A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Art, Music, and Unity Overcome Dark Days in the City of Light*

Expressions of Je Suis Charlie quickly appeared everywhere in Paris.  This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, the area where I stayed for my second week.

Expressions of ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ quickly appeared everywhere after the horrific  January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. This one was painted on to the front corner of an apartment building in Montmartre, close to where I stayed during  my second week in Paris.

It will be difficult to ever forget about the horrific events that took place in Paris, starting on Wednesday January 7, and ending on Friday January 9, 2015. I had no idea that the  regularly scheduled monthly test of the  startling and eerie-sounding air raid siren  at midday Wednesday would be a harbinger of what had just taken place a short distance from my rendez-vous point with a French friend.  That afternoon, just after lunch hour, I was to  meet Magali (the mother of friend Gildas, the groom-to-be) in a café beside the stately neo-classical Notre Dame de Lorette Cathedral.  She was going to take me to some smaller, lesser known museums and sites in the New Athens area of the  9th arrondissement.

I arrived in good time.While I sipped my café au lait, I noticed  that customers seemed to be glued to the TV screen located behind my left shoulder.  I turned my head to take a quick look, and could see police and soldiers  in combat gear with guns and a number of ambulances in front of a building. I hastily assumed that something bad had happened somewhere in the world and immediately thought, “how sad.” In the din of the packed brasserie, I could not make out what was being reported on the  French TV channel.

Then Magali came along, followed by Carole, the bride-to-be.  After a quick greeting and orders for café, they turned their immediate attention to the TV screen.  “What’s going on?” I asked. “There was a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo  satirical  magazine office,” said Carole, “It’s not far from here,” she added.  Feelings of shock, fear and disbelief stunned me momentarily.  “Should we go out?” I wondered aloud.  “Of course, we will be fine,” Magali replied.  Although I was a bit nervous,  we ventured across the road to the  cathedral. We entered its peaceful interior and I immediately felt calmer as we quietly admired the paintings and sculptures there.

After about 20 minutes, we exited that serene setting.  Carole left to continue with her pre-wedding errands.  I then followed Magali along quiet side streets in the neighbourhood and she pointed out where some famous artists, musicians and writers had lived in earlier times, particularly during the Romantic era (ca. 1800-1900) – my

Magali stands in front of the Museum of teh Romantics, the House of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

Magali stands in front of the Museum of the Romantics, the former house of painter Ary Scheffer in the New Athens district of Paris.

favourite époque!  We ducked into a tidy lane-way where I gasped with delight at the sight of a perfectly preserved 19th century mansion, aptly named ‘Museum of Romantics‘. Its contents focussed on the works of some of the then-thriving artists, musicians and writers of the first half of the 1800’s. Painter Ary Scheffer, whose family owned the house at that time, would regularly entertain other renowned neighbours in his studio there, including: writer/painter George Sand; musician Chopin; painter Delacroix; composer Rossini; pianist/composer Liszt; and others. While a  soothing background  of recorded Chopin piano nocturnes diminished my uneasiness about this strange day, I admired paintings, sculptures, letters, and jewelry belonging to these famous French artistes,  which included a cast of pianist/composer Chopin’s left hand!

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his 'lover' George Sand, a female writer.

Chopin once lived here, a short walk from his friend, painter Ary Scheffer and very near to his ‘lover’ George Sand, a female writer. The space is now part of a business school. A small plaque is on the wall.

We then wandered the streets in search of another little artist’s museum, that of Romantic era Symbolist painter  Gustave Moreau.  However, it was closed that day and I did not have an

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum.  It's on my list for next time!

I did not get to see the Gustav Moreau museum. It’s on my list for next time!

opportunity to return during this visit.  To me, there were few people around.  It seemed too still for a city as lively as Paris. On any other day, I would not have thought anything of it; however, something was going on that was not good and we were as yet, ignorant of unfolding events.  We ended up at another beautiful church: the Sainte-Trinitie.  Again, we went in and gazed in wonder at the plethora of sacred murals and paintings, as well as the Epiphany display for that recently concluded Christmas celebration.

I picked up a pamphlet which advertised a free classical flute-guitar concert the following day and I immediately planned to attend it.  Magali and I then reposed at a pretty café in sight of the church.  While I enjoyed my second café au lait of the day, she read over my presentation for the wedding ceremony of her son, Gildas and daughter-in-law Carole, which would take place the following Saturday. She kindly corrected a few errors so that the speech could be better understood by those in attendance at this memorable occasion. (Sometimes idioms in one language lose their translated meaning in another!)

It was almost dark by the time we parted; Magali left me at the Métro stop  right outside the café while she went in another direction to catch her train. When I reached my AirBNB apartment  in Montmartre about half an hour later, I still had no idea of what had really transpired that afternoon.  I turned on my tablet to find an email message from Elsa, my lovely AirBNB hostess.  She advised me that I might find roads blocked and subway delays in my area, as the terrorists had made their escape on a main route very near to me! My anxiety mounted a bit, but it had been a few hours since she sent the note, so I knew I had to find out what was going on.  I could not figure out how to operate the European TV, so I resorted again to my trusty tablet.  I read  reports from French, British, Canadian and American media outlets to get a sense of the magnitude of this debacle.  Meanwhile, emails and texts arrived from  family members: a cousin who is a retired ‘Mountie’ (RCMP officer) and his wife; as well as from my brothers and their families.  They  wanted to know if I was okay and what exactly was going on.  I immediately responded to all, telling them that I was fine, and that they probably knew more about it than I did! Interestingly, I also felt supported by numerous friends and acquaintances who were sending me ‘good vibes’ telepathically from North America and the Caribbean.  These strong positive feelings really helped me to dampen my fears, and to all of you, heartfelt thanks!

I decided to stay inside that evening, and made an effort to find out what was going on.  It seemed that the terrorists were outside of Paris now, but no one knew exactly where.  I read as much as I could online.  Admittedly, that night I did not sleep well.  The streets seemed too silent: was everyone thinking the same thing?  I even wondered if a curfew had been imposed, but my research disclosed that everything was operating as usual.

Next morning, news reports indicated that someone had identified the terrorists at a gas station and that the police were actively tracking them northeast of Paris. Meanwhile, French President Hollande had declared Thursday January 8th to be a day of mourning in France.  I stayed in the Montmartre area for a few hours and then headed to the Métro just before midday so that I could be on time for the 12:45 p.m. concert at the Trinity

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly.  They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

The guitarist and flautist who performed at the free midday concert at Trinity Church sounded heavenly. They also looked angelic in the dim light, as captured by my camera.

Church. It was noon when I stepped into a crowded ‘wagon‘ ( subway car). Right away, an announcement was made that there would be one minute of silence in respect of those who had lost their lives the previous day in the terrorist attack.  The subway stood still and the only sound I heard was silence.  I bowed my head and  quickly prayed for peace.   After a few minutes, we were on our way.  I made it to the church in good time and seated myself about halfway from the performance area.  Before entering, I noticed my first ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ sign on a

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Suare, just aacross from the Trinity church.

The first of hundreds of Je Suis Charlie signs that I noticed around Paris. It was posted on a newspaper kiosk at Trinity Square, just across from the Trinity church.

magazine/newspaper kiosk near the church.  I also saw that it was closed for business.

Although the musicians had taken their places,  not one note was played until the MC asked the gathering audience to honour the lives of those lost in the previous day’s attack by paying tribute to them with a minute of silence.  I could see without a doubt that the French were deeply moved by this horrific event and paid respect to their lost countrymen and women frequently during the next several days.

When the flautist and guitarist commenced playing, I really wanted to cry.  The beautiful blend of their sweet harmonies floated to the roof, and perhaps beyond, and the ethereal sounds freely resonated within my heart. I could only feel peace and love in these sacred surroundings, and the joyful noises encompassed everyone in serenity, at least for a short while. For an hour, ‘all was calm and all was bright’ in that lovely sanctuary.  When it was over, I happily made a small donation to the church fund.  I wish I could have personally thanked the musicians for their uplifting gift on a such a sad day.  I hope this brief mention will suffice, in some way.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etheral glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

Trinity Church, located at Trinity Square in the 9th arrondissement had an etherial glow in the late afternoon sunlight following the wonderful concert.

I then spent part of the afternoon ‘window shopping’ in a district that was jammed with people taking advantage of  Paris’s semi-annual sales. I contented myself with wandering around in the crowds, unaware of the latest developments in the terror crisis until later that evening. I happened upon a cute little café that caught my eye: The Cat Café, in fact.  Well, with a name like that, how  could I,   a cat lover resist going inside.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It's located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

The Cat Cafe is a cool place to catch a cuppa. It’s located in the shopping district, near Trinity Square.

This time, I had organic English breakfast tea, along with a piece of carrot cake made with wholesome ingredients. After I had finished the tasty treat, I chatted amiably with one of the owners.  We shared stories about our mutual love of cats, and I listened with interest when she explained that tourists were attracted to the café, not only because of its quality products, but because they speak English, as well as other languages! She also updated me on the terrorist situation:  they were still at large and now a police officer had been shot and killed in Paris.Terrorism was felt to be the motivation behind this senseless slaying too.

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Geis to interpret this poster that I saw that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre.  'Je Suis Charlie' was  adroned to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) and the poisonous drink, Absinthe

I had help from friends Jenny, Georgie and Gijs to interpret this poster that I saw on a shop door in Montmartre. ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ was affixed to a poster of Van Gogh (Absente) with the poisonous drink, Absinthe. Very meaningful!

Once again, feelings of uneasiness surfaced as I headed for the Métro to return to my guest apartment at Montmartre.  However, others on the street appeared to go about their business, and only paused momentarily with frightened looks when  police vehicles with  sirens blaring occasionally roared by.

As everyone knows by now, these traumatic episodes climaxed on Friday January 9, 2015 with the hostage taking and murders of  some of the people in the Kosher Grocery Store, and the  fatal shooting of  three terrorists (two from Charlie Hebdo and one involved in both the grocery store incident and the police officer’s death on Thursday the 8th- the female accomplice is still at large as of this writing).  I would say that the city breathed a sigh of relief, except that there was understandable anger and a collective desire to express unity against these horrific acts.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar  publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

The American-owned Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar publicly expressed support of Charlie, along with thousands of other establishments in Paris.

By Friday, there was a police presence in strategic locations, including tourist sites.  I tried to get used to walking alongside soldiers with sub-machine guns ‘at the ready’, strapped across their chests.  I wondered if it was safer to walk beside, behind or in front of these highly trained military personnel. I also realized that I was learning a lesson from the tenacious French, who throughout their history had experienced many tumultuous events and still believed that ‘Life Goes On’.  Yes, indeed, I was carrying on.  I also witnessed the courage of the people and their firm intention to gather peacefully to show terrorists that they would not ever be intimidated by their heinous acts.  Sentiments about the fundamental right of Freedom of Expression are definitely alive and well in the City Of Light too.  The massive public demonstration  of millions, along with world leaders in the streets of Paris on Sunday January 11th made it very clear to me that Liberté,  Égalité and Fraternité  (Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood) are principles to which we must all aspire for a better world.  I think that my coincidental visit to Paris during these attacks has  reinforced my beliefs about being courageous in the face of fear and  walking freely to my own beat, even  if others might think that my steps should have a different tempo!

Bon courage, mes amis,  bon courage! (All the best, my friends, all the best!)

* This piece is dedicated to Magali Rouland, who took me to see some bright sites  in the City of Light on an otherwise dark day.  I sensed the strength and fearlessness of Parisians everywhere we went and I admired their tenacity and bravery, which is ever-present.

**And to my very special French Friends, Carole Bogdanovcsky and Gildas Lefèvre, I am forever honoured to have attended your beautiful wedding in Paris on January 10, 2015.This special occasion was filled with joy, peace and love, even though it was celebrated only a few days after those horrific terrorist attacks. Because life is a precious gift, we did indeed “carry on!”

 

 

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A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: A New Year Adventure in the City of Light

Gwendominica (in canary yellow!) shivers at the top of Arc de Triomphe, having arrived in Paris only a few hours earlier.  Photo taken by Carole.

Gwendominica (in canary yellow!) shivers at the top of Arc de Triomphe, having arrived in Paris only a few hours earlier. Guess what’s in the background? Photo taken by Carole.

My first-ever trip to Paris, France from  Roseau,Dominica had been anticipated for several months.  From the moment French friends Carole and Gildas extended an invitation to their wedding ceremonies to take place on January 10, 2015, I focused on preparations for this big trip overseas. I never dreamed that I would see them just under a year after they left Dominica. And it would be my first winter foray in 18 years! Fortunately, my Canadian visit during the summer of 2014 enabled me to buy winter clothes at bargain prices! However, it wasn’t a simple matter of packing my bags and boarding a plane.  With my environmental health challenges, I ensured that my immune system would be in good shape for this exciting

Gwendominica enjoys her first cafe au lait on the Champs d'Elysses. After a very long flight, very little sleep and a confused internal; clock, it certainly tasted sweet!

Gwendominica enjoys her first café au lait in a cozy café on the Champs d’Elysees. Despite a very long flight, very little sleep and a very confused internal clock, it certainly tasted sweet! Photo taken by Carole.

 

 

adventure. As a conscientious ‘canary’ (that is, a person living with significant environmental health challenges), I consulted by phone with my longtime Canadian naturopathic physician, Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. , whose clinic is located in Orillia, Ontario. She advised me about helpful nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies which would provide support throughout this new  and unfamiliar journey.  Although she knew that I was somewhat apprehensive about what could happen, her positive encouragement enabled me to put my fears at rest and expect only the best!

I have been fascinated with ‘French’ for most of my life. I guess that makes me a ‘Francophile‘ who grew up in a Francophone country – Canada! However,  I was born to Anglophone parents in La Belle Province, which means,  in essence, that I  really am Québécoise! I actually spent some time there in June 2014, and if you’re interested in that French adventure, then you can read about it here.

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This little beach near Princess Julianna Airport in St. Maarten is a popular spot to see, hear and feel big jets landing – and taking off! I kept well away but the distraction help to pass the time while I was in-transit to Paris.

As I boarded the WINAIR flight at Charles-Douglas Airport in Dominica, I looked inland towards Morne Diablotin, which was shrouded in clouds.

As I boarded the WINAIR flight at Douglas-Charles Airport in Dominica, I looked inland towards Morne Diablotin, which was shrouded in clouds.

Over the Christmas season in Dominica, I rested as much as possible, and continued with my walking, so that I would be in good shape for the Big Trip. My French friends, Carole and Gildas (the bride and groom) had asked me well in advance

My French friends, Gildas and Carole took time from their busy schedules to take my on a day-long mystery tour of Paris a week before their wedding!

My French friends, Gildas and Carole took time from their busy schedules to take me on a day-long mystery tour of Paris a week before their wedding! More on that in a subsequent post.

for a list of things I would like to see and do.  After I submitted it for their recommendations, they surprised me by informing me that during my first few days,Carole would escort me and then they would both take me on a mystery tour later  that week. They had also provided me with detailed instructions so that I could more easily find my way  from the airport to the Solar Hotel (an ecological hotel), where I would be spending several days. I had my agenda at the ready and I was determined to check everything off of my list.  You’ll find out later whether I succeeded or not!

Finally, Sunday December 28th arrived.  I left before daybreak to travel across the island to board my flight on WINAIR from Douglas-Charles Airport at Melville Hal,l Dominica to St. Maarten. From there, I spent a few leisurely hours before boarding my Air France flight to Charles De Gaulle

There's my Air France plane.  I am ready to board and fly away 'across the pond' to France, a land of my dreams!

There’s my Air France plane. I am ready to board and fly away ‘across the pond’ to France, a land of my dreams!

Airport (CDG) near Paris.  While there were some slight delays, I was well occupied by watching planes land not far from a crowded beach, just a short walk from the airport. I also studied the guide-book that my Dutch friends Gijs and Georgie had loaned to me.  And I also carried a mini-tablet, which proved to be an invaluable tool for communication with friends and family, ordering tickets for a jazz concert,  getting detailed travel directions for locations around the city, and reading  frequent updates on the terrorist attacks during this unforgettable trip.

Although I only slept a little on the overnight flight, I was almost beside myself when the plane crossed over the southwestern coast of France en route to CDG. As we neared Paris, and started our descent, the bright lights of the city kept my attention, as I marvelled at the unrelenting darkness. It was well after 8 a.m. local time!  I had forgotten about the very short days this far north just after the winter solstice!  I certainly did gain a full appreciation for the lovely City of Light, as the displays of illumination at night were breathtaking.

The RER train station (Denfert Rochereau)where I first surfaced in the City of Light!

The RER train station (Denfert Rochereau)where I first surfaced in the City of Light!

Thanks to those specific instructions from my French friends, I easily made my way from the CDG Airport by RER train to the Denfert Rochereau station, a mere five minutes walk to my hotel.  However, after I stepped out of the warm train and then dragged my 50 lb. bag and other paraphernalia up a steep flight of stairs, I walked out into the cold air and gasped. My hands turned to ice quickly as I  searched  for my gloves without success. I had Carole’s map in hand, but I felt so disoriented in the dim light that I did not know in which direction I should proceed.  As I dragged my heavy  load across a busy street, I noticed a taxi stand. Although I knew I was close, I approached a driver  for directions and he graciously pointed the way.  He could see that I was uncertain, so he kindly offered to take me without charge to the Solar Hotel, which as it turned out, was just around the corner.  No sooner had I stepped out and thanked him, than Carole ran up to me and embraced me warmly.  I said (in English) “I have to pinch myself.  I can’t believe I am really here!”

I, like millions of others, enjoyed admiring the Tour Eiffel from various viewpoints - this one from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I, like millions of others, enjoyed admiring the Tour Eiffel from various viewpoints – this one from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I did not feel tired due to my immense excitement, so I dropped my bags, quickly showered and located my gloves while Carole patiently waited for my in the

Some sections of the Paris Metro have been around since 1900!  I like the older signs: this one was located 5 minutes from the Solar Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. (Denfert Rochereau)

Some sections of the Paris Metro have been around since 1900! I like the older signs: this one was located 5 minutes from the Solar Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. (Denfert Rochereau stop)

foyer.  We had a light lunch (I savoured a big bowl of French Onion Soup!) and then we headed off by Métro (underground) to the Arc De Triomphe and the Champs d’Elysées.

Sacre Coeur Cathedral is a prominent landmark as Paris's highest point. I had many adventures in that area, including an unforgettable wedding ceremony!

Sacre Coeur Cathedral is a prominent landmark as Paris’s highest point. I had many adventures in that area, including an unforgettable wedding ceremony!

The vibrant Champs d'Elysees ia a sight to see at any time of year!

The vibrant and lively Avenue Champs d’Elysees from atop the Arc De Triomphe is a sight to see at any time of year!

I was still chilled, so the first order of the afternoon was a café au lait!  As we strolled along the broad boulevard, surrounded by thousands of darkly attired Europeans and tourists, I realized that my brightly coloured Canadian ski jacket was not in vogue in this fashion capital of the world.  However, I did stand out in the crowds, which proved to be helpful during the next few days. Carole  could easily spot me in long queues when she went elsewhere to buy our tickets or find food to sustain us during lengthy waits to enter tourist sites!

When we commenced our climb up the winding stairway inside the 50 metre high Triumphal Arch (I was too close to take a proper photo of it), I was indeed thankful that I liked to walk up hills in Dominica.  What I didn’t expect was a little shortness of breath due to the cold air – a dramatic climate change for me!  While I admired Napoleon’s handiwork, I was more than mesmerized by the 360 degree views of Paris. Carole continued as my professor by pointing out numerous sites and explaining their significance.  My head was not just spinning from the height!  I took in what I could, knowing that I would follow up in my guidebooks and online references.  Meantime, we circumnavigated the structure, and I swooned when I looked through a sheet of glass down to the Memorial to the Unknown  French Soldier during WW I (1914-1918)beneath the arch, far below! After our descent, I spent a few moments there, thinking of my late paternal grandfather who as a young man, served in the British Army  and spent time in the trenches in northern France.  While he did survive, I wanted to pay tribute to him on French soil as that was one of the important priorities on my list of things to do here.

I hadn’t yet been here a full day, and I had taken in some important points of interest with my wonderful guide and teacher, Carole.  We decided that we should continue our explorations the next day, so we boarded the Métro with plans set for a few hours hence.  When I arrived back at the Solar Hotel, another

The eternal flame beneath the Arc De Triomphe pays tribute to the unknown French Soldier who died during WWI.

The eternal flame beneath the Arc De Triomphe pays tribute to the unknown French Soldier who died during WWI.

Season's Greetings were plentiful in the City of Light.  Despite recent tragedies, let us remina hopeful that peace and love will prevail this New Year.

Season’s Greetings were plentiful in the City of Light. Despite recent tragedies, let us remain hopeful that peace and love will prevail worldwide this New Year.

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I, like the merchants on Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement wish you happy celebrations and all the best in 2015! I took this photo on Monday January 5th, two days before the terrorist attacks.

warm shower and a cup of organic herbal tea enabled me to lie down for a restful night in anticipation of the many adventures that lay ahead!