I was feeling rather lonely for Paris today, so I called up Google Earth, typed in "Paris, France", put in the address of our apartment there [17, rue Maitre Albert] and up came a lovely clear picture of the front door of our copropriete, or condominium. A little clicking and dragging, and I was looking into the restaurant across the street. I then discovered that by rolling the wheel on my mouse, I could proceed down our street to quai de la tournelle. I was seeing a succession of pictures taken by the little Google cars that cruise the streets of the world, snapping photos of every building and intersection. I called Susie in to see, and the two of us followed along the route that she takes each Sunday on her Segway, along the quais past the Institut du Monde Arabe and a branch of the Universite de Paris, to the Jardin des Plantes. I then reversed course, followed the quais back, stopped to look at the front of one of our favorite restaurants, La Rotisserie du Beaujolais, and ended where we had started, at our front door.
Now, I think I understand exactly how Google manages this, but nevertheless it is simply miraculous. Sitting at my desk in Chapel Hill, I was there, in our quartier of Paris. The pictures were wonderfully clear and sharp. Indeed, while looking at our street, I saw a little local man who walks the quartier in a beret and has taken to greeting me with a handshake when we pass one another [which really makes me feel as though I genuinely live there.] I am sure that my grandchildren, as they grow up, will take all of this for granted, and find it hard to imagine a time when one could not instantly see any place on earth. Indeed, by the time they are in high school, they may be able to put on a pair of glasses and see the world as they walk along the street near their home. But for me, it is a neverending miracle.