The Way I See It - Hoofing through France

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Wed, Sep 30, 2009, 8:00 am  //  Ham Hayes

Working Through a Lock
One good way to better understand our society and culture is to visit another country. Many questions and a little bit of trepidation can arise before and during a trip, even for seasoned travelers. Primal questions come first: will I be able to communicate, avoid being mugged, or find a toilet? In most cases, the answers are yes, yes and yes, especially with a little preparation and a can-do attitude. In fact, many countries have worked hard to develop traveler friendliness. Local economies are often dependent on travelers and information globalization has reduced many of the uncertainties experienced in the past.

Try learning some of the language. Even in the French countryside where English hasn’t been invented yet, endless mirth can result from sincere attempts to pronounce the local lingo. Hand and body gestures can often help. I even used folded elbows and flapping arms in an effective chicken imitation at a village restaurant. The smiles were big, the food excellent and the bonds established. In some cases, our hosts would speak only English so they could practice their skills. That kind of thwarted my strategy, but the game of connecting plays both ways.

Honor people. In our travels in France, we navigated through 67 separate canal locks. They were all free and were manually operated by lock keepers: men and women, old and young. Those folks worked hard. We know because we helped crank the lock gates open and shut alongside them. The keepers appreciated our effort. They also were wonderfully surprised by the unanticipated small gifts that we brought from the US, on good advice, for them. Quite a few conversations resulted that would not have happened otherwise. These were truly moments of grace. Many, if not most of us, go about our work each day, or see others going about theirs and don’t acknowledge the contributions made. Are we not more likely to find fault instead? We get what we choose, don’t we?

Want to learn something? Ask a question and then listen. It is best to keep the lips zipped and ears open. France has some fabulous, well known tourist sites, some of which we visited. And like many other countries I’ve been to, the real gems are the people. Now if you ask and listen, you are likely to find out a whole lot more about the interesting things to see and know, rather than if you just bought a tour or wanted to make YOUR point to a local. In our case, we learned about which restaurants to go to. We also “discovered” the incredible local produce markets, found the best wine merchants and extraordinary places to visit. And most importantly, we found new friends and had some laughs together.

Observe and adapt. One conclusion I came to on first arriving in Paris is that I could suffer severely at the hands of Paris drivers and traffic. In a word, impossible. We quickly learned to go underground to the Paris Metro. Paris is large and densely populated. It is essentially 6 stories high. Five stories of apartments on top of ground floor shops. Note: Bellingham should not use Paris as an infill model. The streets are mostly narrow and heavily, seemingly permanently, clogged with buses, cars and motorbikes. I think the most popular car is the Chloresterol and it runs on French butter. Some Parisians ride bicycles in that mess; they must believe in reincarnation. Paris streets have signs at intersections that tell how many pedestrians were dispatched in the last year for that intersection. In short, the Metro works.

Food. The French love food. I love their food as well. They are really good at it, starting with the almost universal availability of great produce and meat products, everywhere. We did not see a lot of processed food. Almost everyone we saw was thin. I suspect that’s because they have to walk due to the traffic.

Nothing’s perfect. Oh, and by the way, the French have problems, too: pollution, street people, religious intolerance, economic dislocation and I’m sure a few other things. Sounds a bit like us over here. One lesson of traveling is to see ourselves in a little kinder light. Whenever and wherever you are “working,” remember that “working” is actually serving. Now look at the other folks around you and remember that they are serving as well. Let’s try to honor that service. I’ll guarantee the food will be better, and you might just laugh a bit more.

The Way I See It - Hoofing through France

Wed, Sep 30, 2009, 8:00 am  //  Ham Hayes

One good way to better understand our society and culture is to visit another country. Many questions and a little bit of trepidation can arise before and during…

0 comments

Highly disturbing

Fri, Sep 25, 2009, 3:56 pm  //  John Servais

These photos are from a video taken at the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh. Why are unidentified, Army-fatigue-wearing men very forcibly taking a protester and jamming him into an…

10 comments; last on Sep 29, 2009

Village Books

In historic Fairhaven. Take Exit 250 from I-5.

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Editor's Note: We received this Letter to the Editor in response to Kamalla Rose Kaur's earlier story, 3 comments; last on Oct 24, 2009

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Much has been made of czars in the current administration; however, one czar in particular should have people from both political sides a little nervous. In a case…

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I have mentioned there is little difference between government and big business; both are run by bureaucracies not known to be customer friendly. This issue is important on…

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Wooden Boats

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1 comments; last on Sep 13, 2009

The Way I See It - Lessons from Children

Wed, Sep 09, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ham Hayes

You know you’ve failed when your action of last resort is to attack. Attacking is, in fact, a defensive response to the inability to persuade others to a…

0 comments

Orphalee Smith to run against Fleetwood

Tue, Sep 08, 2009, 8:00 am  //  John Servais

I've heard from trusted sources that Orphalee Smith will be filing as a write-in candidate for the At-Large Bellingham City Council position this week. As we all know,…

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Welcome to the Land of the Lummis

Mon, Sep 07, 2009, 1:17 pm  //  Kamalla Rose Kaur

“In our different excursions, particularly those in the neighborhood of Port Discovery, the skulls, limbs, ribs, and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found…

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Word to the Wild #4:  Watery Walks for Rainy Days

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McMillan Spire in the North Cascades’ Picket Range has been on my peak-baggers to-do list since the 1980s. Barely a week ago, three friends and I finally locked…

0 comments

The Way I See It - The Tsunami Is Here

Wed, Sep 02, 2009, 8:00 am  //  Ham Hayes

There is a sense that in recent years our political and social discourses have become meaner. Our political system is increasingly seen as being more about gaining or…

2 comments; last on Sep 07, 2009

Laurie slings mud

Tue, Sep 01, 2009, 9:50 am  //  John Servais

Laurie Caskey-Schreiber is campaigning for "re-election" to the At-Large County Council position - but she does not hold that position. She is currently the 2nd District member. A…

13 comments; last on Sep 06, 2009

 

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