ROLAND GARROS: soon to be the minor league of tennis grand slams?

Roland Garros logo Fri 05-30-14Spring in Paris means the French Open tennis tournament, known to all simply as “Roland Garros.” The charming and tight-knit complex of show courts and crowd-friendly outside courts was built in 1928 the first time France defended the Davis Cup. It’s been updated and expanded over the years but is showing its age, and now its expansion plans are at the center of a loud public argument about taking part of a well-known botanical garden. As usually happens to controversies like this in France, it’s locked up in the courts.

The French tennis federation has high hopes for an expanded and refurbished Roland Garros for next year, and intends to build its first covered court — well behind its competitors in Australia, England and the United States, which were able to cut through their own red tape and now have weather-protected courts that threaten the French tournament’s status as a pre-eminent tournament.

Promenade to the outside courts

Promenade to the outside courts

The expansion plan was the alternate to a much-reviled suggestion that it be moved to the suburbs. Roland Garros lies in the ritzy 16th arrondissement, just to the west of the city’s beltway and cheek-by-jowl with the Bois de Boulogne and a lot of very upscale apartment buildings.

France has one of the world’s best-established farm systems for up-and-coming tennis players, and the money to support it comes from Roland Garros. Its players consistently play at top form on the red clay courts, which are popular in Europe but in use everywhere in France, to the exclusion of almost all other surfaces.

Roland Garros is a tournament-watcher’s delight. It’s smaller and more compact than the other big venues, which means facilities can be crowded on big days. But its array of outside courts, almost none with more than three rows of seats, adds to the charm. They offer great close-up viewing in the early days of the tournament or during the pre-tournament qualifier rounds, which are my favorite. The show courts are fun, and if you go you should try to get a seat there for at least one match, but tickets are hard to get. Qualifier-round tickets are general admission and inexpensive.

Statue of Suzanne Lenglen, outside the show court named for her. She won 31 championships in the 1930s and was the first female tennis celebrity.

Statue of Suzanne Lenglen outside the show court named for her. She won 31 championships in the 1930s and was the first female tennis celebrity.

ROLAND WHO? Roland Garros the stadium was not named for a tennis player (although the stadiums within it were). Roland Garros was a famous World War I aviator who was captured and escaped only to die in a dogfight with a German pilot. Read about him here. His life as an aviator is here.

Wikipedia’s pages on the tournament and the stadium are worth reading.

For the status of the French tennis federation’s expansion plans, read this from The New York Times, and this from BBC. Check the federation’s own site (in French).

The tournament runs on data, most of it crunched by IBM and much of it available on the tournament web site. Here’s the data page, and here’s the home page in English (it’s also available in French and Chinese; just click on the little flag icons to switch if you prefer one of the others).

Amateur tennis for health isn’t as big a thing in France as it is in the United States, but the French are active on the municipal courts around Paris and elsewhere in the country, and they have a well-run professional training operation. The Babble Out, a general health site, has a good article on the health benefits of tennis, which you can find here.

One of the best places to watch a big match.

One of the best places to watch a big match. Photo from the top of Court Philippe Chatrier.

The current stadium complex

The current stadium complex

The planned expansion, at right

The current courts plus the planned expansion, at right

The food is good - try a "jambon fromage," a ham and cheese on a fresh, crispy buttered baguette

The food is good – try a “jambon fromage,” ham and cheese on a fresh, crisp buttered baguette























































Despite all its problems, it’s my favorite Grand Slam, and I recommend it highly if you can arrange your Paris trip to be there in late May and early June.

Baseball crime or awful judgment? A PITCH FOR JUSTICE – author interview with Harold Kasselman

HAROLD KASSELMAN’S FIRST NOVEL has been in the top 10% of Kindle paid books for a solid year — no small accomplishment. It has ranked #1 in baseball and in sports psychology, and it’s a good read. I had the pleasure of reading it before publication, and I read it again before I interviewed Harold this week. You can find the book, in Kindle and paperback editions, on Amazon. It’s rated four and a half stars, with 150 reviews. A Pitch for Justice cover Wed 05-07-14I wanted to know where this particular story came from (it’s a very inventive plot but could have been one of a thousand courtroom novels), and how he went about turning concept into reality. Following is the email exchange we had this week:

JP  I think the starting point has to be this: have you ever seen anything like your plot in real life, either as a baseball fan or as a prosecutor?

HK I have never seen anything in person in baseball that was prosecuted as a crime but I did see an incident in 1965 on television that likely would have been prosecuted today. Hall Of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giants hit Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat. Marichal was batting and Koufax threw a fastball at his head. Marichal said something to Roseboro and Roseboro stood up and faced Marichal. The latter then went berserk and struck Roseboro on the head( no helmet was worn since he had taken off his mask). He had to be hospitalized and had a huge knot in his head and needed stitches to close the wound. The point is that Marichal had flattened two Dodgers earlier in the game by knocking them down with pitches because they had gotten hits off of him. There were never any criminal charges filed. Today I believe there is a good chance a DA would file charges of assault with a deadly weapon.



There was an incident in 1999 in college where a pitcher, later drafted by the Cubs, deliberately threw a ball at the head of an  opponent which resulted in multiple fractures of the face and head. The latter never played baseball again. Charges were filed against the pitcher but a grand jury declined to indict. Based on what I have read, that decision was disturbing. But the victim did settle a civil suit for an estimated $400,000. If such an incident happened when I was prosecuting, I would have done all I could to have ethically gotten an indictment for aggravated assault. The point to be emphasized is that customs on the playing field cannot be immune from societal laws when they cross the line to criminality.

JP  Which came first, the desire to write a novel or the plot idea for this novel?

HK The truth is, I was bored after I retired from the practice of law. Someone suggested I write a book but I said ” lawyer books are a dime a dozen” (shows you how old I am). But I liked the idea and the challenge so I thought about something that combined my two passions, baseball and the law. I was always haunted by the Ray Chapman death from a pitched ball thrown by Carl Mays in 1920 and I began to wonder what would happen in today’s society if  a player died from a pitched ball. From there it was relatively easy for me to take the scenario though the legal process.

JP  Have you had any reaction from your lawyer friends about the entire concept of bringing a felony charge against a pitcher in a bean ball case like yours?

HK Several lawyer friends told me the same thing. Before they read the book, they thought such a prosecution would be fanciful or capricious. When they finished reading, they were convinced of the viability of such a case. Still, most had very strong feelings about the outcome.

JP  Did you write the book with the intention of making a moral point?

HK Yes in large measure I did intend this to be a morality piece of fiction. I think many players in all sports (recall the New Orleans Saints’ scandal about bounties for taking out players from the opposing team) are too often cavalier about gratuitous violence in sports. Admittedly, there is a certain degree of consent to physical contact. But when someone in a sport throws a 95 MPH fastball at a player’s head because that player “showed up the pitcher” on a prior home run, or when someone deliberately tries to disable an opposing football player by causing a concussion or knee injury, doesn’t that cross the line? At what point does that gratuitous violence become  criminal activity? It’s a fine line and there is no easy answer. There is always the danger of a slippery slope, and how labeling someone a criminal will deter the players from playing the game the way they learned to play.

JP  How would you apportion responsibility between Buck the manager and Tim the young pitcher?

HK  I think that is such a core aspect of the novel that I’d rather let readers decide whether the manager or the pitcher bear any criminal responsibility, and if so, their respective liabilities. I have a point of view but part of the fun in the read is answering those questions by the readers themselves.

JP  You have revised the original story somewhat since A Pitch for Justice was originally published. What impelled you to do that?

HK The luxury of an e-book and self-publishing is the ability to change chapters, phrases, even subplots at anytime. I made the mistake of rushing to publish because I was so excited about my project. If there is one thing I would tell other novice writers, it is to edit your book (even if it’s just yourself) over and over again before you publish. I had a few mediocre reviews that could have been avoided if I had followed that advice. The truth is I read the reviews especially on Goodreads. While many loved my original ending, others felt robbed and were disappointed. Accordingly, I abandoned my original ending and created a new one which I believe readers find more satisfying. Next I decided, whether it enhanced the novel or not, to create a subplot that made the book more exciting and suspenseful rather than purely a legal/moral work. I also listened to the voices of some reviewers who candidly skipped over some of the romantic chapters. I agreed with them because I never really wanted a romantic involvement. So I compromised and deleted an entire chapter that really wasn’t necessary. Frankly, every time I read the book(after it had been published ) I came up with fresher ideas and new twists to keep the reader wondering and on their toes. It was easy to re-publish so I did it. The paperback is the most recent version.

JP  Are you planning a sequel, or another novel?

HK I would like to do a sequel with prosecutor Jaime Brooks and maybe even Tim Charles but I’m struggling to find something unique. If I do, I’ll write it, but I need the obsessiveness that compelled me to write my first novel and I haven’t gotten there yet.

JP  The novel has done well in Amazon sales and rankings. What have you done to market it?

HK Yes, I have been fortunate that I have been #1 in baseball and in sports psychology in 2014 in the paid Kindle store. I have been in the top 10% of kindle books for over a year so that is gratifying. I haven’t really spent much on advertising. I joined several Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Goodreads groups, I tweet a bit, and I’ve written several blog posts. Still, I am convinced of the viability of the Kindle countdown program to get the word spread and even the free downloads. I have had almost 22,000 books downloaded for free and I was #16 overall in Amazon’s rankings out of thousands. It gives you exposure and keeps you on Amazon’s popularity lists in their search engine. But the bottom line is word of mouth is important and you have to have a good product. If I were to recommend an email site that I have found most productive and cost beneficial, it would be EReaderNewsToday. Or if you want to gamble and spend a lot of money, Bookbub will get the greatest exposure but your profit will be minimal. It’s too rich for my blood.

JP  What was your daily routine while you were writing? Did you work every day?

HK Once I started to write the book(after research and outlines) I didn’t want to take a day off. I knew where I wanted to go and I loved the experience. I would write three to four hours a day. On the weekend even after going out to dinner, I would want to go back and write some more. I’m in love with the story. Maybe that’s why I have continued to tinker with it as recently as last month. I hope I get that feeling again about another project.

Paris for the solo traveler

PARIS IS BEST KNOWN as a welcoming destination for lovers, but for the solo traveler there are many charms as well, as Stephanie Rosenbloom, the Getaway columnist for the New York Times travel section, wrote in a recent column. She has an eye for both the small corners and broad vistas of the city — look at this description of a lunch:

“I sliced through an oyster with my cocktail fork, loosening it from its shell. A pulpy Utah Beach, it was brimming with lemon juice and its own slightly salty liquor. I lifted it with a thumb and forefinger, and tilted it to my lips.

NYT Paris Jardins Lux Wed 05-07-14

A lonesome chair in the Luxembourg Gardens

“It was early spring in Paris. To my left, a white-haired woman with red lipstick disappeared behind a newspaper. To my right, a man and a woman flirted over starters. We were at the center of one of the last sprawling brasseries of the 1920s, where a large basin into which the artists’ model Kiki de Montparnasse used to climb has been replaced with a comparatively demure sculpture of a couple forming an orb with their outstretched limbs. A waiter paused at my table to rotate the platter of oysters so that the overturned shells faced the empty chair across from me.

“’Voilà,’ he said.”

The article is here

I missed her column when it appeared last week, but found it today in one of the helpful links that run across the top of the Times’s redesigned web site. The link was actually to the paper’s “Times Insider” blog, which describes the newspaper’s internal doings and interviews the journalists about their work. In this case, Stephanie Rosenbloom’s Paris piece was included because it rose to #1 on the most-emailed list. Go here for Times Insider. I’ve linked to the blog itself, rather than the interview, because several of the posts are worth reading. (There’s a paywall, but try anyway.)

THE RESISTANCE by Peter Steiner – wartime thriller

The Resistance I reviewed The Resistance by Peter Steiner some time ago, shortly after I attended his presentation at the American Library in Paris. It’s a good book, and I hope he writes more like it (this is his latest, although he published several earlier). I was in Paris, my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare was about to be published, and I was delighted to have the chance to talk to someone in the same business, even if he’d been doing it much longer than I. Steiner is well known, but not mainly in the world of fiction. His main claim to fame (and it’s a big and valid claim) is that he’s the man behind the timeless New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s the most-reproduced cartoon The New Yorker ever printed and even has its own Wikipedia page.


The New Yorker, from Wikipedia

Here’s what I wrote on Amazon: “The central section of The Resistance was an engrossing and informative description of the operation of the French Resistance during World War II. I looked into this a little during the research for my own recent novel, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, but Peter Steiner covered it thoroughly and readably. I did have a little trouble getting started, and the end left me wishing I’d known more about the surprise heavy, but it was a good and informative read. I saw his presentation at the American Library in Paris on Sept. 18 and will add him to my list of regulars. (Kindle edition).” I gave it four stars. I haven’t changed my mind.  You can find it on Amazon. I recommend it.