Tuesday, January 13, 2004

French impressions

Gentle reader,

Jean one of our resident Frenchmen is leaving us. He sent out his observations of his time in the country, and well here they are. Some names have been changed to prevent the beatings...

Ladettes, Lads,

Here we are, after 4 fantastic years spent in your country, I grab my bag again and sets sail to other horizons.

Will it be as nice and good?? It has to and there is no reason why it shouldn't be...but surely, it will be different. I am leaving Ireland with my head full of wonderful souvenirs and big big love for this incredible, amazing and insolent green little island which is so proud of its tradition, culture, identity.
I'll remember forever the incredible nights out in the pubs, the craic, the music (best Irish band I have seen plays every Sunday in the Counihans), the beautiful landscapes...and I have even met a few true friends over here.

Staying here for 4 years gave me, I believe, a good perception of the country and some of the things are actually amazing when you are not prepared. If we take sport as a vehicle for example, there is a number of things the average European will discover with eyes of incredulity.

For example, on my very first day in Ireland, 31 Oct 99, I was looking for a pub where I could watch the RWC semi-final NZ-France. At the time, I was staying in Blackrock in a sweet B&B (Aras Tara, best B&B in Cork) and finally found a place to watch the game in "The Venue" pub.
Cool, the pub is packed, the atmosphere will be fierce for sure! Who are they going to support, Les Bleus ou Les Blacks? Have a guess... You're wrong in any case, they'll shout for Blackrock (Black-who? Surely you mean all Blacks!) since today is the Hurling county championship final and nobody gives a shit about this rugby game.

Hurl? What? Hurling! I see. At 15.00, KO of the SF of the RWC, they all go and am finally alone in the pub to watch the Rugby... and to be fair, I still have no regrets for what a game it was (Blackrock won for the first time since...)

Hurling was going to haunt me anyway for the next 4 years. It's there in your day to day life. You don't believe me? Soccer, first game with the company soccer team, first shoulder contact as well... I still have the taste of the grass in my mouth. The ref didn't see anything wrong. "Yes boy, here you'll face GAA players, they are fit". No they're not fit, they are brutal! "Couldn't see anything wrong with that challenge kid". And then : "So Jean how is soccer in Ireland?" -- "Physical, Sir". Once you get used to it, you manage to avoid 90% of the challenges and then you start to put good challenges yourself, break a few legs and elbow a few jaws but that doesn't matter I was just getting fit.

Hurling is there as well in your stomach, very heavy. You go with a bunch of friends to support the Rebel county against the Clare guys. The day is perfect, you're drinking a few pints, Cork wins easily, and you get to shake hands with the O'Hailpin brothers.
Class day.
And then, you're invited to join Daly, Flynn, Flynn and O'Riordan for a harmless burger that the guy is cooking on the radiator of his van. The day is so nice, there is possibly nothing bad that can happen to me, is there?
Passed the traditional 3 hours traffic jam in Cashel, you start to feel a bit strange in your stomach. I have to resist and be strong. But the other 4 Paddies, of course, they were thirsty so we had to stop for a few (as you say) in Fermoy. They wanted to watch "Match of the day" to see exactly if Joe Deane touches the ball 4 or 5 times before giving it to Setanta and they were unsure as well if Setanta was wearing a ring on his left or right index, or not. Huge details and yes, I agree! We have to be sure of that.
Of course, the summary of the Cork game was the last summary of the day shown.
The show lasted 1 hour or so. I saw the generic and the bye-bye by the presenters. For me, Match of the day was spent in the Jacks disagreeing strongly with the cooking technique of the Thurles Burger makers. The lads, on the way home, were throwing yellow and blue balloons to the few Clare supporters, my ammunition were a little bit more liquid.

And then, finally, it is OK, Hurling is gone from you life... but don't worry there is football, Gaelic football that is. I tried that and liked it. Thanks to Jerome and Daly, they gave me a 5 minutes run and I have a cap in GAA. So, Ok, you know they are brutal but it's all right you're prepared for that. First ball in the air, good catch from the French international. What a fall as well, three guys on my back. Suddenly, in my mind : " I'll have to check in the Roberts and Collins for a term that is actually stronger than brutal... maybe bestial". I was scared!!!
After this shock I patiently waited for the end of the game, determined to not risk my life anymore. So I watched all those guys, unfit guys I should say, such as Kelly, Canty, Paudie, Geary, Fozzie....Yes, they're not bad. I took the opportunity to give them a few tricks to enhance their game. They haven't thanked me yet but it will come. On the other hand, when we see the perfs of the Cork football team lately, I expect any minute a call for my selection in the inter-county championship!

Amazing as well the way the rugby hierarchy changed since I joined. To make it short, before I came France had beaten Ireland 18 years in a row. So of course, on the very first game between our friendly countries I was all smile and I was slagging heavily my Irish friends. Yes, but that was on a glorious day, in March 2000 and for the first time in 18 years, Ireland beats France, in Paris. The only good thing on that day is that a world class rugby player was born: Brian O'Driscoll. I can't possibly quantify the amount of abuse I got on that occasion. The games in Lansdowne were an incredible experience as well.

Ok, Ok that's already to long for a mail, I know that. I could as well have praised the true beauty of Ireland (My top three would be 1- Beara Peninsula; 2- Wicklow mountains, 3-Dingle, Mizen Head, cliffs of Moher, Burren, Conemara..) or the fantastic musical culture but I thought that would have been classic.

I'll finish with an other amazing experience -- Stag parties.
I did very few of them but I think of one in particular that was not a very common one. I won't name the big guy since he could be in trouble (for the record, no it's not me--Will) but however it happened in West Cork. Beautiful place really. The activities were very much pub oriented (even though some of us went canoeing and that we had a gaelic football game against Castlehaven which were to become, I believe, county champions even though on the day they were very much impressed by a classy performance of our team). Yes we spent a bit of time in the pub for sure. The very guy, the pub owner, was named (let's call him Mick shall we? -- Will) and until Sunday morning 06.00 in the morning he couldn't believe he had won more money on the 2 nights than in the previous 2 years. Once the crowd was gone, we started with a sing-song and what an experience it was. Memorable for a foreigner anyway, and despite the beer the songs were incredibly touching!

The first funny event, according to my standard, is that around 03.00 on the first night, doors closed, we hear somebody knocking at the door. "Garda" says the poor old Mick. He switches off the lights so that they might go away. We were supposed to shut up but considering the amount of drinks in each of them (I never drink -- Jean) nervous laughter was spreading widely across the audience and after 10 minutes of knocking at the door. the pub owner opens to the cops and begins to negotiate with them. Surely, after an orange-ish bank note changing hands, they couldn't suspect any illicit drinking in this lovely pub.

The second event is that Sunday morning, already counting all the money in his mind, the water supply at the bar is strangely stopped. What happened? Nobody knows except the 6 or 7 lads that had just won the scrum against the single John (shite, I gave up the name) and the toilet. We have to say that the "room" was 2 square meters at most and that now this 2 square meters be came 2 cubic meters of water in which was floating the poor toilet cabinet! Impressive to see. Funny as well. Funnily enough, I couldn't find a word to qualify the exact state of the room after the scrum. I checked in a dictionary a bit later and discovered all sort of qualifying, that I believe could suit the situation but only one would be close enough to reality :shattered. Thanks John for this lesson of vocabulary.

This time, enough is enough and I stop there. I have many many fantastic souvenirs of this place, this country and hopefully will keep contact with a lot of you. Life in Ireland was easy and beautiful for 4 years. The challenge is on Spain now to try to do as well as you did but surely they'll have to work hard to be as good as you.

Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles, Messieurs, Merci.

Jean

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