A special time for France – and for all who long for global harmony

By Maria Saporta

After France won the World Cup on Sunday, I called my cousin – Alain Bourla – in Paris. Alain lives along Boulevard St. Germain near Boulevard St. Michel in the Latin Quarter (my favorite part of Paris).

So what was the reaction in Paris? Alain told me the city was going crazy. He took the phone to his balcony so I could hear the wild celebration outside his apartment. The noises of ecstatic partying traveled up a half-dozen floors through his phone before reaching me in Atlanta.

World Cup celebration

France celebrates its World Cup victory along the Champs Elyséees on Sunday (Photo shot coverage of Fox

My closeness to France and all things French has existed all of my life.

That might sound strange given that my Sephardic Jewish heritage – with my family’s ancestors were kicked out of Spain in 1492.  They emigrated to  Salonica – the capital of Greek Macedonia that was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when Greece took back control of the city.

My mother was born three years later. Like many other Sephardic Jews living in Salonica, she received a French education – the language of her heart.

After World War II, my parents moved to the United States – after living through the Holocaust and being captured by the Germans in 1944.

Both my parents spoke six or seven languages. And once my sister and I were born, my parents decided we should speak French at home.

World Cup

Parisians celebrate Sunday’s World Cup victory with the Eiffel Tower in the background (Fox Sports)

Atlanta of the 1950s and 60s was more provincial, lacking the international flavor we know today.So when we would walk down the street speaking French, people would stare at us as though we had come from another planet.

In 1960, my mother, my sister and I stayed in Salonica for four months with my grandparents, and then we spent a couple of months in France with my mother’s brother and his family.

So when I started kindergarten that year at Spring Street Elementary School, I only knew four words of English (yes, no, me and okay).

In 1963, my mother, Nora Nehama Saporta, co-founded the École de L’Alliance  Française in Atlanta – further sealing our family’s special relationship with French and France.

Bastille Day

The Alliance Francaise of Atlanta celebrated Bastille Day at a party on July 14 on the roof-top of Nelson Mullins law firm (Photo by Maria Saporta)

This past weekend has reinforced how attached I am to France. It was wonderful to see France win the World Cup over Croatia – just one day after France celebrated its Independence Day – Bastille Day – on July 14.

On Saturday night, the Alliance Française held its annual Bastille Day celebration on the amazing roof-top of the Nelson Mullins law firm. I’m proud to be on the board of the Alliance Française – a role that helps me keep my mother’s legacy alive.

And all week, I’ve been watching my favorite international sporting event – the Tour de France. It gives me an opportunity to travel through France through the eyes of the cyclists – a United Nations of incredibly skilled athletes who take part in one of the most grueling races in the world – lasting nearly three weeks every July.

The Tour de France, Bastille Day and the World Cup have been wonderful antidotes to the unrelenting divisive news that we’re being subjected to.

Tour de France

Logo of the Tour de France

These events help me forget the rudeness that President Donald Trump has shown our allies – at international gatherings – be it NATO in Brussels or the G-7 Summit in Quebec, Canada.

In contrast, Sunday’s World Cup showed how international leaders can show grace and humanity with each other – even during one of the most intense sporting events in the world.

Not only did the French and Croatian teams hug each other after the match, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović warmly held hands as they made their way to the awards ceremony. Then they jointly congratulated the soccer players of both teams – in an elegant example of global cooperation over nationalism.

Once again, it reminds me of my parents – who repeatedly told my sister and me that first and foremost, we were citizens of the world.

Yes, I am proud to be a natural-born U.S. citizen. But I can also celebrate France’s World Cup victory and genuinely appreciate the great sportsmanship of Croatia’s president.

It gives me hope. We will overcome this time in our history.

French world cup

The French soccer team celebrates its World Cup victory with fans after Sunday’s match (Fox Sports)

World Cup - Croatia France

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and French President Emmanuel Macron display great sportsmanship after Sunday’s World Cup match (Fox Sports)

Tour de France route

2018 route of the Tour de France

 

Tour de France

The Tour de France travels through the country’s beautiful countryside as well as cities large and small (Special: NBC Sports)

Bastille Day

A true Francophile dresses the part for the Bastille Day celebration in Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bastille Day

2018 Bastille Day celebration in Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bastille Day

Celebrating Bastille Day in Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

10 replies
  1. Paula Whatley Matabane says:

    Thank you for a wonderful walk back into time seamlessly tied into today’s events. We needed your thoughtful and humane comments for peace and world community.Report

    Reply
  2. Chris Johnston says:

    Did you not read of the deaths, riots, and looting in central Paris last night? That does not sound like global harmony to me. To be frank, it sounds like Black Lives Matter to me.Report

    Reply
  3. Richard Higgins says:

    Superb article. France and the French supporters did well. The sportsmanship with the Croatian team remind us that world interactions can be positive.
    Thanks for telling your story. Growng up francophone in Salonika! We are in France, where we live each summer The Saportareport provides us a window on Atlanta. Merci pour tous ce que vous faites.Report

    Reply
  4. Georges Hoffmann says:

    Cars burning and looting is a – very unfortunate – yearly tradition in Paris for the Bastille Day evening. This year, combined with the WC victory, it happened again! Unfortunate, but not unusual!

    Nevertheless – once more! – what happened in Paris did not reflect the feelings of the rest of France, just as anything that happens in New York or London does not reflect accurately what the feelings are in the rest of these countries.

    So, YES, there was enthusiasm in France, YES they deserved to win (this coming from a Belgian!), YES the WC creates a fantastic goodwill, even for countries that didn’t make it, and YES – unfortunately – world’s disasters, wars, diseases did not stop in the meantime, but let’s smile for just a moment at great events around us, if we can witness them.

    P.S. Maria, I agree with your assessment on the Tour de France: beautiful views of French scenery.Report

    Reply
  5. Frank Walsh says:

    First, thank you Maria for your many decades of love for our town and many worthy causes. No, we are not always in the same arena politically but I respect your views and learn from them.
    As to one of our favorite countries, France… I first visited there in 1964 on a college summer tour then in 1967-68 courtesy a US Army Germany tour, next in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion ceremonies and also a WWI Western Front battlefield tour – all very moving and words cannot describe it all especially the military cemetaries- French, British, American and yes German too.
    My cousin has two daughters – twins who married French men and send us all reports of their life in France. They live somewhere in the south of France and raise their families close together. Identical twins and super special ladies as well. I must get over to see them before I check out !
    All the best to you.
    Frank W.
    ———————Report

    Reply
  6. Chris Johnston says:

    Reading news reports, it seems that Paris’ tradition of deaths, rioting, and looting spread this year to other French cities.
    How very global and chic.Report

    Reply
  7. Maria Saporta
    Maria Saporta says:

    Frank, what an amazing story about the twin daughters of your cousin. And I appreciate your comments about not always agreeing but having respect for each other’s opinions. SaportaReport values civil discourse and respectful comments. Thank you for continuing that spirit. MariaReport

    Reply

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