SMITH COLUMN: The French Door

Published 7:42 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

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With the French Open, the second Grand Slam tennis competition of the year, headed toward the finals this weekend, there were flashbacks to those times when Paris and the clay court competition at Stade Roland Garros were as stunning as a Ba&sh model.

It was my good fortune to take in several of the competitions around the turn of the century, which always left me with feelings of grateful fulfillment. 

The first time at the tournament, there was, in my mind’s eye, recall of the movie Can Can with Maurice Chevalier singing, “I love Paris.”

Now, that was real music.  Warm lyrics, soft chords of the accordion and a spirit moving beat that brought peace and harmony to your senses.  “I love Paris in the springtime, “I love Paris in the fall, “I love Paris in winter when it drizzles, “I love Paris in summer when it sizzles.” There is nothing not to like about Paris, the city of so much enduring sophistication. 

Every day, for over a week, I would arise at the flat of a French journalist friend, enjoy coffee and a croissant, which put a spring in my step as I headed to the nearest Metro station.   There one could pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune, a must for those wanting to keep up with how the Braves were doing. 

Then climb aboard an underground train which would take you to Roland Garros, which brings about an interesting story if you let Mr. Google become your designated researcher.  The cozy clay court stadium is named for a French pioneering aviator and fighter pilot who was killed in World War I.    The name for most French usually means the stadium and the French Open competition. 

The Parisians are about Roland Garros as much as a Georgian is about Augusta and the Masters. I have never found the French to be rude or unruly at this sporting event and in the streets to be more inclusive—in decades of travel to the City of Lights.  (Have you ever noticed that the rap on the French often emanates from potbellied, Bermuda shorts wearing, gruff voiced tourists, who walk up to a Frenchman in the street and demand, “Hey you speak English?”   

That is when you get no response, absolutely none at all and deservedly so.  A smile and a polite, “Will you help me?” greeting and you will get the most generous response you can imagine.)   If there were a bad call or questionable conduct on the courts or ill sportsmanship at Roland Garros, shrill whistling permeated the atmosphere.  That was to put you in your place if you were out of line. 

Rude behavior is always considered unbecoming at Roland Garros.

I have been in press boxes where beer was served, but not very often. 

At Roland Garros, you could drink your fill of Beaujolais every day, a media perk that made you want to sing “I love Paris” as you typed.  Beaujolais is not the preferred wine in France, but it was an emotionally stirring treat for an eager tourist with press credentials.  The price was right for sure. Any competition where a becoming atmosphere with a sprightly mood is paired with Beaujolais makes for unforgettable memories.  You are witnessing the best tennis players in the world, bringing about tense and drama drenched moments—competition that you simply cannot get enough of.     I’m sure the environment has much to do with heightening the emotions of this great sporting event. 

I was fascinated by the press conferences in which all the competitors spoke excellent English and seemed so worldly—as they obviously were.

At the end of the competition, there was plenty of time remaining to find an enchanting sidewalk café and a bottle of red wine for the evening.  My host, Francois Pelou always knew the best spots for a sprightly meal.

Sometimes it was his flat. 

There is a greengrocer in every Paris neighborhood, and Francois was unequaled at grabbing fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread for a satisfying dinner in which there was no rush.  If anybody knows how to pace a meal, it is the French. 

The ambiance and setting at his flat would rival an evening at Tour d’Argent.

Paris and Roland Garros have always been like pairing a vintage Montrachet with an entrée that brings about the notion that it might be the eighth wonder of the world.