Pigeon language and culture is the same throughout the world. No matter if it’s a lost village of far flung poverty or a rich inner city, the birds exhibit the same strange head bobbing, cooing and feather colors. They are seemingly oblivious to the world around them except concerning matters of food.
For better or worse, human language and culture is quickly moving towards such monotony, with the same language, mannerisms and styles appearing simultaneously across borders and continents.
There’s a mild disturbance in the underground public restrooms next to the Eiffel Tower. A security guard blocks a man from entering with his two small children, one of which is a girl of no more than five years old. A standoff persists until English-speaking guards arrive.
The little girl cries as the man pulls her away from the bathroom, “But I have to go bad. Why can’t I go?”
“The police say that I can’t take you to the bathroom.”
Nowhere is safe from the ever-growing absurdity, spreading like a mental plague. The children see the insanity and will be affected for the rest of their lives. The storm of insanity thus remains in motion, gathering more energy all the time.
Few people are out on this early Sunday morning. A man walks alone on the river path, glancing back at me strangely. He turns around, stopping just a couple feet away. “Wow, look!”, he exclaims, suddenly pointing at a gold ring on the sidewalk. He picks it up and walks towards me, examining his find closely. “Look, gold!”, he says again, pointing to an engraving inside the ring.
“You think it gold?”. He hands me the ring, which feels quite obviously light and cold for gold. “Maybe”, I lie, handing it back. He stares at it for another moment before placing it back in my hand, “Ring for you. You can have.”
“Oh, thanks”, I grin suspiciously.
“You have just a few cents so I can get coffee?”, he says, attempting to pull off the old found jewelry scam.
“I sleep outside”, I say, extending the ring back towards him. He continues requesting money, ignoring the ring. I raise my other hand between us, quieting him.
“I……sleep…….outside. Take ring.” He silently takes his scam back and walks away to try it on somebody else.
Most of the river bank is lined with big boats tied up alongside each other 3 deep. Half of them are private liveaboards converted from barges, now complete with gardens and playgrounds on the upper decks. Most don’t appear to move. The rest of the boats are of the tourist type, designed to take anywhere from a few to a few hundred people up and down the river. One common type of these boats contains over 70 halogen floodlamps mounted all along the upper deck, aimed outward to illuminate the city for night tours. How painful this must be to anyone walking the river path at night, faced with 50-million candle power at close range.
Afternoon rain dampens any attempt at seeing much of the city today, driving me back to the same campsite to rest the rest of the day away. Without enough nearby trees to properly suspend my tarp, I retreat to the narrow top corner of a freeway overpass. The cement constantly rumbles under the combined roar of speeding engines. For months there has been a pair of ear plugs in my backpack, and now is the time. Rainy Sundays when you’re without a home…..not much else to do.
July 30, 2012:
“Passport.”, an old female librarian says as I try to enter the building. Forget it. I am not showing ID to enter a library. I’ve just about decided for sure now to get rid of every piece of identification I own as soon as possible. For years I’ve been considering this and the time is near. Everything is going to storage and I will become nameless in all official matters unless crossing a “border”. No more filling out forms, no more ID, a protest against the extremity we have taken these things to. A “papers please” society is just around every corner.
But after 911 we must do this! Yeah, go cry me a river.
We know you look fifty years old but you still need ID to have that beer with dinner? It’s the law. Yeah, ride your law straight to hell.
The library passport and the kid in the bathroom incidents snap some synapse in my head. No longer do I want to see any more of this city. I want to be back in the countryside. I’ll start walking north and thus will be going in the right direct if that plane ticket ever materializes in Brussels. There’s alot of countryside between here and there, much escape from humanity insanity.
Paris suddenly becomes a third-world city several miles to the north, torn up streets full of trash, gangs of men using the sidewalks as impromptu auto repair shops. Hard not to feel sorry for big old trees surrounded by pools of standing oil, stained filters and gaskets lying all around.
The Pantin Cemetery is nearly a mile across at its widest point. I enter the gated labyrinth out of curiosity, planning to cut across its territory on my continued journey north. The entrance is overgrown, littered with old tires and empty paint cants, although a constant flow of vehicle traffic moves in and out. The cemetery is arranged in an ordinary grid pattern of some 100 squares, each one in widely varying states of being.
Most of the graves consist of an above-ground sarcophagus, some connected to small mausoleums. Just about all of these older, fancier graves appear to have been intentionally broken into, with the doors smashed and large holes in the sarcophaguses. The damage looks quite old, I assume WWII grave robbery. No bones are present. Other graves are shining brand new, including hundreds of Chinese monuments erected since the 1990′s.
On the far side of the cemetery I find only high stone walls, too high to climb with a backpack, no other exits. The single exit is also the single entrance, so I must walk all the back across the entire mile.
There’s many miles of various airports north of this point, wide open fields between them. It has taken an entire day to walk across 3/4 of the Paris metropolitan area and I’m still not completely out.
The road I’ve been following all day turns to a controlled access freeway with no accommodations for walking. Recent construction of this new roadway has left behind hidden remains of old roads that once intersected. I lay my sleeping bag in such an area, hidden by surrounding low berms covered in roadside landscaping. I fall asleep counting huge low passenger jets, often more than one per minute.
July 31, 2012:
I eat several ears of underdeveloped corn out of a field this morning, so soft that even the cobs can be consumed. Roissy-en-France is the next town, a dwarf in comparison to its massive neighbor, the Charles de Gaulle airport. The whole eastern side of the little town contains only dozens of hotels. A perfectly manicured park among the hotels is devoid of a single human being, displaying the huge main landing gear of a Concord jet inside a plexiglass case.
This area is just a maze of freeway bridges and ramps all overlapping each other again and again. I decide to try hitchhiking away from this uncomfortable walking scene, but the drivers pass by like robots, not even looking at me. I decide to walk to airport terminal 1, thinking they’ll be places there to charge the computer and use wifi.
I stash the larger section of my backpack in a wooded area, not wanting to carry the full weight more than necessary. There I happen upon an abandoned camp, appearing to have once been the temporary home of a Hong Kong resident who ran out of money before their return flight. Molding papers, books, clothing and other personal effects hang in the trees and litter the ground. There’s maps of London and old New Yorker magazines.
A police car with four officers inside stops as I’m walking on towards the terminal. I point at my ears and shrug upon the passenger’s question in French.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m walking to Terminal 1. Walking is a problem now?”
“We think it is safer for you to take the coach.”
I point at the concrete guardrail between myself and the officers, “Feels pretty safe to me.”
“There is free tram right there”, he points to a lot across the street, “It takes you safer to Terminal 1.”
The driverless tram runs on rubber tires, very strange. The airport only offers 15 minutes of free wifi, after which payment is necessary. I use the time to send a message to the agency in Brussels that had been supposedly arranging my return ticket to the USA. Once and for all I cancel my request for that service. It was in mid-June that I applied and I can’t be tied to the city of Brussels any longer without having certain answers. I want to move on but can’t do so with this potential ticket looming. I’d rather just not have a ticket than be a prisoner to Brussels. So it’s finally done, it’s over, no ticket back to the USA at this time.
I sit on an airport bench for two hours watching a movie on the computer while it charges, then score a chicken sandwich from an airport convenience store, first bites of food in a couple days. Predicting rain, I return to my backpack and put up a tarp. The sky clears so I fold the tarp back up and keep moving on. The roads south of the airport look better for walking, at least on the map, so I pass back through the little city of hotels.
As the sun disappears for the day I come upon an artificial plateau with a freeway ramp wrapped around its base. The top is planted with trees in a perfect grid pattern, the ground covered with a perfectly flat layer of clean dead leaves. Home sweet home.
August 1, 2012:
I walk for hours through an endless business park containing dozens of traffic circles, feeling lost half of the time. Finally a train station appears but it’s gated, no way to enter with a 4-Euro ticket. I’m starving and so have decided to return to Paris at least for a day or two. There there must be some free food somewhere there. But it looks like I might have to walk and that’s going to take a couple days. My energy level is way down.
I decide to stash my bag in a big wooded area of overgrown paths. Surrounded mostly by the business park and freeways, people rarely tread here. It’s a good base for staking out a supermarket. There’s got to be at least one of them within a couple miles.
An abandoned railroad passes through a long tunnel under the freeway, occupied by a homeless man who has built himself a little rail trolley out of old pallets and wheels to move supplies in and out of the tunnel. He’s even turned part of the freeway roadside into a garden, but little appears to be growing there. He says nothing as I pass down the tracks, laying on a sleeping bag in the gravel, book in hand.
The tracks wrap around a huge automobile manufacturing plant that contains its own rail yard. The other side of the track is just fields and freeways for miles, with the city of Paris on the distant horizon. There’s a massive raspberry bush growing over the tracks, 20 feet wide, containing thousands of ripe berries! I sit with the plant for thirty minutes, picking and eating berries till my hands are purple and sticky.
On the other side of the auto factory is a huge shopping mall containing a full-sized Carrefour, where some candy bars, sausages and cheese slices present easy opportunities. There’s an entire little homeless village across the street from the mall between two bridges, a series of connected trash shacks that look to have been there for years, complete with kids bicycles and toys. It’s not so uncommon for such communities to be found in plain sight, even near the city center. A young female street beggar hits me up for change and I hand her a candy bar.
There a nearly full bag of potato chips on the roadside, appearing as if it was just thrown there minutes ago, completely clean and crunchy. Back in the wooded area where my backpack waits, I realize there’s a huge IKEA store just a couple hundred feet away. This is my first-ever visit to a full-sized IKEA, which is a maze consisting of hundreds of cubicle rooms fully furnished in various styles. Hundreds of customers browse, often stopping to lay in the beds and sit on the couches. Employees work with the customers at banks of computer terminals, helping to design their floorplans.
My interest here lies in the massive cafeteria, containing power outlets and wifi, big enough that nobody notices I’ve purchased nothing. I hijack a discarded soda cup just in case, remaining here until setting up camp on a little hill at sunset. The wooded area here is wide enough to allow for a small fire to heat my Carrefour sausages.
August 2, 2012:
I return to the IKEA cafeteria with the same cup from yesterday, refilling it at the self-serve soda fountain. From a departing customer I then obtain a coffee cup, also self-serve refillable. I use the laptop for two hours until the cafeteria is full of lunch customers, full enough that I just might be able to sneak past the cashiers with a tray of food. If they make eye contact then I’ll set the tray down next to them and motion that I must return to the table for my wallet.
Turns out that I have to put the backup plan into action. A cashier glances up, not seeming at all suspicious that I need to go get my wallet. I sit the tray of chicken and french fries down next to her and quickly depart the building. No lunch today.
I’m quickly lost again in the big business park, soon finding myself back near the airport. A young man named Alex driving a delivery truck quickly responds to my “Paris” sign, headed right to the heart of the city. He’s Muslim from a Vietnamese family, also having many relatives living in Los Angeles whom he has visited before. He’s traveled all over the world on his yearly month-long vacations from the delivery service.
Alex drops me off at a massive downtown library containing computer terminals for hundreds of patrons, and wifi/general usage spaces for hundreds more. A security guard looks in my bag at the entrance but does not ask for ID. The library I tried to enter two days ago must be unusual in that way.
A local social service has responded to an email request for general assistance, advising me to appear at a location some 7 kilometers east of the city. I walk there over the late afternoon hours, finding two lost unsmoked cigarettes along the way. I’ve seen much of the city by foot now, but usually have no idea what these amazing buildings are that I’m looking at.
The social service is in a big highrise building, staffed by a single male receptionist who speaks no English. His pretty female colleague passes by the desk on her way out of the building, happy to assist with translation. It’s too late in the day to seek help here, she says, but another location of this same agency even further to the east can help temporarily. She gives me a bus ticket and two 8-Euro food vouchers good at most supermarkets and restaurants in the city. She and another coworker walk me all the way to the bus I need to take.
I’m way on the city’s far east side after a 20-minute ride, finding the big building I’m looking for to be almost empty of any activity except for three people chatting in the kitchen. One understands English but none speak it. A man translates his answer to my request on a smart phone. His screen reads, “There is no space so you can sleep leaning”, which somehow means I can sleep on a mattress in the basement hallway.
The man simply points at the mattress and walks away, the last person here who will talk to me tonight. In a bathroom near the mattress I take my first hot shower in a month. Cold ocean saltwater just isn’t the same, finally I feel clean. Over the course of my final 2 waking hours of the day I spot only one other person passing through the basement, who does little more than nod at me.