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October 2005

September 2005

Versailles and the time-traveling tour guide

    On a guided tour through Versailles, I was lucky enough to have an actual King, I think it was Lois XVI, show us around his home for only 5 Euros.
     Of course, he knows it would sound ridiculous, so he couldn't actually tell us this...but several clues led me to the conclusion that this mystery king had experienced the advantages of time travel and was undercover as a tour guide to escape persecution in his own era.   The first clue was that he kept referring to French Royalty as "we".  I also found it strange that, when showing us pictures of some king-to-be at the age of nine, we tourists inquired as to why said king-to-be was wearing a girl's dress.  Our mystery king was shocked, "Of course we wear dresses when we are young...I wore a dress like's all a matter of social standing of coarse!"
    "See, I told you he's Royalty." I whispered to Sofia.
    Then there was the hair.  It was remarkably similar to the styles in the paintings all around....though quite a bit shorter in order to keep his cover.  And later, when he was telling us how the Royals would put arsenic and other poisons on their faces to achieve that sought-after sickly look...well, he had that same sickly look he was describing!
    But, most of all, it was his obsession with the French Revolution...those terrible mobs who stormed Versailles and took everything and auctioned it off for very cheap prices...and how it was a matter of great urgency to get back the remaining 93 percent of the original items that were still missing from their rightful home.  He spoke of this with great passion as he secretly hoped to be restored to the throne.
    He must have narrowly escaped the mobs in 1789, and perhaps then was coaxed into a time machine for his own safety.  And here he was, unwilling to live anywhere other than Versailles...and with no ability to live there without playing the role of a tour guide.  He was ridiculously disguised as a commoner...wearing jeans that were much too short (after all, what do Kings know about jeans), carrying on about his customs.  He pined so eloquently about Marie Antoinette as we sat in the Opera house, just as anyone would speak of their long-lost love...swiftly dismissing anyone who would speak ill of her and heart-achingly describing her grace and beauty.  "If only it weren't for those terrible mobs," he sighed.
    I wasn't the only one who was on to him.  Another American asked, as the last question our group was permitted, "You obviously have some connection to the Royal bloodline, can you share that with us?"
    "Now that is a personal matter!" he snapped, and led us out swiftly...intentionally avoiding the prospect of being insulted with a tip from commoners.

Leaving for Paris and leaving people in Paris

    Upon our arrival at Charles de Gualle airport, we boarded a van that would take us to the Latin Quarter, where we would be staying.  Our driver was a cocky young Frenchman with dark, round sunglasses to prevent anyone from seeing his eyes.  He was unfriendly and short with us. 
    A shy young woman also jumped in the van with us, and she sat in the front seat.  I noticed that she kept peeking back at Sofia and I.  I smiled, and Sofia finally asked her where she was from. 
    "Mexico," she replied.  "Student."
    "How many semesters are you here for?" I asked. 
    The conversation went nowhere, so we all left it at that.  She did seem a little evasive, dreamy, and difficult to talk to, though she seemed to understand English.  We eventually picked up four other folks who spoke English to each other in a accent I couldn't figure out.
    The driver asked us all where we were going.  Of course Sofia and I had the specifics for him, as did the others, but the Mexican girl said only, "Rue Hermel."  The driver, probably expecting more details later, accepted the answer and we continued on.
    Finally turning off to a side street in Mont Martr, our driver stopped the van and asked the young Mexican woman, "OK, this is Rue Hermel.  What is address?"  She looked at him for a minute, then asked me to pass her briefcase.  The six of us waited patiently as she slowly and aimlessly paged through her documents. 
    The driver finally broke the silence, "You don't know the address?"  No answer.  We waited another minute or two.
    "What or who were you expecting when you arrived?" I finally asked.  "Are you meeting someone?"
    "Yes," she said quietly.
    "Do you have a phone number?" asked the driver.  No answer.  We waited, all a bit stunned and confused.
    "Ya don know where ya goin' dear?" asked the older lady behind me.  No response. 
    It went on like this until she mentioned that she had a phone number.  Sofia even offered to let her use our phone, but we later found out that the only number she had was to her parents in Mexico, so she would need a phone card to dial it.
    By this time, I assumed the cocky young driver would say that there is nothing we can do and drop her off.  But he surprised all of us by agreeing to go with her to the store, around the block, to buy a phone card so that she could call Mexico and subsequently find out where she was going. 
    "May as well get out and pollute me lungs," announced the more vocal of the passengers behind us as she went outside the van for a smoke. 
    It turned out that they were all from Dublin, working-class...tough folks into pubs and the whole bit.  After the woman had assumed I was Canadian, we told them our story about living in Kosice for three months now.
    "What'r yous academics?" she asked.
    "No, no...our story is kind of complicated," was all we wanted to offer up.
    We all chatted and laughed with the Irish folks and before we knew it 45 minutes had passed.  As soon as the Mexican young woman got the phone card, she seemed to lose interest in using it, and the plan shifted to finding her a hotel where she could at least leave her bags until she could figure things out.
    "Have any of you seen the film Maria, Full of Grace?" asked Sofia.  This young Colombian woman smuggle drugs in their stomach." 
    I thought it a bit insensitive, but perhaps she was onto something.  Indeed, how odd and evasive this woman was becoming.
    At one point, when she was supposed to be using our cell phone to call the phone card and dial Mexico, she and the driver wandered off to a hotel...with the phone.  Sofia announced that she definitely wanted her phone back, so I jumped out of the van to go get it.  As I took the phone from her and was trying to dial the phone card for her, she asked, "Is there anywhere you have to go?  I mean, can't you stay with me?"
    "Well, sorry, I don't think so," I said.
    It must have been another 15 minutes, I had returned to the van, and there was still no sign of our driver.  We were losing patience and started thinking about calling another van.  I mean, we all wanted the girl to be OK...but this was going nowhere and there really wasn't much we could do.  It's one thing if she was asking for something specific, but she wasn't.  I went to the hotel where her bags were being kept, and the concierge showed me around the block to an Internet cafe they had gone to.  When I walked in, it was apparent that she still was no closer to finding her address.
    "You stay here with her, but I think we might call for another van," I said gently to the driver.
    "No, no, I have to get back too!" He responded without a second thought.
    "Can't you stay with me," the woman pleaded with me.
    "Sorry," I said firmly.
    We all felt somber and selfish as we continued on our way.  We spent a patient hour trying to help this lost girl, and were unable to help.  That was our brief role in the film of her life.

What will the world's last headline be?

What if one day we woke up and our world was entirely different^  What if question marks were no longer used for questions but this mark instead^  What if everything wasn't going to be ok^  What if keeping it in your prayers did absolutely squat^  What if America was no longer America^  What if nobody gave a shit about you whatsoever^  What if you've always played by the rules and always did what's right and it is no longer mattered^  What if you asked for help and nobody came^  What if you trusted authority enough to do what they ask of you, and then they let you die just because they felt like it^

That day has come. 

What if the soldiers, who have been told they are slaves, no longer believe that they are slaves?  What if they walked away, or identified the real enemy?  What if you stopped going to a job that slowly kills you and everyone else did the same?  What if everyone was able to identify the real enemies?  What if we celebrated beauty and truth?  What if everyone realized that we are humans and that, unlike "god", we are onmipotent?   What if everyone turned off the TV?

That day will never come.

All evidence suggests that we are fucked.  I've been wondering, what will the world's last news headline be?