The following article was written when I was in Paris at the time of the flight ban across Europe due to the volcanic ash spewed by a certain glacier mountain in Iceland whose name I won't even bother to spell. I thought I'd share it with you, now I'm back in good old Jakarta after a pleasantly extended stay in one of my favourite cities in the world:
I’m stuck in Paris – though stuck isn’t exactly the right word one would associate with this beautiful city. I’m not supposed to be here as I’m writing this, but since my flight has been cancelled along with the tens of thousands of flights that normally fly in and out of Europe from all over the world on any given day, thanks to the ash spewed out of an impossibly difficult to pronounce volcano all the way in Iceland, I find myself still hanging around its cobbled streets.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, though I fret a bit about some deadlines and other shooting agenda my cameraman, who is travelling with me, is supposed to be sinking his teeth in a bare few days after we were due back. Besides spring is now here and in the last couple of days the sky has been duck-egg blue with not even a fluff of cloud.
Where’s the ash, you might rightly wonder. Aren’t European airports supposed to be shut down because of the ash? Well, yes. But the ash is around about a few tens of thousands of seats above ground where only the iron birds venture. For us on the ground as a matter of fact, the weather has been exceptionally clement in the last few days.
Not only that but I hear that some planes doing test flights in the volcanic ash have been reporting of practically no effect on the flightworthiness of the aircrafts flown into the no-fly zone. So am not really sure what’s keeping things not moving for so long, though this being Europe the proper thing to do is always to err on the over-cautious.
Thinking about it, with the planes grounded in an unprecedented scale and the railway workers still on strike, the amount of reduction in CO2 emission and substantial saving in energy, not to mention the cutting down in pollution, should be making quite a significant contribution in warding off global warming.
Too bad Mother Nature has other ideas when it comes to keeping the planet in balance that might not correspond with anything that humans or have in mind. Who would have thought that a volcano spewing its ash in Iceland could have the effect of disrupting the travel plans of a whole continent and the rest of the world that is trying to get to it?
No doubt in planetary health terms the eruption barely registers a blip in its heart beat, as do probably our worries about global warming, the ozone layer and acid rain. When it comes to putting us in our proper place, nature is certainly more adept at it. At the end of the day, we are all merely as fleas on a dog’s back.
Having said that, there is no better place to suffer the impact of nature than a prolonged stay in Paris. I am quite well acquainted with the city already, having lived here once during my student times. A few more days of hanging around this city and having baguette and cheese for breakfast, I wouldn’t be surprised if my rusty French takes on the finesse of a native Parisienne, which would be dandy.
As a matter of fact I am enjoying wandering the streets of Paris until my feet ache and my calves feel like iron. Basking in the warm sunshine and fresh air while walking on real streets and uneven pavement, pausing now and then to browse through second hand books displayed on the sides of the road or losing oneself in the narrow roads that often house so much history or fascinating mystery, is a privilege for us Jakartan denizen whose idea of walking would be on the treadmill in the gym and fresh air is anything with air conditioning.
And I also enjoy taking the metro, the underground train that is the city’s main and distinctive public transportation. Coming from a city that separates the car owners and the great unwashed in some kind of social hierarchy, mingling and being anonymous while sharing close proximity with other members of the public and the general human race, is a rare treat in itself.
Staring at one’s own reflection as the train enters the tunnel or losing oneself in a book or in one’s ipod music while others do the same is practically a privilege. It is not everyday that one gets to be amongst people of different backgrounds, races and ethnicity and yet remain comfortingly equal. Whatever you wear and however you look, nobody will judge you or make you feel unwelcome or a stranger in the metro: The metro is a great equaliser. It is also the easiest, cheapest and most convenient way of navigating the city.
Moreover, there are so many things one could do in Paris with the smallest amount of effort. There’s no need to look for art. Art will come to you whether in the forms of street artists and performers as well a street painters and musicians. Beauty and grace is the normal standard as is a glass of red wine on a balmy spring afternoon during a late al fresco lunch.
All in all, I guess I’d rather not be able to get out of Paris than not being able to get in.
(Desi Anwar: first published in The Jakarta Globe)