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.
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.
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.
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.
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.