The Big Social Experiment

photo: cafe le cervoisier

The café Le Cervoisier on the Boulevard de la Villette.

Stabs At Big Photos

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 31. January 2000:- The city has not gotten over its winter 'grey.' While I was, and you were, away from the window, Paris had a cold snap and it was pretty chilly outside for a few days last week.

Temperatures have jumped from minus to plus in the last couple of days, and last night the TV-weather lady was even saying conditions are 'nearly springlike' - in southern France.

Wherever it is, it is welcome and I hope it is a long-term trend. If Paris is lucky, it will get a high and some clear weather in mid-February, which will light up the whole city and fill up the outside terraces.

These have not been empty, even in the coldest weather. Most open terraces have some form of heat. I have been amazed to see people sitting outside and huddling over cafés in near-zero temperatures. I imagine they have built-in solar systems or are penguins on holiday.

In general, Paris is quiet and the only activity consists of trying to catch-up on the winter sales, which are two weeks old and have another four weeks to go.

In particular, Paris is experiencing a frenzy of labor turmoil plus about a half-dozen of other assortedphoto: bouquinistes, pont neuf turmoils. Tomorrow, the 35-hour work week law goes into effect and this is the day that has been chosen for a semi-general public transport strike - in Paris and throughout France.

Bouquinistes and Pont-Neuf, in winter light.

The long-distance truckers started their blockades last night and this morning's radio-news said they had barricades set up all over the place. Their 'action' has been initially planned to last 48 hours; but, who knows?

The 35-hour work week law is a major piece of social legislation. It will be a lot easier to grasp when it has become history. Right now it is terribly confusing. It is going to change when and how people work in fundamental ways, so it is going to be bumpy for a while.

Getting details of it in daily installments is like the trees in front of your face hiding the forest behind. It has upset a lot of people, becausephoto: auxerrois it makes the future unclear. No one can tell at this point whether it will be an improvement on the past and present.

But the big ship of it has been given its name; its had the ritual Champagne bottle crashed against its side, and it is sliding down the rails towards the water.

There doesn't seem to be much question about whether it will float - but will it be a good sailor? Will it list, will it wallow?

The romanesque belfry tower of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois church.

Most likely it will do both until it gets trimmed and gets its engines synchronized. If France's new nuclear aircraft carrier is an example, getting the new law up to stable cruising speed is going to take a lot of fiddling over a fair amount of time.

While this is going on, Paris and France will appear to be normal to outside eyes. Strikes, demonstrations and protests look pretty much the same if you aren't directly involved in them. Since these are a fairly common part of French life, more of them won't seem too strange.

While residents in France will get throughphoto: hotel du nord this 'experimental time' as best we can, you may be inconvenienced. Like residents, if you know France a bit, some random inconvenience should come as no surprise.

One thing is certain, once a ship slides down the ways, it doesn't go back up them. Like a trip to the dentist, it's only over when it's over.

As pretty as a post-card, the movie-famous Hotel du Nord.

So then, if you are standing outside your hotel with your bags and are wondering how long it will take to walk to the airport, just try to remember that you have been visiting a grand social experiment.

You may have been witnessing the beginning of a social change that will eventually reach your hometown. If you do not care for being involved in 'history' and all of this is merely annoying, please remember that not all of us like it either.

We will just live through it because it is happening wher we live.


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