169/365 – Who am I, really?

DSCN2506Nothing like digging through your past and throwing most of it away to help you get a fresh perspective on life and yourself, not to mention your relationships with others.  I found dozens of letters written to a sibling, for instance, who to this day hardly responds at all. (Yes, I’m a writer with access to a copier, so I kept copies of my letters to people in case it took them weeks to reply and I couldn’t remember what I wrote them.)

And oh the written chatter I kept spewing back then — I’m talking the 1980s in Phoenix — keeping the Midwestern contacts alive as I raised a young son mostly by myself, lots of time to write, both at home at the super-priviledged ad agency where I was prince of that little puddle, flying to LA for the day to work with household names from TV — I once had half the cast of character actors from M*A*S*H and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (Artie Johnson is a dear) doing a radio spot for hot dogs at a convenience store (they were a lost platoon of German soldiers — you had to be there).

But that’s not me.  None of this stuff I’m tossing as I move is.  It’s all just versions of me because I wasn’t in touch with things then like I am now.  I didn’t have the love of God and Jane, I hadn’t looked at myself with the insight and forgiveness of grace and mercy, I really hadn’t done any work at all in trying to be a good human being who cared about his brothers and sisters. “They don’t care about me so the hell with them” was the prevailing attitude, most likely.  “It’s a tough race and the Devil take the hindmost!”

I don’t need much to practice my profession: a notebook, a shoulder bag, one of these new portable computers, some identification and credit cards, a camera, travel Scrabble, and I could be anywhere, writing about anything, Dearest at my side.  That’s the future, and the Devil is welcome to the dry bones and wrinkled pages of the past.

162-167/365 – It’s time to speak of the soul

DSCN2069It was a pilgrimage to a part of her soul – that was the point of visiting Paris with Dearest.  She had learned the language there and absorbed French culture and that had added to her character key components of grace, taste, tolerance and style that had been missing in the American Midwest.  Could I discover something too?  I dared not hope, yet it came quite easily.

We were sitting in a café, engaged in a rich conversation as always, when the words came to me: “Soul home – home of the soul.  The place your soul feels at home.”  I suddenly felt an attachment to place, to a milieu, to a way of living and loving on this earth that suits me.

Aside: This is the creative soul we’re talking about here – obviously our eternal souls already have a source and eventual succor.  But what about the things that make your mind race and your heart beat faster?  What about the ideas and feelings that motivate you to create beauty and seek truth?

We passed the thought back and forth, each shaping it in new ways as I scribbled in my notebook, “The place where the best ideas flourish, where ideas are the reality.”

“Find your soul’s home, the source of your soul’s creative fountain.  The soul’s inspiration point.  Where your soul takes life.”

In French, “inspiration de l’âme.”

That’s what Paris meant to us.  It suddenly became obvious why artists, writers, poets, and thinkers and creators of all kinds have gravitated there for centuries.

Yes, every soul needs a home — and she added, “Just as every home needs a soul.”  I feel my soul has found its home at last.


159/365 – Did I tell you about the bikes?

Brave_bike_ridersBicycles are everywhere in Paris, bikes of every description, being ridden by every sort of person – the earnest young woman dressed for work, the older man in a suit, the student, the elderly – all bravely coursing along next to the crazy torrent of busses, cars, and delivery vans (the Renault Kangoo being my favorite model.)

I expected heavy use of bikes – you see it in all the European films – but what I didn’t expect was the huge extent of the bike rental business.  Well, it’s not really a business, per se, it’s a publicly subsidized convenience. 

The city hall (Mairie de Paris) of Paris operates a rental program called Vélib’ with literally thousands of three-speed unisex bikes at hundreds of stations around the city.  It costs just one euro (about $1.45) a day for an unlimited number of 30-minute jaunts (subscriptions are also available). If you use the bike for an hour, that adds a euro, another half-our adds two euros, so the thing is designed for short trips (under 30 minutes is free.)  Even the guy we were renting the apartment from sued a Velib’ to come over from his office.  It’s an amazingly good idea, and Paris is on the way to becoming a city of bikes.

Typical Velib' bike station in Paris.

Typical Velib' bike station in Paris.

158/365 – And the train, ooh-la-la!


I know, it looks like I’m on a plane — and we are flying along the French countryside, only on rails.

The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for “high-speed train”) was amazing.  I debated with Dearest about how fast we were going on our trip from Paris to the south of France, and my early estimates were like 70 miles an hour, but that was because I was looking at more distant scenery.  When I got next to the window and looked down, the ground was a complete blur.  Then in the club car, a train nut who was – get this – shooting video clips of other high-speed trains zipping past us in the other direction (talk about a blur!) – said the TGV would soon go as fast as a jet. 

Now that I can do some research, I see in 2007, a research prototype TGV train broke the world speed record on rail, reaching 357 miles per hour.  Jets do go a bit faster, but not much, so thanks, train nut, for the factoid.  So the one we were on was going up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and Dearest wins the debate.  Great way to travel, we’re stupid to not build more of these in the U.S.

156-7/365 – Best subways, too


My stop on the Paris Metro

My stop on the Paris Metro

It’s all about infrastructure.  You can’t pack 9 million people into a metro area like Paris and expect them to get anything done without a way to get around underground.  I’ve experienced the subway system of several cities, and there’s nothing like Paris.  Most of the main lines are on rubber tires so they’re quiet and smooth. The drivers ease out of the station and brake gently so you’re not  jerked around, and the stations are clean.  The Metro, as it’s called, also seems to go everywhere, and you’re never far from a stop. 

Although we did finally take a ride on a line that did have metal wheels and I remarked to Dearest how the screeching reminded me of Chicago’s El, all that meant was that the least of the Paris Metro lines was still better than the best Chicago could do. I think American cities could do a much better job of getting people to work and school confortably and quietly.