Project and Travel Blog
What I love most about travel is the challenge of the new. This past month I have been in France, all in Paris and Japan. In France I walked the streets endlessly, lost five pounds, ate ferociously, drank semi-modestly, made enormous discoveries. What I discovered was: I'll say it again, the challenge; the challenge of new language, sounds, foods, smells and just the excitement of traveling through the city. New language, bon Jour, madame; bon soir, monsieur; Hotels like the Le Royal Monceau where the rouge Cornas "Les Challis" rolled off my tongue; my old buddy the Parc Luxembourg hotel, a sweet intimate polished little place, where when I came in at O' dark thirty, turned to my right to find my Cameroon night desk man Jules quietly chuckling and saying in his deep rich African voice, " Man don't you ever sleep"?
"Not tonight Jules, Champagne for me and a glass for you if you like." We would stand there in the dark of Paris, now and then a motor scooter, and talk about his life as a young man in rural Africa, and mine. He told me he spent the first few years of his life in a round mud hut, I said the first few of mine were spent in a garage, where we lived until we could build a house. He said he thought all Americans were rich when he was a boy.
How did you travel so far from home I asked? "I had loving parents" he said, "who gave me, at their expense, a good education. I excelled at tennis in school and be came quiet proficient at it," he said. "I traveled professionally and about the same time I landed in Paris my knees gave out, and so now I play for fun and work this job at night, nuit. "Do you play?" he asked hopefully. "No" I said, "I am not a tennis player, but I watch it all of the time. Roger Federer is my favorite. He is so calm on the court though I heard that when he was up and coming he use to bend his rackets around the net post." He laughed, "I'm familiar," he said.
I liked this man. I told him I had several Cameroon masks which I treasured.
"Why are you here," he asked?
"My son and his girl friend are here for three months," I told him: "exploring, writing, studying the language and visiting nearly every important sight in Paris." They invited me to come over to visit, and of course, i came. They have been so loving, the perfect hosts. l treasure Paris, especially with them they are wanting to show me everything they themselves find interesting and feel that I may enjoy. They are kindness personified. We walk down the Rue St Honere they both have their arms around me and mine around them. The other day in the sun and with the early spring blossoms just starting to beautifully unfold, we went to the boulangerie, bought a loaf of pain ordinaire, a bottle of French red, a gateau au chocolate with Pistachio filling and covered with fresh whole raspberries, walked to the park, sat on a bench in the sun, ate, drank and watched the children and old men sail model sailboats on the little concrete surrounded pond there. Our fingers were covered with luscious chocolate; our mouths filled with red wine and our hearts filled with joy. Our life is like that here in Paris.
He smiled, his large pliable lips parting slightly and then said, "it is easy to see that you have earned their love and as a result of your love for them, they love you freely, openly without restraint; life is like that no matter what the nationality " This kind of made me tear-up. So I changed the subject and told him of our walk over to the Pantheon where we saw the Foucault pendulum hanging by a thin wire from God's eye from the top of the Pantheon dome, which Foucault created to demonstrate earth's rotation. I also told him, even though he knew of it, that in the basement crypts, Rousseau was interred. His crypt was the most delightful because of the carving on the front of it, like a little partially open door was his hand extending holding a candle. This was so pertinent, as he was a French philosopher and major writer in the age of enlightenment.
As I looked at Jules he started to wobble, only I realized it was I that was wobbling. I had hit that dreaded wall one hits when his world time clock is off. I wished him good evening. As I walked to the elevator he called after me and said,"does your son play tennis?" I hit the up button and told him I would let him know in the morning. As I ascended to my top floor apartment I reminisced about the day in rainy sunny Paris. Her skirts showing floral freshness. It"s spring in Paris. The gold encrusted monuments, Cleopatra's needle, Crillon hotel, the D'orsay musee, Nortre-Dame, the Alexander the third bridge with all of it's gold covered Belle Epoch sculpture, wandering along the quai des Tuileries, the Seine, flowing fast and high from spring rains, windows filled with the latest haute couture. Colors this year in Paris tend to be shell pink and Chinoise red. Look for these colors next year in the USA. Finally I remembered the wise words of a dear friend, a jewelry maker from the Urals who made works for Leonid Brezhnev, saying to me one winter's day in her little Stalinist apartment. She was five feet tall and nut brown. She told me "Douglas," in her heavy Russian accent, "I know a river in Siberia that is filled with Jade boulders and every boulder is a sculpture, come with me and i will guide you there. I longed to do this! Then she said "have you been to Paris?", Yes I said, and she said, "Paris is worth the mass."
As I shut off the light that night in rainy fragrant Paris I was thinking also that in three weeks I would be in Japan. How could I know then that names like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Napoleon would be replaced with sounds and villages like Takayama, Shirakawa,Kanazawa and finally the 1700's painter Fukuhara Gogaku. I'll tell you about him later. Bon Soir and good night.