Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trabitrip Poland

We made it to Poland! Unfortunately we mightn’t make it back. As I type the Trabi is spending the night in a strange garage after springing a leak. Petrol was gushing out at an alarming rate. I’d only filled the damn thing up when your man in the station noticed the big puddle under the engine and erupted with indecipherable exclamations while waving his hands in the air.
I wouldn’t mind but I was so proud of the Trabi for getting us all the way here yesterday. I’d given it a wash and a polish the day before – reward for 43 years’ unapologetic service – and it looked 20 years younger. The chrome was shiny again, the dirt was gone, the windows gleaming and the dull white wasn’t as dull as before. I even got new seat covers! Though I didn’t have time to put them on. Damn it, there wasn’t a moment to lose if we were to make it all the way to Poland…
I got a speaker too so we could have music en route. David Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee” was blaring as we flew slowly down the Autobahn with the windows open. That was the life! Escaping the big city and heading for a few days to the seaside. It was to be our second Trabitrip and more exotic than the first. Another country!
High fives when we crossed the border. We’re in Poland! Unfortunately the roads in Poland are shit. I thought the EU was supposed to sort them out but evidently not. Pretty soon they were shaking the shite out of the car, causing me to wince with every bump. The Trabi’s used to DDR roads, I tried telling myself.
We were nearing our hotel – a castle in the middle of nowhere – when I’d to switch the reserve on the fuel tank. Still 10K to go, I wasn’t sure if we’d make it. Then we hit a dirt track for the final stretch. It was hardly even a dirt track. Only a fucking tank could navigate it properly. But we’d to keep going, bouncing up and down, zooming over bumps and down cavernous inclines only to shoot back up the other side. We were airborne at times.
Finally we made it but obviously the roads have taken their toll. The mechanic, who thankfully spoke German, said a screw or something must have fallen out. We’ll find out more in the morning.
The castle we’re in is lovely, albeit small, probably not a real castle, but it’s beside a lake and a forest. I asked someone working here how old it was. “1,800” she replied, making it very old indeed unless she was referring to the year.
There’s nothing else in the run-down village, a huge church like in every Polish village we drove through, lots of chickens and a few old mangy dogs that growl their displeasure when you pass. Maybe they think we’re German.
I wonder if they know that all the dogs here used to be German, and before that Prussian, and that it is only for man’s eternal greed and the tricks of history that they are Polish dogs now.
The castle has a huge tower and narrow round steps that go up forever until you emerge blinking and dizzy among the clouds, looking down at the stork who foolishly built his/her nest on a chimney that’s still in use. There was smoke billowing around the nest this morning. Smoked stork on the menu this evening.
We also saw a snake, frogs, fish in the nearby lake, thousands of crickets, and there’s a cat and a dog that seem to like following us around.
The young fella thinks the king and queen used to live here and he reckons it was “even nicer” when they did. It’s a good thing they’re gone though. He’d have driven them mad by now, constantly asking to play football or badminton or to go fishing or to read books or go off in boats, or everything at the same time.
Really I wanted to bring him to the sea, half an hour away, and let him run off his energy there, but the Trabi’s injury has put that plan on ice. To console myself, I shall treat myself to a mojito for 14 złotys. Tomorrow is another day.

(The wifi is pretty crap here too, so I’ll update this and all the posts concerning the last few weeks in France with photos once I settle back down in Berlin.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nice

Sonia and Ben left on their honeymoon today. I’m still in Nice. I got here Thursday when it was a different place, before some fuckbag changed it.
We were in a restaurant around the corner when it happened, finishing our desserts when hordes of people started running by and others burst in, looking for shelter. They were crying, panicked, in an awful state. You could see they were terrified. Restaurant staff tried lowering the shutters but they stopped. So many people, they didn’t want to shut them out.
There were lots of kids, one trembling like a leaf, another girl unable to stop crying. “Ça suffit!” her mother told her as if she could stop. The mother was also in bits.
I went outside. People kept running. They tried getting into the Hôtel de Ville opposite. It had big iron gates, there were police, it was safety. I asked people what they were running from. Some didn’t know. Others said stuff about a truck, gunshots, people killed.
Ben and Sonia came out, they’d settled the bill, it was time to go. We brought Mel home in the car. There were still people running, people panicking liked spooked cattle, running together in the same direction. I rang AP in the meantime, told them something was going on. Then I left Mel’s house to go back down to Promenade des Anglais, despite Sonia’s misgivings. I had to go, there was no option. On the way I met more people coming towards me, many of them crying, hands to faces, others being consoled with an arm around the shoulder. But they were only going one way and I was going the other, towards the sirens, counterintuitively. I thought of Fionn but I knew I’d see him again. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise.
When I got there soldiers with machine guns wouldn’t let me go any further. I argued with one, showed him my press pass but he was very obstinate, kept pushing me away. I didn’t push back. He had a machine gun and you could see they were all very jumpy.
I talked to a few people nearby about what happened and they told me what they saw. Carnage, guns, death, bodies, bits of bodies, blah blah. They were very excited. I got quotes, sent them to AP. Then I took photos, of cops, soldiers, ambulances, and I sent them to AP too. I had to go to a hotel nearby to use their wifi as my fucking internet stick might as well have been a wooden stick. It was in the hotel I met a French journalist from Le Monde or somewhere who told me 60 people had been killed. It was a shock, I couldn’t believe her, refused to believe her, assumed it was hyperbole. I went back and shot live video on my phone until the police told me to stop. “Ç'est interdit.” I didn’t believe them either, argued for a while. But they’re probably right. This stupid “State of Emergency” entitles police etc. to do and say whatever the hell they want. I didn’t think being arrested would be productive so I stopped filming.
I went around the corner to try and approach from the other side when soldiers started shouting at me to put my hands up. Other people walking beside me put their hands up. I was conscious that somewhere in front of me someone had a gun trained at my chest. I had a bag on my back, they probably thought it was a bomb. I reluctantly put my hands up. Like a fucking eejit. I was so pissed off. Who the fuck were these people? And who the fuck were the people who caused French soldiers to aim guns at civilians and force them to walk down a street with their hands up? They directed us where to go, one queue for men, another for women. The soldier who searched me was very pleasant. He smiled apologetically. “Photographe?” he asked when he saw my camera gear. “Oui,” I replied. So I’m a photographer now.
I went back to where I was and shot more video from a safer distance, away from the police. But my battery was dying, it was getting late, and quieter so I started heading home. The battery died so I’d to plug it into my laptop to charge as I walked. There were no taxis. The house was 5K away. On the way I’d time to think about what happened, the people who would never come home, the kids just mowed down. I fought tears. Anger, sorrow, helplessness, I didn’t know what to feel. I still don’t.
Ben let me in when I got there. I apologized. I’d only met the guy that day and here I was, waking him up in the middle of the night.
There were emails and messages and missed calls and all sorts of shit and I’d just worked through the lot, settled in bed, when the phone rang: AP in London. Two Egyptian guys in MacDonald’s had footage of the shootout with police and they needed someone to collect it. Would I go? It was 4:30. They needed it quick before anyone else got it. I had to think quick. It would have taken another hour to walk back down, there were no taxis, and Sonia had a car. I knocked on their door. Snores. I hadn’t the heart to knock louder. I took the keys – stole the fucking car – and drove down, but the whole place was blocked off.
To cut a long story short, I parked far away, ran to the meeting point, met the Egyptians, saw the video, the deal was agreed, and I pressured your man to keep it as he kept taking calls from other media outlets. In the end I lost patience with him, told him to stop taking other fucking calls and just stick to the deal.
It was getting late, or early, and I knew Ben and Sonia needed to pick Annie up from the airport at 8 or 9am. In the end I had to go, remember where I parked (it took a while to find the car again), and make my way back, where I found Ben already out on the road looking for what turned out to be his car. I’d thought it was Sonia’s. I apologized again and we went to the airport to pick up Annie.
I’d agreed to give TV interviews later that day so I couldn’t go to bed. Then I’d to go to the killer’s house, quick in case there was a police raid. I took Ben’s bike. But it was quiet, there was nothing going on and I’m not even sure if it was the right house. I took pictures, sent them, returned, did the interviews and got to bed, 15:15. I dreamed of the end of the world. A nuclear bomb. The noise was incredible. I felt myself turning to jelly and didn’t know if I was alive or dead when I woke up.
That was the end. Sonia and Ben were getting married the next day. That was it. The beginning.
The wedding: wonderful. Nobody forgot what happened, nobody will forget what happened, but nobody let it impact in any way on the day. As I told someone already, we celebrated their love, we celebrated life, and it was even more important to do so. We partied, love wins. It was very moving, literally – everyone was dancing – and I’ve never met such a group of good people, Ben (the first guy I kissed, on the cheeks, I had to after all I’d put him through), Romain (the second guy, and with whom I’d a great discussion about Corsican independence), Samy, Jen, Anne, Annie, Mel… you know, I’m humbled to meet these wonderful people, that’s all, new friends, a whole new world, and that’s what I’ll take home with me from Nice. Merci Sonia et Ben, Je vous embrasse tous les deux.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fleeting return

Since I got I back I haven’t really landed. I’m still in observation mode, floating above it all, taking it all in without being seen. I’m invisible, here but not here, just watching, hesitating before I plunge back in.
Days with the young fella have been brilliant, my only reality. We went to Mauerpark on Sunday, kicked a ball around, drank a beer, et an ice cream, watched a grown man walk past stark bollock naked, listened to South American music, kicked the ball around some more, and then I had to bring him home because his face was literally black with muck. Not that anyone gives a damn what you look like or if you go around naked.
We went to the Späti for the football final after he washed his face. I was delighted Germany failed to make it as it meant I had a whole day off, and the young fella was delighted Portugal won. He had his carton of milk and kept refilling his glass as if it were a bottle of whiskey. There were some Portugal fans in front of us and he was hi-fiving them all.
On Saturday I said “bonjour” at another Späti, got a funny look. There was a disconnected concert, Beirut, followed by deep philosophical discussions once the sun went down, the kind you can only have behind the sun’s back when the mind is free. Or when it thinks it’s free. It’s never free.
Euro 2016 ended on a sour note for Germany, not that any of the German journalists were complaining after a month of press conferences. France won 2-0 in Marseille and suddenly Germany were out, not welcome anymore, everyone left to make hurried plans to get home. Everyone said their goodbyes and scattered away. I got a flight the next morning, via Brussels, before finally landing in Tegel, the best airport in the world, Friday evening.
The Syrian family were gone by the time I got home but they’re still looking for a place. Now they shuffle from one temporary abode to another. I think they’ll be looking for a while. I hope they find something before they give up.
There was a Kita party yesterday. Some kids are leaving and starting school so emotions were running high. If it’s not football it’s something else. People were forced to sing. But there was food and it was free so I et as much as I could like a proper journalist. I tried not talking to anyone but a few people found me despite me being invisible and forced me to converse. A father of some kids I’d never seen before was actually very nice, I was happy he tried talking to me. But the rest of them! Jaysus, I hope I’m not like any of them. I’m not sure if it’s German parents I have an aversion to or all of them. Probably all of them.
Tomorrow I go back to France, to Nice for Sonia’s wedding. Sonia’s the last person I ever thought would get married so I look forward to seeing why I was wrong. I haven’t really landed and I’m taking off again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Endspurt: Last evenings at Euro 2016

It’s four weeks exactly since I arrived in France. They’ve gone in a slow blur, a long flash, a bewildering array of trains, planes, hired cars, and various cities punctuated by football games. I don’t know where the hell I am anymore.
Well, I do. It’s the last night in Évian-les-Bains. Tomorrow we go to Marseille for the semifinal after Germany’s last training session here. Then there’s the pre-match presser before the day of the match itself.
Match days are the easiest because all the previews are done and it’s time for the real business of the match itself. Easy, because you just write about events unfolding before your eyes. Easy, though it can get late – 3.30am before I finished after Germany-Italy went to penalties in Bordeaux on Saturday.
I had my first Feierabend beer afterward – I went 26 days without touching a drop! – and the second followed shortly after that. I haven’t had any since. I amaze myself sometimes.
I know I said I’d update the previous post with pictures but I’ve just needed to switch off. I’ll update it, and this, soon enough.
I’ve been running like a lunatic, training like mad, in between the traveling. It’s a good way to see the place. I’ve been running around Lac Léman here, swimming in it too – it’s glorious! – and running in Paris, Lille and Bordeaux.
You know what I think of Paris, I love it, and two subsequent trips there didn’t change my mind. There wasn’t much time for sightseeing on either occasion but I got lost in a bookshop and bought a book by Haruki Murakami that I’m enjoying a lot. Someone had recommended him to me but it was only after I bought the book I remembered, or that I realized I remembered. I also went for a wander through the cemetery in Montmartre, said hello to the unhabitants.
I really liked Bordeaux too. It’s full of old crumbling buildings, worn out, disheveled, with lots of rubbish on the streets awaiting collection because the bin men were on strike. The day France stops going on strike is the day France stops being France.
I had a car in Bordeaux, a Fiat 500 convertible, so we let the roof down and drove to one of most magnificent beaches I’ve seen. It was great, swimming, getting battered by the Atlantic, then recovering on the sand. I got sunburnt on my stomach. The rest of me is fine. Guess I need to go topless more often.
The previous week I was in Annecy for the Iceland team again. Annecy is enchanting with the Alps as a backdrop, its azure lake just inviting you to dream, to forget everything, especially football, and lose yourself in the beauty of it all. I did that for an hour before I’d to return to Évian again, itself not too shabby either.
But I don’t belong here, this place isn’t me. Nowhere do you see graffiti with “Refugees Welcome” or any graffiti of any kind, there are no Spätis, the people are filthy rich, privileged, yacht club types with more money than appreciation for the things that matter.
The cities are better, there are real people there, friendly people, kind people. After getting back to my Bordeaux hotel late one night and asking the guy in reception if there was any food – I was hungry – he gave me half his lunch, a chicken salad, bread, and a peach for dessert. I told him no, it was alright, but he insisted I take it.
It wasn’t the only act of kindness I’ve encountered. Today I wandered into a bar in Évian for a coffee and a drunken nutbag apprehended me at the bar. He was pretty intimidating but I answered him and played along. He was roaring and shouting and banging the bell. The barman said he was mad. But when I was leaving the nutbag insisted on paying for my coffee and wished me all the best. I wished them all the best too.
It won’t be long now till I’m home, back in my familiar bubble, and I’ll be able to see the young fella again. I’ve missed him a lot and I know it’ll be weird when we do meet, but I don’t care. We’ll have a party. I can’t wait.
First there’s Marseille, where most of the German journalists are hoping Germany lose so they can go home too. Four weeks is a long time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Marathon Sans Frontières: For Zahra and the millions like her

One thing’s for certain, I won’t win it. I’m running the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 25 to raise money for Syria via Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Every cent I raise is going toward MSF’s humanitarian efforts directly in Syria or to assist Syrian refugees who have fled the country.
Fundraising continues. Thanks so much to everyone who donated already! I’ve raised €800 so far, €600 of which I lodged to MSF’s Irish bank account on June 4, so that money is already being put to good use even before I run the first of those 42.195 kilometers….
Of course I hope to raise more over the next 12½ weeks before the big day. Every little contribution will help alleviate someone’s suffering.
And people are suffering in ways you cannot imagine. When I was first writing these words on April 28 (I decided to keep this post updated rather than writing new ones that go stale overnight) another MSF-supported hospital had been hit by an airstrike the night before, at least 14 killed including three doctors. Five members of the Syria Civil Defence, volunteer search and rescue workers, were killed by a regime warplane attack on their facilities the day before. There were more than 10 airstrikes that morning. That was just 24 hours in Aleppo.
The situation has not improved in any way. It’s Syria. It gets worse and worse even when you think it’s not possible. The world turns its back because it’s easier than facing the reality of barrel bombs, indiscriminate murder, systematic starvation, wanton bloodshed, a cycle of bloody violence that feeds on death and nurtures extremism to keep the killing alive.
As I type I’m conscious that I have my own life and all my limbs. I’m putting them to use for people working to save others’ lives and limbs.
I’ve never run a marathon before. They’re not easy. I’ve been training for a while now, no fun whatsoever. People who run and pretend to like it are lying. It’s monotonous and boring, though it gives me time to think, time to think about how lucky I am. I’ve a good life, the living is easy. The living. In Syria not even the dying is easy.
I complained before about aches and pains, cramped up legs, my sore back, the crick in my neck, waking up like I’d been run over by a train, but it’s all nothing. Everything’s nothing as I said before.
I’m going to keep going, it’s my duty, I cannot fail. As I said, I won’t be winning the thing but if I manage to raise a decent amount for MSF in Syria I’ll have won in a much more meaningful way. Please help me win! All donations great and small (small donations are also great) are very much appreciated.



Many thanks to AP for permission to use the photo above, taken by two-time Pulitzer winner Muhammed Muheisen, of Syrian refugee Zahra Mahmoud, 5, from Deir el-Zour. She’s at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. There are another 4.8 million like her and more who cannot escape. If you can call it an escape. I’m running for them all.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Évian-les-Bains

Évian-les-Bains is a very pretty little town, sprawled like its pretty neighboring towns across the bottom of the mountains as if spewed there by the shimmering lake. Every house faces the lake and turns its back to the tree-covered mountains, their bald tops still sprinkled with a crown of snow despite midsummer being just over a week away.
In case you're wondering what I'm doing here, it's because the German team has made it their base for Euro 2016, and I'm reporting on their every move, their every uttering, every crooked eyebrow that they raise during the tournament. Tomorrow I go to Lille where Jogi Löw and Toni Kroos will be giving the pre-match press conference before they open their campaign against Ukraine on Sunday. It's a tough oul' life.
The DFB had a party at the Evian golf club yesterday with free grub and free booze and I didn't drink ANY of it. I've only been drinking water since I landed in France on Tuesday. Évian, named after the water or watered after the name, has loads of it and I have this marathon coming up in September…
I've been running too, despite the dastardly steep mountains doing their best to ruin my legs or turn them into tree-trunks. On Wednesday I ran behind the wooden chalets we're staying in and discovered a forest. Well, it was mad. I ran along the track jumping over fallen trees, down steep ravines, over rivers below waterfalls, up steep ravines, through bushes that whipped my legs, back over gushing streams. I actually drank from one of them, felt invincible. I stung like a butterfly and floated like a bee. Then I went for a swim, 20 lengths of the admittedly small pool back at the chalets.
Yesterday I ran by the lake, Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman if you're French and don't like the idea of a Swiss city butting into your territory). I saw the couples strolling along, the old and the young, the families, the fishermen, the lake-gulls, the speedboats and yachts, the waves casting their salty scent in the air toward the grand houses on the other side of the promenade, the old hotels shuttered and silent yet still maintaining a grand dignity as they look across the waters at Lausanne in Switzerland on the other side, backed by mountains made of untraceable cash.
There's plenty of cash in Évian too, judging by the fine stone houses, the magnificent gardens, the fancy cars, the gold-rimmed people and the extortionate supermarkets. I spent €50 on groceries just to keep me alive for a few days, fruit and stuff, nothing extravagant. That's why I took full advantage of the free grub last night and went back for a second helping. Alas, I am not a snake and was hungry again today.
After writing my preview and attending the presser this morning I went for another run by the lake, the same route only the lake was calmer, a mirror made for skimming stones. I had none. I skimmed stones in my head and watched them hop hop hop hop hop till they were swallowed up by a giant fish who then waved his tail at me and wished me a safe onward journey. I wished him the same.
A French man encouraged me to keep running hard. At least I think he was French, he looked it, as did his dog wearing a beret and a bag of onions, with a baguette tucked securely under his front left leg and a cigarette in his paw.
With all the work and all running and all the work there hasn't been much time for photos. I'd hoped to get a few this evening but the clouds are gathering again – I got soaked on my way home after finding an abandoned house on Wednesday, wetter than a drowned fish – and I have to get back in time for the first match tonight so I find out what I'm supposed to do in Lille on Sunday.
Don't worry, the final's not for another month, there'll be plenty of time to update with pictures.

If you're interested in football, this is where I do be tweeting my professional stuff: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP


Sunday, June 05, 2016

France, here I come

I move to France on Tuesday, for a month, maybe more, maybe less, depending on how Germany get on at Euro 2016. It's crazy, I still remember following Euro '88 from a hospital bed after being knocked down by a car and cheering on the Netherlands, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and co.
It's my biggest foreign assignment yet – AP are sending me to shadow the German team as it negotiates its way, as some Germans hope, to the final at Stade de France on July 10. I'm only booked through to the semifinal in Marseille on July 7, so perhaps AP doesn't believe Jogi's boys have what it takes to emulate Spain's feat of consecutive World Cup and European Championship titles.
I'll be based in Évian-les-Bains, where the German team has its tournament headquarters, and I'll be making my way from there to Lille for the first game, the next two in Paris, and then probably Bordeaux and Marseille for the next games. No doubt the German team will be flying. I and a photographer will be driving to Lyon and getting trains everywhere.
I'm looking forward to it, wow, it's a brilliant job I have, though there's also a very slight feeling of dread – nothing to do with terrorist attacks, but from making sure I do a good job and live up to the trust placed in me. And of course I'm going to miss the young fella when I'm gone. It'll be by far the longest time I won't have seen him. We'll have Skype or whatever but I'm pretty sure already that'll be a pile of shit – you can't beat the real thing of sitting down in front of someone and talking to them.
A Syrian family is moving into our apartment while I'm gone. They're getting kicked out of their current place in Zwickau on Wednesday for daring to say they weren't happy living among Pegidiots and Nazis so the timing couldn't be better. Hopefully a month will be enough for them to find something more permanent in Berlin. Otherwise I guess we'll be living with five other people when I get back.
There's a lot of football stuff going on lately, so much it's staring to interfere with real life. The young fella has started training with Borussia Pankow, a club up the road. He's mad into it, can't get enough no matter how many times I tell him it's just a game.
He's also into collecting the Panini football stickers, and he was the only one at the Späti shouting for Real Madrid against Atlético last weekend. He's young, it made him happy, what the hell. But if he ever shouts for Bayern Munich I shall probably have to disown him, as indeed any reasonable parent would do.
I'm going to have to keep the marathon training going while I'm gone. There are only 16 weeks now until the big day. I figure the month away from Berlin's nightlife will help my fitness. My plan is only to drink water in Évian – they got plenty of it – but I'll treat myself to a beer after games in whatever host city I happen to be in. We'll see how it goes. It promises to be an interesting month ahead.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Paris, la muse

Paris is like the opposite of Berlin. Where Berlin celebrates decadence, darkness and counterculture (at least the Berlin I know and love), Paris celebrates aesthetics, beauty, light and art. It's another world, one I like very much.
Radiohead brought me there last Tuesday and I had the pleasure of staying with Mark for three nights. We were among the first to the gig and I was so happy to be there I didn't even mind paying €8 for Heineken. Money doesn't last long in Paris, a flaw I'm willing to overlook for now. The concert was brilliant, probably the best I've seen of them, but I won't go on about that. Back to Paris…
I ran to Jardin des Tuileries just behind the Louvre on Wednesday – the training never stops – and can honestly say it was the most scenic run yet, albeit the most challenging with every pedestrian I met going the same way I was as I was trying to get past. Their left to my right and vice versa ad infinitum. Jaysus, my Latin's improving…
Opposite the Louvre, someone had written on the pedestrian light: "Je suis la muse qui l'ouvre." I am the muse that opens it. It works better in French.
The garden had chairs, lots and lots of chairs, occupied by sun-worshippers stretched out in reverence to that otherworldly giver of life. There were people of all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, all ages, all reverent and completely relaxed. Kids were playing football to the side, their excited yelps adding to the snatches of French you hear as you pass. It's like the city's song. Traffic tries to stifle it but Paris keeps singing.
The footpaths are flooded with chairs, they're not just in the parks. Chairs almost spill into the streets, catering for the national pastime – sitting and talking, or simply sitting and watching the beautiful people go by, the pretty side of life.
There's also the less pretty side. Paris is home to a lot of homeless, contradictory though that may sound, and you'll often see them stretched out in sleeping bags beside a café or club where oblivious revelers bask in the enjoyment of their own private worlds. Some worlds are better than others.
A sex worker freaked out because some dopey tourist took a photo of her, or her shop. There was a big hullabaloo with both sides yelling for the police until it more or less broke up when a guy who had nothing to do with any of it decided to go in and have a swing at your man. Feelings were running high.
There was another incident with a woman chasing another guy who must have stolen something from her. He'd been at my table just before, either offering or looking for something. I guess he was looking. Anyway, she was chasing him up the street, shouting as he was walking away. Two minutes later followed an oldish fellow rolling up his sleeves like a scene from Asterix.
I'd wanted to follow in Beckett's footsteps, literally, but I'd no idea where he'd been so I just walked and walked and walked. No doubt our paths crossed somewhere. I kept walking.
After strolling up to Sacré-Cœur – which is marshaled by soldiers with machine guns now, as are the metro stations thanks to France's self-imposed "state of emergency" (never mind that Brussels too was marshaled by machine gun-toting soldiers before the attacks there) – I took a stroll to République, where I found lots of moving tributes to the victims of the November Paris attacks.
A man with a great big shock of grey hair stood there with his head bowed in front of a load of candles, candles like the ones we left in Berlin. I kept walking, down to the Bataclan, still boarded up and closed for business. I didn't know what to think, just sadness.
One day we ate at a very French place, Chez Paul, where it started with a row between two of the staff, a thin man who was pissed off to be working Saturday, and a huge woman who was explaining that they were all tired. It reached the stage 20 minutes later where the man said they couldn't possibly leave the place in the hands of two other (presumably) incompetent staff.
The woman, who seemed to be doing all she could to prolong the row, eventually came over and took our order and later turned into the star of the show. Two people came in and needed a table for five. Cue consternation until the woman grabbed a chair from another table and stuck it at the end of a table for four. "Ta daa!!"
She teased us for licking our plates clean. "The food was horrible, huh? You should try the desserts, they're really horrible."
In between jokes and hugging babies at another table, she barked orders at the incompetent underlings. She was really running the show. The food was great of course; we left with full and happy bellies.
Nearly all the cafés are jammed with people sitting at little tables, enjoying expensive drinks, and chattering as if their lives depend on. They all look perfect, not a button missing nor stray hair out of place. I was a freak with my uncontrollable mop.
One night there were three girls sitting at the bar sharing a cheese platter, each with a glass of red wine, chatting without a care in the world.
We walked around Pigalle, enjoyed the exotic blend of cultures, found a few Spätis – yes, Paris has Spätis! – though of course they're not as cheap as Berlin's.
I saw an old man wearing a beret with a baguette under his arm near Ile de la Cité, where again I visited my old friends the gargoyles atop Notre Dame. Esmeralda and Quasimodo were there too.
I told Mark I'd like to live in Paris for a while, maybe three months or so. He said that was long enough. Of course Paris has got its problems, but if you like something enough you tend not to see the flaws. And Paris is a muse. I have to go back, I'll go back.