Paris Encore!

9 Jun

Our goal is to experience three of the four tennis Grand Slams this year. With the Australian Open under our belt we now have Roland Garros and Wimbledon in our sights. Flushing Meadow will have to wait for 2015.

We missed the Roland Garros first week matches as we had to be in Wales for Stu’s offroad motorcycle training course. That bumped the ticket prices up enormously. The only tickets I could buy online in February when they went on sale was for Thursday in Philippe Chatrier Stadium for the Mixed Doubles final and both Women’s singles semi-finals. Cost a shedload of money but it’s worth it!

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Since we were splurging on the tennis we balanced it with modest accommodation for our four-night stay. Stephane’s ground floor studio in Rue St Dominique in the seventh arrondissment is 12 standard floor tiles square, I counted. Room for a sofa bed, kitchenette, table for two and a very narrow bathroom. No fat people allowed! Our courtyard entry shares with two hair salons and a bookshop. Workers were renovating an adjacent building but since no one starts before 8am we weren’t disturbed.

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Our concierge has a tiny flat outside the main building’s entry that looks so much like the concierge in ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ I expected to see plump Renee Michel walk out the door.

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The real beauty of this location is stepping into the street to see the Eiffel Tower looming large in the distance. By day the majestic grey pylons bestow a grave dignity. By night the lights make us feel festive. I hadn’t realised the tower sparkles for five minutes on the hour. I feel a child’s joy watching it glittering in the distance when I come and go.

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Our block on Rue St Dominique is a handy mix of boulangeries-/patisseries, fashion stores, pharmacies, optometrists, cafes, bars and restaurants, two supermarkets, fruit and veg stalls and of course hair salons. I booked a wash, trim and blow dry in the salon by our door to the street. My stylist, Sandrine, ate her lunch in the courtyard outside our apartment. Couldn’t resist giving my hair a bouncy little flick in her direction as I walked by.

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The sunshine came with us from Wales. Marble faced buildings, gilded domes and statues gleam and the warmth encourages sidewalk cafe sunbathing, evening picnics and ball games on the lawns by Hotel Des Invalides.

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We watch a stream of smartly uniformed military officers file into the War Museum for a morning ceremony.

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We have no interest in rushing around Paris preferring to explore our neighbourhood. Five minutes walk west brings us to the Rodin Museum in Rue Varenne. Born to working class parents Auguste Rodin was no starving artist. By the age of 40 his commissions funded a lavish and louche lifestyle and eventually the purchase of this grand house and garden which he donated to the state with the proviso that it be a museum to his art. The sculptures, drawings and paintings by Rodin, his lover Camille Claudel and others are worth a leisurely visit and the grounds invite contemplation.

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Bust of Gustav Mahler

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Camille Claudel’s ‘The Waltze’

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A Renoir

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A Van Gogh

We were impressed by a group of well-behaved French primary school children sitting cross legged on the floor enthralled by their teacher explaining the sculpture ‘The Kiss’. No wonder they are so good at it when they grow up.

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Our closest church is lovely Basilique Sainte Clotilde with its magnificent stained glass windows and Duret sculptures of the stations of the cross.

We caught the tail end of a practice session by the organist and later listened to snatches of a Brahms concert through the door. We had a prior appointment that night as we were celebrating in Le Basilic, the restaurant behind the church. Last Wednesday with the help of our sons and my father, Don, we successfully concluded the purchase of a new house in Brisbane. We are cashed up gypsies no more, we have a home! Whilst I’m happy about it I confess I relished my time without the responsibility of a house.

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But back to the Tennis. In glorious sunshine we set off early to squeeze as much out of the experience as we could. Compared with week one last year the venue was almost empty as there are only championship matches in the two main stadiums. No queuing today.

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Information with smiles!

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Still the most stylish uniforms.

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We watched the under 45s legends men’s doubles exhibition match. Our favourite golden oldie, Goran Ivanisovic, was playing with Argentinian Gaston Gaudio against Spain’s Carlos Moya and Alberto Costa. They were more serious than the legends game in Melbourne but Goran was the same lanky larrikin. At one point he wacked a zinger of a cross court return of service only to be told the service was out, second serve. He shrugged his shoulders, grinned and said to the umpire, ‘That was my best return of the match!’

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The doubles match started at midday in intense heat. French-Canadian pair Daniel Nestor and Mladenovic began strongly but the Czech Republic pair Lucie Hradecka and Frantesek Cermak overpowered them. Hradecka must be one of the strongest women on the circuit.

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We had time in the break before the semifinals to visit the Roland Garros museum. It’s slightly odd that this tennis venue should be dedicated to a man who had absolutely nothing to do with tennis. The French revere solo aviator and war hero Roland Garros for his daring crossing from San Raphael to Tunisia, the first person to fly across the mediterranean and his subsequent war exploits.

The tennis artifacts are well curated, especially the evolution of tennis clothing and examples of the four different grand slam court constructions. I much prefer the red dirt of RG and the green grass of Wimbledon to the harsh manmade surfaces.

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The first travel set for tennis.

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The original, the one and only – Bjorn Borg.

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Stuart was fascinated by the artwork created in 1995 by Jean-Pierre Rives, the former French rugby great. Proof that not all former sporting legends become commentators or coaches.

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Back in our seats for the first semifinal between screaming baseliners Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka we began chatting with a New Jersey couple sitting beside us about the different tournaments and the best way to buy tickets. In the course of the conversation I realised that our tickets probably entitled us to more than the seats.

The first set went to Vika and Maria came back strongly to take the second. At that moment the few rain drops became a heavy shower and the match was suspended. We ran for shelter and took our tickets to the information booth where we were told, yes, we should go to the hospitality area under our stand for complimentary food and drink. Oh, well, better late than never.

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A few glasses of Mercier champagne later play recommenced and we watched Maria overpower Vika to take the match 2:1.

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Back down the stairs we trotted for more champagne and canapes. It’s probably fortuitous we hadn’t known earlier or we’d have been legless before the second semifinal.

I got such a thrill seeing Serena stride confidently onto the court with her fluoro orange wristband and headband, she looked magnificent. Sara Errani never stood a chance. The match was over in two sets with only one game going to Sara.

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Serena impressed the crowd with her response to the post match interview questions in French. She tried hard to please and they loved her for it.

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Our return to Paris and Roland Garros was, if anything, even more enjoyable than last year (sorry John). In addition to the tennis and the pleasures of the seventh arondissment we were able to catch up with Maryse over dinner at Le Grand Journal du Pas-Sage Oblige and Stuart lunched with former Tioxide colleague Jean-Claude whom he had not seen for thirty years. A lot of years to fill in!

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The only sad note this week was news of the death of Georges Moustaki, a much loved French guitarist, singer and songwriter of Greek and Italian heritage. Stuart has adored Moustaki’s ballads since he first heard him in the 60s. Moustaki wrote for Edith Piaf and Francoise Hardy among others and left a wonderful musical legacy.
George Moustaki’s wikipedia entry.

A tribute to George Moustaki.

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2 Responses to “Paris Encore!”

  1. Suzanne June 8, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Ahh. Living vicariously. C’est magnifique. Merci Sharon.

    • Sharon Tickle June 9, 2013 at 5:57 am #

      I think your life must be pretty interesting Suzanne. You made a brave decision.

      Love,
      Sxx

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