About a 40-minute drive from the site of the United States’ 2-0 triumph over Sweden in Le Havre lies Deauville, a charming little hamlet with a couple of resort-style hotels and a large but old athletic facility. The US media were housed there for the last game of Group F, in a hotel where breakfast was served inside a modest glass Louvre-style pyramid. En route to this hotel after the game, the USSF media bus wound through narrow country lanes in near-total darkness, broken only by the headlights the driver would flick from regular to hi-beam for long stretches. These were roads with no streetlights, lined by fields and forests, interrupted here and there by modest, rustic houses.
Of course, I’m working this World Cup, but vacation brain periodically takes over nevertheless. How can it not, when I’m living here for over a month? The World Cup article churn is intense, but I’m also in France, often traveling through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world as the US press corps follows the USWNT around like a pack of U-5 soccer players chasing the ball en masse. Rolling green fields alternate with copses of trees and verdant pastures, the hillsides studded with clusters of country homes and small barns and paddocks. The clouds here have a particular quality in summer, always seeming to bunch into enormous white puffs against a pure and luminous blue. This is the trap that city dwellers all-too-often fall into when they get away from the traffic and the gentrification and the overbearing corporate office buildings: I could live like this.
I could live a bucolic, thoughtfully-paced life, waking with the sun, tending to chickens, growing seasonal vegetables, and fixing all my machinery on my own because calling a specialist out would take days. I could saunter, whistling, hands in pockets, five miles down the lane to talk to my nearest neighbors and arrange to breed our herding dogs and enter my courgettes in the annual agricultural fair only to be bitterly disappointed when Cécile beats me, again, with her massive 45-kilo entry. “She’s breaking the rules somehow,” I would mutter to my partner, who would console me absentmindedly, as this is the third year running I have said the same thing without doing anything about it except become more obsessed with my courgettes.
I would answer periodic emails from friends back in the States, checking that I’m okay out there in the sticks, by telling them they should come visit and we’d take the train into the city, but only for a day, as I need to look after the chickens in the morning and the dog gets anxious without me. It’s not a good trait in a working dog, this anxiety, and we’re trying to train it out of her, but as it turns out I am a terribly indulgent dog owner. Anyway, yes, of course you’re welcome to visit. It’s just a six-hour flight, then a two-hour train ride, then another hour on a bus, and then we’ll come get you at the station in the truck we bought used from a retiring farmer in the next valley over. Twenty years old, that truck, but it still runs like a dream, and may in fact outlive the both of us.
At this point I’ll get an email or a push alert about the next media thing; the time for the bus to the press conference has changed, my game credentials are pending, my bank has approved a foreign transaction to buy medicinal eyedrops because somehow, I got a cut on my eyelid while watching Scotland play Argentina. Vacation brain fades out quickly. What the hell would I do for money on my quaint French holding? I’d miss the city too much, and Lyft, and Indian buffets. And I love what I do as a soccer writer, even more so now, in the midst of this hectic, frustrating, absurd, intense, jubilant, moving tournament. How can you not want to gorge yourself on the feast of human emotion the World Cup serves up? I am perpetually tired, my stomach is confused by its sudden all-baguette diet, and I’m congested all the time from whatever new and exciting plant life my allergies encounter here. I love it all. I could never leave this for a quiet life under a country roof. There’s too much soccer in my blood, in how I think of my life, in how I form my community.
Check back in with me in four years if Australia, land of “snakes are crawling into people’s bathrooms because it’s too hot and there’s no water outside,” wins the World Cup 2023 bid.