Paris Protocols

6 05 2017

On the eve of the French elections, I ponder my own fate.

Paris seems like a distant memory. We spent a week in the City of Light for my 44th birthday. It was everything one could hope for — history, food, culture and, of course, love. The weather was mild with cool air and clear skies. At night I went to sleep inside an apartment with an Eiffel Tower view. What more could anyone ask for?

Well, there was a slight distraction as the American Presidential campaign drew to a conclusion. And the vendor operating a tram into the Versailles Gardens would only take cash. Other than that, our glass was more than half full.

Paris will be cherished. I am determined.

Six months after our visit, I am still seeking to publish this adventure. Our apartment company has a nice collection of units sprinkled throughout Paris. In October we stayed on the Left Bank, strolling every morning through the Parc du Champ de Mars with Gustave’s towering Eiffel serving as our guide. This was David’s first visit to Paris and I was glad to be there as his faithful partner.

Our breakfast at Les Deux Magots was a dream come true. We successfully negotiated a table outside in the sun. I bought a New York Times from the newsstand on the corner and as we munched on buttery crossiants and jambone church bells rang out from the nearby cathedral. David — using his fancy technology — would discover culinary jewels later, but on this morning, I let history be my guide and risked getting a touristy result.

It is interesting to see now how some describe the cafe. Wikipedia, for example, refers to Les Deux Magots as a famous cafe that had a reputation as a rendezvous for literary genius and intellectual elites. Now, the free encyclopedia reads, Les Deux Magots is simply a “popular tourist destination.”

When something becomes too well liked does that mean it loses its edge? Les Deux Magots, despite its gorgeous surroundings — and believe me there were gorgeous patrons on the morning we arrived — is no longer avant guarde? Surely, you jest.

The French elect their next President this weekend. I hope to return to see the Republic unite around a new leader. France is a world power. At one time, it’s flag flew over Louisiana, Florida and much of the Caribbean. Like many great nations, it took an uprising by the people to force a new plan of action. In Versailles, we witnessed the opulence of Louis XIV first hand. The Sun King he is known as. Indifferent to the suffering of the people, so the story goes. Eventually the people would rise up. His palace now a museum to obsence wealth.

As a write, I wonder what the future has in store. A restless man in his mid-forties looks at the world in many ways. Having reached understanding in some of life’s fundamental truths, I still seek to make a positive difference for humanity. There is an apartment in Paris that holds the key.

Perfect

 

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Chocolate Surprise

9 05 2015

My conversion with the Cardinal reached many levels. It was a moment in time.

We spoke of the Church and its role throughout history, a dark role, particularly when it came to priests who had abused — in some cases, sexually – young alter boys. I found this part of the Church disgusting. The Cardinal acknowledged a medevial element to the Church and its archaic ways of only men serving in the priesthood and the elaborate outfits they wore and the fact the could not marry or have sex.

We also talked about AIDS and the disease that was taking a horrible toll in Africa and globally. He was working on a film project, a preview of which was presented following the mass we attended in Mayfair. In the film, many Church patrons and clergy speak of AIDS and tell their story of living with the disease. In Africa, sadly, there are many stories.

Some even produce tears.

I left the Cardinal’s flat and returned to the Underground, Oyster Card in hand and minding the gap. On the train back to Victoria station, a young man wearing a American Navy jacket sat across from me. He was younger than I and smaller. On his brown leather jacket was a patch identifying his fleet assignment. I wrote the number down and did the research. They were docked in southern Italy.

We parted ways at the Victoria station. I power walked down the Strand in order to meet JB at King’s College for our scheduled appointment. His office has an incredible view of London with an impressive collection of books and a detailed map of Europe that was distracting to say the least. We walked down to the ice skating rink and discussed Paris. It was cold but the spirit of the holidays made for a cheerful spirit, not to mention we were close to the theatre district.

058

On a previous visit, JB and I had enjoyed the musical Avenue Q, puppets and all. There was no budget for such a luxury this time around. I was reminded just how poor I was when we entered the Burberry store and none of the sales staff would look my way. Eventually, I was able to engage a young lady about the cost of a signature Burberry scarf. She quoted something absurd in pounds which prompted JB and I to depart rather quickly, JB with a subtle shot as we left.

“That’s half the cost of your airfare, John,” he grinned.

We joined Chris and David for drinks that night at the local cocktail bar in Bloomsbury. I explained to Chris the fascinating party I had attended in Paris as the guest of a Moroccan man. There were thousands of men inside the building and I had been privileged to a small sampling of how arabian men enjoy the nightlife. I was guarded with the details as this had been an entirely new experience for me and I was still unsure of what it all meant. I was, however, grateful for the hospitality Chris, David and JB had shown me during my visit to London.

In the morning, I would hop on an American flight back to Miami. First purchasing a gift for Mom at the Harrod’s in Heathrow. I had it wrapped by a local charity in purple colored paper and bows. In Miami, Homeland Security asked what the box contained.

“Truffles,” I said.

“What are those?,” he asked.

“Chocolates,” I replied.

Yes, the holidays in Alabama this year would be much sweeter.228

 

 





Tea With The Cardinal

21 03 2015
All Aboard

All Aboard

My Hammam experience was far from thought on the train ride back to London. I was preparing for my next important interview — with an Irish Catholic Cardinal. I met the Cardinal a week earlier during a World AIDS Day mass in London’s Mayfair District. I approached him after mass during an informal coffee and conversation session inside the fellowship hall of the Church of the Immaculate Conception Farm Street. I gave him my card and disclosed my Catholic hertiage and interest in the Church. Much to my surprise, he responded a few days later, via e-mail, requesting I visit with him at his home in southwest London.

I left Paris before the break of dawn. The Euro Star is worth every penny. It is fast and connects people swiftly under the English Channel on a daily basis. This particular car was full. The man sitting next to me was a French businessman who shared his copy of “The Spectator” Magazine. I found the content, while obviously conservative, quite interesting. He asked about America, I said the country appeared headed for a re-run of the 1992 election. I asked about France, specifically the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Ms. Le Pen was quite the talk back at the Paris hostel where I had camped out for the weekend. Many of the young ladies I polled in the kitchen one evening during dinner had rejected the notion that Ms. Le Pen was a feminist. I found this fasnicating as I did most of the Parisan culture.

The French businessman dismissed any assertion that Ms. Le Pen was not a woman. He seemed only interested in my thoughts on Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. I said an election between the two would be costly. After that we said nothing more on that subject. Once we arrived in London, he made a quick dash for the door, saying he was late for a business meeting. I was in no hurry, my appointment with the Cardinal was later in the afternoon, so I hung around the train station and took a few pictures. Much like Gare du Nord, London’s St. Pancras station is fascinatingly put together with a mix of modern conveniences built into old world architecture.

The Cardinal lived south of the River Thames. I got off the tube in Stockwell, directions in hand, and proceeded past an Irish corner pub and into a section of government housing projects. Once I arrived at the apartment, I noticed a sign on the front of the door which declared, “Sonny Does Not Live Here. Nor JD nor Taylor. Wrong Door!! No Sex No Drugs.” I found this quite interesting even though I was after neither, instead seeking simple counsel. Back in the south of Florida, I had begun writing about AIDS. The subject was challenging and broadened my journalistic abilities. It has traditionally been written about in the American media as a horror story and yet I was discovering more and more remarkable tales of bravery.

Cardinal Warning

Cardinal Warning

I was hoping the Cardinal could give me the United Kingdom’s perspective. I knocked on the door and Vincent invited me in.

“Come in, John, I’ve been expecting you,” he said. “The kettle is on.”

His apartment was full of books. It was small, humble and somewhat disheveled. I was there for almost three hours. Talking, sharing life stories. It was amazing. During our visit, a man and his apprentice came to check on the water line. Vincent was the building superintendent and the men needed direction. I said hello but nothing more. Once they left, I began my probe.

The Church, Disease, Power, Charity and, most important of all … Surrender.

 





Le Hammam

8 02 2015
La Marais

La Marais

As I left the Paris Hammam there was one young man who drew my attention. He was of dark skin. Black. There was no doubt in my mind he was of African descent. He reminded me of my co-worker from the Grand Canyon…Mamadiou.

I did not speak to this young man as I dressed and gathered my belongings from the locker. He muttered something and I glanced over my left shoulder, but said nothing as I turned. It was at this time that I noticed a young build attached to a head with patches of gray hair coming in. This was not Mamadiou.

The Hammam had been an experience like none other. There were countless attractive, well built men, most in the prime of their lives. No one spoke, but everyone judged.

This was my last night in Paris before catching the Euro Star back to London.

The Hammam was not open 24 hours and they refused my American debit card, but the sympatheic front desk clerk directed me to the bank across Sebastionpol. There, he said, I would be able to withdraw cash, Euros of course. I diligently proceeded across le rue, to get cash, feeling slightly shameful as the guys in the que behind me chuckled at my confusion. What happened next was, dare I say, one of those moments.

As I withdrew my money from the French bank, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned around to find a teenage boy crouching behind a column in the lobby of the bank. I Immediately turned back to the ATM, completed my transaction — swiftly I might add — and took the cash and left. I let the boy, and his friend (another teenager) know in no uncertain terms what they were doing was suspect.

On the street, I approached the nearest men outside of the bank, strangers, but I felt compelled to let them know of the boys’ mischief in the bank.

“Those are Roma,” said one of the men. We know them as gypises. “They try to trick you,” the man said.

He then told me this was quite common in Paris. His friend, a Frenchman, agreed with laughter no less. I told both men if the Roma boys were intent on robbing me they would be greeted with a quick and forceful kick. I then demonstrated this kick to the men. The fat Frenchman found this to be especially funny. Much to my dismay, the other one asked for money. At this request I realized they were street people.

I scoffed and marched back across Sebastionpol to the Hammam, peeking inside the bank to see the Roma boys still hiding behind that column in the lobby. I paid the front desk clerk 15 euros and he gave me a small towel and locker number. I needed to relax after what just transpired. Had I been robbed, I would have been embarrassed, disgraced and humiliated. Unfortunately, there were just too many people at this Hammam to properly relax.

Adonis like figures waited for open spaces in the tubs and sauna. The sauna was especially cavernous. I worried of getting lost and unable to get out before shrinking down to nothing amid the steam. My confidence and self esteem were at all time lows inside this Paris Hammam. The feeling of guilt again sweeping into my psyche.

I walked all the way back to the hostel that night on the cold streets of Paris. My research into the strange subculture of Parisan men complete.