Flemish National Theater
Jan Goossens was an Eisenhower Fellow in 2009, and is the director of the Flemish National Theater in Brussels. He invited me to see a performance of Desdemona, written by Toni Morrison and directed by Peter Sellers, Harvard ’81. There were many VIPs in the audience, and I found myself seated next to the mayor of Brussels (or course). Jan introduced me to Peter Sellers after the performance and it was one of those strange moments – I told him about my work and purpose for being in Belgium, and he said, “I know of your work! I’ve spent the last year immersed in your world. I am putting on a play next month on the untold stories of the troops with brain trauma and PTSD set to the music of Handel. Your blowing my mind – what are you doing in Old Europe at the Flemish National Theater at my play?” We’re going to keep in touch as he said he was lacking visuals that tell the story of brain damage and disease. Unfortunately we have plenty of that.
Today I landed for the first time in on the Emerald Isle of Ireland. The initial highlight of my trip was that I was joined by my girlfriend Nicole, who is going to help me navigate a country full of devoted contact sportsmen. Ireland has been most welcoming to me – I have done radio on RTE Sports and with legendary rugby player George Hook, and helmets were just made mandatory in Hurling, so I’m expecting a good discussion this week.
One of the people who heard me on Irish radio was Trinity College American Football coach Danny O’Callaghan, who sent me a random email of support with the usual “if you’re even in Ireland.” 4 months later, he picked me and Nicole up from the Merrion Hotel (where President Obama stayed on his trip, that’s how I roll) and drove us out to the Trinity College practice grounds to watch his team play. Yes, I said practice grounds, that’s not a type. Trinity College, just barely older than Harvard with a 1595 founding date, is a Dublin university with only one small grass sports field, and they only allow rugby to be played on it. This whole country is backwards…
American football is interesting in Ireland. There is no high school football here, so nearly all the players had just learned the game, and some I were told were competing in their first real game. I was also invited to participate – eligibility is different here, and apparently I don’t need to be enrolled in the college to play. I have to admit I was intrigued – one more chance to run around and hit people, for old times. Obviously, I declined. Too many miles on this brain already.The game was interesting, to say the least, and although the quality was not what we are used to in the states, certainly the enthusiasm was there.
I did check off one item on my list during the game - I saw a real live Irish concussion. I was worried if I’d see on – there is so little dialogue here on the issue, I figured my chances were just about as good as seeing a leprechaun (fingers still crossed!)
Number 91 was clipped under the chin and was down on the field for a good 3 minutes. With this enlightened football staff, it was not even considered waiting to see if he ‘cleared up’ to go back in. At the end of the game, which Trinity lost, the coaches asked me to address the team, and then they were kind enough to talk take a picture with me.
That evening back at the hotel I caught highlights from a Gaelic Football match. I am now a Gaelic Football enthusiast. If you haven’t seen it, which I’m guessing most haven’t, it is the greatest game ever created, a combination of soccer, rugby, and basketball. I’m hooked.