Friday, October 26, 2012

Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over …

The Internet is a vital part of my manner of living.

I don’t receive paper bills or statements or notifications or paper anything from anybody who allows me to avoid that paper deluge.

Most of the organizations I need to depend upon for my daily life to proceed normally offer a paperless option.

That is a good thing for me.

It probably is a good thing for the planet.

It is a good thing until those occasions when I decide to spend more than one billing cycle in France.

But wait; it is still a good thing.  There is the Internet.

However it is that I choose to run my paperless life in Seattle, I can also run my paperless life in Paris.

It requires an adjustment of mailing addresses for the little unavoidable paper that still trickles down the postal chute, but other than that nothing needs to change.

So say the travel guides.

And there is no reason to believe that that isn’t so.  I mean Paris has an advanced electronic infrastructure. 

All I should need to do is check into my apartment and sign on to the apartment provided Wi-Fi link and be good to go for the duration.

Or so say the travel guides.

I stress tested that premise in 2010 when I went to Paris for an extended stay.

On that trip my landlord needed me to be in three different apartments.  He could not accommodate my dates of residence with one property.  So I was going to have a chance to stress test the premise three times.

In all three cases I unplugged the Ethernet cable from the Orange box and plugged it into the wireless router that I had bought specifically for the Paris sojourn.

I had brought a portable wireless router because, all things equal, I wanted to be on my own custom-secured network not on an ostensibly secured network provided by my landlord.

In the first apartment I had to configure the portable router.  I hadn’t even opened the box until I got to that first Paris apartment.

The configuration was such a no-brainer that in moments I was up and running on the Internet.

I had to wrestle with the fact – I learned during the process of wrestling – that Orange made port 25 a non valid outbound email port for any but their own customers. 

That fact caused a lot of gnashing of teeth until it was discovered, but, once discovered, I contacted Comcast and they told me about a secret other port.

Since I knew how to assign another port to the outbound server, it was only moments and, voila, I could send email.

In the other two apartments the process was the same, albeit easier, the outbound port problem having been previously fixed.  I just unplugged the Ethernet cable from the Orange box and plugged into my router and I was up and running.

The came 2012.

My wife and I spent two weeks in March in one of the apartments that I had occupied in 2010.

To show what a paltry life I lead, a high point of anticipation for arrival day was, will that same process still work?

Within minutes of our arrival I had unplugged the Ethernet cable from the same Orange box that I had unplugged it from in 2010 and plugged it into the same wireless router that I had brought with me in 2010, and, again, it worked flawlessly.

My paltry life had been immeasurably enhanced.  

That connection worked for two weeks. 

It worked for two iPhones and one iPad. 

There were no PCs on this trip.

So when I recently returned to that apartment that Mysti and I had occupied in March it never crossed my mind that the same set of simple actions would generate a different result.

Not so fast.

To Be Continued

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Finally, I have Found Out What The Signature Requesters are Doing

In this blog, and in it’s spinoff, A Curious Confluence: The Story of Adrianna, a Paris street con game has played a major role.

That game has an American name. 

That name is pigeon drop

But there is another con – I have always assumed that it is a con – that I have been seeing for many years longer than the pigeon drop. 

I have never engaged it. 

I trained myself early to ignore people who look as if they are from some vaguely Eastern European heritage and are approaching me with vigor asking “do you speak English?”

It’s just like ignoring the dropped gold ring of the pigeon drop.

I am expert at a placid walk-by-without-seeing-what-they-want-or-what-they-are-doing sort of demeanor when the “dropper” is standing there with the gold ring in his or her outstretched palm.

I know the purpose and generally the rules of the pigeon drop.

But I have had no idea of what nefarious purpose must be involved in vaguely Eastern European looking people – mostly young women – coming up, sometimes asking “do you speak English?” sometimes not, and presenting a tablet with a bunch of places to sign, and waving a pen in signature-signing sorts of pantomime.

When that phenomenon occurs it is necessary to navigate through a flock of them.  It’s not just one or two.  It is maybe ten or twenty.  A person bounces from one to another to another to get through the flock. 

They all wave pens.

They seem to inhabit mostly the Tuileries and Pont des Arts, but they can suddenly appear as a flash mob, almost anywhere.

I am not opposed to signing petitions that accomplish some form of the advancement of self government. 

I have signed a lot of petitions at my 98118 ZIP (most diverse ZIP in the US) Safeway.

Those petition hawkers (remember – 98118) are therefore generally not white; I have no aversion to being a part of a diverse – including vaguely Eastern European looking sorts – population.  And, if members of my population, albeit totally different from me, have something to say that ought to be said and with which I agree and want to support, I am a signer.

So I have always felt a twinge of desire to help these young people – mostly young women – out with whatever action they have been trying to get passed by – somebody, or some agency - with their tablets of signatures.

But I haven’t ever been able to figure out how an un-vetted American signature was going to do them any good. 

That and the vaguely con-scented nature of their actions have always kept me from ever signing anything.

I have remained on the sidelines ignoring them.

What it is that they are really doing, nevertheless,  has been a lurking question for years in my relationship with this place that I love.

It has remained un-answered.

Until tonight.

My landlord dropped by.

I have meant to ask him for years what this signing thing is and have always forgotten to do so.

Finally tonight I remembered.

He said it is a Roma con – I have no idea whether the asserted ethnicity of the con is valid; I am only reporting what I heard -  in which, once you start to sign, the rest of the flock converges on you and someone in the bunch picks your pocket.

I am glad that I have resisted the desire to help them with their petitions.

I think, however, that I have a sort of residual sympathy for the Roma.

I see families of them sleeping in the few phone booths that still exist here. 

A prominent one of that sort is on Boulevard Richard Lenoir.

The Roma seem to have a monopoly on those properties.  Everywhere – in those few places where phone booths still exist – I see them occupied by Roma.  

It is amazing how many can be piled in that little booth. 

If they pushed it over on its side they would have much more floor space. Not much headroom, though.

But it must be pretty securely mounted to the pavement. 

The phone company probably thought it would be a font of money for a century. 

Too bad technology intervened.

The hand set is always dangling. 

I guess the residents don’t want any incoming calls.

But that isn’t all that I see when I see those phone booths.

I see also the look of fiery desperation that hovers like a cloud around those families.

I wish I could help.

But there are so many.

I care.

Just not enough to let them pick my pocket.

But it’s a pretty inventive scam.

Not as much fun as the pigeon drop though.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Maybe There is an Apple Fairy and a Bon Bon Fairy?

The guy I described in The Croissant Fairy has continued to sleep in the little triangle of walkway formed at the junction of rue Guénégaud and Quai de Conti.

That junction juts out a little into the thoroughfare of whatever the speedway is called that flanks the Seine.

I have seen him there numerous times at various times of day, mostly late in the afternoon. 

He is always –when I see him - lying in the triangle, asleep.

In passing I have wondered if he sleeps there in the rain.

I had not – until today -  been at that place in the rain, so I didn’t know the answer to that wondering.

This afternoon I was going to Le Départ Saint-Michel for some onion soup and some wine.

I got to that little triangle and he was there. 

He was perfectly centered in the little triangle.

It was raining.

So question of whether he slept there in the rain became answered at that point.

For some reason – I would normally have looked away; I am prone to avoid seeing hopelessness if I can possibly do so – I scrutinized his situation with an attempt to absorb the details.

One thing stood out as if it were the only color element of a black and white photograph.

Lying on the tarmac at the small of his back (he was lying on his side) was an apple.  It was iridescently green.  It was probably a Granny Smith.

I had a great repast at Le Départ.

The repast and the people I  photographed from my table caused me to forget anything about the walk that had gotten me to my table.  So when I wended my way back to my apartment the only thing on my mind was how beautiful the Seine is even on darkly descending days of clouds.

I had just crossed rue de Nevers and was in the triangle. 

That is a retrofitted fact. 

I was just walking happily home. 

But, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse.

I glanced to the left and then looked straight ahead.  I apparently had to process in my brain-computer the image that my eyes had gathered.

Instants, of course, are all that are needed for such processing.

So, an instant later I looked back.

He – the sleeper from the triangle – was sitting in a stairway alcove with what looked to be a large box of bon bons.

The box was open and I could see the contents. 

They looked to be from an upscale Paris chocolatier.

The bon bons  were only minimally gone.  There were probably seventy five percent of them left.

He looked at me.

I looked at him. 

There was no communication. 

His eyes were Little Orphan Annie Eyes.

And there was a dry space approximating a human form with rain on the rest of the tarmac where he had been lying asleep when I had passed two hours earlier.

If one had seen the 1950’s version of War of the Worlds one might have shuddered.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Cow and the Delayed train

Today was a cleaning day for the apartment.

Given the vagaries of when Alex will appear and how long he will be there I have adopted the practice of leaving town for the day: Chantilly and Chartres so far.

Today was to be Senlis.

After the third "retard" I decided to face the fact that I was going to miss the autocar from Chantilly to Senlis.

Apparently Senlis doesn’t have a railroad connection.  That is really odd, since all towns seem to have railroad connections in France.

But I guess Senlis doesn’t. And that is why the autocar was important to me.  It was the second leg of the ticket that I had bought and it had, I assumed, a hard and fast departure time.  Given the delay, I was not going to make the connection.

That fact, which made the major delay a significant travel consideration, caused me to think about alternatives.

I could go to Chantilly and not care about missing the auto car.  I could just go to lunch, lurk around, and then catch the next train back to Paris.

But that wouldn’t use the amount of time that I had yet to burn.

And beyond the need to be out of the apartment for whatever the time was going to be the Alex was going to be cleaning, the weather had become a major consideration.

It has been raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock.

So I decided to use the tickets later - at the next cleaning  probably - bag the trip to Senlis for today, and go and do something else.

So I took the longest metro ride I could invent to go to Invalides and go to the museum - out of the rain and in a place where I could kill a lot of time.

A leisurely dejuner at Cafe du Metro came next - with appropriately long metro connections from Invalides.

Then - the cow had quit pissing but it looked to be getting ready to re-start in earnest - the metro took me to Le Depart where I am now.

The cow looks to be ready to attack the rock again but when I leave here I will be on the last lap so I guess I will endure the downpour and walk home.

A Metro ride would leave me as long a walk in any event.

Yesterday was nice, though.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Residents of the Quilt

I said a while back that I would do a post extracted form Screen Saver.

I said that because it seems to me that these words – written three years ago - seem to be a logical precursor to The Croissant Fairy.

Here it is.

There was not much difference between them and me, I realized. Really, the major difference was that I had a roof; they didn’t.

I lived in a third floor apartment at 8 Cité d’Alma; they were my neighbors and lived in an alcove doorway in front of the post office on Avenue Rapp.

They were always there.

There were two of them, although sometimes one or the other would be briefly absent. They had a quilt spread out on the pavement, taking up a little of the public pedestrian thoroughfare. It was similar in that regard to the sidewalk tables of Paris’ countless cafes. They were the only two occupants and they always had the same table reserved. They had it reserved day and night.

When I passed them on my way to where Rue St Dominique joined with Avenue Rapp to get my morning baguette and croissant from my favorite boulangerie on Rue St Dominique they were always there, having apparently spent the night, no matter how cold it had been. When I passed them in the waning light of a Paris late afternoon trip to Le Dome – not the famous one, but the one on Avenue Rapp at its juncture with Rue St Dominique - they were there. Whenever I walked from Le Bonaparte down Boulevard St Germain to its junction with Rue St Dominique and down Rue St Dominique to its junction with Avenue Rapp and took a right down to Cité d’Alma, or from Café du Metro, across Rue de Rennes, down Rue du Vieux Columbier to Rue de Grenelle, past des Invalides to Rue Cler and on to Rue St Dominique and Avenue Rapp to Cité d’Alma, they were there.

And their being there was not just a fact; it was a reason for being.

They had a small cardboard box set in front of them toward the outer front edge of their domain. In the box there were always coins; many were one and two euro coins. Next to them closer to the wall of the building-edge of their domain were a couple of very large plastic water bottles filled with what I assumed to be a type of wine.  But it was a type of wine that I didn’t know where to buy. I had never seen wine of that particular yellow orange color. It had to be wine because the two were always obviously drunk and I frequently saw them take drinks from the bottles, allaying other ideas about what the bottles might contain. Or, perhaps, pointing to a horror I preferred not to consider, I guess they could have been like Yosarrian’s roommate, the soldier in white, just switching the bottles of in and out; but I chose to think otherwise.

They were drunk but fully participating in life such as they knew it, or such as they appeared to be able to define it.

They talked to each other incessantly.

They frequently recognized and greeted people walking by.

They frequently  had good looking Parisian sandwiches laid out beside them.

They frequently had people join them on the quilt and lay out elaborate meals for them, and join them in eating those meals, although those contributors never joined the two in drinking their wine. Frequently passersby would put some coins in their box. Often these contributors would stop and talk for awhile. The two on the quilt on the sidewalk sheltered by the building alcove of La Poste were long term residents. They were known to other local residents and were accepted, and even – apparently -  valued as a normal part of the population of the quartier. They had a life and a routine and a sort of livelihood.

They were professional doorway dwellers.

Over almost four winter months spanning three different years that I lived there, they were there living, drinking, talking, sharing meals with passersby and collecting euro coins and centimes. They were part of the essence of that part of Paris at that time.

And except for my roof we were similar.

The key to that similarity was that they loved their lives.

Odd as it had seemed to me, that love of life had been obvious to anyone who ever paid any attention to them. Their conversations, drunken though they might have been, were also joyous. Their greetings of acquaintances were joyous. Their discussions with the people who occasionally provided and shared meals with them were animated, and – yes- joyous. All they had lacked was a roof. But they had companions. They had many companions.

I had a roof, but I had no companions.

But I had the same joy of just being there.

I had no companions, but I had wine, just as they did, and I had the joy of sipping it – under my roof - and looking out the window at Paris.

What I saw out that window varied, but it was all joyful.

There was the nighttime scene. It was possible to stretch out the open apartment window and see the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Christmas tree. Sometimes the tower was draped in a fantastic mantle of flashing lights. Sometimes it had a bright green isosceles triangle near its base; sometimes it had a rapidly rotating search light at its apex; sometimes it had an illuminated figure of someone – I supposed it to be Christ - at that apex.

Then there were the daytime scenes. Looking out at just the right time in the morning, to the left, it was possible to see a mother and her child walking through the Cité, the child carrying his school books. To the right at any time of the day it was possible to see the ornate black wrought iron gate to the Cité, its huge lock permanently unlocked.

That lock stood as a reminder of a much earlier time.

I had the joy of being at Café du Metro - my quilt on the sidewalk - hearing the sounds of the city enveloping me and the sights of the city entertaining me from the nearby tumult of Rue de Rennes as it hurtled toward its junction with Boulevard St Germain.

There were many sights on rue de Rennes.

There were the stylish young Parisian women who walked arm in arm, or who had encountered one another unexpectedly, seeing one another on the street after an absence, exclaiming and kissing one another on, first the left and then the right cheek.

There were the tourists, mystified by their whereabouts and stopping to unfold their map from Galeries Lafayette. Part of their spatial disorientation was frequently the result of having the map upside down – the loop of the Seine where it wrapped around the Eiffel Tower could be seen, even from the distance of my table in the Café to be pointing toward the sidewalk; it needed to be pointing to the sky.

There were the young people, endless clouds of them, rushing by laughing and talking like  flocks of happy birds.

There were old people.

The old men all wore suits and ties, and no matter how slowly they needed to walk, they were walking; they were mobile; they were alive. And the crowds gave them space; the crowds yielded to their slowness; the crowds seemed to accept the obligation of assuring that these ancient vestiges of another time were treated with respect and were accommodated in their slowness. 

The old women all looked as if they had been going to the opera. They were dressed and groomed like movie stars from another era. They often stopped at Café du Metro for a visit with an old friend or acquaintance and a chocolat chaud. They sat and talked and contributed an air of elegance to the place.

As with our other similarities I had the joy of Paris to share with the residents of the quilt.  And my similarity with them has been – ever since I first perceived it – a valuable and leveling perception.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Ayn Rand has always been a blank spot in my education. 

Even the spell checker for this blog posting tool thinks that her first name should be Ann.

So I am not alone in my ignorance.

But I take full responsibility for my educational shortcomings.  They are the result of not having been born to a family of the proper sort, to laziness and to abject stupidity.

So when sometime back I finally became aware of the name Ayn Rand, and coincident with that awareness, became aware of the awe that her name elicits in some circles, I decided that she was someone whom I  should read.

But somehow Trollope, Hardy, Maugham and even Hemingway and Faulkner (ok only one Faulkner, and there were quite a few Asimovs and Heinleins) kept coming ahead of Ayn.

When I left for Paris recently that changed.

I read a lot at night when I wake and can’t immediately return to sleep.  Calvados helps, but reading is the best use of that time, and ultimately the best soporific.

The amount of time I have planned to be in Paris dictated that I need quite a few pages to fill my inevitable waking hours.

Having heard endless references to the fact that the deep thinking Ayn Rand is the spiritual god mother to the current republican party – especially true with Paul Ryan – and having discovered that Atlas Shrugged in the version that has been languishing for years on the paperback bookcase across from the washing machine in our first floor multi-use area is over a thousand ten pitch, densely written, pages, I decided that the time had come to eliminate one more missing piece of my education.

Simply stated, there appeared to be a curious confluence between that chink in my educational armor and my requirement for a large content, low physical weight, book to carry on a plane.

So when I got here I started reading Atlas Shrugged.

Almost immediately I found myself immersed in a good tale well told.  But I was surprised to find it lacking – at least for me – any deep sociological, political, economic or philosophical heft.

I quickly decided that this apparent lack was due to the already admitted frailty of my education.  One can’t make up for that, it turns out, by trying to make up for that. 

I just wasn’t “getting” it on the same level as the republicans.

But, the tale being engaging, I kept reading.

It had already became apparent – before my realization that I wasn’t “getting” it - that Rand had introduced, unheralded by the shouting machine that tells us all what to read - and before its time, a genre book. 

“This thing” I said to myself as, early on, I saw the inevitable direction of the major plot points “is a bodice ripper.”

Having never read one of those, I was intrigued, and lurched forward with lechery.

The parallel realization – and one that to me as a writer of sorts was equally intriguing – was that, in tandem with the inevitable future heated encounters that she was obviously setting up for a couple of her main characters, she was setting up two types of characters, not just one

Those two types can be given generic names.

There are long lines of straw men/straw women.

There are a precious few noble leaders all of whom have blue eyes and most of whom have angular faces and ash blond hair that tends to hang in wisps. 

But there is more to this dialectic .

All of the straw folk – as a vast generic mass - have a purpose for Rand.  They are to be incessantly flailed into vast clouds of polemic straw dust with her flail-like pen while she tells the tale of the noble few as they wage their nearly hopeless struggle against the hoards of straw, their blue eyes gleaming and their ash blond hair wisping.

(I guess I could say she also introduced the zombie genre, but I won’t.)

If nothing else, Rand is a a flailer of massive vigor.

But let’s move on to whatever point I seem to be trying to make.

Last night, in a late waking moment, the first payoff to forging ahead through all the failing and wisping has finally come. 

“I was right” I chortled to myself.

It finally happened. 

Dagny and Hank have finally copulated with intimately documented, heatedly, pantingly, breathlessly delivered high test prose.

As described it isn’t love.

It isn’t even lust.

It is rape. 

On the face of it Hank is the rapist. 

But, if you have bought into the character of Dagny, as I have, it may be her (she). 

But who cares? 

“Rape is rape” as I heard someone say recently.

At least now I know where the republicans got their doctrine of legitimate rape.