Alas, the time to leave had come! However, there were still some fireworks to enjoy before departure. I met with our point guard ST at Gallery 2, the lone basketball gear supplier here in Tokyo, and picked up our newly tailored Jersey's.
As you can see, the jersey's are hot! White joints, Jordan Brand, with the Rising Suns logo on the front. This created a nice little buzz as I commenced to packing my things. Big ups to Gallery 2 for the sponsorship!
A few hours later we all met up in Narita Airport. 1/2 excited about the destination 1/2 dreading the actual journey to come. In total we flew for 15 hours. 3 to Taiwan, and 12 to Paris. Factor in the train rides to and from the airports, and you've pretty much got yourself a full day on mass transit. But when it's a free trip to Paris on the line, somehow, ya just don't mind such trivial things. As a unit, we all remained pretty upbeat and excited. Crackin jokes and laughing throughout almost all of our waking hours. And I stress waking, because I timed my fatigue up just right. Staying awake for the 3 hour flight and then passing out from right after the 1st meal to just before the final meal on the the 2nd flight.
I've never been one to criticize plane food. 9 outta 10 times, it's delicious. I don't know if it's because I'm now traveling in Asia or if the airline was just too cheap to invest in such things as legitimate chefs, but 2 of the 3 meals we ate were tasteless. The worst of which was when I asked for the "Chicken."
I was utterly displeased when I pealed back the foil to see some ground beef looking like stuff atop my rice. I asked the stewardess..."Uhhh, Miss? Is this Chicken?"
She said "Yes.." (as if I was an idiot)
Well, "What's this brown stuff?"
All of my cultural inhibitions and attempts to be considerate flew out the window as my Japanese teammate, Atsushi, looked at her and said "GRAVY??!"
I hollered, "THANK YOUU!! I was over here thinking maybe I'm some kinda ignorant American who doesn't know anything about Asian cuisine, but you confirmed...this is NOT Gravy!! Thank YOU!"
We laughed, I ate, and it certainly lived up to expectations..nasty.
We touched down in Paris at about 6:30 AM. We were all happy to be there, but you would never had known it had you looked at our faces. However, things started to shift when a Frenchman approached, accompanying Jason, (our organizer) shook my hand and said, "I'm Fred...You're Driver!" I said, "Wooord?!? I like the sounds of that?" And this was just the beginning, as we stepped out of the airport and saw the official Quai 54 van there to pick us up. And in an instant things went from what was previously a dream, to a very very pleasant reality.
Just our luck, as timing would have it, we got stuck in rush hour traffic on our way into the city. A trip that should take 20 minutes was shaping up to be and hour and a half. But this was destiny! (or something like that) Fred decided to take us through the city instead. What a blessing in disguise.
As soon as we exited the freeway, I could feel the shift in energy. The 1st wave to hit me was just how edgy Paris is as a city. The streets had character, but even greater, the people have got SOUL! And it was oozing from their walks, clothes and antics. 5 minutes in and I was suddenly aware of just how docile the city of Tokyo is. And that's not a bad thing whatsoever.
I was steadily trying to make every light post or tall structure into the Eiffel Tower as we drove, but to no avail. But all those ambitions withered quickly as we drove across the Seine River and got our 1st glimpse of NOTRE DAME. Absolutely Breathtaking. From near and far a truly magnificent piece of architecture.
This got the ball rolling for us, as we continued to pass relic after relic with seemingly every block. The Pantheon, where many of the "greatest" thinkers and artists are commemorated. And countless other monuments and statues which attested to the rich history that characterizes Paris.
The moment we got to our hotel, I set out to find a patisserie for my 1st of many rendezvous' with the true love of my life "Pain Au Chocolat." I must say, French people got it right...They eat Chocolate for Breakfast! All the pastries and desserts looked incredible too. It was around this time, that I realized I could be a very happy man if I lived here.
Soon after, we walked over to the park to get our 1st glimpse of where the tournament was being held. They were still in the process of painting the court and putting the finishing touches on it. Even still, it was an impressive sight.
But not nearly as impressive as it was to see the pair of Limited Edition Quai 54 Air Jordan's awaiting us when we returned to the hotel. That was a stunner for all of us. But we were all smiles when we saw those boxes. I've seen prettier J's, but somehow, when they're free, they just look and feel a lil nicer than they would have.
After a lil rest, we hopped on the train to go play ball at a park across town. 5 minutes into our train ride a real cool guy sat between Atsushi and I and delighted us with stories about the city and insider's information. Our conversation was perfectly timed because it immediately put to rest any preconceived notions that French people are ill-willed or mean-spirited. Most notably to Americans. It was clear, this guy had such a good heart, and we'd soon see, so do his fellow countrymen. (and women)
Our basketball adventure got cut short, as the rains dowsed us early and often. We shot around in the rain for a bit before eventually making our way to our French guide/coach's neighborhood to eat a nice greasy dinner at the local sandwich shop. That's one thing I didn't realize I missed until I had it. A nice greasy sammich! But this one prolly clogged the arteries up good enough to last me til my next trip abroad!
Unlike Japan, it doesn't start getting dark til about 10 o'clock out here. So we were all in disbelief when we had to rush to catch the train before 12:30 to get back to the hotel. As fate would have it, I stepped down off of a cement structure and rolled my ankle on the curb. Talk about scared, I was speechless for the next 10 minutes. All I could think of was, "Damn! What if I came all this way, to end up not playing at all?" But about an hour later everything was cool.
And just like that...our 1st day in Paris was in the books!