Street Scene In Paris

[Paris is a city of light and charm.]

It was our first day in the City of Light. Getting there involved subjecting ourselves to a subtle form of modern torture.  We were taking a “red-eye” from JFK to Paris.  We flew American Airlines because we’re addicted to air miles.  I won’t tell you how many miles I’ve accrued, but I will say that I earned every one of them.  My intent is not to dis American Airlines in this blog, but I can’t help but convey how long and endless and really awful the flight was. The food was fine, considering it was airline fare. But, for a trans-Atlantic flight, most everything was woefully below par.  The screens for the in-flight movie were not viewable unless one wanted to combine eye-strain with minor neck injuries.

At the end of the nearly seven hour flight, I thought I needed a massage on 22nd Street. My legs hurt, my back hurt and there was not enough leg room to raise a knee to tie a shoe lace or stretch a muscle in the lumbar region.

But, I digress.

After a two-hour taxi ride to our hotel near St. Sulpice, I was ready for one thing. A two-hour nap. After a three-hour nap, we pulled ourselves together and headed to see some places we loved in the Latin Quarter. I wanted to climb to the bell towers of Notre Dame, but the line (in a blazing sun) put me off.

I can’t take the heat and the direct sun.  I’m Irish.

So, we headed over to Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, which is a must stop for me.  I love the place.  But, I didn’t need another book to carry on our journey, so I opted for a beer instead.

And this is where the story begins.

It was a street full of foot traffic.

[It all took place on a busy street, just like this.]

We chose to sit facing the street just off the Rue St Michel. It’s busy and touristy.  As we sat in the shade, I noticed there was a homeless man sleeping on a foam pad surrounded by a few pieces of luggage.  I can’t say he was truly homeless, but I noticed all the signs.  We sat for forty minutes, reluctant to go back to the hotel and too tired to explore much more of the Latin Quarter.

I watched the man who slept.  He was in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

Another line of thought came to me.  I had heard of the deranged people who drove trucks into crowds and even went on stabbing rampaged.  I wondered about the SWAT patrols and where they were hiding out.  Then I spotted three well protected (but not heavily armed) police wander by.

A few minutes later, three more SWAT members (two female and one male) approached the sleeping guy on the sidewalk in front of me.

I was prepared for violence that would later be seen on YouTube.  They prodded the guy to determine if he was alive, dead, drunk, stoned or flying on some other drug.  I was prepared to not like what I was about to see.

Instead, the three officers, finally roused the man and got him to his feet.  I was sure they were going to cart him away…

But, they helped him walk to a spot by a street lamp.  Out of the way of the amount of foot traffic.  They dragged his belongings to his side.  He lay back and fell asleep.

The officers walked away.  No hassles.  No arrests.  No clubbing.

I wondered about the man’s life and what brought him to this busy sidewalk.  Then I felt grateful that he was in Paris, where no one used clubs or made him vanish into the bright light of the afternoon.

And all this happened within sight of this:


[Notre Dame Cathedral]


The Bubble Man of Montreal

He was a dream-maker, a writer of love letters and a magician in a black frock coat; he played out his act in the square in front of the Basilique of Notre-Dame in Montreal.  He was like a pilgrim doing his penance, with the Basilique keeping watch on his movements.

The man appeared, without seeming to come from any place in particular.  The space by the frozen fountain in the Place d’Armes was empty.  I turned my head to look at something and then turned back only to find him preparing his magic show.  He had a plastic basin that was half-filled with water.  There was a dark blue bottle of a soap making liquid.  In his hands, he held a long cord that had several loops along its length.

He seemed impervious to the gusts of cold wind in the square.  These gusts caused most of the people to turn up their collars and the children to reach to their parents for the warmer gloves.

As I stood on the curb of the Rue Notre-Dame, he began his act.  He mixed the liquid and the water, dipped his rope into the basin and, pulling it out, a hundred soap bubbles appeared and were promptly blown away by the wind.

Soap bubbles have always held a fascination for me.  They are indeed very strange objects.  Thin and magically iridescent they became symbolic of three things for me.  They are like dreams, appearing out of no place in particular and making their way through our sleep.  But dreams, like the bubbles can start out perfectly round and then degenerate into amoeba-like motions and become disturbing in their irregularity.  And then they burst, causing us to sit up in bed, shaken and worried about what went wrong with the dream.

They are like love letters.  Created by a motion of the hand and sent on their way.  Most burst like bubbles, but unlike bubbles, real love letters can be bundled in ribbons, boxed and put aside.  Someone, decades from now, will find them and discover secret loves and evidence of connections hitherto unknown.

Finally, they are also like a life.  They are born with a motion, then sent outward to drift, with or without direction and following the whim of the wind, they too, burst.


The man had attracted a fair number of people of all ages, but most were children.  It was then that I noticed a pattern.

The young ones had an irresistible urge to pop the bubbles.  They were too young to see the symbolic nature of these amazing creations. They failed to see the future in the wobbly spheres.  They giggled as they ran among the shapes and popping them.

One thing I did not see was any older person chasing and bursting the floating symbols.  They were watching the shapes drift away.

They were watching their old love letters, dreams and magic drift away…only to burst somewhere, around the corner and down some side street.