Sandi Dunn London E8
Tel: 07412 394149
‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’… to Paris
(Mid-winter 2012/ 2013)
Among other clichés, I was a hippy child of the sixties. These days, I’m characterised (written off perhaps) as an ‘elderly’ baby boomer.
Finding myself relatively free of family responsibilities (barring emergency babysitting for my darling grand kids in order that their parents can carry on building up capitalism – unhindered by family needs (sic)) I’m now able to travel and have adventures…and in so doing I’ve discovered the joys of worldwide CouchSurfing.
‘To make meaningful connections with local people whilst travelling’ is CouchSurfing’s founding principle, which chimes nicely with my own worldview. No money changes hands even though one is often offered a room rather than just a couch. The important thing about making CouchSurfing work is ‘give and take’ meaning that members should act as hosts as well as guests (though not necessarily reciprocally). It’s a ‘what goes around comes around’ philosophy. According to Wikipedia (January 2013), there are over five million CouchSurfers registered and verified on the website.
So, I’m just back from a mid winter, long weekend of CouchSurfing in Paris, where Claudine a feisty secondary school art teacher, in her late 50’s, hosted me for three nights. Her apartment is in one of those characteristic, purpose built, Parisian blocks, behind a hefty, secure front door conveniently next to Metro Ledru Rollin, near the Bastille. “I’m up in the maid’s garret on the 6th floor,” she’d replied to my text. “Take the lift to the fifth then walk up.”
Ignoring the lift I ascended the polished oak stairs, stopping on each landing to catch my breath. The staircase wound around the lift in its narrow shaft. It was a tiny caged affair for one plus luggage – typical of these buildings. While perfectly safe I’m reluctant to use them. Anyway, I had only essentials in a small backpack – plus my lightweight, beloved laptop of course!
Arriving at Claudine’s door I found it ajar. Calling out “bonjour”, I entered. She scuttled down the hallway to greet me with a big welcoming smile. Showing me to her son’s room she sighed, saying: “he’s thirty now – living and teaching in Amsterdam.” In essence the room was a teenager’s room – a shrine of sorts. Art posters and drawings adorned the walls; a dusty bookshelf revealed the reading taste of a budding intellectual – as her son has turned out to be, she told me with a laugh.
I rummaged for the gift I’d brought, as advised as a nice gesture on the CouchSurfers website. It was a jar of London honey purchased from a beekeeper friend with hives in Finsbury Park. Claudine was impressed.
There were no windows in her attic flat, just skylights. The small living room was cluttered in a bohemian, cosy way with clothes, books, paintings and papers in piles. While Claudine bustled in the kitchenette making tea, Boogie, her cat, mooched and sniffed at various heaps before choosing her bed. Over tea we chatted: luckily Claudine’s English was superior to my French. She issued a warning that as it was school vacation time, she liked to spend much of the day in bed: so please could I try not to wake her in the morning. I took note…
My main reason for visiting Paris was to attend a concert written and conducted by musician friend John Meldrum: A Peace Oratorio, ‘La Vie de Martin Luther King en Chansons’. I’d enjoyed being a member of John’s choir during an earlier sojourn in Paris some years earlier. John, an expat American has lived in Paris for 20 years. While classically trained, his music now is a unique blend of rock, jazz and gospel. His Oratorio was being staged that Saturday evening at the Alhambra Theatre.
I passed my days pleasantly just wandering around, breakfasting in the sumptuous restaurant of department store Printemps Haussmann, under the beautiful, art nouveau, stained-glass cupola, exploring St Paul’s labyrinthine quartier also The Marais – neighbouring medieval areas that survived the modernisation of Paris as carried out by Napoleon the Third’s architect Haussmann.
A large free of charge ice-rink, built for the mid winter season each year, still occupied the large square in front of Hotel de Ville (Paris’ Town Hall); I stopped and hung over the fence to enjoy the antics of some hoody speed skaters spinning and jumping around the main rink. Down the other end, equally entertaining, were the beginners stumbling around in their own separate area.
As dusk fell I found myself in the Champs-Élysées where a magnificent display of Christmas lighting still lit up its full length.
I invited Claudine to join me for John’s concert. It felt sad not to be a part of it, never the less I sung along especially to the uplifting, rousing numbers. It was a full house. After several encores and much cheering and clapping, we stayed on to mingle with the choir members in the foyer and to drink a celebratory glass of wine with them.
A firm favourite Paris landmark is the unique Shakespeare & Company bohemian bookshop cum community centre opened in 1951 by expat American, George Whitman. George died age 98 in 2011. I’m so proud to say I’d met him occasionally at his Sunday afternoon tea parties. “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” was his motto and is there written large on a wall inside the shop. It neatly sums up George’s ideals. His daughter, Silvia Beach Whitman now carries on his work. For decades, bookish, penniless romantics – mostly young American males it seems – have worked here voluntarily sleeping amidst the bookshelves in makeshift bunks, ecstatic to be part of a scene where greats such as Hemingway had once hung out. Before leaving for home I just had to pop in. A regular Sunday evening informal, writing group was already in full swing upstairs. So I crept in to partake.
After readings and feedback we repaired to a nearby bar tabac where the more we drank the stronger the ghostly presence of Hemingway, Joyce, Orwell et al, grew. For youths brought up in bland, morally upright, American suburbia, staying and volunteering in this bookshop, in the shadowy wake of the greats, for them is living the dream.
On the way back to Claudine’s I decided not to drink any more as I had to rise early for my bus back to London; but, her neighbour Salome was visiting – a bright young Moroccan woman with perfect English. Improbably, by day she studied electronic engineering while by night she worked as a belly dancer: Sunday was her night off.
Salome was thrilled to learn I was from London; it seemed to hold some cachet for her – though she’d never been. I gave in to more wine… She told us her true desire was to be a belly dancer in London. But, through an admirable sense of duty to her parents she couldn’t do it. “I can’t hurt them,” she explained in response to our urging, “after all the sacrifices they’ve made for my education it’s impossible for me.” Tiddly from the wine I’d resolved not to drink, I joined Claudine in encouraging Salome to follow her dream – after completing her education of course. I gave her my address and phone number “in case you need to CouchSurf” I said, “while establishing yourself as a belly-dancer in London”… “Well, there are worse things!” I quipped. End…
I thought you might like to read an exchange I had on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme Face Book Page I had today:
“John Kemp Who on earth cares what the rape suspect Assange skulking in his cupboard thinks about anything? Shame on you BBC for leading on this.
Sandi Dunn John Kemp: if you really think Assange committed rape then you are a fool who hasn’t bothered to read all the ins and outs of what went on/goes on between USA and Sweden – the details are all there if you can be bothered to apply yourself….but 3 facts stand out 1) the main accuser of so called rape insisted that the condom used was split deliberately – hence rape in Sweden. However, the condom she handed in as evidence had no ones dna on it after several tests. 2) The respected Women Against Rape wrote to the press laying out their reasons for not believing in the rape story. 3) As all the recent abuse stories show a ‘rapist’ or an abuser is unlikely to have been a ‘one off’ kind of fellow. It follows that A rapist in their 40’s would more likely than not have had some history of abuse. But noone has come out of the wood work with any stories of Assange abusing them – even though there could have been money in telling such a story.
Sandi Dunn Ctnd.. Assange is wanted in USA. It is the reason Manning was tortured and kept illegally on remand way overlegal time limit – they wanted him to break and say that Assange knew who he was and so was ‘guilty’ too as the publisher of the files. They want Assange because he had the where with all to decode the files meaning he could release the evidence against USA in the film ‘Collateral Murder’ which is what pissed of the USA . If Assange goes back to Sweden their Right Wing leaning government will rendition him to USA. I believe Sweden is beholden to USA for lucrative electronic contracts etc etc All this, Snowden too, is an outrage against whistle blowing and the free press. All the top papers published the ‘stolen’ files too so are equally ‘guilty’ are they not?
19 minutes ago · Like
- ‘We Steal Secrets’: The Assassination Of Julian Assange – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Julian Assange: conviction of Bradley Manning a dangerous precedent (theguardian.com)
- The Assassination of Julian Assange (counterpunch.org)
- EXCLUSIVE: “Bradley Manning Has Become a Martyr” – WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on Guilty Verdict (democracynow.org)
- ‘WikiLeaks will not rest until Bradley Manning is free’: Julian Assange slams conviction (express.co.uk)
- The Assassination of Julian Assange “We Steal Secrets”: A Masterclass in Propaganda (counterinformation.wordpress.com)
- “Bradley Manning Has Become a Martyr” – WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on Guilty Verdict (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
- Julian Assange : Price of being audacious and courageous (saveindia4future.wordpress.com)
- Influential Tech-Focused Twitter Accounts That Are Making a Buzz (rasmussen.edu)
Minister for education Gove, should get philosophy and talking about issues on the curriculum for twelve-year olds (as this lad is) in the UK too! And Get British school teachers to show this film to British kids of same age. Teachers in UK rarely talk to kids of this age with respect and wisdom – as equals – as kids would be were they given the chance to voice opinions. UK schooling It is chiefly about the bloody tie and school uniform… and manipulation of the league tables for a few measly GCSEs at end of it all. Either that, or patronising them, OR/and giving detentions etc for ridiculous reasons…. with not much to show for any of it by 16! I mean, after 11 years full-time school they should be able to have opinions and speak as clearly as this 12 year old Egyptian boy at least. I do like his hairstyle…. haha
- Watch This Brilliant Egyptian Boy Smack Down the Muslim Brotherhood (mashable.com)
- Why One Young Public School Teacher Has Had Enough (uglicoyote.wordpress.com)
- Finland’s education ambassador spreads the word (guardian.co.uk)
- The Return of the School Uniform (ateenagerabroad.wordpress.com)
I just sent this email to LBC radio (London radio station) as they are discussing it now!
“Boris‘ vanity, ‘Routemaster‘ bus is a scandal and a joke. It’s air conditioning failed today on the buses and there are no windows that open! Just imagine in summer heat! The price of each bus is a joke too, one-third of a million pounds EACH! please ask Y he went ahead with this when the rest of the bus fleet pours out particulates (taxis too) so that we have the most dangerous air to breathe in EU. Paris‘ buses all run on Aqua-diesel which is much less polluting; he should have spent this fortune organising the same for Londoners! The back open platform is ridiculous too as we passengers will have to pay for a health and safety guy to stand on each bus to stop us jumping on and off the platform. Also, I read that the bus companies would not pay for the buses as they did not want them, so WE are paying for them – so, what about that considering that the privates bus companies will keep the fares! Boris, like his bus, is a poor joke.
- Boris buses ‘hotter than magma’ in summer weather (telegraph.co.uk)
- Meltdown on the Boris bus: air-con cock-up leaves passengers sweltering in 30C (standard.co.uk)