Friday, June 17, 2016

Busking on Pont au Double

Busking is the business of performing on the street to make money. Some buskers sing others do comedy. Busking is not about talent. Its about being courageously entertaining. Make 'em stop, make 'em laugh, make 'em give up some euros.

Buskers always put their hat out. This is their job.

I've busked with my harmonica and am good enough to feed myself. (I learned from a pro in Jerusalem may years ago, paying my room and board by working as his "hat passer.")
  Here I am in Lyon with a local guitar player. He was a skilled busker, played great music and really made me sound good! Then he did a swell pitch for money "to help this poor American get back home." I didn't exactly understand his French but I think all the laughter came when he said, "with the way he plays that harmonica, we certainly don't want him staying in France any longer than necessary!"

I was happy to play the fool when it turned into euros and spending the evening eating and drinking with the local crowd.

In Paris there are two bridges that support busking. I think it is technically illegal to perform for money in Paris, as it is in other major cities like Amsterdam, London and San Francisco. But as all successful buskers know, be courageous, perform quickly, get your dough and move on.

Pont au Double is right next to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, always with a flood of tourists. The street is closed off which offers a perfect stage for showmanship. On this day I found a skating troupe and enthusiastic crowd despite the cold "white sky" weather:

Hey, watch out! "Oh mon dieu!"

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Source of the Seine, Getting Back — The Road Now Once Traveled

The walk back is always shorter. 

We sat on a grassy mound near the highway, waiting for the bus back to Dijon. It was high noon. The schedule said we had three hours and forty-two minutes before the last bus of the day came to this stop. So we relaxed in the sun, me aglow from a quest well-accomplished, and Diana with bright hopes for French food and drink back in Dijon.

We were glad to rest after our long walks to and from the Source de la Seine. The air was fresh and the grass was soft. It was easy to lose track of time, while the sun dropped lower in the western sky. 3 hours and 30 minutes passed. We checked our watches. The bus should be coming soon, we told each other.

Neither of us admits it, but as experienced low-budget travelers, we both know a bet on the last bus of the day is risky business. If it doesn’t come, then we do what? Wait? Walk? Hitchhike? Pray? All of the above? We were deep in the French countryside and our picnic food and most of our water was gone. We rationed out the last drops of the holy waters we’d filled our Evian bottles with at the Source.

Twenty, then twenty-five minutes passed. Then thirty. “Where is the #$%@^ bus?” these seasoned travelers wondered politely to each other.

A taxicab came speeding down the highway. “Oh!” Diana jumped up and waved from the green knoll, but the cab raced by. The driver must have been on his way home (bet he was looking forward to some good French food and drink!).

“The best chance for a taxi is if we go stand on the highway, and hope another comes by,” I suggested. It did seem like an awful lot of effort for only problematic chances of success.
“No way,” Diana objected. “I’ll trust to the bus. I don’t want to stand out there on the highway. It’s too nice sitting here.” I agreed with her. We settled back down on the grass.
Another hour passed and both travelers remained courageous. An old truck rattled around the corner of the farm road we had walked, and slowed as it approached the highway crossing, near to where we sat.

The two men inside the truck smiled and waved, apparently surprised to see us sitting there. We waved back and called “Bonjour.” If we’d been quicker on the uptake and asked them, they probably would have given us a lift into town. But we weren’t and they didn’t, so they sped on by.

The sun slipped behind the trees and the air cooled. Doubt crept into my mind, along with visions of local wine and salmon, French bread and Dijon mustard. I believe this is called an escape mechanism when the chips are down, though it could pass for mental torment. The sunny green mound was in deep shadow now.

Then, as if manifested by the goddess Sequana herself in our hour of need, around the corner of the farm road burst a Mercedes Benz taxi. As it slowed for the highway crossing, the driver looked at us like a startled deer. Diana had jumped up and was waving wildly. “Bonjour, m’sieu! Dijon? Dijon, s’il vous plait?”

Dijon centrale? Gare de Dijon-ville?” The neatly dressed professional didn’t quite believe his good fortune. “Oui, oui, oui,” we said. The ride would be expensive, but we were on our way home, grateful for the smooth limo rhythm, the darkening scenery of fields and quiet villages, and the friendliness of our rescuer.

The driver was feeling his own gratitude. He had been on his way home after a long day, when fate presented him with us, a big fare going his way. His wife called his cellphone halfway through our ride. He told us after he hung up, “She wants me to be home, but I say, I am lucky, I have guests in my cab. Then she wants me to stop and get tomatoes.”

That evening, the red Burgundy wine, poured into overly-large glasses, tasted sweet with travel glory. Diana and I raised our glasses and drank to the day. Even as a light rain came sprinkling down, Dijon’s historic square was alive with hundreds of souls from around the world, eating and drinking, flirting and gossiping, as people have done here for several thousand years.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

La Source de la Seine

We’re here. This is the place, the beginning, the everything. This is the source. Nothing more can be said or written. Except the Hokey Pokey is what it is all about.

There were no tourists here today. For a minute, Diana thought she’d spotted a tour bus, but it turned out to be a school-bus-for-the-day with a load of students. They were 11-14 year-olds, eating their picnic lunch when we arrived. For them, this place is just a field-trip, a break from school routine, but no less school. For me, today is an epiphany, the beginning of a great adventure. I have great hopes and dreams, but the road ahead is full of uncertainties. As I cross the first (and smallest) bridge over the Seine, I wonder where the river is going to take me. A single arch here, but what about the next bridge, and the next, as the river widens and its waters surge toward the ocean.

The Nymph of the Seine – the Celtic goddess Sequana – reclines, hers hands laden with grapes, in the grotto where the springs first rise. This is a copy of the work by Dijon sculptor Francois Jouffroy. What are these schoolchildren thinking as they look at her?

Water meadows everywhere, and spring-fed puddles to jump – the Seine rises in a place for children’s laughter and running feet. Was it like this when Sequana walked its green glades two thousand years ago, and pilgrims came to her for healing?

Diana settled onto a shady green bench with her current novel, back-up book, notepad, water bottle and bag of gummy bears. Except for the children, almost no one else was here.

Only when one sets off with pure intention on a sacred journey can one find the sacred source. Otherwise, all your eyes can see is a trash can, six benches, a fence and signpost that says Keep Off: Archeological Site, a pretty statue, and the muddy mush of water seepage.

Standing in the open meadow with my camera, it seems as if this history did not happen so very long ago. It feels as if it is all happening now, too. Sequana, the goddess of healing, is very present to me, as I think of the ancient stone and wood artifacts I saw earlier in the museum. Her temple, with its place of healing waters, has left its energies here. How many worshippers sought her help for ailments of body and soul, right in this place? And, no doubt, all those years ago, children played here, laughed, leapt over puddles, got muddy, flirted and gossiped, just like these children are doing today.

And just as it has for the last 600 or 1600 or 2500 years, the river seeps above ground right here, the same waters from the same place making the same journey. Sequana still rules.

I touched the water, drank it, splashed in it, got a shoe and sock thoroughly blessed by it. “Ya do da hokey pokey and ya turn yourself aroun’ …”

My quest was complete. 

I had now been to the beginning and to the end of the sacred Seine river. Rivers are eternal, not time-bound. The Seine’s beginning and ending happen at the same moment, and all the while, it is flowing through Paris.

“That old man river, he must know something but he don’t say nothing. That old man river, he just keeps rollin’ along.”

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