Settling

30 Aug

Qantas was as good as its word yesterday evening and my luggage arrived essentially intact.  I say ‘essentially’ because there was a small bend in a mudguard mounting which forced the guard onto the tyre and prevented it from turning.  My son-in-law and I were able to bend the mounting back and the wheel now turns freely.  I will head off for a test ride later today, as part of the whole process of settling down and finding my feet again at home.

I am finding myself quite tired after my flight.  I got very little sleep on the plane, and that combined with the change of time zone has left me somewhat run down and with little energy.  I’m sure that I will feel better each day as time goes on, and I will be ready for work on Monday.

I promised a photo, and I can deliver.  This was yesterday afternoon, wearing some new clothes I picked up in Paris.

Home

30 Aug

Paul Keating is a former Prime Minister of Australia.  Commenting on Australia’s role in world affairs and our influence that is often far above what our population and our geographical isolation would suggest, he once famously said that Australia is at “the arse-end of the world.”  Having just spent over 25 hours getting here from Paris, I must admit that he is quite correct!

It is a long way to Australia from Europe, but the boredom and the confinement on board the plane were worth it for the sake of getting home.  It is just nice to be back here.  There are so many little luxuries that are so comforting in their familiarity and their ordinariness that I can feel myself relaxing and becoming more at ease within my environment than I have been throughout the last four months.  It is good to be home.

It will feel even better when my luggage and my trike are at home as well.

As I was getting ready to disembark in Sydney the crew made an announcement asking several passengers, myself included, to contact the Qantas staff at the end of the aerobridge.  My hunch that this was the first hint that my panniers and the trike had not made the connection from the Paris to London flight to the London to Sydney flight proved correct.  There is one Qantas flight a day from London to Sydney, so hopefully my luggage arrived in Sydney this morning, and Qantas have been able to have it cleared through customs and are in the process of transporting it to my home in Canberra.  I hope to have it in my hands by late today.  In the meantime, I have to admit that being 25,000 kilometres away from the trike after four months of being within sight of it feels somewhat bizarre!

I have promised a photo of myself before I finish the blog, and that will be organised later today and will probably be uploaded tomorrow.  Before that, I have a grandson to visit.

Day 112

26 Aug

Today is my last full day in Europe, and I can scarcely believe it.  I have rested a fair bit, ridden from the middle of Paris to Orly and settled into my last hotel for the trip.

I’m at the Hilton, where the room is quite a reasonable price but everything else is super costly.  Every other place I have stayed offered free a wifi connection to the internet.  Here it is 10 euro for 24 hours.  Breakfast is 24 euro.  It’s not a problem, just noticeable.  The service is good, though.  They were a little nonplussed when I rode up, but then came through.  It took three chaps to bring my luggage on a trolley and the trike to my room.  They thought it wouldn’t fit in the lift, but when I stepped into it, there was heaps of room.  I’ll look after it myself when I leave tomorrow.

I plan a nice dinner tonight, a good sleep and a peaceful day tomorrow and get myself checked in with plenty of time to spare.  My packing specifically for the flight is quite well organised, and there is really nothing left to do by fly home.  It’s been a wonderful time, and now I’ll enjoy the satisfaction of what I’ve done.

There is about a kilometre left to travel to the airport terminal.  I have ridden 4,152km, and that has taken 224 hours, 38 minutes and 27 seconds, at an average speed of 18.5kph.  In that distance I have climbed 32,261 metres.  I am satisfied with that set of numbers.

France

25 Aug

My time in Europe is rapidly coming to an end.  I went walking and sight-seeing today and reflected at times on what my French experience has been.  I’m aware that when I left Italy I tried to sum up my impressions of the country in a couple of posts back then, and I was thinking that it would be good to try to do the same as I prepare to leave France.

I found that a challenging assignment to set for myself.

France feels less alien than Italy did.  Perhaps that is because the culture shock of the transition from home to Italy had started to ease by the time I left Italy and there was less of a culture shock in the transition to France, or perhaps the longer time I have spent in France has left me more comfortable with being here.  Nevertheless, it is still difficult to find ways to gather up what my time here has been and put it into words.  There is something enigmatic about France for me.

I walked a long way today, from Rue Labat in the 18th arrondisement, past the Moulin Rouge, through Parc Monceau, down to Place Charles de Gaulle, down the Champs Elysee to the Petit Palais, across Pont Neuf, and through the Rive Gauche.  Let me share two photos I took along the way and try to use them to give a sense of how I see France.

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The bleu blanc rouge had been hoisted within the Arc de Triomphe when I arrived there today.  It flew proudly in the breeze, reflecting the strong sense of self that I have encountered within France.  There is something formal and idealised and profoundly aware of its uniqueness within that sense of self.  I believe that the accusation of arrogance that is sometimes levelled at the French is unfair.  It is not necessarily arrogant to know yourself and to be aware of what sets you apart from the rest of the world.  Rather it is more a healthy kind of self-knowledge and self-assurance.  While I have seen that in many of the French people I have met, it has been balanced with an interest and a desire to know about the rest of the world, which has shown itself in the way that people have been interested in me and what I am doing here in Europe.

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At the other end of the Champs Elysee I went to the Petit Palais, where the Paris Museum of Fine Art is housed.  I was very taken with this portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey by Charles Durand, painted in May 1876.  Mademoiselle de Lancey was 25 at the time, and she is shown here reclining comfortably on a chaise, elegantly dressed in a low cut satin gown, her ankles exposed, her eyes bright, and a coquettish smile across her face.  She hints, or perhaps it is more than hinting, at the sensuousness of which she seems capable, and yet she is still quite proper and refined.  She almost represents another side of France, alluring, attractive, yet unattainable, not yet ready to reveal all of her secrets to this traveller, but prepared to suggest that they are there.

My time in Europe has coincided with the first 100 days of the Presidency of Francois Hollande in France.  I heard on the BBC World News at one point about a policy he is introducing to increase the taxes on foreigners (many of whom are English, apparently) who buy or own real estate in France and who reside part time here.  I think I can begin to understand both elements of that situation.  I can understand why France would be attractive to a foreigner as a place to come and live, even if it is only for part of the time.  I can also understand why the French Government and the French people would see that these property owners are a legitimate group to tax in order to support the needs of the Republic of France.  It is Mademoiselle de Lancey and the bleu blanc rouge flying in the Arc de Triomphe.  The enigma of the formality and the attraction.

Would I buy here, and live here?  Could the enigma take on a personal dimension?  Oh, now what a question that is!

Paris Icons

24 Aug

When Paris is mentioned, there are any number of iconic sites that come to mind.  I set out to visit or view a number of them today.

The first has to be the Eiffel Tower.  Ten points to anyone who can tell me what I had to do to get this photo of the Tower!

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Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cite.

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The Pompidou Centre – sometimes known as the building with all its insides on the outside!

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Place de la Bastille – where the memorial in the centre of the square commemorates not the destruction of the royal prison in 1789, but another event years later in 1830!

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My sister commented on the video of my ride down the Champs Elysee by noting the work that goes into the cobblestone paving.  I came across some of the work of laying cobblestones today, so here is some paving in progress near the Place de la Bastille.

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Paris is a city of art, so sculptures like this across the city are a real joy as well.

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Perhaps it’s fair to say that just a street scene like this is iconic Paris, though it is noticeable that the cars in the foreground are plugged in and charging!  The street is Rue Monge.

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Perhaps a final Paris icon should be the Paris Metro, though this is with a nice little twist.  Unlike most Australian suburban rail systems which use overhead wires to supply electricity to the trains, the Metro uses a live third rail.  It means that they avoid the ugliness of overhead wiring, but the rail corridor has to be completely isolated to ensure that electrocution is not a risk for anyone.  My nearest Metro line is Line 4, which has added another two rails to the system, these being concrete to accommodate trains which run on rubber tyres.  Here is a shot of the steel, concrete and live lines  on the line closest to the platform, and a rubber-tyred train standing at the opposite platform.  It makes for an interesting and comfortable ride.  I didn’t get a better shot because I didn’t have time.  The trains run at three minute intervals all day long, so my train was about to arrive.

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It was quite a fun day.

Montmartre

23 Aug

I walked up the Montmartre hill today to visit a couple of places up there.  What an interesting time it was.

One part of that was running the gauntlet of various touts wanting to draw my portrait and a range of other folk wanting to pick my pocket while distracting me with a fake petition of some sort.  All of them were relatively easily dealt with a combination of walking quickly, not understanding and being quietly grumpy.  I’ve become quite accomplished at this since I came to Europe, since every substantial centre I have visited has had its share of beggars sitting in the street.  I have also become more and more appreciative of the Australian social security system which ensures that people do not need to resort to such measures.

The first place I went to was the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.  I had not realised that it is such a recent construction.  It was built in the late 19th century as a national response to the war with Germany in 1870, and reflects the religious element of that response.  It serves as a kind of ‘national chapel’, where the French Catholic faith as almost a state religion is focussed.  I suppose this is consistent with the blurring of the separation of Church and State that I was so conscious of around the national holiday for the Feast of the Assumption on 15 August, when I was at Lisieux.  There is a synergy there as well, because there was some publicity at Sacre Coeur about a celebration of the 125th anniversary of a visit by St Therese of Lisieux to Sacre Coeur later this year.

Taking photos is forbidden inside the Basilica, but I rather like this shot from the outside, showing the white stone and some of the domes.

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From Sacre Coeur I went on to visit  Espace Dali.  This is a permanent exhibition of over 300 of Salvador Dali’s works, with some excellent commentaries on the pieces and what they mean.  There are paintings, sculptures, glass objects and water colours by Dali, all in the surrealist mode of which he was such a master.  Many things caught my eye;  a wonderful water colour Madonna and Child from his illustrations of the New Testament, a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland, the telephone with a lobster handpiece.  These two photos were particularly attention grabbing.

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The fluid clock draped over a branch speaks of the fluidity of time in human experience and the futility of trying to measure our experience of time when we experience it as dragging by in some circumstances and as flying by in other circumstances.  I also like having Dali’s face in the background.

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The re-working of the statue of Venus with the fluid clock across the neck, the displaced hips, the egg and the ants crawling across the body speaks of the inner fecundity of the Venus figure, but also the fluidity of time, the sense of time running out and the decay in life that leads to its end and the decay of the body itself.

Fabulous.

Cycle Tour

22 Aug

A friend who was in Paris a couple of years ago recommended that I sign up for a tour of the city run by a company called “Fat Tire Bike Tours.”  (Don’t get me started on why Americans can’t spell “tyre” – that idiot Webster has a lot to answer for!)  Anyway, I took the recommendation, and spent bit over four hours on a tour today.  It was fun.  Their website is at http://fattirebiketours.com/paris and I am happy to recommend them to anyone else who comes to Paris in the future.

The day started with riding to the Eiffel Tower to join the tour group.  As with coming into town on Monday, it was good fun to ride in Paris traffic, and I got lots of positive feedback.  At one point a taxi pulled up alongside me to that the passengers could take photos.  There were points where the taxi was slower through Paris than me, which was quite a buzz.  I didn’t have all my luggage on board, and it was great to feel how rapidly the trike accelerates without the extra weight, and how strong my legs have become over the course of the trip.  I just flew along the roads, and I’m keen to ride in Canberra again and compare how it feels now to how it felt before I left.

The tour guide was a very chatty young woman from Bowral, of all places.  (For any readers who are unfamiliar with Australia, Bowral is about 150km from where I live in Canberra!)  She talked about the places and the historical events in a very matter-of-fact and informal way, and either knew the history very well, or had learned a script quite thoroughly.  Either way, she presented the city to us very well.  The tour included a lunch stop in the Tuileries Gardens, and wound up passing the Eiffel Tower again near the end, where this photo was taken.

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My day finished with another home-cooked meal, which got me thinking about home again.  Actually it started with using a fairly blunt knife in the kitchen, and thinking about how dangerous blunt knives are and how good it will be to use a properly sharp knife in my own kitchen again.  That started me thinking about what I’m looking forward to.  Seeing my children and my grandson again topped the list, obviously, but then there were lots of little things; having room to move properly in my shower, television programs in English, riding on the proper side of the road, having the sun set before 10pm, even going back to work, sleeping in my own bed with a pillow that is the right shape and size and hardness, using a nice big fluffy towel.  Today is day 108, and in five days time I will be aboard an aircraft flying home, and in less than seven days I will be there.  In Gough’s immortal words, “It’s time.”

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