Sunday 25 September 2016

Paris sera toujours Paris - terrorism will not subdue this city

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

Devin Toner reaches for a restart during yesterday’s match at the Stade de France. Photo: Brendan Moran. Photo: Sportsfile
Devin Toner reaches for a restart during yesterday’s match at the Stade de France. Photo: Brendan Moran. Photo: Sportsfile

No one talks about the bombings and the shootings. It is as if a whole city is trying desperately to erase all mention of the tragedies, such is the collective will of the citizens to get on with life as usual.

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The sensible Parisians seem to have taken a collective decision that the best way to beat the terrorists is by doing the ordinary and the everyday. Paris may seem to the rest of the world like a city under siege but the reality is the Parisians have beaten their enemies by steadfastly ignoring them.

The hurt is kept within.

We were in Paris at the rugby and there was extra security on the way into the Stade de France, with three body searches. The first was around the midriff and the French security man said with some laughter in his voice: "You Irish have beer tummies."

For some of us, though, there was still that overwhelming realisation that if the murderers are well organised it would be next to impossible to stop them.

The stadium is in St Denis, where the vast majority are decent - but St Denis is also home to some very scary people.

We were held up in a tunnel by the police, who were trying to keep the crowd from surging to the metro. It was uncomfortable, overcrowded and claustrophobic. A bomb would have killed hundreds but there wasn't a word of complaint. In fact, the French began to sing. I'm afraid they are one-hit wonders. 'La Marseillaise' seems to be the only song they know. But what a song and they sing it with such passion.

A police sniper stood on a rampart and there were machine guns everywhere.

I was thinking, though, of filing a complaint with the gendarmerie. The late and high tackles on Sexton and the attempt to guillotine Dave Kearney were dirty and dangerous and the French players stayed on the pitch.

I got it into my head that if referee Jaco Peyper was Judge Jaco, well then sentencing would be lenient. So maybe if a murderer was convicted, referee Peype would ask him to put a tenner in the poor box and warn the guilty one that if he ever killed anyone again, he would be in serious trouble.

The tackles were so bad that you could hear the hits. It was a dull thud of sinew on sinew and bone on bone.

Ireland were brave but that wasn't enough on the day when brute force and violent play won through.

We were so close to winning. Just one point was all that was between the teams.

Jonathan Sexton was heartbroken when we spoke to him on Saturday night. The good news is that he wasn't concussed. Jonathan had an injured neck going into the game and when he was hit on the head late on, his neck became compressed and off he went.

But he's back home this morning with his new baby Amy, his little boy Luca and his wonderful wife, Laura.

We were sitting next to three Irish girls and they had a lovely story for us.

Lorraine Claffey is studying for a year in Bayonne in the southwest of France. She travelled up for the game without a ticket and her two pals, Mollie O'Reilly and Ciara Garvin, came over from Ireland to spend time with Lorraine.

The girls were all around 20 and they brought out the daddy in me.

The three happened to be in a café on Friday and who should walk in only Rob Kearney. By all accounts, he is considered to be most handsome. Rob stood in for a photograph with the girls and then he asked if they had tickets. Rob gave the students three tickets. The face value was €75 each but our hero refused to take any money. Kearney is classy both on and off the pitch. There was a young man of North African extraction on the train back into Paris and he was carrying a big bag. I began to think: "What if there are explosives in the bag?"

So we got to talking and the young lad with the big bag told me he was Muslim and French. And when the train erupted into, you guessed it, the Marseillaise, my new friend sang loudest. I was cross with myself for thinking such thoughts about Mohammad, the young student from St Denis. Parisians could have become paranoid but they refused to let Isil dictate how they should live their lives.

Paris was quiet enough on Saturday night. There was that kind of persistent, annoying drizzle we get here and possibly the rain kept people at home. It could be that people are staying at home or at home in their own countries. However, the doorman on the Australian Bar on the Boulevard Rue St Jacques told us business was booming.

There weren't as many Irish over for the game and it could be people were afraid to travel. But now is the time to visit Paris and show solidarity.

Paris is a tourist city and it's all about making people comfortable. It feeds into you, that sense of joie de vivre. The resistance is made up of ordinary men and women who have shown the world the best way to defeat the extremists is to live life to the full.

Yesterday morning, at Charles de Gaulle, a teenage boy played 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on a white piano. So French and so Paris, having a piano next to the boarding gate. Then the prodigy gave us a piece by Rachmaninoff and the man next to me asked if he played for Chelsea.

So even though we had gone through several layers of security, there was a boy and a white piano waiting at the gate to play us home.

Irish Independent

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