'Total Strike' Reflections

photo: buvette, luxembourg

If you walk to the club, do not get sidetracked
here in the Luxembourg.

The 'Hard Slog of the Week'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 5. February 2001:- The only remarkable thing about the weather during this winter in Paris - which is now not cold but is continuing to be exceedingly damp with frequent rain - but remarkably, nearly never on Thursdays.

Without being a fanatical chronicler of future, current or past weather, I do happen to remember each Thursday's problems with photos during the weekly meetings of the Café Metropole Club.

It has been raining, or close to it, up until 15:00 each Thursday afternoon. Then the sun pops out, just above the dome on the Institut de France on the Seine's south, or left bank, and sends lateral slices of sunrays blasting through the club's area in the café La Corona.

After each club meeting, until late at night, I have to deal with the resulting photos. Some members have perfect portraits, with wonderful details everywhere except for their faces - which are totally blanked out by excessive light. Or it is the other way around, with perfect faces against a background blasted to white.

While interrupting club meetings to take the photos, I do what I can to get a good position or talk members into a good positions, but the best solution would be to get everybody up and go outside and around the corner to the Rue Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, which is always in shadow, and pray.

It is either this, or convince club members to come back to the café on a rainy Wednesday or rainy Friday, for their portrait photos.

Café Life

The 'Strike of the Week'

By pure chance, last Thursday was also the day chosen by some of Paris' public transport unions to stage a 'total' strike. No doubt this prevented a great number of club members from attending the weekly meeting.

Just like most of its rules, attending its meetings are optional. The same cannot be said of Parisians - transport strike or no strike, they must attend to their daily business in the city.

Normally the precise reason for a strike is generally unknown, and they happen so often anyway that anyphoto: bouquiniste, quai du louvre particular reason is irrelevant. Last Thursday's strike was for more money - not always the case - in case anybody is interested.

Typical Thursday winter weather in Paris.

Basically, what residents would rather know is by how much normal service will be reduced - to say, two out of three or one out of three métro trains operating. Nobody cares about non-operating métro trains.

Last Thursday's strike was unusual fo two reasons. First, it was not 'one train out of three' but zero trains out of three - on all lines except the 14, which is fully automatic and has only robots for drivers.

Since this was a purely RATP strike, it affected the city's métro and RER lines 'A' and 'B,' but not necessarily the SNCF-operated 'C,' 'D' and 'E' RER lines. This was fine for commuters living in some outer areas - until they arrived in Paris and were faced with competing with Parisians for the 50 percent of buses that were supposed to be operating.

To be on the safe side, I set out for the club early last Thursday. Well, not quite as early as I'd hoped. On the avenue I waited for a bus - encouraged by the sight of several buses going in the opposite direction, towards the Pyrenees.

The day was warm and bright - it was a Thursday! - so I'd calculated that if I had to walk, I should allow for taking a few photos on the way. After a ten-minute wait for a bus, this photo-margin got slimmer, so I started the hike.

For the first 1130 metres my route paralleled the bus route, but none passed heading north towards Châtelet. Then I switched to the shortest overland route - through the Luxembourg gardens.

After capturing a few cheery photos and marching 3040 metres, I arrived at the club's café on the right bank, on time, before any members.

At the end of the club's meeting, I knew the distance and the approximate time it would take to walk it if necessary. I was not anxious to do this because of my leg's re-education session in the morning, and because going back to Montparnasse is uphill.

Instead I wandered over to Châtelet. Even without knowing how 'total' the strike was, I decided not to try the métro - trains might be running, but being on a crowded rush-hour platform waiting for one - even in normal times - is not exactly unstressful.

My own 38 bus has a half-route stop at Châtelet. When I got to it, a bus so full that arms and legs were sticking out of it, pulled out to head for the left bank.

Only a few of us were left waiting, but this changed rapidly. When the next, fairly full, bus arrived, it pulledphoto: marco polo fountain slightly ahead of its regular stopping place, which put me much closer to its front doors.

I got as far on as the driver's place. When asked, the driver said traffic wasn't as bad as feared. Others asked for other bus connections - saying they'd got on just to be on.

On my overland route the the club, the Marco Polo fountain.

The driver didn't know the answers to all the questions. Other passengers gave tips, "For the 15th, take bus 89 at Luxembourg." The driver said he wasn't sure if the '89' was on strike or not.

Other passengers had their bus maps out, as jammed in as we were, and made other proposals, "Take the bus 88 from Denfert; it goes to the 15th." Some even said the '88' was a great bus line. Riders exchanged tips about other great bus routes.

Up to Port Royal, more people seemed to get on the bus than off, and at each stop the driver asked if anybody wanted to get off by way of the front doors - and stopped the bus slightly beyond all the bus stops so riders could get off without being pushed back on.

Even at Denfert the bus was still pretty full and I had to do some slipping and sliding to get off, but I made it and immediately headed for the café Rendez-Vous for a jolt of café.

Altogether, not a bad 'total-strike' day, for my public transport travels in Paris.

Less and Less Vital Shopping Hint:

Paris' annual Winter Sales - the 'Soldes d'Hiver' - began four weeks ago and continue for the next two weeks. Don't skip the Café Metropole Club's meeting on Thursday, which will be a fine time to take a two-hour 'breather' from looking for increasingly rare bargains - but ones that may be even more severely discounted.

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