Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)

"Londen Park" at Leiden Centraal Station
“Geaux Tigers!” my daughter shouts at the TV.  She excitedly runs into the family room, grabs her stuffed tiger, her purple LSU hat, and her green and gold pom-pom.  (Yes, this Baylor graduate has to at least try to make an attempt at competing).  We have our standard background noise going, ESPN America.  We have many channels on our cable television, but of course, most of them are in Dutch.  We’ve caught glimpses of some American channels such as the history and travel channels, toy around with watching the BBC, and have disappointedly searched for sitcoms other than Home Improvement and Frasier.  So, usually, in the evenings as I am preparing dinner and my husband is playing with the kids, ESPN America is what’s on.  This is not quite the same as the ESPN we had at home, but rather, it’s an international version.  Many times, we are simply looking for the lullaby of summer to accompany our evening: the relaxing noise of a professional baseball game, something you would always find on ESPN at home.  While ESPN America sometimes airs a Tampa Bay Rays game?!?! (I don’t think people who live in Tampa Bay care, much less Expats around the world), ESPN America also inserts Little League World Series games, Nascar races, and Xgame competitions during primetime, which are all somewhat anti-climatic.  There are no commercials on ESPN America, so during the breaks, they air sports highlights and memorable moments from years past.  Currently they are gearing up for the college football season, and unfortunately for my husband, will be playing the LSU-Alabama National Championship 2011 highlights for months.  (And for those readers who may be unfamiliar, LSU played in the National Championship last winter against arch-rival Alabama.  LSU lost after an extremely sub-par performance that most crazed-LSU fans would really rather forget).   Nevertheless, my daughter is extremely excited to see her favorite team lighting up the living room television and my husband can do nothing but laugh at her enthusiasm and pat himself on the back for brainwashing her at such a young age despite my attempts of prevention.  (Sigh).

  There’s a strange feeling watching live daytime sports in the evenings, but then again, sometimes ESPN America airs recorded evening games, which is just weird.  Despite your desperate attempts, you never quite have the lush, fuzzy feeling that you’re really partaking in something other people are seeing and watching, and feeling connected.  Coupled with that, the Dutch do not celebrate American baseball or football, of course.  And while we were here for the Euro cup, watching our neighbor pack 16 of his closest friends onto his railing-less 2nd floor porch outside our bedroom window, we just could not get into cheering for European soccer.  “Oh man, will someone score already?!  What do you mean it’s OVER?  It’s only 1-0?  Geez man, where are the commercial breaks, I need some popcorn, etc.” 
Picnic Tables at Leiden Centraal
  So, with that, you can imagine my excitement that the Summer Olympics were being hosted in nearly our time-zone.  Sure, growing up in America, you realize the “whole world is watching,” but to experience it was something different.  The Leiden Centraal Station went all-out for the event.  They spent a week preparing for the event and in the end, they had transformed the station into a fantastically lovely recreation of a London Park.   A green carpet stretched the length of the station.  The tables and stools were covered with red and white checked vinyl.  Colorful birds and delicate butterflies hung from the light fixtures.  Topiary plants had been sculpted into discus throwers and other athletes.  A tree with 8 colorful birdhouses and piped bird music greeted travelers on the west side of the station.  And to top of the transformation, two humongous flatscreen televisions hung above the crowd, poised to entertain.  If you weren’t excited about the Olympics before traveling in and out of Leiden Station, well – you definitely caught the vibe. 
  My husband and I were prepared for Opening Ceremonies – Kids were in bed and snacks of cheese, crackers, fruit, with wine were on the coffee table.  As the BBC coverage started an hour before the event began, we viewed the members of the audience getting soaked.  I looked outside our window.  Yup.  Across the North Sea, it was raining here as well.  Luckily for them and us, the rain stopped just before kick-off and we viewed our first live, truly international event since we’d been here.  I personally thought the Opening Ceremonies were insightful, creative, intense, and magical.  I’m not sure of the reviews it got around the world, but at the same time, I needed the event to be all these things.  I felt connected – London is only 221 miles from Amsterdam (as the crow flies), which is like Dallas to Austin and the coverage was in English. 

Olympic Topiaries
  Throughout the next three weeks, we enjoyed the sounds of the swimmers splashing, the shot-putters grunting, the audience cheering, the British commentating, the buzzers buzzing, the start guns shooting, and the national anthems playing.  We viewed all these things live, even before America was off work.  We walked to the train station nearly everyday, just to experience the sights of everyone crowding underneath the large screen television, to feel like this is perhaps, the one event that we can really all understand and get excited about.  Sure, the big screen played events I’d never seen before (women’s field hockey?) but it was equally as exciting. 
  The Games ended.  The decorations came down.  A large sign communicated “See you in 2016” and with that, life went back to normal:  Dutch and American, soccer and football.  I am glad I was here to experience the event. 
  V has already researched the ESPN America college football coverage and to his delight, it will be playing many of the LSU games.  Personally, I am a little excited about being able to see College Gameday, and truth be told, I think it might be even better at 4:00 p.m., when our day is winding down, as opposed to 9:00 a.m. when we need to gear up to go to market and run errands around town.   Living in Dallas, a state away from most of his closest friends, he always became a little bit crazy around this time of year, which in turn, challenged my own sanity.  But after years of gaining understanding and perhaps, even being able to say that I have successfully bridged a large gap and have some LSU friends as well (not an easy accomplishment for a Baylor graduate), I too, am really excited about the upcoming football season and the connection it provides us to “home”.  So with that, you know we’ll be cheering from our Dutch living room.  Get your game face on, Tigers.  And eat some Cane’s chicken for me!     

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