Walking Like a Penguin

photo: rue e cresson

Late afternoon, winter view of my own Paris street.

Better In Greenland Than In Paris

Paris:- Friday, 8. December 2000:- Many regular readers will know that I caused a silly 'technical error' to myself the other week, by short-sightedly falling over a speed bump on the way to the Café Metropole Club meeting.

New readers who many not be aware of this, should refer to either this week's 'Cafe' column or the report about the club meeting two weeks ago. Actually, new readers should take a look at the 'About Metropole' page too, even if I can't remember what it's about anymore.

What happened was, while I was going along the Quai du Louvre to the café La Corona, I spotted an exhibition banner hanging from the Hôtel des Monnaies on the opposite side of the Seine.

A quick glance to the west showed the four or five lanes road to be temporarily clear of traffic. So I jogged across, to get a clearer view of the banner.

Focused on this long-distance object, I failed to observe that a close-up and clearly visible traffic divider was a three-dimensional hump instead of a painted two-dimensional line.

After tripping over 'the line,' I didn't have long to be surprised with my nose near the road surface, my right knee shoutingphoto: rain, rue boulard 'mayday' and my left hand screaming 'ouch!' - because the light had changed and a full load of aggressive Paris traffic was headed my way, rapidly.

Smooth and cool, especially wearing summer slip-ons.

Dazed and crazed, I leaped onto the safety of the sidewalk and photographed the banner. I even waited for a bateau mouche to shift downriver, to balance the composition. When I let the shutter go, I knew the distance for the shot would be too long.

But the shutter did do its quiet 'click,' and this was a signal that the camera had survived the tumble. This meant that this player was still in the game of being the 'Internet Reporter for Paris.'

This 'work-related accident' happened a week ago last Thursday. Since then I've had a X-ray and a weekend in a clinic somewhere in Montmartre's boondocks, and a decision not to operate on the knee, which ended with most of my right leg being put into a cast.

Yesterday, I took my knee's photo to another expert - at a closer hospital - and while disagreeing with the second of three 'experts,' he did not think the knee needed an operation, but the cast needs to stay on twice as long - to the end of December.

After almost a whole week of trials in an area of about 500 metres by 500 metres I find that I can walk about as well as a penguin.

At the hospital yesterday - slightly further away - there was a parking space reserved for wheel-chair-carrying cars right in front of its entrance. The space was free for use, but there were three steps to climb to get into the hospital's consulting area.

This seems to be pretty typical. In theory it is possible to peg-leg around; in practice it takes a lot of careful attention. Slight uphill slopes can be surprisingly tricky.

Very few Paris sidewalks are as flat as the iceberg surfaces penguins waltz around on, so a lot of concentration has tophoto: pavement, entree catacombs be paid to their trickier parts such as holes, man-hole lids and sloped curbs for the wheelchair folks. Every slope is an obstacle and hardly anything is flat.

Nearby catacombs have bumpy entry.

A penguin's wings may be lousy for flying, but I find my arms handy at times for restoring balance. On my first sortie, I took along my three-iron as a cane - but I've given it up because it might become an annoying habit - even though I found a white tee in fairly good shape outside the post office.

All of this is very negative from the point of view of the fleetfoot 'Paris Internet Reporter.' Except for one incident involving my back - without tripping over anything - I have been on Paris' streets continually since March of 1995, which is possibly some sort of 'work safety' record.

Many years ago I did have a street-related 'work injury.' Along with a fellow named Peter from Baden I was sent to Berlin to do some photos my shop wanted to use for a contest.

We didn't see the city until the plane fell out of the fog onto the runway at Tempelhof. It looked like 'welcome to Berlin and foggy photos.' Since neither of us knew the town, we hired a taxi to take us to a whole list of foggy sights - for two days.

Between taxis I showed Peter the way to the Zille Stuben on foot. On account of the fog, this caused us to walk just about all over West Berlin, but seeing this little bar-museum dedicated to one of Berlin's famous cartoonists was worth it.

Back in Hamburg Peter must have told our bosses what a great job we'd done in Berlin and before anybody bothered looking at the foggy photos, we were sent to Munich to do the same thing.

Since I knew Munich a bit, we used taxis less. This was a big mistake because it was nearly as foggy, and I thought we could walk all the way to Nymphenburg, where we saw all the neat geese standing around on the iced-over ponds. They were probably wondering why they hadn't bothered flying all the way to Africa.

After this second excursion, my feet hurt and my shoes were worn out. A doctor looked at the feet and stopped me from working for two weeks.

When the photos for both Berlin and Munich proved to be unusable, I got called in to do cartoons for the contestphoto: avenue leclerc series. This got 'arranged' with the medical health insurance, and I got wonderful feet massages every day for two weeks. I had to buy new shoes myself though.

Typical bustle on the avenue.

In Paris there's no point in mentioning walking a lot is an 'Internet Record' too. These are made so easily just by doing the right stuff first and not necessarily by walking alone. On the other hand, it is kind of good to know the Internet is starting out with 'records' that are going to be hard to beat.

Meanwhile, I am walking about as good as a penguin. For birds, penguins are good swimmers, and even when you see them walking they seem to be taking no particular notice - of their feet.

In my early days 'on the street' in Paris I used to wonder why I was always having to sidestep other people, many of them much smaller than me. I wondered if I was invisible.

I wondered if many of my fellow pedestrians weren't 'suicide' walkers. Hitting me full-tilt wouldn't have hurt me much because I could see them coming and could get set for the collision. But I never tried out one of these potential collisions, because I had better things to do than pick up the fragments of some poor dazed 'suicide' walker.

Sometime during the past five years I quit sidestepping. I think I must have gotten tired of watching out for collisions and quit looking out for them.

If you have wondered why Parisians on the street seem preoccupied, it is because they are purposely 'not looking' at potential walking collisions coming their way.

Now, mostly everybody else does the sidestepping - some sort of survival instinct? - and I don't give way except for reasons of politeness - "After you, jolie Mademoiselle!"

Big city life is a lot of people on foot and if you toss in the underground métro, then it is a lot of people in confined spaces. Continually moving through these clogged masses, gives a kind of extra awareness of motion direction and anticipation of empty slots to be filled. Feet don't have to be swift; but they need to learn dexterity.

I'm still paying enough attention though, to continue noting a Parisian habit of holding conferences at the tops of stairways or escalators. I do not understand why the newspapers' 'Faits Divers' sections aren't filled with horrible accounts of mass people pile-ups.

These stories don't appear in these sections of the papers because they seldom mention the poor souls who are bumped off métro platforms, or jump in front of the underground trains. The métro's loudspeaker systems announce these laconically as, "Line four is delayed because of a technical incident. Please re-route yourselves."

Live in Paris and you hear this, you don't think 'oh, another poor soul is a mangled goner.' No, your brain says, 'what's the re-route, what's the other way around?' Like water under pressure, the idea is to keep moving.

Sometimes there is no work-around. You know this even if you don't understand the broadcast message, whenphoto: pavement r daguerre everybody in the métro wagon groans - or immediately bolts to make a line transfer, or climbs to the surface.

No matter how tidy, all paving is sloped.

Before you start to take this too seriously, remember that it took over five years for a speed bump to knock the dexterity out of one of my legs.

What is a turtle's speed? How fast are snails? Even if penguins can walk, how do they keep from falling over? I think I remember that they can even sleep standing up. If I watched more television I would probably know the answers.

All I know is when I'm out walking now, I'm doing it to get someplace - fairly close. You don't get much sightseeing when you've constantly got the eyes down to look where you're placing your feet.

Paris, you've got lumpy pavements. A crazy-quilt of surfaces with patches on top of patches. The 'no-parking' poles are handy hand-holds, but the cross-sidewalk driveways allow drivers to get around the poles and park right on the sidewalks. This seems to be slightly less illegal than the no parking zones on the streets.

But the worst part of now is, all the other pedestrians have collectively decided that it's okay to run into me again. I'm peg-legging along so slowly that I've become invisible to speed-crazed Parisians.

Maybe I should dress like a penguin.

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