Je Suis Paris (final)

2500 killed or injured.  If Nov. 13 had occurred in the US, that’s what the number would be  proportional to the size of the populations.  USA is about 325 million, France 64 million.  129 killed, 352 wounded – almost 500 people.

I finished the other two blogs about Ireland before tackling the current situation in Paris.  Somewhat because I don’t know what to write.  I can tell you the facts in my life.  I had gone to a show – How To Be A Parisien In an Hour – a comedy revue.  Probably less than a mile from the terrorist activity that occurred an hour later.  And then about 2030 (8:30) my friend Anna and I went to dinner in the 2nd arrondisement.

We had a delightful and delicious dinner and lingered talking until 2300 (11:00).  My phone was in my purse.  Yup – many of you who know me well might wonder – but I do put it away at times.  And when I went to use CityMapper to find the best bus home, I saw ALERTS from AP, BBC, Le Parisien, Figaro, Le Monde – and even two texts from friends in the states.  “Are you alive?”  That’s a shock to the system.  I scanned the alerts and called the waiter over – maybe I was not reading it right – 30 dead in Paris?  Truly I was the first person in the restaurant to know and this was at least an hour after it started.  And 45 minutes after my first text from the US.  The guys next to us started looking at their phones too.  Friends told them to stay away – they live in that area.  The guys told us not to take the metro – someone thought a terrorist might have used it to get away.

OK then.  What do you do?  We figured we needed to get going as our options would be fewer and fewer as the night went on.  Outside, yes, taxis.  But none available.  Emergency vehicles and police cars screaming by.  I tried Uber but it came up with a window saying the Uber service was disrupted.

I am usually a great strategic thinker.  Creating multiple ‘what if’ scenarios in my mind. Multi-tasking.  Not then.  I couldn’t process.  A mild form of shock, I concluded later.  I could think about Uber.  Then stop.  Think about bus.  Then stop.  Think about Metro – stop.  And cycled back to Uber.  So I took the phone out and this time I tried to click past the warning message.  I got to the map screen!  Success.  Except.  Those of you who use Uber know that the map screen shows you all the Uber cars in the area.  Usually the screen is full of tiny cars.  Not tonight.  One single car.  And 12 minutes away.  I clicked Request and prayed.  Well, I would have prayed if I could have processed the two thoughts at the same time.

He accepted.  So we waited on the corner, me counting out the minutes to Anna – 11, 10, 8, 7… both of us were praying at that point that he didn’t change his mind.  Our options were played out.   And then there he was, our white knight on a white charger – or a blue Renault.

Anna had her own shocky moment when she had trouble spelling the name of her street.  We were taking her home first and then me back to my place – 6 miles away. (walking wouldn’t have been an option.  I can do the distance, but not on a night like that after midnight).  She’s more fluent in French than me – he told her that he was just about on his way home when my request came through.  And he didn’t want to leave me stranded.  See – white knight!  And an Arabic knight.  Maybe Muslim.  This isn’t about religion – it’s about power and politics and evil people.

Home, I turned to BBC and two French news channel to find out exactly what was happening.  And it turns out our theatre was probably less than a mile from the Bataclan theatre where the shooting started about an hour after we left the area.  We had dinner about 1.5 miles away.  My house is about 6 miles away.

2015-11-14 22.13.22I stayed in today – tired with only 4 hours of sleep and had no desire to go on the metro and I wasn’t sure what was open anyway.  Government offices and facilities (except for weddings) were all closed.  Disneyland is closed until at least Wednesday.  The Eiffel Tower is closed and dark.  No lights shining tonight and for a while.  Many stores are closed – owners’ decision.  I did run out to the boulangerie about 10.  Yes. Open.

Anna and I had dinner together using FaceTime.  It’s a time when it’s good to connect with friends and family.  Thanks to all friends who contacted me on Facebook or text or email.  Facebook has a new feature – when I opened the app, FB immediately said – you appear to be in the area of the Paris Attacks.  Do you want to check in and tell your friends you are safe?  I said yes and it was done.  What a great public service!  And friends in Paris kept in touch – text or calls or video.  I felt the concern and support and I appreciated it.

But as I was thinking about actually getting together in person with friends and thought about having coffee or dinner… I remembered, while the majority of those killed were at the theatre, the others were relaxing on a Friday night with friends over dinner in their local cafes. This is not limited to the big venues. They are trying to make all parts of your life feel unsafe. I don’t have the pulse of Paris on this. I expect the Parisien spirit will be like Je Suis Charlie. But right now any demonstrations are forbidden. The authorities have more work to investigate.

The reality of all this struck me later in the day when I was talking to an American friend who has lived in Paris for years.  She told me that a friend of her son’s was killed in the Cambodian restaurant.  

People ask me when I am coming back.  Not until I have to, in December.  While I don’t understand the infrastructure and am not totally fluent in the language (although I did get all of Hollande’s speech today), I have been buoyed by my French and expat friends.

I still love Paris.

Tour People

Any tour is a roll of the dice for your tour mates.  This one was no different.  Only 13 but two of them were bizarre.  Some of the rest of us rated them 13 on the bizarro scale of 1 to 10.  Drama Drama Drama.  I should have nicknamed them Shakespeare and Bacon.  Or Tennessee and Arthur.

They came as friends.  Mid way they moved to separate rooms.  Didn’t go on any/many of the tours.  Sometimes not even on the day bus trips.  Why would you spend all that money – for tour and flight – and not participate?  One claimed physical problems as she leaned on her cane. But she was spotted in the factory stores (not the tour part, the store part) making her way quickly through the merchandise, cane under her arm.  What the…

They also took no responsibility for their tardiness.  Instead they attacked the tour director for reprimanding them in public when he simply said, “we have to leave on time.  I will have to leave her here.”And the friend answered, “do what you need to do.”  Talk about throwing your friend under the bus!  She did go find her at that point.  Probably because all of us and Paddy were looking at her with our mouths dropped open.

And then they made up and shared the last room and had breakfast and dinner together and toured Dublin as a couple (not to imply anything like that…).  I think they bonded again over their hatred of the tour director.  Misplaced.

No worries.  I am done with them.  Bless them.  And me.

The Enchanted Tour Details

CIE tour company is great. I heartily recommend them. It’s a huge operation with many many tours to choose from

My tour took me around most of the country- missed only the top and Giants Causeway and the mid center.  The tour bus holds 48; our tour was 13!  We were the last of that particular tour for the year.  And November is iffy for weather.  Yet this was The Enchanted Journey!

What follows is a quick summary of the journey.  Skip if too travelogue-y for you. But you will miss great photos.

October 31 arrival. The tour uses very nice hotels but they are located a distance from city center. On my own I would stay downtown. But who wants to pack twice?  Not me.  I cabbed it to the national archeological museum giving me from 4-5 to visit. Then wander the streets and end up at HRC for my pin.

Next day Sunday the tour officially commenced.  On a bus for 48, truly with the luck of the Irish- only 13 people!  A bus tour around Dublin to give us the highlights. No need for the hop on hop off bus.  One stop was Glasnevin cemetery.  Odd.

Monday an early departure up to the Ulster American Folk Park.  Thomas Mellon of Mellon bank fame was born in this area and relatives donated money to create this park. You could see what life was like for the Irish and where he actually lived.  And they created the America that he emigrated to.  From the reproduction of the Irish socks, to the ship that carried you over and the welcoming American docks.   It was a bit like Disneyland…  Then reproductions of a variety of American houses that the immigrants lived in. So it was a display of two worlds and interesting to both Americans and Irish.

IMG_3830On to Donegal.  The country side became sparser. Clearly hard to sustain agriculture. We also crossed the border into and then out of Northern Ireland. Except there was no border.  All the border crossings are gone.  All the towers and military bases gone. The Troubles over.  I must read about that peace process.  I found it interesting that our tour director always used the phrases:  North of the country and South of the country.  I am not sure why.  He didn’t want to separate them? It is too touchy a political topic?

Donegal is a small town. Heck. See my early blog- they are all small towns!  We visited the castle. I wrote an earlier blog on the Muddle Ages.  I really meant Middle Ages.  In Ireland. What I have figured out is that Irish castles do not look like British or French Middle Age castles.  These are primarily square towers, usually crenelated.  They don’t hold as much fascination for me.  And there are the ruins of many Abbeys. The work of Cromwell who was British and strongly Protestant.

Two nights in Donegal- that’s the beauty of this particular tour- two nights in three cities.  Not as much packing!

Tuesday – a drive up to Sleave League. 2015-11-03 10.20.30 2015-11-03 10.28.08 An awesome sight that would have spectacularly awesome if it had been clearer.  Our weather held- no rain- but low clouds obscured the view of the tops of the cliff. We took a mini bus to the top and had a local guide who showed us the EIRE marked in white stones.  IMG_3714This was used by US and Canadian pilots crossing the Atlantic.   In fact, this was a violation of the Geneva treaty- Ireland was neutral during the war.  But thank you, Eire!

The afternoon 2015-11-03 12.37.51included a demonstration of weaving at the Triona design Tweed company. If I ever buy tweed, it will be from them. The fabric is so lightweight and soft!  I limited my purchase to a cap as my head was cold (consequence of short haircut).

Wednesday we set off for Galway.  We stopped at a pottery factory – Beleek and again in the North of the country (Northern Ireland). image 2015-11-04 09.34.33I was surprised at how interesting these “factory” tours were turning out to be.  We saw the artisans making items for QVC – apparently QVC buys these limited editions for sale only on QVC.  The only item that interested me was the basket.  Only because the making was fascinating. But too fragile and too expensive. I stuck with the photos.

A short stop at Yeats grave.  Another gal and I confided that we both didn’t get poetry.

After Yeats we went on to the Museum of Country Life. A history of the land and the people and the famine.  There was little about medieval life.  A hard agricultural life to be sure.

Then into Galway to the best hotel: The Meyrick. I had a room that was 500 some sq feet. Yes I paced bit off.  Larger than my apartment in Paris. And a walk through the -again- small town (and third largest in Ireland).

2015-11-05 10.59.39 2015-11-05 11.48.17Thursday was a loop from Galway through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey, an 19th century castle.  Reminded me of Downton…  We drove through the Maam valley.  I could live there.  It was a beautiful and energetic place.  Back through a land of lakes to Galway.

An early morning start on Friday to Killarney. We went along the Wild Atlantic way.  But before we were really out in the country, we witnessed an accident.  I mentioned this in another blog post, but here it is again… A sedan in front of us going our direction swerved to the right (remember, we drove on the left), hit the fence and ditch, turned over and then spun around on the roof until is stopped facing us. image Fortunately, we were far enough away that Paddy was able to stop safely.  Before we could get out, we saw a hand reach out the driver’s side and slowly pull herself out.  A young woman emerged – and flexible enough that I don’t think she had immediate back problems.  An apple half eaten rolled across the highway.  She was an American from Michigan but living in Iceland here by herself on her second day.  And the car was totaled.  Other locals stopped so after Paddy called the Garda, we took off.  All the Americans puzzled that we could leave the scene…  But what was really strange was that the Garda called Paddy about 2 hours later: they couldn’t find the car!

The Wild Atlantic Way is a tourist drive that is spectacularly beautiful. The road led us to the Cliffs of Moher.  IMG_3894 IMG_3879The photos don’t do it justice – bad time of day for light.  But don’t miss it if you go.

And the last stop was the Flying Plane museum.  A reproduction of the Pan Am Clipper than landed in the bay.  With movies about the search for ways to make the flight affordable – meaning less gas.  The Brits came up with this idea.2015-11-06 16.17.14  And years later the US adopted it.2015-11-06 16.17.20
imageIt’s also the birthplace of the Irish Coffee.  No, for you San Franciscans, that was not the Buena Vista (BV) by the Bay.  Same guy.  He moved.  But he did create it in Ireland. (You pour the cream in over the back of a spoon.)  The plane too was more interesting than I expected.  Wow was flight different back then!

Saturday was supposed to be a drive around the Ring of Kerry.  But the farmer with the sheep dog show was off to his daughter’s wedding.  (Really! Huh!)  So Paddy offered us an option of another sheep dog but on the Dingle Peninsula.  image imageWe took that.

And wow.  Everyone who had seen the Ring of Kerry thought Dingle more impressive. IMG_4055There were many photo stops and each one more glorious than the previous. 2015-11-07 10.42.25

The trip was nearing the end.  A drive back to Dublin through the rain.  Yup.  Rain.  Really the first day of any significant rain.  The weather on the trip was amazing.   Truly it was the Enchanted Journey.

Sunday brought us to the Blarney Castle.  Nope.  I didn’t.  Kiss it.  You have to climb the steps – which I could have done – I climb at least 3 floors every day.  But uneven stone.  And wet.  I wasn’t going to tempt fate.  Last thing I needed was to slip and fall.  And I figure I have a pretty good gift of gab already…

The final event was a great Irish meal – yes, corned beef and cabbage – and show with dance, song and comedy.  Out at the Abbey Pub quite a distance from Dublin.  But worth it.  Especially as Paddy drove.  To get us into the mood, he sang Molly Malone on the way.  After we applauded, he said he was so glad we enjoyed it.  And he added that he loved to sing with his eyes closed.  Hahahaha.

Monday I slept in.  It was a demanding trip.  By bus sure –  but somehow I walked 6-7 miles a day!  Yikes.  And up early for the bus every day.  So I lounged. Then a city bus to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.  Beautiful.  Some of you know I am a some-time-calligrapher.  So to see these intricate drawings and designs – wonderful. And followed by mundane shopping!  Found a blazer and walking shoes.  Score.  And I was able to pack it all in the suitcase for the early morning flight.

Home and all was well.

Yes. I am returning to Ireland!