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16TH February 2010

Culture - Leftovers - Sport

The horses run backwards: observations on mes amis francais.


The French will outlive us. And I have figured out why.

check the grooming on their haunchesThey may smoke like chimneys, drink wine incessantly, not really exercise except for la boule, eat foi gras, mandate 35 hour work weeks, five weeks of vacances and have 650 varieties of cheese. But, despite what would appear to be unhealthy in every regard, they have actually perfected the art of just not really caring too much about anything. Which means, they will whistle right pass our heart attack ridden fifties and our stress induced weak sixties to outlive us well into their eighties and beyond. They get to the finish in style, while appearing to do all the wrong things along the way.

This reminds me of a horserace I was at recently in Longchamp. Stay with me.

My friends at Quarterback, (yes, they named it after American Football- they confuse the French as much as “Vaux les ventures” confuses Americans!) host the Prix D’Honneur each year. And the horses run backwards, much like the French approach life itself! But, lets go back a bit…

The infield tent at the Pd’H was a model of French hospitality. The food was special, the wine was sublime, and the people were a total blast. Contrary to popular belief, they do not hate Americans, at least not this one. We hit it off with Gauthier’s friends marvelously, and I got to watch each of the races- backwards, bien sur- from the finish line on the infield grass.

But as it is in so many other corners of the world, it was the people that made the mark on me. Parisian, most of them (and so being the most uptight of the French people) But even in a business setting, and this was all business they were able to enjoy themselves as I rarely see in America. Maybe they have peaked as a country in culture, food, wine, art, architecture. Maybe they have begun to coast. But who cares. Much like I was reminded in Egypt, who did for it for a few thousand years, these guys were on a hot streak for a long time. They deserve a little time off. And they seem to be making the best of it.

One treat of the day was the Republican Guard, a holdover from the time of Kings (the Musketeers are no-longer I guess). Before the big race, they canter up and blow horns in front of the royal box. Not being a royal,. I have an unobstructed view of the asses of 30 horses. Which is when I notice they shave a check board logo on the hindquarters (of the horses- not the guards!)? Gauthier brought out some more wine, lit a cigar (and was surprised I didn’t join him). We watched last bit of sun fall over the grandstand and knew we had lived a moment.

The final race was testament to my thesis. It started from the wrong side of the track, and the horses ran the entire race the wrong way, that is to me clockwise. And it occurred to me, they were just like the French. They got to the finish line, backwards and in good form. Like the French, I suppose, the horses did all the right things for all the wrong reasons. But they got there, just the same.

Which is why French horses run backwards and Frenchmen live so long: how you get there is not such serious business, it’s knowing what is really important that counts.

That, and betting on Joie de Vivre at 13:1.

Oui, c’est vrai!

If you go
» Prix D’Honneur
» Roland Garros
   Brasserie Balzar

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