Saturday, June 6, 2009
Game, Set, and Match
Hi all - it's Andrew writing as the sun finally sets (10.25pm) and the last few rain drops fall on Saturday the 6th.
There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the day when President Obama would come to Caen for a visit. A lot of that anticipation fizzled when all reports pointed to the sad realization that there would be no single way a regular person would be able to get even a glimpse of Barack Obama, his car, plane, helicopter, speech, etc. So - what's a guy to do when all he can see of the leader of the free world is his police barricades? What else, other than head to the French Open with one of his daughters - this time it was Ella.
I told Ella about the trip just before bed time last night - we had to hit the sac early and had to hit the road just after 7am in order to make our train on time. Both of us got up on time and were on our way before Grace and Mia even had a bite of cereal. Backpack in tow, we went out the front gate of the apartment to the Caen tram - called the Twisto - and took a 5 minute ride to the train station. The timing was amazing - we had to wait on the platform for exactly one minute before the Twisto came; at the train station we had just enough time to grab a few croissants, some coffee, a bottle of water, and two train tickets before jumping on the train - which left literally exactly one minute after we hopped on.
The train ride was nice - Ella and I played Tic-Tac-Toe, she colored, I read the NYT on my phone, and we chatted back and forth throughout the two hour trip to Paris St Lazar train station. Arriving just before 10am, we went right down to the underground Metropolitan (Metro) subway station. We found out what stop was near Roland Garros and I read the tiny tourist map to figure out what lines to take. Amazingly enough, we headed in the right direction and found ourselves a quarter of a mile away from the French Open in barely a half an hour.
The rain was really falling when we exited the Metro and went up the stairs to the street. It was also 50 degrees and windy. While most kids may have wanted to pull the plug on the whole day and head to the Eiffel tower (which was our back-up had we not been able to get tickets or the day was cancelled), Ella could only say, "I don't care if it's raining - let's go!". Who was I to argue (obviously because I wanted to go too). It reminded me of the ten hours Ella and I spent at Great America amusement park in pouring rain, wind, and cold - we were both soaked by the end of the day, but had a great time.
On our train ride into Paris, I explained to Ella what ticket scalping was (both from the eyes of the seller and the buyer) and I talked to her about how we would need to go about getting some tickets for the day. Unlike the last time I went to the French Open (exactly 14 years ago) I now speak enough French that I wasn't afraid of getting ripped off (which is exactly what happened 14 years ago). We bypassed the group of scalpers just outside the Metro stop (always do this, no matter the event or city) and headed closer to the main gates. We happened upon a couple of guys who had two seats, and within about two minutes we were on our way inside.
By now, we were both pretty cold and getting wet despite the umbrella and rain coats we had on. Additionally we were hungry - so we headed on a mission for a dry area and some lunch. We were lucky enough to find a seating area next to a coffee stand that had patio furniture and large sun umbrellas - this was perfect for Ella's hotdog-on-baguette and my jambon formage. After finishing a hot chocolate and a double espresso we went to find our seats.
Yes, it's true, at this time we were exactly three hours from the start of the Women's singles final match - that didn't deter Ella who wanted to see the stadium and find our seats. It turned out to be a good decision because we had the perfect vantage point from way up high to see the rain slow to a quiet mist and to watch the grounds crew squeegee off the tarp and put it away for the last time that day. We sat up high, watch the crew, listened to the audio people test out the sound system, watched the video people test out the Jumbo Tron, and were even able to take a gimps of the Eiffel Tower from over the wall behind the uppermost last row of the stadium.
Still having a few hours to kill, we agreed to check out some matches on the outside courts. Most of the matches were finals in boys, girls, singles, doubles, mixed, seniors etc. We ended up at the court that had the girls doubles final - a neon yellow team against a white team (yes, I mean their outfits). Let me put it this way - our seats were so good and the court so small that we were literally on top of the play - Ella was even pegged in the chest with a forehand blast whose return was missed (no, it didn't hurt and she's still laughing about it). I thought I could keep the tennis ball - like at Wrigley Field - but the ball boy came running over and stuck his hand out for the frayed and red clay covered Dunlop.
The girls finished (white team came from behind to win in a third set tie breaker), and Ella and I went to go wander around before heading to our seats for the main event. As we were walking down the main path under the main court, I started hearing somewhat of a hub-bub behind me. I could tell there were security people along with fans taking pictures and yelling things to whomever was being guarded. I could also tell the small mob was getting closer and I tried to get Ella's attention. One thing that Ella and I like to do is to kind of wander aimlessly, and she was doing this perfectly exactly at this moment. The mob kept moving along, the first wave of security pushed me out of the way, and Andre Agassi nearly stepped on Ella's head. You can see his picture above (it's the bald head, sort of partially pictured, left of center in the picture). My favorite part is that Ella was totally obilivious to the whole thing and didn't even know that she was somewhat pushed out of the away by a beefy security guard.
The women's final featured an all Russian field and I'm a tiny bit embarrassed to say that I didn't have a clue who either player was. I found out a bit through the match that one of them was the runner up last year - bummer for her, she was the runner up this year also. Ella really loved being able to cheer and clap after the deadly silent serving and volleys. She was especially thrilled by "The Wave" that started up a few times - I personally love "The Wave" and I'm happy to say that my 5-soon-to-be-6 year old daughter is following in my footsteps. As for "The Mean Old Lady" who was sitting in front of us - do us all a favor, and stay home next year....
After the awards ceremony it was time for the potty, some souvenirs (a basketball sized tennis ball for Ella and a can of 4 balls each for Grace and Mia), and time to head back to the Metro for the journey home. On the way, Ella and I were stopped by an ESPN crew and Ella had a quick interview (they asked about tomorrow's Men's final and Ella predicted that Federer would lose). The picture above is staged - but the interview had just finished taking place.
We made it to St Lazar with no problem and had a surprisingly good quick dinner at "Le Departure Cafe" across the street from the station. Two hours, twenty Tic-Tac-Toe games, fifteen conversations, and a game of "hot potato" later we ended up back in Caen. Obama wasn't there to greet us, but the rain was - not so bad seeing in that we now see the rain as the "welcome home" when we arrive back in town.
Check out www.nytimes.com - there is some brief coverage about Obama and the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion (you'll see he had lunch with the French president in Caen - where we call home today - the lunch was almost next door to The Girl's school). Also - if you can handle three plus hour, black and white, 40 year old movies you should also check out The Longest Day - a good war movie that focuses on D-Day and has a lot of mention of Normandy and Caen.
Take care all!
Posted by Andrew Haverkampf at 2:24 PM