Amiens, up early for Church
Les and Pamela have been visiting Australian war cemeteries in the Somme for a week. They’re from London. They like the café we’re sitting in because it isn’t fake, is logo-lite. “Not like those in the city centre, I didn’t like those at all,” Pamela, the Australian, says. “It’s going that way everywhere, isn’t it? Uniformity. Dijon was nice though, different.”
Les is a walker. He edits the South East Rambler magazine in England and it is taking up more and more of his time. He’s been walking since his teens when there was a weekly walk column in the now-defunct “Evening News”. “I used to take the walk every week, the author of the column encouraged me,” he says.
Les once walked from Dieppe to Paris, it took a fortnight. He has stayed in Montreuil, but doesn’t understand the bikers. “Walking gives you a chance to experience something, to feel closer,” he says. “Bikers…I don’t understand it. Passing time, I suppose.” And walking you can drink a little more, of course.
Head out for the Highway: looking for adventure
Pamela has worked on several newspapers in London, The (now-defunct) European…hmm…and The Guardian – which she remembers for the champagne on Thursdays (readers insert joke). She reads the Telegraph now. “20,000 people died at one battle, can you imagine that?” she says. “I don’t think we should be at war now.”
“Harry isn’t,” I say.
“Nobody listens any more,” Les says. “We had the biggest demonstration ever against war – nobody listened. I don’t agree with fox-hunting but they have a good lobby. What happens? Nothing, it was banned. Nobody listens.”
There is a sign in the centre of town informing visitors there are 48 CCTV cameras in operation.
I once interviewed the American academic, Benjamin Barber, a historian of American democracy and constitution. He’d become famous for one of those cross-over books, McWorld vs Jihad, that spoke to the times. He posited the problem of democracy thus: it begins locally, in small ways, just as it did in classical times. In this case: in the town hall or the local community. But these kinds of meeting were not meaningful any longer, government higher up was in charge and “not listening”: Barber held great hope for the internet’s power to shape democratic change, though he was very worried about its power to “infantilize” us as well, to pare down to black and white views.
Pamela likes to photograph food and drink when she travels. If it is good, it gets a snap. She remembers a particularly good hot chocolate in Salford, Lancashire. “People think I’m crazy, but I love it.” She takes a picture of her coffee. One for the virtual scrapbook.
Les returns with his change. “I’ve paid,” he says.
“I always love the hear that,” Pamela says. She likes to “research things,” and gives me the e-mail for a hostel in Monmartre, and the address of a Quaker House café and restaurant near the British Library. “Where were we before Google?” she asks.
“We didn’t exist,” I say.
“I don’t usually like churches,” Les says, looking at Amiens cathedral in the rain. “But this one is something else.”
“John Keats was a walker,” Pamela says. “But he died young.”