I had been waiting to revisit France for forty years. I was as excited as a seventeen year old school girl. We took Air Canada from Nashville, Tennessee because of the lower costs. We had stops in Toronto and Montreal. What struck me on the plane from Toronto to Montreal was the fact that two young, well-dressed-in- western -clothing, Middle Easterners were seated in front of us. They spoke only in Arabic, although sometimes in English. In America, we have been taught to panic at certain behaviors, ie: the changing of seats, the frequent repetitions of Allah, and the ages of these young men. It was a quite a shock for my husband and I, because the male steward (who appeared to be hitching a ride on the plane to elsewhere) moved his seat. He appeared annoyed and agitated. My husband and I did not know if we were on one of those “killer -planes” or not. I noticed the expensive watches, the latest expensive Western wear and the expensive haircuts. I was offered the use of the airvalve by one of these young men who claimed that the cold air coming from the plane made him sick. Add to this the drama of a delayed flight, where the attendants were telling us something about a luggage problem, and the captain was telling us something about an air-conditioning problem. We thought surely, the plane we were on was headed to Allah without some kind of intervention. After a forty-five minute delay, we were in flight. These young men continued to speak in their native tongue, the steward became increasingly agitated, and my husband and I sat in wonderment of it all. These young men, orderly exited the plane with the rest of us in Montreal. I realized the level of fear that has been programmed into us as Americans which the rest of the world cannot afford to engage in due to the demographics of their populations.
We arrived in Paris. While waiting in the immigration line, I met a European professor who specialized in studying tribes. We spoke about the lost tribes in Ethiopia. He was convinced that most of the ones who risked being slaughtered were evacuated to Israel three years ago. I said, “there is a ministry who claims that there are still a substantial number of them from the House of Abraham and the House of Israel who are the “outcasts” in Ethiopia. I myself had given to this ministry to help alleviate any suffering that was the result of a lack of proper medical care. ( I have since come to know that the Bete Avraham Community located in the Kechene District of Addis Ababa, Ethipiopia does indeed still exist. I am wearing a beautiful prayer shawl created by an artisan weaver of this community, right now) He also knew of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. He told me “remnants of Iroquois” I had also read Sioux, most recently. I found this exchange to be informative and I wished him well on his return to Africa to a remnant tribe of the Masai.
We were on the way to the hotel, and had our shock because of the higher Euro. At the airport, we were told by a Frenchman exchanging our U.S. dollars that the dollar was a thumbs down and the Euro was a thumbs up. We found ourselves paying fifty dollars for a ride from the Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel. We still had to walk a block because of the limited access and narrow road. We were exhausted and thinking about shortening our trip already. We began to make a plan about our eating out and excursions. My primary goal was to take my new jazz single Mon Melange (dedicated to the great people of New Orleans) and to put it into the hands of program directors at radio stations, and to put my husband’s debut blues album, Bucket of Blues into the hands of a radio station that played diverse music, including blues, rhythm and blues and hip-hop. The day after we arrived, I found myself having breathing problems due to the lack of ventilation. I had brought with me a Sharper Image Ionic Breeze desktop to ensure that I could breath. I have always had asthma. In my middle-age, it stopped just short of emphysema. Well, the genius salesman at Best Buy sold us a converter for Europe which quickly blew out the power pack. We spent our first day, not able to succomb to jet-lag, searching for an air purifier. We found one after many trials and errors on the Metro. We did find one which was sufficient to allow me to be there for one week. We should have bought a converter in France, since I brought the air purifier home with me.
While we walked down the street, a young woman of Carribean descent stopped to chat while she listened to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on her ipod. She gave us the name of the radio station Nova in Paris as well as the name of a friend of hers who is a music producer there in Paris. When I attempted to call this young man, he quickly said something in French, which I could not grasp, hung-up and did not answer the phone again. I wondered if he thought that I was a bill collector or telemarketer. When I called the Nova radio station, the young lady was courteous and helpful. She informed me that I should bring two sets of CDs because of the TSF jazz station housed in the same building.
We were to go to the station on Monday giving us a free weekend to explore. We saw the Eiffel Tower from the ground. As I have said before, I lived in France as a child, went again at fifteen, and studied at Montpellier University at seventeen. I had seen it before. For my husband, everything was a thrill. I really wanted to see Versailles. I love French history. I was told that the great “Hall of Mirrors” was sealed off and all I could see would be the King’s Chambers, the Queen’s Chamber’s and the gardens. I opted not to spend the money because I only wanted to see the great ballroom, anyway. We made our way through the street vendors; eating Chinese food, quiche, and French bread. My husband found the wine just a little too exciting, for my taste. We treated ourselves to a real French meal at a place called the Dome. The service was good, the ambience exciting and there I had the best creme brulee that I have ever had. It had been prepared incorporating a flower that grows in France.
When Monday came, we had to make our way through the maze of transfers on the Metro to get to our destination. We were lost (just down the street from Nova) when we went into a Nike store to ask for directions. When we came out (with no Nike bags) we were “cussed” out in French by an old man who must have been talking about the evils of Western consumerism. My husband and I had to check with each other just to make sure we WERE being told off! At the station, we were treated well, although we got confused with the first floor and the fourth floor. We dropped of our CDs and proceeded home.
The concierge at our hotel, when off of his shift, began to tell us about how we as Americans are viewed. It sounded like every “conspiracy theory” that I had ever heard all rolled into one. When we walked down the street, asking if someone spoke English (so I didn’t have to make a fool of myself speaking in a language I have not spoken in forty years) the answer was a curt “no.” We are convinced that many asked did indeed speak English, yet chose not to help us. It was not until they understood that we were musicians, that their demeanor changed. France has a long history of being a patron of the arts. Also, we were told by some that because of “Bush’s war”their Euro had risen, making it more difficult for them to put food on their tables. Judging by the prices, it is fair to say that my husband and I, if living in Paris, might be relegated to singing on the Metro with a cup. To say that there is an increase in prices here is valid. What is even more startling is the cost of living over there.
We were able to see that many French despise Americans-maybe even more, now, that there are good people everywhere, even when you are not seeking them out, and that the animosity towards the United States is great abroad. All evils are laid at the feet of America. There are conspiracy theories out there that would make Pastor Wright’s rhetoric look like kindergarden conversations. Americans should be concerned about the ill-will towards us. Traveling to certain countries means the risk of being subjected to a disrespect that we have never known. We really must intend more good towards the countries that are not our avowed enemies. We need to stop making new enemies in the world. We need to mend the breaches, strive towards reconciliation and stop thinking that the “golden age of America” exists anywhere outside of America. We are not seen as heros to most of the world. The distrust of the American government and a condescention towards “blind Americans” who trust in American media is blatantly clear. I think I feel a South of the border wind blowing my way… Do enjoy the music video at the end of this blog. Mon Melange& Bucket of Blues can be obtained through www.nuvisionrecords.net
To play Alice in Paris video: