There is an ambivalent relationship with technology here. To find a Wifi connection requires a ten minute walk down the road to a campsite bar where a card for three hours costs €18 and gives a connection almost as slow as the days of dial up internet. Even moments when it seems that the 21st Century might have arrived, the old ways persist.
Last night marked the beginning of the French domestic rugby season. Why the first round of matches should take place at 7 o’clock on a Tuesday evening was unclear, but we drove down to Biarritz through rush hour traffic.
The area surrounding the ground was in chaos – people parked anywhere there was a physical space; an Irish traffic warden would have thought Christmas had come. There were cars parked along the verges of the four lane road; cars parked on traffic islands; cars parked along pavements so narrow that pedestrians had to take their chance amongst the traffic; cars parked on white lines and yellow lines; cars filling entire sides of narrow streets. The municipal police stood around with an air of benign indifference. The club regularly has capacity crowds; does this happen every time? Couldn’t someone devise a traffic management scheme?
Arriving at the stadium half an hour before the match, a single window of the eight possible was open for the sale of tickets to those who hadn’t season tickets – the queue must have been fifty yards long. This was a club sponsored by Cap Gemini, a major technology company, and there were hundreds of people waiting to buy tickets with cash at a little hole in the wall.
After queueing for twenty minutes, we reached the front. In my best French I asked for two adult and two youth tickets. The smiling girls at the desk peered out at the two youths.
“Seventeen and fifteen.”
One of the girls pushed a button and four tickets with holograms worthy of a €50 note were printed off. I handed €50 to the girl and received €30 in change. The adult tickets were just €10 each, the youths were free. This was a glamorous, professional French rugby club and they were giving out free tickets. Back in Dublin, €20 would barely have bought one ticket.
Going to the entrance to the terraces, the good lady and I passed the scrutiny of the official tearing off the ticket stubs. I looked back.
“Dad, there’s a problem. Your tickets are for the west terrace; ours are for the east”.
The official turned and looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and waved through the two youths. The technology had obviously printed the wrong tickets. In fact, if everyone had just paid the men at the gates, much of the hassle would have been avoided.
The glamorous guys of Biarritz looked a little rusty after the summer lay off, but ran out 29-22 winners at the end. Well pleased with the evening, which had included the extravagance of €4 spent on tubs of chips, we went out to find our way back through the chaos of thousands of Frenchmen trying to drive in every direction simultaneously.
Perhaps the problem with technology is that it doesn’t suit certain temperaments.