What were seen will be forgotten inspite of digital images burned in some artificial memory. What were perceived will be remembered as lessons learned from places too far away and histories of eons ago. Recollections will be distorted with age and the passing time yet one will still be thankful for the chance to fill the senses with amazement and respite, the chance to travel and set foot on places one just imagined and of course, the privilege to lay it all out.
1. Monte Carlo did justice to Charlene’s song. It was extravagant and loud in a way only money could do. The Casino sparkled not only on its own. The Pagani, Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s,Rolls Royce’s, Aston Martin’s, Ferrari’s, Porsches’, and Mercedes Benze’s lit up the night sky until the sun opened the curtain for a new day. Old men walked hand in hand with women who looked at least half their age with no one batting an eyelash. At the hotel, together with the local papers, Arabian and Russian dailies abound. Diferrent tongues and accented English could be heard. This was where the world’s money play.We walked around seeing no beggars nor homeless people. On the narrow streets made for carts and horse carriages, the world’s most expensive cars dominate while multi million dollar yachts crowd the harbor. On foot, we covered the small Principality seeing no compatriots to share the color of our skin until the second day when a cruise ship came visiting. They too, came walking, albeit with spring in their steps and wonder in their eyes. They work hard for pittance at those cruise ships yet regaled at the chance to visit places most just read about. They complained about the cost of getting employed, of how they had to beg and borrow to meet the requirements of the government(not the employers), of how unscrupulous immigration agents would demand “departure pesos”, of how empty is the label of “OFW-new heroes” because they do not feel such. They are tired and homesick yet still thankful for a chance to better themselves and their families. All looked forward to going home.We met two Filipinas on our way out of the city. I heard the Tagalog and spoke with them. Surprised that I was a Filipino and not some black rap artist, they asked for directions to the casino. “Go straight one block then left, it ‘s the Palace on the hill.” They said “salamat” and good bye. Neither one looked back.
2. Eze is a town at the edge of a cliff. Little stone houses clustered together now converted to little shops. We were told people still lived there. There was even a hotel for those who prefer the quiet and the cool mountain breeze. One looked out into the vast blues and greens and could not help but appreciate the grandness of God’s creation. We ate with the sun on our back committing to memory that we could not take home.
3. Nice boasted of the beach-goers more than the beach. The beach was of pebbles and rocks that hurt rather than sooth. The beach goers were something else. Half naked women and men dotted the landscape. One’s eyes got lost among the young and old bodies paying homage to the sun and the sea. Malice, carnal desires and unimaginable imaginations were left in the privacy of one’s mind while outward actions manifested nonchalance if not indifferent attitude. Nudity was as natural as life. Beauty was meant to be exposed and appreciated. Yes, the excuses for the exhibitionists and the voyeurs. But that was the shame of where we came from. French men and women seemed to be less stressed, happier and drive less angrily. Maybe the nudity, the overflowing wine, the month-long vacations, the fruits de mer and the excellent weather all contribute to the over-all lifestyle and attitude. For us just passing thru, we moved on with satisfied smiles.
4. Cannes was not Hollywood. It was a small town with a small beach with nakedness cavorting with what was the ordinary. We took pictures against the backdrop of beach volleyballers, nude sunbathers, daring windsurfers and the seemingly uninhibited humanity. The Film Palace was empty of stars and celluloid pageantry. Life was meant to be lived outside not on a technicolor screen. That we knew.
5. St. Tropez sat at the end of the highway that hugged the coastline. The fuss got lost among those that desired to be seen and those that wanted to be ogled at. It was one supposed to be celebrity after another. One yatch party to the next. The glamour of skin and diamonds mixed with ordinary mortals wanting none of it yet irresistably drawn to the absurdity of it all. The party goers sashayed and displayed their wares on multi million dollar yachts while diners from restaurants across the harbor walkway played audience. There went again the synthesis between the exhibitionists and the voyeurs. The world and the kids, as it turned out, were all right. Regardless.
6. Marseilles was provincial and metropolitan at the same time. We had lunch by the beach as the wind whipped the sand against the skin of brave sunbathers. One realized at that point that getting a French naked would take sun, sand and surf, nothing else. The grilled fish was good as the fresh fish of Binmaley was. Only the steaming rice and “bagoong” were missing. Funny how one missed one’s birthplace in foreign meanderings. Must be the Filipino in one’s blood.Notre Dame Church was perched on top of the hill overlooking the sea and the city. The view came as exhilirating as could be. As for the locals, the thought that God oversees their whole enclave from where Notre Dame was, could not be more overwhelming. As for someone just visiting, such thought was more than justified.
7. We got to Lourdes as we were running out of diesel. Sunday evening in a small French town meant closed shops and abandoned gas stations. We got to one that had a swipe machine for a credit card. Problem was, it took only the local gas card. As always, there was the mercy of strangers to cast one’s belief in humanity. We gassed up using a stranger’s gas card and we paid him in Euros. We were in a town of miracles. St. Bernadette must be real proud.We settled in a hotel by the highway after failing in our quest to experience staying in a bed and breakfast inn. Being informed that the grotto was open until midnight, we followed the rest of the throng. The water from the blessed spring was cool and refreshing on a summer night. There was peace and contentment that my mortal mind could not explain as I brought my wetted fingers to the sign of the cross. My beloved and I blessed each other as tears formed inexplicably. We were not there to seek explanations. We were there to believe.At 11 PM, the Holy Mass begun. It was Sunday in Lourdes where the Holy Virgin and Mother appeared. Language barrier was of no consequence at that point.We went back the next day to see the Church by the river in the glorious daylight. Then we went up the mountain via the funicular to marvel at the Pyrenees and wonder about the humbled warriors and conquerors. Down in the valley, a picturesque little town lay postcard worthy as it cradled the Holy Virgin’s and St Bernadette’s sacred memory. If only time and man could keep it that way.
8. Paris beckoned after a 7-hour train ride. Shaking the effects of half-sleep and half-awake drowsiness, we had breakfast by the Avenue d Champ de Elysee as pictures of a triumphant goose stepping German Army came in despised blurred images. What a tragedy,what an insult and what a shame was that to the French!We played tourist in the City of Lights perusing the usual traps: Louvre Museum of the Da vinci Code fame, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame where the Hunchback hanged out, Sacre Couer, River Seine, Arch d Triomphe and the Palace in Versailles which was mediocre in pomp and excess compared to the Czar’s Palace in St. Petersburg. In all of the paintings and other works of art, Napoleon Bonaparte’s memory still loomed big. He was, after all, the French’s claim to world domination. In between, we sampled the best of French cuisine, longing somewhat for good old Filipino food after a rice-less two weeks. By design, we still found time to take a peek at natural breasted women of Moulin Rouge whose talents lay not in singing nor dancing. Between beauty and talent though, sometimes talent seemed over rated. We left Paris in a train to London that went thru the Chunnel to find our way back home. The flight took about 7 hours and endless memories. There are knick knacks, pictures and mementoes to concretize what the mind held. In all travels, respite and learning had always been the goal. This one was no diferrent. Mankind, with varied cultures and people, considered, was still of one specie, one justified aspiration, one universal dream. Noting that, I resolved to shed my clothes one day to honor the sun. Even if such would just be a futile attempt to re-live those foie gras flavored days in France.
Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.
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