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Part of the cupola above the tea-room at the P...

Part of the cupola above the tea-room at the Printemps department store in Boulevard Haussmann, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: North sidewalk of the Avenue des Cham...

English: North sidewalk of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, at dawn, featuring Christmas decoration lights. Français : Trottoir nord de l’avenue des Champs-Elysées, à Paris, avec ses décorations de Noël. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’… to Paris.

Sandi Dunn London E8

Email: sandi.dunn@hotmail.com

Tel: 07412 394149

Hotel de Ville

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‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’… to Paris  

(Mid-winter 2012/ 2013)

1,217 words

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…

1217 words.

 

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Sandi Dunn
Retweeted Rory Bremner (@rorybremner):

Really enjoyed this: Russell Brand aka @rustyrockets interviewed by Jon Snow. Warning: contains spirituality http://t.co/bDx7pqKs
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The Bottle Factory Outing

The Bottle Factory Outing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just signed a petition urging the CEOs of GAP and H&M to take urgent action to ensure safety of their workers in Bangladesh factories. Join me. — https://secure.avaaz.org/en/crushed_to_make_our_clothes_ss/?ddDiwab

Globalisation has ultimately helped no one…except filthy rich Global capitalist empires, who pulled people away from their ancient rural lives and traditions into filthy cities and dangerous, polluting factories.  One of my first jobs, age 15, was as a machinists’ ‘runabout’ in a small clothing factory in Great Yarmouth Norfolk. (Was’t there such a place in every town?) The women machined so fast you could hardly see their hands… In this case, rather than a ‘sweat shop‘ atmosphere, Johnson’s was a family firm run in a kindly fashion.  They made mostly industrial garments: chefs jackets, fishermen”s smocks, overalls etc.

The women machinists had the incentive of a basic rate plus ‘piece work’.  One friend saved enough in less than a year working there on piece work (the more you machined the more you earned)  for the deposit for a house …   It was a smallish factory.  They organised days out (works outings) (reminiscent of Beryl Bainbridge‘s Bottle Factory Outing story). I wasn’t there long as I moved on to become a waitress in a Holiday Camp – far more glamorous!! But, I have very fond memories of my time working there especially flirting with the boys in the mechanics’ workshop  also the packing room! (I was sweet 15)!

Naturism

Naturism (Photo credit: bartmaguire)

http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/Naked_Man_Arrested_in_Reykjav%C3%ADk_0_398872.news.aspx

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