You can bid farewell to Roland Garros and the Internationaux de France, aka the French Open, but there is no need to say goodbye. It will always be here and it will be the same, even if they are promising to expand the site over the next few years.
The truth is that I moved from enthusiasm to skepticism about this whole Roland-nouveau plan, and there are people I would talk to in the mayor’s office, the French tennis federation, and their various business partners, not to mention a few other interested parties, before coming to any conclusions about what this all adds up to — or subtracts from. After all, instead of going into contortions in the space they have, and infringing on the nearby botanical garden with its priceless works of nature, why could they not just spread the place into the adjacent suburbs. They do not want to share? You would have to share revenue between Paris and Boulogne, for example, if you went that way? And you are not into sharing and solidarity? (The mayor is a Socialist.) These thoughts may be all wet but of wet thoughts is journalism made, if you will forgive the crude image. And admit it is appropriate for the day before flying home into news of yet another Congressional s-x scandal.
Actually and in real fact, I was paying no attention until I got a whiff of it on the plane. I love coming home because home is where we are from. I always find myself humming a sentimental song when I am going home, by those fellows who have many fans around the world — one of them, Mr. Simon, will be in Paris for a concert later this summer. It is called “Homeward Bound,” and you have to hand it to its author, it is silly and sentimental, with the kinds of verse Quin and Aaron enjoy, please do not tell them I said this, but honestly and without wanting to be a pedant, just think about it, and tell me if I am not right to listen to Buddy Miller or Richard Thompson, John Hiatt. All right, Dwight Yoakam. Okay, we shall all agree on Bach. Bach and Bob Dylan.
Home’s where my racquet’s waiting… Thank you, Mr. Simon, Mr. Garfunkel.
In fact, like any normal 21st-century American, I have learned to pre-position my supplies. Months ago I shrewdly planned an active tour of local tennis venues, thanks to stashed-away shoes and racquet.
I found a place where I knew immediately if Congressmen and other powerful men settled in, they would forget about fooling around and wrecking their careers and their home lives. Spend the afternoon at the Cercle Amical (sports center) at Vincennes, on the east side of Paris right next to the old medieval fortress which, as it happens, served in the unsuccessful but heroic defense of the capital on more than one occasion when the enemy came from the east — spend the afternoon, I say, in this beautifully laid out private but affordable club, with the same kinds of red clay courts as you get at Roland-Garros, and hey, you avoid making an ass of yourself.
Like I always say about playground basketball when civilized grownups like Mr. Tyrrell ask why a man my age wants to wreck his knees in a kids’ game, “It beats another hassle with the little woman, ya know?”
The Cercle Amical is a super place. Fair rates, too, and they will pro-rata an annual membership for a short period, if you tell them you love this city, this sport, you are in favor of l’amitiée France-Amérique forever and depuis toujours. Sure enough, the pro guiding me around the club said, I see you are carrying a racquet, do you have shoes in that bag (votre sac) as well?
I allowed as how I had. Well, monsieur, may I have the honor of inviting you to try our, etc. He even apologized for the surfaces being a little hard – the sécheresse, he explained, the drought (which is causing real economic havoc this season). Fine player, too, with a reliably sharp forehand. He then invited me to luncheon on the terrace, I said he was too kind and really I was flying tomorrow so we only had an apéritif.
I made sure mine was dry, because I was determined to continue my investigations with a clear head. A kid I had spotted in the neighborhood carrying a racquet had assured me I should check out some courts near the Porte d’Orléans, and my plan was to go around the city, east to north to west to south, visiting as many places as possible.
The Cercle is a private club. I forewent the nearby public courts in order to get a jump and try to catch up on my schedule, already hours behind. And with that came doubts. Doubts about my mission. What if it was not public tennis courts in the northeast corner of Paris, where kids dream of fame on the football pitches, but something else that Mr. Tyrrell wanted?
No alternative but to plough on. I skipped several addresses on my list and made my way to the upper north east, between the Buttes Chaumont, a marvel of urban gardening, and the Villette neighborhood which lies above the Buttes. In the rue Edouard Pailleron near a high school, there are a couple of clay courts, manifestly not terribly well cared for but they looked quite usable. Unfortunately, no one was using them.
I realized I was never going to finish this. I would have to get an assignment from National Geographic and mount a full expedition with sherpas and cartographers and photographers. I needed pictures, to show the difference between the north east and the one place I decided to see before quitting, a west side sports center off the boulevard Lannes. Here I counted six courts, all occupied when I got there, but an animateur, youth activities counselor, said there was a seventh over there (he made a gesture, so I nodded). The courts are made of a material that feels like rubber, for a slower bounce than on other hard surfaces. The place itself is tree-lined.
Well, this would have to do it. At least I proved that there are choices — private clubs, public courts, at least some effort by the city to get kids going. Keep them off the streets.
However, it may be the adults, not the kids, who need keeping off the streets — or whatever trouble we mean by that. Back from the far west side, I stopped at the corner bar, which after a long period of distrust I finally got to know, to my immense satisfaction. It is a great bar, the Pub St Hilaire, and it is run by a great gang of expert barmen and the best kinds of owners, who take a real interest in their customers, most of whom, I discovered, are happy to discuss anything, plus a steady flow of tourists, due to the neighborhood, but these turned out to be fascinating people too, carrying news from places far away, such as Austria and Denmark.
The patron (owner) came by and asked me what I was drinking and told me to take a refill on him, he was so happy to have met me during the past weeks and was proud to serve as the second office of The American Spectator‘s tennis correspondent. I said it was an honor and that if he visited the U.S. with the missus, to let Mr. Pleszczynski and me offer him a cocktail in our favorite saloon, which is McSorley’s. In Washington we will take you to Brickskeller’s, I said.
“I visited America once,” the patron told me, “30 years ago. I visited Canada, Toronto, and we went to Detroit,” he pronounced the name as its founders intended. “Then we went to Pittsburgh. We visited Philadelphia, and spent three days in New York. I never met so many nice people. That is why this bar has so many American ideas.” It is true there is something of an American saloon atmosphere at the St Hilaire. It may be a fashion — like Irish pubs, wine bars, neither of which are much like bars in Ireland or the kinds of wine bars, little depot held by a bougnat, where my new best friend may well have learned his trade.
“If you come to America,” I added, “make sure to fly Open Skies, the British Air Paris-Washington or New York boutique airline. They will not disappoint.”
He nodded. We discussed sports. “Jurgen Van den Broeck,” he said. I agreed the Belgian racer was a possibility in the coming Tour de France bicycle race. “And the Bleus,” he meant the national football team, “have a chance. Marvin Martin, Younes Kaboul.” “Martin,” I agreed. “There’s our man.” It was a fine drink and we did not discuss any s-x scandals.
The plane ride home turned out to be as I had vaunted it. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, as good as it gets in this kind of travel. The seats and the leg room, the food you could swallow, the drinks — I stayed dry — the stewardesses floating by, the pilots staying on course, the passengers (discreet), I felt momentarily over-indulged, but then I thought of it in a new way. Maybe a little over-indulgence helps you work. I knew most of the people on this flight had been working hard. They were still working hard, some with computers, some with calculators, others studying scripts, plotting business strategies, reviewing their notes.
You could see this if you walked up and down the aisle, which I did several times. There is plenty of room. There are only four seats per row. You have to admit, this makes a difference. I had a pile of newspapers and magazines which I glanced at with some reluctance. Did I have to catch up on the news? The headlines, the cover stories, did not look inviting. A junior minister in President Sarkozy’s government forced to resign due to s-x, arguing he merely was practicing a therapy, focused on feet, that has a certain affinity with acupuncture. Confusion in the political class. Dry weather damaging not only crops but housing. African big men buying luxury homes in France, Chinese state companies buying land in Africa. Rumors of assault helicopters on their way to the Libyan front.
It was making me dizzy, but the stewardess showed me how to make use of the reclining seat and advised that lunch would include choice wines, and would I like a glass of Champagne? I excused myself, said I had to stay in shape. I did not want to give the wrong impression of Americans. Or of men.
There was a dire warning about a heat wave on the East Coast, but that did not faze me. There was more news about a scandal I had studiously avoided. One name caught my eye, however, Cyrus Vance, Jr. I remembered now, he replaced the legendary D.A. Robert Morgenthau. My father worked for Cyrus Vance, this must be his son. The world is in good hands. I turned on the music — another terrific feature on these flights, you get your own music and video screen so you can watch movies if you prefer.
Homeward Bound. I am a jerk to be such a snob, I thought as I settled in. This is a wonderful song, great melody. Mr. Simon, thank you, and I’m going home.
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