Tuesday, February 20, 2018

in the footsteps of Maigret...kind of




In the footsteps of Inspector Maigret...kind of

It’s all about connections in France. A friend’s high school classmate knows a man who knows the person you want to meet. Connections get you his phone number. But introductions, I’ve discovered after many painful botched attempts, will get you in the door. In this case the wide portal of 36 Quai des Orfevrés home of the Paris Police Prefecture. Also the haunt of George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret fictionally in charge of the Suréte homicide. Now it’s called Brigade Criminelle, the elite homicide division on the fifth floor.

But I’d been there, visited ‘Maigret’s office’ and seen the photos of Simenon visiting the real Inspector he based Maigret on. I saw the intake desk, the holding cells, climbed the winding back stairways and saw messy paper piled desks. But this time I had an introduction to the Crime Scene Investigation Unit. The team who arrived at the scene of the crime, assembled the evidence, handed it to the Brigade Criminelle detectives and particular to the Prefecture, exclusively handled the fingerprints of each case.

My friend Anne, who founded an association with rape victims and their families to promote legislation for penal re-education and pyschological programs for offenders, met François at the sentry gate. François, seventeen years in the Brigade Criminelle and now running the Crime Scene Unit, puffed on his pipe with a nod to Maigret and flashed his ID at the sentry. The we were in the famed courtyard and seconds later mounting the staircase into the heart of ’36’. Magistrates and avocats, wearing black robes and white ermine around their necks bustled past since the Tribunal, court, adjoins the Prefecture.

One stop shopping, I thought, since a suspect is booked on the third floor, held in gard à vue in a cell in the basement then within twenty four to forty eight hours taken back up to the third floor crosses the corridor and into the courtroom to be arraigned. After that the suspect either bids adieu or if the Brigade Criminelle’s assembled enough evidence and the la Procurer - like the DA - has enough to try her/him he’s back downstairs to the basement cells.
After the quick tour through the clogged Tribunal corridor - I mean how many black robed Magistrates does it take to block a wide high ceilinged 18th century corridor? Enough I discovered as they huddled discussing cases, we again crossed the courtyard, past ‘flic’s, cops, smoking in the corners, down more steps and into another courtyard and then into another. Now we were in a courtyard surrounded by a soot-stained wing of the Tribunal and facing ugly tan portables. The ‘heartbeat’ of the Crime Scene Unit.

I’d hoped for a more picturesque building but here François - off to a case - handed us to Remy who was in charge of the division. Remy, orange pants, matching tie and little English smiled. “I’ll show you the father of modern forensics, Bertillion, this was his lab and office.” Here I wondered? But Remy led us to the next building, through a warren of hallways and we were back in the old part. Somehow this complex at ’36’ on the Ile de la Cité all connected. We saw Bertillon’s early instruments and how he developed in the late 1890’s what everyone still uses today - the techniques of fingerprinting and identification. In 2000 the fingerprint division connected to APHIS the fingerprint database but they still use the old fingerprint cards to identify a hit on APHIS and keep to the standards of a 12 point match up on the fingerprint pad.

But forget the technical for a moment, I was struck by the camaraderie among the technicians at their computers, the joking and quips and comments as they stood comparing old brown files, or in the lab room pulling out graphite powder and testing for indentations on paper, or in another the fingerprints on counterfeit Euros. Like a family. Everyone time we met someone it was handshakes or kisses hello...ok, it’s France even in the workplace people double cheek kiss when they meet. But it added a human touch not found at the FBI. Even a Christmas tree near Bertillion’s old lab. One of the highlights was the reconstruction room. A room in the base of the 15th century tower where the team re-enacts the crime scene. The new in the old, and with their cramped headquarters every bit is used. So after an illuminating four hours and with a nod to Maigret, double cheeked kisses to his descendent Remy we left ’36’ and headed across the street to Cafe Soleil d’Or, where the ‘flic’s’ eat lunch. Supposedly Maigret 'ate' there, too.

PS Update this post is from 2009 - the Brigade Criminelle has moved and the building is a bit empty and lonely.
In May I'm visiting their new headquarters and will take you on a virtual 'visit'!

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, February 19, 2018

Africa 2018: Splendid Places, People, and Surprises

 Annamaria in Kenya and Tanzania


My week in Kenya ended with two fascinating days.

Through the good offices of Facebook connections, I made a new friend, who herself became an instant conduit for magical connections. Her name is Lydia.


On this past December 6th, I posted this picture on Facebook,
as an example of what settler life was like in early Twentieth
Century British East Africa.  I took the picture off the internet and
had no idea who the people were.

When I met Lydia and told her about my research, she offered to introduce me to her friend Calvin Cottar.  She made a date for us to meet with him for a coffee on Sunday morning.  To prepare for that meeting, she sent me a link to an internet interview with Calvin, who is the premier private safari guide in Kenya today.  There, at the top of the article, was the very picture above.  The man in the sun helmet on the right is Calvin's great-grandfather--Chas Cottar, who founded Cottar's Safari Service right at the time I am writing about. Calvin now heads it.



Me, Calvin, and Lydia


Calvin allowed me to take pictures of
his period family photos.  This one of Chas's
son.  Chas was an American from Oklahoma
 who immigrated.  My guess this was a 4th of July
 celebration.  You think? 

After our visit with Calvin, Lydia and her friend Jess took me to the Nairobi National Park for a picnic.  



Impala against the skyline of Nairobi 

Hartebeest, ditto
The next evening I had the chance to host a dinner for Lydia and my friend Michael Lenaimado, a leading Kenyan anti-poaching and conservation ranger.  During the course of our dinner conversation, it came out that Lydia and Michael have a friend in common - Calvin Cottar!

Michael, Lydia, and me

As Michael explained his work to Lydia, while discussing the dangers of anti-poaching work, Michael lamented the loss of rangers to snakebite.  "Wait," Lydia said, "my sister-in-law and her husband run a snake-bite prevention and treatment effort here in Kenya."  Bingo!  Thanks to this chance encounter, Lydia has put Michael in touch with the people who can supply anti-venom serum ad help save the lives of his men.  And I got to sit there and listen as this this took place.  I ask you: Are you surprised that my life feels like magic to me? 

The very name Kilimanjaro Airport denotes adventure to me, even still.
The next day I was on my way to Arusha, Tanzania and The Emusoi Center.  That's me at the very  top of this post, with the new girls, who are being prepared to take their school entrance exams and set themselves on a path to eduction, instead of being sold into early marriage.  Hooray for the education for girls!!

I got to make a little magic of my own for the Emusoi girls with a gizmo I acquired in Italy. With the help of Sister Mary, Emusoi's founder, and Sister Jerine, a teacher, we launched it.  Here are two very short films.  The take off and a few second of how the girls reacted.






 Then it was on to Lake Manyara.  I was the only passenger on the flight from Arusha Airport, a first for me.



Harry, the pilot.

Your reporter amongst the empty seats

A glance at the Rift Valley during the descent.

 The ride from the airport to the lodge was a marvel of game watching.






Here are some highlights of the sightings over the past couple of days.


Sunrise

Lions at sunrise

And zebras

This close!!!!

A gazillion flamingos and me!
Magical!  All magical!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Walking The Less Traveled Road

--Susan, every other Sunday

Roads fascinate me.

Approach to Tokushima Castle ruins, Shikoku, Japan

They always have. As a child, I loved to explore the mountain trails when my family went camping, and made up stories about the tamer trails in the park near home. I knew every crack in the sidewalk in my neighborhood.

In high school, I often fought a near-overwhelming urge to "just keep driving" up Pacific Coast Highway--not to escape my life, but just to see where the winding, ocean-bordered road would end, and what lay along its path.

Flash forward twenty years, and of the tens of thousands of photographs I've taken in Japan, the most-photographed single subject is . . . the road.

Kongobuji, Mount Koya, Japan
The path.

Nakasendo Road, Japan Alps


The trail.

Mount Inari, near Kyoto

As the photographs bear witness, I find them most intriguing when they curve, preventing me from seeing what's beyond.

Tokaido, near Hakone

I suspect I could spend a lifetime analyzing why--and that if I did, the multitude of answers would still just scratch the tip of the iceberg.

Roads are mysterious.

Fushimi Inari Jinja, near Kyoto


Roads invite.

Entrance to Hakone Jinja, Hakone, Japan


Roads hold the keys to adventure . . .

Railroad tracks, Tokushima, Japan

. . . and the path to lead us home.

Okunoin, Mount Koya, Japan


Roads offer a space for reflection, and for pilgrimage.

This is a road, too - you just can't see it all with your earthly eyes.

Roads hold thousands of years of history - and in some places, you can almost hear the sandaled feet of the men and women who walked them hundreds of years ago.

The Nakasendo, passing through Magome, Japan

On some roads, I've heard those ghostly feet more literally, too.

Okunoin Cemetery by night.


Each trail, road, and path has a story to tell, if we're willing to listen.

The Tengu's Seat, Mount Mitake


Each road holds an adventure, if we're willing to step out of our comfort zone and walk.

Forest of the Gods, Mount Mitake, Japan


This May, I will start a journey that will lead me up a hundred mountains, along a hundred mountain roads, some paved . . .


Lanterns in Magome, Japan Alps


. . . and many more, in the words of Frost, "less traveled."

Traditional foot bridge along the old Tokaido, near Hakone

I will finally find out more about what lies at the end of those winding, mountain roads. But, perhaps more importantly, I will find out more about what lies within the heart of the person who goes to walk them.


Lamppost and waterfall, Mino-o Park, Osaka, Japan

No sincere pilgrim ever returns from a pilgrimage unchanged.

Because the road, not the destination, is the true purpose of the journey--something my photographer's eye has apparently realized all along.

Dawn on the Nakasendo, Japan Alps

And the act of walking along your chosen road--wherever it leads you--is the part that makes all the difference.




Saturday, February 17, 2018

Do You See a Moral in This True New York Story?


Jeff—Saturday

The other night Barbara and I had dinner with old friends at a trendy, upscale French restaurant on the Upper Eastside.  Let’s call him Jack, and her Jill.  That’s not their names, but it adds an alliterative touch to the tale.  

I’ve known Jack for forty years. I respect him, admire him, and trust him completely.  He’s one of the smartest, genuinely well-informed people I know. He also has views on some subjects quite different from my own. Over the years, that’s led to lively debates, and I expected our dinner to be no different.  Sort of like what we each wished the US Senate still experienced.


We sat at a table in the middle of the main dining room, with Jack seated directly across from me.  As a seeming harbinger of things to come, an elegant woman in a red, white and blue sequined jacket reminiscent of the US flag, sat with her companion at a banquette directly behind Jack.  To give proper credit to flag lady’s fashion taste, her choice of couture was several quantum levels higher than that employed by Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, in choosing the flag-inspired outfit she wore to her boss’s inauguration.


We were humming along nicely, talking about family and careers, when Jill raised an accelerant subject. Her political views are often far different from Jack’s, and our conversation soon moved on to the myriad of issues polarizing our country today.  At times with voices reaching a level turning heads at nearby tables.  Frankly, I paid no attention to any table other than flag lady’s, for she’d become my secret canary in the mine, signaling any impact our overheard conversation might be having on others in the room.

Things got particularly heated over the subject of President Trump, his policies, and his behavior’s threat to the Republic.  That led to a detailed back and forth over whether Hillary Clinton was the worst of candidates the Democrats could have chosen.  Of course, her husband’s philandering got some attention, too, in juxtaposition to that of #45. 

All the while, flag lady’s eyes kept bouncing from our table to others in the room.  I assumed she and her dinner companion were enjoying this bit of polarized American dinner theater.


Midway through dessert, during a particularly heated exchange on the subject of Hillary, an ashen-faced Jill abruptly whispered, “Shhhh.”  

The conversation paused, and Jill leaned in toward the middle of the table.

“The four at the next table have been listening to us all evening.” 

That did not surprise me, but what she said next did, for I’d been focusing on the wrong canary.  Flag lady’s attention had been centered on a far grander show playing out in the room, involving a larger cast than those at our table.

Jill bit at her lip.  “I just realized who’s sitting at the table next to us.  Chelsea Clinton.”


Dead silence.

Recovery effort on Jack’s part: “I voted for her father twice.” 

My approach: “Check please.”


—Jeff

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ramsay Theory Of Nothing In Particular


A friend was telling me that my mother had a small crushed red flower in the back of her drawer. She added that the flower had been on board a ship, and that my dad had had it in his lapel at dinner and it had fallen into some soup. Brown soup she said.
There’s nothing very odd about any of that other than the fact that my father has been dead for over a year and this woman has no communication with my mother. I had no idea about the soup or the flower until I asked my mother and she said it was quite true. They had been on a cruise about five years ago and the weather was very rough so the boat had put on crafting classes and my mother had made my dad a red rose from tissue paper and chicken wire. Knowing my mother it wouldn't have been very good.
For a joke my dad put it on the jacket he was wearing at dinner that night. The only bit that wasn’t true was the flower did not fall off into brown soup. It fell in the gravy.
But still not bad for a story that comes from beyond the grave. Or did it?
                                         
My mum had been cleaning out a drawer and found the crushed little rose the week before. She had  fluffed it up a little and placed it in a vase on the window ledge.
My friend is a professional medium. She spends her life talking to dead people and can just give you a throwaway comment about something that she cannot possibly know. She does admit however, that she might not be talking to dead people at all - there might be something totally different going on.
To this end she is often wired up by Glasgow University but not by the theological department, she’s wired up by the physics department. She has had her  head MRI’d whilst she’s doing the 'thing'. But as she says talking to the dead can be like hearing a gentle whisper in Glasgow Central Train Station during the rush hour I presume its even more difficult when there’s the noise of a scanner grinding and bumping in your ears as well.
                                  

I have a theory, it's bit bonks but it's one I so wish to be true. I've even been stacking up little bits of evidence. My psychic friend tends to come away with things that have recently been on someone’s mind. She was asking me why my dad was particularly proud of a small trophy (bearing in mind he was a champion cyclist and had lots of trophies) why was he so proud of this wee one? And then she came away with a startling fact – one of those weird things that are famous within a family that no one else would know; that he was 10 stone 2 pounds when he did his national service and ended up in the champion tug o war team, winning the small trophy my friend was referring to. Very specific and a just a wee bit weird. So when I related that to my mother she said 'that’s funny, I was polishing that trophy just last week.' 




Now my theory is that it’s the thoughts that are transferring from one brain  to another brain that has trained itself to be receptive.

In moments great sadness or great danger, do our brains increase the speed of the 'WIFI' in the signals we send out? Do these signals spread out across the globe until it stumbles upon a listening brain?
If we think hard enough, can we make someone phone us? Can you know that a friend is in trouble because we are picking up on  their brains WIFI distress call?  How often do we say when stumbling across a pal we've not seen for a while, “funny I was just thinking about you”.
                                   

If enough people think the same thing, can it be made to happen? Can that explain the power of prayer or the collective consciousness? 

And I know who I credit with no scientific basis whatsoever.  I think it's these wee neutrino guys. They seem to be very busy, zooming around with no useful purpose. I was told by a physicist that I am talking rubbish as they are nothing but energy, but surely all energy does something.
Even the laziest of teenagers does something. Eventually.
So why can these neutrinos not be in some kind of pattern that the human race is too stupid to understand?  Why can it not be a Morse code outwith our conscious cognition or a sub atomic Aldis lamp.
                                       

I ask you to puruse my theory over a nice coffee. It might explain why different groups of animals with no method of communication will all start a learned behaviour simultaneously – the picking off of the tin foil tops of milk bottles by birds 500 miles apart being a famous example.
It also explains why psychics can never tell you next week's winning lottery numbers....
Sorry about that...

Caro Ramsay