Friday, July 16, 2004

On Rue Cler

The hotel was easy to find. We managed the check-in protocol in French even though they clearly spoke English. And we managed to climb the stairs without losing our breath.

Ok. We lost our breath. But hey, we had been up for ... what ... 26 hours. I don't know. Some obscenely long time.

Anyway, when we got to the top of the stairs and the end of the hall and finally jiggled the key in the lock and the nob to get the door to open, we were happy.

Out of our window to the right, we could see a patisserie and several cafes and Rue Cler with its shops and general hubub in the street. To the left we could see the Eiffel Tower rising up over the city.

It looked almost accidental, the Eiffel Tower did. Poking up from behind the buildings as if it had only recently appeared.

Look, I said.

Trudy and Ben looked and said, Wow.

Accidental perhaps, but it was impressive, too. A spike of iron lacework rising out of a sea of five to six story buildings.

Actually, some of the buildings were higher than that. There was one, with a greenish color near its flat-top roof that was probably 10 stories tall.

And when we took the time to look, we noticed people standing on top. People holding their hands up in the air. People waving signs. People holding a long banner that was impossible to read from our angle.

And there were police cars in the streets below. And police vans. And policemen. With helmets and batons. Some stood at the alleys along the street, blocking them off. Others stood at other strategically chosen spots.

There were whistles and sirens -- those European boo-bee-boo-bee sirens. And now we noticed barricades completely blocking the big street at the end of the block. And now we heard the people on top of the building shouting something thru a megaphone. And we heard shouting from the streets around the corner, out of sight.

More police came walking down the street, a large group walking closely together.

I leaned out the window and took some pictures. Of chimney tops. Of the Eiffel Tower. Of the protesters on the green building. And of the policemen gathering in the street below.

And then we shut the window.

The sounds of the city were gone. No motor scooters. No whistles. No sirens. No megaphones. Just complete and utter silence.

I turned around and looked at Ben with his head on his lap and his eyes closed about to fall asleep.

The day was only beginning.

Trip to France - Day 2
Rue Cler, Paris

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How Could We Go Wrong?

From the airport we had to take the train downtown. Finding them was a piece of cake. After all, the word for train in French is, train. How can you go wrong?

Bite my tongue.

There were, of course, many ways to go wrong. The first hazard we had to negotiate was getting tickets for the right trains, the RER and not les grandes lignes.

We managed just fine. We found the tracks at the bottom of a stairway and stood and waited for a train to arrive.

A round, blue sign overhead said (in several languages), All Trains Go To Paris. So we knew we were in the right place. And there were other people looking like recent arrivals standing there, too. How could we go wrong?

Bite my tongue.

There were many ways to go wrong, and the next was what to do when a train emerged from a dark tunnel in the distance, stopped (far from any of us waiting) and let a bunch of passengers off.

We all stood and watched and waited. The train stayed put. Its doors stayed open. We were waiting at one end of the quai. The train stood silently at the other.

We all stood and watched and waited. Still the train stayed put.

Then some new travellers came down the stairs. They looked and saw us, and they looked and saw the train. Without hesitation, they turned and walked to the train.

Then a few of the waiting crowd walked in that direction, too. And a few more. And a few more. Until we all were walking (some of us quickly) toward the train that seemed to have stopped barely out from the dark tunnel behind.

How do we know which direction it is going to go? I asked.

There was no one to answer. And we didn't find out how. It just ended up going the way we wanted -- to Paris.

It is only now that I write this that I realize the answer to my question lay before our very eyes. That sign. That round blue sign that spoke in many languages. It held the answer: All trains go to Paris.

In the end it was true: we couldn't have gone wrong.

Trip to France - Day 2
Paris Charles de Gaul Airport

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