Tourist Traps' that Aren't

photo: cafe, rue abbesses

On Montmartre near Abbesses, 'untrapped' residents
and visitors.

Are the French 'Normal?'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 21. August 2000:- Last week's overly optimistic outlook for August weather has turned out to be about what most forecasts are worth - worthless. Bright weather happened on Wednesday morning and it was pure chance that I snapped it up.

For this reason, most of the photos in this issue seem to have been shot in summery Paris; but the fact of it is this 'summer' only included Wednesday up to about 16:00.

Since then, things have been worse than usual, with exceptional amounts of rain, off and on, all the time. On Sunday, a visitor in the Tuileries garden was struck by lightning and killed.

The chance of this happening to you in Paris is probably about the same as it is where you live; and I only mention it here to underline how weird the weather has been.

The forecast for this week calls for clearing skies on or after Wednesday, with temperatures rising to 'normal' by the coming weekend - which is rated 2/5 for probability.

'Tourist Hell' Explored In This Issue

For a long time, before I visited a place or went to an event, it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people there before me. I have had a lot of surprises.

Finally I got used to the idea that a lot of different people could have the same idea to do the same thing in the same placephoto: musee montmartre at the same time. I got into the habit of going early, or booking early, in order to be sure of getting a secure place.

'Mobs' of tourists, not mobbing Montmartre's own museum last Wednesday.

These days, I live in the middle of a big city and I'm not particularly surprised that a lot of people can have the same idea to do the same thing in the same place at the same time. Such as, all going to the local 'Bonaprix' at the same time of day to get some carrots for dinner.

There is a 'surprise' with this though - the 'Bonaprix' never seems to anticipate all these people showing up - by magic? - at the same time every day, to buy carrots. Seven of the ten checkouts are closed.

If you try to outfox them, by going to get carrots at offpeak times, then all the checkouts are out of order.

This city I live in is also the world's champion 'tourist trap,' so in addition to its residents I've gotten used to its constant large numbers of visitors. I should - readers write to me all the time to tell me they are 'on their way' - even if I don't notice them while walking around.

Visitors in Paris are so normal, that I almost group them in with everybody else. There are some slight differences though.

Parisians may have little sacks on their backs, while visitors have these things as big as midget totem poles. Parisians know where they are going, so it's pretty safe to walk behind them without fear of collision - although they will stop for chats with long-lost friends at the tops of up-escalators.

Visitors are a walking hazard; these may stop anywhere at anytime - to see a sight, to consult a map, to read a sign, to scratch their heads. Visitors also tend to walk slowly and they often have two friends, so they walk abreast.

If you add their huge backpacks, walking abreast, and put them into a métro tunnel - then it's 'bouchon' time. Getting a couple of visitors in a crowded métro wagon, with their packs, looking at their maps, causes squeeze-plays.

Visitors must be surprised occasionally at the antics Parisians go through getting on and off at their stops. Burrowing out from under 80-day-cruise seabags, or leaping over them like nimble gazelles.

I have also seen high levels of surprise on visitors' faces when Parisians hop down métro stairs, skip across a métro platform while the close-door 'beep' is sounding, and glidephoto: fiat 500 of the week safely into an overfull wagon as the doors snap shut.

Even Parisians think this requires a high level of nerve, 'savoir-faire' and athletic skill. Doing it past, under, around, visitors consulting métro maps, is sometimes applauded.

The 'Fiat 500 of the Week' feature resumes with this fine example - note original Roman plates.

Generally, visitors do not seem to bother Parisians much. Nearly everybody is willing to give directions even if they don't know where anything is. A Parisian, in a hurry, might offer this light rebuff - translated - "I'm from out of town too."

More than half the time, Parisians use this phrase on each other. If they are both from 'out of town' they may become a twin-pack of pathfinders and end up becoming lifelong pals; recalling their 'how we met' story every time they meet again.

'Tourist Trap' Or Service?

I started out to think up some 'tourist traps' here. This caused me to remember there are some hawkers up on Montmartre. These are - usually kids and men - who have buckets full of ice cubes with cold drinks in them.

They are up at the top, right where they're supposed to be - waiting for you to make the climb and be in a devilishly thirsty mood.

Some 'clever' visitors carry their own drink, warm and heavy. These know the 'Bonaprix' sells the 1.5-litre bottles of water for about 3.50 francs - gosh! - compared to a cool half-litre bottle for 10 francs from the hawkers. What a rip-off!

These hawkers do not ply their wares in the Place du Tertre. It is surrounded by café terraces - where I bet a 0.33-litre glass of water will probably set you back 12 francs - at least - but you have to expect to pay to sit down under an awning.

So the middle way is carry nothing, pay the hawker the 10 francs and sit on a free bench in the Square Nadar; under its trees, and have a less hectic view than the one of the 'tourist hell' in the Place du Tertre. Tipping the water guy wouldn't be out of line either; this is Paris after all.

The French Are Normal

Depending on what you already think, this assertion may either be news to you; or you might be disappointed because you prefer your French to be, well, 'French.'

In last week's Metropole I mentioned that the nearby Rue Boulard was treated to a repaving job. The asphalt was put down, smooth and very black, and during the past week a crew has been carefully adding white dottedphoto: new hole, rue boulard lines and huge yellow loading zones to it.

These are not painted on - they are elaborately 'scotched' on, like heavy-duty decals. It is a time-consuming business, but I guess the result will last longer than mere paint.

French version of brand-new hole in brand-new road surface.

Now comes the 'normal' part. Exactly eight days after the gutters were rebuilt, some of the sidewalk was patched up, and the asphalt was laid, another city works crew has come along and dug a hole in it.

This hole includes the sidewalk, a solid stone piece of curb, some brand-new gutter and some of the virgin road surface. It looks like somebody forgot to include a thick red-plastic tube that was supposed to be under the gutter.

If eight days is extra speedy for reducing a brand-new resurfaced road to its former lumpy pockmarked state, then the French are hyper-normal. If this is, in fact, an average time period, then the French are merely ordinarily 'normal.'

Hotel Reservations In Paris

Metropole Paris' now has a link to the 'Bookings' Paris hotel reservation service.

I hope this service will be useful to you. I also hope it will provide some revenue for Metropole. All reservations you make through it will earn small commissions for this magazine.

Other commercial newcomers will be handled in the same fashion as this unobtrusive 'Bookings' link, so none of us need worry about annoying banner-ads or any not-quite-ready jittering animations. Metropole has been around too long to start looking extra splashy now.

The Café Metropole Club's 46th Meeting

Last Thursday's club meeting was attended by two long-time, already signed-up members and by three new members. If you skipped Thursday's update, you can read the meeting's 'report' now. If you are busy doing something else, don't bother; unless you are interested in meetings that are a bit unusual.

The former 'Club News' in Monday's edition has been transformed into being a plain blah-blah page now known as 'About the Café Metropole Club.' This contains everything that regular readers and club members already know. New readers can look at the new 'About the Club' page, if they are interested in a certain amount of confusion.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

Issue 4.34 - 23. Aug. 1999 - The week's Café Metropole column was headlined, 'The Waiting Game.' The 'Au Bistro' column had no title because no column appeared. This issue had two features, titled 'Gobelins - A Tapestry Factory' and 'A Sunday 'Sense of Silence.' The 'Scene' columnphoto: cemetery water pump was headlined '2000 Too Many.' There were four new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'Sense of Silence' - Again.'

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago:

Issue 3.34/35 - 31. August 1998 - This issue was done to cover the second two-week period of my annual holiday in Spain, which I sorely miss these days. The Café Metropole column hinted at even more doziness with the title of: 'Life In the Tame Lane.' There was no 'Au Bistro' column at all. This issue had two features, titled 'The Truth About Spain' and 'One 6000 Km Round Trip.' There were only two new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week had the caption of 'Siesta's End.' August is almost over again, again..

Metropole Paris' Shutdown Solo Countdown to 31. December 2000:

This countdown - has been suspended for the duration of August. If you are reading this, you will cheer this energy-saving move. If you aren't, you won't notice the difference.

For those still with this, there really are only about 132 days left to go until the 3rd Millennium. For really fussy readers, this figure is correct. On account of this section being kind of turned off on account of August, you probably won't care that 234 days have gone since New Year's 2000.
signature, regards, ric

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