Monday, 30 November 2015

Blog 8 (the last daily planned) Solidarity and Determination at the start to COP21. Bataclan tragedy. Poem

Oswaldo reading the Le Monde (appropriately)  headlines on COP21

Is the point about blogs is that they are written at or just after the time of action? If so, slight apologies (wifi & time issues). I am covering 48 hours, & more words too.  At least you will know that I haven’t been hit on the head by a tear gas shell or truncheon, or locked up with 174 demonstrators yesterday.  I was heartened that on the French TV news that the violence was not first on but the arrival of world leaders and the at least two degree limit we all hope will be held.  I wonder how UK media covered it? There were a small band of anarchists who were ideologically against even COP21 and threw things at the perpex-shielded police, bulging ‘Michelin men’ in shiny black body armour and full helmets.  The other 5-10,000 people seemed totally unthreatening, you didn’t have to be brave or foolish to be there, and there was a fabulous atmosphere of solidarity– but first just want to return to Saturday events.

Basilica of St Denis

There was a Saturday morning service at the impressively tall and ancient Basilica de St Denis, with parts dating back to 5th century, and where the French royalty were interred up to mediaeval times.  Some of the same pilgrims mentioned in my last blog came to offer their prayers and their objects of significance, but I am afraid the need to translate everything one at a time in English, French and German made it a bit deadening at times.  The bishop of Dudley was good.  ‘The pilgrimage is not finished till we get home, and indeed it continues’.  ‘What are we bringing back home?’  That needs a lot of thought before answering!  But right now it feels like ‘very much’, and perhaps warmth, empowerment, energy, this is what people really want to happen, perhaps it’s not too late…HOPE.

Feared it was a bit male bishop dominated (however just noted Muslim lady) but...
1,780,000 signatures for Climate Action

Following that service we met in a large nearby hall where, my heart slightly sank to see a row of purple-robed all-male bishops amongst others on the stage but at least from all over the globe, and with a female MC.  But it was an inspiring event as it unfolded.  Some orator (possibly Hollande’s special spokesman for COP21?) gave a fantastic tour de force speech.  ‘The economic system must change, not the environment’ gives you a flavour though not exactly his slogan.  But the star of the show was undoubtedly the diminutive Costa Rican Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Her short speech encapsulated the spirit of togetherness and determination.  While the bishops held up the figures for 1.78 million signatures on the petition for climate action, ‘WE CAN, WE WILL AND WE MUST!’ 

Then a young female popstar (probably?) with a heavy backing beat sang a song of the climate.  The tallest African bishop grabbed Christiana’s hand and started dancing and soon all of them on stage were doing it! 

Dancing breaks out - Christiana Figueres with large African on left
We handed in our little petition to Christiana's aid mentioning our comparatively short ride, the post cards, our churches our determination. Afterwards we ambled to the Eifel tower.  Around Paris there were many COP21 -related posters and pictures including many on the nearby bridge.

Our group were given posters.  Very well organised
On Sunday, we were excited but a little apprehensive about going to the boulevard just south of Republique to join in the Human Chain – along the entire route of the cancelled march.    We were not sure what the police attitude might be. Groups greater than 9 were apparently not allowed in the state of emergency.  But it was a wonderful occasion! 

Place de la Republique

It was an animal-themed demo
The theme was the animal kingdom and many had come well prepared.  Oswaldo was in his element and even interviewed by a TV station (more pics in his own blog). 

At the signal we all linked hands and sang and made as much noise as possible.

Then we ambled up to Republique to deposit a shoe to add to the collection which represented those who could not be there to march.  But the shoes had been removed.  The square was ringed across all roads by the tough black police forces so there was a darker mood and many disparate groups marching or milling around.  It was interesting but felt like a pot which might boil over at any moment.  After 15 minutes we headed out and found a small lovely little café for a warm café, quiche and gateau. 

And that was the last I saw of the lovely group because I had to get the cards to Dan from Pole-to-Paris and never managed to reconnect back in a church in the eastern suburbs in time!

Dan had cycled 10,000 miles from New Zealand starting in April.  His knee gave up 30 km from Paris but he made it with one leg doing all the pedalling.  As well as having a large display of the postcards at Le Bourget Airport where COP21 is taking place, P-to-P will be presenting the cards to one of the most powerful women in the UN, ex-prime-minster of New Zealand.

Then onto relatives in a suburb for a bit of warmth and pampering and decent Wi-fi overnight.  I am now trying to find a boat which will be able to cross the channel in force 10 winds heading for Caen where the boats are bigger and more likely to sail.

We were holding hands just outside Bataclan theatre where so many died on 13th November just 2 weeks ago.  I cannot leave the blog without showing some of this, much harrowing but also moving and with hope.  Solidarity.  ‘Fluctuar nec mergitur’ was in many places and I had to ask some French people what it meant.  It’s the Latin motto over the Paris Mairie.  ‘ Rocking (as in a boat) but never sinking’.  It is important right now for France that COP21 is seen as a successful event to cancel out some of the hurt, to feel themselves again.
Opposite the Bataclan Theatre

I have very much enjoyed doing my first blog ever, and then Oswaldo’s blog which has been marginally more followed than mine, up to now both over 700 page views, so the aim of bringing more people into the challenge and this particular COP21 seems to have been somewhat successful.

I will do another Oswaldo blog so 9 as well as 8 for schools but this is my last adult one.  If you have found it worthwhile or have suggestions for improvement in the future or if you’d like to know more please send in a ‘comment’ at the bottom of the blog.  Carolyn of Climate Stewards also on our cycle pilgrimage (one of the 8 new friends made in a short time) will continue to blog

Finally, Joan Mc Gavin’s Poem, on seeing those postcards.

Poem for the Paris Summit and local schoolchildren:

Look out for the Earth as you would
a good friend – one whom you value highly.
It’s not an old umbrella you could
use and neglect, that bends and breaks
in the wind, to be tossed away.
It can’t be replaced at the drop
of a hat. It’s special and caring -- so play
and spend time with it.  That’s friendship!

Thank you Joan.
Thank you all of you for getting this far!


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Blog 7. Nous Arrivons!


With 15 miles only to go we hit the road at 10 am immediately finding that the Avenue Verte was distinctly grey asphalt and well-attended by parisienne traffic and lorries.  We were very impressed by the green grass carpet for the trams though.  It should help reduce run off, noise, peak temperatures & glare in summer.  What a great idea!  We imagined a tram with flymo attachment would make the grass-cutting easy too.

Lorries a bit intimidating as we enter Paris proper

Grass carpet treatment for the trams.  Brilliant idea!

Banner by the Seine

We had a glorious brunch stop at a patisserie (so it’s not all hair-shirt on a cycle pilgrimage!) made all the more memorable by the warm attentiveness of the Moroccan shop-keeper and also by meeting a group of young activists from Actiba in Lyon.  From them we heard that a ‘Chaine Humaine’, a linking of hands all along the cancelled march route is planned on Sunday morning.

The first event for us was at the ‘Pilgrims Welcome’ in the Eglise de Merri in rue St Martin north of Notre Dame. Here we met a so many pilgrims. We had been asked to make a presentation and bring an object of significance.  A large group of young people ‘Our Voices’ who had walked from Rome from September to express the voice of the voiceless, those who are not heard.  Some had taken a vow of silence with friends speaking for them.  The vow lasted days or even weeks for some and was passed around the group like a baton.  Many of them had come from the Philippines.  They had a great song with a catchy chorus.  I’ll attach a video if I find out how). 
Our Voice walked from Rome with many Philippinos

Another pair had cycled from Vietnam starting in February. They told us of how the 0.9deg C rise in temperature was already significantly affecting many of the countries they passed through – mountains with lost snow caps,  rising sea level and salinity, spreading deserts. 
A Eco-congregation baton was brought from Scotland which was launched by the Scottish environment minister and had been through the hands of more than 10,000 people, the length of the land from Kirk Yetholm in the south to Shetland from Hebrides to Fife, as many schools as possible (I thought I heard every one!).
A group from Peru who were suing the major corporations which had physically caused most greenhouse gases, RWE the utility from Germany being mentioned.
There was a moving call from a British woman on the Islamic Climate Justice Declaration launched in Istanbul this August.  Bhuddists and Jews were also there. Another from the Pan-African Climate Justice Coalition who said ‘we did not make the problem but’ we must now forget the recriminations and look for solutions together.

We brought the house down with our re-written (by our two Clares) rendition of Widdecombe Fair, with the help of Clare on the tin whlstle, Geoff (a folk-singer) teaching our audience the chorus. A verse to give the flavour, sung with maximum gusto and anunciation:-

As we were cycling to COP vingt-et-un
Roll along, speed along Avenue Verte
We found inspiration to help us along
In God’s good creation, with lapwings and herons, and donkeys and turkeys, wind turbines and velos,
And people are hoping change
The Pilgrims are calling for change!

World leaders are meeting for COP 21
Roll along, speed along Avenue Verte
We hope that they’ll join us in singing our song (that’s Cameron & Putin, Obama & Hollande, Xi Zingh Ping & Modi)
With binding commitments & budgets to match them, renewable power, decarbonisation,
We want Climate Justice for All
Shalom for the Planet, That’s All!

We made our way quite late to the Ecouen centre, in older converted buildings like a small youth hostel (although only our leader would qualify on age) funded by a US church, 20 miles out. Some Tearfund workers were our hosts.
Ecouen Centre

Could be an exciting Saturday and Sunday!

Mark Hancock

Friday, 27 November 2015

Blog 6 - Traversing the many rims of the Paris Basin

First part on La Route Verte

Chris our excellent young cycle leader & frozen puddles


A real crisp winter, ice-coated, finger-biting, start to the day.  A slipperiness-induced cautious beginning to a beautiful day of clear skies too which turned out to be 65 miles, due to an earlier misbooking of the wrong hotel in the chain.  But nobody minded.  But if anyone says that NW France is actually flat, they are exaggerating.  It's gently undulating into the Paris basin which seems to have many rims!  For most this was another glory because those hills warmed us up. Especially the scarp slopes
One of the many 'rims' of the Paris Basin requiring oomph

Then there were dip slopes which gently descended over miles ahead,  Such a lovely ride with great company it was difficult to recall originally (I beleive) pilgrims put themsleves through a degree of suffering.  I reckon the whole ride at this rate is worth say 20 seconds remission from Purgatory.

No profound thoughts today but we are 15 miles from our destination looking forward to a leisurely ride in to the Pilgrims Welcome (you pay to get welcomed!) where we will meet with 200 others and have to do a 2 minute performance.  Two of our talented ladies, have rewritten a verse or two of Widdecombe Fair, and we have two accomplished tin whistlers and bicycle bells as a backing group.  It'll bring the house down!
They were smiling because I was about to be run over by an impatient motorist

Al fresco DIY lunch with Camenbert & Chips

Re-adjustments.  Only 1 puncture in the 18 Tyres so far.
 50 miles on the way we arrived at Cergey, a 30 year old town about 30miles from the centre of Paris.  In the plaza outside of station we were reminded of the terrorist tragedy still very much in everyone's minds in France and elsewhere.

More postcards (hope no repeats, it's tricky to check)