To Americans pining for diamonds, it's a gem of a poem

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The Independent Online
I USED to think that what is now called the International Herald Tribune was exotic and glamorous. This was for the rather flimsy reason that I fancied Jean Seberg. Her connection with the newspaper was in the film A Bout de Souffle she played a young American girl in Paris who sold copies of the Herald Tribune on the street. At least, she sells the Herald Tribune on the street before the hero, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, whisks her away to a life of sordid petty crime and adventure before he, in turn, dies in a pool of blood, and she weeps over his body, and then, presumably - though I don't think that this bit was in the film - goes back to selling the Herald Tribune in the street.

Now, the reason she was selling the paper on the streets of Paris was that it was designed for Americans abroad, for all those Americans who might be wandering along Paris streets surrounded by horribly foreign things and people and feeling desperate for a breath of home, and if suddenly Jean Seberg were to step out of the shadows, shouting Tribune] Herald Tribune], wouldn't you buy one? I would. If I were an expatriate American, which, of course, I'm not.

I realise now, of course, that a newspaper can't depend on homesick Americans wandering along Paris streets for its prosperity. You need a bigger, more dependable readership than that. And it is to hand. The market that the Herald Tribune is aimed at, and was no doubt aimed at even in Jean Seberg's day, is the international business community, which means American, on the whole. All those guys roaring around the world in grey suits and grey offices, doing deals and making money, and calling long distance, and flashing credit cards to buy airline tickets - those are the readers of the Trib.

I don't have much in common with them, but because I am a subscriber I am treated as one, and I regularly receive offers through the mail that start: 'Dear Mr Kington, As an international businessman who has to keep in touch with the movement of the markets while on a plane high above the Atlantic, arriving in a city where you have no hotel booking and no money . . .' and although I never sign up for these international telephone cards or business information schemes, I still feel vaguely flattered.

Yet despite this, and despite Jean Seberg being long dead, and despite Belmondo being grey-haired and avuncular these days, (not that it stops him chasing girls in films even now), I still feel there is a touch of glamour about the Tribune.

This is because it is not only written for Americans living abroad, it is also in part written by Americans living abroad, who, like most expatriates, have a cosmopolitan and interesting view of the world. They reprint American columnists you would never read in Britain, such as Dave Barry. They review books that you cannot obtain in Europe and which may never become available here. They have Mike Zwerin, the best jazz writer in the world . . .

And they do something few other papers have done: they print poetry. They only do it once a year. And it's always the same poem. But they do it.

Yes, every year at about this time they reprint a poem called The Crack of a Bat, and it is always reprinted now, because now is the start of the baseball season, and the poem is all about what it is like to be caught abroad in places where they neither know nor care about baseball (which is almost everywhere in the world except Japan, Cuba and, of course, Canada) and to know that the baseball season is starting back home in the US of A . . .

Away on this side of the ocean

When the chestnuts are hinting of green

And the first of the cafe commandos

Are moving outside for a fine

And the sound of spring beats a bolero

As Paree shells her coat and her hat

The sound that is missed more than any

Is the sound of the crack of a bat

No, it's not great verse, nor are any of the other five stanzas (all written by Dick Roraback, a former sports editor of the paper) but it's a charming and evocative verse, and although I can never imagine myself warming to American football - too macho and militaristic for me - I can see how baseball could entrance one.

The poem was printed again in the Tribune last Sunday with the note: 'This springtime elegy has appeared in this space since the Sixties,' and for a moment I could feel what it was like to be a baseball fan surrounded by people kicking round balls or saying, 'Poor old Atherton'.

I even felt a twinge of nostalgia, which is plain ridiculous, but then I have read the poem every year for a decade or two now, and I have never seen it mentioned anywhere else in print. And that is why I am mentioning it here today.

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