Friday, August 30, 2013
The architecture in France is amazing. There are structures, castles and cathedrals that you won’t see in the United States – and will never see in the United States – too labor intensive – too ornate – and the extravagance to build them far exceeds any logical, present-day function. France is a very old country by U.S. standards. And, you should understand, that much of what awes visitors was constructed hundreds of years ago by virtual slave labor.
It seems that all of these architectural wonders, dating back centuries, were at the direction of either aristocratic families or the Catholic Church. Most of the French are Catholic. In that era, the self-indulgence of the aristocracy and church leadership was boundless, dare I say profane. The French currently take great pride in their castles, churches, and palaces; and they are remarkable. But the human toll to construct these buildings would be, for modern citizens, considered an atrocity. I don’t remember that any of the tour guides pointed this out. I suppose it’s a ‘given.’ As they might say, ‘that was then and this is now.’ However, when I walked into one of these magnificent churches, religious awe was not my reaction.
We toured many villages, walled cities, fortified castles and churches. After a while, or in retrospect, they all kind of blend together. I suppose it’s the feeling of France, more than anything, which is ultimately absorbed by the American visitor. Regarding the people (the residents), it’s pretty hard to tell the French from anyone else. They, for the most part, dress much as we do. Of course, regarding interacting with them, there is sometimes a language barrier. However, many of the French, if not most, speak some English. As was pointed out to us, the French have a reason to learn English and an opportunity to practice it. Americans, on the other hand, generally do not have a necessity to learn a foreign language. That’s kind of sad and a bit embarrassing. I took Latin in high-school – and was a consistent ‘C’ student. Actually, I think the teacher gave me a ‘C’. Even then Latin teachers were trying to hang on to a job. Are there Latin teachers anymore? Does anyone know?
Our tour director, Melanie, gave us a French lesson; and tried to get us to use a few basic phrases. My impression of the French language is that it appears that it would be harder to learn than Latin. In French, what we might consider an obvious pronunciation of a word is usually not even close. The French spelling seems to have little to do with the phonics we all learned in school. Cest la vie (say la vee).
Regarding Melanie, she was an exceptional young woman, spoke several languages, and she was intelligent, organized, dedicated, and always available to help. And, quite cute also. But, I digress.
That the French are unfriendly to Americans is, in my experience, a myth – didn’t see it, didn’t experience it. However, maybe Melanie kept us plodding Americans out of trouble. Oh, there were a few annoyed French motorists when some in our group seemed oblivious to the street crossing signals, or when the Americans assumed a narrow passageway in a village was a sidewalk and not an actual street to be shared with speeding mini-cars and motorcycles.
Next, in keeping with my blog’s theme, I will be discussing guns, crime, and crime prevention in France.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
I am a reluctant tourist. Oh, I have been lots of places: every state in the U.S., most of the Canadian provinces, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam; and, the UK, Mexico and now France. However, almost all of that travel was either paid for by the U.S. government or a large cooperation.
I’ve traveled 'first class,' 'second class' and 'no class.' I have stayed at fancy hotels, some much less than fancy, as well as hootches, and stood under a cold water spigot in Vietnam to wash off several days of sweat. I’ve seen extreme poverty and incredible wealth. I’ve ridden in Lear Jets and C-130s, C-124s, and on an Air America C-47 in Vietnam; also various helicopters, armored personnel carriers, etc. No, I haven’t seen everything, but one does grow tired.
Don’t get me wrong. France was interesting. And, I met some very nice people. But, I am not sure that I was overly impressed.
A little background; this trip to France was almost two weeks and most of the time we were on a river cruise, approximately 45 passengers, surprisingly nice accommodations; and, if asked, I would highly recommend it. It was, nonetheless, rather expensive – not something everyone would find worth the investment. Some of the fellow passengers were seasoned travelers, and discussed their various travel excursions with pride. One interesting lady told of a travel experience - being bitten by, what she perceived to be, a tarantula and the initial medical attention being administered by a witch doctor. Fortunately, she survived and discussed the incident in good humor. I believe this occurred in the Amazon. An area of the world that I have no interest in visiting. I don’t like spiders.
I remember a time in Thailand, sound asleep, but my brain instantly awakened as I felt something crawling up my arm. I slapped it off my arm, jumped out of my bunk, and turned on the light. It was a large centipede (fairly poisonous in that area of the world).
Our first destination was Nice, France. For those who do not immediately recognize the city, this is considered the French Riviera – of which we have all heard. The beaches were packed with French citizens on vacation, as well as numerous tourists from all over the world. Upon my return home, a person asked me what I thought of Nice. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘the beaches were sprinkled with topless women sunbathers.’ ‘That was kind of interesting.’ I know. It sounds like I am an immature clod, what with all the more meaningful sites and experiences all around me. But, it was however the first thing that came to mind. Perhaps, I am not a reluctant tourist. Maybe, I am a hopeless tourist.
To be continued…
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Bonjour. I know this is kind of an odd way to start my blog post. But, I have just returned from France. This was my recently completed vacation and is an explanation as to why I have not posted recently. I will be writing about some of my experiences in France – my impressions, etc. However, this will not be a day to day account of sites seen and museums visited. For that I would recommend Rick Steves’ books. No, it will be more personal than that, and it might interest some of you. What does it have to do with my blog’s theme? Well, it will be a view through my eyes, referencing my past experiences and their relationships to what I have just observed; and also there will be some law enforcement, crime aspects (not many, but a few). We are after all friends. Are we not? This is what friends talk about. For a detailed description of the Palace of Versailles, a study in incredible decadence, you should probably look elsewhere.
I was awake at 3:00AM this morning, but stayed in bed until four – thinking this is just too early to get out of bed. The plane ride back from Paris to Amsterdam to Portland, yesterday, was grueling and unpleasant. Remember when airplane travel was exciting and generally comfortable? Well, maybe you’re not old enough to remember that.
Watson was very, very excited to see me upon my return. For those unfamiliar with Watson, he is my little side-kick, alter ego, and buddy.
I will write more later.
Friday, August 9, 2013
By now most of you have seen this; but I will add a hyperlink in case you have not. This concerns the beating of a 13-year-old Caucasian boy by three 15-year-old African American boys – on a school bus in Gulfport, Florida. The African American school bus driver reportedly did not try to intervene in the violent assault; nor, reportedly, did he check on the injured boy after the assault was over. The driver did frantically, and I might add somewhat wimpishly, try to summon the police; but did little else. My opinion is that he too was intimidated by the young Black hoodlums. Again, according to published accounts, the white boy had reported the three as trying to sell marijuana – which precipitated the attack.
This is troubling to me, as it should be for all of us. I had previously stated in the George Zimmerman trial that said incident was not about ‘race;’ and I believe the jury felt the same. One could say that the school bus incident was also not about ‘race’ – just three young thugs doing what comes natural.
The race issue enters when so many prominent Blacks (and I include the President and Oprah Winfrey in this), insert and infer the concept of racial bigotry and racial hatred where it may not exist (i.e.: the Zimmerman case) – and is certainly not evident. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are lost causes with little credibility. But, I had more faith in Oprah as fair minded (misplaced undoubtedly); and certainly the President is expected to be fair minded. I’m not necessarily surprised by any of this, but I am perplexed.
Sometimes, I think our society is regressing. The lines are hardening. The great majority of Whites want African-Americans to succeed and take their place in society as most other minorities have. And, it’s time that Blacks do not immediately jump on the self-serving wagon of the likes of Jesse Jackson.
Perhaps, our President should forget whatever previous racial injustices that he feels he experienced firsthand (which makes you wonder what they could possibly be, in view of his current status). Perhaps, he should say that the 13 year old boy could be my son, my grandson, my nephew. Perhaps, he should say that he is that boy’s President too. I wonder if it’s too much to ask of a President apparently scarred by his life’s experiences. How can we ever repay him for what he’s suffered?