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by : David
Published 24 November 2005

Letters from Paris and South Africa : October-November 2005

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005

Hi Aneka!

Thanks so much for your great letter!

I’m about to sit down to dinner with Sandy and Marie, so I’ll write at more length later. Meanwhile, here are some photos we took this afternoon before Sandy’s battery went dead. Many more to come tomorrow.
All my love, Dad

Oct. 25

Hello sweetheart!!

To answer your questions: I had a great flight (French food !) which arrived half an hour early, but Sandy arrived to greet me just as I came out of the arrivals area after waiting for my suitcase. Paris is wonderful, although I must say it’s taken me a while to get used to the time difference!

Anyway, yesterday Sandy and I went to an amazing art exhibit near the Palais Royale. There were hundreds of paintings and sculptures from all over the world on the subject of Melancholy throughout the ages. Not the cheeriest of subjects, of course, but the vast scope of artistic representation was truly breathtaking. I’ll find out how you can get their website - it’s guaranteed to be a great one which will give you a good idea of what we saw. Today, Sandy and I walked around Paris (museums are closed on Tuesdays!) and of course I got an incredible education on many aspects of French and Parisian architecture, culture and history. I’m writing to you from an internet place I found nearby, and I think we may be able to chat over Yahoo messenger. It’s getting late, so I’m going to send this now and then see if I have time to try and contact you through Yahoo. If it doesn’t work I’ll try again tomorrow at 4:00 pm Montreal time.

Love, Dad

Oct. 26

Hi Aneka!!

You are the greatest. I am so proud of you for your achievement in English. I can’t wait to tell Sandy - it’s 5:00 in the morning, so they’re not up yet - I know he’ll be delighted, even though he doesn’t know, as I do, how hard you’ve worked to get these results. Imagine! First in your class!!!

Here is the website for the exhibition we saw on Monday: http://www.rmn.fr/melancolie/

You will find an introduction in English, but that’s all. The real substance of the site is in French. Nevertheless, go to the Parcours section - it has a number of pictures and explanations and just the pictures themselves will give you some idea of what the exhibition is like. Maybe your French teacher would be impressed if you told her what you’ve discovered at the site. I guess exploring it could be a little like going for one of our walks...

In case you didn’t get my Yahoo messenger message yesterday (I got cut off and couldn’t write more), I’ll repeat that I will contact you via Yahoo messenger today at 4:00 pm, your time. That is 10:00 pm Paris time. Hope you can be there!

Talk to you soon!!

Love, Dad

Oct. 26

Hi Aneka... It’s 4:00 pm your time, but I guess you haven’t gotten home yet, because you’re not active on yahoo messenger.

Today Sandy and I went to an amazing exhibit of Asian art at the Guimet Museum near the Arc de Triomphe, in a famous area in Paris called the Trocadero. Beautiful paintings, sculptures and antiques from China, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Japan, and so on... The Ming vases alone must be worth trillions. It’s the largest collection of its kind in the world outside of China. Attached are some pictures. We were there for almost six hours, with a break for lunch at a wonderful classy French restaurant.

By the way, our walk around Paris yesterday lasted five and a half hours!!!

Love you, Dad

Oct. 27

Hi Aneka!

Just a brief note today, as it’s late and tomorrow is my last day here so I want to be up early.

Sandy and I went to another amazing exhibit today, this time to the Pompidou Centre, where they have an enormous exhibit about Dada, an art movement which began during World War I and which more or less turned the art world on its ear. Totally fascinating stuff - paintings, drawings, publications, poems - all very original and almost purposely designed to shake people out of their middle-class, boring traditions and make them open up to new ideas. There are over a thousand items in this enormous exhibition, bringing the works of artists from all over the world to be viewed in one place. The vast scale of the three exhibitions I’ve seen just this week in Paris is really impressive - people from around the globe come to see them and there are long line-ups all day long at each of them.

Then this evening I went by myself to Montparnasse to see a movie — Crash - and have a light meal at a brasserie overlooking this famous area where world-class artists, writers and musicians used to hang out. It’s a really busy area, probably with twice the number of cinemas and restaurants as all of downtown Ste Catherine Street in Montreal. And there are at least five or six areas in different parts of Paris that are just as big! Anyway, this was supposed to be brief, so I’ll sign off now.

Love you, Dad

Oct.30

Hi Aneka!!

It’s Sunday morning here in beautiful Johannesburg, where they have stunning purple-flowered trees all over this hilly city — there seem to be a hundred Mount Royals - with a population of 3.4 million! I arrived yesterday morning after an exhaustive flight of ten hours, but no one was there to greet me, as Laila had mistaken my time of arrival. Anyway, things worked out, since the first thing I had to do was change Euros into rands (South Africa’s currency) and while I was waiting Laila showed up. By the time we got to her house I had actually been traveling for seventeen hours (door-to-door from Sandy’s to Laila’s). So I was very tired yesterday (slept 1 hour on the plane!) and really didn’t do much more than have a walk with Laila and Noah. Today the program should get more intense, starting with a brunch at Laila’s friend’s art gallery - more art!!. I’ll report more later, but for now you must remember to email me at Laila’s address --- lailas@joburg.org.za - she can’t use yahoo unfortunately. Also, her internet use is charged by the minute so I can’t use it for very long.

I love you and am so proud of your results at school. Bye the way — have a great Halloween!!!!

Love, Dad

Oct.31

Hi again, Sam...

I’m back at Laila’s, emailing you from her web mail address — this is where you should send any messages while I’m in Johannesburg (through Saturday). After that, use my yahoo account, which I’ll access from Cape Town and France.

After an exhausting trip from Paris - 18 hours door-to-door from Sandy’s to Laila’s with only an hour of sleep on the plane — I mainly rested up on Saturday. I’m staying in a little guest house behind Laila’s main house - what a cool place it is! It reminds me of a Jamaican villa - the temperature today is around 28 degrees — because it’s almost a tropical climate and all the houses here kind of designed like the ones I saw when I traveled to Jamaica almost thirty years ago. We’ve got to save up so we can come here together some day soon - you will love it I guarantee you. Johannesburg is an absolutely beautiful city of 3.5 million people with what seems like a hundred Mount Royals in and around it. Apparently it’s one of the highest cities in the world - only Mexico City is higher among the larger metropolises.

Yesterday (Sunday) was terrific (I was more rested, for one thing). We went for lunch to a little art gallery up in the hills, owned by a friend of Ahmedi and Laila. What a cool place, and the people were much like some of my more intelligent, world-citizen type friends in Montreal - in fact it almost felt like I was back in the Plateau. The food, art and conversation were really inspiring... We also went to a park beside the Johannesburg Zoo — one of the largest in the world! - where the Sunday afternoon scene was very reminiscent of the Mountain tam-tams in Montreal, but with jazz rather than a hundred drums playing, and overlooking a man-made lake. It was a nice scene indeed. Afterwards, back home, Ahmedi cooked this ridiculously delicious, spicy meal and again the conversation and company were fantastic.

So far today I’ve only watched a movie (The Interpreter, a too-predictable Hollywood yawner overall) with Laila and gone shopping with her and Lucie.

So now you’re up-to-date and it’s your turn to drop me a line and give me some news from home (which I miss, I have to admit).

Love, Dad

Nov.1

Hi Aneka!

How was trailer trash night on Halloween ? Did you get a picture of your costume that you could send me? I’m anxious to get some news from you, but you must remember to email me at Laila’s address - lailas@joburg.org.za — through Saturday, as I’ll be leaving for Cape Town on Sunday.

Today I took Noah for a walk at 7:00 so Laila and Ahmedi could sleep in - it’s Ahmedi’s first day off from work and they’re both pretty exhausted from taking care of the baby and preparing for the wedding. And what a wedding it’s going to be!! Once everyone was up and ready, Laila, Ahmedi and I went to a place called La Rustica, where the reception party will be held after the actual wedding itself. It’s really beautiful, Aneka, there are trees and flowers, a fountain in the middle and plenty of room for the 100 (!) guests who will be there. Laila tells me the food is going to be fantastic, and after talking with Ahmedi and Laila these past few days I know the people who will be there will be fantastic too. The actual place where they are going to exchange vows is in one of the most special sites in the whole world. It’s called the Cradle of Humankind, because it’s where they have found the fossils and bones of the very first humans to inhabit the world (Kenya is also where very early humans lived). I’ll probably be getting a glimpse of it when we go to rehearse the wedding ceremony on Thursday. It’s a sacred place and I am as proud as a father could be that my daughter will be married in this very special environment - one of the most famous places in all of Africa. And Laila and Ahmedi are going to be the very first couple to get married there (well, in the last 30,000 years I guess!).

By the way, please forgive my rather boring and repetitive writing style - everything is rush rush chop chop around here because of the hectic build up to Saturday (you can’t believe all the things that have to be arranged) so I don’t get much time on the computer to invent interesting phrases...

Anyway, after La Rustica, we went to the airport to pick up Sandy and on the way back Ahmedi took us on a bit of a tour, which included two very significant stops that I will never forget. The first one was the house where Mahatma Gandhi lived when he was a young lawyer in Johannesburg struggling to fight for the rights of the oppressed and developing the ideas that would change the world. I was overcome with emotion at standing right there where this hero of mine lived and breathed... It made me cry, I have to admit.

The next stop we made was at the house where Grandma Margot lived hen she was in her late teens and early twenties.... That too was a very moving moment, as you might imagine.

Well, my time on the computer is up - I’ll tell you about the rest of the day tomorrow.

Love you so much...

Dad

Nov. 4

Dearest Aneka and Samson,

Got your joint email - sorry to keep you waiting for more news... I actually did write to you yesterday, a long letter, by far my best one yet, but then just as I was getting ready to send it, Laila’s computer went haywire on my and the entire message was lost... Man, was I frustrated!!!

Anyway, I’ll try to reconstruct things as best as possible.

On Wednesday, Sandy and I went to the zoo in the morning while Laila did some errands and went to pick up her friend Hayed at the airport. The Johannesburg Zoo certainly lives up to its reputation - it’s huge, very, very beautiful place where most of the animals roam relatively free in spacious enclosures. I’m told it’s really packed on Sundays because that’s when poor people can visit it and see the animals that are such an important part of their African heritage. Only the rich can afford to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats. Sandy particularly enjoyed it because he takes Mateo and Chimene very often to the zoo in Paris. Personally, I’m not particularly big on zoos - I guess I just don’t care for cages or confinement in general - but walking around and seeing the effort that has been made to create this great place was pretty cool. By the way, it was 34 degrees centigrade and I got burned to a crisp.

In the afternoon, Sandy, Laila, Hayed and I went to a place called Constitution Hill. This is where South Africa’s first truly democratic court of high justice was established in the early 1990s after the end of Apartheid. But what’s really interesting is that it was built on the site of South Africa’s most notorious prison, where countless thousands of people were thrown in jail, tortured and humiliated and in some cases murdered - simply because they were black or coloured and didn’t have their ID passes on them. Gandhi was imprisoned there numerous times and it was here that he developed the will and determination to fight racial injustice and oppression. And fight he did, using the passive resistance methods that changed the world.

I want to write so much more but I’ve been told to get off the computer.

Please believe that I miss you guys more than words can express.
Take care, I’ll write as soon as I can.

I’m super proud of both of you.

Tonight Sandy, Lucie and I will be sitting down to a formal catered dinner in Laila’s house with Ahmedi’s family and tomorrow, of course is the big day!

Love, Dad.

Nov. 5

Hi John,

Hope you’re enjoying Newfoundland. Today is the big day - the ceremony itself will be happening at 4:30 Joburg time, which I believe is noon in Newfoundland. If by any chance you read this in time, please send a thought to the Cradle of Humankind either then, or at 3:00 pm your time, when I will be giving my speech at the reception. Thanks.

And of course thanks are not enough for the gift you have given both Laila and me by making it possible for me to be here. By the way, as requested, I asked Laila what she would like from you for a wedding present. She said that my trip here is the best present she could possibly receive, although when pressed she did say she could use a bedside lamp for her new house in Cape Town.

Anyway, wish me luck at the reception - more to come via reports to Samson and Aneka.

Love, Dave

Nov. 6

Hi Aneka!

Sandy and I just arrived in Cape Town and have settled into our fabulous room in the Heritage Hotel right in the centre of the city.
Yesterday was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been to, and your sister was the most graceful and beautiful bride I have ever, ever seen. We’ve taken loads of pictures but can’t send them right now — I will send some as soon as we get back to Paris.

Aneka, the beauty and spirit of Laila and Ahmedi’s marriage would have taken your breath away. I was the proudest father on Earth to walk her slowly, in her flowing white wedding dress, the train carried by two beautiful (there isn’t any other word!) flower girls, down the steps to the caves where the first humans on Earth lived and from whom we are all descended. After the priest had made his wonderful speech speaking about the tremendous significance of this event in such incredibly meaningful surroundings in which one couldn’t help but sense the mystery of life that is so vital in the union of two souls, and after a friend of Ahmedi’s spoke about how the oppressed black and coloured people of his country have learned to overcome their terrible suffering first by learning Love of self, then Love of humanity, and then Love of community and finally Love of humanity - then it was Laila and Ahmedi’s turn to exchange vows in this place sacred to all human beings. Laila was stunning as she spoke about the seven commitments she feels are important in the new life she has begun with Ahmedi: she spoke of marriage as a cage holding two lovebirds seeking to soar free and of how they must find the key to open the cage. Amazingly, as she was speaking about the lovebirds, two swallows flew up from the caves, swooshing around her and the assembled audience and then flying into the sky. As you might have guessed I couldn’t help by get all choked up, with tears flowing like Niagara Falls at how wonderful my beautiful daughter was. It was really, really special, believe me.

Also, it had been raining hard just before the ceremony, but just as Laila and I arrived at the top of the steps leading to the rock amphitheater where all the guests were waiting and a terrific cellist was playing music for the gods, the rains stopped.

After that, everyone gathered at the little restaurant near the caves to toast the newlyweds with champagne that Sandy and I had brought from Paris. Then everyone piled into their cars and drove off to the reception party, about an hour’s drive away. And we were driving, the rains came. And did it ever rain - you’ve never seen anything like it - the awesome thunder, lightning strikes right in front of our car and rain as though the Flood were happening. Nevertheless we made it safely to La Rustica in the Houghton area of Joburg - I think I’ve already mentioned it - coincidentally right near where Grandma lived in Joburg in 1939-40.

That’s all for now, I’ll tell you about the reception party, my speech and your fantastic sister soon, but I’m tired right now and Sandy and are going to have supper. Please let Samson read this if you can, my love. I miss you terribly.

Love, Dad

Nov. 7

Hi Samson!

Please tell Aneka that I’m bothered by the fact that she doesn’t write to me. I even phoned her yesterday, but still haven’t received a word.

Anyway, I love you pal. Sandy and I had a great dinner and a few digestifs afterwards at a swanky bar (I was dressed up!) in a hotel near this one. This Heritage Hotel was built in 1777!! It is really nice and the staff are super friendly because they know Laila and Ahmedi, who always use this place when they need a hotel in Cape Town - they even have a picture of Noah in their office!!!

The reception party at La Rustica was wonderful — a hundred guests! The majority were from Ahmedi’s side: family — his mother and uncle, his two brothers and their families, and a bunch of cousins — friends, and work colleagues. Laila also had a handful of good friends there, in particular Hayet, who came all the way from Toronto, and Stephen, with whom Laila traveled in India for four months. There were also several Indian ladies whose names I can’t remember but who clearly think the world of Laila. And of course Lucie was there - she’s great friends with some gay artists who were there too - she’d met them the last time she was here in December. Anyway, it was very important that Sandy and I were there to represent our family in the midst of Ahmedi’s own very large family and his many important South African friends and acquaintances. Between the three of us - Laila, Sandy and I - I think we did a pretty good job of helping people realize that Laila comes from a great family. This is very important, as the years progress, so that both Laila and Noah have our support amidst what is otherwise virgin territory for her. It would have been great if more of us had been there to lend Laila our support, but as I said, we did our best to make a good impression. People seemed moved by my speech — in which, of course I spoke about all the Smiths who couldn’t be there, including our matriarch, Grandma Margot - Sandy even said it was great, except for the part where I praised him! And Sandy was an absolute dynamo, talking to as many people as possible and showing how easily he can converse (or expound, in some cases, lol) on any subject, including the politics which Ahmedi’s brothers and friends are so immersed in. I had a lovely slow dance with Laila - we were far and away the best dancers there, as everyone said afterwards - and once the music really got going Sandy, believe it or not, danced non-stop for the rest of the night - making a further great impression on everybody. I personally was disappointed by the music - no African music that I can recall, no Bob Marley, reggae, Stevie Wonder or even Salsa music, which is Laila’s favourite - she studied Salsa dancing for two years!! Anyway, everyone else had a great time dancing, which is really what counts.

Well, that’s enough for now, Samster - please let Aneka read this report, because one day it will be her turn, and hopefully I’ll make an even better speech in terms of performance, since I’ve now had this practice.

Please communicate more extensively with me in the future so if and when it becomes necessary for me to speak at your wedding I’ll have something to talk about!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love ya pal, have a great day — hope you got a good mark on your English test. Give me news, dawg!

Dad

Nov. 7

Hi Samson,

Cape Town is a very beautiful city with these extraordinary mountains - Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill rising up very near the city centre. It’s also much easier to walk around in, with decent sidewalks. In Joburg, no one seems to walk anywhere. There are very narrow sidewalks, if any, in most places and the cars go really fast and turn corners at breakneck speed. It can get pretty dangerous if you aren’t careful and since they drive on the left side of the road, as they do in England, you tend to not be ready for the cars at some corners. It’s just like Los Angeles. Cape Town is more like Montreal.

More later, pal, Sandy’s waiting for me to go to another museum!

Haven’t heard from anyone in four days. If you’ve sent messages to Laila’s address, please redirect them to my yahoo account - dbs1188@yahoo.com.

Love, Dad

Nov. 8

Hi, Samson. Got your message. I’ve gotta go right now - Raina, a friend of Ahmedi is coming in two minutes to pick us up and drive us to the house where Laila will be living starting December 1st.

Will write you or even call this evening. Hope you feel better....

Love, Dad

Nov. 9

Hi Aneka!

I’m super proud of your marks, Honours girl!!! An average of 82%!! It shows what you can do when you try a little and are interested in your subjects. Keep it up - I mean, an improvement in Gym and Moral Ed — two unimportant subjects - would have raised your average to at least 85%. That is really good.

Well, it’s my last day in Africa... What a trip it’s been. Yesterday Raina took us on a tour of Cape Town in her car, which was great because we were able to get a much better idea of the city and its surroundings. We saw the house and the neighbourhood (Observatory) where Laila will be living, the drove up one of the mountains (Devil’s Peak) to the Cecil Rhodes Memorial where we gout a great view of a big part of the city. Then we visited the tremendous botanical gardens they have here. They have a gazillion species of trees in it!!! After that that we briefly visited Cape Town’s (and therefore South Africa’s) oldest vineyard, established in the 1600s!! I hadn’t realized grape vines were so low to the ground. Of course, I have pictures of all these things so I’ll be able to tell you more as we look at them.

Then we took a long drive across the mountains, through some really wealthy residential areas to the sea side. This is indeed a very beautiful country. We drove up the coast to Sea Point - very much like the O.C.!! - and finally back to Cape Town for dinner in a Cape Malay restaurant, near the hotel in an area of town called Bo Kaap area where Asian - Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, etc. - slaves, brought here to work for the Dutch in the 1600s and 1700s, eventually settled. Every house is painted a different bright colour in this mostly Muslim neighbourhood.

Last night we took it easy, and all that’s left is this morning to walk around and have a last look at this cool city. I’m sure Laila’s going to like coming here - she knows it well anyway, and it’s much hipper and more pedestrian friendly than Joburg.

That’s all for now, my dear. I hope Samson is feeling better - well enough, at least to send me his marks as you did. He’s been great at keeping in touch, and even though his messages are short they’re usually funny and lift my spirits. Take care, and again, WAY TO GO!!!

Love, Dad

Nov. 10

Hi Sam...

I’m finally in Paris after 24 hours of travel! I’m exhausted, so I’ll write more letter, uh later (lol)... Please send me your marks!!!

Love ya to death. Can’t wait to see you on your b-day....

Dad

Nov. 10

Hi Samson,

Have had a bit of rest. The flight from Joburg to Paris was a lot of fun. Sandy and I, after a six-hour wait between flights (during which we shopped in the duty free stores, then had some wine and fun talking to other travelers in an airport bar), talked until the wee hours of the morning. This being Air France, of course, they served a superb supper soon after take-off and kept the wine flowing whenever we asked for some. This time we flew on an Airbus 340 (French-made, rather than the Boeing 747 (American-made). What a great plane. It’s very wide, with two seats rather than three on either side and four spacious seats in the middle aisle. It was also much quieter. Best of all, there were very few passengers, so it was like the Big O - you could sit anywhere you like! They were playing The Island and War of the Worlds — each seat has a little TV in front of it - but from what I saw of them, they seemed pretty bad.

Here are three photos of the wedding ceremony.

I’ll send other pictures later, but hey! I’m going to be home soon!

My plane arrives on Monday at 2:55 pm (Montreal time) at Pierre Trudeau airport in Dorval.

I’m going to email Eric to see if he can pick me up, but I’m not sure he’ll reply or be able to. Could you or Aneka please see if Goo is still in town and if so, ask him to pick me up? If he’s not, please check with Eric to see what he can do. If no one can be there, I’ll just take the bus into town. Write it down, please: Air France, Flight 344, arriving at 2:55 pm.

Thanks pal. I’m off to Joel’s place outside of Paris. I’m staying two nights there, then spending Saturday at Vincent’s. Tomorrow, while Joel’s at work, I’ll probably come into Paris for another adventure with Sandy. On Sunday, I believe, we’re going to visit Versailles!!!

Love, Dad

Nov. 11

Hi Sam... this is for both you and Aneka.

Attached are a few photos of the place where my mother lived in Johannesburg in 1939. Judging from the overgrowth, the place hadn’t been lived in for a least several years, but the house must have been demolished only fairly recently because the earth where it used to stand is quite fresh. Anyway, as I probably mentioned earlier, it’s in a very posh area of Joburg, right across from the Houghton golf club where Grandma must have learned to play golf. After a year she left home and South Africa, first going to New York, and then taking a train north right to the end of the line, ending up in Arvida where she met my father - your grandfather - on a golf course!!!

Today is November 11th, a national holiday in France in remembrance of the end of World War I (they also get May 8th off to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe). So Joel and Claire have the day off. They live in Nanterre, a suburb outside Paris - apparently a very tough neighbourhood, mostly very poor, uneducated Muslim and North African immigrants. But the riots around France didn’t affect this area much, surprisingly. The so-called riots, by the way are apparently not nearly as drastic as the American media, especially FOX News, would have people believe. I mean it’s not good, for sure, but it’s not at all political, religious or racial. Just a flare-up between some gangs and the police in a suburb of Paris that spread to other areas where the gangs there thought it would be fun to burn a few cars of their own. We all know about gangs. This seems to be their way of having "fun", the idiots. Anyway, things have gotten quieter - we’ll see what the week-end brings.

If Joel hadn’t had the dayoffI would have takenthe train into Parisand visited the Louvre — especially the Egyptian permanent exhibit, which I’ve always wanted to see. But they are still asleep so I don’t know what’s on the agenda.

That’s all for now, folks. Samson, your marks !! And haveyou found out if Goo is in town or will be on Monday? Please let me know.

Thanks a bunch, kiddies. (Well, maybe I should say teenies, given the size of Samson’s brain — heh heh!)

Love, Dad

Nov. 12

Greetings O Holy One! (Samson)

The Louvre is all it’s cracked up to be - one of the greatest museums in the world. All the great museums — L’Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the British Museum in London, the Smithsonian in Washington and Berlin’s Museum Island — have immense collections of art, sculptures and artifacts from the ancient as well as recent past, but I think the Louvre is probably the largest. It really is huge, and yesterday Joel and I got some idea of that as we walked all over the place for three hours and probably saw about one hundredth of the rooms in the museum, if that! You could probably spend a whole day walking around just one level and not get through half of it. And there are five levels! A good part of it was the Royal Palace of the French kings, the last one being Louis XIII. But his son, Louis XIV, the Sun King, didn’t think it was good enough for him so he built a bigger Palace at Versailles!

The first area we visited was the Egyptian exhibit. Room after room after room of art, sculptures, writings, jewellery and artifacts covering three thousand years of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It was all I had hoped for (I’ve wanted to see the Louvre’s Egyptian section since I was a young boy). What a civilization. I mean, population-wise Egypt was not that big by today’s standards and yet here in the Louvre were displayed thousands of magnificent artworks. I’m told that the British and Berlin museums have even bigger Egyptian sections, not to mention the one I visited numerous times at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when I lived there. And yet all of these put together must cover only a tiny fraction of what was produced during the reign of the Pharaohs. There is just so much you start to wonder if the whole population was devoted to producing art, except maybe a few cooks and garbage men to take care of the ordinary aspects of life. After about an hour and a half we just couldn’t absorb any more, and spent the rest of the time zipping around to see some of the more famous paintings in the Louvre - Delacroix, David, Da Vinci, etc. We must have walked a mile to get to the Rembrandt room. You are not allowed to take photos of any of the paintings displayed in the Louvre, but that’s okay, you can see perfect reproductions of these paintings on the Louvre’s website - all 35,000 of them!

Well, it was great fun and super-educational and even more so because I was with Joel. In the evening Vincent, Sabine, Chimene (what a cutie, and really smart!) and little Diego came over for dinner and a movie.

Just two more days till the big day when you hit fifteen! Are you excited? Huh? Huh? All tingly? Never mind, you’ll be sixteen soon enough and able to drive off to the life of your dreams, away from all of us, peace at last!

Tomorrow, Versailles. I’ll pop you a few brief lines about it for the record, but that’s about it, because I’ll be seeing you, my fine young man, on Monday. Don’t be late, O Holy One... (Maybe you should get that hole fixed!)

Love, Daddy-O

Nov. 13

(to Samson and Aneka)

Well, this amazing journey is coming to an end. In just a few hours I’ll be boarding an Air France Boeing 777 for the final flight home in time to celebrate your birthday. Given your less than stellar record this past week with regard to communications, I’ll probably see you long before you read this note, but it’s worth sending anyway just for the record.

On Saturday around noon I went for a walk through the "centre ville" of Nanterre to get newspaper, coffee and something to eat while Joel and Claire were off to the clinic for an ultrasound. Even though Nanterre is very near Paris, right on the edge of the city’s spectacular business skyscraper complex, La Defense, the central part of the town looks and feels just like that of any village in France which I’ve seen so many times in movies. Little narrow streets going in all directions, boulangeries, boucheries cheese shops and cafes by the dozen all within just a few blocks surrounding the magnificent Cathedrale Ste-Genevieve, no doubt first constructed 800 or so years ago. For less than three euros I purchased a delicious quarter chicken and frites, which I took back to Joel’s, heated up in the microwave and settled in to watch "Troy" with Brad Pitt. What a terrible Hollywood desecration of one of the greatest stories of all time. Thankfully, the happy couple came back before the movie was half over. Even though it’s only been three months, they were able to determine it’s going to be a boy - a son for Joel!!

After watching episode 2, season 1 of the shield (Joel and Claire are hooked - Vincent’s already seen seasons 1 and 2) we drove to Vincent’s place in Vernouillet, near city of Poissy, thirty or forty kilometer drive through a series of village-suburbs and magnificent estates, at one point passing the Palais Saint-Germain where Louis XIV stayed after leaving the Louvre and waiting for Versailles to be converted from a "hunting lodge" - you could stick a whole forest inside the hunting lodges these guys had! - into his new Palace and seat of government.

The house where Vincent lives used to belong to Marie’s parents. Sandy, Marie and the kids went there every Sunday for thirty years and now it belongs to Vincent and no doubt it will stay in the family for a long time to come. It’s a great place, very quaint, as you’d expect in a quiet French village, with a very large and lovely back yard for the kids to play in and Vincent’s famous barbeques. Chimene and Mateo are the funniest, smartest kids ever and Diego, though only four months old, is clearly going to be just as brilliant and full of life as his father. Well, the dinner was great, with all the French contingent present - Sandy, Marie, Vincent, Sabine, Mateo, Chimene, Diego, Joel, Claire and I - plus Sabine’s mother and her friend, whose names escape me right now. With all the activity going on and conversation centered mainly around education, unfortunately neither Sandy nor I had much chance to talk to the family about our trip to South Africa. Apart from that, though, it was great to see the kids and grandkids and how much fun they all have together. You’ll see some pictures when I get back.

Yesterday Sandy and I set out fairly early for Versailles and it’s just as well that we did. The place is so huge there is no way to see it all in a day or even a week. Every room has priceless painting, tapestries, cabinets, chairs - you name it - and there are 700 rooms. It is mind-boggling and beyond my powers of description at this point - anyway, there are plenty of books about. Unfortunately, the famous Hall of Mirrors was undergoing renovations, but the Sun King’s bedroom wasn’t. Wow!! This must be the greatest bedroom of all time. I mean, you could fill Fort Knox with all the gold from the wall paneling, the tapestries, the chairs, tables bed posts and even bed covers!! And it looks directly out onto the most magnificent man-made landscape ever built.

Ah yes, the grounds at Versailles. They just go on forever - fantastic sculpted fountains everywhere you look, statues, gardens, amphitheatres, forests, another mini-palace now and then, and even a little hamlet built around a duck-filled pond where Marie-Antoinette used to dress down like peasants for the occasional picnic with some close friends.

To make long story short we (yes, even Sandy!) were exhausted after a six-hour marathon through the wonders of Versailles.

Last night, Sandy, Marie and I went to their favourite restaurant, Chez Marty, a fantastic place where Sandy takes people for special occasions, in this case to celebrate my last night here.

Well, that’s it, I’m out of steam. See you in a few hours.

Love, Dad