Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Parc Monceau

The Parc Monceau is one of the prettiest parks in Paris, and given that all parks in Paris are pretty, that's saying a lot. I finally got around to making a video of the park, which you can see at right.

The park is in a part of town where the “good people” (meaning rich people) live, and you see mostly well-behaved French people and their children there, along with nannies bringing children to the park while their parents are working long hours to earn their substantial incomes.

The park is also surrounded by extremely expensive homes on three sides, some of which have a private entrance to the park 24 hours a day, although the private entrances don't look like they are used much. The north side of the park parallels the boulevard de Courcelles.

One of the interesting things about this park is that it's filled with “follies,” meaning make-believe monuments and ruins, built just to make the park interesting. The follies are not as old as they look, although they were built 200 years ago so they are not exactly new. There's an Egyptian pyramid (or at least something that people in the 18th century thought looked like an Egyptian pyramid), a pond surrounded by ancient-looking columns, and numerous other artifacts. It makes the park more interesting to look at and reflects a fad that was in full swing at the time the park was designed.

There's also a path that runs completely around the park, just over 1 km long, which is much favored by joggers (so much so that I sometimes wonder if it's completely safe). For kids, there's a playground, a sandbox, a roller rink, swings, a merry-go-round, and a snack bar and toy shop.

Overall it's a very pleasant place to visit. I tried to capture its charm on video, but of course you really have to be there to appreciate it.

My most unusual visit to the park was some years ago when I went there not long before closing, in winter time when the sun sets early. The park was effectively in the dark, with just silhouettes of the trees against a cloudy sky that glowed orange. It was rather spooky and pleasant at the same time.

This park also has some vast expanses of grass to relax on, and the landscaping is constantly being maintained and tweaked. While I was recording this video, there was an exhibition of sorts of different landscaping arrangements representing different parts of the world, which was pretty cool.

There's also an artificial mountain in the park, but that has been closed to the public for years. It seems that all the artificial mountains and tunnels in Paris parks have been closed in recent years. Maybe they are worried about liability.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Changes afoot on the Seine River expressways

After fifty years of noisy traffic clogging large parts of the banks of the Seine River, the Paris city council has finally decided to change things in favor of Parisian pedestrians. Following a €35 million plan to renovate the banks of the Seine approved last year, the city completed the first phase of the plan on August 31, and I've made yet another video showing the changes.

The Voie Express Georges Pompidou is a kind of expressway that runs along much of the right (north) bank of the Seine River through Paris. It was a pet project of the late French president Georges Pompidou, after whom it was named. Since the 1960s cars have been racing along the expressway from west to east, except for month-long interruptions for Paris Plages during the summer over the past decade.

The changes made this summer include narrowing the expressway, installing sidewalks and grass for Parisians to enjoy along the river, and installing traffic lights that force traffic to stop and start along the expressway and also provide pedestrians with a way of reaching the water's edge. The results are much prettier than the old expressway. And despite dire predictions made by opponents of the changes, traffic doesn't seem to have become much worse with the new arrangement.

In fact, 80% of Parisians don't even have a driver's license, much less a car, and use public transportation to get around. The cars and scooters whizzing down the expressway are mostly from the suburbs. So Parisians suffer very little from these changes and profit from them substantially, while suburbanites who insist on driving through central Paris are going to find doing so to be even slower than it used to be.

The modifications seem to be partly inspired by Paris Plages, the very successful transformation of the expressway that is carried out every summer, turning it into a kind of giant beach resort. I tried walking down the new sidewalks, and apart from the noise of traffic, it was quite nice. The traffic moves in blobs, because of the traffic lights, and the contrast in noise level between the moments when traffic is passing and the moments when it's not is astonishing.

The video was made on September 4, the first day with any real traffic on the expressway. Things looked pretty smooth to me. The first phase of the changes concerns only the stretch between City Hall and the quai Henri IV. It incorporates an existing riverside park from 1933 that has been completely modernized and renovated.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

An almost secret garden, and well-hidden memorials

Even as the clouds of doom gather in the distance, I continue to produce videos. One is a video of an extremely secluded park in Paris, the other is a video of some Holocaust memorials.

The first video shows the Anne Frank Garden, a small park just east of the Pompidou Center and practically unknown to everyone who doesn't live in the immediate neighborhood. It's at the end of a twisty, dead-end, pedestrian street, and you can easily walk past it without realizing that it's there. It was opened in 2007 and was named after Anne Frank, that German girl who hid from the Nazis in the Netherlands for a time during the Second World War and was eventually betrayed and deported to a concentration camp. She is famous because of her insightful diary, perhaps in part because so many people are unwilling to believe that a 13-year-old can have intelligent thoughts.

Anyway, this little park is divided into three parts. The first part features a tree descended from a tree that Anne used to admire near her hiding place. The second part is a renovation of a 17th-century garden adjacent to a mansion that is now a museum of Judaism (although there's no direct access between the museum and the park). The third part features a tiny garden maintained by a local non-profit association.

The park is completely surrounded by buildings, except for the small pedestrian street that leads to the entrance.

The other video shows two memorials to the WWII mass arrest and deportation of Jews in France that is known as the Vel' d'Hiv' round-up. On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police, at the behest of the German occupation, arrested 13,152 Jews and crammed 8000 of them into the Vélodrome d'Hiver, a multi-purpose sports arena that emphasized cycling competitions. The doors were locked and the windows screwed shut, there were no toilets, no food, and only a single water tap, and they were kept there for four days before being sent off to Auschwitz. The willingness and eagerness with which French police cooperated with the Germans, even above and beyond the German instructions (as by arresting 4000 children, even though the Germans did not order this), have made the incident one of the darkest and most shameful days in French history.

There are two memorials. One is a simple plaque near the site of the vélodrome (which was torn down in 1959), the other is a small memorial near the Seine River. It's ironic that the former location of the vélodrome is now occupied by the Interior Ministry, the same government entity that sent the police out to arrest all those Jews in 1942. The plaque and the flowers are on the boulevard de Grenelle and are very inconspicuous. The other memorial is even more secluded, hidden from the quai de Grenelle by bushes and at the end of a long plaza. It's almost as if … as if the government were trying to hide these memorials.

That two consecutive videos are linked to the Holocaust is a coincidence, though. I chose the Anne Frank Garden for a video simply because it is so sneakily hidden, and I chose the Vel' d'Hiv' memorial for a video because I was already filming in the same area and some people have asked me about the incident since the release of the movie Sarah's Key. I'm not one of those Holocaust fanatics setting up new memorials on every city block, but I do find the behavior of the French government in the Vel' d'Hiv' incident to be worse than despicable.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The ESL Illusion in Paris

Some people believe that it's possible to lead an exciting and lucrative existence abroad simply by working as an English teacher. This may well be true in some countries—I'm not well traveled and I can't speak for countries other than France. However, it is absolutely, positively not true in France, so I thought I'd post a warning to those who might be considering it.

There are tons of language schools in Paris, and there's a strong demand for language instruction, most of it being English as a second language (ESL). However, there's also a tremendous glut of potential English teachers … practically every other Anglophone girl looking for something to do abroad during her gap year seems to be considering ESL teaching. And why not? It's easy to do. Many schools ask for some sort of credentials for ESL teaching, but they are easy to obtain. Some schools don't care. ESL employment is a revolving door, with extremely high turnover—few teachers stay more than a few months on the job. That's because ESL teaching in Paris is typically a part-time, minimum-wage job. I've been doing it for eight years, mainly because there simply aren't any other jobs available for someone my age (and my background is in computers, where age discrimination in France is even more intense than in other professions).

My school, for example, which is based right off the Champs-Élysées and targets a corporate clientèle (I won't name names, but it's on the rue La Boëtie), regularly hires people off the street to teach, since teachers are constantly leaving. They have to have working papers and usually some kind of teaching certificate. All the schools require papers, they don't all require the certificate. Typically the teacher is offered a guarantee of a few hours per year, at minimum wage. Many of the new hires have little or no work experience, so they don't immediately realize that you cannot survive in Paris on minimum wage and part-time work. After a few months, this becomes clear to them, so they leave, and someone else replaces them.

At my school, many teachers have rotting teeth and poor vision. That's because the French national health-care system, which is excellent overall, provides only very limited coverage of dental work. In respectable companies, the company usually pays a modest fee for complementary coverage that handles this, but my employer does not. Likewise, teachers are squinting a lot because the same problem exists for ophthalmology and eyeglass prescriptions.

I'm considered a seasoned veteran of ESL teaching because I've been doing it for more than a few months. I have no place else to go. The number of hours I get varies wildly (true for all teachers), from perhaps 120 hours in a month to zero. This year, I received no hours at all between June 27 and August 16, which means no groceries, no utilities paid, and no rent paid. Up to now, I've survived by selling just about all the personal property I own, and by receiving regular handouts from my family. But all the property is sold now, and my family cannot pay me a full salary. The future is not bright.

I've included a diagram that shows how much I've made over the past 22 months. The green fat line is the current French monthly minimum wage; it's about €1100. In the past two years, I've only made enough to pay the bills during a single month. The rest of the time, I've sold things or depended on handouts to survive.

The irony is that my school charges people €100 an hour for instruction. About one quarter of that pays for the teacher (including government social security and such, but not income taxes), leaving the teacher with about 1/8 of what the client is paying. Sometimes the school bills clients twice for one teacher. The net pay for one hour of teaching is about €12, before income taxes. It's not clear what the school does with the other 75% of what it charges the client.

Overall this means that almost all the teachers are earning no more than a few hundred euro per month—considerably less than a typical monthly rent payment. Many of them live illegally in apartments for which they pay the landlords cash each month, because no agency will give them a legitimate lease with their levels of income. But even rent paid under the table still amounts to more than some teachers make, so many struggle to find lodging, unless they live with someone who has a real job. A few teachers, favored by the school for reasons unknown, receive the lion's share of teaching hours, and presumably can make ends meet; the rest are allowed to starve.

It's a very typical case of people not actually being on the unemployment rolls, and yet making less money than those who are.

Anyway, the moral of the story is this: If you have even the slightest inclination to think about teaching English in Paris as a way to live in the city … think again. It may work in Thailand, Korea, China, or Saudi Arabia, but it won't work here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A look at Les Halles, and “vacation”

Today is July 15, a date on which the city of Paris becomes exceptionally quiet for about a month. A great many Parisians go on summer vacation at this time of year. Although the city would still seem very busy to visitors, to residents it seems a lot quieter during this period.

In fact, it would be extremely calm and quiet where I live, were it not for the three different construction projects in progress within 200 feet of my apartment. It's bad enough that a building across the street was under construction for about two years, after the street had been rebuilt over a period of a months, and before the building next door was put under construction, and now the building on the other side is under construction, and there's been a huge construction project in progress a bit further away for several years now as well. All of this means constant noise, even at times of year when it should be very quiet. For days I've been listening to jackhammers outside my window all day long, every day except Sunday. Oh well.

I don't actually take vacation myself. I'm in Paris, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm already in my favorite vacation destination, so why go anywhere else? Plus I hate travel, and I have no money to go anywhere, so even if I wanted to (which I don't), I couldn't.

Time for another video. Someone asked me if I could show some of the street performers that hang around the Pompidou Center (the museum of modern art in Paris). I decided to walk out there and shoot some video.

Right now, the Forum des Halles is again under construction. This area used to be the huge wholesale food market for Paris, up until the 1970s, when the markets were moved to the suburbs (to Rungis, now the world's largest wholesale food market), and the entire area in Paris was rebuilt to include an underground shopping center and an above-ground park. Now, forty years later, the city has decided for some strange reason to tear it all apart and rebuild it again, so the whole area is walled off and under construction. Granted, the underground shopping center was always slightly depressing, thanks to its gray-concrete architecture, which made it look more like an underground parking garage than a shopping mall, but the rest was okay, especially above ground. But now it's being redone again. It won't be finished until 2014 or so. So I took some pictures of the fences and cranes, but that's about all I could do.

The surrounding area is intact, however, including the area around the butt-ugly Pompidou Center and the surrounding streets. Actually, I guess the Center isn't that ugly, but it sure looks out of place compared to surrounding buildings. It was built with the building's infrastructure on the outside, ostensibly so that there would be uninterrupted open spaces on the inside, but it's not very aesthetic. The Center does have an interesting outside escalator, though, which always reminds me of Beverly Center (which it predates). At one time, everything on the outside was color-coded—water, air, electricity, etc.—but after renovations that were required to upgrade the structure (apparently nobody realized that putting everything on the outside would aggravate the effects of weather), it seems that a lot just got painted plain white.

Anyway … the area around the Forum is very animated, day and night. By some standards it's a bit seedy in the wee hours. One of the world's largest subway stations is beneath the Forum, and the various dregs living in the suburbs roll into the city at this station so that they can make trouble in the nation's capital. I guess that since they've already laid waste to their worthless suburbs, they feel they must make a shambles of Paris itself as well. That's why the area is seedy late at night and in the wee hours, although I wouldn't call it dangerous.

There are tons of shops and restaurants on the mostly-pedestrian streets around the Forum. And there are always people, which is nice (at least if you like areas with people, as I do). I try to show most of this area in the video. One thing about videos on neighborhoods, though, is that it's hard to know where to saw off the video at the edges of the neighborhood, as these edges tend to be rather blurry. I didn't show some of the jazz clubs in the area, for example, but I did show most of the streets around the Pompidou Center and parts of the Forum, and the curious Quartier de l'Horloge.

I suppose I'll have to redo it once the Forum is all done again, but this will do for now.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Around the Champs-Élysées

Well, time for another video. This time it's about the lower half of the Champs.

Yes, the Champs-Élysées is informally divided into two parts: the highly commercial area above (northwest of) the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées roundabout, and the parkland area below (southeast). Tourists—and those who promote tourism—tend to concentrate on the upper part, since that's where the money is made. But the lower part is nice, too, in part because tourists visit it far less.

The lower part consists of some parks and gardens. They are technically separate and have names of their own, but in practical terms it's just one big area of parkland. The south side of the avenue is a bit more “wild” (that is, less formally landscaped) than the north side. In among the trees and gardens, there are two well-known theaters (Théâtre du Rond-Point and Théâtre Marigny), several fancy restaurants, some conference venues, snack bars, two huge 19th-century exhibition halls (the Grand and Petit Palais), scattered statues, two sanisettes, two Wallace fountains, a gazebo, and other things. All of this is shown in my video.

The south and lower portion of the Champs is the quietest part of the avenue. There are some scattered benches among the trees, and it's fairly peaceful despite the close proximity of so much traffic. The north side is nice, too: there are more people, but the area is much more carefully landscaped. It's surprising how quickly the traffic fades as you move into the park areas.

On the south side of the south side, so to speak, there's a street called Cours La Reine, which is a major, official parking area for tour buses. This street is usually packed with such buses. It's the closest official parking place to the Champs itself.

The Grand Palais is huge, and is designed with a minimum of internal supporting columns and a glass roof. It's a great spot for large exhibitions, and was intended for them. The Petit Palais is smaller, as the name implies, but is also intended for and well suited to exhibitions. Part of the Grand Palais is permanently dedicated to the Palais de la découverte, a science museum with a lot of interesting, hands-on exhibits.

Anyway, this video is done and online. Next up will be (I think) Les Halles.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Père Lachaise, elections, other stuff

Well, I finally finished my blockbuster video on the famous Père Lachaise cemetery. It took a number of trips to the cemetery to get all the shots I wanted. This video also cost me money because I had to pay ten euro to license a musical stinger of a few seconds that I use several times in the video.

Anyway, Père Lachaise is a really relaxing place to visit, provided that you aren't made nervous by the proximity of rotting cadavers. It's relatively quiet as Parisian locations go, and it has lots of trees that make a nice noise when there's a breeze, and the tombs themselves are often very interesting to look at, with a considerable amount of art incorporated into their design. You can spend hours at the cemetery quite easily. And it's a famous cemetery because many famous people are buried there, from Jim Morrison (who has been dead longer than he was alive) to Maria Callas to Oscar Wilde to Édith Piaf. The paths and walkways of the cemetery are like a Hall of Fame for the dead.

I've been to the cemetery many times. It is customary to pick up a map before or at the entrance. The free maps are so-so. The maps you have to pay for are often considerably better. I helped someone find several famous graves while I was shooting because his free map did not clearly show their locations, whereas my €2.50 map did. I guess that raises the production cost of my video to €12.50.

I divided the video up into a couple of parts, perhaps not very intelligently. It was hard to come up with constant narration, so some parts don't have any.

Moving right along … the French presidential elections have come and gone. The incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was kicked out of office after only a single term. He was replaced by François Hollande. Time will tell if this was a good choice or not.

Mr. Sarkozy is intelligent but has a lot of quirks. I think the quirks induced the electorate to vote him out of office. Voters weren't interested in his replacement so much as they just wanted him to be replaced.

Mr. Hollande has been in the old boys' club of French politics for decades, but, significantly, he has always been on the periphery, never in the center, like his ex-girlfriend Ségolène Royal. This implies to me that neither of them really has what it takes for positions of high responsibility, otherwise they would have climbed the ladder long ago. But in the last election, Ms. Royal was pitted again Mr. Sarkozy … for what reasons, I do not know. Perhaps the opposition had nothing better to offer (which is worrisome), or perhaps it was a gamble on getting her into office based on the fact that she's female. Whatever those reasons, she lost. Shortly thereafter, she broke up with Mr. Hollande, who found a new girlfriend. It seems that the brush with celebrity that Ms. Royal had may have catalyzed the campaign of her ex-beau to become president; at least that's my theory, as I cannot see why he would ever be selected as a candidate otherwise. In his case, though, when he ran against Mr. Sarkozy, he won. Whether he truly has the right stuff to serve as head of state remains to be seen.

Anyway … as a resident alien, I cannot vote, so I just observe. I hope things go well with this new president.

Thursday (June 21) was the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere (at 2:59 AM local time here in Paris). It's also the Fête de la Musique, a yearly event that was first invented in France but has now spread to many other countries. On June 21, every musician and group that couldn't get a paying gig to save their souls at any other time of year surge out of the woodwork to perform in informal concerts in various venues, including the public right of way. This is not always a good thing for people who have to listen to them, especially when they have amplifiers that go to eleven. Fortunately, in recent years, the noise has settled down somewhat as the informal occasion has become more of a Major Media Event, with more professionals and fewer amateurs.

In any case, my arrondissement is rather sleepy so I'm not disturbed by amateur music blasting through the streets on this occasion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My latest videos

I suppose it's a good thing that practically no one reads this blog, since I've been terribly remiss in not posting more often to it. I'm preoccupied by financial crises most of the time and rarely have the time or the concentration to post.

Nevertheless, since my last post, I have managed to create some new videos. My latest blockbuster is another video on Montmartre. However, unlike my first video on the neighborhood, which emphasized the touristy areas of the Montmartre Butte, this video looks at all the other areas, the places where tourists are far less common (although no part of Montmartre is totally free of tourists, of course). It also sets a new record for length for my videos, at just over 37 minutes. Even so, it's just a brief overview of the area, because you can't capture the charm of Montmartre in just half an hour.

My goal was to show some of the extremely charming areas of Montmartre that are not on the standard tourist routes. There are many such areas. The parts of the butte to the west of Sacré-Cœur Basilica are beautiful, and they are exceptional in comparison with other parts of Paris in several ways. For one, the streets tend to be twisty and small—Baron Haussmann never bulldozed any broad avenues through this area. None of the streets is useful for through traffic, so traffic on the butte is light, which in turn means that it's very quiet much of the time (with the near-silence occasionally being shattered by a passing vehicle). Another nice thing about the butte is that the architecture is very heterogeneous and pleasant … each house is different from all the others, and they are virtually all in a charming 19th-century style. No Jean Nouvel eyesores here, thank goodness!

Because the streets are so twisty, it was difficult to tour the area in a coherent way, so I was forced to switch from one street to another, hopefully with sufficient care that things don't become too confusing. There's also a brief interlude showing the two major cemeteries in the area, the Montmartre Cemetery, which is very well known, and the tiny Saint Vincent cemetery, which is scarcely known at all. I cover the major streets—Lepic, Junot, Caulaincourt, Lamarck—plus many small streets, plus the area on the north and south slopes of the butte. I didn't really venture east because things deteriorate rapidly as you move east of Sacré-Cœur, unfortunately.

This long video was quite time-consuming to make, although it was interesting.

I've also made a few short videos. A video on the Marché du Saint Honoré shows the incongruous shiny glass building that now stands where the open Marché du Saint Honoré once stood. It's a well hidden spot among tiny streets only a few steps away from the big avenue de l'Opéra and rue de Rivoli. Most tourists don't know it exists, but it has some charming restaurants around the perimeter of the square. The large glass building looks very much out of place, but at least it's not too ugly (perhaps because Jean Nouvel had nothing to do with it). The glass building is mostly offices and some chichi retail stores. The video is only a few minutes long.

Another video shows traffic in Paris around the Opéra at rush hour. I shot this as a kind of experiment, just to show the hustle and bustle of a busy area of Paris during the busiest part of the day. It was inspired by a recording I made of traffic noises in the intersection. It's also interesting in that it shows how real-world Parisians dress, and proves that Parisians do not dress like supermodels every time they step out of the house. They dress perhaps better than people do in many American cities, but that's not saying much. Several people have written to me to say how beautiful they find Parisian women after seeing the video. I've lived in Paris for ages so I suppose I've become spoiled, but I'm happy to report that Parisian women really are a cut above the norm worldwide, and pretty women in Paris are legion.

Still another short video I've prepared features the Viviani Square in the Latin Quarter. It's a tiny park with a great view of Notre-Dame and the city's oldest tree, planted in 1602. And another shows the remains of the Bastille. Yes, it was torn down at the time of the French Revolution, but a few parts under street level survived, which you can still see, and the shape of the fortress is still outlined on the pavement around the place de la Bastille … if you know where to look.

But wait, there's more! I uploaded a video of the largest May Day parade in Paris, mainly because I wanted to practice editing. It turned out okay. It shows all the various groups that demonstrate during such a parade, which was more politicized than usual because it preceded the second round of the French presidential elections by only a few days. The largest parade leaned a bit to the left politically, although that was irrelevant to me. I was only assaulted a few times, by groups that felt that I had to completely move out of their way as they advanced. I left footage of those groups on the cutting-room floor, as there's no way that I'm going to give free publicity to losers who break the law.

The most frustrating part of making these videos so far is the time required to render and upload them. A two-minute video takes 20 minutes to render, and 1 hour and 40 minutes to upload. You can imagine how long a half-hour video takes!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Paris butts and other pet peeves

I love Paris and I'm very happy to live in the city, but there are some little things that I find irritating, as one might find in any place, since no city is perfect.

One of them that I've noticed especially recently is cigarette butts. As I've mentioned before, smoking among the French has actually increased by two percent since smoking in all public places was outlawed a few years ago—among women, it has increased by seven percent (!). This was brought home to me a few days ago as I walked along a side street behind the grands magasins. I saw a huge number of people standing around outside the employee entrances of stores (specifically Printemps), smoking like steam locomotives. At one point, I was actually walking through a blue cloud of cigarette smoking drifting into the street from both sidewalks, thanks to the hundreds of smokers there—I'm not exaggerating! It was amazing. And when you look down, the sidewalk is covered with cigarette butts.

It's just amazing to think how much time these employees are wasting, and how much money they are paying for cigarettes (a pack of cigarettes will soon cost around €7.50, from what I've read). And yet they smoke more and more, instead of less and less … especially French women.

Another pet peeve is noise. Paris is a wonderful city visually, and has been featured in many films, including a few recent Oscar contenders such as Midnight in Paris. But the synchronous sound in these films is either very heavily edited in post-production or removed entirely, because Paris is a very noisy city. Of course, most large cities today are extremely noisy, so it's not just Paris. And they are generally noisy for exactly the same reason worldwide, namely, because of motor vehicles. The difference in sound level between a quiet street (be it filled with pedestrians or not) and a street with motor vehicles can be 1000 to 1 easily. There's virtually no escaping it.

Still another pet peeve is also related to motor vehicles: many streets in Paris, even small ones, are almost entirely dedicated to cars. You might have three lanes for cars in a small street, with sidewalks that are literally only 18 inches wide. I'm pleased to see that the city is rebuilding some of these streets with much wider sidewalks and only one lane for vehicular traffic, but it's going to take a long time to change them all. I noticed some intersections around Montparnasse recently remodeled in this way, and the difference was huge, with vast, spacious sidewalks (easily filled, since there's at least as much pedestrian traffic in Paris as there is vehicular traffic), and a roadway with several lanes less than it used to have. I hope the entire city will eventually be converted in this way.

A last pet peeve is the cost of living, but there's nothing surprising about that. Everyone wants to live in Paris, so prices are high, especially for real estate. And with the rise of moneyed classes in the Third World, the demand for the pied-à-terre in Paris is increasing, and it's a small city. For people like me, who work for starvation wages for employers with a long history of abusing their employees, it's difficult.

Nevertheless, overall, these problems aren't that big a deal, except maybe for the cost of living, but no city worth living in has a low cost of living. The advantages of Paris outweigh the disadvantages. As I've said before (I think!), when people ask me if living in Paris is really all it's cracked up to be, I say … YES!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A cold snap—for once

Well, cold weather has come to Paris these past few days. Historically, that would not be exceptional, but these days (these past few decades, that is) it has become so. The past few days have been below freezing 24 hours a day, which is quite unusual for Paris. The last time this happened was back around 1987 or so. Still, one must look at this in context. Subfreezing temperatures are unusual for Paris, but they still are nothing in comparison to the incredibly bad winter weather that afflicts much of the United States every winter.

I don't mind cool weather, but I dislike hot or cold weather, which I suppose makes sense. For me, cool weather is between 0° and 12° C (32° and 54° F). Above that, and things start to get warm, and possibly too warm (at least for people like me who like to walk). Below that, and things start to freeze, which brings a whole truckload of problems along with it. So right now I'm not too happy because of the subfreezing weather. I have clothing that is warm enough, so that's not a problem, but my hands and face and head freeze a lot, and I haven't been able to find gloves that can both keep my hands warm and still allow me to manipulate the Tinkerbell-sized buttons on my various electronic gadgets (cameras and such).

A consequence of this is that I don't go out much if the temperature is below freezing. Gadgets don't like subfreezing temperatures, so I can't bring them with me, and even if I could, my hands would go numb if I tried to hold them. So I just stay home.

Staying home has other advantages, too, the main one being that it costs less. Every time I step out the door, it costs me €20 or so. My parents didn't want to believe this, so I've been keeping a log of my expenditures each day. Sure enough, every time I open that door, it costs me money. I have to buy groceries, for example, which are extremely expensive. I have to buy aspirin or whatever at pharmacies from time to time. I have to buy Métro tickets or transit passes. And if I walk for any period of time, I usually buy a soda pop or a cookie or something. So I'm always spending money on something. It amounts to hundreds of euro per month, and represents my greatest living expense after rent.

So I guess I save money when it's very cold. I do pay indirectly for heating, although the building is centrally heated, so I suppose that costs money. The heating system works very well in exceptionally cold weather like this, whereas it tends to overheat in seasonal winter weather, which usually has temperatures above freezing.

It's amusing to see people reacting to this minor cold snap. Temperatures have risen so much in recent years that people don't realize how cool Paris traditionally is in the winter. Last year, similarly extreme excursions on the hot side of the thermometer occurred practically all year long, but they are so common now that people don't realize how much the city has warmed up. The Seine River used to freeze over regularly 150 years ago, but not now.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Street furniture in Paris

Call me a geek, but I take an interest in street furniture … things like benches, streetlights, fire hydrants, etc. And so I finally produced a little pet project of mine, which is a simple video showing the street furniture in Paris. I did this knowing full well that most people aren't interested in such things, but I thought a few might be, and it could be a useful reference.

So now my video is out there. It ended up running for more than half an hour. I try to cover a variety of things you see on the street, including some things that are relatively specific to Paris, such as the famous Wallace fountains, and sanisettes. And I do cover the aforementioned benches, streetlights, and fire hydrants.

Wallace fountains are extremely specific to Paris. You find them all over the city: green, cast-iron sculptures with a thin stream of drinking water running in the center of the open sculpture. I think most people don't realize that these fountains are not just decorative. The water they provide is drinking water, so you can fill your water bottles with it. I do it, in hot weather (the fountains don't run in winter because of the risk of freezing).

Sanisettes are also fairly specific to Paris, although Paris isn't the only city that has them. They aren't as old as the Wallace fountains—in fact, they were all upgraded in 2009—but they are nearly as iconic now. And they are also very practical, and like the Wallace fountains, they are free. The latest generation even provides a drinking-water tap on the outside, in case there are no Wallace fountains nearby. Unlike the Wallace fountains, the sanisette taps only dispense water when you press a button … environnement oblige!

There are some other, more discreet objects in the Parisian urban landscape. Fire hydrants are among them. Finding a fire hydrant in Paris requires some detective work. They are mounted directly in the sidewalks, and you have to look for them on the sidewalk or look for tiny enameled plaques on the sides of buildings that specific the exact location and type of a nearby hydrant. If you're in Paris with kids, challenging them to locate these hydrants can be an amusing game.

Another weird type of object is the survey marker. These are tiny iron disks that are mounted on the sides of major buildings. They give the surveyed height above sea level of the marker. Most of the markers are missing the actual plate that gives the elevation today, but it's still interesting to try to find them. They are the sort of thing that you never notice until you look for them, and then they seem to be everywhere, just like fire hydrants.

Still another interesting item is the manhole cover that leads into the Catacombs, or more specifically, into the underground quarries beneath Paris of which the Catacombs are but one small part. These manhole covers look practically identical to other manhole covers that don't lead anywhere interesting, so you have to know how to spot them. In the video, I don't even explain where they lead, leaving that up to the viewer to research.

Anyway, this project is finished. It took a long time because I had to collect different shots of street furniture over a period of many months. I don't expect it to get too many views.