I was dismayed to see that the French rugby team were fined for their response to the Haka at the World Cup Grand Final. Apparently there is a 10 meter exclusion zone for the 'cultural ritual.' This isn't the first time that a team opposing the Kiwis has been challenged for responding inappropriately. I can understand that the Haka has become a significant identifier for both the All Blacks and Rugby Union as a whole, but it should be seen as it really is. The Haka is a war dance, performed before a battle to intimidate the enemy. Sport plays a role in replacing war in modern societies by providing an outlet for aggression and national pride. Reenacting the war dance is then appropriate before a major sporting event, but it must give the All Blacks a major psychological advantage. I know I'd be intimidated by a group of large men screaming at me with muscles bulging aggressively. Interestingly, the All Blacks web site describes the Haka as a dance of welcome. If that's true, the welcome is one given as a warning that the host is not to be trifled with. Why must the opposing teams quietly allow themselves to be intimidated? In a real war, the opposition would be performing their own war dance. The French don't have a war dance so they tried to show that they weren't intimidated by forming a wall and walking towards the All Blacks. Rather than recognising the response, the International Rugby Board fined the French team. In 1996, the Wallabies decided to show they were not cowed by turning their backs on the Haka and warming up. The English also turned their backs on the Haka
Toulouse feels a bit like Brussels as you walk down narrow streets lined with shops to suddenly pop out into a large square. I'm not really in the mood to experience the country this time, though, as I've come to get divorced. The process began in about October with a couple of forms to sign, basically saying that it was an amicable separation with no property or children to cause complications. Then we had to wait for the court date to be settled. Marie paid the solicitor her half of the fee and said that I'd pay the remainder when I came to France. The date was today, only shared just after christmas and then began the mad scramble to get flights to Toulouse for the occasion. We found the court building in a back street in the south of the city and joined the 10+ other couples waiting for their turn in the same session. Although we should have been about 7th in line, we were pushed to about 4th because we were paying for an interpreter as well. This is a new requirement to stop silly foreigners like me claiming that they had no idea what they were saying yes to when they wed or divorce. I still don't know exactly I vowed, because the law wasn't in place 4 years ago, but at least I know that it no longer matters. The solicitor, Marie, the interpreter and I were ushered into the magistrates office and asked if we were still wanting an amicable split. Marie and I both nodded and that was pretty much it. Until we got outside and we found out that the magistrate would prepare the final papers to
I got a lift with Jahnavi and Scott to Paris on Sunday, after lunch at Sabine's parents' own little manor, ready to catch the train to England on Monday. The roads got wider but more congested the closer we got to Paris until it took as long to do the last fifty kilometres as it had the first two hundred.
With all the time I've spent in France, I've never bought a souvenir. I've never been interested in trinkets that I can hang on the wall, so I dragged my friends into town on the Sunday morning to find a shop that sold red wine goblets. A small store on a sharp corner did the trick. It carried a bizarre range of stock from boomerangs to silver platters and in the front window sat a box of four glass goblets of the type I was looking for. I wanted at least six glasses, but the lady behind the counter quickly informed me that she only had the four. In the end, I took a box of six taller, narrower goblets that were somewhere between glass and crystal. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but she tapped one on the counter to show how strong it was. Once again, the lady was extremely friendly and helpful, speaking French unless it was obvious I didn't understand. And she went out of her way to package them for the trip home - bubble wrapping each glass, padding around the first box inside a second - all at no extra cost. Perhaps it's only the Parisians who are so unfriendly to outsiders.
Sabine and Glyn met while hiking, so the theme of their wedding was 'tying the knot' supported by a picture of two pairs of well-worn hiking boots with laces tied together. It was on the invitations, the website and on the menu at each table. Neither are very religious so they skipped the church in favour of a town hall wedding attended only by closest family and friends. The rest of us joined them at a chateau in the countryside. Rain forced us all inside, but that just made the atmosphere cosy. I'd always thought of 'chateau' as meaning castle, but it's more like 'manor house.' This one was three sides around gravel circle centred on a statue. Arrival drinks were held on the hall on the ground floor of the section facing the gate. People congregated on the balcony, under cover of the upper floors and screened from the rain by climbing vines. Sabine and Glyn had done a good job of creating an atmosphere of comfort rather than having people waiting around for the couple to arrive. We indulged in coloured drinks and hors d'eurves until their car pulled up. Photos and greeting first, of course, but the vows and exchange of rings, Sabine's translated into English and Glyn's to French by the best man and maid of honour. Sabine gave the ring saying 'this is in recognition that you may never grow up.' The dinner was held in one of the side halls, each table named for a trek the couple had done together. In typical French style, it was a series of small courses of rich flavours, broken up with speeches and slide shows celebrating their early years of life and
Day 2 was harder for all the reasons I thought I'd enjoy it more. I caught my train into the countryside and was directed to a quaint hotel on a big roundabout, but otherwise surrounded by fields. I dropped my bags and went for a walk along the country roads, enjoying the views of rolling hills, white cows and stone houses. It's exactly the sort of scenery I like to join. Few cars whooshed by. The cows took an interest in the man with the foreign smell. Each house, separated from its neighbours, had its own history, often overshadowed by a huge wooden barn that leant threateningly over the house. But it all made me sad. This was the life Marie and I had talked about having. We'd buy a house in a sleepy village like this, rent out the house, do up the barn and use it as a base to store our things and come back to between jaunts in developing countries. By the time I got to town, sad became angry and I was looking for release. I bought a bar of dark chocolate and a bottle of water for 1 Euro 72 and sorted out 72 cents in change. I didn't have a 1 Euro coin, so I gave the checkout lady a 2 Euro coin. "No no no," she said, in the condescending way of some French, after she'd watched me go through the whole exercise. "C'est trop." She held up the 2 Euro coin, "C'est suffis," and put the rest of the change back in my hand.
I only realised that I wanted to hate France a few hours after I got back. The language sounds like a bunch of Neanderthal women developed it when their menfolk failed to kill the mammoth again. The streets smell of piss. Even without their famed arrogance, the people are as ugly as the rest of us - there are as many Gerard Depardieus as there are Eva Greens - they just try to hide it with more expensive clothes and coiffures. Their national symbol is a monstrous metal eyesore on an otherwise beautiful city and their mascot is a domestic animal. But mostly I wanted to hate France because of the French woman who encouraged me to give up my lifestyle and career to be with her, then decided that I wasn't worth the effort of keeping. Having a train driver strike stop me from reaching my hotel on the first night should have been the last straw, but on this occasion, the French weren't going to let me hate them. Every person I spoke to was friendly and helpful. In Belgium when I tried to speak French, the locals would roll their eyes and say, 'it's OK. I speak English.' In Lyon, the couple of times people rolled their eyes, it was to say, 'Ah, stupid me. You speak French.' The station staff booked me on a train the following morning and directed me to a hotel. The hotel staff directed me to an area of cheaper hotels. The reception of the hotel I chose got me a map, pointed out where I could get my watch repaired and suggested a walk around the old town. Shopkeepers told me where I could buy a