Cinema | Football’s happy existence inside Parisian ‘museum’

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Editor’s note

Below is the third installment from Gwendolyn Oxenham‘s diaries supporting an in-process documentary film, The Soccer Project, about four recent college graduates and their pursuit of improvisational soccer matches around the world.

The following appeared originally on the Soccer Project blog on 2 Jun 08.

“Paris is like a museum, you cannot play football inside a museum,” says an early detractor, but the power of soccer prevails. (© The Soccer Project. Used by permission.)

Paris | When my sister graduated from high school, my father took her to Paris, but the only details that emerged from the trip involved him snoring so loud she slept in the hotel hallway. So my image of Paris was of a faded runner rug and of my sister, curled in a ball at the foot of the door.

Rebekah [Fergusson], Luke [Boughen] and I arrive in Paris at 8 a.m. Ryan [White], who’d gone to Spain for a family wedding, would meet us later in the afternoon.

We take the Metro to the basement-level apartment we are renting for two nights. It is close enough to the sights to be convenient and far enough away to feel like we are seeing the Parisian’s Paris. We drop off our bags, buy bread and cheese from the supermarché and force ourselves onto the street, even though we are thinking, at home, it is 3:30 a.m. and we’d like to be in bed.

Several people have told us there are games in the Champ de Mars, the grass stretching out from the Eiffel Tower. Ferg herself had gotten into a game in the grass with a mix of tourists several years ago. We’re hoping to stumble upon something similar, but when we get there the main lawn is closed for repairs. When Ferg attempts to talk to the maintenance men, they ask her out for coffee but know nothing about the football.

On the side lawn, the only game is a swarm of French seven-year-olds who look like they’re on an Eiffel Tower field trip. While Luke and I love to play with anyone from old men to fat men to first-time females, we do not love to play with seven-year-olds. Something about sprinting past small children feels wrong. So Luke and I lean back against the bench and just watch. There’s an occasional game-ruiner who snatches it up with his hands and makes a break for it, the other kids tailing him until someone is able to knock it from his fingers and back down to the feet.

There is one drunk man with a Polaroid camera who wants to juggle the ball and kiss my cheek, but we opt out of a game with him. The only people left are either dozing or lovers fondling one another beneath umbrellas. Luke rolls the ball out in the grass and waits to see if anyone will take the bait, but when no one does we call it a day. It is not our mission to force people to play with us.

The beauty of pick-up is that it happens anywhere, with anyone, at no given place or time. This is also what makes it hard to find. When you are planning a trip, you rely on others’ suggestions as to where games might take place, but when you arrive there’s no guarantee that the Mennonites still play in the Bolivian jungle or that the lawn of the Eiffel Tower won’t temporarily be closed.

We walk six or seven miles home, soaking wet but warm, passing the Musée d’Orsay, the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre. We sit down at the Bataclan Café on the corner across from the alleyway that leads to our apartment. The directions we gave Ryan are vague, and we are hoping to intercept him before he has the chance to get lost.

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