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Saturday, March 31, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 8: Ahead to the Past

Chapter 8... Vive Le France!

It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive.--Anonymous

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. --Junot Diaz

[Note: I'm writing this in La Linea, in Spain just outside Gibraltar. I'm proof-reading it in Tangier. I blogged 2 diversions, and now can go


So far: After sickness, panic, and beer on the plane, I finally make it to Paris. Since the airport is so big-- with a few dozen entrances and exits, I have to call my friends to tell them where I am. My cellphone doesn't work.

I try the coinfone. Put in a Euro... it doesn't work. I hang up... hear the coins drop... I don't get them back. (My guess: someone stuffed some tissue into the coin return... used a wire hanger... all that change...building up... pull out the tissue and there it is...) I try another coin phone... this one doesn't work either... no refund.

I'm about 8€ (a little more than 10 bucks) in the hole and I haven't even left the airport. That's not the worst. Flo Flo, who's going to pick me up, has to get to work. She can't wait too long, she said. She's needed by the boss.

I go to the TRAVELER'S AID section... in every airport.... they always speak English.... they know.

I explain my problem... the woman behind the window says... “I'm sorry, but how am I supposed to know how to use your telephone.”

“No,” I correct her, “can you tell me how to use the COIN telephones.”

She explains. I try again. I lose more money. I look around helplessly. I see some posters advertising airport food... some attractions in Paris... a band playing... That's it. BAND!!! My cellphone is set to the wrong band. I have to change it to make it work in Europe. Some more fiddling. Button pushing... Yes!!! Got it! Meet you there in 10 minutes!

Out of the airport! Let the adventures begin!

FloFlo is a couch-surfer who stayed with her cousin, Caroline, on my couch last year. With a mutual sardonic sense of humor, and a taste for alcohol, we became good friends. With her is Helen, my long time pal (30 years?) from New York (actually, Lubbock-->New York-->Nice). I see her once every 4 or 5 years. She's still lookin' good after all this time. I don't know how she does it... but she never taught me the trick.

Helen has set the plans for Paris... and rented an apartment for a few days with Clair, a longer-time friend from London (40 years?) and her husband Aleister. This is to be a reunion of sorts.

I thank FloFlo for picking me up at the airport. (She still has to get to work). “Je ne veux pas parler Anglais en France.” she says. She's right of course.

So I stumble through with my bad French: “Jay neigh parlay France-say bee-en.” I say.

But we limp along in the language. Helen, who's lived in France for 25 years, answers all my “Como own dee in France-say?” questions.

It turns out that I'm in Paris at a good time. There's going to be a huge demonstration on Sunday... in support of the United Front of the Left:

Is it the Front du Peuple? I don't know. I have no idea what color it is. But I'm going. Wow! A demonstration, I haven't been to one in years! (unless you count the Occupy Yom Kippur service).

Floflo drops us at Caroline's where her Panamanian artist boyfriend is waiting for us. He introduces himself, but none of us catch the name: Eduardo? Edwin? Edwah?

Eduardo-Edwin-Edwah is Mr. Nice, showing me my bed and room in the living room... offering bread and drinks around. (In New York, FloFlo and Caroline had to sleep together on the same nasty narrow couch. I didn't offer them much to eat.) Then, he walks us almost all the way to where Helen and the gang are staying.

After initial greetings Helen asks if I want some coffee before we go out.

“Huh?” I say in English. “This is France, we should go out and sit in a cafe and drink coffee out of bowls, while eating croissants and discussing Sartre.”

“This is France,” she says. “They serve French coffee here. Look!”

She pulls out her little stovetop espresso machine. She carried it along for the trip. (Later on the visit she will cook breakfast for all of us... with stuff she buys herself.... won't let anyone else pay. Amazing! Want the perfect friend (with a tiny fault where maps are concerned)? Look no further. I always feel I owe her... but she never lets me pay! One day, the debt will come due!)

We compromise on the coffee... a cup at home first, then go out for the atmosphere. Here we are, soaking it up.

We later meet up... the whole crew... in Caroline's apartment. Here are all of us... oldsters and youngsters in more than all our glory.

Brrrrr! A text message. I heard you were looking for me. I can come to Paris to meet you. Just let me know when the time is good.

It must be Xavier. I'm surprised he's going to be in Paris. Maybe he's come for the demonstration. I save his number in my phone, under Xavier.

Luc at his NYC farewell party
I know I'll see him in Strasbourg, though. It's Luc who I'll miss seeing this trip. Luc, my Drink Club pal, who we had a great farewell party for. Maybe I'll never see him again.

Right now, the plan is top go to the cemetery. I want a picture of me pissing on Jim Morison’s grave. It'll make a good New Year's card. Where's Le Metro?

“The Metro?” says Helen. “We can walk. I've got a map. It's not far.”We walk... and... walk... and ask passers-by. Then look at the map. Then walk some more. Then ask again.... retrace 
our steps. I can feel my boot heels wearing thinner with each step kilometer. Somehow we find the cemetery. Go inside. Clair and Aleister go on instead. Helen and I stop to find some other people besides Jim Morrison. Also, Helen gets a map.

We wander. She looks at the map and we wander some more. We ask a guy who seems thoroughly disgusted thatwe want Jim Morrison and not Moliere! He vaguely points the way.

We look at the map some more. It should be right here. It isn't. We see Clair and Aleister.

“Did you see him?” asks Clair.

“We can't find him,” I say. “We see his number on the map, but we can't find him.”

They take us behind some graves, into a back lot... and there... parked into a corner is Jim... cordoned off and completely non-pissible.

Here are a bunch of pictures from the cemetery. The trip is one of the highlights so far. Recommended to all Paris visitors.

I had a plan to meet a friend, fellow couch-surfer, Annie, at the Pompidou Museum at 3, but we don't get out of the cemetery until 2:45. I text Annie to say we'll be late. We'll meet at 4 at the fountain.
Helen said that's a good meeting point.

“Euuuuw eh lay Metro?” I ask.

“The Metro?” says Helen. “We can walk. I've got a map. It's not far.”

At 3:30, I text Annie again. We're running a bit late. Let's meet at 4PM

“There's a huge line,” she texts back. “Let's make it at 5PM... at the fountain.”

We walk... and walk... make it to the museum at 4. There is indeed a huge line. We duck it and go it... to the cafeteria... and the gift shop... we never make it into the actual museum. Then we go out to eat in a Torino cafe. Right around the corner from the museum.

At 4:45, I go out... to the fountain to look for Annie.

While I'm waiting, there's another text, again from Xavier. I'll meet you in Paris. At Le Pub on Rue St. Dennis 58, tomorrow at 7.

Great! I text back.

And there's Annie, right on cue! What is this about the French always being late? Changes my impression, that's for sure.

I take Annie to meet the rest of us. She can only stay a short time, but it's great to see her. If it weren't for the missing Luc, I'd be seeing everyone I need.

After Annie, we go out to dinner and head back to our apartments.

“Which train do we take to get back home,” I ask Helen.

“We don't need a train,” she says, “I have a map.”

The next day is the big demonstration in Paris. A huge march and rally in support of the United Front of the Left. It's been years since I've been at a demonstration. And it's great to be back at one! Ho ho! It's like I never left!

At the demo we met FloFlow's father. I sing the International with him. I only know two words of it... but I sing those two words very loudly.

There is even a not-so-undercover police officer here. Photographing the crowd... person-by-person no-doubt using Google face recognition software to check for terrorists and Americans in army boots. So, what do you do with an undercover police photographer? Why take a picture of him, bien sur.

The rest of the demo pictures are here.

Next day, it's evening. We go to the bar to meet Xavier. Clair and Aleister have gone on ahead. I meet Helen... we walk... of course. She has a map.

So we find Boulevard St. Dennis on the map and walk to it. And walk. And walk. When we find the Boulevard, there is no number 58. It only goes to 36, then changes to some other name. Fu... wait! I check my text message! It's not BOULEVARD, it's RUE, and that's right around the corner.

What a great street! Sex shops and whores galore! (Now that's a name for a band.) Hooey! I wish I had more time to spend here. But here we are at the bar. Inside, Clair and Aleister are waiting. We sit down and wait for Xavier. He doesn't show.

I go out to call him. $2.95 a minute... all calls routed through the US. Anyway, there's no answer. I text. No answer. I look around to see if maybe he's wandering the streets... and I find Luc!

Wow! What luck! Lucky Luc... Lucky us. “Did you know we were going to be here?” I ask him.

“Mykel,” he says. “You've been texting me for the past two days.”

“What?” I ask. “Where's Xavier? He's supposed to be here?”

“I don't think so,” says Luc. “I think he's in Strasbourg. I don't think he'll be in Paris. But I'll call to check.”

He does.

“No Mykel,” says Luc, “you've been texting me... and you thought I was Xavier.

Well, we do get to dinner together, then out to a Canadian bar for drinks.

What is a Canadian bar? Well, can you say hockey sticks for door handles? Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of that.

Hooeey! It is so great to see Luc... I hope we don't lose touch again!

Flash to the next day! My last day in Paris. As I've already written, I'm an early traveler. My train leaves at 3PM. I want to leave the apartment at noon. Make sure I can find the track. Scan the ticket the Caroline printed out for me. Something will go wrong. I'll need time to correct it.

Helen is supposed to meet me at Caroline's at 12:30. Too close to 3PM for comfort, but okay. At 12:31 I'm nervous and go downstairs to meet her. I check that I have everything. Then check again. Then close the door, locking it, saying good-bye to the apartment.

At 12:45 Helen arrives. She's carrying a bottle of wine she brought Caroline... but we can't get in to the apartment to leave it. I closed the door behind me. I have no key.

So she's carrying her large wine bottle. I'm carrying about 50 lbs of baggage, and we're heading for the train station. Caroline told me the Metro stop (I forget the name, but it's something like Obkampf) was the easiest and most direct. I ask Helen which way to the stop.

“Metro?” she says, “We don't need a Metro. We can walk. I have a map.”

FAST-FORWARD to 3/24: I type this on the kitchen table in my house here in Strasbourg. My NYC apartment has enough space for me and the mouse that crawled behind the bed and electrocuted itself on the wall socket. Here, I have three floors... only me... the guest house. Each level has a set of light switches to turn off the one's behind and turn on ahead of your journey up the stairs.

It's a house. With a kitchen, a bathroom, another room for the shower... like in California...

More on this later...

NOTE: Since I've been speaking such a multitude of languages here, my memory is getting even worse... not enough space to store everything. I was going to make a list of all the simple words I forgot, but I forget what they were. I know that today I forgot the word: Lebanon.

This is the 8th entry of my travel blog. Here are the past entries:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Episode 7 here

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