Paris Journal 2004

Sunday, August 1, 2004

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Mural in the 15th

This is not a lovely street scene; rather, it is a lovely mural painted on what would otherwise be a rather ugly blank wall. It is in the 15th, near la rue de l'Eglise. The mural below is not far from there, either. The Heinekin billboard is real. The trees, fence, and fountain are not.

Wall mural in the 15th.

Violet chateau

After a nice evening stroll, we sat in one of our favorite neighborhood parks, Violet, and gazed across the park at the back of what used to be Mr. Violet's chateau. It is now the fire station.

St. Christophe doorway

A not-so-old but very interesting church near us is St. Christophe. Here, above its door, is carved "Look at Saint Christophe and be reassured." Below are is the lacy facade above the roof of the sanctuary.

Saint Christophe facade.

Le Figaro's weekend magazine is full of amazing stories. First, there is terrifying account of a cruise taken by 13 French vacationers in Turkey. The crew and captain were drunk all day every day, many of the cabins were not inhabitable so the passengers slept on deck, and when the tourists finally landed, they tried to make a report at the local authorities. The authorities wouldn't take their complaint, and the crew then beat up the passengers, causing broken ribs, hematomas, etc.

The Turkish ambassador in France had to intervene to get the authorities in Turkey to do something. Finally the captain and crew were arrested. Unbelievable. This is not going to help tourism in Turkey. And it isn't going to make the French feel better about Turkey entering the European Union.

Much closer to home was the article about the recent arrest of the German most wanted by Interpol. He has been hiding out, for five years, right in our neighborhood. Specifically, he has been living under an assumed name in a fourth floor apartment on the rue Dupleix, near the La Motte Piquet metro station.

His real name is Holger Pfahl. He was the chief of the German secret service. He is accused of diverting large amounts of government money, causing Helmet Kohl to lose his position as chancellor.

Detectives had been searching for him in all corners of the Earth -- in Taiwan, South Africa, Bali, Shanghai, you name it. He was protected by an obscure organization, an outgrowth of the German secret service.

"Nobody dared to think for a second that he hid himself two steps from the La Motte Piquet Grenelle metro station," writes Leopold Sanchez for this French weekend magazine.

The first person to suspect something was the florist (this is the florist I don't particularly like, because she is arrogant and not friendly). She noticed because the plain clothes police were keeping watch from the corner of her store for about a week. German intelligence officials had received a piece of information putting them on the trail to Paris. So they notified the French authorities.

How did he do it, hide himself so well, in these days of hunting down terrorists and constant checking of identity papers? He never put his name on his door or on his mailbox. He didn't own a car (this must have been tough for a guy known for the Porsches he used to drive -- all cars provided by the government, I think). He settled all his bills with cash. He did not correspond with anyone and didn't contact his wife or children the entire five years.

He hired a young student to do his shopping for him, and he did his own laundry in his apartment. But he didn't bother to change his appearance. Even when he was arrested, he was wearing the playboy Ray-Bans he used to wear when he was in Germany.

Finally, he made two small mistakes:

He sent a fax to an old acquaintence. To do this, he used the service of a newspaper/stationery shop on "la rue de Grenelle" (it was probably really the Blvd. de Grenelle, much closer to his apartment).

Secondly, he galantly assisted a young woman with her suitcase, carrying it to the entrance of the La Motte Picquet metro station. Was she really a cop, I wonder? At that time, he was approached by the police who asked him, "Are you Holger Pfahl?" He simply answered, "Yes, that's me."

According to Sanchez, the day after Pfahl's arrest, the German judges and politicians agreed that he is the only man capable of answering the question everyone asks: Had the republic of Chancellor Kohl been for sale? With the debacles of health insurance and retirement funds in crisis in Germany, this question will be of great interest to politicians.

And the article ends with:

"About the choice of Holger Pfahl to hide himself in Paris? His five years at La Motte Picquet show that one is better hidden there than in the mountains of Afghanistan."

A "motte," by the way, is a lump of earth. Hardly a mountain.

A close-up of the figure above the Saint Christophe church doorway.

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