Sometimes you find monotony in the most surprising places. Sporting events, for example, are not the sort of place where one would expect to find ennui hanging about your head like clouds of old cigarette smoke. Sports are alive with action, the playing field being a place where life is lived to its uttermost limits, a place of heightened expectation and excitement. You do not go to a sporting event or watch such an event on television in the expectation of boredom having its way with you.
So women’s curling took me by complete surprise. I was at my brother’s house translating a law degree the University of Palermo granted in 1894 from Italian into English, which is no small feat for me, as I do not speak Italian, except for the usual comestibles. The brother, however, can speak the language, and so we spent the better part of an evening thrashing out just what this thing actually said. We were in a trice and a quandary, with the horses exhausted from pulling the excessive weight and one of the wheels about to fall off due to lack of sleep along with both of my legs and part of my left arm, trying to make heads or tails of this document. For reasons others may understand better than I, college degrees in all languages and in all times and climes are chock full of fustian and bombast, and are written in a way that no ordinary human being would really want to speak, if they had a choice. This diploma was no different from any other diploma in that regard, and so the brother and I sat, and we contemplated, and having thoroughly exhausted the possibilities of contemplation, we sat some more, resting up for another intense bout of contemplation, and then for excitement, we checked the dictionary for some of the harder words. The brother called them the harder words; to me, they were almost all gibberish. And then we would contemplate some more.
This went on for several hours, during which time the horses escaped from the trice, the ends and the means finally balanced out, but not before the ends wanted to why the hell the means bought an electric guitar when it can’t whistle in tune, for Christ’s sakes, and where the hell do you think I get the money for all of this, anyway, young lady, money doesn't grow on trees, you know, and I turned on the Winter Olympics, in the vain belief that if we could actually see Italy it might help us with our efforts at Italian—English translation. Events came and events went as we struggled with the bureaucratese, trying to figure out why it should take this many words to launch a brand spanking new shyster on an unsuspecting Sicilian public in the late spring of 1894. During one prolonged bout of hand to hand combat with a particularly recalcitrant pronoun that had us both in a half-nelson and would win the match just as soon as my brother’s shoulders hit the mat, I noticed that we were now watching, or rather, we were now not really watching women’s curling. I ceased my somewhat vain struggle with the pronoun, a snide and callow young lout who constantly had at least one finger up his nose at all times, fascinated by the spectacle unfolding before my eyes. It is not every day, after all, where you see someone televise a sporting event that, to slightly paraphrase what the late Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post wrote of yacht racing, opens up vast new vistas of boredom.
There are some who will mock my opinion; curling, like any other sport, has its hordes of fanatic devotees who live for the chance to watch overweight men sweep the ice in front of a large sliding rock, many of them housewives, no doubt, who want to see men sweep something, anything, if only to convince themselves that men can actually operate a broom if they have to, that there is no physiological or psychological bar to operating a broom, and that such an activity occurs in that portion of the space-time continuum where we all live and is not the product of the fevered imagination of a science fiction writer or someone in need of large amounts of psychotropic drugs. I fully expect that some angry housewife, frustrated by her partner's lack of interest in basic household skills, will petition the IOC to include a take out the garbage field event in the next Summer Olympics, or perhaps, and I know that this is stretching the bounds of the traditional male-female gender roles, a folding your own clothes and putting them away in the right drawer event as well.
Why curling, you might ask, and it’s good that you’re asking since I find it difficult to care one way or the other. The Scots, God love every man jack of them, invented curling, thereby proving that the Scots have way too much time on their hands and that Calvinism, as transmitted through the not terribly fuel efficient vehicle of the Church of Scotland, has had an altogether pernicious effect on the development of Scottish sport. Scotland is, as you may know, the country that gave the world golf, in itself an enormity of historically monstrous proportions, as well as caber tossing and eating haggis, the latter two events being the sort of thing your average television viewer would find entertaining only after downing a Firth of Forth sized vat of single malt Scotch.
Tossing a caber, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, involves picking up a telephone pole, preferably one without a phone company employee on it, and then just for hoo-hahs seeing how far you can throw it without herniating yourself or incurring overage charges. Eating a haggis, on the other hand, involves filling a sheep’s stomach with stuff that no self-respecting sheep would ever put into their stomach if they had anything to say about the matter, and then cooking said sheep’s stomach for however long it takes to cook a sheep’s stomach stuffed with blood, pork, oatmeal, salt, spices, onions (if available), and the occasional finely chopped Englishman. This hearty repast is then borne with great ceremony to the table of a befuddled family of American tourists, who thought they were ordering the Chicken McNuggets with French fries and a vanilla shake, by loyal retainers of the Clan MacGregor, their march with this great dish accompanied by the regimental bagpipers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment playing ‘Rapper's Delight’ before the lads start across the valley and having a go with the Jerries dug in on the hills beyond with claymores, dirks, and broken beer bottles. If nothing else, it beats watching women’s curling.
In any case, I sat and watched as women from around the world slid stones down the ice at other stones as their teammates swept the ice in front of the sliding stones, these stones gliding down across the ice at the slow, stately, and somewhat skewed pace of a reigning queen inspecting the household cavalry after taking her twentieth toke off the royal bong. It made no sense to me then, as it makes no sense to me now, but after a while, I began to watch the nonspectacle of it all with a strange fascination; watching curling became addictive, in the same way that watching soap operas or collecting Italian Quattrocento dentist’s chairs can become addicting. After a while, you can’t really believe you’re watching this crap, but you continue to watch, until it takes a major expenditure of willpower to finally turn the television off and return to the more mundane tasks at hand. We did finish translating that diploma, so I guess that the evening wasn’t a total loss.