seemed impressed by the subversive malevolence of the message. I know I always found that type of chant thrilling because it communicates anger and a plan for violence.

I can't help but look at these lists of characteristics and wonder slightly about mental illness diagnoses. Perhaps we should recast some mental illness symptoms as ethnic characteristics. In a few days it will be St. Patrick's Day. A day of drinking. Think about it.

Wales is lost. I gotta go be the rodeo clown now.

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