‘FORGIVE’ is the first name of our Zimbabwean waiter in SALT Restaurant, on board Silver Dawn, on the penultimate night of our 14-day Nordic cruise. I tell him he probably would be nicknamed ‘Forget’ in Australia. His mother named him ‘Forgive’, because she forgave her husband, after he got her pregnant. We dock in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Marie and I join a group which undertakes a West Coast Islands tour, which includes a stop at quirky Nordvik Hotel for herring – two types. Sit with Martyn and Megan from Melbourne, who support Hawthorn and Essendon respectively, in the AFL. Also chat to a lady from Belfast, who is surprised to learn Marie and I had visited Northern Ireland in November, 1977, at the height of ‘The Troubles’. “I admire you,” she says. The closest she came to an atrocity was too close. She had just left a Woolies’ store when a bomb went off, with the perpetrator a lady with a pram. Her favourite recent TV series – from Northern Ireland – is Blue Lights. She tells us about a bus accident in the Hunter Valley at the weekend, which has left 10 people dead. Our guide, a father of two adult sons, can’t figure out why Britain is the odd country out, when it comes to the popularity of team handball, in Europe. I think it is a boring, repetitive sport, which is just a bit too simple. I think I would have been good at it.
Lobster, seafood chowder and goose confit are some of our choices for dinner, followed by ‘Death by Chocolate’ in Dolce Vita. Decadent, I know.
TUESDAY, JUNE 13
Hungarian born, Katarina, is the guide for our ‘Jutland Coastal Gems’ expedition in Denmark, from the port city of Aarhus. She is now a proud Dane, after 25 years in the country. She thinks we are all Americans, until I tell her about Dane, Jorn Utzon having designed the Sydney Opera House, after she spoke on matters architectural. Our tour takes us to a 5,000-year-old stone circle; the cobbled seaside village of Ebeltoft, and family owned, Rosenholm Castle, where a group of Belgians from our ship, behave like Bogans. As we approach Silver Dawn, Katarina points out the Jutland Post newspaper building, which was targeted by Muslim extremists, after it ‘dared’ publish a cartoon, they found offensive. The post building is now ‘fortified’. So much for freedom of the press, something we have taken for granted in the Western World. A youth band entertains from the wharf, as Silver Dawn leaves port. Dine at SALT with British couple, Phil and Sylvie, with Phil choosing Chateau Tanunda from South Australia to accompany the meal.
“What hope have we got,” says Marie, as I tell her Mitchell Moses will be New South Wales’ halfback in the return State of Origin rugby league match. Marie remains a true Blue, despite having lived in Queensland for 48 years. Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Webster has a feature on media coverage of Origin football, and I get a mention. He refers to the 1998 campaign, when I was critical of Queensland coach, Wayne Bennett selecting ‘too many’ Broncos. Bennett was not impressed.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14
WHAT A DAY! Our cruise ends and then we fly from Copenhagen to Paris. Unfortunately, our luggage doesn’t follow. Things started well enough, with a good trip from the ship to the airport, through peak hour traffic, the commuting cyclists a joy to watch, particularly the dignified, upright women. Our Air France flight is late, and to make matters worse, our tickets don’t cover luggage, so we have to fork out 55 Euro. Maybe that had something to do with the fact neither suitcase makes it to Charles de Gaulle Airport. When we arrive in Paris, despite being on Air France, we all have to get on a shuttle bus, taking us across the tarmac, to Arrivals, and so many of our fellow passengers effectively give up on their chances of making connecting flights. The Arrivals screens had confusing information about luggage carousels, but 90 minutes after arrival, we realise our suit cases will not appear. Baggage Services are friendly and helpful, but there is so much on-line red tape to go through!!! A lovely lass at Tourist Information suggests we buy a weekly travel card, instead of getting a cab to the city. Line up at Travel desk, but they send us away to get passport photos for the cards. First two photo booths out of order. Finally, with crap passport photos in hand, we pay 70 Euro for our two cards and then get the Metro. After four stops, the train suddenly empties. Like sheep, Marie and I follow to the other platform, and then get another train, which is more stop-start than a Rugby Test. It seems there are power problems in the Underground, and people are ‘trapped’ on trains, in the stifling heat. To make matters worse, someone in our carriage farts terribly. Two more train changes and we alight from St Francis Xavier Metro, and find our apartment. We are on the fourth floor, and the staircase is steep and narrow. At least we don’t have to worry about carrying suit cases. Turns out there is a lift, which, a sign declares, can carry three people! There are separate codes for the street and apartment entries, and they work without any problem. Those codes have been a source of added stress for most of the day, because they did not come through until late, and we had visions of being out on the street.
All our woes are cast to one side, as we walk the streets in the twilight, rejoicing in the fact we are in Paris once more. Our apartment overlooks the impressive St Francis Xavier Church, and is just around the corner from Hotel de Invalides, with its impressive gold dome. Scores of people are relaxing, eating and drinking in the parkland in Avenue de Breteuil, which has one area reserved for grazing sheep. We dine at Eleanore Et Maxance, a bar/bistro which has a strange little beer garden on the footpath, with a wicker fence separating it from pedestrians and motorists. Marie enjoys Rose’ from Provence, while I hop into cold, draft beer. I tuck into a cheese burger, while Marie dines on escalope Milanaise. 96.50 Euro for drinks and food. The passing parade incudes a lady in yellow, who stands beside a La Poste Box, which is the same tone of yellow.
By the way. Captain Samuela Faila says that on our Nordic cruise we logged 2,414 Nautical miles and the staff and crew represented 52 different nations. The cruise started in Southampton, England; visited eight ports in Norway; one in Sweden and two in Denmark.
THURSDAY, JUNE 15
It is lovely to sleep in without having to worry about missing an organised tour. Marie tries the key which has been left on our dining room table, only to lock herself out, and me in. A chap of Algerian appearance, helps her to get back in. It was all about technique. Marie and I buy produce at Avenue de Saxe market, including fruit, vegetables and veal. The Eiffel Tower is in view as we walk between the stalls, one of which has live lobsters from Brittany, for 99 Euro a kilo. A smallgoods stall holder, of Italian descent, is thrilled when we say we are from Australia. “Australians have always looked after Italians,” he says. The lady in yellow I saw last night, cycles by, still in the same yellow dress. We buy baguette and mille-feuille at Boulangerie, after joining a queue. Paris. Got to love it.Our luggage has been found, and is delivered at the time Air France promised. Give a prayer of thanks in St Francis Xavier Church (Only half joking) where there are five people, deep in prayer. On one wall there is a famous painting of The Last Supper, while a tomb contains the preserved body of St Madeleine Sophie Barat, who is revered for her work in promoting education for females. Then for a walk around the nearby streets and Marie buys a top at boutique in Rue de Varenne, with the designer expressing his delight that his creation will go all the way to Australia. Family groups make an idyllic picture in Jardin Catherine Laboure. Marie and I enjoy drinks (Marie – Rose; moi – Royal Pilsener) at L’Escapade, where young people are making the most of happy hour. The Stuttgart Open (tennis) is showing on TV. Back in Australia, Norths Devils will end their affiliation with the Brisbane Broncos at the end of the current season, and align with the Dolphins. Our grandsons, Ethan and Connor, play junior league for Norths. Coach of Norths’ Queensland Cup side is our eldest son, Damien’s good mate, Dave Elliott. On the surface it seems a strange decision. Marie learns Latrell Mitchell is out of NSW side. “All hope is lost,” she says.Learn of the passing of famed British actress, Glenda Jackson. The first time I saw her in a movie was 1971, when I took Ann McDonald to Sundale Cinema, Southport to see ‘Women in Love’. I remember being embarrassed because the movie contained male nudity, with Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling in the altogether. It was an eye opener for a naive young couple from Murwillumbah. We had seen nothing like that at the Regent, back in our little town.
FRIDAY, JUNE 16
Our daughter, Melanie is foremost in our minds as we visit Rodin Museum, given she is such a fan of the French sculptor, and even had a crack at work in marble, when she was a student at St Rita’s College, Brisbane. There are lots of school groups in the museum and they are well behaved, listening attentively to their teachers and/or guides. We have a picnic lunch in the gardens and a woman near us reads the New York Times. One headline reads: ‘Trump. Can He Govern from Jail?’ Another headline: ‘Another Retailer Leaves San Francisco’. A fellow guest at a B & B in the Cotswolds last month, told us businesses were quitting California because of taxes, red tape etc. Next stop, the Eiffel Tower and surrounds, with preparations underway on the banks of the River Seine for a Red Bull cliff diving event. Get Metro to ‘The Louvre’, where we choose to explore the grounds of the Palais Royal, where there are people in period costume as historical forums are held. One drink at a bar in the colonnaded area. Young blokes smoking on table near us, send their smoke my way, and my eyes water. A waiter is impressed by my Sydney Roosters’ cap, and says he is a ‘rugby man’. I say I follow ‘Rugby Treize” and he says our Kangaroos are far too strong for the French Chanticleers. Another drink at Oui Mon General – a Parisien pale ale (moi), Chateau Carbonnieux (Marie). The place impresses to such an extent, we make a booking for dinner next Tuesday, the earliest we can get in. There is a large funeral at St Francis Xavier Church, someone ‘noteworthy’ I would say, given the number of people, their dress sense and the cars parked in streets nearby. Some mourners are in airline crew gear.
Dinner – at Bouillon Chartier, Montparnasse – is certainly different. Our waiter writes our orders on the paper table cloths. He advises me against ordering Chitterling sausage, unless I have had it before. I take his advice and instead settle for chicken and chips, while Marie chooses beef cheeks and pasta. We share a farmhouse terrine for starter. Only 41.60 Euro for food and drink. Peasant food is how I would describe it, and I’m not being disrespectful. The restaurant has a faithful following of ‘locals’, and is also on the tourist map, boasting a red carpet on the footpath, with ‘traffic flow’ in place. Marie not happy with time taken by Asian lady to wash her hands in the restaurant toilets. “A surgeon wouldn’t spend that long,” she says.
Our Paris apartment and the local park | The Bouillon Chartier Restaurant | Bar Le Rugby, Paris
SATURDAY, JUNE 17
Lots of Municipal Police cars in the streets around Avenue de Saxe markets, their lights flashing. There is an exercise class in the small park beside St Francis Xavier Church, and Marie mimics their movements from our apartment window. Picnic lunch in Parc Champ Du Mars, near the Eiffel Tower before getting crowded Metro to Madelaine. There is a slightly built lass crammed against the doors, and she looks overwhelmed by the claustrophobic conditions. She looks as if she is about to cry, and I ready myself to lend a comforting hand. Walk the streets around St Marie Madeline Church and have a drink at Bar Le Rugby in Rue de Roquepine, with the Nottingham Open Tennis on TV. It is all rugby union, as I expected. When the manager finds out I am from Australia, he says a Wallaby scarf is the only Aussie memorabilia in the bar, ‘at present’. I have been to one other Bar Le Rugby – in Carcassonne, in France’s L’Aude Province. It was run by Jean Barthe, the only man to captain France in both rugby codes. His Bar Le Rugby contained mainly rugby league memorabilia, and was the regular haunt of rugby league legend, Puig Aubert. Buy L’Equipe national sports daily at one of the few newspaper/magazine stands still operating. Soccer dominates, but there are two pages of rugby union, with the Toulon club grabbing most of the headlines. In 1981, L’Eqiupe sent Andre Passammar from Toulouse, to New Zealand and Australia, for the last great French tour ‘Down Under’. I hosted Andre to lunch at the Journalists’ Club at Bowen Hills. Back in our ‘hood’, we have one drink at nearest restaurant/bar – Lily Wang – as rain threatens. The weather is hot and we want a cold drink, but Marie’s Chablis and my Tsingtao, are warm. We get ice, and I stick my beer bottle into the bucket. I don’t think our Asian waiter is impressed, but I am less impressed with his service and the vibe of the place. 26E for the two drinks and we are not offered water. Shan’t be back. Dine in tonight, eating ready-made lasagne bought at an up-market deli. The young bloke behind the counter promised we would enjoy it, because he made it. It is good, and filling, but not as good as my wife, Marie’s. We have trouble getting sound on the TV in our apartment, but all is well after Marie ambushes a German mum and her teenage son in the hallway, and the lad, wearing a Messi football jersey, shows us the ropes. They are from Hamburg. We watch Reuters News Channel.
Fellow History Committee member, John McCoy emails to say former Courier-Mail Chief League Writer, Lawrie Kavanagh has died, aged 88, the second of my former colleagues to have passed away since I left on this holiday. Former chief rugby union writer, Wayne Smith died on June 6. The last time I saw Lawrie was at Brisbane’s Breakfast Creek Hotel in 2015, when a group of league writers gathered to toast the memory of former Manchester Evening News league scribe, Jack McNamara. Lawrie was good company on that occasion, although his short-term memory was slipping. He had been in care on the Gold Coast in recent years. I covered the 1982 Kangaroo tour of Britain and France with Lawrie, who was working for the Courier, while I was on assignment for Brisbane’s afternoon paper, the Telegraph. Lawrie covered a few games in which I played – several for Brothers and Norths in Brisbane in 1976/77 and ’79 – as well as the 1973 Group 18/Gold Coast Grand Final in Murwillumbah, when I was playing for Brothers Murwillumbah. Rugby League Immortal, Wally Lewis says Lawrie always told things as they were – no beating around the bush. Lawrie was a good footballer in his own right, representing Wide Bay Division from Maryborough, against the 1960 French tourists. He also played for Queensland Journalists and the Queensland Newspapers Tigers. In addition to being a fine sports writer, he penned a widely read column commenting on current affairs and life in general. He was a keen surf board rider, and was catching waves into his 70s. His son, Terry covered surfing for Queensland Newspapers.
SUNDAY, JUNE 18
Marie and I get Metro to Champ de Mars. At one station two ‘buskers’ bully and panic tourists by herding them along the platform, yelling ‘Avante, Avante’. Our musical friends then board the train, play the sax and piano accordion, and harass passengers for money. They don’t make it as far as me, but they would have got short shrift. We meet our youngest son, Lliam in the Pullman Eiffel Tower, where he checked-in last night, after a business trip to Austria and Germany. He has a great view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony of his room. Things are being put in place for the Longines Horse Show, an event Marie would love to attend, but it starts after we leave Paris. Brunch at Le Petit Cluny in the Latin Quarter. Then, another disaster with my phone. It flies from my hand as we are strolling the streets, and when I retrieve it, it is on the blink. No doubt the screen, which was already shattered from a mishap on our sea cruise, had now refused to obey instructions. One drink at L’Annex Bar, which has Gilbert Rugby balls everywhere, an affirmation of the Rugby World Cup to be held in France later this year. Lliam then orders an Uber and we head to a phone place, where I pay 99.90E for repair of my phone screen. We pass within sight of legendary literary cafe, Les Deux Magots, and when I tell Lliam it was once the haunt of the rich and famous, he marches in to see if we can get a table. Tragic me would have just walked by, thinking I would need a reservation. Lliam gets us an excellent table. Sit beside a couple who can’t finish their meal, so they get a doggy bag. The cafe can’t be that exclusive. I have half a dozen oysters, and white asparagus; Marie has foie gras and Lliam, snails, accompanied by Chablis. An old chap, reading Paris Monde, takes the place of the tourist couple. An elderly couple dine on the other side of our table, and as we are leaving, they are ‘replaced’ by four black American lasses, all of them, in my humble opinion, inappropriately attired. One has one of her breasts, hanging out – literally. As they sit down, one comments: “Isn’t it cute,” a reference to the restaurant.
This evening we get a cab from the Pullman Eiffel Tower to Montmartre, in a raging storm, for dinner at Le Coq & Fils. Our waitress brings Marie a Coke, when in fact, she had ordered a cocktail. The restaurant specialises in poultry, even to the extent of informing you how old the birds were when they gave their lives, and also the part of the country in which they were raised. After selecting the chook, it is then sliced at the table. It costs a bit more than a Woolies’ chook. The place is packed, and it is fascinating watching the tourists groups walking by, and staring in.
Our grandson, Ethan, has his best game since starting rugby league with Norths this year. “He now realises the team comes first,” his mother, Channelle says.