Au Bistro...

Nice Days With Francophonie,
Gutters, and Short Marathons

by Ric Erickson
Paris:- Friday, 15. March 1996:- Well, well, last week it was the winter dribbling away; this week it is... It looks like... It may be... quietly now - spring, with a small 's' creeping into place. Not certain of course - and it will be Winter as Usual at Easter - but still: hints, breezes, slanty sun - the first sunglasses glinting against the still grey southside in-shadow walls.

Although a lot of people are still off in the alps doing their skiing, on the avenue de Ternes near the marché there is a lot of activity, people bustling about with vigor brought on by vitamin Ds falling out of the sky. Well, sit here on the south side of the avenue in the sun and watch what is up close, because the other side of the street is almost black shadow.

I used to be around here all the time, before it got this lively when fnac took over the old Magazins Réunis, after Printemps failed to make a go of it. Before that, it was sort of a village, stuck between Etoile - Port Maillot and the 17th and there wasn't much happening, except the marché here. Now there is a Darty about a block from the fnac, and new shops are grouping - Prisunic across the street has been face-lifted too.

On the way here, down the pavement from St Lazare, I see the Ville de Paris has been busy - how do they know which week to do it in? - filling up nearly all of the sidewalk poster panels with ads and announcements - leaving a couple for YSL and Rodier - maybe it's supposed to be surprise for everybody coming back suntanned on Monday? 'Alo Henriette, Paris is exciting, is it not?'

Since these 'returners' are probably a bit bushed, the city is putting on a 'Semi-Marathon (jpg 30K).' I thought one either marathoned or didn't. If semi-marathon meant going only half-way to get full points I still wouldn't do it because that would probably mean at the very least - in these days of ever more wretched excess - ten kilometres. But no, the name is wrong. It should be 'Mini-Marathon' because it will be taking place from 10 to 11:00 on Sunday, 17. March, at the Stade Charlety. This could be even worse; if they are just to run around the stadium for an hour - there might be stands there full of relatives and friends to watch... you fail to finish.

I am starting to wonder about these people on the avenue de Ternes. Coming down on boulevard Haussmann, the sidewalk posters there were for cultural events, here it is 'Semi-Marathons' and a campaign - suggesting that you get down on your hands and knees in the gutter, to show your dog (jpg 28K) how and where to 'do' his business.

With drawings by Ronald Searle, the other one shows one of his slightly deranged cats being suspended over the gutter from a fishing pole, or is it a string tied to a golf club? One of the slogans goes, "The ecology, it's not just for the countryside." I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean - are there sidewalks and gutters in the countryside?

I suspect that Mr Searle lives in Paris; because if he did this cat hanging from a fishing pole in England, he'd be put away in the Tower for sure. In Paris, I'm not at all certain the campaign is going to work - because, as usual - his animals look slightly smarter than his humans - and if they don't want to do it in the street, there is probably a good reason. If you are a driver and you park at night and walk around your car to the sidewalk, you probably have a completely different outlook on this matter.

But before I got here, in this café on Ternes; back on the boulevard Haussmann, in the neighborhood of culture, the city was advertising, "Paris - au coeur de la Francophonie," (jpg 21K) with the subhead, "Journée de la Francophonie. Le 20. Mars, 1996." In slightly lighter dark blue, on a slightly darker dark blue background, are the names of cities around the world associated with French. There is Dakar, Montreal, New Orleans, and a whole host of others - all hard to read and impossible to photograph.

There are about 60 million French speakers in France and another 60 million scattered around the world - and Paris considers itself to be the heart of this community.

'Francophone Day' is an annual event, and there will be a little propaganda for it on next Tuesday night's TV news, but in a quick look through what I have here for documentation - the monthly program, the weekly program, today's newspapers - I can find no details about it. Trust me: World Francophone Day is next Tuesday.

And finally, our weekly SNCF item. Plural, because there are two. First the surprise news: the SNCF has been quietly laying fibre-optic cable alongside all its TGV routes; and it expects to be in the telecoms business, when the French market deregulates in a couple of years. For centuries, French taxpayers have been thinking that they haven't been getting much in return for the SNCF's vast deficits except reduced rural services - only to learn that the SNCF is going to be moving bits as well as passengers and freight.

Now the good news. If you travel to Le Defense via SNCF, from Versailles or St Lazare, I wish to announce that toilettes have been installed at the exit from the train platforms, including one for handicapped passengers.

Why is this good news? In all the years I have been going to La Defense, the only public toilette I have been able to find, is not in or near the big hall there - between SNCF, Métro and RER - but up and across the way, in the CNIT, near the office of the Poste. A RATP spokesman told me there are in fact public toilettes in the main hall - more news! - but they are upstairs - someplace - between the hall and the buses? Anyway, thank you SNCF.

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