A Peculiar Week in Paris
- Published on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
It’s Going To Be A
Long, Weird Summer
Just another humdrum, regular, routine day in Paris, right? I wish.
I don’t get it. There wasn’t a full moon. No solar flares, no planetary alignment, no odometer flips on the Mayan calendar. Maybe it was because of the long hours of daylight and short nights making everyone edgy. Whatever the reason, this has been, at least for me, a singularly bizarre week in Paris.
It started off with the news that within less than 12 hours of each other on Sunday, June 24, two different people had ascended the Eiffel Tower the hard way, by climbing up the outside. This isn’t ironique at all: both were suicidal and one was, I regret to report, successful.
Obviously, this isn’t supposed to happen, and rarely does. The tower has security personnel on duty around the clock, and even if you elude them it’s not that easy to get foot- and hand-holds on the steel framework.
Also, it seems to me that if your goal is to jump off a tall structure, whether for fun (i.e., with a parachute) or its exact opposite (without), you’d want to pick one with straight sides to give you a clear shot at the ground. But I’m no expert.
Anyway, reading about this strange and disconcerting coincidence, I somehow felt that it was setting the tone for the week. And I was right: starting then, every day I saw something that I had never seen before, and hope never to see again.
On Monday, I saw a fire truck catch fire. Obviously, this is another event in the “isn’t supposed to happen and (I hope) rarely does” category.
I was walking down Rue des Martyrs when a hook and ladder unit, siren blaring, gumballs flashing, raced up the street, turned into Rue Choron and screeched to a halt. I stopped to see what the BFD (big firetrucking deal) was, and noticed that one of the front wheels was burning. Not the tire, although the smell of scorched rubber was powerful and gaining intensity by the second—there were flickering flames visible inside the wheel well.
The crew clambered out, formed a tight semi-circle around the blaze and did what you would expect highly trained firefighting professionals to do: they stood there staring at it in silent disbelief.
This lasted for about two minutes before they moved decisively into the next phase of their well-honed emergency response procedure: arguing about what to do.
No one seemed to have a clue about how to handle the situation. One guy started unwinding one of the block-long 10-inch hoses but was told to stop because it would take too much time to get it completely unfurled and hooked up, and they didn’t need a thousand cubic meters of water to put out a spokefire. The discussion went on so long I decided to get out of there before the heat reached the fuel tank.
City of Paris, I have some advice for you: have your firemen carry fire extinguishers on their fire trucks. You know, in case of fire.
Day Two: Walking home from work on Tuesday, I saw another truck, of the non-firefighting kind, from three inches away. This in itself is not so unusual, except when you consider that the vehicle in question was moving at about 40 miles per hour, and I was walking directly into its path.
Despite the fact that I was in a crosswalk with a green light, I don’t entirely blame the driver. This happened at the corner of Rue de Caumartin and Rue Auber. For those who have never crossed the street at this particular Dead Man’s courbe, I have some advice for you: don’t.
Have a look:
All of these streets are main arteries. When the light turns green for cars on Rue des Mathurins (the side street between the first two buildings on the left), it also turns green for pedestrians in the crosswalk where I stood to take this photo.
The idea is that because the Mathurins cars are “turning” (by about 10°) they should yield to people walking across the street. But since the crosswalk is so far away, the sight of pedestrians in their path comes as a surprise to many of the drivers. And an even bigger surprise to the pedestrians.
Like me. In this particular case, I had two surprises in store:
1) That I was unscathed and,
2) The hauler that almost sent me flying was Le Camion Qui Fume, Paris’s first and, until recently, only American-style food truck. As previously mentioned on Paris Update, they make a mean hamburger. I do hope that their mean driving style has no relation to their meat sourcing methods.
More advice for the city of Paris: for dieu’s sake, either warn the drivers about the pedestrians, or warn the pedestrians about the nearest personal injury lawyer.
On Wednesday, I decided to return home from work on the Métro, where at least I knew I wasn’t going to be converted into ground chuck by an unyielding truck. Following me up the stairs onto the crowded platform at Chaussée d’Antin was a young woman who stood out from the crowd because of her clothes. Despite the heat, she was wearing an elaborate, multi-layered outfit that looked vaguely Victorian, as though she was on 24-hour-a-day call as first understudy for the lead in Mary Poppins.
At the top of the stairs, she turned around to look at a billboard on the wall (an ad for some sci-fi movie), flexed her fingers, took a deep breath, reached up to grab a corner of the poster, and ripped the whole thing down, screaming at the top of her lungs about “mind pollution.”
Standing in the midst of the heap of paper shreds she had just created, she then launched into a long, loud oration about how the media are trying to poison our lives and she’s just doing her part to thwart their evil plan.
The train didn’t come for a few minutes, during which she kept talking and glancing around as though trying to catch someone’s eye and engage them in conversation. It worked: a woman starting talking to her, I suspect more out of curiosity than anything else, and when the train finally came they ended up standing next to me.
So I got to hear more of Auntie Anti-Ad’s spiel. My impression was that she was not in need of professional help, just remarkably eccentric. And excessively fond of conspiracy theories.
The last thing I heard her say to her travel companion as I got off at my stop was, “A lot of times when I do this people move away and look at me like they think I’m crazy or something, which is too bad because I’m just trying to raise awareness for my cause.”
Fellow passenger, I have some advice for you, too: if you don’t want people to think you’re crazy, don’t dress, talk and act like a blithering lunatic. Just a suggestion.
Which brings us to Thursday. Nothing odd happened all day, and I thought my little run of peculiar luck was over. Until around midnight, when my wife Nancy and I were walking home from a late dinner on the Left Bank and happened upon a couple having sex in the street.
I’m not talking about a narrow, ill-lit cul-de-sac here: this was on Rue du Louvre, with a moderate amount of traffic going by, right next to the main post office, which happens to be the only public institution in Paris that is open (and fairly heavily frequented) 24 hours a day.
The black metal barrier between the two buildings was the scene of the misdemeanor:
Fellow horny people, since I’m so full of advice today, here’s some for you: if you can’t get a room, try a park. Or at least a street that’s not on six bus routes. Oh, and hey: nice glutes, buddy. Have you been working out?
On Friday, I stayed home all morning, cowering. Finally, driven by the need to run errands, I ventured out, wondering what unseemly, objectionable or downright disturbing tableau I was destined to encounter this time.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. I had just got on the 32 bus when the guy sitting across from me pulled a tube of deodorant out of his pocket. This wouldn’t have been so unseemly if he hadn’t decided to apply it right then and there. Which wouldn’t have been so objectionable if he hadn’t first offered to share it with the woman next to him (no, he didn’t know her). And that, in turn, wouldn’t have been quite so downright disturbing if it had at least been a spray instead of a roll-on.
My last bit of advice is for everyone on Earth: if you are in Paris this summer, don’t take the bus, don’t take the Métro and don’t walk in the streets. If you see any kind of truck, run the other way. Don’t accept deodorant (or offers for a quickie) from strangers and, whatever you do, don’t have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. An uninvited guest might drop in. Literally.
Reader Millie Ornett writes: "I had a woman spray perfume all over her neck on the metro last week – of course, the spray wasn't completely blocked by her skinny neck, so both myself and my husband were spritzed with the stuff."
David Jaggard replies: "Are you sure she wasn't putting out a fire? Or maybe she's part of the media conspiracy to poison our minds via our nostrils."
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