Bastille Day

More tragedy in France. This time in Nice.

Though we visited that beautiful city a few months ago, we were in Paris for the celebration of la fête nationale–or le quatorze juillet, as I heard most people here call it–or Bastille Day as we call it in English.

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Just before the show.

Security was tight. As we crossed the Bir-Hakeim bridge from our neighborhood to get to the Eiffel Tower side, we stopped with many others and considered watching from there. That is, until a solid line of police started sweeping everyone off the bridge. So we proceeded on to one of the entrances to the Champ de Mars, the huge park below the tower. For the past month it’s been the site of a huge fan zone for the Euro 2016 football championship and it’s been outfitted with no shortage of security: fences and checkpoints and streets blocked off and lots and lots of guards with guns.

We got to the first security checkpoint and we even managed to find a reasonably short line. Merideth and the girls got through without incident, but I had the bag with a bottle of wine. Sorry, the guard said, no alcohol. I couldn’t believe it. This is France–everyone brings their bottle of wine to the park! I’d even read an article that very day that recommended a bottle per person when picnicking in the park on Bastille Day–three bottles per person if you were going to be there all day! And we just had one between the two of us. Oh well. So we all trooped out of the security zone and regrouped.

The short version is I stopped fuming about the dumb security rules, we talked to another guard, learned the problem wasn’t the alcohol but the glass bottle, Merideth bought a bottle of water, we guzzled the water, transferred the wine, got back in line, and got through. But this time a different guard confiscated a couple of dinner forks from our bag and made me throw them away (sorry, landlord). We also had to unscrew and throw away the bottle caps from our water and soda. At last, we were in.

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Carolyn thought the antics with getting wine into the park were pretty hilarious. I felt like some college kid trying to sneak booze into a football game.

Not quite. After this came another round of security. The first was just bag check; now we had to go through pat down. We got through fine, even though the guy who patted me down felt the corkscrew in my pocket. I was sure it would be another casualty, but he motioned me on and I didn’t argue.

Inside the perimeter, the place was already swarming. We got there around 7pm and the orchestra wasn’t on until after 9 and the fireworks wouldn’t be till 11. We found a spot off to one side where it wasn’t as crowded and even managed to find some friends from our church already set up nearby.

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This was before it got really crowded.

Our picnic was great: we played cards, enjoyed our Mediterranean take-out, talked with our friends, and the fireworks turned out to be perhaps the most spectacular feu d’artifice I’ve ever witnessed.

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If pictures are worth a thousand words, well, then I’d need a few hundred thousand to describe the many and varied fireworks that exploded all around the Eiffel Tower and were even shot from it throughout the night–and all coordinated to music.

All in all, we had a wonderful night in Paris. That said, it’s truly heartbreaking and disturbing and flat out terrible that the celebrations in Nice were marred by yet another act of terrorism. But the sad truth is that even with all of our security, we can’t prevent every awful thing from happening. No amount of confiscating forks and bottle caps and making sure no glass bottles are in sight will prevent a determined terrorist from driving a truck through a crowd of people celebrating.

Some ask: how long will we have to keep living like this? When will it stop? Well, have you looked at history? Has there ever been an era free from violence? I don’t believe we can enact enough security measures to prevent any bad thing from ever happening again–and I wouldn’t want to live in the world that tries such a thing. Nor do I think arming citizens to the teeth will make things better.

Personally, I don’t know how people have hope in this world for violence and terrorism and war to actually, truly, permanently end. It’s all been a part of our world as long as people have been a part of the world. Does that mean we’re without hope? I don’t think so.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

That’s the only hope I have.

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“These honored dead shall not have died in vain”

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No, this isn’t Normandy. A look in the other direction and you can see…

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…Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Against the blue sky, the American flag flies at half staff in honor of those killed in Dallas on July 7.

This is the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside the city, the only American Military Cemetery in Europe where the dead from both World War I and World War II are buried: 1,541 from World War I and 24 unknown dead from World War II. 974 Americans buried or lost at sea from 1917-1920 are also commemorated.

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It was a beautiful day to explore parts of Paris we hadn’t been to. After the coldest, wettest, most-Seattle-like-spring we could’ve ever imagined, summer seems to have finally arrived for good in time for our last few weeks here. I’d been scouting out some parks with views of the city that we hadn’t seen before and discovered Fort Mont-Valérien, perched on a hill not far away in the suburb of Suresnes. The cemetery sits just below the fort and behind the Terrasse du Fécheray, a lovely observation point that looks toward Paris.

The view from the terrace was the real reason we came, and it wasn’t a bad view…

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The Eiffel Tower just beyond the sea of green that is the Bois de Boulogne, a huge park on the western edge of Paris.

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Looking toward La Defense, the modern district of high rises to the northwest of central Paris.

…but visiting the cemetery was more moving.

As an American, of course the American cemeteries I’ve seen are striking because I feel a connection to them. But as we’ve driven through small towns around France, almost everywhere we go we come across monuments and memorials to those who died in the wars, especially World War I. They turn up in plazas, in churches, and even at humble intersections. Every city and every town records those who were lost, their names etched in stone. In the U.S. you can visit Washington D.C. and see such memorials, and occasionally you find them elsewhere around the country. But here they are everywhere; every place you go has been touched.

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The World War II memorial at Fort Mont-Valérien.

It’s sobering to look at the rows and rows of memorials to those who died fighting and killing their enemies. The hope is that they will not have died in vain. But in this world, the fight is–and ever will  be–ongoing. World War I was called the war to end all wars; it didn’t work out that way.

War is hell–so said General Sherman, although when (or if) he spoke that famous phrase is apparently a matter of debate. But he did address a crowd in Columbus, Ohio and declare, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

I have no illusions that we will see the end of war anytime soon–or even of hatred and malice and infighting and racism and prejudice and bias and every sort of enmity. But while we have breath, may we live by these words: “blessed are the peacemakers.” Oh, how we need them now.

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths…
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

–from Isaiah 2:3-4

 

“I live in Paris. And I’m miserable.”

First off, this isn’t my story; I’m happy to be here.

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Yes, there have been frustrations and difficulties, days when I wish I was back home, plenty of occasions when I wish the world around me worked in English. Not understanding clerks and waiters and signs and paperwork gets tiring. Unknowingly misunderstanding them is even worse. I miss real Mexican food. Deep dish pizza. Baseball. Mt. Rainier. My cat. And more than any of that—I miss friends and family, people who know more of my story than just what we’ve been able to talk about in the past few months.

But that’s all a caveat to what struck me once again today: some people like me here in Paris are truly, deeply unhappy about it. It doesn’t matter that the Eiffel Tower is right there, you get used to it. Or how beautiful the streets are—you don’t notice the lovely architecture anyway, because, you know, the dog poop minefield. Or how good the baguettes and croissants and pastries and crêpes are, you just want an actual basket of chips and salsa to come with those ten euro tacos. And for some it goes way deeper than any of that–it’s a deep malaise of the soul.

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Ignoring the voice that says, “Quit”

Well. I thought yesterday was a challenge… but sometimes things get harder before they get easier! Used a tree’s worth of kleenex today. Fought off a persistent headache with some big guns. And believe me, if I hadn’t set myself a writing goal, it would have been movies on the couch all day long. As it was, I only left the apartment to go for a short walk this evening to get some fresh air. (And chanced upon some good breakdancers doing their thing at the Trocadéro across from the Eiffel Tower.)

 

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Sorry, this isn’t from the Trocadéro, but I didn’t take any pictures tonight. Hope you don’t mind.

Let me tell you, the excuses and rationalizations were nipping at my heels all day. You’re 200 words OVER your goal for the week–that means you can quit with fewer words today. Or heck, just quit whenever you want and make it up tomorrow… You’ve done enough, call it a day…

But I made it. And discovered things about the plot, my characters, and the world they live in that I never would have if I hadn’t spent so much time with them today.

And even wrote 250 more words than I was aiming for.

 

5,000 words…

Today, I wrote a little over a thousand words–right around 1,100–cut around 300, and worked up descriptions of three new characters.I know, I know, Stephen King writes 1,500 words before breakfast, but that guy is a machine. I’m happy with what I got done; after all, it’s a complicated scene involving nine different characters who are busy arguing, accusing, threatening, and rationalizing; some literally (and figuratively) in the shadows, others in the light; some wielding power, some weilding just a flashlight; some under threat and one in dire physical straits.

So, for this post, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then here are 5,000.

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Candles in Saint-Sulpice.

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Saint-Sulpice: the second biggest church in Paris

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The number 6 line.

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Paris: old and new.

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I never get tired of this.

Mugging on the métro

Ten seconds. Ten seconds—if even that—and the moment was over, the only thing left to do was head home.

FullSizeRenderI had just caught the métro at the Dupleix station in the fifteenth arrondissement. Blue skies, bright sun, but only a few degrees above freezing. It was 3:40 in the afternoon and I only had to go two stops on line 6.

I’d spent the last hour or so at a little bakery where you can get a coffee without paying extra to sit at a table. Nice! (But really, what’s wrong with that place—don’t they know they can charge at least an extra euro for that?) Sixty minutes of organizing a whole load of documents I’ve created over the last year full of backstory material, character notes, and world-building ideas. I’m a little over a month into working through the second draft of my novel, and when you’re inventing a fictional world from scratch, there’s no shortage of things to keep track of—technology, architecture, history, religion, even just what kind of things people eat for dinner… and on and on and on. It had been a good session but I was ready to shift gears. I was even thinking it might be good to write another blog post. You know, set the sprawling multi-year project aside for a bit and write something fun.

So: laptop packed up, scarf wrapped tight, baguette for tonight’s dinner in hand, on the way to the Passy stop. Throughout most of Paris the metro runs underground, but this stretch is elevated above the street and affords some nice views, even crossing over the Seine just southwest of the Eiffel Tower. It was a typically quiet ride. People almost never talk much on the métro; when I do catch snippets of conversations it’s as likely to be among tourists as not.

I found a place in the front of the car where the folding seats are as well as a pair of vertical poles to hold on to. It wasn’t particularly crowded. I easily could have found a seat, but for such a short trip I didn’t bother, so I was leaning against the front wall of the car. Sitting on one of the folding seats was a woman with a mane of curly hair spilling over her scarf, tapping away on her phone. Texting, or surfing the internet, I didn’t notice, but whatever it was, she was very intent. Across from her, a youngish guy slumped in his seat, hardly anything distinguishable about him under his big winter coat. A middle-aged man with thinning black hair got on and I stepped back to give him some room. The doors closed and we sped off to the next stop: Bir-Hakeim, the one closest to the Tower.

We got to the station and the doors opened. I was facing the open doors, not particularly focusing on anything as a few people stepped into the car. And then: a blur of movement burst into my peripheral vision and I spun my head to see the young man in the big coat rushing the woman and then he instantly tore away and lunged out doors and onto the platform. Immediately she was yelling. But it wasn’t a scream; he hadn’t hurt her. It was shock, it was alarm—it was anger. And then I realized what I’d seen: he’d snatched her phone right out of her hands and was running away with it.

Those who had gotten into the car poured right back out and a moment later at least three people had the thief pinned against the wall of the platform. The woman got right into the fray and ripped her phone back out of his hands, all the time berating him in a steady stream of loud, angry French.

It’s still hard for me to understand spoken French; Parisians in particular are known for speaking so quickly that comprehension can be a challenge for novices like me. So I didn’t catch a word of the torrent of outrage that she was blasting the young man with. But her tone of voice, her body language? That I understood.

Ten seconds: that’s all it took from the time he grabbed the phone out of her hand to the time she tore it from his. I was still on the métro, still stunned by what I’d just seen. I looked down and noticed a small shopping bag on the floor where she’d been sitting. It appeared to be a few frozen meals. I picked it up and joined the circle surrounding the would-be thief. One of the men holding him was dialing on his phone, calling the police, I assumed. The woman was still venting her anger. When she took a breath I held up the bag to her. “Excusez-moi…” She took the bag, turned back to the young man and started in again. I watched for another moment and then got back on the métro.

The buzzer sounded, the doors closed, and we pulled out. The Seine was soon passing beneath us, the Eiffel Tower standing starkly against a cloudless sky. I got off at the next stop and walked the few blocks home.

As I made my way, it occurred to me: if the thief had just timed his crime better he might have gotten away with it. If he had grabbed the woman’s phone when the buzzer sounded, he could have dashed through the closing doors and been running down the platform before people knew what had happened. For her sake, I’m glad he hadn’t thought of that.

I can still picture the look on his face as he stood on the platform, held by the Good Samaritans. He didn’t look like a hardened criminal. He didn’t look like anyone who would even make me nervous or make me check that my wallet was still in my pocket. He looked like a kid who had just gotten a bad grade on a test or who had been scolded for not making his bed. It was hard for me to tell how old he was. Sixteen? Twenty? Should he have been in school? Did he have a bed? Had he done this kind of thing before? He didn’t look homeless, but whatever his situation, I’m sure I wouldn’t want to trade places with him. What would happen to him now? I have no idea.

It’s a bit ironic: this morning I was perusing a forum where people were discussing an area in the outskirts of Paris known for pickpockets, where you probably don’t want to go alone at night, and where you need to have your wits about you at any time. But there’s a great cathedral there, so it’s on my list. I was thinking of going out there today, but decided to save it for another time.

Instead I stayed close to home, on familiar turf. And witnessed something I’d never seen before. Bad things can happen anywhere, anytime. Paris learned that lesson last year. I was reminded of it again today.

Neighborhood beauty

Today: a collections of scenes from around our neighborhood.

First up, a view you don’t see in photos very often. That’s because most people crossing this bridge are too busy taking in the Eiffel Tower on the opposite side. So many couples get their wedding pictures taken here that we sometimes mark the days by how many we saw: “Yeah, that was a five bride day…”

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Aux Merveilleux de Fred on Rue de l’Annonciation, decked out for the holidays. Their website says, “Find us and succumb.” Bien sûr !

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Notre Dame de Grace de Passy. I walk by this often on the way to the grocery store, our favorite bakery, and the market street.

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An ordinary mailbox. Nothing special, I just think it looks cool.

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Okay, this next one isn’t exactly in our neighborhood; it’s about a twenty minute walk (although it’s still in the 16e arrondissement). You can learn a lot about American history in Paris if you just look around. And no, I don’t think the French thought Thomas Jefferson was square. Well, I don’t know… maybe they did.

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Another American sight, this one by the Pont de Grenelle on the  Île aux Cygnes (Island of the Swans). It’s a narrow, man-made island in the Seine with a lovely walkway running the length of it.

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And finally: a view of that most famous of sights in Paris. Since the attacks, it’s been lit up in the blue, white, and red of le tricolore; in green for the climate conference, and it’s even had these crazy lights going. This is a view from the métro station we use all the time.

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Bibliophiles in Paris

If you speak English and you like books, you have to go to Shakespeare & Co., just across the Seine from Notre Dame. Everyone knows this, which is why the little warren of narrow corridors and the single stairway among the stacks and stacks of books is a perpetual human traffic jam. If you suffer from claustrophobia, just take a picture from outside and move on.

We’ve seen plenty of bookshops in Paris, but it was a pleasure to find one full of ones we could read. I picked up a copy of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (I read most of it in a day–you can see my review on Goodreads) and had a nice chat with the American from California who sold it to me. He’s also a writer who came to Paris–and decided to stay. Hmm…

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The cat that lives in the shop

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Looking across the Seine

Perhaps even better than visiting Shakespeare & Co. was getting to the American Library near the Eiffel Tower and getting a membership. Like Shakespeare & Co., they’ve packed as many books as possible in their rows and rows of shelves. We promptly checked out eleven books.

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Crossing the bridge to get to the library

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The stacks and our stack

We were at the library on Saturday, a big day for weddings; crossing the bridge back to our side of the river we passed two different couples getting photographed as well as a modelling shoot (I didn’t get a picture of that).

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Reunions

Amid all the moving in, some of our highlights so far have been reconnecting with friends who have happened to be in Paris as well. Last Sunday we met our friends (and pastor), the Trainers, at the American Church in Paris for their afternoon service. From there we enjoyed a lunch at a cafe on Rue Cler and then crossed the Seine to the Avenue Champs Elysées. We picked up heavenly macaroons at Ladurée and ogled expensive cars (in the showroom and on the street). The kids had fun imitating the scary looking representation of Liberty on the Arc de Triomphe before heading down to see the Eiffel Tower.

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Friends on the Seine

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…and dreaming of cute cars

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The Arc de Triomphe

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Getting Liberty’s expression just right

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Enjoying the late afternoon with a familiar view

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Sunset in the Marais district

On Tuesday we met one of my friends from college who now lives in Brussels. We did our best to catch up on the last twenty years!

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I think Glen and I look a bit older than we did in college…

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A kind of summer “Christmas market” is currently set up along the river in front of the Tower

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Some of Carolyn’s shots of the Tower