PARIS in spring is hard to beat. Pity then that it is most definitely still winter, and, for the visiting Scots, the wind chill factor is playing havoc with traditional dress arrangements.
Friday started in fairly civil style, with breakfast in the hotel served by our (seemingly) French waiter who claims to want Scotland to win the rugby match because he is actually Polish – he’s now known to all as the French Polisher. And he has no idea what we are talking about.
A bracing stroll to L’Odeon was halted by whingeing about the cold. In the straight choice of embracing brass monkeys or a brasserie, there was only ever going to be one winner. Even at 10am.
Our first stop involved a schoolboy error. Newbies to the Paris trip always fall for the same scam – sit down at a bar, and get fleeced when the bill comes. Stand, and you are only half-fleeced. We have been coming here for more than 20 years but, like lambs to the slaughter, we sat down. When the bières arrived, they did so at 9 euros 50 cents a pop. Ouch! The previous evening at Eduardo’s bar in Les Halles – more of a commune than a bar, granted – the same beer cost half the price. Guess where we would be heading later?
SRU president Ian Rankin had a narrow escape when, in a rare outbreak of respect, a decision was made to sit at the other end of the terrace he was sitting at, to avoid destroying the ambience around the poor man. This sort of kindness – or sober judgment – could not last. And it didn’t.
A trip to Montmartre was aborted when our two latecomers, who trailed in a day behind us, brought with them the priceless information that Eric Milligan, the inextinguishable Edinburgh cooncillor, was on their flight and was heading to an Ecosse à Montmartre event. As a rule, our group avoids Scottish gatherings abroad (other than the match) because we see enough of each other at home – so places such as the Auld Alliance at Bastille, a Scottish bar, are well off-limits. The news that Eric & Co. would be in Montmartre settled any doubt over our movements. Ah, but the best laid plans, and all that. As we sat down to lunch at La Coupole restaurant at Montparnasse, about as far from Montmarte as you can get on the Paris tourism map, a familiar drone drifted over from couple of tables away. Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world… it was Eric. Say what you like about him – and we might well have – but there’s just no getting away from him. Literally.
Thoughts are turning to the match. We’ve twice seen Scotland win in Paris (and once at football) and those days cannot be beaten. Is it possible this year? Who can tell, in the first match of the championship. We could – should? – have won here two years ago. We think we have improved since last season, but what about France? You just never know. Once again we travel in hope rather than in expectation. Marchons, marchons…