There was absolutely nothing normal about Saturday – it was a completely mixed ‘gateaux,’ combining many of the things that have contributed to who I am at this stage of my life.
When I phoned Mum about five years ago (almost to the day), telling her that I was going to work for an Australian Rules Football club, I think she almost went to an early grave. As the second of four daughters in our family, it is no secret that I am the least sporty and with that, had always been the least likely to show even the remotest interest in a game that is unique to Australia and where muscly blokes chase an odd shaped ball made of pig skin around an oval in very tight, and very short, football shorts.
I was more likely to be found at the sewing machine whipping up scrunchies for my school friends, or sitting in the playroom completing ribbon embroidery, or madly finishing a still life with my watercolour pencils. As a child I was a cheap date for Dad- with him only ever having to buy three out of four children a ticket to the football.
‘What will you do at this football club?’ Mum asked, (understandably) perplexed. I explained that it wasn’t so much about football, but more about the impact the game of football can have in the community through sport and education. I wasn’t lining up to be head coach, and I was excited to be able to work with a formidable individual who was dedicated to committing philanthropic funds towards research into social cohesion and with that, enhancing the impact that we could all have towards building more sustainable and diverse communities- this was an opportunity I was not going to miss out on.
Having spent most of my career working with philanthropists and corporate organisations through ballet, medical research and children’s health, this foray into the unknown was the icing on the cake – it made perfect sense to me. Throughout the three years that followed, one of my favourite parts of the job was attending games of football with young kids and their families who had recently arrived in Australia- we cheered loudly together for our beloved Kangaroos, and they were patient in their explanations – teaching me all that I needed to know about a game that I’d grown up with, but just like them, a game that was relatively new to me. Through their guidance, I became somewhat hooked.
Australian Rules Football is a religion in Australia and in particular my hometown of Melbourne. On any given weekend in Melbourne, we are just as likely to see people spilling out of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (fondly known as the G) as we are a mosque after daily prayer, or a church on Sundays.
On the day that my sister was married in an intimate ceremony in Melbourne’s beautiful botanic gardens last year, the final siren could be heard blasting from the G just just as she said ‘I do,’ signalling a win for someone, (Collingwood, I think) at the very same moment that Sophie and Nick celebrated their own win together, with their families and more than a handful of friends.
On Saturday morning I woke early to catch as many glimpses as I could of the Grand Final, in a bar more akin to a shrine to every Australian cliche, than a typical Parisian brasserie. I felt wholly Australian as the roars of the hundred thousand people filling the G blasted across the room, and I cheered enthusiastically for Richmond – an easy decision as the Tigers unofficially represented my home town, and with the opposition being the dreaded Adelaide Crows. I felt only momentarily sorry for my Grand Final companion, who had traveled all the way from Adelaide to Paris to celebrate her 50th birthday, only to see her beloved Crows lose- turning the city of light dark for her in the moments when it became apparent that her finals dreams were not going to be realised in her fiftieth year.
My heart almost exploded when a man so French – dressed in a stylish woollen hat and with the language rolling off his tongue – sobbed uncontrollably into his glass of beer as the final siren sounded. His emotions, teamed with a neatly tied knitted black and yellow woollen neck scarf, led me to assume he has lived here for almost as long as it has been since Richmond last won a flag.
As I walked home across the Pont Neuf, I nodded with a smile to the Eiffel Tower on my right and the beautiful Notre Dame on my left. They are a familiar sight in my new landscape, and never fail to remind me of where I am- particularly in that moment, as I hummed ‘we’re from Tiger land,’ making my way towards the Luxembourg gardens.
Walking home through the Luxembourg Gardens is a favourite part of my day, not just for the simplicity of the gardens themselves teamed with the grandeur that is the palace that they so beautifully frame, but also for the the very simple fact that they are always a hive of activity. I love reclining in a green Fermob chair watching as children chase their ‘bateaux’ around the octagonal pond, squealing with joy as their boats bob in the sunshine. There are Shetland ponies that dutifully and kindly carry ‘les enfants’ along the paths under the shade of the trees as their siblings race alongside on razor scooters. Tennis is played on the many courts and old men competitively play bocce, while others choose chess.
The lack of a backyard in the homes of Parisians bring the city’s many beautiful parks and gardens alive throughout the week and even more so, on the weekends. They are very special communal places where people meet with their dogs, or laze on a chair to read a book. On Saturday, an orchestra of about fifty people filled the rotunda on the east side of the gardens, performing endless sets of the most beautiful music to over 300 people who had formed an impromptu audience, sitting on the signature green ‘Luxembourg’ chairs. I sat for over an hour enjoying the ups and downs and highs and lows as the conductor led his orchestra through the most magnificent performance which was met with a standing ovation at the end. Old women dried their eyes as further recognition was given to the three child protégés who had been flawless on percussion, and I smiled as the lead on double base hurriedly packed up – he obviously had somewhere to go.
Once the music had stopped, the statues of David vainqueur de Goliath, Jeanne D’Albret, Le Marchand de Masques, Vulcain and Sainte Genevieve looked on as always and the distant squeals from the octagonal pond, were ever present.
It was a special day, finished off with dinner amongst new Parisian friends who also started life in Australia and moved here many years before me. Their children are bilingual and their lives are a mesh of two incredibly different cultures. We spoke of the mate ship so important in Australian culture, and laughed about the seemingly abrupt and unwilling nature of the French, but were all in agreence that they have a wonderful sense of community.
As I went to sleep on Saturday night, I observed the distant rumblings of the metro deep below my apartment and reflected upon the long and drawn out history of this amazing city. The fabric and habits are so interwoven after battles and wars and historic victories dating back centuries. Each day, Paris teaches me a little bit more about myself and the relevance of the experiences that have influenced what I have become – through my family, the jobs I’ve had and the friendships I cherish and, not dissimilar to a performance by a fifty piece orchestra, in life, there are ups and downs – it can be loud and then incredibly quiet.
We are just a speck in history and the enjoyment that can be had every day, regardless of what you favour, can often be quite immense and no matter what we choose or how we go about life, it is all completely relevant.
Sometimes, it can take years to make sense.
Pictured: the cobblestoned street that leads me home.