Paris in a Flash: Roland Garros
This morning I said goodbye to my Australian visitor and then the rest was farcical – it was straight out of a really bad American movie that makes fun of the French.
I was literally astounded by how blatantly unhelpful some French were and how they do it with a smile on their face and pride in their hearts for fulfilling a disingenuous stereotype which shows them to be selfish, lazy and unfriendly. I know like all generalisations it is not only completely untrue it is also unhelpful to approach a situation with even an inkling of this attitude.
I am eternally optimistic and think the best of people, often to my own detriment, and my beliefs and approach persist in spite of my experiences. But the hard life in Paris, their often ridiculous rules and inconsistencies, and all these obstacles are slowly wearing me down.
I had the trio of typically French comical situations this morning. They were straight out of a comedy sketch show based entirely on stereotype and each situation was an indictment of them as a society! Even my French cousins find Parisians rude.
I do not in any way shape or form hold this against any of them because they have no choice, their attitudes have been ingrained in their skin as much as their bodies, hearts and minds.
I was in a slight pickle this morning, a sticky situation of sorts. On this almost holy of days, during which I am making pilgrimage to Roland Garros on day 1 of the 2011 French Open, I have started it off frustrated, stressed and off put.
My Metro Line was closed with no sign as to why, no explanation at all!
Nothing is open before 10am!
And most of all, in general people are purposely unhelpful!
I walked into 3 hotels and 1 hostel and asked in French in a very polite manner could I please use a printer to print out one piece of paper. I was happy to pay. I was happy for anything really – and I had to stand there with a smile on my face looking at three very smug gentlemen say we do not have a printer at all whilst standing within a 15 centimetre radius of computers and printers. No sorry, nothing, in fact I am so up with the politeness and ceremony French culture that it was in fact I who apologised, thanked them for their help and then said goodbye!
And so, at the moment I have a ticket, but no way of actually getting in; we will see how I manage this one!
Tennis has always been one of the only sports that I truly love and I have played it for most of my life. I still get a buzz every time I play; it is also one of the only sports that I can sit in front of for hours on end and never be bored.
Given that I always used to play on en-tout-cas courts, their closest relative being clay, the French Open has always been a favourite of mine.
As I move closer to my destination my seething rage is being soothed slightly by the fact that the train is filling up with fellow lovers of tennis!
Tennis is the gentleman’s and ladies game – you need not look further than my two heroes Roger Federer and Patrick Rafter, Justine Henin and Martina Navratilova who are all bastions for chivalry and greatness.
All of us are here at Roland Garros, clay courts grand and traditional home to watch the masters play!
Exiting at Porte d’Auteuil there was a procession of fans making their way to Stade de Roland Garros. It was great to be following the crowd but there was a lingering sense of dread from the ticket saga.
I still had no way of entering the closely guarded premises in the outer 16th arrondissement.
I used every logical, lateral and argumentative area of my mind and experience to try and justify my position and find a simple solution.
Luckily for me my innate sense of technology is light years ahead of French adaptation. With the added difficulty of no credit left on my phone whatsoever thanks to ridiculous French prepaid phone rates, I just spent 35 euros to top it up to 50 credit two days ago, I came up with a gutsy and risky solution.
Whilst I was earlier still in an available wifi zone I had downloaded the e-ticket onto my file app on my trusty iPhone. And so the plan was hatched. I asked the ticketing attendants if there was anything I could do… as I had my ticket but was unable to print it. They said I could walk back to the metro and find a cyber cafe but no one knew where one was. They had no support or solutions.
It was at this point of absolute frustration that friendly faces emerged from the crowd – The four intrepid Australian weekenders from London had arrived. Not willing to leave my friends who I had just found by random luck or destiny, I joined them in the line and proceeded towards the scanning turnstiles. I resized my iPhone ticket barcode to the corresponding correct size, walked up to the gate… Put my iPhone under the scanner… and… Out printed my official ticket with my details on it!
And so despite them saying it was neither possible nor acceptable… a little Australian humour and guts won the battle!
And together with my four friends we headed into what was immediately clear to be the most beautiful home for tennis.
As we found out from this great sign we were 365km from Wimbeldon, 5839km from Flushing Meadows and 16950km from HOME – Melbourne Park is a world away!
Choosing from the line-up was an unusually difficult process. We noticed glaring holes in the program namely only two of the top ten men and women were playing today! What was up with that?!
We all agreed on a suitable choice and headed together to Court 6… feeling incredibly patriotic we went in support of Casey Dellacqua!
It was quiet, with very few spectators, but we sat in the first row a mere 3 metres from the players as if it were just a local club match. And even more special the Australian support crew of family and tennis officials were 2 metres away.
It was at this point that we noticed an Australian tennis legend enter the stands – Todd Woodbridge was my hero as a kid growing up playing tennis. He was a master and a gentleman. And so we respectfully left him to his own devices.
The atmosphere was very different for us – having each been to the Kooyong Classic and the Australian Open – we all noticed stark differences. The obvious one being everything was in French!
The scoring didn’t take very long to get used to but the score for the watch we were watching certainly was unnerving.
And so I left the match to go see what was happening at Suzanne Lenglen and try to get some credit on my phone! After failing to organise any credit for the phone I succeeded in finding my seat and watched some of the match enjoying the atmosphere of the bigger stadium.
After a while I decided to walk back for the end of the Dellacqua match hoping for some good news.
Sadly it was a quick defeat after so much time off the circuit; but I am sure she will make a massive comeback soon!
But on the way we miraculously found another friend from within the throngs of spectators and so he joined us.
This gentleman, however, who knows him Todd Woodbridge in a professional capacity, went for a proper chat and found out some interesting news.
Hot off the press, Lleyton Hewitt had withdrawn from the tournament. So there was no longer any need to rush back to the court to see that match!
Instead it was a quiet lunch in the gardens with my old friend and benefactor!
And after a really interesting conversation and reasonably edible curried chicken tortilla wrap, I headed back to Court Suzanne Lenglen for the rest of the day.
And so began my immersion experience in French Tennis Culture and the Open.
Lets have a quick lesson in French Tennis Scoring cause interestingly it is not just about different numbers!
Zéro –> Love
Quinze —> 15
Trente —> 30
Quarante –> 40
Égalité —> deuce
Jeu —> game
Deuce is égalité, how absolutely fitting given all the richness of the French history behind this simple word égalité.
This absolute infusion of French Culture, societal values and pretext is throughout the game and the event!
There was no raucous cheering, chanting, singing, booing or berating in sight. No flags, face paint, drunkenness, fist fights or chair throwing.
The target is different, the atmosphere a polar opposite, the image a major shift! This is the Chic Beautiful Grand Slam…
Around Phillip Chartier Court – the main stadium – there was a hive of activity…
There were spectators of all types, but unique were the breed with slicked back hair, designer shades, shirts, light beige suit jackets and linen pants. The Ladies wore flowing dresses with trench coats, handbags and silk scarves. Everyone with style wore hats. How fitting for the French Open… if only it wasn’t 21 degrees!
But getting back to the tennis matches themselves….
I made it back for the end of the Montanes versus Hewitt Replacement match…
After some serving, slipping and sliding the match was over…
As people left I moved further and further towards the front… Why not! Maximise the opportunity!
Next on the play list was a very determined Jelena Jankovich…
The other player really didn’t stand that much of a chance and it was a matter of a practice run for her next round!
Afterwards, as the court was readied for the next match I continued to marvel at the systematic and mechanical nature of the French. Clay courts are a lot of work and need to be watered and bagged between every match to maintain the surface, then the lines have to be swept. The French take the process to the next level whether it is on a small court or a major court.
The linesmen were immaculately dressed, everyone of us wanted to by the red lacoste cableknit sweater – sadly they weren’t for sale! The linesmen and ball boys and girls all marched out in military fashion or ran out in a display of perfect timing.
It was then time for the Frenchman to enter the court and there was a distinct change in the spectators. Somehow the injection of their national pride and ego onto the court flicked a switch!
The clapping, previously the only form of reaction, became more intense and longer lasting, and the chanting began. Random calls rang out in the stadium between almost every point – Allez Juju, Allez Julian … I felt sorry for the poor guy being called Juju by 5 thousand spectators.
Juju, as I now know he is affectionately called by his people, Julien Benneteau played well on the clay, with controlled slides, some good volleys at the net and gutsy work at the baseline.
His service action was a sight to behold as his hand and body repeatedly contorted into a position almost like a prayer to the ball rising above his head.
His footwork was fast and he regularly made his way across the entire court.
At around 6pm they play started to become really high class! It was finally captivating my interest.
The pace had finally picked up, as did the quality of the rallies and the shot making with some great winners and good angles.
His opponent, Rui Machado of Portugal, had some staunch supporters in the background belting out the chants from bull fights!
Aerial prowess and grunt, you saw it in his face, the effort and strength he placed into every shot.
Sadly he fell to the mighty Frenchman and the crowd certainly showed their elation.
French flags were up and waving, and even a Mexican wave spread around the stadium.
At 7:15pm, with the match over, the crowds cheered their countryman’s win.
The outside courts were more intimate and the crowds loved them.
Some of my favourite moments were the little things, characteristic of clay court play; the shoe tapping, line cleaing and arguments over ball marks made by all the players.
The mass exodus from the grounds back towards the metro was like a giant celebration of the wonderful day at Roland Garros!
The day was over and it was worth all the trouble!
A huge and massive thank you goes to a single person, they know who they are, who organised the ticket for me and made this all possible!
So, does anyone want to offer me the sports photographer position?
Here is a little something I prepared for fun, an amateur timelapse of the serving actions of three of the players…