To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paris, June 29

It rained during the night, and I didn't get much sleep. It was clear when I got up, but I still did my first Internet stuff in the hotel lobby rather than the park. Since breakfast isn't included at the hotel, I've developed a routine of getting a croissant from the bakery across the street, and having it in my room with apple juice that I got from the supermarket right downstairs. Somewhat exhausted, I looked at the calendar on my iPod to see what I'd planned for the day: the Musée Rodin and the Musée du Quai Branly, in the same general area where I'm staying. I rested a little more and took off, making a stop for a café au lait where I was encouraged to sit at a table inside, and it cost €3.80.

I don't think I'd been to the Musée Rodin since the 1960s, but my mother has done some research there. The main building is a nice manageable size, with important sculpture collections, and there are many sculptures around the gardens. At the end I answered a survey about the visit that a young woman conducted in French, although we could have switched to English.

It was a long walk along the river to the Musée du Quai Branly. I had lunch at their café, the formule (set offering) of chicken prepared an African way with rice, and a glass of South African wine. The museum is new and devoted First Nations/non-Western art. It's an interesting set-up with ramps and low lighting, an important place.

I had dinner at the place I was looking for last night but didn't have the full address, Les Cocottes. Most customers sit at the counter. I took the special, said verbally, which I didn't quite catch; it was another chicken dish, and fine.

Many people are out, the mood is good, and there's still some daylight close to 11 p.m. I'm posting this the next morning, after a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Paris, June 28

I went to the Champ de Mars for my morning Internet connection. For Shannon and others who are wondering about this free wi-fi in parks, there's a Google map with all the locations, also information from the Paris Mairie (city government); the wi-fi is also in libraries and some other places. For large parks like the Champ de Mars, they show what part of the park has wi-fi; there are also some signs in the park. My e-mail had an invitation from another Slow Traveler designated as a Hero, Americana in Parigi, inviting me to get together for coffee "tomorrow morning." I thought o.k., Tuesday, fine. A bit later I realized that the e-mail was dated Sunday, and she meant this morning. In the moment's thought I agreed to it, and on the iPod Touch I took a snapshot of the part of her message with her phone numbers. I also programmed walking directions into Google Maps, my experience saying that they would show even when I was out of wi-fi.

I made my first use of my new international cell phone to try to call her and confirm that I was doing this, but I had trouble getting through. I started walking, as it was my first decision to do, but as I got away from my starting point, the map showed the shape of my walking route, but not the streets. I saw that I didn't have the address of our meeting point. When I turned the phone off and back on, my attempts to call got a little further, but still didn't get through. I saw that time was passing; the part of the message that I saved at least had one metro stop. I'd gotten to Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau, and decided to take the metro to one stop she suggested, and see if I could remember the meeting place from the Plan de Quartier (neighborhood map) in the station.

Yes, it took some looking, but the Passage des Panoramas, an arcade off the street, was right, and I got there 20 minutes late. It was great to meet her, but I was so harried that I may have been especially not interesting.

From there I went to the Sainte Chapelle by walking. It is in the middle of the Palais de Justice or Court House, and requires a security check. AinP had mentioned that could take the entrance for court visitors and get through security faster; in fact there was a special line for museum pass holders, and people with court business could cut in front of the tourists. It was a case where all wallets and belts needed to be removed; mine went together and it took some time. I don't think I'd been to the Sainte Chapelle since I was seven; it was there that I first learned church visiting etiquette. The chapel is important for its stained-glass windows.

I had thoughts of getting a crepe from a stand, but I was enticed to have one sitting down at a cafe. I ordered a flaming one, and it all took time from sitting down, getting the waiter's attention, to getting the bill and paying it; one should generally allow time for a leisurely lunch.

Next I went to the Louvre. One might generally think that many people devote their day to it and enter in the morning, and it may not be so crowded in the afternoon. Entering at 3 p.m., it was still very crowded. I did a basic look at the Italian and French galleries. With the Museum Pass, I can go back without it being such a big deal. I thought I'd heard of an alternate entrance for pass holders. There were none in evidence on the south wing, so I entered through the main pyramid entrance. At the end, I exited through the Porte des Lions, at the very far end of the south, past the Pont du Carrousel. That entrance also sells tickts.

I walked back to my hotel. I made an ATM withdrawal, learning that the card is entered with the start of the number in, the Visa logo out. For dinner, as sometimes happens, I started towards one place and wound up in another, the Bistrot Saint-Dominique. I had fried mozzarella and a steak. I saw the Palais de Chaillot viewing of Brazil-Chile.

Rain during the night; I think it's cleared but I'm posting this in the morning from the hotel lobby.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arrival in Paris

I'm in Paris; I'll go over the details of my flight and arrival.
My Delta flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis, scheduled for 12.17, posted a delay until 12.40, which was revised to 12.25 when the inbound made up much of the delay. Still, the door finally closed at 12.35 and it took off at 12.40. My seatmate was a man also going to Paris. Only water was served. The flight made up much of its delay, arriving at 1.53, scheduled time 1.45.

At MSP, I needed to get from the C to G concourse, and I had a pass to the SkyClub to use. I went there, took a glass of wine, and watched what I could of the U.S.-Ghana World Cup match. At 3 p.m., with a 1-1 tie, they called boarding for my flight. I'd had word that I really shouldn't try to push the time; with a 3.45 departure, even with regulation time expected to end around 3.20, by that time the door would be closed and no-shows bumped.

So I took my seat; the pilot made one announcement that the last he heard, the U.S. was leading 2-1, which turned out to be incorrect; it was Ghana that got that score in overtime and won. I took chicken rather than pasta for the dinner choice; wine is free on Delta transatlantic flights. I settled in with eyeshades on, but didn't really get to sleep much if at all. There was breakfast of a hot egg muffin and banana.

There were favorable winds, and the scheduled landing of 7.25 happened at 6.45. The plane stopped at a remote stand; we needed to go down the stairway and onto buses. That's a possibility that needs to be considered in the tight connections sometimes offered at Roissy-CDG airport. The bus circled to our terminal entrance, and we went through passageways to passport control and baggage claim. I was in the arrivals hall at the flight arrival time of 7.25.

Next were a couple of stops in the Galerie from Terminal 2E to 2F. I had wondered about buying a Paris Museum Pass with the least wait, and found that, at this early hour, I could do so right away at the airport tourist office. Next was the RoissyBus into Paris. I had learned to go to Galerie 5; the ticket machine was one of those that only takes coins and credit cards with chips (not most U.S. cards). I went out to what appeared to be the main bay for buses to stop, facing north as I could tell from the sun, but only a bus to Disneyland stopped there; the RoissyBus that I wanted stopped around the corner to the east. When that bus arrived I ran and tried to wave it down, but it didn't wait. Another 15 minutes to wait, but it was early and I wasn't in a hurry. At the next bus, I had my choreographed move to pay the driver with €20.10 and get €11 in change. The signs said to expect an hour drive, but with light Sunday morning traffic, it took 40 minutes to Opera. Most of the trip was a drab highway approach; in Paris it got interesting to see what types of storefronts remain the same, and what was new.

At Opera it was time to take the metro, and I'd been having trouble finding an answer to whether I could buy a carnet if I didn't have €11.60 in coins. There was a machine that took bills, but there was nothing on the screen, so I didn't want to chance it. There was, fortunately, a staffed booth, where the man took time to explain the route to Disneyland to a family ahead of me, but I could buy a carnet with a banknote. My fascination with the metro dates back to my year living in Paris when I was seven; here I saw new signage and a focus on line numbers rather than directions.

I got to the hotel, which I'd rather not name until I check out of it. It was before 9, and as I expected the room wasn't ready. They said it would be ready in half an hour; I took my netbook to the nearby Champ de Mars to try out the free wi-fi in parks. I took no part of someone trying to draw me into a scam of finding a gold ring on the ground. I got the wi-fi, knowing not to select the provider FreeWiFi, but Orange. I strolled some streets, with most shops closed on Sunday but some food markets active. The airline breakfast not having satisfied me, I had a croissant and coffee at a café. I got to my room, a small one, and found wi-fi not working there.
I had lunch at a café at a major intersection near the hotel; although I worried about overpricing, it was fine, a carpaccio. I’m planning to start the four days of the museum pass tomorrow; today I went to the Musée Carnavalet, which was free. I don’t remember being there before; it’s a museum of the history of Paris, and it gets more interesting as it goes along. The first displays were of period furniture; then there were paintings showing how Paris occupied much less area before the 19th century. Then there were displays on the French Revolution.

I walked around the Marais area; it was a hot day, and it was interesting to see how people dressed for it, and to guess at the Parisians doing it with more style. Since I first went around Paris as a small child, I had the habit of thinking a distance over two metro stops was too far to walk. For this trip I have a mind to walk more, and use one carnet this week. Now I decided to take the metro to FDR station (line 1 has interesting developments), and walk to the Palais de Chaillot, where World Cup matches were being shown on a big screen. It was a long walk in the heat, and I decided I didn’t want to stay in the viewing in the sun; I went through the Champ de Mars back to the hotel to see the second half.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Travel around Flo memorials

This needs to be separate from the story about the Flo memorials in my previous post, but I find there are stories to tell about the details of travel around the events.

To start, I was able to change my award to arrive in Boston shortly after noon instead of 9 p.m. In the time before Barnaby’s arrival, I had been planning to wait at the airport, but I saw that Mindy and Terry from SlowTrav were planning to have lunch in the North End, and made a general appeal for any members who could be interested to join them. The appeal for that specific Thursday lunch, which coincided with my time, looked like something that was meant to be.

On my Southwest flight, connecting through Baltimore, there’s not much to report. They started service to Boston Logan rather recently, and they use an odd section of Terminal E. In the main lobby, the signage was a bit confusing as to where to catch the bus to the T subway. I got that bus and purchased the $2 ticket from the machine, and took the Blue Line to State St. and the Orange to Haymarket. I’ve learned to take a snapshot of a map found on Google Maps on the iPod, and open it when I don’t have wi-fi.

I got to the restaurant L’Osteria, called Mindy to find out they were close, and we all got to lunch there. The meal was good, and the ladies were good company as I knew from seeing them at the big gatherings. After the meal, even though it was a bit awkward with my bags, we walked around the North End a little. I was expecting Barnaby to call when he got his rental car so I’d be ready to hop on in the street, but in fact he went ahead and (having a background in Boston) miraculously found a parking space in the North End. He charmed the ladies as we got together briefly for coffee; I must thank them all for accommodating me in having interest in this North End stop.

We had my GPS to drive out, but were foiled by making a left turn into the recessed lanes rather than staying above ground, and we unnecessarily crossed the harbor, winding up by Logan Airport again, and we had to pay the toll to cross back. Then we left Boston during rush hour, so it was slow going. We got to my parents’ Vermont home a little before 9.

At the end of my stay, my mother's friend Tricia from St. Louis, who had gone to Haiti with us, couldn't make it to the memorial events but turned up just when it was time for me to leave. It worked out that that I could ride with Sue and her parents to Manchester airport. We got there and said good-bye as they boarded their Southwest flight to Chicago; I was scheduled to fly United, connecting in Chicago, an hour later. The departure gate still wasn’t posted, but I deduced that it would be the same gate as their flight coming in from Chicago. Eventually I took the flight, on a CRJ-700 regional jet.

As I’d looked at the gate assignments of my flights on previous dates, it looked like I’d be arriving at the F gates of Terminal 2 at O’Hare, and would depart from Terminal 1, with an airside shuttle bus connecting the terminals. Now it turned out that both flights used the F concourse, avoiding that transfer, but it’s a cramped and unpleasant concourse. I found a place to get a hamburger to eat in the gate area. As I got to my departure gate area, they said they were oversold by about six passengers and were looking for volunteers to be bumped overnight. I didn’t hear the amount of the compensation, and I thought I wouldn’t go for that. The next time they said it, the offer was for $600 in travel vouchers and a free hotel stay with a food voucher. I finally thought I could manage that. I agreed to the flight at 8.45 rather than 6.30, which got me a First Class boarding pass. So here this one-way award trip that I'd essentially earned from piggy-banked miles--it's been years since I've earned United miles from flying--was getting me another $600 worth of future travel.

I had a voucher to stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at O’Hare. I re-learned how massive that airport is; I needed to get to the Shuttle Center for all the terminals, requiring a route through escalators, tunnels, and an elevator. Eventually the shuttle bus for that hotel showed up, I got my bag loaded, and the driver asked me to follow him since my bag was loaded and the bus was limited to 21 passengers. On arrival at the hotel, I was the last to get my bag and was at the back of the line to check in, but it worked pretty quickly: I handed in my voucher and they assigned me a upscale King room. With all the complimentary things United gave me, I was willing to put up with paying $12.95 for Internet access.

I got to the hotel restaurant for breakfast when it opened at 6; they only offered the buffet, I didn't take much, and my $15 voucher didn't quite cover the full price with tax. The way the inbound shuttle was full and they said it ran every 30 minutes, I was worried about whether there would be a problem boarding it at 7, but it worked out. I also worried about going through security at a big airport on Monday morning; while there were odd paths to take to get to the checkpoint at the airy 1980s Terminal 1, it went smoothly enough, and I was at the gate in the midfield councourse in plenty of time.

The inbound flight was a little late, but it took time for United to acknowledge that boarding wouldn't start when they said. On Southwest, there have been complaints about "cattle call" boarding, which was more the case before they gave people assigned spots in line. On United, with my assigned First Class seat, I figured I could stay seated in the gate area until they actually called boarding. This had not happened with the regional jet out of Manchester, but with this mainline jet (an A320), there was the phenomenon known as "gate lice," with people blocking the boarding area. I couldn't get through to the Red Carpet separate channel that I was entitled to take in First, and the agent closed off the front of it before I got there, and let the first Coach passengers board. She gave me an exasperated look and let me through (sorry, not much experience with this system and I didn't know the extent of the gate lice).

A reason why people push to board first on an assigned-seating airline is to get some overhead bin space for their bags, especially given the charges to check bags. I found a spot in the First Class bin where I could squeeze my bag; they had a problem closing the bin, but eventually got it to work. The plane was in a long line to take off; with storm clouds around, air traffic control asked for planes to be 10 miles apart. The 8.45 a.m. flight took off at 9.50. I had a nice Screw Driver to drink. The 10.15 scheduled arrival happened at 10.45.

So that's my account of the travel done around the sad occasion. Shortly after this, there's travel to Europe for my parents and me; going on this previously planned trip will be: moving on, part of the healing? It will be a mix, I think: we'll hope to make the best of it with Flo always in our hearts.

Flo's element was air: Flo memorials, June 2010

Since they call for such different perspectives, I will post here about the memorial events themselves, and separately about the travel there and back.

I rode with Barnaby to my parents' Vermont home, joining the many people who were arriving, including my cousin Mike who lives in Taiwan. Friends were being put up on various couches in the house and with neighbors.

On Friday was the opening of Flo’s memorial show. There were works by other artists and by Flo, reconstructed by Brian and Sue; there was an excellent turnout of people including some I knew from long ago. In addition to some of the art being beautiful tributes, there were moving tributes in poetry; reminding me of how I had about five minutes notice to give my high school graduation speech, I was asked to read a poem I’d never seen before. I don’t know how it went, but I did that.

Saturday was the day to bury Flo’s ashes. We hope it was an improvised graveside ceremony done as best was possible. A big group gathered, there were more moving readings, and the task fell to me to put the cremation box, a sailors’ box, into the ground, on my parents’ land, surrounded by the baby trees of the orchard that Flo wanted. Earth was put back over the box, and we took the ashes that hadn’t fit into the box, from the vase where they were held, and spread them at the base of the trees. I was choked up, but a question I hold within myself is whether I've cried in a proper way.

There were catered sandwiches and other food, and people stayed through the day and into the night. The people who collaborated with Flo put together a shrine in the wooded lower part of my parents' land; I went there and had my first look at Flo's studio space, only developed in the last few years.

So people showed their love and sorrow; it's so difficult for me to take. I offer a link to my photo album. I also offer Sue's album. It's best to conclude with this beautiful tribute, composed by my mother and read by my father at the show opening:

Flo’s element was air. He literally sculpted it, capturing it in bold inflatables that evoked the spaces in our dreams, the secret realms of cats and children. In a statement composed for his San Francisco show six years ago, he said:

“I sculpt spacious negatives, in addition to forming the exteriority of the architectural object. I animate the forms with air pressure to enhance their spiritual effect. If something breathes, responds to external forces, yet has a will of its own, in some sense it is alive. Or is it possessed?...” He added in a footnote, “I must stress the anima part of the word ‘animate’, from the Latin word meaning soul….”

The other three elements inform Flo’s work and life as well: water that persists both as a recurrent theme and in his persona of the sailor who submits himself to the power and mercy of the sea; fire that almost claimed his life and Brian’s in Baltimore ten years ago. Back then, once we knew they were safe, we came almost to think of it as a trial, like those the lovers Pamina and Tamino confront in The Magic Flute. Today I know it as the purifying element that reduced Flo’s vivid body to a little box of ash.

And Earth. Flo passionately believed that humans could save the planet, that he personally could enrich and coax the soil into yielding food for his family and his Haitian community. But just below the earth’s surface, last January 12, Damballah, the great serpent, the ancient force underlying the earth’s flawed and brooding structure, uncoiled, twisted, thrust up his head, killed a quarter of a million Haitians. Ended Flo’s life in an instant. Shattered all of us. And so in death Flo teaches us that there is a fifth element, one that we did not recognize at once. That element is love.

For love of Flo we have somehow gone beyond ourselves, beyond our human limits and expectations. I think of Zaka and Susan’s desperate and heroic vigil in Jacmel; of Brian’s commitment to Haiti’s future; of the extraordinary art that has already been made in Flo’s memory. Of artists who will emerge from ruined Caribbean towns and from Vermont, or New Mexico, or rural Italy. All the places, all the lives Flo touched, and touching, changed.

We have become Flo’s heirs. And tomorrow we bequeath his mortality to the earth he nourished, to the young apple orchard friends planted to honor him. The poet James Merrill who knew Flo as a child once wrote, “The soul is memory.” Remember that. Remember Flo.