The End of 'Humbug'

photo: cafe le thiers
A local café - a one-stop leisure and necessities centre.

Life After This Column

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 7. December 1998:- Although a 'humbug' person to the roots, I am finding that this Christmas season is taking a hold on me. More than, say, Halloween or National Teewit Day.

Doing the 'Christmas Program' in each issue is a pain and a trial, probably because it started in November right after National Teewit Day. But now in December, sources are pouring in floods of information and slickly-printed brochures to my 'in' box, and I am having trouble sorting out what should be going onto that page, and before long I will be sticking New Years' items there too.

What is happening, is that Christmas items are overflowing into the 'Scene' column and even into this 'Café' column - which is supposed to be reserved for musings and expressions of 'thought.' Like the ones I might have if I were spending some time on a comfortable café terrace in front of an inspiring view.

Reality is - I only imagine I am sitting on one of these terraces, whiling away a relaxed afternoon or early evening. Let's see; there are a couple of hundred or half a thousand superior terraces in Paris, out of a total of several thousand in all.

If I ever got the time to sit on one long enough to 'muse' or have two consecutive 'thoughts,' I'd never get the time to write this. This morning I 'wrote' this column in my head; and I was really flying with some good 'thoughts' for it.

However, I was doing this while getting breakfast for myself, sorting out two boys and their school bags, and coats, and gloves and looking for their caps, as well as remembering to pick up the car's keys.

A flying drop put one at one school and then we drove through the village and up a complicated two-laner hill to another village, past parked cars and runaway buses, into a pedestrian lane. With a reverso parking manoeuvre, we got set to wait for the other carpool kids and their bigger bags.

All in, we then flashed along a sometimes two-laner, across the ridge, downphoto: xmas trees, st germain a very steep one-and-a-half lane hill; dodged past the road construction units, through the village again and up to the winding and climbing forest road and across the hump of a higher ridge to a third village.

Scrooge says, give a tree near you a warm living room.

This school's parking lot is pot-holed and public, so there are large buses and huge dumptrucks in it, along with about 50 van-lady drivers, all trying to dump their loads of kids at the same time. My kids bail out and I get out of there against the late incoming vans, and roll up and over the hump to the first village, where I stop to buy the papers.

After putting the car away - reminding myself again that I must get the speedo fixed one of these days - after collecting the kid's clothes for the laundry, and pouring a cup of café, I start writing this.

Without one of the original 'thoughts' left.

My terrace is right outside my kitchen window, but it has no tables and chairs and is not heated like many in Paris, and it has no service. Finally, it does not have a 'superior' view of any kind - although it does have more view in winter than in summer, due to leafless trees.

So I imagine I am on a favorite café terrace and I imagine I am 'musing' and having 'thoughts' - but it does not work really well. So I write this column like this one.

Shop - Supermarket - Hypermarché!

Linda Thalman is enthusiastic. Last week she went to a 'hypermarché' - the name for a jumbo supermarket in France - and liked the experience so much, that she sat down and wrote about it at 23:00 the same night; and sent the story to me.

I don't like hypermarchés. They are far too big, too impersonal and just plain too much. Thephoto: utrillo, pto window reason for having Linda's account of a visit to one is in this issue is simple: she enjoyed the hypermarché and she wants you to know about them.

The Paris Tourist Office is currently boosting Utrillo.

Her story got slated for this week's issue before I ended up at an open-air marché myself at the end of the week. I didn't know what I was going to write about until I sat down and wrote it. The two types of shopping in France are as opposite as it is possible to get.

While shopping in warehouses is not particularly novel, the biggest difference of an open-air marché is the attitude of the people who work them.

Imagine today, when the government is trying to set a 35-hour work week as a national norm - there are people who get up in the middle of the night, who put up their shops and take them down again, and do it outside in all weathers and on Sundays too.

On top of it, there are customers enough for this to continue to exist. They still have the time for it. This is not only in France of course; but perhaps here is one of the countries where there are also hypermarchés.

A final word: a hypermarché is not a shopping mall. Some of hem may be located within a mall, but a hypermarché is really a 'general store,' ballooned up all out of proportion. Unlike a general store, no hypermarché has anybody to get anything off a shelf for you.


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