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Monday, May 16, 2011

17th May - Je ne regret rien

I've cheated a bit today. My intention was to post my little stories about the Heineken Cup in chronological order, running up to the Final on Saturday, but I also wanted to practice adding photos to a blog for the first time, and the computer I usually use, (ahem) doesn't have a facility for a photo memory card. Last year's Final was in Paris for the first time since 2001. France has really strict alcohol advertising laws, and also a no alcohol within a sports ground laws. A bit difficult when the sponsor is Heineken, and so they have been excluded for that length of time even though their clubs have done fantastically in reaching the finals, because the sponsor couldn't be accommodated within the ground. Some sort of deal must have been done to hold the Final at Stade de France as the H-Cup Final was held there. Heineken beer was sold outside the ground, but the non-alcohol lager was sold within the ground at 7 euros a bottle.
The stadium is a really clever design, the bottom few rows can be removed for athletics meetings, it is also the football stadium with the seats replaced within it to bring the fans closer to the pitch, and the big stadium rock bands also use it. The multi-sport use has never successfully be re-created in the UK. Possibly the Millennium, although the grass doesn't grow properly, and Wembley really did miss a trick when it cut out the running track. It is out in the suburbs, a bit like Wembley - surrounded by businesses and Saint Denis, a run down area of Paris. 15 minutes and you are in the centre of Paris though.
The photos I've attached are to try and capture the colour of the day. One team was red and black, the other red and green. At half time a choir came on and led the crowd to sing 'Je ne regret rien', a classic French song - one of the few that has worldwide renown. At the final whistle, the score was Toulouse 21, Biarritz 19, and the trophy was presented to Toulouse, who were easily the better team, although Biarritz did try and made the final score a bit more respectable. After the cup was presented giant gold lametta descended all round the stadium into the crowd as well onto the winners. The way it caught the sun, was like the lights being switched on the tree at Christmas, with the childish sense of wonder we all feel at the sparkling glitter. The game wasn't really that exciting, not one that stuck out in the memory at all. Most of the players were internationals, not all of them French, but there was no Christmas magic produced by them.

Each rugby nation has its own culture, the Welsh singing and pink furry cowboy hats, the Springboks, their Braai (barbeques). The French love Jazz, and at the game there were several small jazz bands playing mostly in a Trad style, so often it was sing-a-long, especially on the train back into the city. With the warm sunny weekend there was a real feel good factor about all the city.

I was also over in Paris for the World Cup and they managed to combine rugby with culture with a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Over looking the Eiffel Tower was a giant marquee in which was a cordon bleu restaurant with the Eiffel Tower framed in an open window, an exhibition of artistic rugby photography and outside was a collection of cockerels (the French rugby symbol) designed by a variety of modern artists. The music was of course Jazz.

This time there was a celebration of French agriculture. The Champs Elyses had been converted into a giant farm with produce from all over France. I feel a rant coming on. If only we had the same pride in our food and farmers, not the pretty chef programmes that are on television serving up pigs trotters, but isolate good food from the ordinary mortal. We should celebrate the wholesomeness of well reared well grown food, which the UK is good at. People don't put dodgy petrol in their tank, but they put rubbish in their body, like a sausage and beans pastry, without a second thought. I'll stop now as Greggs will get another hammering, and I'll go off on one. On the Sunday, it seemed as though the whole of the city was out celebrating food. It was was a photographer's paradise, with fantastic subject matter. There was a real interest in what was there, and a sense of pride.

Up at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Montmartre, there was a food fare, where produce could be bought, after sampling the best of wines and cheese, bread and meats etc. Simple food, well prepared. On the steps leading down to the city were different buskers and people sitting around enjoying the warm spring sun, just giving it a go. The choice of song was very nearly 'Losing My Religion' as everyone on the steps, regardless of nationality sang along. Priceless.

I also visited the Mona Lisa. I don't get it as a picture. The Japanese didn't look at it, they just took a photo. Its not a picture that I think is worthy of the praise that is extolled on it, but as the world's most famous painting, it deserved more respect. For me, the pavement art at Montmartre, and the small Dali exhibition excited me more. More thought provoking,and challenging, than the Mona Lisa, but it is probably like comparing Stephenson's Rocket to the Apollo Space mission.

There are no funny stories today, no disasters, not even a memorable game, but to me, this was my favourite final, so far. Rugby, Art, Food and Music on three sunny days - pretty much a perfect weekend.

Je ne Regret Pas - Edith Piaf. The French version of Vera Lynn, although I'm not sure Vera had as many lovers, especially younger ones. As a song it is as iconic and to sing along to in a community situation to the French being as 'White Cliffs of Dover' is to the British. Posting pictures wasn't difficult, but with this internet speed, very very slow. (the subject of another blog?).

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