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

In South America, every bug, calamity and illness found Ryan, so it’s no surprise to us when we see him walking toward us, three hours late and without a bag. We hold up our hands and he mumbles, “They canceled my flight and lost my bag.” Bag contents included both eyeglasses and disposable contacts so our cameraman is now blind.

We regroup over dinner, heading to a restaurant that Antoine, the man whose basement we are renting, recommended: “It is good, cheap, and you will like it.” The restaurant has soft light, stone walls and photographs of memorable tombstones. The tables are close together and the menu is written on a rotatable chalkboard. We order two entrées to split—boeuf Bordeaux and very good fish. As we wait for the food, I pull out my notebook and attempt to write out sentences in French I think we’ll need: Ou est le football? Nous faisons un documentaire sur le football de rue a travers le monde. Peuvons-nous jouer football avec toi?

When our waiter, Fabrice, comes over, he sits down with my notebook and re-conjugates my verbs, changes my articles and adds accents. Before long, the whole restaurant begins to brainstorm on places we could go. The man to our right spends half his year in Chicago and half in Paris. He tells us, “You are very lucky to have found this restaurant.” Fabriez sighs and sits down, “But Paris is like a museum, you cannot play football inside a museum. I think you will need to go somewhere else.”

The next afternoon we head back to the Eiffel Tower for one more try. The weather is better, the mood is lighter and we know by now that what you find one day does not dictate what you will find the next.

The Champ de Mars has five or six squares of lawn and we decide to head further and further back, until we can see all of the Eiffel Tower in our camera lens. As Rebekah shoots a scenic and Luke and Ryan head to the bathroom, I scan the lawn for prospective players. I glance to my right and say, “Soccer.”

It seems too good to be true so I jog closer to make sure it is real and not some kind of mirage. There, to my right, is a soccer court, the Eiffel Tower shooting up directly behind it.

The guys to the side of the court waiting to get on look like French schoolboys—shaggy hair, reading glasses, dark jeans, backpacks. One of them looks like a gruffer version of Leo DiCaprio. He speaks English and explains to us that you play until two goals, winner stays on.

We collectively roll up our jeans and play. The guys are as good as anyone we played with in South America, and this comes as something of a surprise. In all honesty, we didn’t think the Europeans stood a chance.

My impression of the Eiffel Tower on our first day was rather underwhelming—swarming tourists, gray sky and a giant metal structure around which no one played soccer—but today it is different: the sky is pink and the sun has fallen directly beneath the tower, giving the impression that it is lit from within. There are people all around, lounging in the grass, sitting on the steps, kicking soccer balls, walking hand in hand, living happily within the Paris museum.

On our way back to the apartment, a well-dressed French man mistakes us for Parisians and asks us for directions. Excited by the opportunity to use the one sentence I remember from French class, I say, “Je ne parle pas francais” and we continue walking. One hundred yards later he is still behind us, apparently heading the same direction. When he asks where we are from and why we are here, we tell him about our football documentary. He takes the ball from Luke’s hand and says, “Ah? You watch this.”

In his gray sweater vest, knit pants and black shiny shoes, he starts juggling in the shadows of the cobblestone street.

© 2008 Gwendolyn Oxenham. All rights reserved.

Go to part 1 (Bolivia) » | part 2 (Israel) » | part 4 (Kenya) »

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