Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sabbatical Day 8

We arrive in Ghana

12 June 2017

Some, including my Kirkwood-based travel agent, have asked just why it was that I had elected to have our itinerary go first to Paris, then to Accra, next to Dakar, and finally to Oslo. This made for an expensive round of airfare. We would spend over $13,000 on flights by the time we would be done, and well near $15,000 including travel insurance! Why not, instead, go first to Accra, then to Dakar, Paris, and Oslo? That itinerary, including the flights out of and back to the States, would have cost closer to $10,000 or even half if we'd done it right.

But I had spent a week and a half during January 1985 with other students from the University of Evansville touring Haiti. What I had learned from that experience was that the developing world is sufficiently different by contrast with the condition of the developed world that we would probably need a week in Europe at each end of our three weeks in Africa.

The travel from Kotoka airport in Accra to the resort where we would stay in Elmina was enough for me to feel justified in making the greater expense.

We were picked up from our hotel in Paris, just before 7 o'clock in the morning. It had seemed extraordinarily early to me, when I read it, but travel agents being wise in the ways of traffic and airports, I was grateful. Traffic on the day we arrived (Whitmonday, the day after Pentecost which turns out to be a national holiday in France) there had been comparatively little traffic at noontime. The driver said that this was because of the holiday. But the following Monday at the start of a workday found us moving slowly through the streets until we got to the highway. We arrived at Charles deGaulle, a little before 8.

British Air put us on a commuter flight to London which left at 10:30 and arrived at 10:55 at Heathrow (London is an hour behind Paris.). For those of you who will be using Heathrow as a connection, or - likely - any airport in Britain, be prepared for a very thorough exam. And, for your own sake, please be sure to empty your pockets entirely(!), remove your laptop from its case, your belt from your waist, your shoes from your feet, and your pride from your conscience - especially if you have had a hip replacement like Coco's.

Interestingly, although we had prepared for it with official documents, we were never questioned about our family's unusual color scheme. Apparently, if it's on file with the Immigration Department in Washington, you're good to go.

Anyway, the layover in London was just under three hours, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time for us to transfer by bus from one terminal to another, go through security, have some lunch and look around (the play equipment is for children up to 9 years old, not 10), render Gwen very uncomfortable about the Dolce & Gabbana ad that played incessantly on what seemed like every video screen in the airport ("Why do they show her starting to pull down his pants?! Why do they think we'd want to see that!"), and stroll somewhat casually to our gate where, as we got closer and closer on that long walk, we became increasingly aware of the shift in perspective and culture we were about to experience, if only because of Gwen becoming more and more in the majority, at least as far as melanin level was concerned.

It may seem as though I am stating the obvious. But I have to be honest with you that the transition from White to Black in London is a genuinely palpable and visual experience. I wish that I had thought to take photographs, because this really is remarkable. More than just the people change. The gates at the Africa end of the terminal have fewer merchants nearby. The surroundings seem more stark. Maybe it's because you are walking to the end of the terminal, but it feels a little as though you're walking to the end of the world.

Our flight would take six and a half hours, departing at 1:55PM from London and arriving at 7:25PM in Accra. Accra is an hour behind London for the portion of the year that London is on Daylight Saving Time. Sunlight lasts just about twelve hours a day, no matter where you are in West Africa because you are so close to the equator. So, why observe DST? No reason. 

They served us what they called lunch, about an hour into the flight - fish or chicken with jollof rice, a curious pasta salad with a large grain couscous and carrot slivers, and "caramel custard" (flan). I had the fish. Gwen and Coco had the chicken. Gwen didn't seem to eat much of it. Later, they provided a light snack to eat, I guess, as supper. Having left our boulangerie leftovers behind in Paris, I was kind of concerned that we were all going to be hungry by the time we got to Elmina.

I had measured the distance between Accra and Elmina, and I knew that there was a new highway running between them, according to Gershon. It is 157 kilometers, about 95 miles; so, I figured we would traverse it in about ninety minutes. But no, said our travel guide, it would be something more on the order of three and a half hours. Ninety minutes was closer to the amount of time it would take to get us through Immigration and Baggage Claim at Kotoka.

It was dark in Accra when we arrived. Streetlights glowed a familiar amber or blue below us, and one could see that there were cars and people and buildings down there, but it was darker than most cities and certainly not as illuminated as American cities are at night. Almost regardless of the city in the States, there is a radiance that render the nighttime, especially with monuments and public buildings, as if daylight began from the ground up. In Accra, it was definitely night.

The captain set us down hard, and immediately reversed the engines. If any of us had been sleeping before the landing, we weren't once we'd landed. Slowly we approached the terminal, and then I noticed we'd stopped out in what seemed to be the middle of the tarmac. Trucks now converged on our aircraft, two with staircases on top, others with baggage trailers following behind. I have become so accustomed to the passenger boarding bridges, familiar in developed world airports, that I thought for a moment we had set down hard enough that they were having to unload us with emergency equipment. But no, there were "Cobus" vehicles waiting for us too. And once off board, you could clearly see that Kotoka did not have passenger boarding bridges. This was how you got from the plane to the terminal. And we did.

Stepping out into the night air - 75 degrees and humid so that Coco and I exclaimed that it felt like St. Louis - we could see that there were some wet spots on the tarmac from rain earlier in the day. The air was also pungent with an odor we came to realize was the Volta River. I'll explain more about it in a later post (Day 15, I think), but let it suffice for me to say here that Ghana near the Volta bears a certain, unmistakable funk.

Our guidebook advised us that we would be met at the airport by a driver holding a sign with the words, "AFRICA EASY," on it along with our name. Emmanuel would be his name. Exiting Kotoka what we saw was a throng of people, all of whom were very enthusiastic that they should be the ones to drive us somewhere. Off to the right stood one with a sign that said "DENOON Family." That was good enough for us.

"Are you Emmanuel?" I asked.

As if he knew that everything we possibly could want would be to get clear of the crowd, he said, "Come on. Walk with me." We pressed through the crowd to his minivan, which was just big enough for our luggage to go in back, Coco and Gwen in the middle, and me up front with him.

"We're exhausted," I said as he set the car in reverse. "We've been traveling for fourteen hours now, and the information I have says that this drive is going to take another three and half. Can that be right?"

"I think I can get you there in three, but it depends on traffic and stops," he said.

I now realized that the highway we would be traveling must be a two-lane, full access highway rather than the four-lane, limited access roads I am used to traveling. Well, yes, that also was the case...

Traffic inched its way from the airport to the main road, winding through what seemed to be markets that lined either side of the street. Women with big basins on their heads rushed toward us at intersections selling everything from soft drinks to snacks to fruit to hair care products, some with children trailing behind them at what seemed an awfully late hour of the night. I mean, forget the fact that the night before we had had Gwen out until midnight in the City of Lights, now she was sleeping with her head in Coco's lap. And the children, besides, seemed very, very little indeed in the lights of the cars and trucks and veering motorcycles. Then, the light would go green, horns would blare (though not at the sellers), and sellers would dodge out of the way.

We entered the highway (in Accra, it's four-lane, limited access), and off we went. Street signs posted the speed limit at 40, 70, even 100 kph, and when we finally reached a stretch with that last number on it, I thought we were home free and that the drive would take maybe two hours altogether.

Then we came to Buduburam, a small town not far out of Accra. There was a police barricade and a contingent of officers in the Ghana Police Service, all of them with automatic weapons slung over a shoulder and pointed at the ground and one of them gesturing with a downturned palm of the hand that we should stop. My thought when we had seen the nighttime airport tarmac was, What have I gotten us into? That same thought arose again when we exited the airport, looking for our driver. Now, it came a third time.

But I reassured myself that our host the Rev. Gershon Dotse and the former General Minister and President of the UCC the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Black and my church's recent former Student Minister and a crew of other students and faculty at Eden Seminary would not have spoken so highly of Ghana were we going to run into hopeless difficulty at a police checkpoint. Surely, that had to be true!

Emmanuel obeyed the signal of the police officer by slowing down to a crawl, then turned on the dome light to show that he was carrying tourists (I'll leave it to you to guess how it would have been apparent that we were tourists), then that same officer raises the palm that previously was downturned and pointed it with a slight circular motion over the same shoulder, and we proceeded back to 100 kph and on to the next roadblock.

There were easily a dozen such checkpoints between Accra and Elmina. That is the primary reason why a trip that should by my calculations - even with the road two-lane rather than four-lane and full rather than limited access - have brought us to our destination in 90 or so minutes took twice as much time in fact. Occasionally, the slowdown would include a pause on the road as Emmanuel and an officer would chat briefly in a language that was not English. Also, at some of the bigger towns along the way there would be toll booths: always cash followed by a receipt and a resumption of speed like a race horse leaving its starting gate.

Americans with whom I have spoken since this experience have offered the suspicion that the Ghana Police Service is on the take and must have had to be bribed at each roadblock to let us through. But I can say comfortably that this is not the case. Emmanuel explained that roadblocks are set up, especially at night along the better roads, because people will attempt to smuggle valuable goods out of or through the country - especially gold and guns. The vigilance on the part of the police is for the sake of controlling those who are transporting such items. He explained that the Ghanaian government is presently cracking down hard on locals and Chinese whom they have discovered mining and panning for gold without authorization. Gun running in Ghana is like gun running anywhere, and many of them are supplying the unauthorized gold diggers. (It's helpful to remember that Ghana's colonial name was "Gold Coast," and its accumulation and export of gold has continued uninterrupted since independence.) I would learn later that these aren't the only reasons for the GPS needing to be out at night slowing traffic, but I'll let that suffice for now.

About two-thirds of the way along our route, Gwen needed a bathroom break. Remembering the roadside urination and defecation that I had seen in 1985 Haiti and the peeing that seemed ubiquitous along this highway, I was afraid that my daughter's first Ghanaian rest area would be a ditch. I was pleasantly surprised to have Emmanuel pull into a well-lit filling station. The experience of the trough in the slanted concrete floor behind a cement w all but under the stars of Ghana was disorienting enough for the girl ("Mom, what am I supposed to do?" she asked. "I was glad," Coco told me later, "that I'd been to Italy in the 1980s, because the accommodations were very familiar.").

Forty-five minutes later, we left the highway by a surprising little off ramp in Elmina that took us to the seaside road. It was surprising because it was so steep. Two days later, when we traveled to Cape Coast, I discovered that it was so steep because it crossed over an inlet that provided for a fishmarket where boats were moored. But at night only the ramp itself was lighted, and the boats that I would see below on Wednesday either were not there now (and they might not have been), or else they were invisible in the darkness.

The remainder of the trip was not long. This pavement led to a dirt road with a directional sign at its head pointing to our resort and others. I will tell you now, up to this point in my life, I had only ever encountered roads this bad in rural Colorado, and even there I don't remember them being this rutted. Emmanuel seemed to inch the vehicle to the gate of our resort. There, with the gate still closed, two security guards in full uniform inspected the vehicle under and through, then waved us on.

Here we were, at midnight, arriving at our residence for the next four days. Emmanuel, evidently familiar with the facility, upon finding the door to the office locked, disappeared down a walkway and reappeared at the door to let us in. A rather grouchy seeming fellow, whom I would later learn was named Moses, found our reservation and some key cards for us, then signaled for Emmanuel and one of the security guards to accompany us to our room.

We had entered the resort from the northeast. Our accommodations were at the southwest corner of the resort. Emmanuel and the guard hauled our luggage on a cart with our backpacks, as Coco, Gwen, and I followed them. Now, we could hear the ocean pounding against a beach; Gwen thought for a moment it was a thunderstorm and worried that now she wouldn't be able to get to sleep.

Emmanuel told us that breakfast would be served from 7:30 until 10:30 in the morning, and that we could find him at the office, any time we wanted a tour. 

Fumbling for money but having only euros, not the local currency, I said, "After that trip, Emmanuel, I have to tell you that I have no idea how to begin to tip you. We are all so grateful to you for getting us here safely, I don't know if this is too much or too little, but here are thirty euros. I doubt we will be feeling like driving anywhere tomorrow, but I will see you in the afternoon, and we'll talk about where and when we might go on Wednesday and Thursday."

"And you will go to Accra, in a couple of weeks," he said. "Do you have a ride from your hotel to the airport?"

"Our friends who are meeting us on Friday will be delivering us to the airport in a couple of weeks. But if there is a problem, I know I have your number. I'll see you, tomorrow."

Read my Sabbatical 2017 postings.

Friday, July 21, 2017

My Summer Reading List

The reading I am doing this summer is intended to enhance my Clergy Renewal experience (sabbatical).

The Souls of Black Folk
The first book I wanted to be sure and read was W. E. B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays and sociological studies he wrote at the turning of the 20th Century. I would be visiting the home in which he lived when he died and his adjoining tomb, in Accra, Ghana.

Biographically speaking it is interesting to note that he attended the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, during his childhood. Dr. DuBois was the first African American graduate of Harvard University (B.A. cum laude, 1890; M.A., 1891; Ph.D., 1895). His expertise was in government and history, but his sociological examination of the condition of African Americans brought America news of the gulf between Black and White.

In 1903, the date of publication, the United States as a country was 38 years out of the Civil War and 40 years under the Emancipation Proclamation. The Souls of Black Folk would identify in no uncertain terms the gross inequities of systems in the United States and the inequalities of its citizens. Seven years had been spent at Reconstruction. Now, Jim Crow was gaining ground. The slavery system had been replaced in the South with a system of what would become known as sharecropping. Dr. DuBois was able in this book, through statistics and individual testimonies, to present the ways in which Black tenant farmers were driven gradually into debt and obligation not unlike the slavery they had known just a few decades before. This revision of Southern life was generating an inevitable displacement of Black people from farms and rural life to the cities. Once in the urban environment the social and economic isolation of segregation, as well as aggressive policing which Dr. DuBois notes in the South was initiated for the purpose of keeping slaves under control, seemed designed to further oppress.

It was not only White America preventing African American advancement. Dr. DuBois begins The Souls of Black Folk with his critique of the trajectories for Black America pioneered by Marcus Garvey (complete separatism even to the extent of relocation to Africa) and Booker T. Washington (capitulation with the unequal systems in place, so that Black people even though oppressed might at least be left alone to make a living). He would coin the term "talented tenth" to reinforce his own demands for rights and opportunity and dignity for African Americans. "Talented tenth" referred to the educated African Americans at the time of his writing rising to prominence, especially in Northern states, who could serve through example and the respect that they would earn in the wider society, to forge paths for others to enter mainstream America and reverse the downturn of the South.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
At the W. E. B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture in Accra, there was put in my hands a book that seemed to me to summarize in its title the mentality that I was formulating through my two weeks in Ghana - How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1972, although my edition was published by Panaf Press of Abuja, Nigeria, in 2009). Prof. Rodney was a Guyanan revolutionary intellectual and author convinced of the importance of Socialism's rise for the salvation of what has come to be known as the Developing World. Only, he called it "the underdeveloped world" because of his impression that European colonialism had ruined Africa's opportunities for development. Europe (including the United States) demanded cheap raw materials from colonies or former colonies while selling to them manufactured goods made from the same raw materials. The value of the manufactured goods would so outdistance the low cost of the materials that Africa was left in an endless cycle of debt and poverty.

Former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings repeated this complaint throughout his term of office and continues to rail against the disadvantages that Capitalism has placed upon Ghana and other former colonies. I note that, every time an "underdeveloped" country has attempted to consolidate its industrial base by nationalizing or called for a single party system in order to prevent outright political chaos, the West has cried, "Totalitarianism!" or "Communism!" and even imposed economic sanctions in order to prevent tyranny. The effective result has also been to support global businesses and networks (capitalists) already unfairly exploiting depressed African economies.

Walter Rodney
To illustrate how such an imbalance of power came to predominate the world's economies, the book begins by the author painting with some rather broad strokes the history of interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Along the way, he observes that Europe progressed from family-based and tribal systems of production through feudalism and onward to industrial capitalism, especially because of advances in the production of steel and gunpowder. The equipment and firearms enabled colonization and overwhelmed established political and trading systems in Africa, southern Asia, and the Americas still centered on more local connections and networks. This is not to say, he points out, that no widespread or even transoceanic trade existed in any of these places, or that means of production were not advancing there. They simply could not be defended in the long run from the encroachment of colonial powers with superior armaments desiring raw materials and seemingly limitless sources of forced labor. The West found it in its interest to subdue its colonies' ambitions and to further disable them through economic and political coercion, once the colonies had gained "independence."

The government of Guyana, a South American/Caribbean British post-colony, saw in Prof. Rodney a persuasive dissident who was having growing influence on not only his students but large swaths of Guyana's impoverished people. It therefore sought to silence his voice in 1980 by assassinating him with a car bomb. Two of the author's friends and colleagues from the United States, who had tried to convince him not to return to his home country, introduce Prof. Rodney's life and thought in the foreword of the book by relating the circumstances of the end of his life. Despite the Guyanan government's effort to silence Walter Rodney, given evidence by the fact that the edition I purchased of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was published by a Nigerian publisher in 2009, his words continue to resonate.

Frantz Fanon
The Wretched of the Earth
Walter Rodney mentions other revolutionary authors of his time with whom he corresponded and by whom he was influenced. He cites Frantz Fanon in particular, a psychologist born in Martinique but crucial to the advancement of the Algerian revolution through the 1960s and 70s. This has prompted me to check out an English translation of Fanon's Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth), 1961. It details especially the deleterious psychological effect of colonialism on the colonized and the warping of the psyche of colonizers. Fanon concludes that violence, as in the case of the Algerian revolution, is inevitable for the effective overthrow of colonial power. The book is introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre, a friend and devotee of Fanon's and a longtime advocate for Algerian independence from France.

Fanon would influence such other revolutionaries as Malcolm X, Steve Biko, and Che Guevara. He also would participate in the armed rebellion against the French in Algeria and Morocco. Frantz Fanon only lived to the age of 36 (Walter Rodney also was 38 when he was murdered). One might assume that he had died in a battle or at the hands of some undercover operative. In fact, he died of leukemia at a National Institutes of Health facility in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1961.

New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America
The book I am reading currently is New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2016). This Princeton University history professor has built her reputation on her in depth and insightful study of the 500-year history of chattel slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean.

No one's hands were clean in this, not even the Puritans of New England who were some of the earliest to outlaw the practice of slavery. Although 1638 is recognized as the year of the arrival of the first African slaves to the British colonies in North America, the production of sugar cane and tobacco on the land of English possessions in the Caribbean and the commonplace of household slaves had already made chattel slavery (the practice of not only an individual as another's property but that person's offspring as well, all of whom could be sold at will by the owner) a part of everyday life throughout the Western world.

Further complicating matters was the common decision of New Englanders not to keep captive their Native American prisoners of war but to enslave them, almost always transporting them away from their homeland to foreign buyers. Dr. Warren points out that Squanto, who assisted the Pilgrims through their first winter and showed them native farming techniques, was able to speak English so fluently because he had been spirited away as a young man to England by a merchant who had induced him and about a half dozen other young men of his village to board a ship, then hoisted anchor before they knew what was happening. Squanto and the others were sold as slaves in England, but he managed to escape and found someone sympathetic to return him home. Back in America, he found his village wiped out by a European illness and the only people who would receive him the colonists of Plymouth. (That's how very early an effect slavery had on the development of New England Congregationalist society!)

Dr. Warren addresses throughout the book just how very much chattel slavery had already permeated the daily life of early America and, literally, the world. She offers a powerful sense of why the inequities and inequalities of our society have proved to be so unshakable.

Prayer by W. E. B. DuBois, epilogue to The Souls of Black Folk:
Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born into the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. (Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare.) Thus in thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed
The End.

Read all my Sabbatical 2017 postings.

Sabbatical Day 6, Part 1 - Morning at the Louvre

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Treasure Hunt
We returned to the Louvre, this morning, and I got to make my "Everybody spells it wrong, the first time" joke about the Denon Pavilion with some new people. Coco and Gwen seemed to be taking deep breaths as the guide for our museum treasure hunt chuckled politely.

We were one of two families participating. The other, also from America, included a dad and very competitive mom, a boy about 8 and another about 14, the latter son seeming distinctly disinterested in this project.

The object of the hunt was to locate and photograph (with one of your group in the photo) artworks described in a pictorial guide. The group was required to stay together; if your opponent group should see anyone in your group more than ten feet from the rest, they could take a photo of the gap in order to dock you 10 points per foot apart! No running, no internet, no GPS, no asking Louvre employees for directions. We agreed to a 90-minute hunt; overtime would cost 2 points per minute.

Maps were essential for locating the works. Gwen thought that a selfie stick (sold for €1 from vendors ALL OVER the grounds) would be another essential. But, no, we couldn't stop to purchase one on our way in. We had "skip the line" tickets and were descending the Pyramid into the museum before anything could even be argued about it.

The matter of a selfie stick was not something that was introduced, today. We had argued several times daily about it, ever since Gwen had seen them for sale on a loop of a hawker's belt when we took that long walk with the longer pause in Notre-Dame on Tuesday. In weaker moments, she would insist that a selfie stick would be all she would ask for, for her birthday - which, admittedly, would have made for a very, very affordable birthday, but her mother said I couldn't take her up on it.

Coco and I explained that we thought selfie sticks, though maybe helpful for people her size to extend their arms for a good image, nevertheless were making the teeming others who owned them look rather self-absorbed. And unstable: I personally saw numerous folk tripping or stumbling, ignorant of their immediate surroundings, as they would try to take personal snapshots. Sometimes, they even struck others as they would swing around to find the perfect angle.

We did fine without a selfie stick, by the way.

We spotted enough artworks on our list to get ourselves 110 points. The opposing family got 20 more points. This was in part because they were missing a couple of pages from their guidebook and, although they didn't find as much as we did, we elected to disregard the works on the pages they were missing from our own part of the hunt. It was also because the 14-year-old, catching the spirit of the snapshot rally, decided that he would pose as different characters in the paintings when the photos were snapped. His pose as one of the dogs in Caliari's The Wedding Feast at Cana pushed them over the top. (All I did was to wave hello from beyond the gathered crowd.)

The works that were listed in our guidebook were certainly interesting. It was downright exciting to share space with the Mona Lisa and several other works that we had only seen in textbooks or on coffee tables.

One in particular, Leonardo's St. John the Baptist, smiles like the Mona Lisa. But, unlike her smile which I have always perceived as flirtatious, John's causes him to seem bemused by the attention of the artist. He points with his right hand over his left shoulder as if to say, "You think I'm something? You ought to get a load of the guy who's coming up behind me!"

An old TV series I had watched recently on YouTube, Basil Davidson's Africa, noted that the depiction of Africans in medieval and Renaissance art had usually presented them in ways that indicate that Africans and Europeans of that era simply regarded one another as people from different parts of the world. People with dark skin are shown as authority figures and servants and everything in between. Coco decided to make the tour of the Louvre galleries something of an exploration of the Black figure in art. She found numerous examples, in 90 minutes. The following photos are not an exhaustive representation of her discoveries:

The Moor, restored in the early 1600s
by Nicolas Cordier from an ancient Roman statue

Study: Adoration of the Magi, Bernardino Luini, 1520

Study: Christ Carrying the Cross, Biagio d'Antonio, 1466

Study: Women of Algiers (Eugene Delacroix, 1834)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sabbatical Day 5

Friday, 9 June 2017

This was the day that included, in tours anyway, the underlying justification for including Paris on my sabbatical itinerary. Today and tomorrow would be the days crowded with tours and a comparatively tight schedule. And today's schedule, I'll tell you now, got the best of us.

By now we were getting the hang of using the Metropolitan transit system. We had used it quite effectively (though perhaps not so efficiently; you can ask me about that, sometime) on Thursday, to get to the palace of Versailles and back. Today, we took the Metro to Montmartre - a Paris neighborhood built on this curious outcropping, a hill which is the highest point in the city but which rises without any remaining geological indication. It is simply there.

Montmartre from the ascent to Sacré-Cœur
Our hotel was located in the heart of tourist territory, on boulevard Haussmann near boulevard des Italiens and surrounded by restaurants serving mostly east Asian fare - Japanese, Korean, Chinese. There was an occasional brasserie, coffee house, or other restaurant, but if we wanted French regional cuisine (like the crepes we enjoyed on Tuesday evening at a Bretagne-themed restaurant near the Pompidou, the rib steak we would consume in quantity on Saturday evening not far from the Eiffel Tower, or the croques we would have in a pinch) then we had to escape the gravity of l'Opéra.

Montmartre is more of a residential section of the city, also an enclave of artists and Bohemians. Streets are tree-lined and narrower than the boulevards near us. They contained similarly less traffic. And some portions just seemed dedicated to stairways for the sake of scaling the steep incline.

It was a cool breeze, a breath of fresh air for all three of us. And it was our first destination of the day.

Display case at Le Grenier à Pain Coulaincourt
We found our guide near the boulangerie, Le Grenier à Pain Coulaincourt (one of eleven Paris locations of Le Grenier à Pain), and were treated to a delightful bakery tour as baguettes and croissants and a variety of other breads and pastries were being prepared.

At the conclusion of the tour, we were given each a baguette and a croissant to take with us. And these we stored in my backpack so that our hands would be free for the railings and banisters necessary when we accepted the challenge of the hill's ascent. We could see Sacré-Cœur above us and decided to make our approach, fully knowing that we were expected in Montparnasse at two o'clock for our tour of Paris Noir but rejoicing in a Paris that was such a far cry from Versailles in almost every way.

Sacré-Cœur from the garden behind
The basilica of Sacré-Cœur is a wonder to behold, not only because of it being so unlikely situated atop that curious hill but because - with its domes and whitewashed exterior - it is ecclesial architecture unlike any other church in Paris. We knew that lunch might end up being our baguettes and some water from a street merchant, but such a fast would be well worth the witness.

Near the top of the hill, we realized that we were approaching from behind the basilica. Like Notre Dame, Sacré-Cœur has a small park just to its south and east. This day, there was a young father stretching after a run while his very little daughter enjoyed "tummy time" on a blanket in the grass, and some women enjoying a conversation under a vine-covered pergola. We rested for a moment on a bench in the shade of a grand old, spreading tree and made a snack of some pieces of one of our baguettes.

Recovered from our climb, we continued on to the church... which, once we circled round to the front, was ANYTHING but the idyllic, gentle setting where we had taken our tour eaten our snack. There were hawkers and street performers and so many tourists! Granted, there was also a magnificent view of the city, but there were so many distractions that, had it not been for Coco snapping photos, I think I might have abandoned the moment.

Seeing the queue in front of the church and the hew of the crowd all around, at about 12:15 we fled Sacré-Cœur, vowing someday to return to Montmartre but realizing that we were likely going to be late for the start of our Paris Noir tour.

The Metro deposited us at the Opéra. Coco was indicating by then that the heat was taking its toll, and she might not be fit for a three- to four-hour walking tour. Then, as we made our way single file down a particularly narrow stretch of sidewalk along the rue Laffitte, I at the front heard a cry and looked back about ten yards, to see Gwen seated on the curb holding her knee and rocking. Coco said, "Didn't you hear her go down?!" and sat beside her to comfort her.

I confessed that I had not heard her fall and rushed back to offer comfort and whatever first aid I might. The knee was indeed swollen, but it wasn't bleeding and didn't seem broken. My first thought was that we were going to need some ice for that knee (and, as it turned out, her hip too). My second thought was that our afternoon tour was about to be scrapped.

Coco and I gathered Gwen up. We were only about a block and a half from the hotel, and she was able with moderate assistance to limp herself there.

I sent the two of them up to the room, while I went to the bar to solicit some ice. The bartender, upon hearing the need, hurried to the kitchen and emerged with a towel which he filled without any sort of lining. I moved as swiftly as I could, to keep ahead of dripping and deliver it as much intact as I could to my injured daughter.

When I got to the room, Coco volunteered that the afternoon was not going to go as planned. She and Gwen would stay behind and entertain themselves while I raced to the Place du Panthéon.

I called ahead to our afternoon tour guide, Kevi, using my phone (down to about an 8% charge), to say that we were down to one in our group and that this one would be late. "Signal me when you reach Panthéon," he said, "and I will let you know where we are."

By the end of the call, my phone was at 4%. So, I grabbed our charging stick, turned off the phone, and plugged it into the stick as I ran to the Metro.

I needed to take the No. 9 train to get to the Panthéon. If I could catch one in the next five minutes, I might be able to arrive at Place du Panthéon before Kevi had finished his first description. But I ran straight down the nearest descent to the tracks and found myself at the No. 8. Looking on a map, it appeared as though I could catch a No. 9 just a few blocks down. I resurfaced, and hustled farther east on boulevard Haussmann - not the direction I needed to go (south), but I wanted simply to board the 9 rather than have to transfer, some distance away.

Half a mile and ten minutes later, I still hadn't found a stop for the 9. So, I went ahead and caught the 8, backtracking to the Opéra where I could transfer. By the time I was aboard the 9, it was half an hour later. There was no way to catch Kevi and the group at the Panthéon. Now, I put all my faith in the phone.

The stick wasn't lighting up the charging indicator, and it was difficult to tell whether the outflow indicator on the stick was glowing blue (as it should have been, if it was charging the phone). So, I turned on the phone to see how much charge it had. It read 8%. And now, here came my stop.

I alighted, surfaced, and walked a quarter mile or so to the Place, trying my best to remember a map I'd seen almost an hour ago and to follow street signs. Forty-five minutes late, I found the Place almost empty but certainly with no sign of a group of English-speaking people on a Paris Noir tour.

The phone now at 6%, I tapped out a message to Kevi that I had arrived and began walking around the neighborhood.


A notification sounded on the phone to indicate that I had received a text message. Thank heaven! I thought. I was going to be able to find them!

The message was from Coco, reporting minutes after I'd left that my passport and wallet were still with her in the room. I had taken off the belt that contained them when settling Gwen down and applying the ice and had exited in such a flurry that I hadn't put it back on.

As quickly as I could, I put the phone in "Ultra Power Saving" mode. The screen became almost unreadable, but I thought, At least I'm going to be able to receive Kevi's reply.

No reply.

I widened my search to the next ring of blocks around the Panthéon. I saw no one, and the phone reported nothing from Kevi.

I wondered whether Ultra Power Saving mode might not only render the screen dark but might also turn off sound alarms. The sun was so bright that I decided to try one last time to turn up the brightness of the screen to see whether I'd received his reply. Power read "2%" as I went to my Messages app.

Then the screen went black.

A mix of despair and anger settled in me, with surrender too, though, but also a measure of relief that I would have more time with Coco and Gwen than the day was allowing up to now. Gradually I wended my way back to the stop for the No. 9 Metro.

Back at the room, when I plugged the phone back into its wall charger and turned it on, it immediately rang with a notification from Kevi: "We are at Luxembourg garden." That evening as I spoke with my Paris tour agent, she said, "You were probably right going back to the hotel, anyway. You'd have likely had a hard time finding him at the Garden; it's a big place."

UPDATE, 16 July
Fittingly on the evening of Bastille Day, 14 July, I had another a conversation with Julia Browne - the agent who arranged, and for a great part conceived of, the Paris Noir tour we were to have taken a little over a month ago. She said she was newly returned to Toronto after a Boston screening of her agency's new film about the tour, which had won an award for Best Documentary. Julia said that she and Kevi were corresponding, to be able to supply me with the notes they use for their tours so that I could develop a presentation for my congregation. She further offered to bring the film to St. Louis, if the church would foot the bill for her to bring it here... "Next year, though," she said. "I've already booked it for as much as I can this year."

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sabbatical Day 4

Thursday, 8 June 2017

If we learned one thing, today, it is that Versailles is not our cup of tea... at all. I don't know why Coco and I didn't suspect this previously, but maybe seeing the Rick Steves episode about day trips from Paris a few days before we left caused us to doubt our perspective.

Of course, in Steves' video the Hall of Mirrors there was not teeming with thousands of tourists and schoolchildren so that you couldn't get a descent snapshot without somebody either walking through or photo bombing.

Yes, I did say schoolchildren! And now a confession: For as much as my own sensibilities may have been offended by the degree of opulence Louis XIV added to his father's hunting lodge and the way that this offense was surely hoisted on the backs of the poor of his country, my student-of-history conscience was swathed  by the fact that Versailles is today a destination for local public schools. There were fourth and fifth graders everyplace seated in groups, listening to speakers, and making drawings at Versailles! the way that Gwen's fourth grade class did for learning about the Civil War at the Jefferson Barracks Museum. Can you imagine?!

With the help of a very patient and well-mannered guide, Clothilde, whose ironic sense of humor was not our own but who nevertheless was very helpful and pleasant, we walked through the public bedchambers of the king and queen and learned that the private bedchambers were where the real action took place.

Evidently, Louis would have a ceremonial bedtime, each evening, for the sake of visiting dignitaries and guests. Once tucked in, he would nick off to a mistress's bedroom or his own. Then, in the morning he would be wakened by an attendant who would guide him back to his own bedroom again, where a ceremonial rising would be orchestrated for the same crowd... because who wouldn't want to see the Sun King set and rise with the sun itself! (It would be a wonder of creation, wouldn't it.)

The day was hot - in the 80s Fahrenheit with a northern hemisphere summer season sun (and did I mention the thousands of tourists and schoolchildren?) making the interiors simmer, despite their open windows. We found ourselves wondering that, even considering the expense, the French government has not figured out a way to air condition Louis's country residence.

We had purchased a tour of the gardens as well, but the heat - now climbing toward 90 degrees with not a cloud in the sky or a breeze - made the outdoor touring unbearable. French nobility in the 17th Century bore no love for shade trees, and the gardens at Versailles reflect that. After the first stage of the outdoor tour, we handed back our companion tourist the parasol he had loaned to Coco, and hoofed it through the palace entrance to the front. I sent Coco and Gwen to the shade of an adjoining building and - after a school group of at least forty 11-year-olds - retrieved my backpack and the lunches we had stored there, from the palace guards.

Just beyond the palace grounds, near a park where we should have gone and could have sat on benches under spreading trees rather than on a curb where we were actually seated, we had our lunches and then walked slowly back to the train.

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Sabbatical Day 3

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

This was the day of The Big Bus and the playground.

It seems that the world's iconic cities all have some manifestation of this concept or maybe this company... It appears to me that some sightseeing company figured out that it would be lucrative both for itself and the cities to offer a form of pseudo-public transportation so that tourists could get to the iconic cities' iconic places. (At least, I know they're in Washington, DC.)

Our Paris tours agent lined up a one-day pass for each of us. It's a "hop off, hop on" service, so you pick it up at any of its stops and either take the full tour, or get off and walk around a bit, then get back on to take you to the next place or to your home base.

The three of us picked up our Big Bus at the Opera (the one with a big chandelier and a phantom in it), near our hotel, and off we went.

The tour took us to the Louvre, past several more museums, the Assemble National, Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower (where I snapped this not-so-marvelous photo of a guy mowing the lawn), the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, les Invalides, and back round again to where we began.

We stayed on for the second loop until we got to (of all places) the Notre Dame Cathedral again. Some friends had tipped us off to a playground that would be around back, and we decided to take advantage of some time that would be specifically gratifying to Gwen.

There was toddler play equipment along the south side of the building, and we felt a bit worried that we had miscalculated. But at the east end, in addition to a sweet garden with a fountain, we did discover some pieces of play equipment suitable for children Gwen's age. In fact, there were some children playing on the equipment when we arrived.

They seemed to be part of an after-school child care program. Their adult monitors sat watchfully nearby - two women with snacks for the children. The young people, none of whom was older than Gwen, climbed on bars, swung on a large disk suspended between two poles, and spun on another disk that was tilted at about a 30-degree angle.

With our encouragement, Gwen climbed aboard the tilted circle, then jumped off to get it spinning when Coco wore out. One rambunctious boy lay for a time spread eagle on the disk so that others had difficulty climbing on. There was a lot of youthful negotiation in French. Eventually one of the monitors told him to go and play on another piece of equipment, so he went off to monopolize the swing.

Meanwhile, Gwen had become acquainted with some of the girls who wanted to have a conversation with her. So, she asked me over to interpret what they were saying. The monitor who had just removed the boy turned to me and said of one girl, "Elle veut savoir si votre fille voudrait etre sa copine." I said to Gwen that the girl was asking whether she would like to be her close friend.

"How do you say, 'Yes'?" Gwen asked.

"You know," I said.

"Oh, right." Then, turning to the girl, she said, "Oui." The two of them smiled.

The monitor said, "Elle s'appelle Amelie."

"Her name is Amelie," I told Gwen.

"Elle s'appelle Gwen," I told Amelie.

The next hour was sublime. Coco and I became introduced to the adult companions (and to some of the children as they came for snacks and drinks), and the children played until it was time to go.

As we walked away ourselves, Gwen said giddily, "Do you think we could come back here, tomorrow?"

"No," Coco replied, "I think we have a pretty full day at Versailles, tomorrow. I doubt we can come back then."

"I think I told Amelie that I would meet her here again, tomorrow. I only know how to say, 'Oui.'"

"That's OK," I said. "They can't expect that you'd certainly be there. We're tourists."

"But I told her I would." Both Coco and I could hear the emotion in her voice, at the thought of making a new friend and not being able to keep her.

"Honey, you'd have had to say goodbye to her eventually. That's what happens when you travel: you meet new people -"

"And then you never see them again?! That's terrible! I don't think I want to travel anymore."

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sabbatical Day 2

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

We overslept. By a lot.

Yesterday, when we checked in at our hotel, we were informed that breakfast would be served from 6:30 until 10:00 AM, in the brasserie.

By the time we heard that (about 1 in the afternoon), we had been awake for more than 20 hours and weren't expecting to sleep for at least ten more. When we settled into bed, around 9:30, we allowed jet lag to overtake us, and down deep we went.

We all got up when Coco suddenly announced that it was 10:20 AM. Rather than fly about and rush down and beg for the brasserie to keep breakfast out for us, we elected to prepare more slowly for the day and stop at a coffee shop for a breakfasty snack and then have an early-ish lunch somewhere closer to the sights.

We walked to Costa Coffee and ordered a couple of lattes for the adults and a cocoa for Gwen. Pastries included a cinnamon roll that Coco and I would share, and a piece of what appeared to be coffee cake with a pale lavender frosting by which Gwen was especially intrigued.

The coffee cake turned out to be flavored with lavender, and the child only picked at it. Mom and Dad offered the remainder of their cinnamon roll to her when they saw that she wasn't much interested in what she had (either the cake or the cocoa, which came without whipped cream and "tasted more like dark chocolate than milk chocolate").

Thus began a long walking day. The long walk would start at the Costa Coffee on boulevard des Italiens and eventually meander its way south from there to Ile de la Cite.

We found a macaroon-seller for Gwen.

And discovered that "Gwen" is a prominent syllable in many words from the region of Brittany. Many creperies have "Gwen" in their names. For example,

Le cathedral de Notre-Dame de Paris rendered us all amazed. Even Gwen stated how impressed she was. She said she wanted to climb the north tower, to view the gargoyles and see out from the top, which is something for which you can buy a ticket and do.

It was 3 o'clock or so when we stepped in line to tour the nave and chapels (free). We commiserated with a couple of English tourists about the chill. A shower that had been brewing in the northwest for a time now rumbled, and the line moved markedly faster due apparently to some leniency on the part of security officers sympathetic to our worry about lightning and rain.

By 3:30 we were inside and viewing displays about the meaning and purpose of the chapels and rose windows, and the development of the cathedral.

Each chapel, as I recall, had a stand for votive candles with a suggested donation of two euros. Gwen asked to light a candle, and we said yes, knowing why.

Just four days before, we had been to a vigil outside the home of a schoolmate of Gwen's. The little girl, a kindergartner who was scheduled to enter first grade this fall, had her life interrupted by gunfire. Her mother, father, and younger sister were in the car with her. There was no known motive behind the decision by a man to approach their car and another and to fire into them, killing the driver of the other car and the girl's mother and father. She suffered a bullet wound to the head; her sister was not shot. On Saturday night we responded to a call to prayer and testimony. We wrote cards of greeting and hope to the girl and her extended family, lighted candles, and set our prayers aloft accompanied by helium balloons. The memory was still fresh.
Our candle with others, June 6
The vigil, June 2: "GWS" - Get Well Soon
"DMI" are the girl's initials

At 4:15 or so, Coco elected to sit in the nave while Gwen and I would go up the north tower. As we walked with Coco, an announcement in French came over the public address system, but my command of French is not so good as to have understood it. I figured that it was something about hours of closure or an upcoming mass.

When we started toward our exit, police officers in Kevlar approached and ordered us to be seated in the nave - all three of us. No one, they said, would be allowed outside. That much French I understood. I think anxiety may help with comprehension.

Next, we heard sirens and at least imagined we heard a gunshot or two. Gwen asked what was going on, and Coco and I (as calmly as we could) said that we didn't know but that the police officers did know and were directing us to be seated. Because police are always interested in our safety, we said, we should do as they said and wait patiently until they would say it was OK to go outside again.

Police watch over the crowd.
There ensued two hours of being seated in the nave of Notre Dame. Fully twenty minutes of that time was spent with our hands in the air or on our heads as police observed the crowd, in order to discern, we assume, whether any of us were connected with the unnamed event that had occurred outside.

Police communicated instructions and encouragement through two priests who translated the messages into English, Spanish, and Italian. At 6:00 PM, which I assume was the time when a mass would have otherwise been occurring there, the priests led us in praying the Our Father and the Hail, Mary, first in French then in English, as well as prayers of petition and intercession. It was a strangely peaceful period during an otherwise troubling afternoon.

At about 6:45 we finally were told by the priests that the police would release each section row by row. One tour group immediately rose with their guide and attempted to assume a new, closer position in the queue. Police did their best to return them to their places, but to little avail.
They could not watch everyone always, and our withering looks usually went unregarded. Gwen was wroth with this, especially because she knew her mother needed to use a restroom and now would be forced to wait longer as a result of these opportunists!

Finally, we emerged, after being questioned individually whether we had seen anything outside. "Non," each of us told them.

Police in flak jackets and carrying automatic weapons lined our walk away from the cathedral. They weren't as reassuring a sight as I presume they had hoped to be for us, but I admit a bit of satisfaction in seeing some members of the opportunist tour group detained for having tried to slip past barriers and find their own way back. No handcuffs, but a firm talking-to in French to a crew whom I assume understood not a word.

According to Gwen's concern, our objective by this time was to find the swiftest route to a restroom. Just across the nearest pont we spotted one of the free, self-cleaning lavatories. There was another family waiting... and a man who seemed rather peeved. In fact, he was a little too peeved. And the dad of the family, who were audibly Americans, was facing the guy down as to who was going to go next into the public privy.

It became clear that this was not the place where we wanted to stop for ourselves, but we slowly walked away when we saw the American Dad shout his way past the somewhat-off-kilter native and press the button to shut the door. "I'm not sure he thought that through," said Coco, as we both realized that Mom and their two young children were left outside the restroom with the other fellow raving at them.

Throwing his arms up in the air and continuing his rant directly at Mom, the irritated one eventually walked away, shouting occasionally over his shoulder. We couldn't be sure what kept Dad inside, but we assumed that there must have been some serious intestinal matter afflicting him, for him to have enclosed himself and isolated his family so hastily.

We continued on and, a few minutes later, found relief at another comfort station. Interestingly, we saw the angry man grumbling at another group on a street corner just beyond the brasserie where we sat down for dinner. He didn't appear to recognize us, though it seemed as if he noticed my gaze at one point.

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