Cyrano de Bergerac

Rereading and notetaking are essential tasks for analysis, so audiobooks aren’t the best material for reviews — barreling down the interstate at 70 isn’t the best time to search for the rewind button, and taking notes during the commute to or from the office is certainly problematic. But since I listen to audiobooks often, and enjoy the exercise of organizing my impressions into something resembling critical thought, I’ll give this my best shot. 

For “Cyrano de Bergerac,” I chose a traditional one-man reading of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, a decision which ultimately proved unwise. The format works well for stage directions, but not at all for dialogue — having the reader hurriedly announce the character name , then read the character’s line, made the overall performance seem choppy, stilted, a flaw which obscured much of the wonderful language Cyrano uses when wooing Roxanne on behalf of Christian.

Enough of the technical critique. Cyrano is a fascinating figure, a poetic soul infused with a good deal of piss and vinegar. He is a man who insists on excellence, in himself and others, and responds to mediocrity with his swift sword and withering wit, sometimes simultaneously. His ego is only as large as his ambition, his desire for fame a plea for his countrymen to recognize the greatness of his cause.

Not even the most superficial of reviews can fail to mention Cyrano’s infamous nose. It struck me how Cyrano was actually more bothered by his prodigious proboscis than any other character in the play. Perhaps this insecurity is what motivates him to his martial and intellectual mastery.

Step

Yesterday’s tournament was a success. My coach gave me a goal of one touch per bout — yeah, she was setting the bar low as far as results go — and maintaining my enthusiasm throughout the day. “You need to go through the whole process. Show up with a smile in your face and sunshine in your heart.”

Had four bouts in the preliminary round. Started against a teen from my club, someone who’s on the verge of getting his E and who had made quick work of me in practice bouts a few times. Got off to a good start, scoring a couple touches on effective ripostes, but when I was ahead 2 -1 my opponent decided he’d seen enough of me, and scored the next four. Faced a novice fencer who I had struck up a conversation with earlier (I decided that making connections was an important part of the process) — got three touches against him. I then faced an E rated collegiate fencer, a guy who was likely to earn his D that day. Made it my goal to get one touch on him — let’s just say that didn’t happen. Last bout was against another novice, and I only scored one touch.

Ended the prelims with six touches — more than my coach’s goal, but I felt I should have scored more against the two novices. I started the direct elimination poorly, down 9 – 1 at one point, before I found an inner spark, started focusing and driving myself. Yelling “COMPETE!” to myself several times, and relying more on changing tempo and patterns in my footwork than on blade action, I got in six more touches before yielding the fifteenth. The way I look at it, I tied on the last twelve touches.

Had some more equipment issues along with way (more on that later), but got through them. Went through the whole process, like my coach asked. No wins — still got the monkey on my back, but yesterday I felt like I stepped forward in spite of the burden, rather than letting the weight immobilize me.

Ride 3K

Bernie reclined in the back seat of Coach Dan’s sedan, his body straddling the center between driver and passenger. He already knew what Rex’s response would be, knew that the lanky teen would not accept their coach’s challenge to claim the position of fencing team captain. Rex not only never showed interest in being captain, he routinely replied with a curt You don’t want me as your captain whenever asked if he were interested.

But he’d never explained why, had always refused to provide additional information to his teammates. You just don’t want me as your captain.

Bernie sat forward again, arms resting on the backs of the front seats, brushing his oily hair from his eyes before he settled his head down on his hands. He sensed that with Coach Dan now presenting the argument, Rex would be finally forced to actively play the role of his own devil’s advocate, to provide his rationale for not desiring to be captain.

Ride 3J

“So yes, I think the team needs a captain.” Even as his eyes were fixed to the road in front of his sedan, Coach Dan’s attention was evidently focused on Rex in the passenger seat.

The tall teen’s voice was soft. “So why don’t you just name one?”

Coach Dan shook his head, eyes remaining straight. “Doesn’t work that way. That’s a decision the team has to make.”

“Double-J wants to be captain.”

“And nobody else wants him to be captain.”

“So you’re saying it’s me, or nobody?”

Coach Dan sighed. “All I’m trying to do is help you think through this, make the best decision for the team. I’m not asking if you want to be captain — your reluctance is palpable. What I’m asking is, would you being captain be what’s best for the team?”

Again

Entering another tournament today, he types gulping down Wheaties. This time it feels right — been practicing with purpose for about a year, which is how long novice fencers should train before entering their first competitions. The event will be familiar as well — already know many of the competitors, actually helped with set up yesterday (black electrical tape on the gym floor).

My coach has given me one goal for today — have fun. Go through the process, and enjoy it. Not sure I buy into have “just have fun” mentatility (if I just wanted to have fun, I’d stick to practices, thank you), but there is something to be said for making the experience enjoyable for myself.

And not imploding. That’s my main goal. Break that emotional pattern.

What am I expecting for results? Because not thinking about results is like not thinking of a pink elephant. About the same — I’m going to lose every bout. Focus today is on getting touches, making adjustments during each bout, doing at least one thing each bout that surprises me.

This is what I need to do. I can’t make the contributions that I want to make to this sport unless I compete.

Ride 3I

“I think we do a good job of finnding our own solutions.”

Coach Dan nodded, his eyes remaining focused on the road. Bernie heard the hum of the sedan’s engine, the reverberating rumble of rubber tires on pavement.

“You get along with each other well. But what happens when you face a crisis, something like Vash’s Walking Mask? I’m concerned that if something like that happens, the fact that the team gets along so well will actually work against you. Because somebody will have to take charge, make a decision that won’t be popular with everybody, maybe with anybody. That’s a quality that Miles had, he wasn’t afraid to do what he knew what needed to be done, didn’t care about what people thought about him so long as he knew he was doing the right thing. That’s why I think the team needs a captain, somebody who can take charge when the need arises.”

“So if you ask me,” Rex replied, “the person you need as captain is Double-J. He’s never shy about taking charge.”

Coach Dan sighed heavily. Bernie sensed that his coach’s next words were being carefully chosen, as if he were carrying a heavy object across a partially frozen lake.

“Being decisive is important, yes. But its not the same as leadership. Double-J makes decisions based on his own sense of right and wrong, he doesn’t think about what’s best for the team. Miles was always thinking about what was best for the team — that’s what I think you need in a captain.”

Ride 3H

“Wasn’t that the time with Vash and the Walking Mask?”

Bernie hadn’t been to that tournament in Midland which Coach Dan was recalling, but the story of Vash’s Walking Mask had become a legend among the Bark Bay fencing team. Vash was slender, even compared to Kassie with her pipe-cleaner arms, and even the smallest mask in the team’s canvas bag would wobble from shoulder to shoulder when placed on Vash’s head. This wasn’t acceptable to an official at the Midland tournament. That mask is going to walk away from your head. It’s not safe, I can’t allow you to compete.

“Yeah?” Rex’s voice sounded cautious, retreating.

“I seem to recall that Miles played a large role in solving that problem.” Bernie leaned forward from the back seat — this was a part of the story he hadn’t heard.

“You weren’t around.” Rex was explaining rather than criticizing. “You were outside, talking to the coach at the Academy about something.”

“And it didn’t phase Miles. He found a solution.” This Bernie knew, the part about Vash the Towel Head. “That’s why I’m eager for you to find a captain for this team, someone who can take the initiative at times like that. Because try as I might, I can’t always be around. And honestly, I’d rather not — if the team can find its own solutions, that’s worth more to me than any victory that any of you could achieve on strip.”

Ride 3G

“Hmmm.” The thoughtful pause cautioned Bernie to not award Rex the touch too soon. Coach Dan scratched his black beard with his right hand, the left controlling the steering wheel. “I believe,” he continued, “that you are comparing the aggregate skill of this year’s fencing team, to the cohesiveness of the team when Miles was captain.”

Bernie looked over at Rex, who blinked in confusion. Attack right is off-target.

“Two years ago, we had one start — Miles — and a bunch of kids who, quite frankly, struggled a lot.”
Rex quickly agreed, preparation left, retreat right. “We don’t have a Miles now, no star, but the skill and confidence of the rest of the team, even Kassie and Butch, is a lot higher than it was then.”

“Like I said, we’re stronger.” Advance lunge from the right.

Individually, yes.” Attack is parried. “In skill level, yes. But — you were there for the tournament at Midland last fall, right?”

Bernie shook his head, then remembered Coach Dan was addressing Rex, who nodded.

Ride 3F

“But the fencing team’s not about numbers,” Rex quickly replied. Point in line, Bernie thought, attack is on the right. “There’s a few schools in our region that never have but more than two, three fencers. But those teams keep coming back every year, because they always find that one or two people who care enough about the sport to keep the team going.”

Coach Dan replied with a soft “hmm.” Lunge right, parry left, no riposte.

“That’s something we got now that we didn’t have two years ago. Back when Miles and I joined, it was more a club, kids playing with swords after school. Did you have anyone competing back then?”

“No.” Remise, touch right!

“We’ve got four now, and if Butch and Kassie stick with it, that will make six. We’ve never had six fencers in competition before.” Lunge right! “And we’re going to get there with or without a captain.” Disengage! “It’s not about quantity, coach, it’s about quality. No we don’t have as many fencers as we did last year, but we’re more of a team. We’re not bigger, but we are stronger. Strong enough to survive without a captain.”