Monday, October 12, 2009

What I'm Thankful For

As I write this I picture my large extended family - large in the numerous amounts of people way, not in the rotund fashion – cobbling together the final pieces of their potluck meals. I check the time, allow for time zone differences, and yup – right about now my mother should be putting the cling wrap on her big clear bowl of coleslaw. One of my aunts will be frantically trying to get the bird cooked, and perhaps getting some ham set up. My cousin might be looking towards all the beers he'll drink, and my grandma will be setting up for another long night of stories, and tales, complete with her telltale laugh, reserved only for these such occasions. And why? Why will they be doing all this?

Because it's Thanksgiving, of course. Proper Thanksgiving. That's right America, I'm calling you out. You keep your NFL, and your ridiculous hats. We'll eat when the harvesting is good. And we'll be thankful for it to, thank you very much. There will be no children on stage dressed as little Indians – mind you, we will trace our hand on brown construction paper and turn that into a turkey. Maybe stick toothpick feathers into a gourd too. And claim our four day long weekend with pride.

That's what they'll be doing back home anyway. Here in France, it's just the 11th of October. But, back home, don't think you're the only ones eating well. No! I just had a feast myself. Four cups of egg cream pudding! That's right – four! And all for only one euro, ninety nine. Take that! And you know what? Later I'll probably have some left over orange drink from yesterday, left on my bunk's shelf all night.

So what am I thankful for? It's not like we actually say what we're thankful for. I don't know if anyone does. It's not like we're Jon and Kate. Well Kate anyway, you can see Jon cringe when she starts running her mouth. Free at last Jon, free at last. (that's right – half a world away, and I still can't escape their presence.) Sorry – so, it's not like we ever say what we're thankful for. But I think it. So what am I thankful for, on this day of days?

Well – for one, being able to have this opportunity. And for knowing that I have the support of my friends and family back home. I'm also thankful that I'm travelling on a Canadian passport, though if I could – by your powers combined – acquire a New Zealand one as well, that would be ideal. It covers some gaps in my visa checklist. And I'm thankful for discount night trains, last minute hostels, the end of tourist season, and – of course – the French Counter Terrorism units.

Today began with a quick breakfast, and a purchase of some metro tickets from the vending machine in the hostel. I tell you, this machine has everything (it's actually three machines, but it's more interesting if you think of it as one.) They sell notebooks, razors, toothbrushes, internet cards (that don't work – still down, people. Still down.) Batteries, French to English dictionaries, tickets to the Louvre, 52 card decks, 32 card decks (for Euchre, I imagine? Is that right?) 78 card tarot decks, maps, guidebooks, cameras, French badges, and all number of assorted treats, and beverages. Amazing. Everything you could ever want at prices that range from discounted, to normal, to absurd. All of this seemingly for the giggles of the staff. In fact that have one chocolate bar in two rows. In one row you can pay a euro twenty, but if you're feeling generous, or really jonesing for the one in B4 you could decide to pay a euro forty. Why not?!

With a pack of ten metro tickets – I wonder if I'll use them all – I headed off to the Hotel de Invalides. There was a set up of police, RAID, and other such forces. The fire department came too. Early in the day, as they were still setting up, you could see that the officers themselves were just as childlike as anyone else, taking pictures with their heads stuck through plywood stand-ups, and jumping around trying to get the best shot of the helicopters on display.

There was supposed to be a parachute jump from high altitude. That's what I showed up early for. So – of course – the jumps for the entire day were canceled. I don't know much about this stuff, but from my limited knowledge granted to be by Band of Brothers on HBO, and subsequently DVD, I would say that it was because there were low clouds. Limited visibility. “No jump tonight. Repeat, no jump tonight.”

But that was alright. It gave me a chance to admire all the police officers little hats. Do you think they look at our police and snicker to themselves about how foolish our caps look? Or do they recognize there is no escaping the error of their wardrobe choice, and just try to bring the best to it? I also watched a police dog attack a woman in a giant foam suit. That was pretty fantastic too.

I'll throw up all the videos from today in a separate post whenever I have suitable bandwidth – because, as I said, at the moment of writing this I have none. Oh the videos there will be. Some exciting, and others involving horses.

After the dog attack, I figured I'd take myself on two more walks around the area. At first this led me down a street lined with giant blown up covers from the history of Vogue magazine. I tried to fight the urge to take a picture – and I almost made it. The one with Alfred Hitchcock on it did me in. And, if something's worth taking one picture of, it's worth taking five. I quickly made my escape from this model filled madness and turned onto the next street. Which proved to be one of those “shopping streets.” If you're a woman, odds are you know them – and love them. If you're a husband, odds are you know them – and hate them. If you're an unmarried man, you've probably heard of them, or seen them in movies, or done your best to avoid them.

Gender stereotyping at work people.

I don't know – nor care – about a Pucci, or a Gucci, or – look I'm lucky I remembered two labels. And probably because I thought the former was a misspelling of the latter, until some repeat viewings of the brand. As I walked down this street a thought occurred to me about the culture here.

There are a lot of older – shall we say, average, looking – men, with young beautiful women walking the streets. And they seem to be very close. I'm not making a judgment call here, I'm sure these are great – salt of the earth – winning personality men, and the fact that they're wandering in and out of all these stores I'd dare not even stop in front of, is purely incidental. That, or they're just fathers out for a pleasurable walk with their daughters. One could say they seem a bit to physically close for that, but – you know - French.

I ended up at the Liberty Flame. This is a recreation of the flame held in the hand of the Statue of Liberty. It's also ever so close to where Princess Di died. As such it still acts as a memorial for people who want to pay tribute. And still they do. They also write messages to her on the stone ledge overlooking the motorway. Things like “Goodnight our English Rose,” and other things that cause you to roll your eyes. The best are for meetings where the cover up of her assassination will be discussed. And, new I'm sure, are messages to Michael Jackson. Did I miss something here? How are these two people possibly related? One pushed for a ban and removal of land minds so they wouldn't injure more and more people throughout the world. The other was a pedophile.

Just saying. Speaking of which (of musical celebrities – nothing else – that's the only transition I'm reaching for here) Prince is in town. He had a show at the Grand Palace tonight. And oh the line up to see him.

Right. So my walk finished back at the military fanfare. I joined the crowd on the bridge (because if there's a crowd, you know something good has to be coming) and was just in time to see a helicopter descend above a barge, dropping a rope, and allowing for three counter terrorist agents to slide down, and secure their objective, while a number of other officers clamored aboard from their high speed zodiacs now tethered alongside. Explosions rocked the water.

This was another demonstration – though one far grander than that seen earlier with the dog. Your French forces at work. See them, be impressed, then come by the tent for a free sticker, and possible enlistment. Hey, it's the best recruitment drive I've ever seen.

This festival of sorts would be my home for the rest of the day. I ran into Number Jonny 5 working as a bomb squad robot, and saw some Pacific Blue bike cops in action, taking down 'bad guys' and sliding along the ground, pulling their guns out in one clean motion, ready for action. And then there was another counter terrorism action, focused on securing a bus, rather than a boat. This too involved helicopters (one far larger than the previous incident) and a number of other officers. Fantastic! Truly it was a great display. One grand enough to make me forget my woes for not seeing the paratrooper drop.

After connecting to the press wifi connection, and downloading an ebook on tarot cards, I went for another little wander. And while crossing the road, finally got sick and tired of the French inability to drive rationally. They're not like the bikers in Scandinavia. It's not like they're trying to kill you – it's just that they won't really care so much when they – inevitably - do.

As I was crossing, quite legally – as the little green man said it was my turn – a car came speeding towards the intersection, slamming on its breaks at the last moment. In rage I threw my arms in the air, staring the driver down, and beginning our little dance. In response he threw his arms in the air, and then started bashing on his horn. I glared, and pointed towards the sign, still green showing I could walk, and he motioned to the ground to show that he had stopped before crushing me into little more than a smear of red and good on the pavement – an excellent A16 article for The Star. And thus we continued our fun and games, until the light changed, and off he speed – no doubt to murder someone else in my stead.

How do more car accidents not happen in this city, I wondered. As if to answer my question, the next corner I rounded led me to a man shouting at a woman about how she had smashed the bumper off his car. She claimed she did no such thing! She had not hit him. The bumper must have dented and fallen all of its own accord, at the precise moment she tried to maneuver around him.

No more than twenty meters away a police officer stood with her back to the whole ordeal, tapping her foot, hoping the light would change allowing her to escape this madness.

And then, once more, back to the military display where secret service agents demonstrated how to protect a V.I.P. in various situations. This knowledge would come in handy moments later when one such VIP was being interviewed throughout the crowd, moving from one area to the next. He was an older gentleman, bald on top, with fine pale yellow hair. Sound familiar to any of you? He was clearly of some great importance, as crowds were flocking around him. Though I couldn't tell you who he was. But hey, if everyone else was going to take pictures, well then so too was I. I elbowed past the short, chubby, Danny Devito, with bad teeth, professional photographer, and started to click away. It was a delight. How must he – whose job it is to think of people as obstacles, and nothing more, be treated as one himself? I stayed in front of him for most of the talks, blocking his camera when possible.

Look – all I'm saying, is he shouldn't have shoved me out of the way without so much as an excuse me. Maybe he'll learn next time. Or maybe he's trying to have me hunted down right now? Sorry – whomever he worked for. Choose photographers with more scruples next time. That that guy from the comic DMZ. Yeah, that would do you quite nicely.

And then came the end. With horses. Lots of horses. And on each horse a man playing a brass instrument. And oh how these horses walked together, to the music, with a checkerboard pattern shaved out on their butts (I don't know?) Their riders wore more goofy hats – for which, I'm now sure, the French are most famous for. They had long red manes, presumably to match the beasts on which they rode?

Round and around they marched. And finally, when they had left, I could feel good about the fact that I had seen the very beginning, the very end, and oh so much in between. A worthwhile day. Well, not worthless.

Something to be thankful for, at any rate.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

I lied at the beginning. The Egg Cream – it wasn't so delicious after all.

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