Sunday, October 25, 2009

Christmas in October, hijinks at La Défense, and poverty

The weather has been cooler lately, which is fine with me, although a few days have gotten relatively warm, in the sense that my apartment has overheated. If it's 64° F outside, the temperature may rise uncomfortably to the mid-70s or beyond in the apartment, thanks to the aggressive heating system of the building, which has now been turned on.

With the days growing shorter, I sometimes walk to school before dawn, and sometimes I see pretty pictures, like the one shown here.

Anyway, October had barely started this year when workers began putting lights up on the Champs-Élysées—the world's most famous avenue™—for Christmas. Granted, it takes quite some time to put up lights on all the trees of the avenue, especially at French speeds, but that still seems awfully early. It seems like they were just taking them down yesterday. I like Christmas lights, though.

Last year, a national celebrity was hired to ceremonially turn the lights on. As I recall, it was Marion Cotillard, a French actress who won an Oscar for her performance in the title role of a French film about Édith Piaf, La môme. Because the ceremony is a touristy thing, the officials who arrange it have to try to find someone in France who has at least some slim chance of being recognizable outside the country, and last year, Cotillard was an obvious choice, having been one of only a tiny handful of French performers who have actually won Oscars since the award was created. This year, I don't know whom they will ask to flip the ceremonial switch. Most people outside France wouldn't even recognize the French president, much less any other celebrity from the country. And if Édith Piaf herself, one of France's biggest historical claims to fame, returned from the grave to turn on the lights, I don't think anyone would recognize her, either. But they might manage to get eight or nine seconds of airtime on CNN, if they are lucky, and if they turn on the lights on a slow day.

In other news … there was a bit of an uproar over the candidacy of the French president's son, Jean Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa, for a juicy position as the head of the EPAD, the organization that oversees development of La Défense, a suburb of Paris that is one of the most prestigious business districts in Europe. Shades of nepotism clouded his candidacy, especially since he is only 23 years old and still in school, which are both very rare characteristics for someone appointed to this type of position. Some people actually believed that there was no connection between his potential election to the post and his father's position as head of state. But in a Latin country, there are always connections between people everywhere, because people are hired for jobs based on whom they know, rather than what they know.

As it turned out, Jean Sarkozy finally gave up his candidacy amidst the many accusations of favoritism.

La Défense is a nice place, actually, at least during the day. At night, it's deserted, except for a few shady denizens that one ordinarily wouldn't want to meet. In daytime, it's a very dynamic and quite pleasant place to work, with quite a few skyscrapers surrounding a vast, totally pedestrian plaza. Transportation is relegated to underground tunnels, and the area is well served by freeways, buses, taxis, and commuter trains. I used to work there in the old days, when I had a salary I could live on. It was especially nice in good weather at noon, because everyone from the surrounding towers would spill out onto the plaza to walk and eat lunch (lunch being quite a long affair in France, even in La Défense). In the old days, the plaza was a large open expanse; today, thanks to the continuing efforts of the EPAD to turn every square meter into profit, it's a lot more crowded. Still, it's nice, and it's quiet, too, since there are no vehicles around. All you hear are people talking and walking, unless the EPAD has set up some stupid noisy event, which happens often enough, unfortunately.

I've been trying to sell whatever I can scrape up in my apartment to raise money, but it's a very slow process. Everything takes forever in France, which is good when creditors are after you, but bad when you are trying to make money to pay them. EncherExpert, the store that sells your stuff on eBay, builds multiple delays into its payment process so that you wait at least a month for your money. Supposedly it sent me a small check on October 15, but it's been over a week and I have yet to see it. That money could buy some extra groceries. In the meantime, I'm down to five euro, so I couldn't do any laundry this weekend, and I lost the credit on my cell phone because I couldn't add any before the existing credit expired. Luckily I still have some milk and bread and other things to eat in the fridge, so I'm not starving yet.

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