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Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Impressions

Paris, People, Travel

I’ve only recently returned from nine days in France - almost exclusively Paris - and would like to share some impressions.  Mind you these are subjective impressions.  They are filtered through my own eyes and my own lifetime of travel - here and abroad.

Paris is a metropolis consisting of roughly 2.3 million inhabitants occupying 20 arrondissements (administrative districts).  I’ve always said that Jill and I chose to live in Tosa’s Fabulous 4th District.  This trip to Paris we chose to stay in the Fabulous 5th - on the left bank. 

Did you know that Tosa has a left and a right bank?  Someone should capitalize upon that trendy notion.

Impressions

For a city known for an easy-going, devil-may-care attitude there sure seems to be a heightened sense of threat.  Police are ubiquitous.  There are police on foot patrol, on scooters, in cars and traveling in caravans by the van-full.  In the airports and rail stations there are more of the same with dogs and their handlers giving everything a suspicious sniff.  In the airports, rails stations and important buildings and monuments there is all of the foregoing plus the military.  Camouflaged threesomes of grim-faced troopers move about in slow cadence with FAMAS bullpup submachine guns held at the ready.  And there are cameras everywhere.  Surveillance not tourist.  Here’s some free travel advice from someone who knows.  DO NOT take photographs in the rail station.  Notwithstanding all of this security there’s plenty of revelry and ruckus to go around at bar time.

Everything is old and all jammed-together, the streets follow old Roman and medieval roads and the numbering system still makes no sense to me.  Avenues are narrow and sidewalks narrower still.  Pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way at uncontrolled intersections but do so at their own peril.

Bistros and cafés have a bathroom - typically below street level - at the bottom of a winding or spiral staircase. The city has been under construction since the first century - so much for access by the physically handicapped.  

Hardly anybody picks-up their dog poop.  Many of those that do pick it up toss the bag in the gutter.  Thankfully most everyone has tiny little dogs - the kind that you might carry in your satchel.  If all of Paris raised Labrador retrievers navigating the sidewalks would be grim.  Nevertheless, poop is poop.  If you visit - watch where you step.

Speaking of excretory subjects many of the public green spaces can be associated with a whiff of urine.  And it’s not the dogs as dogs are not allowed.    

There are homeless people in Paris.  It may take the casual observer a day or two to discern the legitimate from the entrepreneur.  For sure some are raggedy-enough to pass for homeless but the portly grandmothers staked-out on the steps of churches and cathedrals and the families that trot-out the children and infants after dark to beg look too much like the teenagers and young adults that try to pick your pockets among the crowded Quais de Seine.  I call scam.  Better - organized larceny. 

It seems like everyone smokes like fiends.  There’s no smoking indoors but everyone makes up for this out of doors.  It’s hard to hide from it.  And French cigars are awful.  Take this from a recovering cigar smoker - they’re about as bad as the dog poop.

Geeze Gas – sounds like a real bummer of a trip.  Sorry to hear you wasted all of your hard-earned brass on such a low-life place.  Serves you right.

Valid point.  So let’s talk about the other side of the Euro.

Women in France wear skirts and dresses.  Sure, women in France wear jeans – on the contrary skirts are more populair.  Women ride bicycles in their skirts.  And they look pretty good - even with a cigarette.  Women and men wear scarves. 

Get-up early in the morning and you will see runners.  Runners and joggers everywhere.  Trotting out their kilometers before work and before the congestion begins.   Artfully dodging the doggie landmines on the sidewalk.

You can walk into just about any Bistro or Café with seating for less than thirty and you stand a good chance of finding some guy from Senegal laboring in a kitchen the size of most American bathrooms.  And he’ll be conjuring-up some of the most incredible fare possible.  Pastas, quiches, steaks, smoked meats, salmon, braise, burgers, fries - you name it.  With the singular exception of one mediocre quiche the food on this trip was awesome.  If you tire of French cuisine you can pick from Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Caribbean, and African, British, Russian, German and more.  Often on the same street.

On Sunday there is a huge farm market - with fresh bakery, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, and dairy and craft goods. 

Urban explorers will also quickly discover that most of the small groceries, bodegas, convenience stores (whatever you care to call them) offer an opportunity at the end of a long day of hiking to fetch some fresh goat cheese, crackers and a bottle of Côte du Rhône for less than 10. 

Walk around and take it in.  Everyone has a smart phone.  And everyone is running, walking or charging about with a smart phone pressed to their ear or texting while at the café or riding the Metro.  There the self-talkers – those with Blue Tooth.  And there are the other self-talkers (see genuine homeless above).

I observed disabled people with guides accompanying them.  Blind and Down syndrome individuals accompanied by able-bodied guardians to guide them thru the Metro or the crowded sidewalks.

You will see gay people, brown people, and straight people, white people, and black people, rough-looking tattooed young men with shaved heads and people with purple or green hair.

The public transportation network reigns supreme.  Big cites run on efficient and affordable public transit.  Walking and biking are huge.  Scooters and other two-wheeled motorized transit are next most popular.  Automobiles are for cabbies or the insane.

Let’s suppose you were to travel by train to another city.  On your trip from the crowded metropolis you’ll note that many people have backyard gardens.  Towns and villages have community gardens.  The gardens are already planted and yielding produce.  Where you see woodpiles you might surmise that those families heat with wood.  Backyard barbeques identify those who like to grill.  Play sets and tree houses signify children.  Cars on cinderblocks and piles of junk identify the hoarders

If you have an opportunity to visit another country seize it.  And if you have a chance to visit the City of Lights I recommend it.  There’s not a great deal of difference between people in France - or at least the parts of France I’ve traveled and people here.  The more we outwardly appear different the more we are alike.
 

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