Answer to Unasked Question

From: Elizabeth Jones, Tuesday, 7. May 1996, via Internet:

I just wanted to let you know how much I really enjoy your online magazine. I just got back from a 16 month stay in Paris and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. I miss Paris so much and was happy to see some familiar sights on your pages. I love the photos and wish there were even more of them. Only problem is that sometimes the text of the cartoons transfers a little too small to read.

That aside, keep up the great work. I really look forward to next week.

Paris:- Friday, 10. May 1996:- Okay, Elizabeth, here is next week's issue: I routinely verify all letters we receive, but this time I think the web browser's mailer has deranged your email address, and the attempted verification bounced, twice.

Other reasons for writing back to readers is to say 'Thanks for reading Metropole,' and to ask if there is any specific question we might be able to answer about Paris. In this case, as I was unable to contact you, I have no question to answer. But I do have one little item that otherwise wouldn't fit in anywhere else handy that I'll just toss in here - in the hope that you will write again, with a solid email return address.

Last Monday, 6. May, I was on the Champs-Elysées with the purpose of asking a question at the reception of the Paris Tourist Office. After I had finished I was about to drop into the métro at Etoile, when I saw one of the sidewalk cleaners, with its back-end opened up and the back-end of the operator sticking out.

It is not everyday that one gets the chance to look at the inside of sidewalk cleaner, so I poked my nose in there too. This action startled the young-lady operator and when she recovered she told me that she was removing part of a plastic shopping bag from the intake gizmo. They were constantly getting clogged with them, she said.

These motorized sidewalk cleaners are really just large vacuum cleaners, with a driver's cabin for all-weather work, and a four-cylinder gas motor.

The operator said that the city had three of them in operation on the north side of the avenue and one unit cleaning the south, or shady side. All four of them work full-time all year around.

As Monday was sunny, a look down the south side of the avenue towards Concorde showed the sidewalk to be full - there was an army of strollers - tens of thousands - enjoying the usual sights, sounds and smells of early May, with the decor of flags already in place for Wednesday's VE Day ceremonies. When walking around this avenue, there does not appear to be much litter - and these sidewalk cleaners may be the answer.

Street Sweeper (13 K) I got permission to take a photo and backed off to get it framed. A stroller stopped to ask the cleaner operator directions to something or other, kind of spoiling the shot I intended to get of the interior machinery of the device for all of our techno fans - and I remembered that I have often seen people seeking directions from the cleaner operators, rather than asking the police, who are usually in groups of three or more.

Since I have often asked the police directions, I assure readers that there is no reason not to - they are not usually very busy - but the cleaner operators are flattered to be asked too, even if it slows down their job a bit.

Of course, if it became widely known that the sidewalk cleaners know where places and things are, the city may as well outfit their machines with brochure holders and maybe softdrink dispensers as well.

No doubt there are hardcore visitors who find these machines a visual nuisance, always getting in the way of the once-in-a-lifetime photo they're trying to get - but really, they are part of the decor.


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