Today's World People Street

View down the avenue towards Concorde
On a clear day you can see... a long way.

Strolling Down the Champs-Elysées

Paris:- Friday, 30. May 1997:- I look out the window and that's the end of the plans and notes; forget the gardens, parks, the 'interesting' quartiers; no 'history' to do today either. There is one day a year that requires a simple stroll on the avenue des Champs-Elysées, and today is that day.

Radio says it is going to be in the mid-twenties this afternoon, so today qualifies as summer, three weeks early. The park is tempting though... oh no, forget it. All I have to do is rise from the depths of the underground at Etoile - and my story is spread out in front of me - and this is exactly what I do and this is what it is.

From the métro at Etoile, if you can find the one that comes out on the Champs-Elysées, the last bit is a long escalator ride from way down, all the way up to the sky - because that is what I see - everybody sees - first.

Blazing light, increasing in intensity; and only near the top do I see the green sprays of leaves, and then the top of the Arc de Triomphe,The sitters & strollers with all the little people up there. I suppose it's been done before with a cinemascope camera - the escalator is like a 45 degree upward tunnel all the way up, and near the top the sounds starts.

Cafés with terraces have terrace annexes.

And suddenly at the top, it all widens out and up, this widely huge Etoile space and all the clean sky over the Arc. It is a tremendous effect. It requires no special equipment and no torn-in-half cinema ticket.

And today is so bright too. Much clearer than a movie. There's too much to see. 'Pan' my head, from the stone wall on the right to the left across the Arc and its swirling traffic, and step off the steel moving stair into the sidewalk, and slowly 'pan' the whole scene. This can only be 180 degrees, but it is enough - especially with the downward slope which curves up, that shows so much, even without switching to the telephoto lens.

There are 'extras' everywhere. Without scripts, they are either static or they are moving, but not together, not orchestrated; they're in their own movies - the stars of them. Their role today: to act as if they are on the avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris. For about a 100 thousand people, it looks like this dream part has come true.

Unlike 'extras,' nobody has to stand around and wait for the next call, except those who are waiting to use telephones. This is a free-time zone.

I am not going to hurry today. There's no need. It doesn't look like anybody else is in a hurry either - no darting men in their gun-metal grey flannel suits; no serious ladies with over-wide shoulders; not even many people holding their ears in that way that has become a body-characteristic of the mobile phone users. They said, "Going out to lunch," and turned their beepers off before they hit the sidewalk. Out of reach of the global network, because it's a Champs-Elysées day.

Although I don't hurry I can't stop the head-swivel; it's gotten to be a habit. Sweep left, back to right, zoom ahead, glance up; take in the movie titles, the scaffolding - not much - check the green of the trees, figure out the light under them - not much blue, warmer than usual - but really attractive, the the toilets dappled warm shadows on the pavement. A bit of bright, almost glare, then more dapples - like ripples of light and shade.

Glass tiles in sidewalk provide lots of light for underground toilet at Etoile.

I can tell visitors are nervous; not everybody is a Champs or 5th Avenue veteran - playing dodge'em unconsciously, looping from between the shop fronts and the first line of trees to between the two lines of trees, and hitting the uneven radial grates that surround each tree's trunk where it comes out of the stone sidewalk.

The people on the street are like a kaleidoscope. There are clots of them, and then spaces in between, and then another cluster, the way cars bunch up at traffic lights. Every once in a while you have to watch for traffic - cars, trucks, motorcycles; you think it's crossing your sidewalk, but there are actually real streets going off the Champs and cars either come out of them or try to enter them. I realize I don't even watch these; I feel them: pause, loop or stop, as necessary and am surprised to occasionally see the red man or the green one. They are sort of afterthoughts, late reminders of a street being crossed.

All these dazed people - visitors mostly and they have every right - drivers know it somehow too and none of them are too aggressive while trying to get through. Some bozo on the Champs itself might honk a horn, temporarily forgetting 50 nationalities are crossing some insignificant side-street.

Since the Champs was 'cleaned-up' some years ago, the cafés and restaurants have terraces which stick out a standard distance. In order to make up for 'lost' terrace territory, a good number have been allowed to have satellite terraces directly in front of their establishments; but always leaving a standard-width path between the home office and the subsidiary.

The 'inside' road, parallel to the main street, has been suppressed, so the sidewalk is really wide - and this allows for the looping path you can follow as you walk. The effect of this is a changing view, as I've said above, from between the shops and the trees and the two lines of trees, and, if necessary - you can even walk down the curbstone as it is about wide enough for two to pass comfortably.

For visitors, this is bewildering and they tend to walk straight ahead; concentrating in not walking into oncoming pedestrians. When you get into it, you do the loops, the wide swings; you've got the time to pan the head, swivel the eyes - even stop, turn and look back - because backwards is a valid angle too. Where you were isn't like it was when you were there anymore.

People are sitting on benches, doing nothing, smoking cigarettes - the stress! - or eating sandwiches. These are no obstacle.

The girls running the Ville de Paris green sidewalk cleaning machines, looking like vertical lawn-mowers, are concentrating on what they're doing. They are looping around the trees and the benches and the terraces and these cleaners are no obstacle either.

The one I pass has just looped the steel grate at the bottom of a tree and there is a bench beyond so she can't complete the loop, and she looks like she's thinking of going back and doing it again to make sure, but it looks fine to me.

Around George Cinq I realize that I've forgotten all about the traffic and the other side of the avenue may as well be in Kansas, it is so far out of my consciousness.

A guy with a big black autofocus autopilot camera seems to be taking a photo of the 'Planet Hollywood' sign, or he decides not to. I glance toward it as I pass and it looks like confusing gloom in there and for a nanosecond I wonder - snap - 'confusing gloom' is as far as I get with it. I look in no shop windows at all; just see bits and pieces by panning: 'Rama'-something on a film palace.

Another fellow, dressed up for downtown Africa, is standing stock-still; as an unmoving being he catches my attention and I half-think of wheeling 180 degrees to photo him and what he's looking at, ask him how he's doing light & shade on chemps today, but scratch it immediately because he's just looking at the Champs-Elysées, although somewhere above the horizon. Maybe looking at a dentist's office, if there are dentists here.

Light and shade, about half-and-half; easy on the eyes.

It is very summery and everybody is dressed for it; and the gaudy days are over and nobody stands out because of what they're wearing. I find it easier to look at whole people or just faces or hands, without the distraction of bright colors or patterns.

I can ignore the shoes with little tree trunks for heels; they're way down there. A lot of people are wearing plain sneakers - not jogger, running, or basketball shoes; and I don't think I see youths wearing those really baggy pants, common a few year ago. Baseball caps are as ordinary as 'one-size-fits-all-heads.' I wonder if chewing tobacco will become popular again.

Hearing people talking, just snatches, is like walking through a crowded United Nations cocktail party. Mid-western American voices do not stand out; either there's none around or the pitch has been turned down. Just sort of murmur murmur with a phrase in German or Spanish and then back to murmur.

The wind is light, it is going to get warm today. The light and shadow dapples continue. I'm at métro Franklin D. and down the stairs I go, past the newsstand, past the ticket barrier and through the tunnels, away from the Champs-Elysées - today's street of the world's people in Paris.


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