Living in the City of Lights has its ups and downs and a large share of surreal moments – particularly when dealing with any portion of the French administration. Saturday, the various municipal centres for sports (besides the city pools anyway) had an open doors so that kids could come and discover the sports that were available. Now, on the surface that sounds pretty easy right? Well, near my flat there is a kindergarden school with a large municipal complex attached to it including a pool 3 stories down, a library four stories up, a dance studio three stories up, some tennis courts behind the school and – as I discovered – an underground sports complex. The underground complex is at the same level as the swimming pool but accessed by a hidden door (I had never seen it before personally) and a long winding staircase (no elevator that I could see). It has two basketball courts, two climbing walls for training with 8 lines, and space for soccer, badminton, or other indoor sports. It was really rather large and impressive. So, for this open house, they had the climbing wall open, next to that was a fencing area, there was an inflatable boxing ring, and then there were a smattering of kids playing either basketball or soccer or some amalgam of the two. Sounds pretty normal so far right? Well, first off, inquiring several parents I know, I determined that – outside of this open house – this entire publicly-owned complex was completely inaccessible. No one knows who actually runs it, what the hours are, nor what activities can be practiced here. Now, I found it pretty weird particularly in a city as congested and lacking of space that this relatively huge space remains closed off 99% of the time. The absurdness was not over though. First off, the folks running the four activities were all a bit strange. The surly climbing guy was a bit military and shouted rather insistently “FEET! FEET!” to the terrified little monkeys (mine included) trying to climb. The two fencing guys looked like they spent their time playing World of Warcraft and buying acne medicine with their spare change. I mean they were really nice, they just looked so geeky. The boxing bit, well, there was one guy that never said a word (was he a mute?) who seemed to have had broken his nose with one two many punches to the face or something and the “leader” of the activity kept slapping all the kids on their backs nearly knocking them over (he also sported some previous boxing injuries – some probably mental). And lastly, there was this 25-year old guy going on 14 that was sort of corralling the basket-foot-ball thingy that was happening sporadically in the gym (I got hit in the back with one ball (no apology from the little brat of course) and stepped on as I waited for the boxing thing to begin). And what was the boxing thing? Well, to our misfortune, when my kid wanted to try the boxing was naturally the moment when they were deflating the boxing ring and putting it away. The strange instructor guy told me not to worry, that there would be another class. He just didn’t say that it was a class of – really, I am not making this up – boxing aerobics. Yes, they put in a CD (remember those? seems like ages ago doesn’t it?) with some kind of lame pop music and a voice over in English (hmm, in France? really?) of a guy saying something like “Ok, we are gonna start in 15 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, ok so start running in place, 1-2-1-2, ok now, RIGHT HOOK! LEFT JAB! KICK HIM IN THE BALLS!”. Yes, just joking about the last one but it was still pretty surreal. And just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, I actually had the audacity to ask the various instructors (other than the mysterious basketball man-child) about how to find out more about these activities (which was – in theory – the whole point to the exercise). Veteran climber-dude told me that he had no idea, he actually didn’t climb and only had a vague notion of where one would climb if one wanted to. The cosplay fencing dudes told me that there was a huge club – at another school in the neighborhood. Same story for the Rocky wannabes. So, what exactly is the point of an open house for sports if it is impossible to follow up on what your kids actually liked and where they could practice it? Perhaps it is just me, but it was truly a surreal afternoon.
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