I was in Paris this week, and got to catch up with Lilian Thuram, who we hosted here at Duke last fall. He invited me to attend a PSG match with him at the Parc des Princes, and I of course jumped at the opportunity. The police have been heavily cracking down on some fan organizations at PSG, but they seemed spirited as ever, with the Boulogne Kop on one end, and Auteuil and the Paname United Colors on the other. Among the many creative chants perhaps the simplest and most forceful, one frequently used by PSG fans against any team that isn’t from the great cosmopolitan capital, was “Paysan! Paysan!” — “Peasants! Peasants!” There was something irreducibly French about that one.
The fans clubs did make noise about their conflict with the French state and the PSG management, too: one group in the Auteuil section raised a banner at one point declaring that they were the “Victims of Police Repression” and calling for the re-institution of banned groups. And the Boulogne Kop has a banner in memory of one of theirs who was killed by an off-duty policeman who intervened to protect a fan of the visiting Tel Aviv team they were attacking a few years ago. As always, the CRS police were out in force all around the stadium.
Tagging along with Thuram, of course, meant sitting in the posh seats in the middle. He’s still greeted everywhere with smiles, shouts of pleasure, and requests for photos and autographs, of course. In a very French twist, during half-time — during which we admired the French Cup, which PSG recently acquired (against expectations, it must be said) — we were served champagne, red wine, and a series of gourmet snacks, including an avocado mousse served with beet puree and grilled shrimp, delivered by a French chef who commented on his creations. That’s the way to watch (French) football!
Even if it was wonderful to see Makelele captaining the team, the game wasn’t particularly riveting, though it ended with one of the craziest turn-arounds I’ve ever seen . With the score 1-1, PSG scored a goal with about two minutes left. And then, they completely failed to hold it together, and Valenciennes equalized with about 20 seconds left. The poor PSG players walked off the field with heads hung down, with a smattering of boos from their own fans. The Valenciennes group, hemmed in next by a large orange wall, protected by netting, and heavily guarded, nevertheless produced some impressive volume from their dungeon.
Earlier, I had joined Thuram and historian Pascal Blanchard in a guided visit of the National Archives, where we talked history and discussed an exhibit they are preparing together on Colonial Exhibitions and “Human Zoos” during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thuram’s book Mes Etioles Noires, which narrates black history through biographies of figures from Lucy to Barack Obama, is a hit in France. And he continues to push forward the work of his foundation, developing anti-racist exhibits and teaching tools.
He told me he has good memories of his visit Duke, so hopefully we’ll be able to arrange another trip across the Atlantic in not too long.