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.

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