“If I was a champion of skittles there was never any danger of my being a champion at skittles(...) My difficulty since is that I cannot manage to regard a game as a religion”
G.K. Chesterton in “Wisdom and Innocence”
Peace had reigned in the organization of the Geographic Society's annual bowling tournament ever since it was first held decades ago. Each year, mid-spring, the three-way competition took place with the teams of the Globalizers, the Nationalists and the Cosmopolitans facing off, their track records displaying surprisingly similar results, as if they had come to an elegant gentleman's agreement, and ended with a luncheon of brotherhood in the Society's gardens. Perhaps the routine of it had made it a bit predictable, but stability and the strengthening of this kind of traditions was what the members of the venerable institution valued.
However, something had happened at the latest assembly meeting to upset the tranquility of the assembly room: a new group had submitted its application to participate in the tournament - the Cosmolocalists. The setback seemed easily solved by the board of directors of the entity, which intended to free itself of this nuisance with the firm support of its legal advisers, but the new team had used its network of contacts and a shrewd interpretation of the bylaws to find a loophole that would enable it to participate in this year's tournament: by creating affiliated Cosmolocalist groups in Bamako, New Orleans, Papeete, Yangon, Akureyri and Mumbai, they had automatically secured their entry as a sub-group in the Society.
They chose aquamarine as the color for their polo shirts, with an embroidered crest portraying Montaigne's well-known motto –What do I know– over a scale with two globes on it.
Invigorated by the new blood of the Cosmolocalists, which were actually a spin-off of the large Cosmopolitan team, they quarreled over each of the organizers' decisions, making up for their inferiority in number with their enthusiasm and insistence and managing to cast doubt on every seemingly fixed aspect related to the tournament, given the zeal with which the conflicting members defended them.
Every aspect of the organization prompted a pitched battle. The celebration banquet, which could not be held in the courtyard this year due to new municipal regulations, raised one of the most heated debates. The Globalizers wanted to move it to a McDonalds, a Kentucky Fried Chicken or, at the very least, the newly established VIPS, which had a new offering of experimental fixed-price menus for special occasions. The Nationalists backed a traditional tavern specializing in lunchmeats and all kinds of sausages and the Cosmopolitans wavered between a Korean, a Pakistani and a Paraguayan restaurant. Then the Cosmolocalists forwarded their option of a new cafe that some young, creative chefs had opened, part tradition, part avant garde, with recipes prepared using organic produce from their own garden. Accusations of idiocy, nonsense, snobbery and murder- of tradition, stomachs, the future, the past, creativity, the local economy, the global economy and common sense - flew, and the issue was postponed to the agenda of the following meeting, along with all the other issues they had been unable to resolve, which was all of them. The new team refused to choose a mascot to join the goat, parrot and iguana of the other teams or to participate in the multi-denominational ceremony during the opening events, and also argued about changing the tournament category from ten to nine pins, although this latter issue had been questioned, as more than one Cosmolocalist had admitted, just for the sake of annoying the others. The only time of similar consternation for the dumbfounded members of the club had been when, years ago, they had been forced to allow women in, under pressure from the city hall, which threatened to stop letting them use the beautiful municipal mansion that housed their facilities.
Now, one of these women, Rebecca M., was one of the leaders of the Cosmolocalist rebellion. As the days went by, both sides had to make compromises in their positions and the tournament, under the new system of a semifinals draw, third and fourth place and a final, was finally held on May 10.
There was great expectation about these games marking a new era, a liquid, fascinating time, and journalists from the sports pages of the local newspapers came out to cover the event. The chairman proceeded to inaugurate the tournament, which would not be sponsored this year, as was customary, by the wife of one of the most senior members, but rather, by Jaggi H., the loyal old caretaker who was retiring that year after more than fifty years working for the Society.
It is tempting to say that the game was exciting and met every expectation, that tension bristled in the air and tragedy could be sensed, but this was not the case: it was just another bowling tournament which, to the surprise of some, the new Cosmolocalist team won, despite their lack of experience and the skill of their opponents, who were afflicted by a series of unusual muscle injuries that would fuel conspiracy theories in the conversations in the café over the following months.
The entity's chairman, the eternal and indefatigable Victor M., acted as master of ceremonies at the awards event, repeating the same speech as in previous years, as if this were just another pleasant edition, as if, by not mentioning the earthquake, the cracks that had opened up in the walls of the institution would not be seen.
When she stepped up to accept the prize - another topic of debate at the preparatory meetings, which they finally agreed would be a silver salad bowl - Rebecca M., as spokesperson for the winners, gave a moving speech. The other affiliated Cosmolocalist delegations around the world were able to see it over Periscope.
“We have done a lot of talking these past months about this bowling tournament, about shares, dues, bylaws, rules, tradition, revolution, sponsors and money. We have argued, fought, reached agreements, some have been outraged, others have grown conceited, some have felt attacked and others ignored. We have spoken and spoken, but very little has been said about what truly matters: the game.
We used to be three and now we are four, and that tiny detail has led to a totally undeserving uproar. The world does not need to perpetuate the status quo indefinitely, regardless of whether some think it is right and others wrong. It does not need rigid frameworks or never-ending unfairness; what it needs is a clean alley, a ball and some proper pins, some simple, fair rules, concentration, attention, joy and a strong desire to win. Yogis say that when one is intensely absorbed by a game, when one is about to hit a ball one believes will be a strike, is when one is closest to illumination: when the ball flies with the right movement and speed, when the wrist and the body have turned in harmony with the universe, when nothing else exists besides that present moment of the ball rolling down the alley toward perfection. At that moment, there is no time for frustration, for discomfort, for preoccupation or apathy, for colors, victory or defeat, just play, pure and simple play. Children know this well, but we take care to help them forget it little by little.
Why create a new Cosmolocalist group? Why raise such a fuss and cause so much trouble for the members? If the game is what matters, we could have participated in any of the existing teams and yes, you are partly right.
But some of us are uncomfortable with the Globalizers, although we love that part about being connected to the rest of humanity, of creating ties with others. We have the feeling that, for them, everything has an economic purpose, the same ones always win and our colleagues talk too much about sponsorships, profits and money, especially about money. It's not that we don't like cash, but what does that have to do with the game? And then there's that standardization they find so comfortable and we find so boring, so far removed from the heart of the geographer.
We could play with the Nationalists then, you might tell us. Well, we appreciate their passion for what is their own, but we do not share their maniacal fondness for flags, crests and regional costume so much. It is nice as a pastime, but their obsession about the rules of bowling in Yorkshire County or in the shire of the Lower Guadalete, about anthems and about scorning everyone who does not share the same hobbies is a bit irritating. And - this is just me personally - I can't stand the obsession they have with locking the doors to all the offices where they meet.
We feel more comfortable with the Cosmopolitans, with their way of feeling at ease anywhere, their laid-back attitude and their curiosity. But, unlike them, who never put down roots anywhere, we put them down everywhere: we just need interesting conversation, an unforgettable or a mundane landscape, a different bar and music to start to feel like members of the family. Maybe it's because that's what we are: a large family with more in common than we think, and less important and indispensable, so we should stop worrying about teams and rules and focus on what matters most: the game.
We all love bowling and we all know how to have fun, so let's see if we can set our silliness, our clans and our borders aside.
So here are the Cosmolocalists. It looks like we have gotten lucky this year and we've engraved our name on the trophy on our first try. And I should say we are here to stay, but we're not. We aren't here for that.
I would like to announce right now that next year we won't be participating in the tournament because our colleagues in Mumbai have invited us to join theirs. However, this will not go back to being a three-way competition because just this morning I spoke to our Cosmolocalist colleague in Athens, Georgia, my friend David B., and they are willing to take our place next year.
You're saying, 'that's impossible, it goes against the rules and regulations'. We'll see. Ah, the regulations! That's another thing that needs looking into. Do we really need all these rules and regulations? All these incomprehensible laws and so much paperwork? Some cleaning, simplification and clarification needs to be done. It's not to be annoying but rather to honor the motto of our Geographic Society: “Inspire, illuminate, play”. So that what matters the most is not the division, the competition, winning or losing, but rather enjoyment, playing as intensely as we can, with the world as our ball and happiness as our target. Or not, what do I know.
And now, dear fellow members, Globalizers, Nationalists and Cosmopolitans, we would like to inform you that, after the feast of chicken livers and innards courtesy of our Nationalist colleagues, the Cosmolocalists have decided to pass the salad bowl to raise a bit of money to rent out the Chesterton Club alleys and play a few rounds all afternoon and if we have enough for a few drinks too, all the better. You are all invited. And you can bring along all your friends, even if they are not members, entomologists, ghostbusters, cheerleaders, bootleggers, what have you. Let's play as if there were no tomorrow.
Long live the Geographic Society! And our dear Jaggi!”
Jaggi was the sole survivor that remained of that Society, where he had started to work in 1956, so all the members knew him as an essential element of the institution, like the old mahogany furniture, the paintings on the walls, the suit of armor at the entrance and the stained-glass window with the world map that looked out onto the garden. The oldest members had grown old with him and the new ones immediately grew accustomed to his constant presence, kindness and unique nature. Hired by Aloisius M., the second director, out of respect for an English member who had brought him from Coimbatore into his service and would die shortly afterwards, the Indian was at once communicative and distant, stealthy as a cat, but always at one's disposal. With his eidetic memory, he knew by heart countless texts of the most diverse origins, yet he was completely undiscriminating in the use of his quotations, so one never knew if one was talking to a sage or a simpleton. He might come up with a quote from Wittgenstein while talking to the plumber, or if he was observing an erudite conversation he could, for no reason at all, start to recite the instructions manual for a blender. Besides these incongruous quotes, the caretaker spoke seldom and sometimes went into states of meditation that lasted from a few minutes to several hours. These eccentricities had irritated more than one director, but the affection in which he was held by most of the members had made his dismissal infeasible.
No one knew if he had a family and the address listed in the records corresponded to an old boarding house. Now he was retiring and no one was quite sure where he would go or what he would do.
Jaggi closed the gate to the institution for the last time and smiled as he gave the keys to the director. Victor M. had never known how to treat him, but he was moved and attempted a timid embrace.
–Ah Jaggi, so many changes and not always for the better.
The caretaker smiled and said,
–Of the nearly five hundred species of primroses, as potted plants only the following are relevant: primula malacoides, primula obconica, primula vulgaris.
The director decided he was going to miss these nonsensical conversations, these weird chats in which you felt like you were talking to a television with a malfunctioning channel selector.
A swirl of pappi seemed to follow Jaggi as he walked away. And then he turned around and, closing his eyes, began to recite aloud:
–"We are all guests of life". Heidegger came up with this extraordinary expression; neither you nor I were able to choose our place of birth, the circumstances, the period in history to which we belong, a handicap or good health... We find ourselves geworfen, as he says in German, thrown into life. And he who is thrown into life has a duty toward life, in my opinion, an obligation to behave as a guest. What must a guest do? He must live amongst men, wherever he is. And a good guest, a worthy guest, leaves the place he has inhabited a little bit cleaner, a bit prettier, somewhat more interesting than he found it. And if he has to leave, he packs his bags and leaves.
I know of nowhere in the world that is not fascinating, where it is not worth learning the language or culture or attempting to do something interesting.
Ok, let's play this then, thought Victor M. as he murmured,
'Then they got up and left the same night.'
 An old European lawn game similar to bowling.
 Halina Heitz: El gran libro de las plantas de interior. Círculo de Lectores
 George Steiner. “Un largo sábado”. El ojo del tiempo, Siruela.
 1 Samuel 28: 25.