Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

February 27, 2005

Pharaohs, Falafels, and Free Wi-Fi

Filed under: France — Andy Carvin @ 8:22 pm
old sign

An old Patisserie Sign in the Marais

My first night in Paris wasn’t a pleasant one; my room is right next to the elevator, and every time it goes up or down, I can hear its gears turning. I’m a notorious light sleeper, and repetitive noises grate on me like Chinese water torture, which is why I found myself dragging the hotel’s overnight attendant to my room just before 1am to show him I wasn’t imagining it. He seemed honestly surprised by the amount of noise made be the elevator, but wasn’t in a position to help; the hotel was fully booked, and my first chance to move into another room wouldn’t be until I’d spent yet another night in the same room. So I stuffed yet another pillow over my head and somehow managed to doze off around 2am.
Waking up at 7:30am the next morning wasn’t that pleasant. I hit the snooze button a couple of times before dragging myself downstairs for a continental breakfast of baguettes, pain chocolate, egg whites and strong coffee. After a long shower to wake me up, I headed out the door around 9:30am, hoping to get to the Musee du Monde Arabe prior to the 10am opening. Yesterday, a queue with several hundred people trailed out the front door of the museum do the fact that a major exhibit from the Cairo Museum was in town. So today I wanted to be there as early as possible and hopefully avoid a 90-minute wait.
Heading towards the quay along the left bank, I realized what a beautiful day it was going to be. Though chilly, the sky was blue, with a scattering of puffy clouds here and there. Meanwhile, the bells of Notre Dame chimed in the distance, calling Parisians to Sunday morning services. I found the bells calling me as well; though I really wanted to get to the museum as soon as possible, it was hard to say no to Notre Dame.
Entering the giant wood doors yet again, I joined hundreds of people, many of whom were already seated in the pews for services. At first I planned to just watch from the side, but the thundering tone of the pipe organ beckoned me to sit down. Soon, a group of seven deacons dressed in red came walking down the aisle, chanting hymns and carrying a large cross. They were followed by several priests in white, one of whom swung an immense incense bowl, wafting sweet frankincense into the air.
I stayed for a little while until I realized it was quarter past 10am; so much for getting to the museum before it opened. I left the cathedral and followed the quay a few more blocks east until I arrived at the Musee du Monde Arabe; as I’d feared, my delay at the cathedral had allowed at least 200 people to pile up in front of the entrance. I joined the queue and waited; nothing happened for at least 10 minutes. I started to wonder if I would be at this all morning, when the line suddenly lurched forward by 20 feet, then promptly stopped. Apparently they were staggering the number of people allowed inside at any given time; at this rate I would probably be inside in 30 or 40 minutes.
About 35 minutes later — not a bad guess — I reached the ticket booth, where I bought my pass and paid for an English audio guide. It was the same audio guide I’d used a few months ago while touring the mansions of Newport; key in a number associated with a particular exhibit and you’d hear a story about it. I turned the corner and found myself amidst a huge crowd of visitors; I hadn’t seen so many people jammed into a room at a museum since the Vermeer retrospective in Washington’s National Gallery of Art in the mid-90s. The exhibit, which covered the first two floors of the museum, focused on the life and times of the great pharaohs. Rather than focus on a single ruler, the exhibit was more of a pharaonic retrospective, picking and choosing items from at least a dozen different ancient rulers of Egypt.
As I explored the exhibit for the next 90 minutes, several pieces stood out in particular. The first was an enormous bust of Akhenaton, the long-headed, full-lipped pharaoh most famous for throwing Egyptian religion out the window and introducing his own brand of monotheism. I’ve been fascinated with Akhenaton for a long time, particularly since some historians have speculated that Akhenaton’s religion never actually died out after his death. According to this somewhat controversial theory, monotheism was never totally stamped out, and was practiced by certain members of the ruling elite, including a prince under the reign of Rameses II. This prince became known as Moses. Yes, that Moses. In other words, Moses wasn’t an Israelite who showed up in a reed boat and was adopted into the royal family as a young prince; instead, he was a young prince who broke from Rameses’ pantheon of gods by reviving Akhenaton’s monotheism, using the Hebrew slaves as a political base. So like so many other times in history (think William of Orange or George I in England), the Hebrews adopted him as their leader, even though he was ethnically Egyptian. This, of course, would mean that Moses’ brother Aaron was also Egyptian, which would then mean the high priests of Israel — the Cohanim, of which I’m a card-carrying member — would be descended from him. Kinda blows your mind if you believe any of it.
I found all of this racing through my mind as I stood below the giant bust of Akhenaton towering over me, realizing that I wasn’t paying attention to the audio guide. I replied the guide just to hear what I missed — no mention of this Akhenaton/Moses revisionism, mind you — before continuing on to a collection of pieces found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, including a wicker bed and night stand that looked so new you might have mistaken them for a Pier One collection. Off to the side, a long pane of glass housed a 20-foot papyrus scroll containing thousands of words written nearly four millennia ago by some forgotten bureaucrat.

death mask

Death Mask of Psousennes I

To no surprise, they saved the best for last. In the final room, a familiar golden mask stood before me. Was it actually the gold death mask of Tutankhamen? Couldn’t be — it wasn’t on tour yet. It turns out I had found the death mask of Psousennes I, whose tomb was one of the few besides Tutankhamen’s that was never looted. At first, I thought it was strange I had never heard of this discovery, but the exhibit explained why. Apparently, the mask was unearthed soon after the French archeologist Pierre Montet re-discovered the lost city of Tanis in 1939. Just like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Tanis was discovered and excavated at the start of World War II, which meant the news media was pre-occupied with bigger stories. Otherwise, the Tanis/Psousennes find might be as well-known as King Tut’s discovery.
After a brief tour of some of the museum’s permanent exhibits (its carpet and porcelain collections were utterly deserted compared to the Pharaoh exhibit), I left the museum and crossed Pont Sully onto Ile Saint-Louis, one of the two islands occupying the heart of Paris. I’d visited Ile de la Cite countless times, as it’s the home of Notre Dame, but for whatever reason I’d never stepped foot on Ile Saint-Louis, even though it was right next door. An oasis of calm, the island is surprisingly residential, with neighborhoods bakeries and cheese shops that you’d expect to see in a smaller town. Since it was Sunday morning, the neighborhood was deserted; I only saw three or four other people as I crossed the island.
Exiting the island at Pont Marie, I arrived at the southern end of the Marais, one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods. My plan was to explore the Marais for much of the day, weaving through as much of it as possible. Just above Pont Marie, I turned right on Rue L’Hotel de Ville and reached the private gardens of the Hotel de Sens, the oldest mansion in the neighborhood. Built for the archbishop in 1475, it was a grand building with gothic flourishes and a mock turret that was added in the early 20th century. I continued heading west several blocks until I reached a walled playground. Calling it a playground doesn’t do it justice, though; to the left of the football pitch were the ruins of a 12th century wall; behind it, the dome of Eglise St-Louis St-Paul, a 17th century Jesuit church.
I took a left and followed the path along the edge of the playground, then cut right a couple of blocks until I reached Rue Beautreillis. Half a block up the street, I reached apartment #17-19, which would otherwise be quite forgettable if it hadn’t been the place where Jim Morrison had a heart attack in a bath tub. Unlike his grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery, which is constantly adorned with flowers and bottles of liquor, there was no acknowledgement that this was the place where the lead singers of The Doors died. Perhaps I should have brought a bottle of Jack Daniels, a pant zipper or some drug paraphernalia, but the muse didn’t move me this morning.
Heading west of Rue Neuve St. Pierre, I reached an arch passageway that led to the side entrance of Eglise St-Louis St-Paul. From the outside, it looked deserted, but entering the church I found it packed with parishioners in mid-service. I quietly walked along a side aisle and stood to the back as the priest sang a hymn. Incense smoke rose slowly to the dome’s ceiling, where I noticed a sizable representation of good king St-Louis himself.
After 10 or 15 minutes, I exited the church by the same side entrance and walked a block north on St. Paul until reaching busy Rue St. Antoine, the main thoroughfare through the Marais. A stream of people were exiting the main entrance of the church; I hadn’t realized the service was so close to the end. I walked west on St. Antoine until it turned into Rue de Rivoli, then went north on Rue Pavee, so named because it was the first paved street in Paris. I was now entering Pletzl, Paris’ historic Jewish neighborhood. Never a particularly wealthy neighborhood, the area has gone through a bit of a renaissance in recent decades, with trendy couture shops and cafes joining the butchers and delicatessens that have called Pletzl home for more than a century.

jewish bakery

Jewish Bakery in the Marais

A block up Rue Pavee, I reached the Guimard Synagogue. Now closed to the public, the synagogue is an early 20th century Art Nouveau building designed by the architect who also created the famous Metropolitain signs above the old metro entrances. Continuing up the street, I took a left on Rue des Rosiers, the historic heart of Pletzl. Nearly every store front had a Judaica connection in one way or another; a religious bookstore, a kosher butcher, a Moroccan Jewish sweet shop, bakeries full of golden loaves of challah. Most of the bakeries had lines out the door, as patrons waited for freshly baked bread and other treats. The local restaurants were doing quite a good business as well, which made me realize that it was approaching 1pm and I was getting hungry.
Walking further west on Rosiers, I finally settled on Chez Hanna, a Sephardic café with a tempting display of North African salads and the sounds of French reggae calling me inside. The small restaurant was packed with diners, most of whom seemed to be Italian or Spanish, with a smattering of Japanese women whom I overheard mentioning the word “Tex-Mex” on several occasions. I ordered a meze platter: a large plate overflowing with hummus, tahini, eggplant puree, falafels, pickled red cabbage and salted cucumber. The waiter then placed a basket of warm, puffy pitas, each lovingly sliced with a smile-like arc on one side to allow each one to be stuffed to the breaking point. With a wine bottle full of water and a tall glass of mint tea, I relished every bite, thoroughly enjoying the complex dance of flavors frolicking in my mouth. Definitely the best meal I’ve had on this trip.
Lounging over the dregs of my mint tea for a while, I eventually left Chez Hanna and continued west until I reached Rue Veille due Temple, at which point I turned north. Not all the shops were open, but those that were seemed to be doing smashing business, whether they were purveyors of up-market olive oil, Moroccan pastries or handbags. I walked north for several blocks until I reached Hotel Aubert de Fontenay, a magnificent 17th century mansion now home to Musee Picasso. One of my favorite places in Paris, the Picasso Museum, a gift from Picasso’s family in lieu of municipal taxes, contains the artist’s personal collection of his own work, as well primitive masks he purchased over the course of his lifetime.

musee picasso

Two women admire a sculpture at Musee Picasso

While other museums may have Picasso’s most famous works, the Musee Picasso possesses the pieces that may have been closest to the artist’s heart, as he kept them in the family until his death. For two hours, I explored the mansion, marveling at the way it traced Picasso’s life, from his work as a confident 20-year-old to a elderly man in his 90s still producing stunning portraits. What I love about the collection is the mix of media he used; of course, there are his paintings and sketches, but there are also bronze statues, concrete busts, drift wood, strips of aluminum, ceramic — the list goes on. My favorites were probably the three-dimensional representations of his early cubist work. While I was quite familiar with his series of guitarist portraits, I’d forgotten that he’d rendered them in 3D form as well, cobbling together strips of metal, wood, wallpaper and other found objects until they captured the spirit of cubism as well as his paintings. I also loved his collections of ceramics, some of which he painted to look as if they were Roman-era pottery.
By 4pm, I started to head back from the Marais. But first I had to make a diversion a few blocks east to Place des Vosges. Since the early 17th century, Place des Vosges has served as home to 36 houses laid meticulously around a beautiful tree-lined square. I’d never been to it before so I was eager to see it myself. The square was oddly reminiscent of Barcelona, just without the palm trees or the Gaudi lamp posts. It was a charming place, but my long day of walking was starting to get the better of me, so I didn’t linger for two long. I retraced my way through the Marais, exiting at Pont Marie across Ile St-Louis, which I ambled through long enough to buy some hot chocolate for the rest of my walk.
The sun was getting low in the sky as I passed Notre Dame, crowded as always with tourists of every imaginable nationality. Eventually back near my hotel, I decided to do some neighborhood reconnaissance to find a café with wireless Internet access. To my surprise, I found free wi-fi at the local McDonalds, where I planted myself for much of the rest of the evening, catching up on email and blogging about the previous day. Before long I realized it was 7pm; I was still rather full from my excellent Sephardic lunch, so I nibbled on a few chicken McNuggets and wrapped up my email, before returning to my hotel for the evening.

WSIS the Peace Summit?

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 12:01 pm

There’s an interesting twist to the recent Geneva meetings for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS); Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has been invited by Tunisian president ben Ali to partitipate in the summit, and Sharon has accepted. This would mark the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister to a North African country. It certainly would be amazing if WSIS helped the Mideast peace process, along with helping bridge the digital divide, though both prospects may seem like wishful thinking to the cynics among us… -andy

Announcing Digital Divide Meetups

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 11:57 am

Hi everyone,
I’ve got some exciting news… Some of you may remember the podcast I posted a couple of weeks ago when the Digital Divide Network (DDN) hosted an informal meetup in Boston during the LinuxWorld conference. It wasn’t a real “meetup” in the sense that we didn’t use the website meetup.com to organize it, but it was in spirit of that website, which helps people organize meetings with like-minded people in their local community.
As it turns out, the podcast caught the attention of the people who run meetup.com, and they contacted me to say hello. In our conversations I mentioned to them that Meetup.com didn’t have an easy way to organize local community gatherings specifically around the digital divide, as “digital divide” wasn’t one of the topics they had categorized on their site. Within a few hours, that problem was solved, as Meetup.com has set up a digital divide community just for us:
http://ddn.meetup.com
Effective immediately, anyone who is interested in organizing a community gathering to discuss the digital divide now has a free tool to do this. When you register with the site, you’ll be able to organize your own digital divide meetup in your town; then anyone who is interested in discussing the digital divide can come and join you. The site even has a notification system that will email you when someone has organized a digital divide-related meetup in your community.
I can see this service being used by us a couple of ways. First, it allows any of us to organize our own community meetings to discuss the digital divide, whenever you want — your library, a coffee shop. the neighborhood church. So if you just want to do it once, or if you want to make it a monthly event, it’s up to you. And now that “digital divide” has been added to the list of topics for Meetup, other Meetup members who have no experience with DDN can still find out about your meeting and participate.
Second, while this may be wishful thinking, I could see us organizing simultaneous DDN meetings all over the world. For example, let’s say we decide to make June 1 International DDN Day; DDN volunteers would then organize local meetings to discuss the digital divide, all for that same day. Members would be encourged to make podcasts, video clips, take notes, etc, then share their experiences on the list and on the DDN website. Just yesterday we were talking on the list about why there should be WSIS-related meetings in real communities rather than places like Geneva. So who’s to say that in the third week of November of this year, communities all over the world organize their own WSIS mini-summits to discuss the digital divide locally?
So for those of you who have thought about organizing or participating in local meetings to discuss the digital divide, I encourage you to go to ddn.meetup.com and organize a meeting. I think it could be a powerful way of adding new depth and real-world action to the Digital Divide Network…. -andy

Parisian Wi-Fi Lessons

Filed under: France — Andy Carvin @ 11:24 am

Ever since arriving in Paris yesterday, I’ve been baffled by the state of wi-fi here. When I checked into my hotel, I found a little wi-fi sign on the counter, which was good news, since I selected the hotel partially because Hotels.com said the place had wireless Internet access. But then I turned on my computer and opened my Web browser, only to discover that the hotel had the nerve of charging 25 euros a day for the privilege. That’s more than 30 bucks to us currency-challenged Americans, which is sheer lunacy.
So I briefly sunk into a cyber funk and wondered if I’d be able to tolerate being offline. Of course, the answer was no, so I started to download emails from my cell phone. Granted, I bought the phone for that very purpose, but the download charges while traveling international can be a couple of cents a byte, and that can add up when you get as much email as I do.
This afternoon, though, while I was strolling down Boulevard St-Germain on the way back to my hotel, I noticed a little sign in the window of the local MacDonalds. “WIFI ICI,” it said. And below that, in somewhat small print, “gratis.” Yep, Ronald McDonald has gotten into the municipal wi-fi business — at least for a few days. It turns out the free wi-fi is part of a promotion announcing wi-fi at French McDonalds, but it’s only free for a short time. Fortunately, I’m only here for a short time as well, so that suits me just fine. So in between touring the sites and soaking up the Parisian joie de vivre, I’ll be soaking up the bandwidth at the local Mickey Dee’s….. -andy

February 26, 2005

Geneva to Paris

Filed under: France — Andy Carvin @ 10:04 pm
Notre Dame

Notre Dame on a Sunny Afternoon

I slept in a little late on Saturday morning, given the fact I didn’t have to be at the UN Palais des Nations at 8am once again. I couldn’t lounge around for too long, though, as my train to Paris departed at 10am. Fortunately, the train station was literally 50 feet from my hotel, so I didn’t have to head out the door until just after 9:30am.
As can be expected from a Swiss train, it left the station on time, winding its way northwest through beautiful French farmland and snowy hillsides. I spent the better part of the 3+ hour ride reading my Paris guidebook, refamiliarizing myself with the layout of the city and circling interesting cafes and restaurants. I’m not a huge fan of French food (though I have been trying to be open minded in recent years), but I’m a big fan of the cuisines of many of their former colonies, from Southeast Asia to Mauritius to North Africa. So hopefully I’d get to have my fair share of noodle dishes, creoles and tagines before I’d have to hit the road again and continue to India, where a wonderland of delicacies would surely await me.
Sadly, my first meal on French soil was a soggy pita sandwich slathered in butter, stuffed with egg yolks and bacon — perhaps the worst idea for a sandwich I could have come up with, but alas, it was the only sandwich available for sale on the train. I should have gotten a yogurt.
So while my stomach wrestled with these unwelcome contents, I absorbed as much as I could from my guidebook. This would be my fifth trip to Paris, so I didn’t feel the need to do the usual Louvre-Eiffel-Notre Dame circuit. Okay, I’d probably visit at least Notre Dame at some point, particularly since it was such a short walk from my hotel, but I wanted to be sure I’d visit some new places this time. I’ve always wanted to go to the Museum of the Arab World, and explore the Jewish quarters of Marais and Belleville; plus, I’ve never been to the cathedral in St. Denis or seen Sainte-Chapelle. Anyway, I only had a couple of days to play with, particularly if I managed to get over to UNESCO on Monday as I hoped, so I probably had more than enough ideas to keep me culturally and historically enriched for the weekend.
The train pulled into Paris’ Gare de Lyon station just after 1:30pm. Exiting the train, I found myself in what was perhaps the busiest train station I’ve seen — well, at least the busiest for its size. Sure, Penn Station or Delhi’s station are madhouses, but Gare de Lyon was wall to wall people, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t expecting such a claustrophobic experience. The big challenge for me was finding an ATM, or point d’argent for all of you French-speakers out there. I had a wallet full of dollars and Swiss francs, but that wasn’t going to get me a taxi ride in Euro-licious Paris. I squeezed through the crowds, careful not to step on small children or dogs, and soon found an information booth. The map in front of the booth showed that there was one — one — ATM for the entire train station, and it was at the other end of the building. I worked my way with my bags in tow, soon reaching the location of the ATM. Unfortunately, all I found was a hole in the wall that was once occupied by the aforementioned point d’argent. Another information booth directed me to the currency exchange booth, which just happened to be right where I’d started, near the first information booth.
Exchanging 20 bucks and my leftover Swiss francs at a criminally bad rate, I hailed a taxi and headed southwest through the city, crossing the Seine just east of Notre Dame. Before I knew it, I was passing the Musee de Cluny, cruising down the Boul Miche. My mind raced back to my first trip to Paris when I was 14 years old, then to New Year’s 2000, the last time I was here; suddenly a three-dimensional map of the Latin Quarter formed in my mind. I knew exactly where I was, and I knew exactly where I needed to go to walk to the hotel once the taxi dropped me off. There’s nothing quite like arriving in a city after such a long time but having it feel like you just returned after a weekend elsewhere.
I walked a block down Rue St. Severin until I reached the entrance of my hotel, the Europe St. Severin, a cozy little two-star joint with a cool see-through elevator and rooms decorated with bright Provencal linens and exposed rock walls. (Frankly, I’m amazed I was able to find a place so charming for same price that I’d paid for the austere Hotel Bernina in Geneva.) Not wanting to waste too much time at the hotel, I grabbed my camera and my guidebook, then quickly booted up my laptop to see if there was wireless Internet access. It turns out the hotel did have wi-fi, but you had to pay a staggering $13 an hour for it, or $30 a day if you preferred. I guess I’d just have to access email on my cell phone until I could find a wifi-friendly café in the quarter.
Unburdened by my luggage, I left the hotel and winded through the heart of the Latin Quarter’s tourist ghetto, passing rows of Greco-French restaurants all offering the same menu-fixe of onion soup, coq au vin and chocolate mousse. Soon I was able to breath fresh air as I reached the quay, still lined with book stalls the way it’s probably been for 100 years. Behind the stalls, Notre Dame dominated the view, the soaring gothic building that’s been a Paris landmark for almost eight centuries. The square in front of the cathedral was packed with tourists, none of whom seemed to care that it was dreary or February — I guess a dreary February day in Paris is better than a nice day in most other places. Flocks of pigeons showed no mercy as they swarmed the unprepared tourists, overwhelming them St. Marks-style, thanks to the North African men selling small bags of pigeon feed.
I joined the queue and entered the cathedral, noting a large “Silence Please” sign as I entered. Passing through the cathedral’s great doors, my ears were bombarded with the voice of a woman announcing the schedule for free tours in Russian, Spanish and Italian over the cathedral’s public address for them. (“Silence Please” must be either sarcasm or the cathedral itself begging for a moment of tranquility.)

notre dame tourists

Tourists explore Notre Dame

For whatever reason, as I explored the cathedral’s grand interior, I found myself more interested in the tourists than the cathedral itself. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there about a dozen times — since it seems I go more than once every time I’m in Paris — or perhaps I was still so wound up from my meetings in Geneva that I wasn’t ready to be a tourist yet — but I just couldn’t get my mind around the magnificent vaults, the ornate carvings or the glorious rose windows. The tourists just fascinated me. There were hundreds upon hundreds of them in the cathedral, though compared to other claustrophobic tourism experiences past, during this visit they were all very patient, focused. No shoving or loud talking (unless you count that woman who kept announcing the next tour — German, Portuguese, Xhosa, Klingon….) So I slowly made the counter-clockwise loop around the cathedral with my fellow visitors, watching them peer up to the rose windows, contemplate the bas reliefs, sit for a moment of prayer or reflection.
Perhaps the reason I wasn’t getting into Notre Dame was that it all seemed so — familiar. I knew this cathedral better than any in the world. I knew where to find the cool looking statues, the best spot to photograph light coming through the stained glass…. I needed to see something that I’d never seen before. So I joined the queue to exit the cathedral and headed a few blocks west to Sainte-Chapelle.
Despite all my visits to Paris, I’d never seen Sainte-Chapelle. Honestly, I didn’t know much about it except that it was famous for its stained glass — and having just left Notre Dame, one of the most famous places in the universe to experience magnificent stained glass, I wondered if I’d always skipped Sainte-Chapelle because I assumed it wouldn’t be as grand. But Susanne and her mom had visited the chapel last year, and she made a point of mentioning it before I left on this trip, so I figured I should make it a priority. Fortunately, it wasn’t more than a five-minute walk from Notre Dame.
Actually, it turns out the wait to get inside Sainte-Chapelle was longer than the walk itself. First, you had to queue through a metal detector and x-ray your bags. Then, you joined a second line to buy your ticket. Finally, you waited in another line for someone to take your ticket and let you inside. At first it seemed like totally unnecessary bureaucracy, but then again, the chapel was fairly small, so they needed to stagger people’s entrance into it, or you might end up like a gothic sardine tin.
Entering the chapel, I found myself in a small, gorgeous room with vaulted ceilings and dark blue walls. It felt more like a royal wine cellar than a chapel. A large group of Italian tourists crowded the second half of the room, so I had to wait for them to clear out before I could explore the space more comfortably. I was in the lower chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, which French king Louis IX built in the mid-13th century as his personal chapel. The room was indeed beautiful, but the cynic in me wondered what all the fuss was all about. Perhaps I’d find my answer upstairs in the Upper Chapel.

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle’s Upper Chapel

I walked up the winding staircase and found myself in one of the most sublimely beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen. The Upper Chapel was much taller than the lower one, its walls seemingly made entirely out of stained glass. My eyes must have been playing tricks on me: it truly looked like all the walls were made of stained glass. It took me a moment to adjust to the optical illusion and understand the brilliant architecture that was unfolding around me. At strategic points along the walls stood nine pillars that supported the weight of the roof. Apart from these pillars, the walls were almost entirely made of stained glass. The style of the glass, combined with the patterns of arches, added to the illusion that the glass was supporting the roof; glass dominated the foreground while the pillars sunk into the foreground, almost an afterthought.
The Italian tourists that had mobbed the Lower Chapel were occupying much of the Upper Chapel, but I wasn’t going to lose my patience. I’d wait them out so I could experience this place as best as possible. This was truly the pinnacle of gothic architecture, the holy grail of an engineering quest to make walls disappear and let heavenly light reign supreme. Photos would not do it justice, but I did my best to capture what I could.
After leaving Sainte-Chapelle, I returned to the Left Bank and followed the quay past Notre Dame to the Museum of the Arab World. It seemed like a good place to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, and perhaps they’d have an interesting touring exhibit. When I arrived, though, I discovered a queue of several hundred people winding down the block, and an enormous sign showing a golden pharaoh mask. Aha — the Egyptian Museum world tour must be in town. An even better reason to visit the museum, I thought, but I didn’t want to spend the next hour in the cold, waiting to get inside, only to have another hour or so before the museum closed. So I made a command decision to visit the museum first thing tomorrow morning.
Before I went any further, though, I needed to get some cash. The horrible exchange rate at the train station prevented me from changing over more than $30, and it had quickly dwindled down to almost nothing thanks to the pathetic value of the dollar. So I started walking south into the heart of the 5th arrondisement, hoping to find an ATM. Amazingly, I walked for nearly 45 minutes before I found one, which was quite agonizing as I passed all of these lovely little cafes that I wanted to visit – cafes that didn’t accept credit cards. By the time I found the ATM, it was nearly 5pm, and I was now just a stone’s throw from the Pantheon and the Sorbonne. Rather than backtracking to one of the cafes I’d seen during my walk, I stopped at a Belgian beer café, where I had a yummy glass of kriek beer and a bowl of peanuts while reading my guide book.
Just after six o’clock I returned to my hotel for a quick shower — my feet were really cold from the walk so the hot water did them a world of good. I then went and explored the Latin Quarter in search of dinner. My initial plan was to go to a Lebanese restaurant, but when I got to the one recommended in my book, it looked deserted, which I took as a bad sign. I then found a Moroccan restaurant that looked more promising; I sat down and waited for nearly 45 minutes, trying to get the attention of one of the four waiters who was spending their time trying to repair the restaurant’s stereo system rather than serve customers. Eventually I left, along with a couple other people frustrated with being ignored. In the end, I found myself at an Indian restaurant around the corner of my hotel. I come all the way to Paris — on my way to India, no less — and end up eating samosas and chicken masala. I must try harder tomorrow night.

February 25, 2005

The Sun Sets at the Prepcom

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 1:22 pm

It’s 7pm here in Geneva and civil society is wrapping up its final official meeting. We’ve been working on a press release summarizing the delegation’s thoughts on the Prepcom. There seems to be a general feeling that WSIS needs to get back to basics, focusing on what we can do to bridge the digital divide and create an information society for all people, no matter their situation.
So much of the WSIS process has focused on Internet governance, it’s easy to forget we’re talking about giving people access to tools so they can improve their families’ lives, their communities. The news about that mysterious World Bank report that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere isn’t making it any easier; by dismissing the idea that there’s a digital divide yet providing scant evidence as to why that’s the case just strikes me as so counterproductive. I mean, if African villages suddenly have Internet access, and rural women in India have achieved universal literacy, and people in Tunisia can now say whatever they want using whatever media they want, please tell me, so I can go home and be with my wife and cats rather than having to sleep in crummy hotels and wear a tie for so many days in a row. But the last time I checked, there is a gaping digital divide in this world, and no amount of mobile phones is going to make that go away any time soon.
As you might be able to tell from my tone, I’m tired and a little cranky, but bloggers are usually at their most honest when they’ve reached this state of mind. So be it. Fortunately, as I’ve been typing this, there has been a lot of laughter in the room, clapping, lots of smiles, hugs. Despite the fact we sometimes feel like we are so many sisyphuses (sisyphi?) all shoving that godforsaken boulder up the hill, I’m astounded by the boundless energy and hope within civil society. There is still a hell of a lot of work to be done, perhaps even more so because of this zelig-like World Bank report, but that’s okay. Tomorrow I go to Paris for a weekend of museums, cafe creme and the occasional burgundy, then to India; after that, somehow we’ll get it all done. -ac

Kuwait News Agency Covers Prepcom Privacy Statement

Filed under: Media & Politics,WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 7:28 am

The state-run Kuwait news agency has published an article documenting the civil society statement on privacy rights read at the WSIS Prepcom yesterday. Civil society reps decided to have Qusai Ibrahim Al Shatti of the Kuwait Information Technology Society read the statement in Arabic, which caught the attention of many of the governmental delegates in the plenary. The article quotes heavily from the statement, saying “Privacy is an essential human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights,” among other things. Chances are, the Kuwait news agency wouldn’t have covered this important speech if it hadn’t been read in Arabic by a Kuwaiti civil society delegate, so it seems the decision to present it this way was a good one indeed…. -andy

Criticism of Tunisia Not Welcome at the Prepcom

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 7:17 am

The Highway Africa News Agency (HANA) has just posted an article about how the WSIS secretariate is preventing a coalition of WSIS-accredited organizations from distributing a report highly critical of the Tunisian government. “The report details the imprisonment of individuals, the blocking of news and information websites, police surveillance of emails and Internet cafes, lack of pluralism and media censorship,” HANA reports.
Tunisia, of course, will host the WSIS summit next November, and its questionable record regarding free expression and human rights has led to much criticism. So a coalition of groups participating in the WSIS summit published a report documenting the Tunisian government’s record. But because the coalition in itself is not a WSIS-accredited organization, the WSIS secretariate will not allow them to distribute the report here at the WSIS Prepcom in Geneva. Fortunately, you can read the report online.

Text of Disability Caucus Statement

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 6:48 am

Here is the text of the disability caucus statement presented at the WSIS Prepcom today by Hiroshi Kawamura of the Daisy Consortium. -ac

Thank you Madam Chairperson,
People with disabilities are poorest among the poors in particular in developing countries. Affordable ICTs need to be accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities to guarantee full participation in the community as active partners. So far, ICTs in many cases created new man-made barriers for persons with disabilities in developing countries in terms of affordability, accessibility and usability. For example, a screen reading software for blind people prices US1,000 per license in addition to the standard computer equipment, an intelligent keyboard for persons with cognitive/intellectual disabilities costs more than US1,000 per unit even though assistive technology manufacturers are strongly encouraged to reduce the cost.
Promotion of low cost assistive technologies and accessibility standard development for mainstream ICTs are keys to realize the “digital opportunities” for persons with disabilities. Inclusive and universal access to ICTs requires development of assistive technologies and universal design as stipulated in the Geneva Declaration of Principles.
Therefore I would like to urge governments, international organizations and business sectors to promote existing accessibility standards, such as W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines for example, and to encourage development of accessibility standards for persons with disabilities. Effective financial mechanisms to promote accessibility standards of national as well as international level will include following 3 suggestions:


  1. Duty/Tax free requirements for the use of ICTs by persons with disabilities
  2. Requirements for application of government or international donor’s grant
  3. Requirements for procurement

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to ongoing recovery process of Tsunami Disasters and preparedness issues from disability view point. Tsunami killed more than 300,000 people including those who could not hear, could not see, could not evacuate, and who could not react to save their lives. Those survivors are still struggling against physical as well as mental injuries including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The rescue and recovery activities need to have a seamless transition to reconstruction stage with clear vision of safe and inclusive society to prevent another disasters to come. Early warning system should provide timely information in accessible format to everybody. Preparedness including knowledge, training and support for evacuation for persons with special needs need to be developed immediately. Inclusion of persons with disabilities in the disaster preparedness development is, in fact, the most effective and economical way to guarantee a safe community for everybody including foreign travelers. Because people with disabilities may act as role models of a person in extreme conditions such as Tsunami, earth quake, thunderstorm or blackout of the subway.
Based on this fact, I would like to propose a special financing mechanisms to be established for disaster recovery and preparedness development that is inclusive of persons with disabilities.
Thank you very much Madam Chairperson for your attention.

ITU Plugs Telecentres Caucus

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 6:14 am

It turns out the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has included a nice plug for the WSIS telecentres caucus in its latest Prepcom newsletter, including a quote from me. Here’s a snippet:

Telecentre Caucus Sees True Potential
A meeting of the Telecentres Caucus was held in order to further its work to articulate a vision regarding the role of telecentres, community technical centres, telecottages, and similar institutions, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The caucus currently has 200 members from more than 60 nations. Many of the participants represent local, national and regional telecentre initiatives, as well as public libraries and educational institutions. There are also numerous observers from government, the private sector and international agencies.
The Telecentres Caucus is promoting sustainable, multi-purpose telecentres that enable disenfranchised communities to bridge the digital divide and join the knowledge society. More than just providing Internet access, telecentres help people build new skills, gain access to important health information, become producers of local content and engage civically within their communities.
The caucus, chaired by Andy Carvin of the Digital Divide Network, said that [they hope] “that the second phase of the summit will help catalyze ongoing interactions between stakeholders in government, civil society and the private sector that see telecentres as an important tool for achieving the MDGs.” Telecentres are often under-resourced, with limited financial and human capacity, yet they have enormous development mandates within their communities. “We hope that the summit will enable an ongoing exchange of best practices, sustainability models, curricula and other resources that will allow telecentres achieve their true potential and help marginalized communities cross the digital divide.”

Always feels nice to be appreciated. :-) -andy

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