Saturday, February 28, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

"You are Going to Paris... in Four Hours."

Foreword: Sorry this took me almost two months to post. This trip turned into a mere foreshadowing of the months that have followed. As I make my final edits, sitting here in a hotel in Rio de Janero, I realize again that I am spend too much of my free time winding-down from craziness, when I should be documenting it all. Anyway, thanks for your patience. Maybe I'll tell you about Brazil in two months...

I went to Paris. I have never been to France before, and I don't speak French. It wasn't even high on my personal list of "places I want to go", so no one was more more surprised than yours truly. At the end of it all, I truly enjoyed the trip and learned a lot. Most pointedly: everything I had heard about Paris was wrong.

Before I was told to pack my bag, I followed the Charlie Hebdo story with great concern, both as a journalist and because I've grown up with a political cartoonist named "Fitz", as a dear, family friend. But being a European, terrorism story, I never expected to be sent there. The decision came before the hostage situation ended, and even after the three, alleged terrorists were killed, I was still off to the City of Lights.
The Flight
I flew Air France, who upgraded me to "economy plus". On a U.S. domestic flight, we know that means getting a normal seat with the amount of legroom you would have gotten anyway 10 years ago, but this was legitimately halfway between economy and business class! 

Navigating the dodgy people offering taxis in the Charles de Gaulle airport, we found the proper exit to the taxi line. Now, I know I said I don't speak French, but I have Francophone friends and have gleaned enough from them to ask the taxi driver "Parlez-vous anglais?". Getting the first of many "No"s to that question, I quickly switched to attempting to pronounce the address of our colleagues' hotel and showing our smartly mustached, taxi driver the Google map location on my smartphone, and we were off.
Sadly, no French Connection moments

Arriving at the hotel, it was still pre-dawn. The hotel was more like a hostel, and our colleagues were getting what precious little sleep they could, so we walked through the Place de la Republique, for my first, authentic croissant. Forgive the low-quality selfie, but please take the time to appreciate those baguettes in the background! We felt so French!

It took my jet-lagged brain some time to realize this is called the "Statue Liberte"! The statue became a focal point for people to mourn the Charlie Hebdo victims, as well as the official starting point for the historic march on Sunday. All around the base were messages, candles, pens, and pencils. Most of the bricks each said "Je Suis Charlie", in various handwritings.

The morning I got there, I met up with our London-based colleagues and coordinated a live broadcast from the park (pictured above). Then we were off to film the apartments and interview neighbors of the alleged terrorists.

If you follow my Instagram, you know I love flowers.
It's strange how someone living in this quiet, beautiful
place could plan something so violent.
Filming where the younger Kouachi brother lived.
From the first apartment in Gennevilliers, we went to a nearby mosque, where Mr. Kouachi and his family visited infrequently. They kindly invited us inside, where it was very peaceful and beautiful. Everyone there was incredibly patient and generous with their time, as well. This man, who works at the mosque, gave us thoughtful comments, and told us he would participate in the march the next day, so we decided to follow him for that.
After that, it was off to Fontenay-aux-Roses Where Coulibary lived with his girlfriend Boumeddiene, who is still on the run at the time of this writing. Once again, it struck me just how peaceful a neighborhood and friendly the people there were.

At this nearby park, Coulibary allegedly killed a jogger before 
taking the Hyper Cache kosher market hostage. Still not clear why.
Here we got right up to the front door,
sealed off by police, of course.

Finally checking into our hotel that night, I booked a hotel room with a view of the Place, in case we needed to film from inside the hotel. You can see how many news trucks were there, but those pictured above accounted for less than half of them parked around the whole square.
But before we could get any actual sleep, we needed to have a working dinner with the other crews and coordinate our coverage of the march, which turned into a gathering of heads of state, and millions of participants!


I know this subject matter is dark and heavy, so let's take a break and appreciate one of the better aspects of my trip! I didn't eat one thing in France that wasn't delicious, although I will say, I wasn't particularly impressed by the wine. It was good, sure, but my expectation of French wine was much higher, and French, domestic wine was not noticeably, less expensive than buying it in the states. (By contrast, Argentinean wine tasted incredible and cost next-to-nothing!)
Legit Pho
Go here. Get this ==>

I went with a table wine. It was not remarkable.
The spread. Flambe, raw shellfish, salads - everything was great!

My steak frites was also great, and I somehow managed to finish it!

Of course we had Japanese, too.
I went with Curry Udon and kara-age.
Did I eat escargot? You bet your sweet ass I did!

This was my last meal in Paris before I flew home. I wish I knew the name of this nearly-raw chicken served in a perfectly balanced sauce!

The Day of the March

We woke up early before the march and walked to the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Obviously the police investigation kept us from getting less than a block away, so we filmed the tributes that had been left by those around the police barricade. France flies noticeably fewer flags than America, but the ones we did see were at half-mast. 
Keep in mind, this was just 6 days after the initial attack. 

We returned to Gennevilliers where participants in the March met at their city hall to go together.
The metro was free that day, in order to make it easier for those people to attend the unity march.

This doesn't properly express how crowded it was!
Even the open streets leading up to the starting point of the march were standing-room-only!
I've never seen so many people in one place. We stopped here to interview the mosque-members before the sun set too far.
For most, the "starting point" became the end of their march-to-the-march. Many people climbed the Statue Liberty.

That would get you arrested in NYC for sure. Here we see the French police reaction. I felt pride in their respect of people caught up in the moment.

Add caption
It didn't end when the sun went down either. People lit flares (who knows how they got green flares in the first place?!), and drank and continued to decorate the statue with memorials and messages of freedom and defiance of terrorism.
Group photo of the TBS crews I worked with. The woman and the man in glasses actually live in Paris, and speak fluent French!

The morning of our flight home we planned for about four hours of sightseeing, but we got a call from Tokyo asking us for o---ne more story, so after cranking that out in time for the 11pm news in Japan, we had less than two hours before we needed to get to the airport! Here's some of what we had time to see *other* than what we whizzed by in taxis:

This is not a selfie, just fyi.

OH! Champs-Élysées! A seriously pedestrian-friendly street!
Arc de Triomphe and crazy round-about

In its native habitat...

The flight attendants going home kept using French for me, even after I spoke to them in English! Maybe it was the bow tie?
The Capstone

The day after coming home, it would have been nice to catch up on sleep, BUT North Korea decided to hold a press conference!