WORLDROMPER

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller


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Normandy Beach

Tears never fail to meet my eyes when before this beach I stand,

Where turquoise and navy waters meet a soft, stone-strewn sand

The eyes see far and only grace,

But somehow beauty is not out of place

With tragedy its friend

For here, the turning of the war began.

Thousands of young met a bullet demise, a shrapnel surrender,

Waves are foam white today but then, they were red.

Like gleaming white crosses on immaculate green grass

Standing vigil for the fear unseen, 

The sadness with hope;

A light in the dark.

This beach once was the theatre of a dance, 

Not of art, but of blood.

They died for you, they died for me;

They died for the world and for the word: FREEDOM.

The young sacrificed their lives that I might have one, and a chance for greatness

And I thank them, my silent friends,

As silent as the wind they sing

“Remember”

With tears I crawl down

Into bombed-out German bunkers,

Reinforced concrete with holes as big as death

These dark rooms call out Enter, 

Feel the fear that was here.

Feel the fear and the life, and the death, of those here,

Who cried for their mothers, a woman, a beer,

They were young

They were scared

They became men for they had no choice,

And then they died,

Never tasting mother’s soup again.

They died on this beach, by the thousands,

RIGHT HERE

I will remember your sacrifice, and

I thank you with tears

What words cannot express.

***

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot, je recommence ma vie. Je suis né pour te connaître, pour te nommer: Liberté.  Paul Eluard


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L’Amour et La Loire

Laughing at French drivers we cruise

Eating pastries so cheap (hey it’s not Paris),

Rum cakes so strong I gasp

Strawberry tarts so fresh I sing for more

Soft eclairs stuffed with chocolate so rich

It could buy a chateau.

A fuzzy ball of meringue,

And a shiny rectangle of custard.

We drove along sharing this our lives, our pastries

In the Loire Valley

Passing soft pastures and peeps of castles,

Of mansions, of chateaux, of the future

I glimpsed it here,

A reflection along the slow-moving Loire,

Our hearts were open

Along forest grounds we walked with our royal dog,

Through thick trees and bushes of labyrinths,

Copious gardens of roses and a field of four donkeys (who loved a good scratching), into

Caves full of wine and a chateau full of time, of the past, of queens’ sighs

Open bedrooms of big white flowers

Their smell floats through gilded corridors

Past copper pots and boars heads,

Velvet walls and kings’ beds,

We walked, we floated, we drove, we lived

Here in the Valley of la Loire, we lived.

Twilight set in by a tiny chapel

The Renaissance Man is in

Reflected there, in the river, we lived…

…and then drove on.


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King Louis XIV in Paris: The Short Tale of a Long Dog

Cafe near the Centre Pompidou

Cafe near the Centre Pompidou

One by one the Parisians slowly come to a stop, pausing on their way to home to tiny apartments to watch as a slinky black wiener dog leans into the splashing fountain at Place Monge and rescues a floating leaf from the swirling jets of water. After a furious shake of the wide yellow leaf, he gently lays it down on the surrounding pavement and returns to the fountain’s ledge to save its brothers. Applause. The women smile, the children squeal in laughter, and the men chuckle to themselves. The citizens of Paris love King Louis XIV- not the illustrious Sun King, le Roi Soleil, who ascended the throne at age five, built the magnificent chateau Versailles, and ruled as France’s greatest king ever. No, this is le Chien Soleil, a powerfully cute miniature dachshund with silky black fur and soft tan markings, whose prancing spirit captivated the hearts of the French as no king ever could.

Louis at the Jardins des Plantes, before getting kicked out

Louis at the Jardins des Plantes, before getting kicked out

I knew the Parisians had a love affair with those of the canine persuasion from previous visits to the city where I had witnessed dogs of every shape and size dining tableside at sidewalk cafes and poking their heads out of designer handbags on the Metro. When I transplanted my life to Paris, however, I found that I had greatly underestimated the puissance of a small sausage-shaped dog to help me acculturate to life in the City of Lights. After a few short weeks King Louis XIV became something of a celebrity in my Left Bank neighborhood. Greek sandwich craftsmen would hand him long strips of gyro meat, and in return the King would gladly tidy up the shop floor of any stray frites. Restauranteurs handed him whole meatballs to gobble up, and my Turkish friend Vulcan would set out a heaping plate of raw steak meat every time I passed by his brother’s store. On a tight budget and a diet of fried eggs and tuna fish, I glared in envy at my wiener dog as he chowed down the chunks of grade-A beef, then once again drew applause as he ripped apart a paper table napkin in delight for dessert. I went home to my omelet, wistfully awaiting “meat Sunday”.

Cardboard Box & British Airways Blanket

Louis' Haute-Couture Bed: Cardboard Box & British Airways Blanket

King Louis XIV went everywhere I did, in converted duffle bag with netting at one end that I dubbed the “What dog?” bag. Paris was his playground. He stared wide-eyed at the crouching lions of the Museum of Evolution, he strutted and preened down the Champs-Elysees like a teenager on Friday night, he perched on a stool at the famous Café de Flore, charming patrons and waitstaff alike. Louis loved Paris and Paris loved Louis. True, I did get kicked out of several gardens and parks (I assumed the “No Dogs Even On A Leash” sign was just a suggestion)- but the guards who gently reprimanded me always had a soft look in their eyes and a “quel joli chien” on their tongues. Nothing could stop Louis from romping Paris and winning hearts at the same time, running circles in parks and fetching tennis balls out of the cold waters of the Seine from the Ile de la Cite. His most cherished pastime, however, remained the aforementioned leaf-rescue operation which he performed in almost every splashing fountain in Paris, from Saint-Sulpice to the Gardens of the Palais-Royal, and always to a group of smiling Parisians.

During the deadly heat wave, Summer 2003

During the deadly heat wave, Summer 2003

This image of happy, laughing Parisians may come as a shock to you if you have heard and bought the stereotype that Parisians are rude, cold-hearted snobs, but my experience with King Louis XIV proves that indeed they are actually TOO nice. They would fall over themselves to stop and chat about Louis, his age, his breeding prospects, the theatre, politics, the mirabelle plums at the market, and after a few months’ time I could hardly walk down my small street in less than an hour due to the many conversations that ensued each and every day. Michel de Montaigne, the famous French philosopher, exhorted his fellow humans to live like the dog, to “break the bone, and suck out the marrow of life”- to be passionate about every new day. This celebration of the enjoyment of life is on display all over Paris, from the abundance of lingerie shops to the national pastime of strolling to the three hour lunches of haute cuisine. In this way dogs and Parisians have much more in common than anyone might think, and just maybe we can all learn something from King Louis XIV and his beloved city, and take pleasure in the simple actions of life- to shake the leaf furiously, and go back for more.

THE END

THE END


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Rouen, France: An Ode to Joan of Arc

Here, in the Old Marketplace of Rouen, Le Vieux Marche;

Today living and thriving, full of flowers and fountains,

Children laughing, dogs barking, tables stacked with regional specialties (that’s pressed duck in blood sauce and sheep’s knuckles to you),

Just a few steps from the old pagan clock, a fat medieval masterpiece,

Clicking its way through hours, weeks, moons, to the tune of purse vendors, glass hawkers, gold sellers,

Under leaning, creeping houses of sherbet colors, on a narrow street of wide cobblestones,

By the crumbling cathedral bombed by the Germans (or was it the Allies?)

It impressed old Claude anyway,

More moving for me, the Plague Cemetery,

With carvings deep in dark wood for “eternity,”

Of skulls, bones, shovels, coffins, and such,

The dance of the macabre (black cats would agree)

Yes, this was the best of Rouen for me; the Death,

For

Here in Le Vieux Marche, in 1431,

A young girl was burned and not by the sun,

But by the Church she believed in, she fought for and bled for,

She kicked out the English and united a France,

But she spoke straight to God and wore men’s pants!

So this warrior woman, just 19 years old,

Was auto-da-fe where tomatoes were sold.

Joan of Arc, you have my heart;

Your voices were your truth,

Coming from deep inside of you,

Your actions were true, and your death was a lie,

You’re a hero to France, and for you,

Rouen sighs.

                                   Rouen

Rouen is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Normandy, sitting on the banks of the Seine river just a couple of hours north of Paris by rail or car. The half-timber buildings overhanging the narrow streets create a village feel straight from the Middle Ages, and you find yourself looking around for peasants pulling carts and yelling “Bring out yer dead!” The Plague Cemetery is a thrilling example of a medieval ossuary, and the Astronomical Clock on the main street in Rouen has not stopped moving since 1389. The Cathedral of Rouen was studied by Claude Monet who painted the church at different times of day in order to capture the effect of light on perspective, long before the building was bombed out in the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. Joan of Arc, along with many other innocent human beings, was burned alive at the stake (auto-da-fe) in the middle of the Old Marketplace.

You can still see the remains of the rock wall which sheltered the market stall from the flames.