American Poet and Unofficial NASA Poet Laureate, James Ph. Kotsybar, with Jean-Patrick Chaminade, President of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (EASA).
As I look back on my experience, the best part about my week in Occitanie, was being introduced to hundreds of scientists and scholars as an American poet and not hearing, “So, what do you do for a living?” from any of them.
LOOSE IN TOULOUSE
Explaining what happened to me this Summer is no simple “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay. It is more an adventure saga in which the protagonist is transformed through discovery, reaffirms significance and finds new purpose. There is even an Odyssean return home, through TSA security, flight cancellations, missed connections and final night sleeping accommodation in an airport food court.
My first trip highlight was being asked by customs officials the reason for my visit to France. I proudly elaborated how I was invited to read my science poetry to a distinguished gathering of international scientists, thanks in part to NASA making me the first poet published to another world. Both on duty customs agents smiled approvingly at my tale and waived me through, wishing me, “bon chance!”
Checking into my hotel, I discovered that France had just beaten Belgium preliminarily to their winning the FIFA World Cup (this became important the next day).
My room came with its own small kitchen.
On my first full day in France, I set out to orient myself, find the venue at which I was to speak and practice my six-hour crash course in French with the locals, as necessary. The first gentleman I encountered, reacted quite strongly to the envelope I was carrying, which contained my manuscript of Bard Of Mars, and a few other writing samples. Though he could not have known what was in the envelope, he became highly amused, and I began to feel like a poetic missionary holding an epistle. My attempt at conversation left him roaring with laughter as he proceeded past and away from me.
Not finding the tram station, I asked directions at a pastry shop. The two young women working behind the counter, both graciously walked me outside to point the way clearly for me. Following their instructions I did indeed find a tram platform — one that had been abandoned for perhaps a decade. I realized I had not told them I wished to take a tram — only to find a station, of which this was the closest one.
Eventually, I came to a truck of city workers just about to take lunch, deciding they must surely know the area. The youngest of the three asked if I was following France. Inspiration struck. I put my thumb down in a disapproving gesture and said “Belgium!” with the contempt of a Frenchman. Immediately all three roared approval, repacked their lunches and offered me a seat in the front while one jumped in the back so they could all drive me to the appropriate (in service) tram. They were all so pleased that a foreigner had acknowledged their winning team!
Finally, I was able to wend my way to my host, Jean-Patrick Chaminade, who had just finished speaking, and was still answering audience questions. He greeted me with the traditional French double-cheek-brush (or “faire la bise”) and began introducing me to some of the other dignitaries, still in attendance and awaiting their moment of conference with the speaker.
It was then that I realized I had just been introduced on the world stage as an American poet and received the same degree of respect as would accompany achievement in any valid field of endeavor. As I look back on my experience, the best part about my week in Occitanie, was being introduced to hundreds of scientists and scholars as an American poet and not hearing, “So, what do you do for a living?” from any of them.
(… more to follow)