This blogpost involves the sighting of an African lady in Paris. It involves a short walk in some woods. It involves the tossing of some coins. It involves five missing people with a connection to Paris, (France, not Texas). It involves looking for a way forward, personally selfishly, but personally!
I was in Paris, (France) on Saturday. I planned to stay there a week. I thought I knew of a free parking place close to Gare du Nord. I was incorrect. It was free from 7pm to 9 am, and free all day Sunday. I paid 20 euros to park from 4pm until 7pm. I could stay in my campervan until 9am Monday morning for that price.
I had come to Paris to see if there was anything I could positively and safely do to help in the five stories I knew of UK citizens that are missing supposedly in Europe and having a Paris connection in that disappearance. I visited the ‘Little India’ area close to Gare du Nord railway station. This area has an Asian influence. I had two curries. I spoke to no one about people disappearing. I sat drinking coffee on the sidewalks outside cafes. I looked at people walking past. An Englishman had disappeared in Paris just over a week ago. I heard that he had been found over the weekend. He was safe and he was well. Good. Excellent.
There were many many people from Sub Saharan countries in the area. They populated the parks, the pavements, they congregated outside churches. The more well-off of them crowded the African bars, restaurants and cafes. I wondered how many were Migrants, how many were employed, how many were desperate, how many were frightened, hungry, penniless.
I met a Polish guy on another pavement. He had arrived with his mate from Poland just the day before. He had a sign next to him written on a large piece of cardboard, “Building Work Please”. We chatted. His name was Luca. I didn’t have work to give him but I bought him and his mate a bottle of water, (single use plastic I’m afraid), a banana each, an apple each, a mars bar each and a sandwich each. I also gave them a 5 euro note each. Good luck to them. I think he was genuine.
What can you do for 5 ‘missing’ people with a Paris connection? I had no leads, no hunches, no ideas. I tossed a coin. Heads I stay in Paris, tails I leave. Tails it was.
Shall I go 50 kilometres away from Paris? Tails, no. Shall I go 100 kilometres away from Paris? Tails, no. Shall I go over 200 kilometres away from Paris? Heads, yes.
I knew a place over 200 kilometres away from Paris. I had been there twice before. It’s a pretty magical sort of place. Good things had happened to me before there, maybe they’ll happen again. I’d wasted most of my 20 euro parking fee but maybe the coin had better ideas for me…
It was Saturday evening, lots of traffic. I waited until late and crept out of Paris, European satnav as my excellent guide. Driving down a brightly lit road, a 4 metre wide pavement to my left I glimpsed an absurd sight. What I presumed to be an African lady lain down on the pavement. I only had a split second to observe her. The lady was perpendicular to the road, her feet pointing our way, a thin duvet covered her. She lay with her head propped up by her left hand, her elbow directly on the pavement. She wasn’t looking my way, she was looking down along the pavement. She had a couple of plastic bags stood upright next to her, close to her supporting elbow. She had one of those bright and large scarves wrapped a top her head. She seemed a well-built lady, dark dark skin. Perhaps she was from the Ivory Coast? In my ignorance, perhaps she was even French! I made an assumption that she had fled a war torn, poverty stricken country? What ‘on earth’ was she doing living, hanging out, laid out on a brightly lit pavement in the middle of Paris. She was all alone.
The split second passed. I was doing 40 miles an hour. ‘Stop Simon’. ‘You can help’. ‘Stop, go back, you can change her life’.
And I’m still thinking about it. I didn’t stop. I thought about it. I keep thinking about it. But I didn’t stop.
Could I have helped her? Or actually was she ok? Who am I to say she needed help? Who am I to say I could have helped?
So I arrived in the town I had been to twice before, Bagnoles de L’Orne in Lower Normandy. It comprises a lake, a casino on the lake, a spa, a forest, a castle, sporting venues. It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere. It’s a tourist trap in the spring and summer, and one of those ghost towns in winter.
I’m parked up in a free motorhome parking lot. I woke up this morning thinking of looking for a cheap campsite where I could get hold of electricity and wifi to write this blogpost. And I found one. (Yes, I tossed a coin. Heads said to write a blogpost before the end of the day).
I tossed the coin thinking it was bound to be heads for going to the campsite, but dammit, it was tails. I was pretty annoyed but went with it. I visited the tourist office. It’s probably 100 metres from my home, Clarence, my motorhome.
I asked for a local library so I could hunt down my desired electric and wifi. “You can use our wifi spot here, it’s free,” she said. “You can stay as long as you like so long as you have an electric adapter”. I have. I’m here. I have 2 hours left to write and publish this post. Easy. The coin got it right!
I went for a walk in the woods this morning. There is a trail marked out depicting how the German forces used the woods here as cover for supplies. It was an ideal place for them to resupply their forces along the Normandy coastline. They had fuel storage areas, munition areas, clothing and food supply areas. There is and was a railway line to here, and the road system was also good at the time. Over the years the woods and surrounding areas were heavily bombed by the Allied forces until finally securing and liberating the area in August 1944. I counted the rings on this tree. It, and many others witnessed the 1940’s bombings. Some of the trees must have been killed, some of them heavily scarred. Thousands of civilians and troops died here, but often we forget that nature suffered too.
A coin toss said stay a week here. Much better than a dodgy 7 days on a noisy busy road close to Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, France.
I have put up the five names and details of the missing people with a Paris connection in Clarence. I await instructions, a hunch, an idea, or nothing, with regards to helping in their situations. There are plenty of woods to walk in. The coin told me not to go gambling in the casino, (very good idea, ‘not’ to that is). I hope the lady in Paris is ok.
And a way forward for me? Coin tossing could be a part of it yes, but with targeted questions, and all the time asking the Universe for the best way forward….with or without tossing a coin. There’s a comedy film in English at the casino tonight. I’m not tossing a coin for that one. I’m going.