6th August 2004


In Paris I visited Australian architect David Turner who emigrated circa 1990.  David has become a converted Parisian, with the dedicated fervor of a Protestant who has converted to Catholicism.  He calls Paris the "City of Light & Stone".

Like London, Paris was once a walled city, probably progressing from two fortified islands.  Parts of the wall still exist, it's diameter was about 10 kilometers.  Now Paris is a world metropolis and it's original walled center is under conservation orders.  But not before developers had their day.  I would have loved to have seen the Bastille instead of the pillar that celebrates where the Bastille was.

The original islands (Ile de La Citie & Ile St. Louis) in the Seine are only a few hundred meters long, and about three hundred meters wide.  As David noted, Paris is a load of stonework, of which the most important are the cathedral Notre Dame located on the downstream island and the royal palace or le Louvre.  Within the walled city the river Seine flows approximately west to the center, then turns south west.   The south of the Seine is called the left bank (la Rive Gauche), wherein are located bookshops (notably Shakespeare & Company), the Latin Quarter and the Sorbonne, France's world class university.  There is a network of ten or twelve bridges connecting the islands and the mainland.  About 200 meters north (on the right bank = la Rive Droite) of Notre Dame is the Hotel de Ville, where many of those nobles who were executed during "the terror" (revolutionary) resided.  Just downstream of the islands on la Rive Droite is the royal palace & gardens, le Louvre.  The main fashion street (the Champs Elysees, meaning fields of Lilys) stretches westward from the le Louvre to terminate at the Arc de Triomph, which is an impressively massive piece of stone.  The Eiffel tower is on the south bank, a few kilometers south of the Arc de Triomphe.

The French number their "Arrondissements" or districts within the city, each of which is administered by it's own local council called a Marie, in a clockwork spiral centered on the Louvre.  The original walled city contains Arrondissements one through twenty.

On Sunday night David invited me to visit his friend Jim in the south of Paris.  Jim is a world class act.  Paris is his arena, and his game is the organization of the meeting of bodies & minds.  He accepts guests every Sunday.  I noticed books on his shelves authored by "Jim Haynes" with "Richard Neville" and "Germaine Greer" (among others) as collaborators.  I have knowledge of that mob.  They are idealistic dreamers who let none of the pragmatic realities intervene.   I believe in world peace, but unlike the ilk of Helen Caldicott & Bertrand Russell, I do not believe that world peace may be obtained by baring my neck to the executioner's axe.

At that party I talked with two interesting people.  The first was an educator (his expertise was Chemistry) from an East Coast USA university.  I think that we agreed that the MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) paradigm, where the educator is totally divorced from the examining authority, and where the exams can be attempted by anybody who pays the prescribed examination fee was probably the best model for the egalitarian development of education at a professional level.  This method reduces the tendency for educational qualifications to be elitist since anybody with the necessary ability and access to minimal educational material and a few thousand dollars for the examination fees could obtain a degree from a participating university. (e.g. MIT or Oxford).  The second person I met was (by his accent) a Frenchman, and he guardedly admitted to a more than amateur interest in economics.  We discussed (quite vociferously as I recall) the relative merits of the American and European approach to economics, touching on the undesirability of protection. (US steel was mentioned as a US sin, to which I retorted that it probably did not need much protection since the recent devaluations).  The undecided issue was that the European system delivered what Europeans wanted, and US delivered what the US wanted.  I claimed that there was an objective measure, he challenged me to define "best" and I opted for the greatest good, which he considered arguable, because in the new millenia, the US had not continued expanding quite as quickly in the nineties.  I believed that he was begging the issue and we parted, I believe, mutually unconvinced.

One of the prejudices I had before coming to France was that the French were proud to the point of obnoxious of their cultural heritage, and would ignore those visitors who spoke no French.  I did find my prejudice to have some iota of truth among some Gauls over the age of about forty.  Non-Gauls and the younger Gauls frequently had some knowledge of English, and were happy to practice with an English speaking foreigner.  As I found with Netherlands text in Amsterdam, so I found it possible to translate French text about half the time.  This is probably because the French (Normans) conquered Britain in about 1066 and introduced a lot of gaullic words into English.

At night Paris is (as David predicted) a sea of light.  For one night in Paris I was inadvertently homeless.  It is a status I recommend that everyone should suffer on at least one occasion, in order to obtain a better understanding of those who find themselves chronically in that position.  I spent the first hour resting in the lower walkway of the south riverbank, propped against a wall a couple of meters above water level.  (The Seine is about five meters below the surrounding land.)  The strolling and sitting couples did not interrupt my introverted mood.  As the night deepened I found a coffee shop in the Latin Quarter, and nursed a croissant and expresso for an hour.  About an hour after midnight I found myself again at the waterfront, sleeping on a raised stone bench near to where a party was in progress.  I slept there for a couple of hours to the muted mutter of bongos.  The final hours of darkness were spent in front (to the west) of the Hotel de Ville, where a long lasting game of handball was in progress on a sand patch on the plaza.  I found a bench and slept reasonably well (considering the circumstances).

On my homeless night my concern was that I might be mugged, which is why I sought out those places where there were people.  During the night I found many homeless.  There were about a dozen people sleeping in the park in front of the Hotel de Ville that night, and after I woke at about 6am I saw many others sleeping on the streets.  I saw one lady sleeping on the warm grill above part of the Paris Metro.  Another fellow had a shopping cart with his possessions stacked in it parked on the footpath nearby, he had blankets and pillows and a groundsheet.  And yet, in Paris, in summer, such a life is livable.  I say that while thinking of another fellow (seen earlier in the evening) who had a repast set out on the sidewalk: a half eaten toasted sandwich of some kind, and a half finished bottle of rough red.

Our homeless are always going to be with us, some for philosophical & personal reasons, others due to misfortune.  My attitude is that they should be given space, left alone and not persecuted.  If somebody commits a crime, then charge them and sentence them.  But it should not be a crime to be homeless.  Rather, society should set aside public areas where the homeless can safely sleep and access clean water.  After all, we have deprived people of their birthright to hunt for food, drink from streams, & find sheltered caves for sleep by inventing "real estate".  Shouldn't those who benefit by owning that real estate pay compensation to the dispossessed for that which was appropriated?

I found single room accommodation in an area near Voltaire for between 20 and 30 Euros.  Accommodation is very tight in Paris.  I was extremely fortunate to find a wifi internet connection at "Style Cafe" at 151 Boulevarde Voltaire where the connection came free with a cup of coffee.

I am indebted to David for proofreading, and for his criticism which caused re-evaluation of some concepts.


Frankfurt is about eight hours NE of Paris by bus.  It is a city of open spaces and green and an attractive river.  My accommodation was at a youth hostel by the river, in what could have been some sort of army barracks left over from the cold war.  Like all of Europe so far, accommodation is expensive at 24 Euros for a shared dormitory.  (In the states I usually paid about US$18, ~ Euros 13.)  The exchange rates are that a Euro costs about AU1.80, a pound costs about AU$2.50 and a US$ costs about AU$1.40.  Food is cheaper in Frankfurt than in Paris, Amsterdam or London, where a Macdonald's salad cost about two pounds or 2 Euros.  Here it costs about 1.60 Euros.

The city of Frankfurt is quite attractive.  Wide streets, interesting jumbled, multiple outdoor plazas filled with tables for dining, clean and attractive layouts with cars excluded.  The architecture is a mix of modern tall glass covered buildings and classic German churches and stone public buildings, with carillon sounds and cobblestones.  The tall buildings in the business district have pleasing geometries, giving an effect not dissimilar to the downtown area of modern US cities.  There is an opera house and a few other older buildings surviving from the medieval period.

There are lots of beggars, in the early morning on Zeil (the main street) can be seen many homeless.  The much vaunted socialist European states seem to have a greater problem with the homeless than does any part of the uncaring USA.  Of course that is only to be expected.   Minimum wage laws cause greater unemployment, and minimum quality of housing laws promote homelessness.

All over the northern hemisphere there is pervasive pollution, signaled by red sunrise, and filthy grey-yellow horizons.  So far as language is concerned, very few Frankfurters have fluent command of English, although most have a smattering.  I have found when reading signs that German scans more phonetically into English than does French.  For instance the sign on a street stall selling bread rolls "ofenfreich" is readily translated (phonetically) after a few moments thought (= oven fresh).  On the other hand, many words in French spell identically to English words, however the pronunciation is incomprehensible.

German trains and buses operate on a similar system to that found in Los Angeles.  There are no turnstiles, passengers simply walk onto the station or bus, and at the end of their journey, walk off.  Unlike LA, tickets are quite expensive.  A daily was about seven Euros (as opposed to about US$2.50 = 2 Euros in LA).