Sunday, May 31, 2009

roland garros by k

don't worry, i don't have any photos of tennis players being bludgeoned with rackets or gored by tennis balls. just a tale of a trip to paris to attend one of the four major tennis tournaments in the world.

to hear barak describe it, i am a major tennis fan. before going to paris, i would have described myself as a minor tennis fan. after seeing the true fans, i would describe myself as a minor minor minor fan.

i grew up playing tennis until i hit the teenage years when i switched to team sports like soccer and softball (much to my parents' chagrin!). both of my parents played tennis their whole lives, and yes, i do sometimes enjoy watching a major tournament on television. i watched bjorn borg, chris everet, john mc enroe, steffi graf and more in their heydey. i still know more or less who is at the top, and i've always said that if i could go to one of the grand slam tournaments, i would probably choose the french open.

a few weeks after my birthday, barak announced that he had bought me a ticket to the french open, or roland garros for those in the know, for my birthday. i wasn't sure i would be able to go because i knew the dates were close to when i would start to teach a survival spanish class to foreign law students here. once i found out that my class started the day after my ticket for the french open, i was still on the fence about whether i wanted to go alone to paris. but barak encouraged me to go for it, and in the end i went.

i arrived in paris on monday afternoon after a three hour flight delay. it was boiling hot in paris and i was starving. i went to a sidewalk cafe in st germain and had a big salad and a glass of wine, and watched people go by. from there i walked to the small hotel a friend had recommended. i checked in and brought my few things up to my room. very very strange to be alone in a hotel room. can't remember the last time that happened. it was nice, but also kind of lonely. wait, actually it was great being in the hotel room alone, but it would have been more fun to have someone to walk around with and have dinner with.

i headed out again and walked and walked for quite a while. i decided i wasn't going to venture out to dinner alone, so i went to a supermarket and got some yogurt and juice and headed back to the hotel around 8. i didn't have a spoon, so eating my yogurt dinner was less than graceful and i'm sure would have made any self-respecting french citizen shudder in horror, but they didn't have to watch me!

i took a shower and then climbed in bed with a french novel translated into english. it's called "the elegance of the hedgehog" and was apparently a huge hit in france a few years ago. i read for a while and then fell asleep.

i woke to the sounds of paris getting going, but dozed until nearly 9. it was nice to be able to do that. the forecast had been for rain all day on tuesday, but it didn't look so bad when i looked out the window. it was a lot cooler, but it wasn't raining or dark in that "it's definitely going to rain" way. i was hopeful about seeing some tennis!

i checked out of the hotel. my room was prepaid, but i had to pay the local tax. one euro! not sure what the point of that was or whether it was local paris tax or a local district tax or what, but i thought it was kind of funny to pay one euro.

i went down the street and sat outside at a local bistro and had the petit dejeuner creme, orange juice, tartine (baguette with butter) and a croissant. lots of white flour and butter, but it was good!

the day before i had figured out where i needed to catch the metro to head out to roland garros, so i headed that way. the first match of the day was at 11 and it was about 10:15 by now. i figured food at the tournament would be outrageous, so i went to a supermarket to pick up a few snacks for myself. and that's when i saw it...lots of big stalks of perfect rhubarb! my mom and karen keep telling me about all the great rhubarb tarts they're making this spring and i have yet to see it in spain, so against my better judgment, i bought a big fat bunch of rhubarb to bring home! that and some crackers, a couple pink lady apples and little bag of pistachios. i couldn't squeeze the rhubarb all the way in my backpack and got many strange looks on the metro at the reddish stalks poking out of my bag.

i had checked a map and was pretty sure i would be able to find roland garros when i got off the metro. but there was no need for worry. by the time i got to the station, the train was full of people going to the tournament, so i just had to follow the sea of spectators out of the metro and down the road. i was surprised by the sheer quantity of people.

i waited in the e-ticket line...the longest one. i felt a few drops of rain, but the sky still looked pretty open. i used the time in line to reshuffle things in my backpack and after a while i managed to get the rhubarb all the way in and zip my backpack closed! after about half an hour i made it to the front, showed my passport and got my official ticket. then i had to open my backpack for someone to search it and again i got a funny look when the rhubarb jumped out. i just smiled and moved on.

i slowly made my way to court was super crowded in "the village." i found stairway 9 and went up and showed my ticket. i could hear the players hitting the ball and the referee giving the score. it was strange to realize that i was really at the french open. i had to wait a few minutes for a game to finish before i could go in and sit down. 40-15...almost there. and then it started pouring! not just raining, but pouring! and spectators started streaming out of the stadium. so close...

i spent the next hour and a half wondering what to do. roland garros is really not set up for rain, unless of course you are a v.i.p. at first i thought i'd go to one of the shops they have set up there, but of course everyone else had the same idea so it was a total zoo and virtually impossible to get to the front door. people were lined up under any open eave they could find. suddenly there were lots of roland garros umbrellas everywhere. fortunately, i had an umbrella, so when i wasn't wandering around, i mostly stood under a tree under my umbrella. the tree broke the rain umbrella did the rest.

this would have all been fine and pleasant if i could have sat down and sipped a cafe au lait, but standing under an umbrella alone for a long time gets very old. every time the sky lightened a little bit, the rain came back. i decided that if it didn't clear up by 1:00, i would leave. it was frustrating to have gotten so close, but i figured it would at least be a good story. yes, i went to the french open. didn't see any tennis, but i was there!

finally, as i was psyching myself up to leave, the rain stopped. i found my seat and watched the grounds people get the court ready for play. more and more people came into the stadium and cheered for the workers. then the ball boys and girls game out, then the referee and finally the players. i had heard of one of them, del potro. later i read he's from argentina and is ranked number 5 at the tournament. didn't know his opponent. there were germans to my right, dutch (or maybe belgians) behind me, french to my left, british in front of me. this really is an international event. i was surprised how many people from all over were there. and those, i think, are the real fans. not all of them. some are probably casual observers, like me, but some seemed hard core.

finally, the match resumed. it was fun to see the play from so close, but i have to admit that it all seemed very slow too. maybe this was because i was cold, maybe it was because i didn't have anyone to whisper with, but i think it also may be that i'm used to watching tennis on tivo. skipping all the changeovers, even speeding up the action between points. not possible when you're there!

when the rain started about 40 minutes later, i left. my fingers were numb and i decided i couldn't bear to wait around the rest of the afternoon. so my rhubarb and i headed back to the metro and went back to st germaine, where i found a movie theater i had seen the day before. what i really needed was food and sitting and being warm. so i ate and then went to a movie. it was perfect.

when the movie was over, there was some blue sky. but still i knew i had made the right decision to leave roland garros. and i was happy i wouldn't be taking off in a rain storm. it was time to get on the train and head to the airport. there was another slightly complicated train situation. had to take one train to the gare du nord, but when i looked for the other it said it was leaving from another track because of who knows what "social action". i did not want a repeat from my last trip with arel when we missed our flight, but in the end i figured it out, got to the right place and made it to the airport. and then i found out my 9:25 p.m. flight was delayed...i could only laugh. it was not the trip of my dreams, but it was what it was and i made it back in one piece...that's what's important.

on a sad note, my cousin in munich died yesterday. the disease progressed much faster than expected. she was 48.