...Continued from page 1

But all good things come to an end sooner for us old dudes. There's really a big crowd of under–30s folks gathering out on the landing getting ready to burst in when uncle Den–Den wilts, running out of boom–boom in his tank so we go around and wave our lips around ears and necks and then get out the door, and I can't pass up a bit of argle–bargle with – what seem to be rugby players. These monsters, these French basketball players.

Coming away, after sneaking through the courtyard on tippy toes, loud party sounds all around pouring down from open windows and the other crew out on the balcony popping corks, we find the street where we left it. It is absolutely silent and deserted and glistening from the rain.

At the end of the street we are faced with the diagonal again and scratching our memories for howphoto, dennis to find the way back in reverse. Uncle Den–Den says, "Wasn't that great how they talked to us? They didn't seem to mind at all how old we are."

Yeah, there we were, the two of us as antique as any five of them. It's why people pay to go see the dinosaurs. There we were, for free, walking and talking, living fossils, helping Heather handle being 30.

Ô Château, 100. Rue de la Folie Méricourt, Building D, Paris 11. Métro: Oberkampf or République. InfoTel.: 01 44 73 97 80.

Parking Ticket Ladies

I'm glad I don't have a car because there is a 'circulation' shop with red tiles right around the corner between Fermat and Daguerre. A sign on the locked door with a code buzzer says, 'Public not welcome.' It's the Montparnasse headquarters of the parking ticket ladies.

There's nothing to see there. They are either in there tidying up their tickets or they are walking around sticking them on cars. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to the outside work, but they probably have some scheme. You see them working sometimes but mostly you don't see them, except if they are hiding around the corner having a smoke, waiting for quitting time.

I suspect the illegal parking fine might be quite a bit, especially now that they are in euros. For example, littering can cost 183 euros. In theory the parking ticket ladies can hand out tickets for stupid littering or for reckless dog poop. But nobody wants confrontations. Putting a ticket on a car with no driver around is safe as red roses.

France has a lot of laws. The bloody Romans started it, the kings took over, then the revolution carried on the kings' laws and added some more, and now administrators are trained in their own fancy schools – the ENA – and they've learned to add micro decrees, so there are laws piled on top of laws. This is not a big problem because few of them are enforced. Enforcing laws costs a lot of money and enforcement annoys people. If you get something stupid like Vichy in WWII, they didn't write a lot of new laws, but mostly enforced old laws. Even the Germans enforced fewer laws.

It's one of the reasons that so many – except Nazis – Germans like France. Germans like the idea of laws that aren't enforced; they think the French know how to live properly with bags of tolerance. Nazis think the French are degenerate and corrupt.

Actually, if you look at car dashboards, you'll see a lot of the tickets printed out by the parking metres. Most people pay, because no matter how much it costs, it's cheaper than getting fines, especially now that they cost real money instead of francs.

The presidential amnesty isn't guaranteed. If you don't pay parking tickets for five years, waiting for the amnesty, and it doesn't happen, then where are you? But some French like living recklessly. I guess there's a reason for all the casinos and racetracks.

The amnesty – it's an old tradition when a new president is elected. During the election campaign, when the candidates are making their promises – a newspaper or TV–news will ask the question – what is your amnesty plan? Considered to be chicken–feed, it might be a forgiveness for all parking tickets. The problem is, pedestrians vote too, and how do you give them a freebie? The president can't promise cleaner sidewalks after all. Sidewalks are run by the city, not by the Elysée Palace.

France and other European countries are having talks at the moment, inching towards having a continental registry – so French cops can ticket foreign cars and foreign drivers can't escape paying the fines by leaving town like Germans do. Our dynamic but short minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said foreign cars will not be immune after the beginning of 2006. Foreign drivers don't vote here.

The new measure will surely put a dent in tourism. How many repressed Europeans will pass up France now that there's to be no immunity for tearing around, breaking all the laws? For foreigners, being under Sarkozy's little thumb will not be amusing.

But parking fines are a great way to fill up the government's coffers. Chasing pedophiles over the Internet is not nearly as rewarding. I mean, French parents want to hear that Sarkozy isphoto, traffic, bike, leclerc chasing pedophiles – so he'll say he is – but parking tickets are a real money–maker in comparison. It's a form of tax after all – the city gets money from those who pay, and later from those who don't – and all it costs is paying for some parking ticket ladies. The city probably even makes them buy their own uniforms.

Some drivers suspect the parking ticket ladies get a commission but I doubt it. You would see them working a lot harder if they did. For what they are probably paid there's no incentive for German–style diligence.

I have to wonder what the plan will be if they ever figure out how to ban cars from Paris. What will they do with all these wide avenues and boulevards? I suppose the homeless could be stashed in unused parking garages, but what of the hundreds of kilometres of street parking spaces?

Nobody has mentioned it lately, but there are people around who are still burned up by Baron Haussmann's little urban project for Paris. But I don't know of any reason why wide streets can't be filled in with more office and apartment buildings. Without cars you could put a line of them down the middle of the Champs–Elysées, transforming the avenue from a ten–lane wide no–parking zero revenue fun–driving zone into a classy tax paying high–rent district.

But it'll never happen. The Champs–Elysées is also where the new president takes his, or her, victory drive, from the Etoile down to Concorde and whip, zip, around the corner to the gilded Elysée.

Let's face it – France has its exceptions. One of them is the crazy notion that there's more to life than making nothing but money. As far as the parking ticket ladies are concerned the Champs–Elysées is a total loss, for the sheer splendid hell of it.

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