How the 3rd Millennium Feels

photo: champs elysees wednesday

So far, about as helter-skelter as the last millennium.

On the Champs-Elysées

Paris:- Wednesday, 3. January 2001:- During he last month of the last year of the last century of the last millennium I had myself outfitted with a cast on one of my two legs. This experiment with reduced mobility was entirely inadvertent, and not some sort of deliberate 'road-test' of Paris obstacles.

To say the least it was a bit of a chore getting around because I learned for the first time in my life that I am not a fast hobbler.

Frankly, I felt safer staying within practical crawling distance of home. This territorial restraint cut down my radius of action as the 'Internet Reporter for Paris,' nearly reducing coverage to a tiny pocket of the 14th arrondissement.

It also prevented me from finding out really true facts about New Years Eve activities because it was difficult to collar the people who were withholding vital information about it. If they were doing it on purpose, they know who they are.

The local press didn't get much of a jump on me. Maybe they were disinclined to 'collar' informants. Maybe the informants didn't know anything either.

As it happened, the local papers didn't have details about 'Newphoto: strollers on the avenue Years Eve in Paris' until the day before it. Even these failed to point out that there would be no fireworks at the Eiffel Tower - a Paris tradition almost going back almost to Roman times.

The Champs-Elysées' number-one activity - people watching.

I mistakenly discounted this non-news as a simple omission - so self-evident that it was unnecessary to actually tell people to stay away because there would be no fireworks - which would have been 'news' to the many who went to see them.

On top of it, I even lavishly plugged Paris' fireworks to a radio station in Perth, Australia, just two hours before midnight there. This mis-information was followed five hours later by seeing the tremendous fireworks show put on by Sydney, which was shown in some detail on the evening's TV-news in Paris.

How strange it was at midnight, to see only one French TV station show anything in Paris - and this was the '1000 drummers' from all over Europe - drumming to beat the band while arrayed in the pouring rain on the front of the modern art Pompidou Centre that looks like a mad-cow recycling factory without any siding.

This live 'New Years in Paris' coverage lasted about a total of four whole minutes before regular TV programming continued. This was a canned salute to '50 Years of the Crazy Horse,' which is a crammed nightclub with a lot of tiny tables and nifty girls who aren't very good strippers because they are already nearly naked before they start stripping.

Twenty hours after the event, French TV-news finally showed a little of Paris at New Years. A half-million people had whooped it up on the Champs-Elysées - 300,000 less than expected - but perhaps the best party was the unorganized one as Bastille, a large, open place which has been famous for hundreds of years for unorganized parties.

Except for those who may have braved the elements on New Years Day, the fate of its 'Grande Parade' remains unknown. The Paris-Dakar Rallye returned to its original Paris starting point, but it left town so early on New Years Day that its only witnesses were its drivers and crews.

Police also reported a calm night in Paris. Some people interviewed on TV-news said they were prettyphoto: paris tourist office annoyed to go out in the rain and the cold to merely see the '2000' sign on the Eiffel Tower turned off, and some blue lights turned on.

Paris' one-stop info-centre is also on the Champs-Elysées.

Without even trying Paris had its most boring New Years Eve in history - after having its multi-million-franc 'Millennium' extravaganza one whole year in advance.

Well, all this is history now. There's no point in dwelling on it because it's over and done with. If you pretend not to read this, I'll pretend I didn't write it.

Back to the Future - In the Year of Now

Today, we are at the beginning of a brand-new millennium, which is a lot of time to fool around with. On the third day of it, it seems to be appropriate for finding out how the Champs-Elysées is handling this situation.

It is important to know about this because the Champs-Elysées is Paris' number one street. All the visitor brochures say so - they even say it is the 'World's Number One Avenue' - and some variety shows on national television repeat it every chance they get, while never leaving their TV studios.

Since these 'variety' shows are nearly the only kind of content on television these days - two major TV channels had these no-talent 'varieties' instead of any live New Year's coverage - the plugging of the marvels of the Champs-Elysées is more relentless than for soap and about as virtual.

Unlike some major TV outfits with production budgets of zillions, I believe it is important to actually go to the scene of a 'report' to personally see what is going on - for the price of a métro ticket - even though one of my legs is not in the best shape for being 'on the ground.'

Luckily, the steep and very long escalator at Etoile is working, so I get a nice free ride up from the underground depths of the métro. The first thing that appears as I come out of the dark hole is the Arc de Triomphe, right where it always is.

This first sight of the Champs-Elysées could be improved a lot by repositioning the escalator. If it pointed more towards the Arc and if its angle of ascent was reduced, the view of it would last longer - instead of only showing up in the last seconds of the escalator ride.

On the surface the usual crowd is milling around, being thrilled to be on the Champs-Elysées - which is, as you well know, kind of famous. Some of these 'famous avenue' fans have even come from as far as the Marne or Essonne or Yvelines to be here today.

The citizen who sticks his face and hand into the camera's first view is obviously a paid-up member of the third millennium - by attempting to be famous for an instant. Little does he know how close he comes, but without a photo-release he's going straight to the nowhere can.

Looking down towards Concorde and its sparkle-wheel, I quit counting the heads I can see after I get above 148,000. The city has fine banners flying, somewhat further than can be seen, saying 'Hiya 3rd Millennium!'

I don't know if the hundreds or thousands of banners being red means anything in particular - but the Socialists are expected to do well in the municipal elections coming up in March. To be fair, I should mention that other political parties have their hopes too, but none of them use much red, except for the Communists.

The weather has turned from blue skies this morning to an overcast one now. It is not cold and there is hardlyphoto: film crew, maison d'alsace any wind. As usual the north side of the huge avenue is brighter than the south side, but it is mid-winter and everything is kind of colorless - which makes the banners all the redder.

French film production uses the avenue as an outdoor 'scene.'

As a visitor-barometer the Paris Tourist Office isn't doing a roaring business. But many of its brochure pigeon-holes are empty. I guess most folks have already got their information and they are using it out on the avenue.

Further on down and across on the brighter side, the crowds are really thick with strollers and many people who aren't on the avenue are in the several malls that run off it. These satisfy the need for shop frontage; with only the most heavily bankrolled being able to afford the rents on the avenue itself.

Actually, malls weren't invented to provide a focus for giant 20th century parking lots as you may think - they came into being in the 18th century, to provide shoppers with some protection from horses and all the silly things they do - plus, dry shoppers buy more because they aren't poking each other's eyes out with umbrellas.

There are lots of cops in uniform on the avenue; they go around in little gangs. The sidewalk cleaners are at work too - disgustedly emptying the half-full cola cans that their serpent-green motorized vacuum cleaners choke on.

The avenue's traffic is its usual aggressive self. With about five full lanes of it going either way, it is a bit of a dangerous sport to cross it on foot. The rules are clear, with the green-man and red-man signals, but these can't always be seen by all the players all the time - with many scooters being driven by reckless cowboys.

The mouths of side streets are a kind of lawless area. Streams of pedestrians pay scant attention to the signals, while cars coming from and going to the avenue have to nose their way through as gently as possible - like safari tourists in jeeps surrounded by herds of unruly monkeys.

The fnac and Virgin Megastore modern-media outlets draw many younger people to the avenue, as do the many cinemas. For 'befores' and 'afters' there are the fast-food places too.

Although the avenue is very big, most of these places are sprinkled along its north side and this concentrates the younger generations here - leaving the southern and shady side a lot calmer, except possibly for the presence of small numbers of speedy roller folk.

In total contrast, at a fair number of other places on the avenue, smaller groups have sensibly installed themselves in the window seats of cafés and restaurants, in order to watch the jolly masses sitting, ambling, eating, ogling, snapshooting, rolling, scooting and driving around.

To cite one of these, Renault has made over its prestige showroom again. The latest version - 'L'Atelier' - has been open two months and in its voluminous interior there is only display room for two of its cars. The rest of the space is, more or less, a snazzy cocktail lounge.

Since it is on the avenue's shady side, the interior designers have put in several mezzanines stacked up close to the giant show window - to give as many tables a view of the avenue as possible. Dim lights and potted forests of bamboo make it more exotic than Club Med's Champs-Elysées showroom.

After looking this over, I run into a fair-sized crowd, nearly blocking the sidewalk, in front of the nearby Maison d'Alsace. I wonder if it isn't some street entertainer, possibly juggling hot sausages and sauerkraut.

Moving up for a closer look, I see that it seems to be the shreds of a film crew, trying to shoot a commercial or some biblical saga.

When the director calls for action the actors move and the sound-man tries to get his micro near them, but it seems as if nobody has been detailed to keep civilian strollers from wandering into the scene. The director, who is hunkered down around the corner watching it on TV - live - yells "Cut! Cut!"

This applies to me too -concluding today's speedy two métro-ticket tour of the Champs-Elysées.

It is nearly sundown which also means it is about a half-hour before the big squish of the métro's eveningphoto: wide champs sidewalk rush. My transfer point at Châtelet has some narrow tunnels and I'd prefer getting through them at my own tempo.

Wide sidewalks - which do get filled up several times a year.

After it all, after this mini-tour - it seems pretty obvious that the Champs-Elysées has managed to get itself into the 3rd millennium without too many scars left over from the recent damp and largely unreported festivities. I think the avenue can look forward to a lot more New Year Eves to come with confidence.

Even if it is not New Years Eve, this means that if you ever get to Paris, it'll still be here for you to while away an afternoon trying to count above 148,000. Last New Years Eve, when I was scared of being squashed near the Arc, we were supposed to have been 1.3 million.

But on normal days, more or less like today, you will be able to see more people at once than show up in Saint Peter's Square for special occasions.

If the Champs-Elysées is the world's most famous avenue - with or without sauerkraut - maybe you should see it first, before making your visit to Rome.

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