Wow, I have been in Paris for 6 months now, with a short break to go home of less than a week. I'm back at the Alliance Française taking classes, this time a workshop in oral expression with the thematic content of "Living like the French". Though I'm pretty sure we are having more fun than most French people, it has been a great way to organize and think about the cultural and political differences. The way the class is organized by our very seasoned and cool teacher Michelle, is a short discussion to frame some French cultural event, monument, political process or institution, and then we go do a field trip on the bus or walking. So far, the Arche de la Defense, the National Library of France, François Mitterand site, and today we went to the Palais de la Justice and watched an actual criminal trial, of a group accussed of having a huge network dedicated to stealing cars in France, and shipping them off to Africa for sale.
My first response when walking into the courtroom was how much it reminded me of criminal coutrooms I have been in, where mostly black young men stand accussed, and whites are the cops and judges. for all the complicated reasons that is so in the US, I'm sure there are many similar and different reasons why that is so here. All the judges, and lawyers are in black robes, and today was sweltering. I'm sure it's not quite so bad in winter to wear robes. The testimony was challenging to follow, and I missed a lot of things, like how long the group had been under surveillance and such, but the gist was available to me, related to stolen cars, trucks in which to transport them, that there were verbatim reports being read of conversations the accussed had reportedly had with each other, and some of them were related to each other....The nonverbal inattention of what we assummed (at a later discussion with the teacher) were probably court-appointed defense lawyers.
The setting itself was quietly sumptuous, if a little shabby where the public was mostly (grafitti scratched on the walls of the waiting areas outside the courtrooms, for example, benches the public sat on a bit worse for wear), but the walls in the courtroom were covered in lovely carved wood paneling and golden-green brocaded fabric. The building also surrounds Saint Chapelle, one of the loveliest and most visited churches of Paris, so the lieu has that additional cachet, dating back to the time of Napoleon the first.
I'll mostly miss the friends I've made here, the sharing of meals and experiences with them, and the richness of the art scene here. I'm hoping many of these friendships will extend across the "pond" and I will have a chance to host those who have contributed to making Paris so warm and welcoming for me. I have been super fortunate to go the showing of a friend's paintings, the dress rehearsal of another's modern dance production choreographed by William Forsythe and performed at the Chaillot Theatre, a couple of theatre productions that were put on by small theater student groups of which a friend is one, a puppett and live actor production of Don Quichote, a few musical events. La féte de la Musique, where every June 21 Paris has some musical event on practically every corner was astounding in the variety of genres and sheer volume. I went to go hear Persian Sufi musicians at the Musée of the Middle Ages, right in their courtyard. On the way home ran into techno, hip hop, urban folk, and Rock, just on the street around the corner from me. I got up very early the next morning, as I was catching the train to the Basque country, and Fète de la Musique revelers were just making it home at 6 AM!
Other random images from Paris in the last month. Coming back on the bus one evening after having dinner with a friend, I was sitting behind a man in his 40's who appeared to be of African origin. He turned on his cell phone and I could see a photo of a smiling woman and two pre-teen kids. He looked at the photo for a long time, then turned it off and put it in his pocket.
My brother Peter paid a surprise visit, coming to play a gig in Paris and Lyon with Willie Colon. His flight was rescheduled and he stayed for a couple of days. A treat to have a sibling one on one, and we spent the last morning visiting musicians at the Père Lachaise Cemetery before he took off. It was sweet to see that the great jazz pianist Petrucciani is resting almost right next to Féderic Chopin.
The Basque country trip was great, Claudine and I took the train from Paris to Andaye, picked up a car there, and drove to San Sebastian. Though the weather was overcast part of the time, we enjoyed the beach, even to the point of renting kayacks (first time for Claudine) and put a serious dent in the tapas supply. That was the week that Spain made it to the finals, and the vibe was jubilant everytwhere we went. Bilbao was a bit of nightmare driving into into it, as there is so much new construction everywhere, but once we parked the car, trams and walking took care of it...the Guggenheim alone worth the trip, with the cream of the collection of surrealist art the featured exposition this week. It was also sweet to be speaking Spanish, I had forgotten what is was like not to have to work so hard at communicating!
The one little glitch involved filling the tank with gas instead of diesel (it says it in teeny tiny writing in the gas tank door, which we both missed). That necessitated arranging for the car to be towed and the tank siphoned out. Even then we were saved by the kindness of a stranger we will call St. Fredrick, who drove us back and forth across the Spanish border a couple of kilometers, as we made arrangements, then raced to make our train.
Planning to spend time with friends, go for some long bike rides, a couple of weeks cocooning with Stan in ten days (yay!) and feeling all in all ready to go home, and see how I can make my life feel this new on a daily basis...Any thoughts from you travelers?
Kisses to all...