Chaos Surprises Parisians

photo: cafe de la paix, opera

On view from the terrace of the Café de la Paix:
the renovation of the facade of the Opéra.

And Possibly Everybody Else Too

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 7. June 1999:- Last week was another one of those typical Parisian periods when tragedy turned to farce, everything got turned upsidedown, a lot of people got out-of-joint and the weather was nothing to write home about.

Some of the stories of these events have been mentioned in the week's 'Au Bistro' column. If you read this first - late news is that the métro, buses and lines 'A' and 'B' of the RER will be halted today at 13:30, until 16:30, to allow RATP personnel to attend the funeral of their deceased colleague - but most likely this will be over by the time you see this.

Parisians can and do put up with just about anything, but when public transport stops it affects just about everybody. Last Wednesday's and Thursday's city transport shutdown turned a 'moveable feast' of a town into a shambles.

Just imagine everybody underground being on the surface and fightingphoto: rain on strike wednesday for sidewalk space with visitors - who have little idea of what's going on; thinking maybe 'it's normal' - and standing in very long lines waiting for one of the city's 15,000 taxis.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, we walked - sometimes in the rain.

Imagine arriving at Gare Saint-Lazare, in order to catch a train leaving from the Gare de Lyon five kilometres away - as the bird flies. As if birds could fly with suitcases.

The SNCF's personnel were not on strike so the RER trains operated by national railway crews were running fairly normally - line 'B' to the airport at Roissy was shut down, but the line 'C' to Orly was operating - and the suburban train lines poured almost their usual number of commuters into the city.

However, some of these realized they would have to cross Paris on arrival, so they tried to come in with their cars; and as the traffic-lady on Radio FIP said, "Ooh-la-la!"

Where I live, my local SNCF station master did not know if the ticket controllers were on duty, so I had to buy the more expensive fare to get to Saint-Lazare in the city on Wednesday.

On account of the extra number of passengers, the SNCF cut the length of the train in half - possibly thinking running more half-length trains was better than running the regular numbers of full-length trains.

Once in Paris, I wanted to verify all the fares for the different Paris tickets and combo-passes, but all the RATP info booths and ticket windows were shut. This issue contains a feature about a 'Paris One Day Tour,' and I think the ticket prices are correct, but am not certain. If some are higher, then not by much.

It does make a difference to sidewalk traffic when the métro is shut down. Around Saint-Lazare there seemed to be extra chaos because some of the traffic signal lights were not operating. I write 'seem to be' because pedestrians were not waiting for the 'green man' just as cars were not clearing intersections on time - thus throngs of people were intermingling with throngs of hot cars.

Intermittent rain, as it has all week, added to the fun. Odd - when the sun is shining nobody seems to have an umbrella but when the first drops of rain start to fall, suddenly almost everybody has one.

After it was over, on Friday, I went to east Paris to look at what might become the future editorial office. It was a gloomy day, not particularly suited for photographs. Wednesday's events andphoto: theatre edward 7 Friday's gloom accounts for some photos in this issue being from archives - so the sunny Batbus and the Longchamp photos were not shot during the week - making this one of the few issues to use 'stock' photos.

The whole area behind the Olympia has been renovated - here is the Théâtre Edward VII.
Continued on page 2...
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