My European Visit

by Edward Kitsch


 

Dear Family and Friends:

I have wanted to revisit France, since being there during WWII, so it was a very special vacation. I had a wonderful 10 days in England and France, but missed my lifelong pal, Lois, whose knowledge could have filled in all of the blanks about the history of Europe. My interest in Astronomy and the rich history of great European astronomers was also a very strong motivation to visit sites in England and France, as they were the birthplaces of modern astronomy.

I flew to Paris and then took the "Chunnel Train, Eurostar" to England. The trip takes three hours and the train travels at speeds of 180 mph on land and 120 mph in the tunnel. The ride is very smooth, and speed is only evident when traveling alongside a highway with traffic. The cost is excessive, resulting in very low ridership, typically 30% of capacity. A roundtrip ticket from Paris to London costs $150.00, weekends, and $265.00 during the week. I spoke with several Paris, North Bank merchants, who bought stock in the venture believing that it would bring many British tourists to their businesses. The stock is now worth little, as the venture suffers continued losses since inception. In contrast, the ferry from Calais to Dover round trip passenger tickets cost $24.00. The English Channel is very shallow between Dover and Calais, probably not over 300 feet depth. My sensitive ears only popped once due to the elevation change, which confirms the shallow depth of the tunnel.

I rented a car in London, and drove to Stonehenge, about 100 miles west of London. The park is very undeveloped, and much smaller than I had anticipated. The stone circle is about 200 feet in diameter, and the Brits had very effectively fenced it within a circle which kept the closest point of view about 400 feet from the edge of the stone formation, well beyond the marker rings of buried stones.

There were no signs, nor informative placards to enhance one's understanding of the monument, although they did have a recorded commentary on tape to be carried while viewing the site. I had read several books about Stonehenge, so had no difficulty remembering the history and use of the formation of immense stones. There was no museum, but they had a great bookstore. There has been considerable vandalism, as it is very remotely located, so they have built a highly protective system of multiple fences. As a result, the monument could be viewed only from a distance. I tried to align the stones at sunset, but could not determine the keystone and arch through which the alignment occurs. I wish that I had been there during the vernal or autumnal equinoxes, as there may not have been any summer solstice alignment. I would guess that there is. Since I was there on June 19th, it was nearly the summer solstice on June 21, when alignment should occur, if such is the case. Stonehenge was not up to my expectations, but I may have expected far too much, because the writings have romanticized its origin and use.

I drove back to Greenwich England, which is a south-central suburb of London, and found a small, inexpensive ($30.00) hotel, by asking at a pub. The beer was cold and the conversation even better. It is a lot more fun having breakfast with the owner of a small hotel, than eating alone at the Ritz.

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, on the Thames, a very small river compared to our major rivers, is the location of the zero longitude line, and now defined by the sweep of the Greenwich transit telescope. Transit telescopes have only a north to south movement, and are used to measure the exact time a stellar object intersects the crosshairs of this precise instrument. Greenwich is directly south of downtown London, and was the major port of early London sea commerce. The zero longitude point had been arbitrarily set several centuries earlier in a very informal way, by English cartographers to help mariners determine their location on the seas.

Early Longitude charts depended upon moon position to determine date and time, which gave questionable accuracy, at best, as their pendulum clocks were highly inaccurate at sea. Greenwich had become the accepted point of zero longitude on most marine maps by the 16th century, as the British were the dominant nation of sea commerce in the latter years of the second millennium. Ships in that time were quite small and able to enter river ports throughout Europe.

Latitude is easy to determine as the position of the stars is fixed, but the distance east or west was virtually impossible for mariners to determine without accurate determinations of time. Two clocks with twelve foot pendulums were built at the Royal Observatory which provided a degree of accuracy in time measurement of less than one second error in 3 weeks, but could not function accurately at sea due to the roll and pitch of a ship. The Royal Observatory had an interactive pendulum clock display, which rolled on about a 10-second period, and the cumulative error became very obvious. The small ships of those years pitched and rolled wildly because of their small size.

In 1674, King Charles II started construction of the Royal Observatory on a hill in Greenwich England overlooking the dock area, for the purpose of determining longitude. He appointed John Flamsteed as the first Astronomer Royal, and assigned him the task of developing tables of the motions of the heavens as related to time and latitude. The original cost of the observatory was 520 pounds, 9 shillings, and was designed by famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Sir Christopher Wren designed and built London's St Paul's Cathedral in 1710 and 60 other churches in London after the great fire of 1666. Christopher Wren lived to age 91, and taught at Oxford University until his death.

Flamsteed made an important determination that the earth did rotate at an even rate, and it was only recently that very small irregularities in rotation rate were determined. A major maritime disaster occurred on October 22, 1707 when four Royal Navy ships led by Admiral, Sir Cloudisley Shovell, struck the treacherous ledges off the Isle of Sicily, and sunk. This maritime disaster hastened the development of a foolproof system of longitude measurement. An accurate determination had to await the introduction of a pocket watch using an oscillator (hair-spring and balance wheel) for the accuracy needed. John Harrison, an understudy of Edmond Halley, the great astronomer, perfected a timepiece, which could hold an accuracy of less than one third of a second error per day in use at sea, using the oscillator principle. The groundwork was laid for the determination of longitude.

The third Astronomer Royal, James Bradley built a meridian telescope, a "transit circle," at the Royal Observatory, and that location became accepted worldwide at that time, as the location of the zero meridian. It wasn't until August 2, 1880 that Greenwich meantime was established as the standard of the British Admiralty and the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that the western half of the Royal Observatory should celebrate the year 2000, an hour later than the eastern half. They have modified the time belt to suit the whim of their commerce, making all of Britain an hour later than France, thereby accommodating the western region of the British Isles.

France would encompass two time zones, split just west of Paris, but is arbitrarily in the same time zone throughout, encompassing all of Europe, extending to include Russia.

The personnel at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich were very helpful, and the curator spent several hours with me during my visit, taking me into storage rooms to see artifacts of astronomy from centuries past.

I returned to Paris on the Chunnel Train, and found a small hotel on a side street on the North Bank of the Seine, close to the major historic attractions. L'Ile du Paris, or the old city, is small enough for young people to easily walk to all of the historic monuments, and museums. The streets appeared to be perfectly safe at all hours. Since darkness occurs around 11:30 PM in June, there are many people actively walking the streets. Nighttime in Paris and London in June is not completely dark, as they are so far north, that they are near the land of the midnight sun.

There are probably thousands of small hotels in Paris, having from six or eight rooms to as many as, sixty or seventy. The buildings are mostly five to six floors (etages) and have inner courts. In previous times, the court was the place where residents kept their animals and carriages, as well as their gardens and wells. The stone walls also furnished protection from invaders in centuries past. Much of Paris is built upon stone so basements are a delight, as most have been carved from bedrock.

As I walked around the city, I saw so many beautiful tall double doors, handsomely carved, of which I took pictures. I looked into several when they opened, and realized their use was for access to the backcourt. One man took me inside to see his court, and I found the ground floor had been a stable in past centuries, with the upper floors used as living quarters. There were stone feeding and water troughs built into the walls for animal feeding in times past. They now park their cars there as well as store their bikes and children's toys.

Apartment rentals in the heart of Paris are around $1200 dollars per month for a complete floor sized apartment of about 1500 square feet. I could hear the voices of playing children coming through these doors, once I knew their purpose, which added so much to the charm of Paris. Every street is lined with small shops on the ground floor, and apartments above. Air conditioning is not needed so all the windows are open at the end of the workday with curtains waving in the breeze, and the musical voices of children filling the air.

I went to L'Observatoir du Paris in hopes of seeing the old observatory, but it is in little use, and poorly maintained. They open it on the first Saturday of each month from 2:00 until 4:00 PM for visitors. Other times, they will open it to educators by appointment, to take their students inside. I spoke with an elementary teacher leaving the building with her students, who told me that there is almost nothing to see, and no museum or lectures to enhance one's knowledge. This was a big disappointment to me as I had visions of the ghosts of great scientists, such as Cassini, the discoverer of the separations in the rings of Saturn.

Across the avenue from L'Observatoir du Paris, was a Catholic Church, with a gift shop, deep in the stone cavernous underground. They had beautiful clothing made by the nuns, primarily for small children, and paintings, mostly of religious subjects. The sisters and I spoke for quite a while and I answered questions about the U.S. It was another memorable encounter with the French culture. They said a short prayer for my safe journey, which was appreciated, as the streets of Paris are a maze of unmarked narrow lanes, suggesting the need for divine guidance.

The children go to school from about 7:30 AM until 4:30 PM, are all well dressed, and appear very well behaved. There was a school across the street from my hotel, so I talked with the children as well as their teachers during recess, which they spent on the expansive stone sidewalk. They were excited to speak to an American, and had a lot of fun trying to understand my broken French. They also seem to have a profound respect for age, as I was reminded of it so often. I spoke French, got lots of laughs and corrections, and they spoke English at the instruction of their teachers. Their heritage is so important to them, while we take ours for granted. I was later invited to speak to a group of about 100 of the children, again following the rules of language. My French brought uproarious laughter.

As recently as 250 years ago, England, under Charles II, had held Normandy for the previous 200 years. A cab driver shut off his meter one night and we talked until 1:30 AM, about the huge Arabian immigration affecting the culture of France, as did the occupation of Normandy by the British. They are almost totally dependent upon Arabian oil, and Morocco, a French protectorate was first to come to their aid when Hitler invaded France. As a result, they have loose immigration quotas, and strong loyalties to the Arabian nations. It is affecting the strong Catholic culture, and the school curriculum, as it is changed to accommodate the Arabian immigrants. "Deja-vu all over again," to quote a great American sage!

I noticed that I rarely finished a meal, or even a sandwich, as it was so rich that my hunger was satiated quickly. I lost about five pounds, but I was also too busy to eat. The French people are all thin, and I saw not one obviously enhanced bust line, which, in my mind has become so grotesquely common in the U.S. I am saddened to see how we have desecrated the once lofty position of women in our society. There were no flats worn, only mid-height heels and men all wore dress shoes. Women wore very little or no makeup, or did so very subtly. I saw no woman with long hair, but all were impeccably coiffed. The men had beautifully tailored suits and sport coats and beautiful silk ties.

I was impressed to see the chic Parisienne, always dressed beautifully in exquisite clothing. Their clothing was perfectly fitted, never tight, and even older, slightly heavier people looked spectacular. The men's suits are more beautiful than any garment that I ever had, and costing only $200.00 to $300.00. They were all silk, of course. The average Frenchman is about 15 to 20 pounds lighter than the average American of the same height. I did not see even one pair of sport walking shoes on a Frenchman. We Americans are such social dropouts, but my feet did not hurt.

When I left home, I forgot a pocket comb, so I went to a "Pharmacie" to buy a comb. I found that they were $12.00, and hairbrushes cost about $30.00. When I got back to the hotel, the first thing that I did was to brush my hair and shampoo it, even though it was midnight. The men all had hair shorter than mine, so they had no need for combs. I did not see even one male with long hair. I'm very impressed with their appearance and demeanor.

I had a wonderful time speaking with the French people, especially their kids. They always thought that my command of French was humorous, and I did get many hearty laughs when I used the wrong words. My French teacher at Springfield High (Illinois), told me. "Vous parlez Francais comme un vache Espanol," which translates to: "You speak French, like a Spanish cow." It is apparently a common expression, because several children finished the sentence for me when I started into it, followed by raucous laughter, as they remembered it from their childhood.

To a person, they were anxious to help me find my destination or hotel, and of course, because of my age and white hair, usually asked about "La Guerre, Grande." I received many "merci-hugs" from people of all ages, along with some unsolicited kisses of gratitude from ladies, old and young. They value their freedom far greater than we can appreciate. This was a reward to me, because I had not felt that they treasured all America had done for them.

Politeness is a common thread in their behavior, as I had assistance crossing streets, by a firm arm grasp from younger men and women, as well as people stepping aside to let me pass. On one occasion, when lost, a middle-aged businessman walked with me to the Arc de Triomphe, several blocks out of his way. We exchanged interests, family and history. He was a banker from southern France, about 50 years of age, attending a conference in Paris. The human experience has been the high point of my visit to France.

Paris is such a jewel of a city that it deserved more time than I had. The Metro Subway System is a very good means of transportation, but I walked whenever I felt up to it, to experience the maximum French experience. Taxis are inexpensive, by our standards, so I took them when my legs gave out. It is amazing how subjective pain is when you're having fun. Street food was so good that I ate in formal restaurants only a few times. My favorite sandwich was sweetened slaw and shredded cheddar cheese on a freshly baked mini-French bread loaf. The French cheeses have wonderful flavor, especially the naturally ripened ones.

I spent a day at Les Jardins du Tuilaries, which is a large park on the bank of the Seine River, about the size of New York City Central Park. It was built as a beautification of the Palace Des Tuilleries, now the Louvre, to please the queen, in the early twelfth century, I believe, and beautified handsomely in the early sixteenth century. The Palace of Versailles was built in about 1565, replacing the Tuilleries as the headquarters of their government. The old palace buildings were used for government offices until the 1920s when The Louvre brought its great art out of storage, and filled the massive palace buildings. The Louvre, had shared a part of the palace since about the tenth century. I did not attempt to go into the Louvre, as I did not want to spend more than two days, which it would take, to see everything of interest. My picture of the Louvre was taken at about 1000 feet distance, filling the view, even with a 28 mm wide angle lens, It strains one's peripheral vision to see it in one look. I'll go back on my 100th birthday.

At the Eiffel Tower, the four lines to ride the four inclined elevators to the observation level were at least 100 persons each. The French Government is frantically dressing up the city as they expect hordes to come for the new millennium celebration. The Eiffel Tower is an interesting engineering feat, as the strength comes from many small trusses, all working, in consort to provide the needed strength. They had a truss fabrication operation at the base and were making replacement trusses to renew those, which corrosion had weakened. There was no welding being used, only rivets. Because of the multiplicity of the support trusses, they can remove any individual truss, without weakening the structure perceptibly.

They predict an almost infinite life due to the design. I spoke with the engineer in charge, and learned more than I had imagined. Speaking in their language, no matter how poorly it is spoken, seems to immediately endear an American to them. They are an extremely proud people, but suffering from overwhelming socialism, guilt and hopelessness. The young, doctoral candidate, guide on my bus trip to Normandy told me that she expects to see a complete repudiation of their present form of government within her lifetime. She apologized many times for their pre-World War II behavior. She called their present Jacques Chirac's government "Vichy II" and a dictator, as he cannot be removed from office once ensconced.

Le Parc du Tuilleries was full of children, many with teachers, playing games and generally having a ball. I spoke with quite a few of the teachers and of course "les enfants," the children, as they loved to use their English. One teacher told me that if one visits a large city in Germany now, the language heard on the streets is mostly English. The French, she said are trying to hang onto their heritage and are resisting using English as long as possible. I was amazed that not one Frenchman mistook me for being French. A proprietor of a patisserie, a pastry shop, told me that he could tell that I was an American before I spoke the first word, because Americans do not pucker their lips prior to speaking as the French do. Voila! Americans also wear crummy white athletic shoes, but he was kind.

At Le Parc du Tuileries, they have an amusement park of rides and games, which many young people were using. I walked from there to the Arc De Triumph, passing Joan d'Arc's statue and spoke with shop people on the way. Somehow, Jeanne d'Arc didn't look right in highly polished bronze, being readied for the millennium. None of these monuments seemed as large as I had remembered from WWII, except for the Eiffel Tower. However, they all were as beautiful as I remember.

The Seine River is very small, possibly 600 feet wide, but full of small boats and barges engaged in commerce. There are many benches on every block in Paris, and people like me are resting or reading. I saw no threat to safety and in spite of incredible traffic, no accidents, and only a couple of cars with very small body damage. The taxis are given priority by the rest of the drivers as they are "earning a living." I must have walked at least five miles that day. Somehow, I slept better in Paris.

I rested the next day and also spent time at Lafayette Galleries, a huge department store, and Printemps (Springtime), another upscale department store. I found a few things for the children in my life, and another good sandwich or two. Again, the street conversations in French were exhilarating beyond my wildest dreams. They have almost zero American products for sale, and I saw nothing from Asia, even in small shops. Our massive trade with China appears to be an anomaly.

Twenty five percent of the population of France lives in Paris and it's environs, so the congestion is far worse than New York City, but does not seem to snarl. They have no broad streets such as we have, except the expressway from the outskirts of Paris to the Charles De Gaulle Airport. When Paris surrendered to the Allies, we rode through in six by sixes, and all of the streets, including the Champs d'Elysees, were lined with grateful people, waving American flags, throwing flowers into our uncovered trucks, as well as fresh French bread and wine.

I booked a tour to the Normandy Beaches, which left at 7:00 AM and returned at 10:00 PM that night. It took three hours in spite of a high-speed toll road to Caen. We visited Pointe Du Hoc at the western edge of Omaha Beach, where they have preserved the nearly destroyed German bunkers and artillery emplacements. Pointe Du Hoc was a very difficult beachhead to take as the cliffs are over 100 feet high and had to be scaled with grappling hooks and climbing gear. Hitler thought these fortifications to be impenetrable. Pointe Du Hoc received its name from the shape of the coastline, which is shaped like a hog's rear leg, viz, a ham-hock. On D-Day, the 2nd Ranger Battalion initiated their assault at this point, and suffered many casualties. The original ruins of the bunkers had six-foot thick roofs. The roofs were laminated reinforced concrete, which spalled off when hit, allowing the upper layers to dissipate the energy of the shell burst or bomb. This preserved the integrity of the lower structural layers.

Most villages in Normandy have a monument, or museum to the heroes of WWII. I was a little surprised to be the only veteran of WWII on the bus, and I did not deserve all of the attention that I received. I was the last person getting back onto the bus at Pointe Du Hoc and got a round of applause. I was so embarrassed as I thought they were putting me down. I was apologizing in broken French, but a French woman stood and admonished me: "Nous attendons, parce que vous etes un hero Americaine." (We wait because you are an American hero.) The guide had apparently told them of my landing, with the 3rd Army at Omaha Beach, which encompassed Pointe du Hoc.

The French tourists would bring other French friends to meet me and praise me, and by the end of the tour, I was starting to believe them all. The 95th Infantry Division was not in the initial assault, so we had an easy time of it, and lost very few men, until north of Paris. When I tried to explain this to them, they simply paid no attention to my protestations. I was a field medic, not a rifleman, but that didn't seem to matter to them, as I couldn't turn them off. Anyway, I'm happy to learn that we were so deeply appreciated by generations younger than me. There were many expressions of gratitude by the people of France. Some of the most passionate praise was from young people, under 60 years old, down to college age.

From Pointe du Hoc we went to the Village of Omaha Beach, which is to the east of the spot where we landed, and in a valley that reaches the ocean. We avoided the flat valley, for tactical reasons, as Hitler had massed many troops, tanks and artillery there, assuming we would take the easy route. It appears to be a fishing port. I believe that this was where our mechanized artillery and supply trucks came ashore, once it was secure for the Allies. When we landed, the beach was already reasonably secure, as we had light artillery fire and some strafing, but not the withering barrage of the heavy guns during the initial hours of the landing.

Our riflemen still found German soldiers hiding in barns, houses and air tunnels of the defense system, as the lead divisions could not delay their advance to search these complex tunnel systems. One of these tunnels ended in the kitchen floor of a farmhouse, which had a wooden floor. Our men recognized that at that time, most kitchens in Normandy had dirt floors, and were a step or two below the living area of the house. When we tore up the floor, we found an exit from one of the bunker systems, and about twenty German riflemen hidden there.

Our division landed at a point probably three or four miles east of Pointe du Hoc as we had this very difficult cliff to climb, and once there, had no mechanized or artillery support. Our purpose was as a backup division in case of an Axis breakthrough, so straggling German snipers were the priority. The hedgerows of WWII are now mostly gone. Fields are now many times larger than their original size, probably to accommodate mechanization. Omaha Beach is located west of Aromanches and east of Carentan, more generally, between Caen and Cherbourg France. I could not leave the tour to find the exact spot of our landing, but expect that we were close.

There is a monument at Pointe du Hoc to the many men who lost their lives during this assault. They have built a beautiful museum at Caen, with interactive displays, movie theaters etc. However, it has been expanded to cover all wars of the French nation. The Viet Nam War was a major war for the French, as they suffered many casualties. They had a British Hawker Bomber, hanging from the ceiling, but the plane that we loved was the Spitfire fighter, which they did not show. Lunch there, was excellent, and was comprised of a chicken breast, sautéed, very well done, with a wonderful béarnaise sauce over asparagus. I didn't send any back. Their breads and deserts are fantastic, but probably very fattening. The tour members hosted me with champagne and a chocolate cupcake with one candle.

In the American Cemetery at St. Laurent, the graves of the dead from the second Ranger Battalion were heavily clustered from Company A, then a few less from company B, C and on. The military does everything by the numbers, so the fortunate men were in Company F. It was quite evident that few of the first men onto the beach lived through the assault. I counted well over 100 graves from Company A, of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, before I gave up. An infantry company is about 250 men, but there were excess personnel at the start of the onslaught to compensate for casualties. I was not the only man sobbing uncontrollably there.

The Normandy Military Cemetery was on land deeded to the U.S. in perpetuity, near Caen. The grave of my closest friend Peter Holwerda was found for me on their computer, but he was buried at a cemetery in Lorraine, which is west of Metz, near the German border. He was also a medic. I had thought his death was before we advanced through Paris, but it is so difficult to remember something that happened so long ago and which we want to forget.

We briefly visited the other beaches and then made our way back to Paris, having many landmarks pointed out to us en-route. I remember marching through several villages well, such as Bayeux and Lisieux. I am certain that I walked and ran on some of the narrow streets of these villages of several hundred people. The buildings still have rebuilt corner stonework, where the huge U.S. tanks and trucks could not negotiate the turns in these tiny streets, knocking out part of the corner walls. These damaged buildings were a vividly familiar sight, with the same fieldstones, but new mortar, where they had been rebuilt.

The French Underground did help our riflemen get out the snipers and sympathizers, but they had little firepower and were not much of an organized military force. They were a band of very brave men, as many Frenchmen were collaborators. I also remember having to stop our advance to enter Paris, to give General De Gaulle time to get his troops together for the triumphant entry. General Patton was out of his mind waiting for the very political General De Gaulle. On PBS, I saw a film of the African Campaign, which told of the battle our navy had with the Axis French Navy when passing through Gibraltar, as we went to the aid of Montgomery in Africa. We won!

The French Normandy tour guide, and lecturer, apologized passionately for the lack of French resistance to the Germans entering France. She was very critical of the reigning French president, and the Vichy Government, at that time, saying that they thought it would be the best for France from a commercial standpoint, to become a cooperating nation of the Axis Forces. The movies shown to us at the museum, had in depth errors, as they showed an organized French resistance capturing and holding large areas to the south and west of Paris. The French military had been integrated into the German army and at this point were the enemy. The tour guide was very bitter about their turncoat government.

She was also very critical of the present day Germans, indicating a deep unresolved hatred. She is a history major, doctoral student at the Universite' Du Paris. The European Union will be slow to integrate, as Britain (not England), will not change their time to match the continent among many other differences. They also refuse to consider driving on the right side of the road, and switching to metric system measurements.

I did not get to the Bastogne area where the Battle of the Bulge took place. I would have liked to revisit Aachen, as well, as it was so totally devastated. I also did not get to Metz, which was our most devastating battle, but transportation for a single person is expensive and time consuming. I'm satisfied that I saw as much as I wanted and have little desire to go back until my 100th birthday.

A Few Vignettes:

* Paris is the dumping ground for old computers. I saw a display of 486 Toshiba laptops for $150.00, as well as 486 tabletop computers for $200.00, with monitor.

* Cell phones are becoming very popular because the Paris infrastructure includes all power and telephone wiring in centuries old tunnels in the stone below street level. There simply is no more room for any added power or communications wiring. Wiring in the buildings is behind false walls due to the solid stone construction, sometimes three feet thick. Small hotel rooms typically have two lamps, of about 25 watts, and all of the power is on the one false wall.

* England is not used as the name of the country. Instead, it is Britain in all conversation and print. We learned "Angleterre" in French class, but a French friend told me that it was correct but not used. Same for "comment allez vous" literally how goes you. It is now Ca va, literally taken from comment ca va t'il, meaning how goes it.

* Getting a drink of water in France is almost impossible. They buy water in bottles and sip it leisurely at a sidewalk table in front of a Bistro. Cost is about $2.50, which will buy an even larger "bier." I drank my year's supply of beer, as I was dangerously dehydrated at times. Maybe that is why I had so much fun.

* Nobody drinks or eats while walking on the street except for uncouth Americans. Americans can be immediately identified by uncovered wide mouthed yawning in public; drinking from squirt bottles, overweight, and white athletic shoes. I've lost a lot of weight and I was still the fattest old man in Paris. I tested almost a dozen such encounters with white shoed, overweight people, by asking, "where you from"? Bingo: Omaha, NYC, New Orleans; almost 100% accuracy.

* CNN is very derogatory about the U.S. They were showing television footage of the garment workers strike in NYC about 10 years ago, and complaining about workers being mistreated by the robber baron companies in the U.S. They also featured migrant farm workers mistreatment as news of the day. It was all very old footage.

* CNN acknowledged no participation by the US in the Kosovo war, but gave all credit to the British, French and German forces. I never saw a mention of our contribution. President Clinton is treated as a non-entity, which is about the only point upon which we agree.

* A CNN news analyst said, "When do you suppose President Clinton will finally accept the responsibility of his position and sign the land mine treaty? There should be no question about Ted Turner's communist beliefs.

* The cities of London and Paris must have used every word in the French and English language, to name their streets, as most of their streets are only a block or two long, and there must be millions of them. One circumferential street in Paris carries 27 names of heroes, changing at every bend in the road.

* I saw many Manpower Employment offices and every one had cards in the windows for electrical engineers. Plumbers (plombers) and electricians seem to be the same profession there. What a bummer. I didn't apply for a job, as I was afraid of the apprenticeship.

* I could have spent many hundreds more dollars on books as it was like a harvest of knowledge. I bought books for the children in my life, and myself.

* Customs in Europe was a simple walk-through, even upon entry from the US.

* White hair helps all transactions, as they seem to be under the age-old delusion that white hair denotes integrity and wisdom.

* When I reminded a Frenchman that the new millennium starts at year 2001, he replied, "Je compris, mais t'il est le passion du Paris", or something like that. Translated, he said, "I know, but it is the excitement of Paris." (Passion translates as excitement in French, and is frequently used when describing children at play).

* I had only one street vendor try to short-change me of about $13.00. A young Parisian woman took the offensive, and got the correct change back. All that I could understand in her rapid French was the word gendarme, a policeman. She said that the word "faire" which means, "to do," makes it a demand statement, although it is out of character for me in that usage.

* I took at least three times as many rolls of film as needed.

* There are many bank teller machines, dispensing French francs without a currency transaction charge.

* Thanks to all who helped me accomplish my mission. It has been a life renewing experience, and can never be erased from my mind. My neighbor cut my grass. TWA moved me to Business Class, without asking, on the return flight. Another neighbor got my mail and watched my house. The French treated me as a war hero, just based upon my apparent age. I will have many treasured memories to last me until my return trip at 100.

* As I look at my many pages of notes, I realize that only a small part is recounted here. I have copied a few of the pictures, which I took. Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings, as I have enjoyed refreshing the memories, "du passion de Paris."

I hope that this has not been too long, but it explains my boundless excitement over my trip to Europe. Please excuse my typos, as typing is not one of my skills, and my post-cataract eyesight is still marginal. I could have enjoyed another month in Europe, but they may have deported me if I hung around too long. I hope that all of you may some day enjoy visiting Europe in an unconstrained loosely planned visit such as mine. I would not have done anything differently, except to practice my French more, and study the country to a far greater extent, before departing. My Frequent Flier miles were expiring, so I can use that as an excuse for my rapid departure.

 

6/08/98

Rev. 9/19/99


For more about this letter, and why it is posted here, please visit our blog entry of June 6, 2004.

 


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