Sunday, March 08, 2020

Paris 1

My first trip to Paris was a solo venture. Everyone was amazed I went by myself. I felt that if worse came to worse I would land on the steps of the American Embassy and make my way back home. As it turned out, travel in Europe was remarkably easy.
I booked a room in a low budget hotel in what I would later learn, was considered a pretty bad neighborhood. But coming from Englewood, in Chicago . . . bad is relative. I always travel either in spring or very early fall, to avoid the crowds, but still enjoy good weather. I remember walking out into the bright sunlight of the morning and exploring on my own. Paris is a city of pale limestone. There was a crashed motorbike abandoned at a tiny bridge like crosswalk. On up just a piece was a boulangerie, where I would buy my morning croissant. Just a few paces on up the way and I was in the heart of a Sri Lankan/Indian district. This was ironic as one of my favorite places in Chicago is our large India Town. I had stopped there on the way to the Airport and had lunch with my sons.
One of the most surreal experiences I had was walking in the early evening down the main drag with the shops and restaurants. In the middle of this block full of Sri Lankan restaurants and shops was a bar that seemed very out of place. It was the Hell's Angels of Paris biker club. To be honest this club would have seemed out fo place anywhere in Paris, but it particularly stuck out here. One evening their activities were in full swing. Members with their bikes were congregated outside. Engines revved as on the other side of the street Sri Lankans assembled taking it all in. Quite the scene, and not to be found in any Paris guidebook I am aware of.
I would take the train and travel to the various tourist drags. Much of Paris is lovely. Other parts are so normal and very much like any city in the world. Dollar stores, corner stores, etc. My French was from a tiny book at that time. and not very good at all, but the French appreciated the effort. On most of my trips as soon as I manage to spit out one mangled phrase of French, the person I am addressing says, "It's ok. You can speak English." But if I approach them blurting out English, I get quite the opposite response. I always try to start in French." Je suis désolé. Je parle un peu Fransais. Parlez vous Anglais? " More often than not, the response is positive.
One time I needed to buy some aspirin for a headache. I went to a pharmacy just off the Champs Elysee. I gave the pharmacist my standard opening line. He responded with a firm, "Non!" Undaunted and amused, I stood firm and said, "Votre anglais est supérieur à mon français." He relented and helped me, then gave me a French lesson. "Ah seet ah men o feen!" I smiled, took my acetaminophen, and said, "Merci!"

Sunday, March 01, 2020

The sun is shining. It is the first day of March. I am sitting in my living room with my feet propped up on an Indian pouf. My wet dog, freshly bathed is lying beside me. I look out my window and see my neighbor's disabled van, across the street. Ticketed. The ticket has been there for over a month, flapping from beneath the wiper. Its my neighbor, Fredo's way of rebelling against the system. His fight the man. He had the van parked in the back on the lot of one of the vacant row homes. It was ticketed there as well, so he moved it to the front, where it garnered even more tickets. He refuses to pay. In a city that makes use of the Denver boot, it will be interesting to see who wins.

He is a Mexican. His face is unusually long and angular. His front teeth are missing. He washes cars in front of his house in good weather and regularly makes threats to kill someone, dump their body in Lake Michigan and dissolve it with lye. I don't think anyone takes his threats, delivered with a grin, seriously. At the same time I would not want to cross him.

His mother is outside, either in front of the house, or out back, most mornings. She picks up garbage and sweeps. Her English is very broken and you are never quite sure if she actually understood you or not. She is a sweet, smiling woman who keeps her yards, front and back, in perfect order.

Lately I have been fixated with Freddie Mercury.

I'm not sure how I stumbled into this. I've got his song Who wants to live forever on repeat. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is the Coronavirus. I'm sure his being from India also plays a role. And maybe his magnificent, utterly unique talent. 

I just saw the movie Bohemina Rhapsody. It had rave reviews, but I was disappointed. The lead character was so fragile. Even in his stage appearances. When I watch old youTube videos I don't see that at all in Freddie. All I see is strength. He strided across the stage as if he not only owned it, but as if he built is and the framing was extracted from his loins and muscles. 

I can see him. His back to me. Wrapped in a cape. He throws it open and viola! A fully formed stage and venue pops out behind him. He turns and smiles, and grabs the mic as if it is all a matter of course. 

The music of Queen was so diverse, I did not even realize that many of the songs I have been familiar with for years were by them. What an amazing range and versatility! What a gift Freddie was to the world. 

Here comes the coronavirus. 

Coronavirus struck China first. The doctors that first spoke up were silenced. At least one of them ended up dying. Over 18 healthcare workers have also died. There are 3 cases in Illinois. We are relying on China for numbers. But how do we trust them.

I have never been like this before. This is not the first time that illness has struck. But this time is different. They are talking about quarantine. Staying home from work and everything else. I am personally worried because just the common cold knocks me on my butt. I struggle getting over it for weeks. I've never paid much attention to these, but I am this time. I went to the store and bought massive amounts of toilet paper, paper towels and dog food. I need to make another trip to the store today for meat, olive oil, pasta and onions. 

Meanwhile the madman in chief is telling everyone this is all about him. 3000 plus people have died just to make him look bad. WTF? How is this bizarre comedy playing out in real time? How can people be so willfully ignorant? 

They are treating this virus with gatorade. Yep, gatorade. Whatever did we do before its invention? I need to stock up.