Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Will I Always Have Paris?

Rick in "Casablanca" may "always have Paris" (with Ingrid Berman, that is), but will I?

Random thoughts about Paris and "home" on the last day of my two-month journey to Europe and Asia:

The only person I saw wearing a beret in Paris on Monday and Tuesday was an elderly Chinese woman on the Metro. But there were piles of them for sale in the souvenir store across from Notre Dame.

I'm not ready to go home. I could live out of my suitcase forever. It's not that I don't miss my children or my friends. But the lure of the open road is difficult to resist. Ulysses must have experienced that on his voyages, but I don't have mythical creatures to blame. Or do I?

While walking down a street on the Ile St-Louis yesterday, three gentleman holding cameras came up to me and asked if I was a Czech photographer. By their attitude I could tell that they held this person in much respect. Of course they asked in French and I answered in English, "Nope." They seemed quite disappointed, and told me, in English, that "you look just like him." I almost pulled out my Nikkon pocket digital and tried to be whom they wanted.

Who said "home is where the heart is"? (Google doesn't seem to know) But what if your heart is everywhere? As big as the whole outdoors? (Not that I'd make so grand a claim.)

Yesterday in front of the Sacre Coeur (can't find accent marks on this Bill Gates keyboard) on Montmarte, I was almost blown over by gale force winds. Tourists were huddled under the portico of the basilica, their umbrellas turned inside out. Rain came and went. The view from the hill was spectacular however, even though the climb up nearly wiped me out (the funicular on which I pinned my hopes having stopped running). All Paris was laid out before my eyes under the storm clouds.

Of course I miss the familiarity of my pied a terre back in Santa Cruz where Shirlee tells me the mail is piling up like crazy. I miss the Nick, Lulu's, Logos, and my community at Holy Cross. But why is it I always seem to fall into the trap of overburdening myself with appointments? The dance card fills up so easily. I find it hard to say no. And then I resent the commitments I've made, the responsibilities I've taken on. On the road, there is only the Now: no regrets for the past, no plans for the future. Wouldn't that appeal to anyone?

But then commitments and responsibilities are what life involves. To not have them is to be...irresponsible and afraid of committing one's self. Argh.

I ate dinner last night at the Buffalo Grill across the place from the Gare du Nord with its hoardes of Gypsy girls looking for handouts from unsuspecting travelers. No, I didn't eat the buffalo meat burger, but I did have a delicious stear steak. The dominant color in the bistro was red, the decor featured wild west and Indian themes, and on the wall a television set showed showed a repeating loop of Ronald Reagan on horseback, riding off into the sunset. Music from the Eagles played on the sound system.

I left mosquito repellant back in Thailand along with other toiletries and personal effects I would no longer use. Here I'll donate most of my winter clothes to a charity. It's a challenge to travel as lightly as possible and my small black canvas bag is no more fully packed now, although I'm bringing new clothes that Thim bought me in Ko Samui, along with some additional books and artifacts to remember this journey.

The transportation map for Paris, showing the Metro, train and bus lines, looks like a Jackson Pollock painting, random squiggles of all kinds. I bought a carnet (10-pack) of tickets and quickly mastered the system (although I stuck with the Metro). Paris is easy to maneuver, and I criss-crossed the city willy-nilly to see the places that caught my interest. I avoided museums, which for some are the high points of paris, and traveled through the parks and gardens, the Luxembourg, the Tuilleries, and the Parc de la Villette in the north of the city where Francois' Cite des Sciences et de L'Industrie is located, along with the Cite de la Musique and a large concert hall, a conglomeration of former abbatoirs interspersed with wide swaths of grass and amusement areas for kids. I strolled through the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse, drank coffee in one-time literary cafes, and prayed in Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. I saw the landmarks, --the Eiffel Tower, the dome of the Pantheon, and Sacre Coeur -- from a distance, and mostly I enjoyed strolling the boulevards. Paris is so cute! It's almost like a Disney version of the city (and it even has its own Disneyland now on the outskirts of the city).

It feels like I've been on the road forever. Things I did here in December seem like remote memories. Christmas in London, New Year's Eve at Shantivanam in India. Now Valentine's Day is upon us. Who will be my Valentine?

With Francois and Danielle, I watched some of the televised speech given by Segolene Royal, the leader of the Socialist Party who is in the running to become president of France at the May elections. Her opponent is Nicholas Sarkozy, a right-winger of Hungarian descent who believes, along with the infamous La Pen, that France should be for the French. Love it or leave it. That has a familiar ring to it. Royal, a 53-year-old woman, unveiled a 100-point manifesto which took power away from capitalists and passed it on to labor. Can socialism still be a viable option. My friends thinks so, and their optimism fills me with hope. Unfortunately, Hilary does not, and I suspect Obama is more media hype than tangible reality. He still needs a little seasoning to be able to stand up to the nay sayers of the Democratic Party who have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam.

The exchange rate of dollars to euros shocked me when I got money at the EuroStar terminal for my two days on the continent. The dollar continues to slide against other world currencies. I suppose this is good for sales of American products, but it means my trip has become quite a bit more expensive than I'd planned. Only India was cheap. Bangkok, London and Paris are the playgrounds of the rich these days, not us poor colonial cousins.

When I made up the name of this blog, it occured to me that of course there is more to life than religion, sex and politics. But I keep coming back to these themes, although reticence overtakes me when it comes time to write about sex. Maybe later. Politics is more apparent by its absence as I enjoy a newsless day without hearing about the nonsense and exploits of George Bush. American politics seems so less important the farther you get from her borders. Each country I've visited has its own more insistent concerns.

As for religion, I've not missed so many masses in years. It was hard to get back in touch with the Spirit even in Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, surrounded by tourists taking pictures. Can religion, like culture, now be commodities for the short attention span of tourists? And just where do I stand? For this, and for my "summer romance" in Thailand, I need some thinking space.

After complaining about the British winter I've experienced in December and February, my last day dawned cloudless and bright. The sun is saying "Goodbye, Willie, come again!" Helen has a singing class in the city and I will go to meet her in the afternoon. Then we'll stroll along the Thames and I'll enjoy the sights for the last time. When the EuroStar arrived at Paddington Station last night I could see the London Eye, its lights all in purple, through the glass roof of the terminal. Lovely.

Tomorrow, an almost 11-hour flight from London Heathrow to San Francisco. That is, if the British Airways employes do not decide to go on strike.

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