Sunday, May 29, 2016

Paris, la muse

Paris is like the opposite of Berlin. Where Berlin celebrates decadence, darkness and counterculture (at least the Berlin I know and love), Paris celebrates aesthetics, beauty, light and art. It's another world, one I like very much.
Radiohead brought me there last Tuesday and I had the pleasure of staying with Mark for three nights. We were among the first to the gig and I was so happy to be there I didn't even mind paying €8 for Heineken. Money doesn't last long in Paris, a flaw I'm willing to overlook for now. The concert was brilliant, probably the best I've seen of them, but I won't go on about that. Back to Paris…
I ran to Jardin des Tuileries just behind the Louvre on Wednesday – the training never stops – and can honestly say it was the most scenic run yet, albeit the most challenging with every pedestrian I met going the same way I was as I was trying to get past. Their left to my right and vice versa ad infinitum. Jaysus, my Latin's improving…
Opposite the Louvre, someone had written on the pedestrian light: "Je suis la muse qui l'ouvre." I am the muse that opens it. It works better in French.
The garden had chairs, lots and lots of chairs, occupied by sun-worshippers stretched out in reverence to that otherworldly giver of life. There were people of all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, all ages, all reverent and completely relaxed. Kids were playing football to the side, their excited yelps adding to the snatches of French you hear as you pass. It's like the city's song. Traffic tries to stifle it but Paris keeps singing.
The footpaths are flooded with chairs, they're not just in the parks. Chairs almost spill into the streets, catering for the national pastime – sitting and talking, or simply sitting and watching the beautiful people go by, the pretty side of life.
There's also the less pretty side. Paris is home to a lot of homeless, contradictory though that may sound, and you'll often see them stretched out in sleeping bags beside a café or club where oblivious revelers bask in the enjoyment of their own private worlds. Some worlds are better than others.
A sex worker freaked out because some dopey tourist took a photo of her, or her shop. There was a big hullabaloo with both sides yelling for the police until it more or less broke up when a guy who had nothing to do with any of it decided to go in and have a swing at your man. Feelings were running high.
There was another incident with a woman chasing another guy who must have stolen something from her. He'd been at my table just before, either offering or looking for something. I guess he was looking. Anyway, she was chasing him up the street, shouting as he was walking away. Two minutes later followed an oldish fellow rolling up his sleeves like a scene from Asterix.
I'd wanted to follow in Beckett's footsteps, literally, but I'd no idea where he'd been so I just walked and walked and walked. No doubt our paths crossed somewhere. I kept walking.
After strolling up to Sacré-Cœur – which is marshaled by soldiers with machine guns now, as are the metro stations thanks to France's self-imposed "state of emergency" (never mind that Brussels too was marshaled by machine gun-toting soldiers before the attacks there) – I took a stroll to République, where I found lots of moving tributes to the victims of the November Paris attacks.
A man with a great big shock of grey hair stood there with his head bowed in front of a load of candles, candles like the ones we left in Berlin. I kept walking, down to the Bataclan, still boarded up and closed for business. I didn't know what to think, just sadness.
One day we ate at a very French place, Chez Paul, where it started with a row between two of the staff, a thin man who was pissed off to be working Saturday, and a huge woman who was explaining that they were all tired. It reached the stage 20 minutes later where the man said they couldn't possibly leave the place in the hands of two other (presumably) incompetent staff.
The woman, who seemed to be doing all she could to prolong the row, eventually came over and took our order and later turned into the star of the show. Two people came in and needed a table for five. Cue consternation until the woman grabbed a chair from another table and stuck it at the end of a table for four. "Ta daa!!"
She teased us for licking our plates clean. "The food was horrible, huh? You should try the desserts, they're really horrible."
In between jokes and hugging babies at another table, she barked orders at the incompetent underlings. She was really running the show. The food was great of course; we left with full and happy bellies.
Nearly all the cafés are jammed with people sitting at little tables, enjoying expensive drinks, and chattering as if their lives depend on. They all look perfect, not a button missing nor stray hair out of place. I was a freak with my uncontrollable mop.
One night there were three girls sitting at the bar sharing a cheese platter, each with a glass of red wine, chatting without a care in the world.
We walked around Pigalle, enjoyed the exotic blend of cultures, found a few Spätis – yes, Paris has Spätis! – though of course they're not as cheap as Berlin's.
I saw an old man wearing a beret with a baguette under his arm near Ile de la Cité, where again I visited my old friends the gargoyles atop Notre Dame. Esmeralda and Quasimodo were there too.
I told Mark I'd like to live in Paris for a while, maybe three months or so. He said that was long enough. Of course Paris has got its problems, but if you like something enough you tend not to see the flaws. And Paris is a muse. I have to go back, I'll go back.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rayo relegated

Rayo were relegated from La Liga yesterday. I know it shouldn't matter, it's only football, but somehow it does. They won't be measuring themselves against Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atlético next season. They probably won't be coming to Neuruppin to play Hertha again in the summer. Five seasons in the top flight they lasted – the longest spell for the club.
Despite their precarious position yesterday I still had hope they'd escape by the skin of their teeth on the last day. They had done it before. They just needed to beat Levante and hope neither Getafe nor Sporting Gijon won their games. They fulfilled their side of the bargain but Gijon didn't play ball, or rather they did, clinching survival instead by beating Villarreal.
There were tears all round – Paco Jémez just stood there as they rolled down his face. But Rayo go to La Segunda with their heads held high. After worst fears were realized, supporters cheered and waved their flags as if they'd won. Vallecas is a proud neighborhood. Este barrio nunca se rinde.
I'd feared for Rayo's well being at the start of the season when it seemed all the concentration wasn't on football. There was the business with the jerseys for every cause with donations to charity (a noble idea tainted by the whiff of marketing), the club finally sorted out the shop on its website, and the owner went off and invested in an American club, Rayo Oklahoma, a ridiculous move betraying notions of grandeur. Rayo is not Real Madrid.
In a way it was as if the club forgot its roots, forgot its neighborhood, forgot its fans and temporarily forgot about the football. It's still the world's best little club but now the world's best little club plays in the second division. Maybe it's a good thing after all, for Rayo to be brought back down to earth. They'll be back, stronger than ever.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Angry Münchkins

People were very angry in Munich today – the Münchkins that is. Someone took a swing at me as I was running earlier. Just brushed me with his fist as I went past. He kept his head down and looked like a nutter so I just kept running.
Tonight, coming back from the game, there was a row on the train because some clown wouldn't put out the cigarette he lit. He and his buddy were mouthing off to another guy who asked them to put it out until another guy got up and told him to his face. The smoker tried head-butting him and there was a bit of a struggle and lots of name-calling. It was embarrassing really. But it was all sorted in the end.
When I got off the train another fella was shouting and roaring outside a bar or a restaurant. Two men were fighting and one of them was throwing stuff back toward the restaurant – his glass or something. I dunno, I didn't care, fucking idiots.
Bayern lost! Well, they won but they really lost so maybe that's why they were all drunk and bad-tempered. They're gloomy when they win so I guess losing is a catastrophic disaster for them. They're spoilt, the Münchkins.
Earlier I was thinking the show of wealth I could see everywhere was sickening – all the fancy cars genuinely made me feel ill, thinking of all the arms deals they'd concluded to buy them, all the people somewhere else that they're screwing over – but if they're not happy they're not rich at all. They know nothing.
I wore my Rayo top when I was running – 10K up to the English Garden and back – and every time I passed some Atlético fans they cheered and whooped. RAYOOO!!! I felt like a star, shouted back Aúpa Atleti and kept running. It's to raise money for MSF and Syria in case you didn't know.
I wore my Atleti top to the match but I don't think anyone noticed, they were all too focused on the game. Jaysus, what a game! Ein Krimi, as my neighbor from L'Équipe said.
I dared not write the lede until very late, and even then I was sure I'd have to write it again. Thankfully I didn't, but when they said five minutes of injury time, goddamn. The tension, the drama, the unlikeliness of it all!
I hope Atleti go all the way now. They've got a good chance. Every side to have knocked Bayern out since 2012 has gone on to win it. It's something to look forward to in any case. Sport is a great distraction from the real world, where some people get angry for no reason at all.