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throw me back to the ball game

I wanted Cleveland to win, because an old friend of mine who died some years ago was a lifelong fan of the team. But as I watched Game Seven, one of the greatest baseball games of all time, I knew I didn’t really care who won, as long as the game never ended.

Wright Thompson wrote a great piece about the Cubs (“In Chicago, the final wait for a Cubs win mixes joy and sorrow”). Anything Wright Thompson writes is worth your time ... everything I’ve ever read of his resonates.

When the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco in 2010, I kept saying over and over to myself, “I never thought it would happen”. I was five years old when the team came to San Francisco, and New York didn’t count for me, so I had been waiting 52 years for a championship. That was a long time. Because of that, I understand some of what Cubs fans are feeling today. Their wait was historically longer ... twice as long as the SF Giants, plus another four years. But while the news outlets managed to find a few who had been there for 60 or 70 or 80 years, most Cubs fans had been devoted to the team for something less than 52 years. Many of them weren’t born 52 years ago. Some of them only became Cubs fans a month ago (which is perfectly fine). I felt like our 52-year wait was the equal of the misery of Cubs fans, at least for people like me who had been around for all 52 years.

What Thompson’s piece reminds me, though, is that there is one crucial unique element that the Cubs bring to the table. Ancestors.

So many of the stories Thompson tells are about dead people. Tale after tale recounts how Grandpa waited his whole life for the Cubs to win, but he died eight years ago and never saw it happen. (The Onion understands this ... they ran a piece titled “Millions of Drunk Cubs Fans Rioting in Heaven Following World Series Win”.) It’s wonderful, how many Cubs fans are taking the time to remember their ancestors who are no longer here, who missed the moment.

And ancestors is what Giants fans didn’t have in 2010. Basically, I was my own ancestor. My 52-year wait marked me as someone who was there from the beginning ... you couldn’t go back any farther than me. When the Giants finally won, I thought of my fellow, living, Giants fans who had suffered for so long.

But when the final relief of your suffering must allow for dead parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts ... well, that’s why 2010 is important for Giants fans, but 2016 is important for people who rooted for the Cubs in 1909.

So I can pretend to understand how Cubs fans feel, but ultimately I don’t think anyone but Cubs fans know what today feels like.


shawn levy, dolce vita confidential: fellini, loren, pucci, paparazzi, and the swinging high life of 1950s rome

I’ve read several of Shawn Levy’s books, and I like every one I’ve gotten to, especially his first, King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis. He has written about the Rat Pack ... he did one book on the Swinging Sixties in London. He doesn’t always choose topics I am passionate about, but he makes me interested, so I’ll start one of his books no matter the subject, knowing it will be worth it. Thus, I happily pre-ordered his latest, on Rome in the 1950s.

I expected to find good stories about the big film names of the period, placed in a larger cultural context, and that is exactly what Levy delivers. Once again, he burrows into areas I hadn’t cared much about ... I should have been warned when Pucci’s name appeared in the subtitle. But you can trust Levy to make that larger context something you want to learn about, and so I read more than I ever thought I would about post-war fashion, in Italy and in Europe as a whole. And it was indeed educational, since I knew so little about the fashion world. The book convinces us that the big fashion names were integral to the creation of Italian culture after World War II.

As for the dolce vita, it’s all here. Fellini and Loren make the subtitle, but Anita Ekberg deserves special mention. She comes across as much more interesting than her public image ... in fact, we learn that she was more than her image, which seems like a small point until you realize that image is pretty much all we ever knew, or cared about.

Levy devotes a lot of time to Fellini, and rightly so ... La Dolce Vita is his movie, after all. I don’t think I needed convincing about the importance of Fellini to Italian film and culture. I’m not his biggest fan, and I would have enjoyed a more detailed description of the making of Antonioni’s L’Avventura, my favorite Italian film of all time. But the truth is, Antonioni’s film speaks to a general malaise ... it isn’t specific to its time, which is why the story of upper-middle class people speaks to us, no matter our own class position. Fellini, though, in films like La Dolce Vita, managed to make movies that were intensely personal yet also very much of their moment. If you want to see a great film, L’Avventura is the choice. But if you want to see Rome in the 50s, filtered through the lens of Fellini the showman, La Dolce Vita is where you’d look. Which is why it’s a great place for Levy to spend time.

(I suppose this is where I admit to a fondness for “Toby Dammit”, Fellini’s contribution to the Poe anthology Spirits of the Dead. I’m not sure it’s representative of its time, but the title character feels like he would belong in the dolce vita, Fellini is at his most Fellini-esque, and it is over in 37 minutes.)

Levy’s writing is easy to read. You think you’re just taking in a history of the scandals. But when you finish the book, you realize you’ve actually gotten a clear vision of a specific time and place. By blending movies and fashion and celebrity and paparazzi, Levy makes all of the aspects of that life more interesting. Dolce Vita Confidential is another success for Shawn Levy.