By Ryan Child
I left the whisky on the plane, so the first place we went in Bastille was a local shop to buy vodka, bread and garlic cheese. The streets in this part of Paris shone up into the night, arcades and carnivals, full of young men and skinny girls.
“Welcome my friends,” the Hotel Royale Bastille receptionist said, a man in his late 20s. “You can also get a breakfast here but it is 12 Euros and you can get the same for half the price down the street. You know this but…” he shrugged. “It is your decision. I am just honest,” he said lethargically, his mind clearly occupied with whatever his art was.
And it was beautiful art we were here to see.
After an hour on that Sunday, though, it was clear that Paris Saint Germain were a non-symmetrical, abstract football team. Beautiful in parts but incomprehensible in others, and never inspiring or creative enough to engender the same surreal fluidity of their Catalan peers.
Nevertheless, the art collections of billionaires are always sure to include some classics, enjoyable even when hung unevenly on the wall. A visit to the Parc des Princes did, after all, promise a sight of Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, England’s David Beckham and a pair of Argentinian jewels stolen from Naples: Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Those two hadn’t settled in Paris as the fans had hoped for, unlike Johnny’s wallet, which settled into a local thief’s pocket on the Friday we arrived. That night, drunk and twisted from the vodka and mussels, we spent an hour with two Italian girls on the way home but woke up on Saturday with only a pair of hangovers.
Johnny went downstairs to wire some money over through the phone, and I found a mystery 4-star place online at lastminute.com.
“Sorted some money out,” Johnny said, coming through the door, dipping bread into oxidised garlic cheese.
“Good, I booked a mystery hotel in east Paris for 130 Euros. We can stay until Monday morning.”
“Seems that way.”
Johhny sat down and the vodka bottle, wedged between the two single, red-sheeted beds, cracked on the floor.
“That’s how I feel,” I said.
My phone rang and the lastminute girl said there was no room at the first mystery Inn but there were others.
“Do we want to get a different mystery on the west of Paris instead?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ll take that then. Where is it?”
“First I’ll need the payment to go through, Sir. I can call you when it’s all done. Should take 10 minutes.”
“We’re going to have breakfast, can you make it 30, please?”
Bastille shares Bristol’s taste for good graffiti. We sat at a café facing the road on a zebra crossing, watching the people being French. Brunettes and cigarettes filed along in zig-zags, and we took it all down with a glass of wine for breakfast.
That rhythmic tempering, built on layers and layers of sound, deafened Jonny and I as we walked towards the Parc des Princes on Sunday evening.
Mopeds beeped past, the riders waving their hands and shouting at café owners, but it was the drums that were the loudest in Paris. That rhythmic tempering, built on layers and layers of sound, deafened Johnny and I as we walked towards the Parc des Princes on Sunday evening.
When we arrived, we learned that our tickets were in opposite ends of the ground. I would see PSG get off the mark, but Johnny was closest to the second-half penalty. The first goal was a tap-in from Jeremy Menez, a direct but often wasteful forward who was one of three Frenchmen in the PSG starting Xl.
From there, the half played out with little action on the pitch, while the crowd chanted “Ibra! Ibra! Ibra!”.
The night before had marked the halfway point in our Parisian trip and, after settling into our new, Moroccan-themed hotel in the western district of Mountsouris, Johnny and I went out to see the city. That day, we walked the five miles from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, checking the Seine-side stalls and padlocked bridges.
Back at the Villa Royale Mountsouris, where the syringe in the elevator belied the notion of four stars, the receptionist slept.
“Excuse me, mate. Sorry but…” He sat up with a start. His hair was cut sharp on the sides, with thin sideburns forming a border around a youthful, chubby, North African face.
“Yes sir?” he said, squinting into the lobby chandelier.
“Could we have our key please,” I said. “And, also, is there anything to do around here tonight?”
“Man, you two are next to the Cite University. There is a party at Belgium House, which is just past the park. Before the takeaway shop with the big television. It will be fun for people who are not working.” He laughed. “Here is your key.”
Johnny was ill from breakfast and I was tired from the walk. We slept for a few hours then headed out to find the Belgium House.
The first group of people we found said they only knew of Argentina House, which was further up the road. The second group said Belgium house was near Sweden House but if we got to Finland House we had gone too far. The third group wasn’t a group, just a student with a backpack on, who said he didn’t know Belgium House but could take us up to Brazil, Spain or Nigeria.
The game the day after had the same kind of international feel, with PSG fielding players from Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Sweden and France. Many of whom were purchased with Qatari money to help Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti build a title-winning French side.
Some €20 million of that money was spent on Sweden’s Ibrahimovic. Early in the second half, he scored one of his 30 goals in the 2012/13 season, spinning a penalty into the bottom left corner and, in the same movement, swaggering wide-legged towards the crowd, his hands in the air, gladiatorial smirk on his face, the game won.
The only comparable self-confidence came from a young Frenchman in Belgium House the night before, who danced on a different wavelength, full of pills. He bounced around the dance floor, almost hitting his head on the low, basement ceiling, laughing and frowning, and pointing his index fingers at the DJ.
Even more adrift from the party was David Beckham, warming up in front of the dugouts for 20 minutes but never getting onto the pitch. PSG didn’t need him, though, for the final act. Zlatan controlled the ball in the center circle and, turning sharply, shouldered an onrushing defender into the ground.
The star attraction walked five slow yards, glaring at the fallen opponent, chest out, before nudging the ball to his team-mate to complete an act of imperious arrogance.
The sovereign wealth fund of Qatar has attracted a great deal of criticism for inflating the game’s transfer market. However, with €20 million of that money it has brought to Paris the memory of France’s greatest footballing outlaw. And, although kung-fu was Cantona’s preferred martial art, Parisians are very aware that Ibrahimovic is a black belt in Karate.
PSG would go nine points clear on April 21, 2013 and take another step towards their first title in almost 20 years. The city of love has a king and a court to adore once again.