A Fresh Air Weekend

photo: luxembourg garden, sunday

In Sunday's Luxembourg - far more people than trees.

Walking, Talking, Sitting, Rolling

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 31. March 2003:- After last week's 'wordless' issue, my plan was to not plan an issue, but to take care of some urgent work requiring a bit of attention. So what we have here is not, technically, a 'week-off' double issue - but what comes from unglued plans - like my doorbell buzzer button - becoming unstuck.

This then is the 'Café Life' that happened along the way. Unplanned, like life in Paris should be sometimes, and taking advantage of weather that has been more 'above average' than seen here for many years.

The Flippy Weather

For the life of me I can't figure how out the 'weather' got to be Metropole's most popular feature. When I was a kid I thought adults were ga-ga the way they went on about the weather all the time. To me it was right now and rain, rain, rain all the time.

Paris is different of course. Here there are forecasts and predictions, and when they are optimistic they are usually half wrong. This year's March has been different, with pessimistic predictions turning out to be half wrong too - but in our favor.

For the past several weeks almost every time the forecast has foretold miserable weather, blue sky has triumphed. There were even a couple of days last week when Paris had France's highest temperatures, both for the daily low and the high. If nature had rules, these temperatures would have been crimes.

As if this weren't good enough, the temperatures have also been several degrees 'higher than normal' - not just for March but for May.

So much for the past. For the immediate future the outlook is not rosy. Unless the forecast is wrong - it's happened before! - expect partly cloudy skies and temperatures that tumble down to 12, or even, ugh! - 11 degrees. Utter horreur!

Café Life

To Montsouris and Back

It wasn't particularly sunny on Saturday but it wasn't terribly cold either. It seems like a long time ago, so I don't recall the reason for meeting Dennis. We had a café in the café-tabac-Loto-PMU and then stood outside it until deciding to walk to Montsouris by rejecting 544 other possible destinations.

As you might imagine, 'Mouse Mountain' isn't a major goal. Going to a place like this is an excuse not to go tophoto: pro-peace demo, saturday, denfert someplace grand, which might get in the way of a conversation. Maybe the most important aspect of the boring straight-arrow route called the Avenue René Coty, is that its centre walkway is called the Allée Samuel Beckett.

Denfert lion is used as the mascot for many demonstrations.

Except for gossip and literary musings, nothing happened until we were in the Parc Montsouris. Nothing would have happened there either if I hadn't shown Dennis where to cross the bridge over the RER tracks to the side of the park with the pond.

Once there, we examined the renovated 'country' restaurant where Lenin and everybody else important in the 14th used to have lunch on Sundays. The place has not withstood its renovation well. The fake marble additions can only be tasteful late at night.

On the way back we went up the stairs by the reservoir to the Rue des Artistes, and then turned left and right and left so that we stayed in the late 19th century all the way up to the Rue Hallé.

When we came out on the Avenue Leclerc we saw that its traffic was cleared. I asked a lady traffic flic for the reason and she said it was for the day's pro-peace demo expected to arrive at Denfert.

We were close to it when we found a theatrical friend of Dennis' taking her work pause from the FNAC-photo shop. She said it was her last day, because she was ready to produce her next project.

This is Paris. Saturday afternoon, beside a major métro entry-exit, near a serious demo-destination, with shoppers scurrying all over coming out of the métro or from the Monoprix, next to a café with a terrace crowded with loungers, with dozens of riot police lining themselves and their equipment up to guard a McDonald's across the street - and we are practically back with Beckett. Seems unreal this theatre of real life.

Demo of the Day

To cover a demo-destination, the first sensible thing to do is shop for food. The advantage of this is to kill some time because demos are notoriously late arrivals, plus taking it home allowed a view the area's public safety defenses.

The Rue Daguerre was blocked at Gassendi by a red and white plastic tape. Half a block down from it a traffic flicphoto: expressway, seine was on watch to prevent transgressors. But he was too surprised to stop an upset scooter driver who dodged the 'barricade' by zipping down the sidewalk - only barely getting past a militant pedestrian willing to fight.

On the expressway, on wheels, on foot, on Sundays until fall.

Hardly anybody was walking towards Denfert on my return. There was a whole convoy of anti-riot trucks and buses parked in the Rue Froidevaux, plus more were blocking Raspail and some were over by the RER station. It looked like Arago was the only exit.

Even with my shopping and tour I was early. The hot dog stands weren't fully set up yet. Some youths were up on the lion, waving flags. A small sound system was garbling some messages, possibly about métro Saint-Michel being closed. TV crews were swaggering around, waiting for something to happen.

Over flags and beyond heads it could be seen that something was arriving from the direction of Port-Royal. There were balloons in the distance. But in the place, the youths up on the lion decided it was time for the ritual flag-burning.

The first flag was set on fire and it kind of burned fine. The TV crews got some good video of it. When the flag fell in tatters, other youths ritually stamped on it at the statue's base.

The second flag appeared to be fireproof. Lighters didn't set it on fire. Rolled-up newspaper didn't set it on fire. Squirting it with raw lighter-fluid got it to burn for 20 seconds before it went out. After ten attempts it was pretty black and tattered too, and let fall, so it could be ritually tromped on. There was a big cheer. More video was shot.

This took about 20 minutes. The advancing balloons seemed to be where they were before. All the snack stands were in full-blast, producing their usual clouds of noxious smoke. The wall of police guarding McDonald's was thicker, with depth, but nobody was nearer than the people on the café terraces.

From a distance, the scene of the youths on the lion, waving their flags, looked like a heroic capture after a serious battle. But it just was the demo of the day. The evening's France-2 TV-news had a fine five-second video clip of the second flag, not quite burning.

Paris 'Breathes' on Sundays

The new 'Paris Respire' season began on Sunday, 23. March. Yesterday had better - warmer - weather for it and it looked like a great number of Parisians turned out to usher in the pre-beach part of the year on the Seine's right-bank speedway.

I was surprised to see the sand left over from last summer, but saw that most people preferred the grass for sitting or lying on, up against the quay walls that were yellw-beige with the direct sunlight.


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