Monday, July 13, 2009

Footsteps of DLS – Day Two – Paris

Time adjustment is still a bit of a problem. I woke up very early – wide awake – and simply got up and started doing things in my room. Scott, having been warned by me that this might happen to him, ignored the entire notion and stubbornly slept blissfully through the night, as he told me later on. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard, to throw in a little French. Since the weather is so nice here, I just opened up the large windows and gazed out over the rooftops of Paris as the scenery gradually grew brighter and the day began. The wifi continues to be generously provided by a neighbor and time was spent checking emails, writing the blog, and searching around Paris via Google for an Apple store. There’s one place near the Arc de Triomphe, apparently, and I figured how to get there via Metro.

Around 7:45 AM I went down to the dining hall for breakfast (big bowl of coffee and milk, along with bread, jam, and yogurt if you wanted it). I sat opposite a very nice, older French Brother who knew no English but who smiled and tried to be as hospitable as possible to this obviously confused American without the grace to know more than a few phrases of French. Eventually he wished me a good day and left. Thankfully, the three American Brothers were there as well, and we spent a good deal of time talking about their Lasallian pilgrimage and other sundry matters. Also in attendance was Br. Benildus from Australia, passing through on his way to elsewhere.

Scott was still sleeping.

Towards 9 AM or so, I found Scott awake and told him I’d pop out to the Apple store, returning in time to pick up Roch at the airport around noon. Then it was off to the Metro at the end of the block, four stops this way, four stops that way, and out I came at station Argentine, near the Arc. I wandered around getting oriented and finally set of in the right direction, reaching the Apple store, but finding it still closed.

While killing some time looking at the various shops around, I noticed a car dealer with an unfortunate name that probably would not have been chosen in the USA. But apparently it’s okay for Europe. (see photo

Once the Apple store opened, I found out that they didn’t work on iPhones or their problems at that location and there was nothing for it but to return four stops, four stops, to Duroc Station and the Maison de La Salle. When I’d left earlier, I was struck in the Duroc Station by the absolutely stillness of the platform, where at least 80 – 100 commuters stood like statues on either side of the tracks, staring vacuously ahead of them or reading their newspapers, waiting for their trains. Not a word, not a shuffle, not a sound was heard other than others pat-patting onto the platform. They all were the “regulars” – commuters who did this every day of the year. They probably knew each other by sight, but conversation was not called for at all. Kind of creepy, actually, and something like a scene out of Gattica or 1984. I thought that the echo-like nature of the space would have benefited from someone taking out a harmonica and playing a blues tune, the sounds echoing off the walls. Maybe that would made somebody’s day.

Back at the Maison, Scott and I took the back seats out of our van, storing them in the front office, and then took off for the airport. Our Garmin GPS behaved a bit strangely along the way, changing it’s mind a couple of times as to which direction to take, but we were its obedient slaves and would go where it told us. Traffic was bear, of course, since this was a regular workday. There are barely legible lines on the road, and everyone seems quite content to sneak into whatever inches were available – and that included monster tour buses. Finally, we hit the A1 and reasonable sanity.

At the airport, we parked in the parking lot (2A) between two sets of terminals (interesting configuration of terminals – check it out online – CDG airport) and wandered around looking for Roch. Finally asked at the information kiosk and discovered that he would have arrived at the extreme other end (2E) , a good ten-minute walk away. Although late, we eventually found him just outside customs, where he’d been for 45 minutes waiting for us. Then the long trek back to the car, along with the suitcases and camera equipment that he had brought along, followed by the trip back to downtown Paris, during which he was able to tell us what we were seeing along the way.

We didn’t stay home very long because Scott and Roch were hungry and it was now 2 PM. So Roch suggested that we go to the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Church on top of a hill overlooking the city in the Montmarte part of Paris. That was fine by me. This time it took some 12 stops on the Metro, with two different lines, before we emerged nearby the church, at the bottom of a rather steep hill. Scott wanted a hamburger so Roch found a Turkish / Greek sort of place that had hamburgers, hot dogs (of a sort), pizza and Gyros. One burger and Gyros later (with lots of fries), we were in the upstairs sitting area looking out over the crowds below. Scott decided he liked Roch’s Gyro better than his hamburger (too much local mustard) and would let Roch decide from now on what food to get. I just had a Fanta and shared a couple of fries.

Then we walked up a whole bunch of steps to get to the church. Inside, the place struck me like most 19th century churches we’d seen – dark, cavernous, oozing history, with lots of people shuffling around or sitting in prayer and little candles glowing in the semi-darkness. A lot of effort was made to quiet people down with “Shhhh” being said out loud by the locals every 30 seconds or so. It seemed like a ritual all by itself. Generally it worked, and people were very quiet as they made the circuit tour.

Outside, it had begun to rain softly, but that made little difference to us. We wandered around the streets nearby, seeing the various artists in the area drawing people’s faces for a fee or painting their bright, garish paintings on popular themes. It was all very crowded with tourists and vendors, but that seemed to be part of the charm of the place.

Returning to the Maison, we took all of our equipment to Roch’s room, where he and Scott unpacked the things they’d brought and made sure that it all survived the journey. Scott had even brought one of those clappers they use for films, on which you write the scene number, etc. – all that will come in handy.

By this time, they were both tired out. So while they retired, I went out onto Rue de Sevres (the street we’re on) and walked a while to find a phone store. A couple of blocks away I saw an “Orange” store and bought a local cell phone for almost nothing, putting some credits on it, so that now we could use that phone in our travels and folks could contact us if needed. (Cell: 06 82 46 81 03) It’s good for six months, so I think I’m covered.

Once back to the Maison, I couldn’t roust either Roch or Scott and figured they’d either fallen asleep or gone out somewhere else. While working back in my room, the 3 other traveling Brothers invited me to their final-day room social (a couple of small bottles of wine snuck out from the downstairs cafeteria) and we spent a good hour or more chatting away about many esoteric Brother topics. Then back to the room for final bits of work and bed.

This morning, as I write this, it’s Bastille Day and a holiday. There’s going to be a major parade downtown and fireworks tonight at the Eiffel Tower that are apparently not to be missed. The Brothers here advised us not to go to the parade, since it will be almost impossible to find space, but it’s certainly likely that we’ll go to the fireworks tonight. Meanwhile, I’m also going to try to find a photography store that’s open today, since the tripod I’d brought is missing it’s camera shoe and is useless without it. With all the care I took to make a packing list, and checking it twice, I forgot one or two key tiny pieces of equipment without which the big stuff cannot be used. Go figure. Today we also plan to do some filming in and around Paris for our “B roll” material. Then tomorrow we’ll leave for Reims.

(Note: You can click on each photograph to see a larger version of it.)