Monday, July 13, 2015

1998 Coupe du Monde/World Cup Celebrations

Like Super Bowl tickets, the tickets for the World Cup semifinal in Saint-Denis (as well as the tickets for the quarterfinal that my brother and I attended at Giants Stadium in 1994) are souvenir tickets, to add to that sense of it having been a really big deal. I absolutely loved them, and kept them both through the years. Even now, admittedly, I take them out every now and then to simply look at them, and appreciate the fact that my brother and I managed to go to such huge events, and in consecutive World Cups, to boot! The two nations that we are citizens of hosted the World Cup tournament back-to-back, which made me feel almost like an experienced aficionado after the semifinal with Croatia!

France wore their blue (home) jerseys for the Final, along with their traditional white shorts and red socks. Brazil wore their distinctive yellow/gold jerseys with blue shorts. 

France had won. Improbable as it seems, France had managed to overcome all of the obstacles before it, including two of the most accomplished and feared teams in the sport in Italy and Brazil, as well as tough challenges from upstart teams in Paraguay an Croatia, but the French side had managed to survive all the way to the end, and got to hoist the trophy as their reward.

And as a nation, France got to celebrate the national team's monumental accomplishment.

The French side that triumphed in the World Cup that the nation hosted consisted of citizens from all walks of life and backgrounds, reflecting France's rich diversity of cultures and populations. There were members of various races, and they had overcome adversity, and past failures, to triumph at the highest level when it mattered the most. They constantly overcame the toughest obstacles to reach further and further, until they were, rather improbably, the last team standing.

Now, the country could celebrate their team's achievement. France, like any modern country, had a lot of problems that it was facing, and individuals living there had a lot of stress to deal with on a day to day basis. There were many things that threatened to pull the country apart.

But this triumph brought the country together like nothing in the previous four decades and change had done. Everyone wanted this, but it seemed too good to believe.

Until it finally happened.

My brother and I joined the celebrations after watching France defeat Brazil by the deceptively lopsided score of 3-0.

I have written already about this historic week, which may very well have been the most amazing single week of my life, from July 7 through July 14. I arrived in Paris on the 7th, for my first visit to France in the better part of a decade. It felt amazing just to be back in France, back in Paris. The next day, we went to the France-Croatia semifinal game, and celebrated on the streets with thousands of other Parisians after the successful outcome there. On the 10th, we watched the Three Tenors concert on the Champs-de-Mars, at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Now, on the evening of the 12th and into the wee morning hours of the 13th, we celebrated along with an entire overjoyed capital city on the streets. Two days later, it would be the national holiday, Bastille Day, although that was later. For now, it was time to take in the spontaneous street celebrations.

Rarely do you ever get the chance to watch an entire city, and even the entire country, celebrate something. How rare is it in this sad world of ours that an entire country have something to bring it together, and just come out to assemble spontaneously on the streets simply to show their support and joy? People were pouring out on the streets, playing makeshift soccer games, kicking the ball as hard as they could, hitting cars filled with people, crawling along (n fact, most of them were stationary, because there were so many people crowded on the streets that nobody could advance). Everyone was celebrating, and some people (mostly young people) were climbing lamp posts and statues in public squares. Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy.

Paris had essentially shut down in joyous celebration.

To my knowledge, everything was peaceful. No stupid, mindless riots, like sometimes happens in other cities where sports teams win championships.

In retrospect, I suspect that much of the country simply shut down for that Monday following the World Cup triumph, as it was sandwiched between the Sunday of the World Cup Final, and Bastille Day on Tuesday.

So before the country simply returned to the normal grind of the everyday routine, this massive celebration served as a major break from that monotony. It was something to remember, and still stands out in France to this day as something that pulled the country together, however briefly.

This was France's finest hour since the Liberation, and the whole country was involved in celebrating it properly!

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