Yesterday afternoon, I kissed my mother farewell and, with a heavy heart, headed out to the airport again in Ibrahima’s PT Cruiser. Leaving, of course, a few toilet articles behind in my mother’s bathroom – a sure sign that you mean to come back again, according to my father. The flight, as before, goes by way of Paris with a substantial layover, and I had always intended to go out of the airport and visit the city. The tragic events of last week only reinforced that desire.
So upon arrival, I went straight through passport control – didn’t take significantly longer than last time, despite dire warnings on the TV – and got a Metro day pass. French public transportation is expensive, a round-trip on the regional light rail from the airport cost 25 Euros. As it happened, the light rail line to the airport wasn’t working and there was a shuttle bus to take us around from the airport to a nearby small station that looked very much 19th-century rural France:
I rode past Hugo Cabret’s station (Gare du Nord, if anybody has read the book or seen the film) and down to Les Halles, the big shopping center in the middle of downtown. Security was everywhere, checking people’s bags as they went in and out of the metro, wandering around the streets, as here, hanging out in front of the principal cathedral of the city, Notre Dame:
The French don’t mess around when it comes to securing public places. These guys looked like regular infantry. One guy who was in line behind me at the pharmacy was in the parachute regiment. They have done this before – I was in Paris during a big bombing offensive by Algerian terrorists in the 80s and they had regular troops patrolling the streets. I guess it makes people feel better and certainly these guys would be able to deal quickly with any gun-toting extremists if they were brave enough to come out. No sign of Quasimodo, though this guy could certainly stand in for him.
I’m normally opposed to “security theater” as distracting from real steps to intercept, deter, and thwart terrorists, but in this case it seemed to be working. The French people were out in large numbers. Big lines in front of Notre Dame, both for tours and to go to Mass. I didn’t get into the church, because of the lines and also because I thought I had to hurry back to the airport to catch my flight. As it was, we were significantly delayed and I could have taken my time, but since I didn’t have a French SIM card in my phone I couldn’t get the helpful email that Air France sent me to that effect until I returned to the airport and got on WiFi. French restaurants don’t appear to have WiFi like American ones – presumably, you are supposed to concentrate on your food.
I did have a nice lunch in the square above the Les Halles mall (which is underground), at, of all things, an Irish pub. I also visited the Louvre, just to admire the architecture. I’ve always like this side the best, instead of the hyper-modernist pyramid they’ve built on the Place de la Concorde side:
As you can see from the pictures, it was a gorgeous day, chilly but not seriously cold and beautiful bright sunshine. Perfect for walking and I got my 10,000 steps in with ease.
I also visited a favorite meditative site, the Monument aux Déportés at the upstream end of the Isle de la Cité behind Notre Dame. This is a monument to the 200,000 French civilians killed by the Germans (with the fairly enthusiastic assistance of the French government of the day, called the Vichy regime), mostly because they were Jews although there were also communists, homosexuals, and resistance supporters among them. The entry into the monument is down a set of stairs and it is like you are going into a tomb, but with a bright door open in the back facing onto the river:
I needed some meditation time. My mother is doing better, as reported in my last post. She is still weak and has trouble getting in and out of bed, so she will need a live-in assistant for at least a month or two. The physical therapists are hoping that she will recover her strength sufficiently to live independently as before, though some things may be impossible, like driving. She is still upset though, blaming herself for the accident and suffering a good deal of inner anguish. She feels deeply any loss of independence. I was happy to have been able to go and see her and she was happy to have me there. She really didn’t want me to go. I’m feeling a clash of obligations – on the one hand, to her, and on the other, to my family and my job and my students and all the things that have to get done. Returning to Ouaga was wrenching. Getting on the plane was tough and getting off was tougher. By the time I got here, I was exhausted, of course, after 27 hours door to door. It is the harmattan, the time of dusty winds from the desert and cool evening temperatures. I could see the dust in the air as the plane descended, and I can feel it now in my eyes and nose. And, of course, I left my little squeeze bottle for washing out my nose on the bathroom counter at my mom’s.