Musing About Spring and Concorde

photo: cafe du place bourg tibourg

Ah spring! Terrassians in the Place Bourg-Tibourg

I Should Leave Well Enough Alone

Paris:- Friday, 12. March 1999:- Last Monday, as a sign-off to the Metropole Café column, I wrote, "The weather right now, at 10:40 CET in Paris: crummy." Since yesterday morning, 'crummy' has creased to be the case.

Two days do not a spring make. Although the Paris climate is generally mild, I can say there is a 90 percent chance that there will be snow during Easter. This isn't a long-range forecast; this is a memory of 22-odd past Easters, the last four or five of which I have spent climbing around Montmartre looking at a lot of Italians and Germans wearing gloves and down-filled jackets.

But memory also says that February often favors us, in this non-Mediterranean city, with a preview of spring - and you can see evidence of this in past issues of this magazine. This year I think we got shorted on February's 'false' spring.

All the photos with this little piece were taken yesterday and today except for the Versailles photo, which was taken a couple of weeks ago at the end of February. It was shot on our very short 'false' spring, which lasted that one day. The week before in Versailles, there had been a blizzard.

During the week I got a little job to do which fitted in with the medium-sized so-called job I do of doing this magazine. For it, I wanted Paris' usual weather; high overcast with minimal shadows, and this I pretty much got on Wednesday.

However, it was brighter than I thought because the shadows were deep; but there wasn't quite enough light for all the rest. When yesterday dawnedphoto: mosiac, sandwich man bright and clear, I though there would be too much contrast - but I had to go ahead with the shoot anyway because of the job's deadline.

When the weather is pleasant, outside work is good to do after what seems like a long winter - keeping in mind winters in Paris are not generally severe, and are not nearly as gloomy as some places I've lived.

So I was outside a good part of Wednesday, yesterday and today. All this fresh, downtown Paris air, has made me sleepy - yawn - either that or I have been half-gassed to death.

A lot of time was spent in the middle of the Place de la Concorde. It is a very big place with a lot of stone and an island in the centre around which swirl about 80,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles during a day.

I'm not sure the correct figure is 80,000, but it is a number I have and it may apply to Concorde. Because of what I was doing I did not notice the traffic much, except when trying to leave the island in the centre of the place.

Concorde is like a quarter-mile asphalt-paved oval speedway and traffic coming around it can be five or six cars wide. There are not many crosswalks and you have to wait a long time for the green man. When he finally lights up, you still have to keep an eye open to the right to make sure there isn't a scooter of motorcycle coming between the cars, buses and trucks - one that might overlook the green man.

Paris' Mayor Jean Tiberi thinks the Place de la Concorde should be made into a pedestrian area. Even after I have said what I have about the traffic, I don't understand why Concorde should have reduced traffic.

The obelisk is on the centre island, flanked by two fountains. Other than these three items, there is nothing else in the Place de la Concorde except a lot of area and a great deal of headroom.

With the Tuileries on the east, the two big hôtels on the north, the beginning of the garden of the Champs-Elysées on thephoto: gates, versailles west and the bridge across the Seine along the south side, there is no particular raison-d'étre to the place.

The President of the République has no ceremonial balcony on the face of either the Hôtel Crillon or its mirror copy of the Hôtel de la Marine, from which to address massed throngs of happy citizens. The Pope has never appeared here in my memory either. Public executions are no longer carried out at Concorde, except for hapless pedestrians mowed down by inattentive racing drivers.

After you have had a really good look at the two fountains - they are not exactly identical; and you have read all there is to read on the obelisk, there isn't anything else to do at Concorde except to try and get out of it.

Le Parisien's version of Mayor Tiberi's vision (see photo on 'Bistro' page) shows Concorde without traffic and with island areas of grass. Without the roads for traffic there is much more room for stone paving.

But that's it. There's no trees shown, there's no tower with a glockenspiel to watch at 11:00 and there's no wine garden to sit in after watching the glockenspiel go through its routine. What are people supposed to do in the new, carless, Place de la Concorde? Stare at the sky?

I have not yet read Le Parisien's story about the plans for Concorde; see the 'Bistro' column in this issue for details if there are any.

Look at the other photos on this page. Distance and perspective play with vision in an unique way around the arcades along the Rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries gardens. Just east of the Hôtel de Ville, there is a little square full of cafés and somebody has taken the trouble to plasterphoto: rivoli, bike lane, traffic a wall with a real mosaic of Italian tiles. In the Versailles photo, the only people who may stare a lot at the sky are the year-round postcard merchants.

Imagine then, Concorde without cars. Will neighborhood residents be permitted to picnic on the planned islands of grass?

There are no 'neighborhood' residents. I must have been gassed by the air and made goofy by the sky of Concorde. It must be spring in Paris. I should have a siesta.

My calendar says I have a period free for one next Tuesday - the day Max will be home because his school's teachers will be on strike. It is good to know he goes to a school where the teachers know it is spring.

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