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Travel Flashback: A Scene at a Paris Train Station

The Gare de Lyon had been transformed, quite suddenly, into a sea of garish red and yellow stripes. The echoes of chants filled the cavernous main hall. A throng of people – not the usual week-day commuters, these – converged into one central area, at the center of which, I was sitting.

I took a quick assessment of the other passengers around me and, seeing that they all looked amused rather than alarmed, I relaxed. After some closer observation, I deduced that the red-and-yellow-adorned people were fans of a rugby team that had, apparently, just won a championship.

Several young men scaled the sides of the vending machines next to me and started beating drums, setting the rhythm for the cheers and chants of the crowd. Air horns blasted; giant flags waved. When one of the flags whipped a few inches above my head, I decided to evacuate my front-row seat and retreat to a safe distance.

In addition to the expected teenage boys, there were a surprising number of children and middle-aged men and women joining in the celebration. I even spotted a septuagenarian in a fuzzy yellow and red clown wig.

After about an hour, they seemed to be winding down and dispersing – but no, they got a second wind, and sang and cheered even more exuberantly than before. Someone set off some bright flares, filling the hall with yellow and pink smoke. A few policemen were watching nearby, but rather than intervening in the lawlessness, they appeared to be enjoying the spectacle as much as the rest of us.

I spied a couple of revelers sneaking a drink behind the vending machine: red wine in a box. It struck me as poetically appropriate that French sports fans were getting drunk on cheap wine. It also dawned on me that it was 9:30 am. I wondered when this celebration had started. It certainly showed no signs of letting up any time soon.

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