A Small Issue, For a Change

photo: cafe deux magots

Cozy St. Germain, where everybody used to sneer
at Santa Claus.

Chaos On Haussmann

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 9. December 2002:- The weather here has been truly unremarkable. Day after day the sky is grey and low and it is getting colder by degrees. One degree less than yesterday, and one degree less tomorrow. Slight differences of feeling are caused by the wind.

The nights are unremarkable too. They are simply dark. If it were otherwise, the nights would be remarkable. I haven't been going out to check the nighttime degrees, but I suppose they are less than the daytime ones.

Tonight for example, degrees are supposed to be minus one. I can believe it without going out. There is a little wind from the north, so a little bit of it is coming in from the direction of the cemetery. It is keeping my ankles cool.

Let's see what else there is. The low clouds are affecting the TV-news weather reports. These are so blurred that I can't see the little round dots with the temperatures anymore. I can't see if they are blue 'minus' dots either. Sometimes all the color disappears and there's just horizontal black and white lines. When it does this, there is no sound either.

So I look in today's Le Parisien. This is getting good reception and its weather forecast is in true newsprint color. Its audio part needs perfection though. The five cent raise didn't improve the paper. But its still a better deal than the Figaro.

Oops. It says minus three for tonight. Plus two for tomorrow. There's a strange arrow that indicates that France is blowing wind at the channel. I wonder if this is the same wind that was in my face when I walked down to Denfert.

There's a joke in this. Wednesday's map shows a sunflower-like sunball over Paris. From what littlephoto: rue daguerre I saw of the TV's guesswork, Wednesday will be characterized by clouds of black smoke over the entire centre of the country - except up by the border of the country next to France.

The Rue Daguerre tests its new set of lights.

Once when there was no visual on TV, I heard it say 'rain from the west' for Wednesday. This was followed by another joke which said sun from the west on Thursday. By long-standing custom, Thursday is Paris' bad-weather day. If kids are let out, they should wear life-jackets.

In Le Parisien, each day's weather map has its own little headline. Whoever does this has to do it daily, and has to think up something new every day even if there is nothing new. If she or he sees one sunball in the region of Calais, the headline says, 'Le soleil fait de la résistance.'

In the rest of the country, even the half-covered sunballs are grey. It means that I can begin taking nighttime photos anytime after 15:00. If you are a fan of winter, Paris is a good place to visit right now.

Café Life

Chaos On Haussmann

If I were a private person I would only go to see the department store Christmas windows on 15. August. This is the only date in the year when you can be sure that they won't be mobbed.

But I am not a 'private' person anymore. So each year at this time I trundle around to all of the shopping palaces, to try and capture the essence of them as they try to bamboozle consumers into the Christmas spirit of having loose wallets.

It seems to me that when I started this some years ago I was somewhat disappointed with the Christmas windows in Paris. The department stores seemed to rent one window to toymaker 'A' and another to toymaker 'B.'

This is not the case anymore. The stores either let their own window dressers pull out all the stops, or they bring in hired-gun designers to do their windows. Even the BHV has three or four decorated windows - none with an explicitly Christmas theme. Just decoration.

Anyway, since I am doing these rounds, I didn't bother to think about the implications of going to the Boulevard Haussmann on Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure if the other 100,000 people who were there did either.

But there we all were. With the low clouds it gets quite dark before the street lights come on. The sidewalksphoto: printemps, saturday are narrow and cluttered with construction wreckage. The street is wide and full of mad motorists. Pedestrians were using the bus lanes.

And within this seething mass of humanity there were parents who had brought their very young children, to show them the windows. Humanity can be quite fearless at times.

In the thick of the Saturday battle of the Christmas Windows on Haussmann.

Somehow nothing bad happened. I didn't step on anybody and nobody bumped me too hard. It's amazing how many people can squeeze into a fairly small amount of space, get to see what they can, and live to tell about it - if they remember it being unusual enough to be worth re-telling.

My only bit of advice is to try to view the windows on Haussmann sometime between eight and nine in the morning. If this sounds unlikely, then head for the Bon Marché on the left bank.

It has more decorated windows and a wider sidewalk, and there are not so many other big stores next to it. But don't - don't - try to drive anywhere near it for the next two Saturday afternoons.

'Strike of the Week' Squeaks In

While making breakfast yesterday morning I was running the day's photo assignments through my head, vaguely thinking I had better hurry up or I wouldn't get the 'wine shots of the week' if I let the marché close without getting them.

Absentmindedly I turned on the radio to France-Info. Just in time to hear that disgruntled teachers and 'angry' parents were gathering at Denfert-Rochereau for their 'Demo of the Week.'

On a Sunday? On a cold, damp, grey Sunday, maximum three degrees, nearly no light and only 17 shopping days until Christmas, including the open Sundays, the first of which was yesterday. If sensible people weren't going shopping they were probably staying in bed all day.

Down at Denfert, thirty minutes before the announced start, the place was mostly empty except for a fringe of early arrivals and their balloon trucks and some grilled sausage stands. Civilian cars were still filtering through - very carefully - because some of the marchers were acting as if they already owned the place.

There must have been 15 police motorcycles neatly parked in front of the place that used to be a big pizzeria, but is now some kind of 'Indiana' restaurant, without a bar. The cops were on the avenue in force directing the arriving buses where to unload their demonstrators, and where to go afterwards.

Teachers and parents seemed to prefer buses, because I didn't see any hordes strolling downphoto: teacher demo, denfert, sunday my street from Montparnasse to Denfert. But hordes were pouring out of the métro exits and congregating in departmental groups, or according to which union they belonged to.

The rails guys had red flares, the teachers have pastel balloons - but it's still a 'demo.'

Of course, with far fewer cafés open, it took determination to get space enough to have my Sunday café in the café Rendez-Vous. Regularly groups of adozen wearing badges and carrying flags would cram in the door, to either find a rare spot, or turn around and leave empty-handed. It was - er - like a bus station.


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