From Berlin it was on to Rennes. Friday afternoon was spent with Jacques in Potsdam shopping, successfully, for toys for his children and, unsuccessfully, an iPad for me. From there we caught a train and a bus to Tegel airport, where we had a drink before saying goodbye, as I boarded my plane for Paris and he awaited his to Luxembourg.
Landing at Paris-Orly, I caught a taxi to Montparnasse. It was the first time I'd caught a taxi in Paris, and I was impressed at how fast it was; I had anticipated much more congestion and, to be honest, expense. Anyway, I got to the station in good time to retrieve my TGV ticket, but unfortunately, the SNCF machines still refuse to accept Australian credit cards, so I was forced to board the train ticketless. It was very full, with quite a few people standing, without tickets but without seat reservations, while I sat a little sheepishly with a seat reservation but no ticket. When I alerted the controller to my situation, he seemed unperturbed, and said that when he returned, I could buy a ticket and reclaim my original purchase at a later date, which sounded pretty reasonable. I never saw him again.
By the time I got to Rennes, I was pretty tired, and grateful to be staying in a hotel near the station. Or so I thought - despite my fairly firm protestations, the hotel had no reservation of my booking. Later, looking at my booking statement, I read to my chagrin, that I had in fact only booked from the following night. Nonetheless, they found me a room, which although tiny was a welcome sight at the end of a long day of trains, planes and automobiles.
Were I more disciplined, or had I not been two weeks on the road already, I would have risen early and gotten myself to the marché des lices, Rennes' most impressive tourist attraction. Being who and were I was, though, I took the alternate path of lying in late, and wandering into town only after midday to have some lunch - galette-cidre-crêpes, bien sûr! - and along the way suss out some options for laundry. Following that I spent the bulk of the afternoon in a laundromat, reading my book and waiting on machines. It took me back to my first months in my apartment in St-Thérèse, before I bought a washing machine, when so many weekend afternoons incorporated similar trips to a different (and, to be honest, a more pleasant) laundromat, often with a novel. There are worse ways to pass the time, to be honest, if the book is good enough.
In the evening, I headed out to Bréquigny for a nostalgic evening watching the girls from Avenir de Rennes run around. Rather than catching the bus, as I might have back in the day, I bought myself a week-long subscription to the public bike hire scheme, and grabbed a dumpy but servicable little steed to roll down past the station, women's prison and familiar metro stops out to the edge of town. Since I left, the team had moved its games from the quaint but often cramped quarters of rue Papu out to the more capacious and more professional-feeling Salle Colette Besson (apparently a French sporting heroine from the Mexico Olympics).
Once there, I started looking around for Véronique, whom I was slated to meet there. She wasn't to be found, but while queueing for a ticket I found Soso, lingering outside with a kloppe (as is her wont), who was another on my list of people to say hello to. Eventually Véronique, Yann and Rosalie joined me, and we went inside to join a healthy crowd, including large and enthusiastic delegations from some small towns outside Rennes - Vezin-le-Coquet and, I think, La Chapelle-des-Fougeretz. I've always been impressed by Avenir's engagement with the youth basketball communities from these towns.
The game itself was entertaining for a little while. The Rennes girls outsized and outplayed their opponents fairly convincingly early on. Once the lead was built, the foot lifted a little, and the sting and interest went out of the game, as Rennes cruised to an easy victory by 20 or so points. Its a different team than the one I used to watch - only one player is still playing whom I had seen play previously, and they play under a new coach - but with some of the same characteristics. The two veterans - a guard and a centre - play an important leadership role in the structure of their game, but most of the players are very young.
At half-time and after the game I was able to catch up, with the Blancs, with Soso, and also with some other old friends - Sophie Brisson, Nono, and the now-very-pregnant Cecille. Still, it was difficult to escape the feeling that this was the life I used to lead, and that both my life and the club's have moved a long way since the days when these games were such an important part of my life. I'm not sure whether its sad or inevitable or a sign of progress, or all of those, but it remains a cherished part of my story.