The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Into the Scrum

Have you got Rugby World Cup fever? Jeepers, I sure do!

OK, maybe not. Maybe I don't know a scrum half from a chili half-smoke, and couldn't name a single rugby player except the square-headed French dude who's in all the ads here and the frightening Australian guy from the old Energizer TV commercials.

Rugby doesn't remotely approach the popularity of soccer in France; though it is probably the #2 sport (or #3, depending on how you want to categorize Formula 1 racing), it's a distant #2, and something of a regional sport, far more popular in Western France than here. Lyon has a club team but they're in the 2nd division, roughly equivalent to a AAA baseball team.

Still, Lyon is hosting a number of matches in this world cup, and it's made for some interesting flavor on the streets as the city has been flooded with supporters from the competing countries on match days. A brief field guide:

Wearing yellow, boisterous, lost = Australian
Wearing kilt, drunk at 10AM = Scots
Wearing sleeveless St. George's Cross T-shirt, drunk at 10AM = English
Wearing red, calmly resigned to ultimate crushing defeat = Japanese
Wearing black, smug = New Zealander or bandwagoning French

Shops, cafes and restaurants have gotten into the act as well, with rugby-themed window displays and big-screen TVs for watching the matches. The local McDonald's restaurants have limited-time-only burgers representing the competing nations; I have not yet determined what makes an Argentina burger, and it is unclear how they decided whether Tonga or Samoa would get the pineapple.

Anyhow, somehow I managed to get invited to a reception at the Lyon Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for the USA Rugby team. Turns out that the US Consul offered an invitation to officers of the American Club of Lyon, which includes V. because she runs the children's playgroup and Mom's Night Out. But she was feeling poorly thanks to a cold, which is how I was able to give my name to the cops guarding the gate and stride confidently in as if I were somebody important.

The meeting rooms at the Hotel de Ville are not normally open to visitors, presumably so they can use them to, y'know, govern the city. But I was able to take a few dimly-lit snaps of the delightfully over-the-top Third Empire (baroque) interior.

The Thomas Blanchet frescoes are allegorical, though you can't make out a thing in these pictures thanks to the dim lighting and flash glare off the oils.

After taking a few clandestine pictures, I headed to the security checkpoint, where I was given one of those groovy translation headsets you see at UN meetings (yes, we have them at my workplace as well, but I never get to mess with them since all our official meetings are in English).

Inside the reception hall, there was much milling about; the rugby players were easy to spot due to their enormous size, generally Pacific-Islander ancestry, and unfortunate cauliflowering of the ears. I spoke briefly with these three guys, not wanting to be too annoying or reveal my utter ignorance of rugby. They were all quite polite, down-to-earth, and seemed honestly happy to be there.

It turns out that almost every member of the US team plays for an amateur or semipro team, while most of their opponents play in the big European leagues. In rugby, unlike soccer where it's possible for an inferior team to win some games thanks to a fluke goal, the better team almost always wins, sometimes by a tremendous margin. So despite a strong performance against heavily-favored England in their first game, the USA is likely to go home winless again.

There was some speechifying from the mayor, Gerard Collomb (he's the short guy at the podium; hey, he has a Blogger account!), and the team presented him a jersey with his name on the back, which seemed to confuse him a little. There were also a few words from Jean-Pierre Rives, former France captain and Rugby Hall-of-Famer who retired to become a sculptor of some renown--which seems like a very French thing to do.

This being France, I probably don't need to tell you that the hors d'oeuvres and champagne were spectacular. I managed to sneak some macarons into my jacket pocket to take home to V.


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