On the Avenue

photo: arc de triomphe

There are many Arc de Triomphes, but only this one on Friday, 6. October 2000.

The Champs-Elysées Revisited

Paris:- Friday, 6. October 2000:- Nothing special is happening on the Champs-Elysées today. There is no 'Champs de la Sculpture,' no Champs of the airplanes. On whatever it is - the 'Most Beautiful Avenue in the World' - it is a perfectly normal day.

The first view of this is coming up the long escalator from the depths of the métro at Etoile, on the even-numbered, the north side, at the top of the avenue.

When I remember I always try to get a photo of the Arc de Triomphe just as it and the sky appear, after the darkness of the métro's tunnel. Today I am too close behind two ladies who do not realize I'm trying to shoot through them; and have a lens full of a waggling hand instead of a grand view.

It is possible to ride the other escalator down and ride up again, but I think it has got to be captured on the first try or it's not really 'true.' On the sidewalk just beyond the métro exit is good enough too, but without 'Aha!'.

The sky is fifty-fifty. Between the puffy white clouds with their dark bottoms, the sky beyond them is solid October-blue. This splits the avenue too, with its north side getting the fifty-fifty outbursts of sunlight and the south side getting its permanent shadow.

It is also breezy, but the avenue's trees are nowhere near the time of turning from green to gold or aged brown. Despite Paris' hosting an emergency Middle East peace powwowphoto: morris phone on Wednesday, there are no national flags lining the curbs. There are neat banners with some designs about Paris' Olympic aspirations instead.

These banners are mostly white, and their flutter adds to a general aspect of neatness, like washing hung out to dry. The avenue's sidewalks, especially the north one, are thronged with people; both strolling or taking it easy on the public benches.

'Talk to a Morris' even has people standing in line.

From up on the top of the Arc de Triomphe it will look like there are hundreds of thousands down here. Since the avenue has a bit of a downhill slope from the Etoile, the view of hundreds of thousands from the street-level is even clearer, if foreshortened.

These are mostly within the kilometre distance between the Etoile and the Rond-Point. From a curb, the big wheel at Concorde stands out clearly, like some sort of target for the east-bound motorists to aim at.

For a camera to capture some idea of the number of people in view, it would have to be big, higher up and have very fine-grain film. Semi-sharp eyes can do about the same job. On the sidewalks, the world is enjoying its Champs-Elysées.

On a curb I wait patiently for a 'green-man' signal. This comes up while the crosswalk is full of cars and pedestrians have to thread themselves and baby-strollers around exhaust pipes and bumpers; in some places where only a metre separates one from the other.

Pedestrians give way to each other while drivers amuse themselves with their telephones, while clenching their steering wheels, while staring at their target of Concorde's big wheel in the far distance, or looking at their watches.

Once on the dark south side of the avenue, it is not as shady as it seems because it is getting some light reflection from the north side. There are fewer people though, even though the view from dark to light is quite agreeable.

The stainless front of the Drugstore has its ripply reflections and I go inside to say hello to the news kiosk lady. She tells me Tokyo is a lot tidier than Paris' métro. I think the reason may be because there are more Japanese in Tokyo than in the métro here.

Outside in front of the tourist office I don't see any signs of an untidy métro on the sidewalk. Judging from the numbers of visitors inside the big rush for the day is over, or there is no 'big rush' on at the moment.

The brochure pigeon-holes have their usual 'looted-look' and I don't pick up much that I don't already have. One of thephoto: gaumont cinema complex hostesses uses her Web access to print out a nine-page coming-events program for me, after I have declined to look at her current copy of 'Pariscope.'

While the 'stars' while away their time in Fouquets, their films play up and down the Champs-Elysées.

The tourist office's collection of the métro's '100 Years' items seems to be slightly more expensive than the ones I saw in Galeries Lafayette, but I think rents are higher on the Champs-Elysées than on Boulevard Haussmann.

On this side of the avenue the corner at George V is a welcome splash of light, when the sun is working, as it is when I get to it. I think this is a special set-up for folks staying in expensive hotels in the George V area; things should be bright and cheery for people with platinum.

Also, people around this intersection are trying not to look famous or trying to look as if they are not watching out for famous people in front of Fouquet's. This Paris high-life canteen has moved its outside terrace away from its front, to a fully exposed area right on the avenue's sidewalk.

This is not getting George V's sunlight, but doesn't look so hidey-hidey as it used to. I wonder if the lady sitting on Fouquet's terrace reading the serious-looking newspaper with Cyrillic-type headlines is famous or just keeping abreast of our times.

Across the avenue the Club Med display window is drawing sightseers without me finding out the reason. This sunny side also has the most shopping galleries, with the tackier-looking ones seeming to be most crowded.

These exist simply because the Champs-Elysées doesn't have enough frontage for all its shops, and there are hundreds of them in the great mazes of these galleries. They are sort of like the avenue's bonus 'mall.'

The Champs-Elysées is also a sort of experimental area for new ideas. The Morris-type advertising columns here do double-duty as telephone booths. The fairly new 'park-your-car' service people have styled their smaller kiosks after the columns; but this is unofficial until they find out if they will have success or not.

The avenue's sidewalk cleaning equipment tends to be experimental too, with new models showing up all the time. Today's new model would not be out of place at the Auto Salon; if you were interested in articulated street-sweeping vacuum cleaners, with the operator's seat attached as a trailer.

I can tell this is experimental because the whole affair has an auxiliary outrider on foot with a regulation broom, for the tricky areas the cleaner's operator can't seem to get to.

In one crosswalk, the green and red-man sign seems to be out of commission. Drivers,photo: thick traffic however, can see their green signal light up and when it does, I have to sprint across in front of five edgy bumpers. Drivers are not mellow today.

A partial view of the upstream river of tin, heading for the Etoile.

Near Rue Marbeuf there are a cluster of pizza palaces on the avenue. Aeroflot has somehow, through thick and thin, managed to keep paying its substantial Champs-Elysées rent - which I assume is a reliable sign that Russia survives.

A really big 'pizza' sign is right above 'Aeroflot.' Next to Aeroflot there is some sort of a symbol, that looks like what might be today's version of a modified hammer and sickle, but I can't figure out what it is supposed to be. It is not some sort of pizza spoon, but why not?

I notice that Renault's shady-side avenue showroom is going through its semi-annual transformation. On the other, sunnier, side, Peugeot has finished their renovation without much discernable difference, and Mercedes and Citroën remain unchanged, with Citroën still having the Hippo steakhouse inside. Cars and beef.

Mercedes' place is roomy with only five full-sized cars with full-sized prices in it. It has several dozens of miniature cars, and caps and jackets and key-chains, at more or less normal prices.

One of the full-sized cars is a short '203' and I think it is making its debut at the Auto Salon; but a larger CL 500 costs 706,900 francs, partly because it has a few 'options.' More down to earth, is Peugeot's bread-and-butter '406' which is on a twister platform, which is not an 'option.'

fnac has a media store - music CDs, DVDs, games - plus events ticket sales, so I check it out. A couple of fellows who I think may work for the store, are deliberately setting off the shoplifter alarm by passing coded articles through a barrier. If the alarm goes off okay, then they tear the 'code-thing' off the article.

If they aren't employees, it's a neat trick, if a bit noisy.

On the street level, the photo area has given up a lot of itselfphoto: cafe terrace for portable phones - but the quick photo finishing is still done, plus they have a selection of digital cameras for impulse buyers who dislike film.

Fouquet's new terrace is much better for people-watching than its old one.

The city went to a fair amount of trouble some years ago to regularize the Champs-Elysées' building fronts. The places that used to have terraces attached, now have them as islands out on the wide sidewalks.

The main thought to retain is wide sidewalks; two of them. With enough room for lots of people to look around. I've taken some time today to do just this - and this is what a lot of other people are doing too.

So it doesn't matter much if the wide avenue's centre is being used by bad-tempered commuters on wheels. They are 'on the road' and not looking around on their way from somewhere boring to somewhere else boring - so they are pretty easy to overlook.

It's easy to avoid the green-red man signal angst, by using the métro passages at Franklin Roosevelt and George V. At Etoile this is not so easy, but there are safety islands in the avenue's centre. The view is good from these.

In fact, there are a lot of good close and long views on the Champs-Elysées; even on a day when nothing much extraordinary is happening, except for your spending it on one of the world's more viewable downtown avenues.

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