Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring is here, and the transformation of the Champs

The equinox has just passed, and the weather has started moving towards that nearly ideal combination of temperature, sun, fluffy clouds, humidity, and wind that makes spring in Paris justifiably famous. It's a pleasure to walk around the city at this time of year. The weather is wonderful, at least by my standards—some people might still find it a bit chilly for their tastes (daytime temperatures are around 12-15° C, or 54-59° F).

Recently I was walking around on the Champs and kept smelling some sort of perfume (and it must have been strong if I could smell it). I couldn't identify who was wearing it, and I started wondering if some wildly popular perfume had recently come onto the market. It finally dawned on me that the smell was coming from trees on the avenue. I don't know what kind of trees they are, but they looked like something was growing on them (can you tell that botany is not my specialty?), and apparently the part that was growing was also producing a fragrance. I only got whiffs of it intermittently, but it was pleasant.

Speaking of the Champs, multiple informed sources tell me that the avenue gets a bit dicey in the wee hours. In the old days, the avenue was busy 24 hours a day, and it still is, but the character of the crowds now changes by around 2 AM. By that time, various dregs from the suburbs have rolled in on the subways, and several species of low life, including drug dealers and the like, are frequenting the increasingly disreputable strip clubs that have been moving into side streets of the avenue. There are a lot of nightclubs just off the avenue, and some of the younger clubs attract a very rowdy clientele. Clubs staffed by entraĆ®neuses (women dressed in underwear who will cheerfully talk to male patrons in close proximity as long as the latter buy overpriced bottles of cheap alcohol at regular intervals) have moved into the area, whereas one used to see them only in places like Pigalle. Sometimes fights break out on the street between drunken, angry young males, and occasionally gangs decide to fight each other on the avenue. I guess turning their own communities in the ’burbs into garbage heaps wasn't good enough for them, and now they want to effect the same transformation on Paris itself.

I rarely walk the streets in the wee hours these days (more out of simple disinclination than out of any feeling of insecurity), but it's still unfortunate to hear that there are so many troublemakers on the Champs. Paris is generally a safe city at any time of day in just about any neighborhood, but some areas are less recommendable than others, and now the Champs is moving onto the seedy list, at least between 2 AM and 5 AM or so.

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