Tom, Marcia, and Junior Recurve Archer Kevin recently went to Nimes France, as Kevin was a US Jr. Team member competing in the World Indoor Championships. Click here to view photos from their trip
It's a Different World By Tom Barker
Yes, it is a different world that we live in today and the recent trip to Nimes, France for the World Indoor Archery tournament highlighted this.
I guess the biggest adjustment for my family was the high security. From the time we got to the airport until we got back home security awareness was paramount. Back pack searches, metal detectors, even removing the tops to bottled water at the archery venues was routine. Seeing police dogs and security personnel walking the perimeter of the venue was striking. I had to leave my pocket knife in the car since it was forbidden to take it into the venue. Even in town there was extra security and one night at the hotel where the team stayed there was extra security due to a demonstration in town. We take our economic and personal freedom in the United States for granted. It is truly a privilege to live in a country where freedom is so ubiquitous.
Another aspect of the different world is the respect in France for archers. Archery is a much revered sport in France with paying spectators and the top ranked competitors treated like NBA stars here. Unbelievable. The finals were conducted much like an event at the Astrodome with a huge screen projecting close-ups of the archers as they shot each arrow and simultaneously showing the target face. Air horns and noisemakers of all kinds drowned out all attempts at conversation, especially when a French archer was shooting. You would never see anything like that in the states. All the archers were hounded for autographs. Kevin was even treated as a celebrity in a small cafe in Paris, hundreds of miles and many days away from the meet, when the waiter discovered that he was an archer. Even in the heightened political environment, the U.S. team were archers first and Americans second. Eight of the 12 juniors on this trip were also on the Czech Republic trip. The Czech experience seemed to make a huge difference in how they handled international competition and they seemed much more at ease. The archers handled their celebrity status very well and were terrific ambassadors for United States Archery.
The French organizers did a fabulous job with the tournament and it was first class. The opening ceremonies were held in an ancient coliseum once used for gladiator contests. We were treated to an extravagant evening of entertainment ranging from chariot races, mock gladiator battles, Lippizaner stallions, to trick riding. Prior to the ceremonies, the US team had been cautioned that during the parade of nations (like at the Olympics) they would probably be booed as they entered the arena. They were told to just continue walking and hold their heads up. Well, as they entered, the cheers from the crowds actually increased and it was incredibly awesome. Kevin said he had goose bumps the whole time he stood out on that coliseum floor in front of 3,000 cheering spectators. It was such a moving experience that we could have left the next day, with Kevin never having shot a scored arrow, and the trip would have been worthwhile. The NAA and FITA are to be commended for allowing the juniors to participate. It made a difference with at least one young man.
The food was certainly different in France and I don't think anyone really got used to it. The local McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken had a huge boom in sales due to the American team being close by. There were some brave souls that at least tried some of the dishes even though they had no idea what they were eating.
The language barrier was different too. I got the feeling that a lot of the French spoke some English but really seemed to enjoy watching the Americans struggle with their French. Dave Cousins had an interesting theory that more and more of us subscribed to by the end of the trip and that was don't try to speak French because all you are going to do is mess it up and make them mad. Muddle along in English and gestures and do the best you can. I felt like a deaf mute sometimes, and found my Wordless Travel Book to be indispensable. Marcia wouldn't relent and continued to try her French eventually finding a waiter that appreciated the effort without mocking or ignoring her.
Another difference in Europe is your perspective on time. Someone once said that in the United States a hundred years is a long time and in Europe a hundred miles is a long way. (We can understand this better after experiencing European driving first hand. Oh, those roundabouts.) As we toured Nimes with buildings dating to before Christ we came upon an old Roman tower. Inside the tower was a "modern" staircase built in 1843. We had a chuckle that Abraham Lincoln was still in grammar school when this staircase was built inside this 2000 year old tower. Some of the parents were able to visit the Pont du Gard, a remnant of the aqueduct that brought water to Nimes. It was an amazing engineering feet with a drop of only 12 meters over the 50 kilometer length of the aqueduct.
Overall it was an awesome experience. The bottom line is that these experiences continue to shape and modify the perspective of these kids in a phenomenal way. The world continues to shrink and become more familiar to them. It is a privilege to be able to observe the process and help make a different world a better world.