Walk to Paris: Day 12

Monday, November 23, 2015 – Houdan to Thoiry

We wake up to our coldest day yet. I am still recovering from yesterday’s bout of gastrointestinal joy. But my gut signals that we are clearly on the mend, and I am thankful.

. . . on a mud and grass pathway.

. . . on a mud and grass pathway.

Our first sign for Paris . . .

Our first sign for Paris . . .

Once out of town, our path is along grassy roads that run by the tracks. The trains run every 15 minutes or so. They are fast and quiet, efficient and popular. I wonder what it will take for America to embrace train travel.

The night’s freezing temperatures have left behind a fairy-like veneer of frost. It glistens on the grass and crops, then melts in the mounting sun. The puddles along our path are garnished with a thin film of fragile ice. It’s all a bit magical, and with the sun warm and the wind still, I have no complaints.

Frost on the crops

Frost on the crops

But it is cold, and this is only the second time I’ve worn all four layers, plus my gloves and scarf. I am comfortable, and the residual weakness from yesterday seems like a small price to pay for the honor of walking through such beauty.

There’s so much to be thankful for, it’s a pity we don’t make Thanksgiving a monthly holiday to remind us.

Rose hips and pine cones

Rose hips and pine cones

It’s odd to be away from home for one of my favorite feast days. I feel a need to celebrate Thanksgiving with other Americans in Paris. So, I reach out to my friend from Des Moines, Wilson Tarbox, who offers a clever idea:

“I don’t know how you feel about Indian food for Thanksgiving dinner, but there is a great Indian place right next to my apartment building. Also, I think it would be funny on a linguistic level for a couple of Americans who had just come on a long journey to eat with the ‘Indians’ for Thanksgiving.”

Funny guy, Wilson. And great idea. I accept, even as my mind comes back to the difference between early European settlers in America and, say, 11 million Syrian refugees.

With every prayer of thanks comes a prayer of hope. Mine is that even as we Americans give gratitude for the incerdible bounty of our land, we realize our obligation to share that bounty with those who are less fortunate, whether they are our immediate neighbors or from halfway across the globe.

Walk to Paris: Day 11

Sunday, November 22, 2015 – La Chaussée-d’Ivry to Houdan

In the middle of the night between fitful bouts of slumber, my stomach announced its profound discontent through frequent angry, garbled, gurgling noises. I fall back asleep, dreaming that I’m in “Alien,” about to give birth to hell.

I’m relieved to recover consciousness. But as I roll out of bed, the French equivalent of Montezuma’s revenge hits me hard and hits me twice. Exhausted, I take full advantage of the hotel’s 11:00 check out time. I tell Steve I’ll manage. He sets-out on his own, only to be visited with the same affliction later in the day.

We’re pretty sure it’s the water. The food has been predictably sensational. And last night’s culinary experience came with an additional treat: a baby grand piano!

She was the first thing I saw when I walked into Il Mulino Ristorante. My eyes lit up, a huge smile spread across my face, and I immediately asked the owners if I could play.

Walk to Paris Day 11 Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 8.15.33 PM - Version 2They were not only accommodating but insistent. Unlike some restaurateurs, they cared for their instrument – a beautiful, white Kawai, precisely in tune, with all her notes working perfectly.

Perhaps it’s hard to describe to a non-musician, but for me, playing piano is a need. And this was the first piano I’d laid eyes or fingers on since leaving Des Moines on November 5th. I was in heaven.

I improvised. I played Chopin nocturnes, and was reminded that it doesn’t take long to become rusty. Nonetheless, the clientele were visibly appreciative. The most precious moment came when a four-year-old girl walked over and sat next to me while I played. Here’s the video the restaurant owner shot, or click here to watch on YouTube. The girl later asked me to play We Wish You a Merry Christmas. That has now become my new favorite Christmas carol.

In a world where many are hungry, where water is scarce, where millions are homeless, is it a first-world problem to “need” music? Perhaps. Music certainly is not in the same category of “need” as food, water and shelter. But there’s a whole secondary list of needs that we often take for granted: meaningful work, creativity, human contact, loving, being loved. For a fully-human life, I would include these among the needs all people should be able to share and experience.

One of many small, historic villages along the route.

One of many small, historic villages along the route.

The juxtaposition of last night’s joyful musical soirée and this morning’s dance with dysentery reminds me that all things pass. Both good and bad, all things pass. Acceptance of that reality is a precondition for being truly happy in the moment. As I walk, I am thankful to Buddha for reminding me of that.

It’s check-out time, and the moment has come when I can no longer avoid walking. It is difficult because I am weak. But I am fortunate that today is a short day, and one full of sunshine and cool yet comfortable temperatures.

I endure only a couple miles of busy highway. The rest of the day’s walk is on beautiful back roads through rolling farmland and villages so charming I expect to see each of them someday on a scenic calendar.

Cover crops are on most fields in Normandy 20151122_125221

Cover crops are on most fields in Normandy.

Cover crops are on most fields in Normandy.

As with nearly every day, I pass many farm fields. Nearly all of them are protected with a cover crop. Impressive. That’s something we could do a lot more of in Iowa.

With dysentery behind me, my mind is full of last night’s musical experience and today’s farms and gardens. Even as a young person, what I wanted to do more than anything was to play music, grow crops and raise animals. It’s hard to be away from those things for any extended period of time.

Last year’s Great March for Climate Action was the first time in thirty years I had not planted a garden. That was tough. Real tough. And when I returned from the March, I discovered that most of my piano repertoire had fallen into disrepair. I am still working to recover it.

But in the hierarchy of needs – somewhere between food, water, shelter and all the other secondary needs I mentioned – there is another need. It is the compelling urgency to be of service, to help and protect others – even those we can’t meet face-to-face in our present place in time and space.

It is this compelling urgency that drives me to leave behind the things I love most. With the climate crisis, so much hangs in the balance. Perhaps the sacrifices I make – and the sacrifices that so many others are making in this growing, grassroots movement – will light the fire that inspires the world’s leaders who gather next week at the Summit to move beyond apathy and denial and forward to decisive action.

Walk to Paris: Day 10

Saturday, November 21, 2015 – La Forêt-du-Parc to La Chaussée-d’Ivry

Dear Friends,

I’ll call-in to my program from France this morning at 11:00 with an update on the situation here. I’d love to have you tune-in at 1260 AM or online. There’ll be a podcast available later, too.

And how about them Hawkeyes going 11 and 0? Well, stay tuned on the Fallon Forum for the epitome of gutsy, as Dr. Charles Goldman lays out his argument for the abolition of football.

Not much urban sprawl in Normandy, with crops growing right up to houses.

Not much urban sprawl in Normandy, with crops growing right up to houses.

Meanwhile, here in Normandy, it was a cool but pleasant 13-mile day on sleepy country roads. Like most days, our path took us through a half dozen quaint, compact villages.

The Normandy countryside is a pastoral slice of paradise. When Steve and I are able to avoid the busier highways, we encounter few cars and fewer people. It is hard to believe that the population density of France is nearly five times that of Iowa.

This is partly because the land-use pattern in France is far more accommodating to human beings than the urban sprawl that has devastated both farm ground and town centers back home. On this account, Iowa can learn much from France.

And we will have to, because by the end of this century, Iowa’s population is likely to explode.

So much local food in France, including direct marketing of beef.

So much local food in France, including direct marketing of beef.

Yes, no one is talking about Iowa’s looming population explosion. But we ought to be. If we don’t plan for it, it could be a disaster. If we prepare intelligently, it could be one of the best things ever to happen to small towns across the state.

As coastal areas of the U.S. are submerged by rising sea levels, and as the West becomes increasingly arid, millions of refugees from within our own country will be forced to relocate. We are likely to experience a migration such as none the North American continent has ever witnessed.

And it won’t just be from within our borders. Climate disruptions across the globe already are causing vast migrations. Take Syria. The political upheaval in Syria is connected to the climate-change induced drought. Doubt me? Search the Internet for “Connection between Syrian civil war and climate change,” for a slew of reputable scientific analyses.

If we are compassionate and wise, we will get to work right away on a plan to accept and manage the inevitable torrent of climate refugees.

Or, we could behave like Governor Branstad. The Governor’s knee-jerk reaction to potential Syrian immigration is shameful, heartless and irrational.

Eleven million Syrians aren’t leaving their homes because they like a long walk through a foreign land. They aren’t coming to Europe to steal people’s jobs or to commit acts of terror. They are victims of war and hunger. Few willingly leave the place they call home. But sometimes, circumstances are such that one has no choice.

Can’t we get that? Can’t we empathize? Can’t we learn to respond from a place of love, not fear?

I have been sustained in this walk through the encouragement I receive from so many people back home, including one who wrote:

“It is important that you keep walking until you either get there or are stopped.  Our fears of terrorism are so much greater than our fears of climate change, which will kill many more people, destroy more livelihoods – and engender more terrorism.”

Walk to Paris: Day 9

Friday, November 20, 2015 – Portes to La Forêt-du-Parc

View across the yard at one of our overnight accommodations.

View across the yard at one of our overnight accommodations.

“Though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway.” – from The Beatles “Penny Lane”

I have that feeling today, working my way through a pre-ordained script, walking through the part I’ve rehearsed in my head over and over. I know the beginning, and have some sense of how it ends.

The performance has its improvisational elements, even beyond the tragic terrorist attacks that no one could have predicted. The seasonally warm, sunny weather that has blessed much of our walk was not part of the original script.

A real doorbell, complete with frog.

A real doorbell, complete with frog.

But today, we’re back on the script with temperatures in the low 40s and a near constant rain.

I did not expect to have maple syrup and pancakes on this trip!

I did not expect to have maple syrup and pancakes on this trip!

We scurry through the day’s walk to land at a spacious B & B heated with a wood stove. It’s just what our wet clothes and soggy shoes need!  We can count on dry clothes tomorrow – a very good thing as temperatures are predicted to fall into the thirties.

Des Moines tea!

Des Moines tea!

I think a lot about the connections between terrorism, immigration and climate change. Understanding these links is so important, and I want to talk about it in this blog. But I need more time to process, to discuss the links with French people I meet, and to review some of the thoughtful material friends have sent me.

So, let’s switch to a lighter topic. . . football! Challenging the sanctity of football is as taboo as criticizing motherhood and apple pie. But the guest host of Monday’s Fallon Forum, Dr. Charles Goldman, is girded for battle and prepared to take on America’s golden calf.

Charles writes:

This Monday, we will take an extended look at that uniquely American sport, football. The sport has never been more popular, even as the professional version of it becomes almost unwatchable, with its laughably inept officiating, the interminable replays, and its Roman Colosseum-like atmosphere as an unending succession of injured players are carried off the field.

“But there are cracks in the façade—the CTE settlement with the former players, all sorts of off-field problems for prominent players, the faux displays of patriotism paid for with taxpayer money, Tom Brady’s ‘middle finger’ tour in the wake of Deflategate.

“For its part, college football has abandoned any pretense of it being about fostering education, either of the athletes or of their respective student bodies.

“And for how much longer are American parents going to allow their children to play high school football, from which about 100 participants die annually, where the question of long-term brain damage has led several well-known former NFL’ers and Lebron James to state their opposition to their children playing the game?

“We’ll discuss these and other topics with Jake Holmes, who played football at UNI, and Dr. Stephen Goldman, a medically-trained psychiatrist familiar with the issue of post-concussive brain injury.”

Hear the Fallon Forum live 11:00-12:00 noon CST on KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines) and online. Call (515) 528-8122 to add your voice to the conversation. The program re-broadcasts Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 a.m. on WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans).

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

Walk to Paris: Day 8

Thursday, November 19, 2015 – Beaumont le Roger to Portes

I am pensive today. I tell myself I should be thinking about terrorism and the approaching climate summit. But my mind is absorbed with personal matters.

Perhaps I am sensing the loss I feel around me, but today personal reflection takes center stage over the cares of the world.

Day 8 Ed walking 12243225_10153741457667500_1094293013686959573_nSo, today I walk alone. Steve’s fine with that, cause he’s in a bit of a mood himself. I think about some of the successes I’ve had in life, some of the failures.

I have not lost someone dearly close to me in a violent manner, nor could I pretend what that would be like. What does echo is this. Nowhere have I failed more stunningly than in love. Two failed marriages, one through my own stupidity and incompetence; the other through, well, unfortunate circumstances, let’s say. And earlier this year, I parted ways with the woman I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with.

I walk alone. The road is thin, moist, quiet, framed by sugar beets, wheat fields, forests. There are frequent gunshots, and I cringe to think of a deer hit, stunned, bloodied, dying.

The rain falls sad and warm today, and I sing Leonard Cohen:

I loved you in the morning, 
Our kisses deep and warm. 
Your hair upon the pillow, 
Like a sleepy golden storm . . . 
But now it’s come to distances, 
And both of us must try. 
Your eyes are soft with sorrow, 
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye. 

Day 8 Lanterns 12274358_10153741457927500_492962044561514811_nI meet a group of walkers on the road, and a charming, elderly couple invite me in for lunch: sausage, lentils, beets, lettuce. The vegetables are from their garden, which is adorned in abundance with Japanese lanterns.

The man gives me a stalk with six lanterns hanging from it and says it’s “L’amour en Cage,” or “Love in a Cage.”

“Love in a Cage!” What a sad, beautiful, mysterious name! The man opens the “cage” to reveal the bright red “love” seed within.

As I set out on the road, I think how lucky this man and woman are to have each other, to share their “love in a cage” together for so many years. I carry the sprig of bright orange lanterns with me the rest of the day’s walk.

Day 8 Geese 11251853_10153741459012500_4255300231937188616_nA story Steve told me comes to mind. Apparently, geese mate for life. A friend of Steve’s who hunts geese said he’d seen the mate of a dead or dying goose return to circle its partner over and over, mourning its loss, without any concern for its own life.

How noble, admirable, heroic. That kind of devotion, commitment, steadfastness, is something I’d risk my life for.

I’ve craved a life partner for many years. As I walk alone, I think that perhaps I’ve worked too hard at trying to find her.  Maybe it’s time to embrace a more zen-like approach. Don’t look for her. Let her come to me. And if it turns out she doesn’t come, doesn’t exist, resign myself to that reality and continue with grace and dignity to do the work that’s laid before me.

As I walk alone, I notice that the top two lanterns of L’amour en Cage are broken. “Perhaps these symbolize my two failed marriages,” I muse. I stop to look more closely at the other four cages. As I do, the wind blows the bottom lantern into the palm of my hand, where it remains lodged. I smile. “Perhaps that love seed is the one I’m waiting for,” I say.  “Perhaps she will come on her own, when the time is right and the winds are favorable.”

Day 8 Rose 12241402_10153741459217500_7227091679733666902_nI can’t say whether what happened next was confirmation or merely the ramblings of an overly-tired mind. Growing through a fence along the side of the road was a beautiful rose. The blossom had somehow pushed its way through, displaying itself in resplendent glory. The fence – its cage – only served to more clearly accentuate and articulate the rose’s beauty and independence.

Yes, perhaps there was hope – both for me in my personal struggles in the realm of love, and for the world in its struggles for peace and justice.

Walk to Paris: Day 7

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 – Bernay to Beaumont le Roger

Today’s walk was uneventful. By “uneventful,” I mean pleasant. Temperature in the upper 50’s, partly sunny skies, calm roads. A perfect day for a 10-mile walk.

The eventful part of the day came later, with news that the French government would not allow two big public marches that were planned during the U.N. Climate Summit (COP21).

My first reaction was great surprise and even greater disappointment. Since the attacks, the French people I’ve spoken with were, of course, saddened and shocked by the killings. But they were also universally defiant.

day 5 pic 7 20151116_183050 - Version 2That defiance was best captured by a sign at the march and vigil in Lisieux. It read “Je suis en terrasse,” or literally,  “I am on the terrace.”

In other words, “I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to hide. I’ll continue to enjoy my coffee, my food and my friends on the terrace, in the café or at whatever public place I choose.”

I deeply admire that attitude. I am also grateful that the nations participating in COP21 have made it clear that they will attend, that they will not be scared off by terrorist attacks.

So what gives when it comes to the public component of COP21? I understand the risks, that terrorists might see a march of hundreds of thousands of people as a perfect opportunity for another attack. But couldn’t terrorists do just as much damage at a conference site where thousands of people – including world leaders and dignitaries – are gathered?

Maybe French authorities know things the rest of us don’t. Perhaps they have reconnaissance on plans by terrorists to stage attacks during one of the marches. But in the ongoing tension between liberty and security, it concerns me when the former is sacrificed for the latter – in this case, in a really big way.

On a related note . . . Could the terrorists have decided to stage the attacks in Paris specifically because of COP21? Much terrorist activity is funded by oil money, and a significant climate change agreement could kill that cash cow. If there is credence to this theory, it could help strengthen the resolve of COP21 participants to do something big, meaningful and lasting.

Terrorists have been successful at uniting most of the world against them. Perhaps they’ll inadvertently succeed at helping unite the world to get serious on climate action.

Walk to Paris: Day 6

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 – Lisieux to Benay

With 18 miles before us, Steve and I set out early, just after sunrise, which is accomplished entirely behind a thick wall of clouds. Today, gray skies and occasional rain will be our constant companions.

But the biggest challenge is neither rain nor distance. It is traffic. A sidewalk guides us out of Lisieux.

Then the assault begins.

The barrage of cars and semis is relentless, exhausting – among the worst I’ve ever navigated. I crave the quiet roads of the previous day’s trek. Yet for distance walkers, dangerous highways are often unavoidable in a world where the infrastructure of mobility is fashioned around cars, not people.

Both Steve and I are experts at walking in such conditions. But there is often no shoulder, and we are constantly on guard. A slip or inattentive moment on our part – or a one-second lapse of control on the part of the driver – could be fatal.

day 6 pic 1 20151117_111758 - Version 2We take a break at a quaint restaurant, where flags of the US, Britain, Canada, France and Germany fly at the entrance.  I welcome the physical and mental break. I imagine Allied soldiers passing this spot 70 years ago, walking through this same countryside en route to Paris, also constantly alert and on guard, navigating a far deadlier set of hazards than the traffic we face.

Our break is short. We are back on the highway, negotiating the violence of traffic. Between vehicular lulls, I think about how pervasive is violence in our world.

The violence of World War II.

The violence of terrorism on the streets of Paris last Friday.

The violence of a changing climate.

It has been a rough day. My legs are sore. My senses are numb. And I have no answers to the problem of violence.

Relaxing at the end of the day, hope appears on the streets of Paris, from two unexpected sources.

day 6 pic 2 20151118_122351day 6 pic 4 20151118_120637-1One is a man who stands blindfolded with a sign telling people he is Muslim and he is not a terrorist. He invites people to hug him. They do – in droves! The video is moving, and I hope you’ll watch it here.

day 6 pic 3 20151118_122046-1The other ray of hope is from a man holding his young son, who is afraid of the terrorists and their guns. His father explains that the terrorists may have guns, but we have flowers. The clip is incredibly uplifting. Watch it here.

Hope. I head to bed knowing there are many reasons to feel encouraged, grateful, and eager for a new day.

Walk to Paris: Day 5

Sunday, November 15, 2015 – Dozulé to Lisieux

It’s an absolute perfect day for walking. Good thing, because at 16 miles, we face our longest day yet.

The temperature hovers around 60, and the wind is negligible. Throughout the day, the sun warms us from its low perch in the southern sky. Yesterday I wore my flannel shirt, goose down jacket and raincoat. Today, a t-shirt is all I need.

Best of all, Steve and I have company. His wife, Pat, and daughter, Kate, join us. Our route takes us along occasionally busy roads, but mostly bucolic, one-lane byways with breath-taking scenery and quaint little villages.

day 5 pic 1 QM SM 20151115_105542 - Version 2We enter the village of Saint-Jouin and I strike up a lively conversation with two women walking a dog. There’s no traffic, so we gab in the middle of the narrow street. They offer us food and water, but I decline because the hotel owner in Dozulé assured us we would find shops selling food along the way.

A bit further down the road, we meet a gentleman walking a Black Retriever that reminds Steve and Pat of their dog, Rex. The man also offers us food and water, and again I decline.

Our path takes us up a long, gradual incline into some beautiful, rolling downs that remind me of parts of southern Ireland. Unfortunately, we hardly see anyone after our first two encounters, and the prediction of ample venues for food turns out to be false.

day 5 pic 2 20151113_115439day 5 pic 3 20151113_120102day 5 pic 4 20151113_120251As the miles stretch on, we nibble on a few things my companions brought, but with little satisfaction. I decide it’s time to test my foraging skills. I eat some dandelion greens and find a few wild blackberries still clinging to their canes. An oak tree offers acorns, and I eat one, but it’s too bitter. A bruised apple that had fallen off a truck provides the most nourishing discovery. Nonetheless, my walking companions declare my attempt at foraging a failure.

We settle for hunger and quicken our pace. I fantasize about the incredible farmers market we had seen a few days ago. So many local offerings! The place was bustling, as the French truly appreciate the superior flavor of fresh, local food – and I presume also because the French value self reliance.

day 5 pic 6 20151116_180844day 5 pic 5 20151116_182613 - Version 2

We finally arrive in the town of Lisieux and secure a hotel room. As we’re preparing to go out for dinner, a couple thousand people are gathering in the central plaza for a march and vigil to pay homage to those killed in the terrorist attacks. We join in as the somber procession makes its way through the darkened streets of Lisieux.

day 5 pic 7 20151116_183050 - Version 2Afterwards I have a chance to talk with one of the participants, Majli Kremer.

“We are very, very, very sad, and I feel I must be with people,” Majli tells me. She points out that one of the signs people  hold proclaim that the French will continue to enjoy life, despite what has happened.

day 5 pic 8 20151116_184628 - Version 2I ask her about the wisdom of a military response, and Majli days, “I think that is the easy answer, but I’m not sure it is the right one.” She added that helping children and building schools in Iraq and Syria would be better.

As I’m leaving the vigil, the local tv station asks me for an interview – my first ever on French tv! I hope I was able to make a small contribution to an event that did so much to help me better understand how the French are dealing with last Friday’s traumatic experience that shook not only all of France but the whole world as well.

Walk to Paris: Day 4

Saturday, November 14, 2015 – Bénouville to Dozulé

Dear Friends,

France also suffers from rural decay. Steve in front of crumbling out buildings.

France also suffers from rural decay. Steve in front of crumbling out buildings.

It was an odd feeling, waking up at 3:00 a.m. to watch and live-tweet (using two cell phones) a presidential debate happening 4,400 miles away from where I was sitting, but only one mile away from my home in Des Moines. I imagined other Iowans in France were watching as well, and I felt an odd, bleary-eyed kinship with this unknown and numerically undefined universe.

Rousing myself in the middle of the night after today’s 12-mile walk was difficult. The skies had been cold and overcast with occasional light, misty rain, appropriate to the prevailing air of lingering sadness after Friday’s terrorist attacks. I wondered how the Democratic presidential candidates would address the tragedy of this latest, and from my perspective, nearest act of terrorist carnage.

The pundits of the mainstream media suggested the tragedy would benefit Clinton, who would trumpet her foreign policy experience as Secretary of State. My expectation was that Sanders and O’Malley would jump all over Clinton for her foreign policy blunders, especially her vote to support the disastrous Iraq War.

Ed meets a bumper crop of sugar beets.

Ed meets a bumper crop of sugar beets.

As I watched the debate, I found myself immersed in the French perspective on the terror attacks. I was disappointed that none of the candidates laid out a compelling vision on how to deal with the root causes of terrorism.

As usual, Clinton sounded sensible, articulate, wonkish. But to me, her words came off not as an expert on foreign policy but as a seasoned politician who knows what to say to a targeted audience. There was nothing in her perspective to suggest she grasps what drives and fuels terrorism, nor that she would present new strategies to address a reality that has only worsened under conventional approaches by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Refreshingly, O’Malley admitted that nothing in his experience as a mayor or governor compared with the foreign policy challenges facing a president. Nonetheless, I had hoped he would present a more thoughtful analysis indicating a deeper understanding of the complexity of the challenge.

Disappointingly, Sanders said very little about the terrorist attacks before launching into his core platform of economic justice. What a lost opportunity! If economic justice is needed in America, isn’t it essential in the world’s nascent democracies? Perhaps Sanders did not feel such a message would resonate with the Democratic base, who polls say are focused on domestic priorities. At least he (and O’Malley) challenged Clinton on her support for the Iraq War, and drew the connections between that debacle and the worsened state of affairs in the Mideast.

I have not had much opportunity to talk with French who watched the debate or who read about it after the fact. I am eager to gain a deeper sense of how they feel about the candidates’ responses to the Paris terrorist attacks. Maybe I’m off base, but my sense is they’re disappointed in what all three Democrats said – or didn’t say.

"I'm dining well!" says Ed about this delicious and affordably-priced meal of mostly local foods.

“I’m dining well!” says Ed about this delicious and affordably-priced meal of mostly local foods.

That said, French following America’s presidential campaign are mortified at the absolute crazy talk coming out of the Republican field.

I will say this: in terms of an overall debate “winner” (since in America we have to have a winner, right?), it was O’Malley. He was feisty, took on Clinton, and to a lesser extent Sanders. He was articulate and empathetic, and shared the best story of the night, about the Burlington, Iowa woman who did not appreciate her soldier son being seen as mere “boots on the ground.”

I am not endorsing a candidate, at least not yet. I am very pleased that Sanders (and Rand Paul) have come out against the Bakken pipeline, and I hope O’Malley and Clinton will do the same. I and other climate activists continue to bird-dog the candidates, pushing them to sign the Pledge to Mobilize on climate action. Signing would indicate an understanding of the urgency of moving rapidly toward an all-out, World War II-scale transformation of the American economy to fight the crisis that is already defining this century.


Ron Yarnell hosts the Fallon Forum today. I’ll call-in to share an update from Normandy as the Walk to Paris moves from the coast to the rolling midlands.

Hear the Fallon Forum live 11:00-12:00 noon CST on KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines) and online. Call (515) 528-8122 to add your voice to the conversation. The program re-broadcasts Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 a.m. on WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans).

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

Walk to Paris: Day 3

Friday, November 13, 2015 – Lion sur Mer to Benouville

I want to thank the hundreds of friends, family members and acquaintances who called or sent messages expressing concern for my safety in the wake of last night’s terrorist attacks in Paris. That meant more to me than you can imagine. Steve and I are indeed safe, as are Steve’s wife and daughter, who were in Paris at the time of the attacks.

We were sound asleep when a text message from Steve’s daughter jarred us awake. Kate broke the news of the attacks, and assured us that she and Pat were safe. Steve and I spent the next two hours watching the events unfold on French tv, disgusted and horrified by the carnage.

This morning, we sense shock and sadness among the people we encounter. But reactions to the attacks are mixed. We talk with three young Belgian men visiting the area to buy World War II memorabilia at an auction. They are quick to blame immigrants, and suspect Syrians affiliated with ISIS. One predicts civil war in Europe within the next five years. Another says with confidence that statistically, because of overwhelming levels of immigration in Scandinavia, every woman in Norway and Sweden will have been raped by an immigrant in her lifetime.

Others I speak with do not see the problem in racial terms – nor do they see easy solutions. One man is unsure what will happen next, but he is clear that the attacks will have a negative impact on France’s economy.

As I try to make sense of the events of the past 20 hours, I wonder if the nations of the world have the strength and wisdom to address the problem in a truly substantive way. Certainly, people need to be protected from the threat of terrorism, and that demands force.

But until we collectively address the social and economic disparities that inspire desperate men and women to commit such acts of terror, I don’t see an end in sight.

And what about the alleged connection between terrorism and the current wave of immigration? So much can be said. I simply offer this:

The arrival of new peoples in Europe (or America, for that matter) is hardly a new phenomenon. Take Ireland, my ancestral home. What does it mean to be Irish? When we think Irish, we think Celtic. Are you less Irish if that Celtic blood is mixed with Norman, Spanish or British blood from immigrants (ok, invaders, for the most part)? What if that Celtic blood is mixed with the blood of more recent immigrants, say African, Asian or Eastern European – in other words, if that blood is encased in dark rather than white skin? I would ask the Belgian men I met today: Is it blood type that bothers you or skin color?

Perhaps the best definition of what it means to be Irish – or French or American or anything else – is the connection developed and sustained over time to the land, language and culture of a place.

I have so much more I to say about this, but my mind and pen (ok, cell phone stylus) wander, bringing me back to the images of death and violence on the streets of Paris. I will walk those same streets two weeks from today. If I have a chance to visit one of the attack sites, I will approach the moment with a spirit of reverence and sadness, and with determination to continue to do my part to help humanity move forward to a world free of such horrific and increasingly common acts of violence.