Sitting in a Brasserie Au Metro on Boulevard Voltaire and watching the heightened end-of-work Parisian traffic in cars, bicycles and pedestrians, the weekend’s arrival of autumn has been replaced with a revival of summer.
There’s hardly been a cloud in the sky, temperatures hit 26 degrees and are expected to continue like that for the week. There are still sightings of green-clad supporters, and evidently others who have run out of green tops, milling around the city and sitting outside the bars and brasseries, having lunch or a drink.
Most of the estimated 45,000-plus Green Army have headed for their homes, some to other parts of France, with many to return and supplement the next invasion for the Scotland game on Saturday week in the Stade de France.
The Ireland squad have moved on too, enjoying their three days’ respite from last Saturday’s pool win over the Springboks in other parts of France. Most have chosen to head back to Tours with loved ones and families. France′s yellow pack Rugby World Cup has meant bases far away from match cities until the Thursday before games, but Ireland’s garrison in Tours has been popularly received.
Most of the Irish media have headed for home too, to return again as it is a relatively short trip, certainly by comparison to, say, Japan four years ago or Australia four years hence.
The core have returned to the charms of vieux Tours, which we like to call “home”. As well as the ease in moving around, the surprisingly varied restaurants and the buzz of a university city, Tours was apparently once the capital of France way back in the day, and is known for being home to the most classical use of the French language. The constant sunshine has also helped.
Paris has been very different, aside from being vastly bigger and the autumnal weather. All squads have been placed on the outskirts of the city, even beyond the peripherique, meaning a two hour-plus commute to Ireland’s base last weekend.
We will be well sick of Parisian metros, RERs and traffic by the end of this tournament, but hopefully with the Irish squad as a continuing source of work.
The players may as well be in Timbuktu given how little they’ll see of the Champs Elysees, Notre Dame, Saint Germain et al. They’ll hardly see the city save for coach journeys to and from Stade de France for captain’s runs and match nights.
Oh, match nights. Stade de France is handy enough to commute to by underground and RER, and Smythie, a buddy from Galway, had one hell of a birthday last Saturday, but there were still stories of supporters being delayed by failed ticket checks.
And the 9pm kickoffs are a bore, not least as generally by the time work is done public transport and taxis aren’t options, and for some reason the media bus only heads west.
Cue a taxi home and back to the vicinity of the hotel circa 2.40am, roughly an hour’s journey whereas it had taken less than half that to get there. Although a bar on the Place de la Republique does stay open until 4am – a good or a bad thing maybe.
Granted, you still get traffic jams at that hour of the night in the city that never sleeps. Whatever about the delights of driving in Dublin, doing so in Paris would be unbearable, as well as nerve-racking, particularly on that Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
It can be tricky for a pedestrian unfamiliar with Paris too. Proper cycle paths abound, unlike Ireland, and it’s no wonder so many are used, especially in this weather. Key in a location on Google maps and where it might be 30 minutes by car, and 25 or so by metro, it’s generally quicker on a bike.
But they have separate traffic lights, meaning you have to check for a green light for bikes coming from your left, then for cars coming from your right and left, and again for bikes to your right.
Parisians have a reputation for being rude and unfriendly, but it’s a lazy caricature, perhaps cultivated to some degree across the water by comedians and satirists. The only two rude staff so far were both in Tours, a waitress at a brasserie, who was simply bored and regarded a petit déjeuner as an inconvenience, and a French patron at an Italian restaurant, who was brusque whether accepting you for lunch one day or turning you away on another evening. But next door the waitress pulled together two tables outside and couldn’t have been more welcoming, and that’s the norm in Paris too.
Like a plague of locusts the Green Army have left their mark too. Meeting family at a restaurant near Gare du Nord on Monday night, three of us were set on having the whole sea bass. “I am sorry,” the waiter said in perfect English, “but we have none left after all the Irish fans were here this weekend.”
Met them again yesterday for a nice, slow lunch at an outdoor table with a bottle of rosé, the popularity of which has apparently caused a decline in the sale of French red wine. Statistics also show that the average lunchtime, much like attention spans, has shortened steadily and dramatically over the last 10 years or so, but you wouldn’t think it.
And they still do it better than anywhere.
Now, like the squad and the Green Army, it’s time for a “time out”.