Air Canada flew us to France; my wife, Patty, my son, Christian, and me. The planes were new and clean. From Tampa the plane had six seats across with a middle aisle. From Toronto to Paris there were three seats in the middle, two aisles and two seats on each side. The seats were constructed so the feet fit under the seat in front allowing some ability to stretch. As passenger planes go it was comfortable. Each seat had a movie screen built into the back of the seat in front. Headsets were provided and there was an adequate selection of movies to watch.
Flying is no longer a luxury and today’s planes are filled with people of all nationalities and all social classes. Loading over 250 people onto a jet liner takes a half hour or more and provides an interesting study of human nature. As the carry-on luggage racks begin to fill, passengers become frantic in their efforts to force their luggage into the racks. There is pushing and shoving, turning and wedging. Nothing fragile survives. Before take off the stewardesses come through and close the bins. Baggage falling from these racks is a frequent source of injury during minor mishaps.
First Class on the Toronto/Paris flight had seats positioned at angles to the aisle that provided a sort of bed allowing the occupant to stretch out. The planes had three sections; First Class, Business Class, and Economy Class.
Since 9/11 international travel has been fraught with continual searches and verifications. Every individual is identified and his possessions X-rayed. Each country duplicates at least some of the process. If a visitor from another era could survey what is happening the impression would be that a terrible tyranny has fallen over the entire earth. While Al Qaeda continues to be flaunted as an enemy to our “freedom” the enemy may actually be freer than his potential targets.
Our apartment was clean, the beds were comfortable, it had internet access, and a tiny but adequate kitchen. It was one of a number of apartments, owned by a local firm that rents to business persons and tourists. In keeping with the trend to ignore the customer, the entire transaction was cleansed of personal contact. Check- in- times are posted and the key is left in a lock box with the combination being part of the financial transaction. We arrived on an airport shuttle, found the box from directions provided, and entered a heated foyer. Since I am claustrophobic we had instructed the AAA travel agent to be sure the rental was on a lower floor. Directions with the key indicated that the apartment was on the 5th floor. There was a lift in the foyer. My son took our baggage up on the 2 foot by 3 foot lift and Patty and I climbed the stairs. We arrived on the fourth floor and found the stairs did not go to the 5th floor. Another tenant told us stairs to the 5th floor were located outside. We went outside and found the doors locked. Planned anonymity saved the apartment owners from having to address my dilemma. Since calling our Triple A travel agent in the states and trying to get another apartment would be inconvenient and time consuming, I successfully determined to use the elevator in spite of the discomfort.
France was an ally during the American Revolutionary War. It supported the Confederacy during the Civil War and was allied with us during World War II. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France commemorating the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of independence. In the confusing world of international politics they have sometimes been at odds with United States policies and as a result they are often belittled by belligerent Americans.
Paris has been settled for over 2 thousand years and, in its greater dimensions, is home to 12 million people. The French attitude, depicted perfectly by the independence of former President Charles de Gaulle, can be seen throughout society. Fashion is different in France. There is pride in tasteful attire – class consciousness is apparent. An attractive chic dominates the dress of both sexes. In the Adidas store running shoes are darker in color and lower in profile. In our carbon copy world the French independent spirit is refreshing. Engineering is different in Paris. Shoes in Paris shops are more expensive and not always the cheapest Chinese variety. Hardware on Paris doors is different. Citroen Cars are not engineered like Detroit or Japanese cars.
Most educated Parisians speak English and French; average citizens only French.
Widely known for its exquisite Christmas decorations people flock to Paris from all over Europe. The Champs–Elysees is about a mile and a quarter long with the Arc of Triumph at the top and a massive Ferris-Wheel at the bottom – both are visible from the center of the street. At 20:00 hour (8:00 PM) the Champs-Elysees’ seventy-five foot wide promenades (on both sides) are as crowded as Times Square on New Year’s Eve with a horde of people walking briskly in both directions. I remember the Indianapolis 500 when it attracted 500 thousand people but I have never seen as large a crowd over as long a time as this. It is a sight to behold. Almost miraculously the crowd mingles peacefully.
The economic depression is not evident on the Champs-Elysees where two-hundred-thousand dollar watches and million dollar automobiles can be seen advertised in the shops; shoes at $300/500 a pair, trousers at $150, dinner at local restaurants from $30 to $90, show and dinner at the Moulin Rogue at $150 per person. BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Bentleys are common with middle class motorcycles and scooters that slide through traffic and bicycles. pedaled by those who cannot afford scooters. Parisians are always in a hurry. Women walk purposefully and quickly as if their way is attended by a constant urgency. The typical garb in cold weather is a black pea coat, black scarf, black leggings, and black high-heeled shoes. In very cold weather a black wool cap tops off the ensemble. They look cold but their walk has a haughty resemblance to the gallop of a fashion model. Smiles are in short supply and most Parisians seem unfamiliar with joy. White collar men dress in similar fashion with suits, ties, and pea coats. Blacks and browns predominate. White sneakers, popular in America, are seldom seen on Paris streets.
The restaurants are full, exotic pastries and the new array-of-coffees are sold at the front entrance to McDonalds. Three café au lait and two pastries sell for 13,80 Euros – upscale for McDonalds. There is a ten minute wait to get to the counter. Morning, noon, and night McDonalds is always packed.
Fashionable clothing shops and take away sandwich businesses are doing a brisk business. People walk and chew on the crusty breads that cover varieties of tasty fillings. In spite of 20 degree weather some Parisians prefer to consume their espresso and pastry seated at sidewalk tables.
We visited Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction was begun in the Twelfth Century and finished in the Thirteenth. Its age is astounding by itself. Lines of people queue up in front of the massive structure and pass noisily under its dark, spaciously high, arched ceiling. The sanctuary runs several hundred feet down the middle; massive columns support the building and form boundaries for the center pews. The Altar with a 25 foot high cross is centered at the back with enough room behind it to allow the side walkway to circle around. It is cold, dark and ancient. The Gargoils decorating the exterior of Gothic Cathedrals served a dual purpose of venting water and warding off evil spirits. Their theological significance is questionable. During the French Revolution Notre Dame was vandalized and some of the figures were destroyed. For a short period enlightened revolutionaries renamed it The House of Reason.
We did not attend Christmas Eve service at Notre Dame. I concluded some of the Reformed reprimand might have been legitimate. The act of visiting cathedrals as historic buildings is quite different from attending a Catholic Mass; one is an educational endeavor while the other is an act of worship.
I saw the Eiffel Tower but did not make it to the top. It, too, is an impressive structure that one might whimsically say looks like it was made from a massive Erector Set. Described as a “iron lattice tower” it was built as an entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair and named from engineer/designer Gustave Eiffel who also did the interior work on the Statue of Liberty. It is the tallest edifice in Paris and the most visited paid monument in the world. Patty and Christian went to the top and reported a breathtaking view of Christmas lights and buildings.
None of us had time to get into the Louvre which is massive and far beyond my ambulatory ability. With roots going back to the same time frame as Notre Dame it was originally a fort becoming a Museum in the late Eighteenth Century. It contains 35,000 works of art covering an extensive time frame.
Without intent to incite my paleo-Reformed friends we visited Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris and a magnificent Cathedral. In contrast to Notre Dame, Priests enforced silence and no camera rules. Construction began after the French Revolution supported by the ultra-Catholics and legitimist royalists as opposed to the socialists and radicals. Born from conflict it is, nevertheless, a truly beautiful and impressive structure.
Around the Cathedrals and on the Champs-Elysees Arab beggars are everywhere. In rain and in twenty degree weather they kneel on the concrete with their head down in the fetal position with a paper cup placed a few inches in front of them. Paris is a potpourri with dozens of different languages and races. Bi-racial couples are numerous.
As Parisians hustled past us their urgency was not much different than their counterparts in New York or Chicago. Most of them are several tiers removed from the production of a product and the satisfaction of seeing it completed is denied them. Personal satisfaction is difficult to find in Western businesses. Although the massive chain stores like Wal-Mart and Target are not seen on the Champ-Elysees and smaller more locally owned shops offer a larger number of people an opportunity to work in their own businesses, the vast majority of workers sell at least a third of their lifetime to an employer.
While shopping for groceries we met and talked with the grand niece of former United States Chief Justice Melville Fuller. Her mother’s parents died and her mother was brought up by the Chief Justice. While visiting in Paris with Judge Fuller her mother met a persuasive Frenchman and married. Our friend was born from that union. She was delighted to “use her English” which proved to be more than adequate. One of her recommendations for a take-out Christmas dinner was a pricey but singularly excellent restaurantuer, chocolatier, baker, and provider of exclusively prepared foods, Dalloyau. Dalloyau has branches in Seoul, Tokyo, and Dubai. It is pricy! Chocolates are $1.20 ea. Quarter sized Macaroons are over a dollar. A roll cake is $30.00 and the baked Poulet (chicken) we had for Christmas dinner was over $20.00. A container of sauce came with the cooked chicken. The flavor was unique and delicious.
On Christmas morning we found a pastry shop open and purchased six pastries. The shop was busy and I waited in line while an attractive cashier took other customers. When my turn came she took the customer behind me first. She then rang up our sale for 5,9 Euro. I pointed to the price tag on the pastries that offered 3 for 2 Euro. She then rang up a sale for 4 Euro but made no effort to give me the 6 Euro change from my 10 Euro note. I held up six fingers and said 6 Euro; she shook her head. I then loudly stated that I had given her a 10 Euro note and wanted my 6 Euro change. People started to stare and Patty said it was a 10 Euro note; she then put a 5 Euro note and a 1 Euro coin on the counter. I took it and we left. If you were Jewish you might call it chutzpah. In Paris it’s called honest theft.
All big cities have unique characteristics. Paris has a sturdy elegance that flows from the Romanesque architecture and is reflected in its citizens. They are stubbornly proud of their city and their way of life. It is a secular city that matches its reputation for humanistic influences. Composers, musicians, artists, and philosophers have flourished in its bosom. Christianity is ritualistic and without exterior influence. Messianic man has been enthroned here for centuries. There is noticeable Muslim influence with Muslim owned shops and Muslim families everywhere. Muslims kept their businesses open on Christmas day.
The propaganda line in Europe is a mirror of what CNN provides in the United States. With unchallenged authority British announcers report the news the Powers-That-Be want reported and with the proper emphasis. Europeans are more conditioned to tyranny than Americans and world government progresses more easily.
Few Christians understand the massive work that stands before us. Businesses throughout the world are merging and getting larger. Like the rental of our French apartment, personal contact with responsible representatives is avoided allowing individual problems to fester. Commerce is almost entirely secular and a secular legal system tilts in its favor. Pragmatic dishonesty is common and has become an accepted sin in our everyday life. As the social structure of the world continues to deteriorate pressure for change will become more apparent. Christians must bring knowledge and wisdom to this transitional table – if they don’t, secular forces will predominate and continued murder and mayhem will result.
Visiting in Paris was an experience for us as a family and for each of us as individuals. Big city cultures of the Western World have a boring sameness, but from an historical standpoint Europe’s age makes it particularly interesting for Americans. We were in the most expensive part of the city so our impressions of Paris are distorted by not experiencing the poorer suburbs. Paris was fun but I wondered about rural France.
We met a young Scot who had been living and working in Paris for five years. Asked if he liked Paris, he said, “No, Paris is a monument”. I like his description.
Our trip home will be documented in the next article.
Al Cronkrite is a free-lance writer from Florida.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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