What is more natural for a football fan than to follow the team over hills and mountains and through raging waters, sticks and stones, thick and thin, to an away game? When have distances, expenditures, things like reason and common sense ever kept a fan from following the team?
Exactly! So Brazil plays France in Paris? Excellent, Paris is just 537 km from Mainz, a big sign at the Pariser Straße says so.
At least, it's nothing compared to the 9231,85 km that separate Mainz from Brazil.
I set out in the morning to Rüsselsheim. Not because it's on the way to Paris, which it isn't, but because common sense kept control in so far I was going to teach two hours of school before boarding the train to Paris and I'm proud to be able to state: my students never noticed anything wrong with me this morning.
I was fully my usual un-orthodox self (easy to say for a catholic teacher).
Nervousness set in when I had dropped my pen, chatted with a student a bit about the life and death of Terry Pratchett and then closed the school's door behind me.
Time to change planets.
I set off with a rather good feeling about this. I had never been to Paris before and first times to Paris are Hollywood-material with happy endings inevitable.
Changing trains at Mannheim made it real, at last. I was going to Paris!!!!
By way of Kaiserslautern (anathema sit to any self-respecting Mainz 05 fan) – well, a minor amount of negativity a.k.a. bad guys is part of every Hollywood movie.
Germany rushed by drowning in sunlight and prosperity. By the time we crossed the no longer existing border the sky had clouded and thus ruined an otherwise appalling joke. As I thought.
France from my train's window tended to look a lot like Windows XP.
The only sign Schengen has left us of the thrilling feeling of crossing a border into another country I remember from my childhood holidays to Austria, were people hecticly probing their smartphones which had lost contact with the internet simultaneously. For a couple of minutes from every row of seats one could hear mumbling and swearing until some had found their roaming settings and others, like me, had just given up and resolved to reading. And looking how France rolled by.
As the clouds were rolling over the countryside with astonishingly wide fields the size of which I had only seen in not so good old GDR before, we finally approached the city of love and music, wine and baguette and away game.
Ici c'est Paris! Inspite of all my well aired critique of PSG I couldn't resist speaking this phrase loudly several times in the hours to come.
So, this was Paris and I had to find my way to my hotel. Following a lengthy exchange of twitter direct messages the evening before with Jon, a very helpful member of my social-network tribe, I had decided to brave the rush-hour traffic and take a taxi.
First challenge – will the taxi driver understand my French?
He might have, if he had been French. As providence willed it he was Portuguese.
I didn't have the nerve to try my Portuguese on him which is a lot more shaky than my French, but he got the destination info alright and I was in for my first sightseeing tour.
At first glance Paris looked like … well, like a real big city. Like Vienna only with streets more narrow. Like Berlin only with more people „living in a dark skinned manner“ as my former choir director once put it with no intention to be witty or racist or sarcastic and ending up being all three.
Like Frankfurt minus SGE – which can only be a good thing.
At second glance it was really, really crowded. With cars. When my driver informed me he was going to have to take a detour „because of the football game“ I finally had found something to chat about in halting French. Of course, he supported Brazil – atta boy! - and he didn't seem to find it peculiar for a German to also do so. I've come to a happier place.
The driver did apologize several times, though, for the way St.Denis looked. I didn't tell him I felt quite at home with my surroundings reminding me stronger than ever of Berlin-Kreuzberg.
The receptionist at the hotel was absolutely charming. Not surprising in a Parisian, maybe, but he added to his natural French charm by speaking a flawless English. I checked in as if I did such things every other month (which seems to become the case since I caught this Brazilian bug, last year) and set out for Denny's hotel to meet for a drink before proceeding to Stade de France. Although much bigger and more expensive his hotel was within walking distance and for all its shininess also situated in St.Denis. I liked that.
We had our drinks – me wine (Sauvignong. Almost as good as Rheingau-Riesling, ha!), him beer, as we had plannend to do weeks before and then made for the stadium in what we thought was plenty of time.
Jon had advised us to be there early and Denny and I had sort of scorned that advice backed up by the official information on the internet of the gates being opened at 7:00 p.m.
We arrived at Stade de France at about a quarter to seven and were greeted by the sight of an immense queue patiently snaking around fences and sign-posts. Being the well-behaved German-woman and English-man we were we filed in and waited. It moved at a considerable pace, though, and so it was still only about a quarter past seven when we were refused entry. Something, anything, was not working with our tickets.
Denny was mildly irritated (see characterization above), he had, after all, paid to become a member of French NT Supporters to be able to order tickets for this game. The orange clad stewards at the entrance spoke rapid French in their mics and finally decided to hand us over to somebody else to solve the problem. We were told to walk about a mile and a half to the other side of the stadium to meet someone official in charge of maverick tickets.
I'm exaggerating of course, we only had to go back halfway to the Metro station, squeeze through the crowds arriving now by the hundred and then meet another charming French guy who obviously insinuated we wanted to buy or exchange tickets and told us they were sold out several times. Denny told him in polite but certain terms he had payed for these tickets and absolutely intended to see the game, but it may have been my offer to show him the original pdf of the tickets on my mobile that made him give in.
Maybe he knows something about mobistel F3 that made him rather not try to make it produce a saved file.
To tell the truth, I rather enjoyed the whole thing. The morning's optimistic attitude prevailed in me, I was sure we were going to get in.
And we were.
It just took a short conversation with a police man, another chat with the men in orange who had promised we would not have to queue at the entrance again and in we went.
Match, here we come.
What stunned me again was the atmosphere. Why are supporters in other countries so FOND of their national teams?
Okay, I know why. I had history lessons galore.
Like in Austria French fans even produced some elements of Ultrà support like drums and cantors, who would even start them on the antional anthem later through the game. At a very voiciferous „Allons enfants de la patriiiiiie ...“ the whole stadium would launch into „...le jour de gloire est arrivé!“ Thrilling. Big screen, absolutely.
I took the warming up before the game to take some pictures of randomly chosen players.
Okay, maybe not quite that randomly …
During the game I did not take pictures unless it seemed to be interrupted for a couple of minutes. I was not going to Paris to see my team play life for then to watch it on a screen AGAIN and one much smaller than my PC at home, for that.
There's one, though, that so perfectly fits a game played in Paris, I'll include it here.
Who needs Moulin Rouge, after all.
All through the game I thought France was putting up more pressurer in the direction of Brazil's goal, but were terribly unlucky in some instances and terribly clumsy in others. And chances don't sum up to goals as no-one knows better than a more-or-less-willing novice at supporting that bebothered and confusticated PSG-team this season. Brazil was much more placid and effective right in front of the goal and they had an almost unshakeable defence (cough,cough) despite the deplorable lack of David Luiz and Marquinhos featuring in it (to be rectified in future). So, the 3:1 win, one goal more than I had predicted and thus surprisingly high to me, was absolutely deserved in the end.
Leaving the stadium proved to be much easier than entering and since it had been, after all, a friendly, the loss produced no visible ill feelings on the French fans's side. When entering Denny's hotel again we were hailed by a guest who wore the French flag still painted on her cheeks with a smiling „Congratulations!“ Worth another drink, in any case.
Being the gentleman he is, Denny walked me back to my hotel a bit later, but St.Denis sulked and refused to live up to the grisly picture people had given me. Not a single dealer or molester showed up. Another chance lost to show the Krav Maga tricks I have been watching on YouTube.
The next day I had dedicated to exploring Paris. You can't go to Paris just for a football match and leave again. I had done this insult to Vienna because I had been there before, but I absolutely wanted to see a bit of Paris.
I also absolutely wanted to meet Jon, the world's only decent journalist. So, Paris had to wait for another two hours, which it ...no, SHE … patiently did.
I had known Jon for a couple of months from his articles on French football – made all the more attractive to me since they are in English – and the occasional banter on twitter and I'm a total fan of this guy. I considered it an honour to meet him in person and as it turned out it also was an absolute pleasure. I hope, he thinks so, too.
We had two solid hours of football-banter rarely interrupted by breathing and drinking (coffee) and I set out to the rest of Paris in a mood as positive as the weather.
To be in Paris for the first time on a day full of sunshine and flowers blooming and trees trying to keep up with the flowers after a successful game – what more could I wish for.
Denny had given me his spare Metro tickets which was a very good thing, since it spared me to get into conflict with a French ticket machine (the German ones are awkward enough) and by the time I reached Gare de l'Est again I felt quite at home with the Metro.
Which involves outbursts of frustrations, naturally.
Why do the French hang the maps of Paris and her Metro at knee level?
Probably out of consideration for wheelchaired people or people like Lionel Messi who are growth retained but what about those of us who are slightly myopic?
And why do the French hide the Metro? I fondly remembered Berlin where big, lightened blue sings with white letters U show the entrance to the nearest tube station in an almost beckoning way. I learned to look for something that looks – and smells – like the entrance to a public toilet over the course of the day, though, and in the end felt I had mastered the secrets of Paris Metro quite well. I even fell for its rustic, industrial charme.
Above ground it blew me, of course. No, SHE blew me, Paris did. Despite the fact I was not able to find an entrance to Notre-Dame and thus couldn't keep my promise to my son to light a candle there for his important exam on Friday, despite aching feet after walking round a park three times looking for La Maison Victor Hugo – a MUST SEE for a Les Miserables addict – and above all despite the fact that the french seem to live on baguette and croissants and thus aren't in need of supermarkets where I might have found something glutenfree to eat (I didn't dare brave a restaurant and explain to a French waiter what glutenfree means) I was walking on air rather than pavement. Ici c'est encore Paris!!!
I had to keep in mind my schedule, though, and knew that after visiting the Place de la Bastille and Maison Victor Hugo, I had time for one more destination only and as much as I would have liked to take the tour to Parc des Princes, I decided on the Eiffel Tower. You simply CAN'T go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower.
And I decided to go there by bus. I had been to so many of the famous places, already, or rather been under them, that when a bus just stopped beside me and it said „Champs de Mars“ on the screen, I hopped on and enjoyed half an hour of authentic sightseeing. No gabbling guide, no japanese tourists flashing their phones, no predictable oohs and ahhs, just locals discussing their knee-joints and neighbours, school girls exchanging photos on their mobiles and the bus weaving through the traffic and the narrows at Louvre I'd never have thought it would squeeze through. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Of course, I did a selfie with the Eiffel Tower. Who wouldn't. And isn't it a sweetheart to stand there and indulge in it all the time? Not like some players I've heard of.
And here it is in all its glory! So proud to actually have been there!
It took me some time to find the Metro again, but, then, experienced candidate for a prominent chapter in „Paris pour le Nuls“ - a book that probably exists or ought to exist – I am, I had no trouble finding my way back to Gare de l'Est within minutes, meaning I always during my stay took the Metro IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION! Ain't I smart?
I picked up my backpack from l'Espace baggage again, spent half an hour on a fruitless – in the true sense of the meaning – search for something to eat, finally resolved that eating is overrated when it comes to visiting Paris on a football mission, found out in a mixture of English and French where the TGV to Stuttgart was bound to leave („Does it leave onze ou douze?“)and finally settled in my seat with the comfortable feeling of having been gifted with another insane, wonderful, thrilling, totally enjoyable adventure by the grace of Brazilian football. If I ever had been tempted to doubt that God is Brazilian – which I wasn't – I'd be converted, now.
Deus é brasileiro. He told me so.
P.S. Proof, if any is needed: ALL my trains were on time on both journeys.
Insanity to be continued in this day's sequel. Watch out for "London Calling!" by Angela Roemelt.