The French get happy every 20 years, whether they need to or not, just to exercise their smile muscles. Tonight is that night. For one evening they pretend to like even tourists. Tonight, we are all their faux amis.
SATURDAY, JULY 4: Menton to Paris
The seven-hour drive back to Paris affords ample time to absorb lessons from this trip. There were many novel experiences: I got to write the phrase "Bulgarian superstar" for the first time. I know where to buy a Swiss watch in Ventimiglia, Italy. I will never hear She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain in quite the same way.
I think I did discover the secrets of Kanu and Cafu and Camus—seeing stout hearts (England-Argentina) and Brazilian brilliance (in the person of Ronaldo) and learning something of morality and obligations (namely, that there is none of either at La Coupe du Monde).
Four years ago to this day, the U.S. was playing Brazil in the second round of the World Cup; in this Cup's 32-team field the U.S. finished last. But if America has regressed in soccer, I, as an American soccer fan, have come a long way. Quite literally, in fact. Al and I drove more than 2,000 miles in the last six days, and our rented Renault Safrane now resembles a fuel-injected Dumpster. By climbing off the fence, mounting the machine of La Coupe du Monde and experiencing its tricks by actual trial, I have become a more catholic sports fan. So perhaps the World Cup has made me a better human being after all. It has certainly made me a more smelly one.
We stop at a gas station near Auxerre. I buy a Coke to mark Independence Day, on which Americans celebrate shedding the shackles of a soccer-crazed nation, freeing us to form our own Constitution, our own government, our own curious brand of football. Back in the car, as Holland-Argentina kicks off on the radio, I cannot help but think, if only for a moment: What ever were the Founding Fathers thinking?