Sunday, May 26, 2013

Demonstrations a-plenty!

Well, there are at least four demonstrations scheduled in Paris today, most (all?) of them objecting to homosexual marriage and adoption. For some reason, I seem to live near one of the preferred routes for demonstrations (irrespective of their purpose), and as I write these words, I can hear one of the demonstrations passing nearby.

It started with booming music in the distance. Right now, I can hear the muffled cries of the leader of the demonstration. Every demonstration in Paris seems to be led by a middle-aged, leather-lunged male extrovert endowed with preternatural enthusiasm for the cause, who exhorts the following demonstrators to maintain their movement and interest in the demonstration. Usually he repeats slogans over and over, to a tune that is uncannily similar to that used by children in nursery schools when they taunt each other. The tune is pretty much the same no matter what the cause. The slogans are usually exercises in hyperbole.

Usually the demonstrators are quiet and just move along with the crowd slowly. However, if TV crews appear, they start yelling in reply to the leader’s slogans, in order to improve the chances of the demonstration being seen on TV. Of course, on the rare occasions when a few losers start throwing a few rocks, an appearance on the nightly news is guaranteed, with the said rocks being shown over and over.

Demonstrations are a common sight in Paris, and I exhausted the novelty of watching them long ago. I think the last demonstration I actually paid any attention to was the annual May Day parade in 2012, and I only did that so that I record it on video. Demonstrations never seem to have any actual effect on anything, yet the French adore them. They prefer to demonstrate, rather than simply elect people who already have their desired goals as part of their campaign platforms. It seems like an exercise in futility to me. However, it seems to be a fun social event for many of the participants, and when they demonstrate on weekdays, it can also be a way of legitimately playing hooky from school or work.

Unfortunately, sometimes people who have no interest at all in the cause being publicized by the demonstration sneak into the crowd and cause trouble, by assaulting demonstrators, or tangling with the police, or looting businesses along the parade route. The police allocate forces to demonstrations based on their estimate of how likely a dérapage in the demonstration is likely to be. In many cases, only a few officers keep an eye on the demonstrators, but for large demonstrations on controversial subjects, buses filled with police dressed in riot gear may line the routes, just in case. Still, big trouble is quite rare, although occasionally there are a few angry young males who get arrested along the route.

Anyway, I have no place to go today, so the traffic disruption won’t make any difference to me. I have enough milk to last until tomorrow (running out of milk always motivates me to sneak out to the grocery store if possible).

My space heater

Well, after going for several days with no building heat and watching the temperature drop steadily in my apartment, I finally went out looking for a little space heater that I could use to compensate.

I started at Darty, where I usually buy all my household appliances. Unfortunately, they were sold out of space heaters, despite claims to their contrary on their woefully out-of-date Web site. I then went to Leroy-Merlin, a DIY home-improvement store near the Pompidou Center. They were sold out, too, although they had some cool little fans, and I bought one of those, along with some cheap thermometers. Then I went to the excellent home-improvement basement at the BHV, which is close by. They had both ultra-cheap and more expensive space heaters still in stock. The ultra-cheap ones looked like they’d catch fire in no time, so I opted for one of the more expensive ones.

In the old days, I would have tried La Samaritaine, too, since they had a fabulous DIY basement. But then LVMH bought it and tried unsuccessfully to turn it into an overpriced, chichi tourist trap. When their conversion failed, they abruptly and fortuitously found building-code violations that required closing the entire store and firing all the staff. The store still hasn’t reopened. I guess LVMH still hasn’t found a way to make a fast buck with the property.

At least BHV still has their basement, but the rumor is that they are itching to make the same expensive mistake that LVMH made with La Samaritaine. If that’s the road they choose to follow, I hope they lose their shirt on it, just as LVMH did. Does every store in Paris have to cater to clueless, nouveau riche tourists from the Third World?

Leroy-Merlin doesn’t appear to be planning any changes, though. It might be the last home-improvement store in Paris left standing. There aren’t many inside the city itself, since people tend to live in small rented apartments that don’t lend themselves to tenant improvements. But you do see a lot more stores like this out in the suburbs, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, after having paid far more than I intended to, I arrived home with my little space heater and turned it on. To my delight, the little heater worked perfectly, and in a few hours my apartment was again comfortable, with a temperature of 21° C instead of barely 17° C.

A few days later, the heat was finally turned back on in the building. So now I’m running the A/C periodically to remove the excess heat from the building heating. I actually think it’s cheaper if they leave the heat off and I use the space heater. That way I’m not paying for both heating and cooling at the same time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Demonstrations, looting, shopping, and heating

There have been lots of protests against same-sex marriage in Paris in recent weeks. Some of the demonstrations are peaceful, others have resulted in some rowdiness with the police or between opposing groups. The government has legalized same-sex marriage now, so it’s mostly water under the bridge, but groups opposed to it are still demonstrating.

This illustrates an important feature of French culture: The French don’t vote for their government officials on the basis of what they promise to do. Instead, they vote for them based on the status of each candidate’s membership in the Old Boys’ Club. Then, once the musical chairs have ended and all the members of the club have been elected to new positions, the French take to the streets and demonstrate in order to have things done their way. Needless to say, it would be vastly more efficient to simply elect people who already intend to do things the way the electorate wants them done … but that would require excluding some of the old boys out of the club, and the French don’t want to do that, as they like to maintain an aristocracy of sorts. Besides, I think they enjoy demonstrating, even though it usually doesn’t accomplish anything.

There are three demonstrations just today, although I have no idea what they are about, nor am I interested in going to see them. Demonstrations are just a feature of daily life in Paris.

There was also some looting a few days ago after a soccer game involving the Paris Saint Germain team. It turns out that the looters weren’t even interested in soccer, they just took advantage of the game to break into businesses in a few areas and make off with loot. There was substantial looting on the Champs-Élysées, and around the Trocadéro. Thanks to these hoodlums, the government is thinking of simply outlawing PSG celebrations after a game, to prevent these scum from showing up and ruining the day.

Speaking of crowds, there was another big crowd at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs on Monday. The Megastore is being closed because Virgin is going out of business, thanks to inept management. Word of an unannounced 50%-off sale for one day at the store apparently got around, and huge crowds mobbed the store when it open, buying just about everything in sight. Most of the people buying weren’t interested in what they were buying. They were only buying because they wanted to resell their booty for a profit on eBay or elsewhere. I read that it was a madhouse. However, even though I work just down the street from the store, I didn’t notice any unusual activity. I guess the madhouse was inside the store. By the end of the day, just about everything but the kitchen sink had been sold, which I suppose was the objective.

Right now it’s about 16° C outside (60° F), and slightly overcast, which happens to be a type of weather that I rather like. The only problem is that the building heat was turned off a few days ago, so it’s cold in the apartment. The French turn on heating and (rarely) cooling based on the calendar, not the actual weather; and the calendar says that it should be warm outside at this time of year, so the heat is off. I’ll have to buy a little space heater to stay warm.

It’s rather odd: in winter, the building is overheated, so I pay both for fuel oil for the overheating, and for electricity for the A/C that I have to use to keep the apartment cool. But now, in spring, it’s cold, so I have to buy a space heater to keep the apartment warm because the building heat has been turned off. Doesn’t anyone ever look at a thermometer outside before making these decisions?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spring, refrigerators, and scissors

Spring is upon us in Paris, and the city is living up to its reputation for excellent weather at this time of year, although it has been somewhat chillier than usual for much of the past three months. Still, I prefer chilly to hot. And while some people might shiver at 14° C (57° F), I find it rather ideal, especially for walking. You can always throw on a sweater in weather like this. When it’s 37° C (99° F) outside, as it has been in some recent years, there’s nothing you can do to escape from the heat.

My parents bought me a new refrigerator. The old one was essentially out of service—the only cold spot that remained within was one tiny ice-incrusted corner of the freezer section. It’s surprising how much of the food we buy these days requires refrigeration. Without a working refrigerator, my diet was very limited. Now that I have a new refrigerator, I suppose I can start scarfing down all the snacks that I did before the old one gave up the ghost.

Appliances are interesting in Paris (and in Europe generally, as far as I know). It’s very easy to find very tiny appliances that are ideal for a single person living alone. Tiny refrigerators, tiny microwaves, tiny washing machines … all are readily available at many appliance stores. My new refrigerator has a capacity of slightly over four cubic feet, but that’s more than enough for me, and its small size allows it to fit in the tiny corner that I generously refer to as the kitchen.

Of course, it’s possible to buy big refrigerators in Paris, too. The kind that have two vertical doors and a water fountain are called “American” refrigerators here (whereas they were just “refrigerators” in the U.S.). They tend to be very expensive, at least in relation to the small refrigerators I prefer, but from what I’ve heard they are not that much more expensive than the equivalent models in the U.S. I guess refrigerators are getting more expensive everywhere. I’m not sure why anyone would need such a large refrigerator unless it were for an equally large family, but they can be had, for a price. The “American” refrigerators are larger than my entire kitchen.

Thanks to the European Union and its unceasing efforts to turn Europe into a safe but boring Utopia, my new fridge does not contain a decent refrigerant—because Freon® damages the ozone layer. Instead, it contains isobutane (euphemistically referred to as refrigerant R-600a), a toxic, highly flammable gas that isn’t nearly as well suited to refrigeration systems as Freon. I’ve read that some refrigerators in the U.K. have exploded after this “refrigerant” escaped from the closed circuit of the fridge and created a flammable atmosphere inside the appliance. I’m not sure that this is progress, but the Eurocrats who make up these laws are not scientists. In any case, my A/C also contains this refrigerant, if I remember correctly, so I sometimes wonder if I’m living dangerously with so much isobutane lurking about.

Anyway, moving right along … the weather is nice. I’ve not been able to summon the energy to go out and enjoy it, but it seems to be nice during the brief periods that I walk through it, on the way to and from work, or to and from the Laundromat, or to and from the grocery store. I haven’t shot any video in ages, although I still have hours of rushes to edit into at least two or three videos, so I suppose that collecting still more footage without editing what I have wouldn’t make much sense, anyway.

Some days ago, I bought a pair of left-handed scissors to offer as a gift. Paris is a big city, so you can find just about anything if you look for it. These scissors came from a small shop in the Sentier (the garment district) that sells all sorts of tools for professional tailors, seamstresses, etc. The scissors were Fiskars,® my preferred brand by far. They make scissors in many sizes, but only one size is available in a left-handed version. Anyway, the name of the shop is Hamon, if you’re ever looking for professional gear for making clothing in Paris.

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