Paris Journal 2006

Tuesday, August 22

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31 quai Voltaire – in the only block where we had to walk along the street as we meandered along the left bank on a Sunday, crossing from the west side of Paris to the east.  The roads along the Seine are closed to traffic on Sundays all year long.


Tents that were distributed by the Doctors of the World still do exist along the left bank of the Seine.  This encampment had several tents labeled “Hungary” and “Hongroie.”


Flowers in the lovely Square Tino Rossi, a park in the 5th arrondissment on the Seine, in front of the Arab Institute.


View from the left bank of the Paris city hall, where many interesting and important decisions are made about life in the City of Light.


View from the left bank of the sadly empty department store, La Samaritaine.  Notice the threatening sky!

Once again, no good deed shall go unpunished.  The 200 squatters in the gymnasium at Cachan (see the entry for August 20) are still in the gymnasium because the prefect has not found suitable lodgings for them yet.  The socialist mayor of Cachan had expected lodgings to have been found by now, and he is really irritated that the prefect hasn’t accomplished this yet.  Conditions in the gym are not good because it is way too small for 200 people.  By being so kind-hearted and offering the gymnasium, it seems the mayor of Cachan has allowed the prefect to drag his feet.  A solution must be found, and soon.  The mayor of Cachan has asked the squatters to leave within two days.


The prefect still wants to put the people up in hotels.  One problem with this plan is that, for example, one of the hotels is out by the airport at Orly, and the only store nearby is one in the airport that only sells sandwiches at 10 euros each.  As one mother explained it, “We would starve there!”  So, the only positive step that the prefect has made in the past couple days is that now he is offering to have meals delivered to the families who are put up in the hotels.


The non-profit associations that are supposedly “helping” the squatters are still pushing for proper lodgings for all, which means NOT hotels and NOT boarding houses.  These are poor, working families, after all, who cannot afford to eat in restaurants and who have children who must be able to eat properly.  Kitchens are necessary.


The tents distributed by the Doctors of the World to the homeless in Paris are slowly disappearing.  In some areas, such as the 6th, 7th, and 12th arrondissements, nobody has any idea what has become of the tents and their occupants.  The Doctors of the World have started taking a census, arrondissement by arrondissement, to try to determine where these homeless have gone.  Hopefully, they have been given proper lodgings.


On Sunday, we walked along the left bank all the way to the Jardin des Plantes and the Gare d’Austerlitz.  We timed our walk perfectly, because we stopped for refreshments around 5:30PM at one of those cafés located on a boat on the river, right next to Notre Dame.  The skies darkened and a real downpour started.  We were safe under the canvas roof of the floating café, but the servers had to hustle to adjust all the awnings so that the customers seated along the edges would not get soaked.


We went on after the storm, and thoroughly enjoyed the Jardin des Plantes, even though it was at the end of a very, very long walk.  We took the métro back home.  Austerlitz is the beginning of the line, so when we got into the last car of the train, I thought it would be a peaceful beginning of a long subway ride home.


But from behind me I could hear a loud voice, a mendicant telling his tale of woe.  He spoke very clearly, in what sounded like very good, educated French.  Beginning by apologizing for disturbing us all, he addressed those of us in the subway car as “messieurs et mesdames, et mon seigneur.”  Who was he calling “my lord,” I wondered?  I looked around the car and decided that he had to be addressing Tom as “my lord,” because Tom was the only person of the right gender and age for that title.  Tom realized the same thing, at the same time.  It was then that he decided he was indeed going to give this mendicant some money.


The mendicant had had an operation on his head, he said, and was unable since then to find work that he could do.  Since his operation, he lost his lodging and is now living on the streets of Paris.  He was as neatly dressed as he could manage to be.  Tom gave him some euros, and the mendicant then told Tom a few more things about himself.  As he passed by, I noticed that the top of his head was indeed a bit too flat, and a little out of proportion with the rest of his skull.  Two young girls with large backpacks gave him a full bag of gourmet chips.  I don’t think anyone else gave him anything, and he exited the train at the next stop.


That evening, we had Indian food for the first time this summer at Banani, on the rue de la Croix Nivert, in our neighborhood.  The service was as nice as it can be, and the food was good.  My longing for Korma has been fulfilled.


Last night J and M escaped the luxurious Hotel Meurice by taxi and joined us for drinks at the apartment.  Then we went to Le Tipaza for a nice North African meal in elegant surroundings. 


Today we are working, and doing laundry.  How dull.  But tomorrow we will assemble six of us South Floridians, including J and M and Kim and Ed, for a dinner at Oh Duo!  Madame and Monsieur Valero are back from vacation, thank heavens.


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