11/10/2013

Travel Diaries: Paris

I've been traveling recently and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the wondrous things I've seen.


Healthy Habits


Fun fact: The reputation that the French have for good health (or bon health , as they would say here) comes not from regular consumption of red wine, but rather semantics. There is an intentional effort of the society on the naming of things to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

You can see that approach here in the sign of this restaurant, Crêperie Degustation , which translates roughly to "Disgusting Pancake House." It's an interesting take on societal well-being, providing both the means to unhealthy living and good anti-marketing slogans to dissuade people from making bad choices.








Circular Reasoning

The French nobility was plagued by a common genetic disorder that rendered the right leg slightly shorter than the left, leading to a proliferation of circular staircases throughout the fancier buildings in the city, as well as other circular spaces such as the traffic nightmare known as the Arc de Triomphe (or "Arch of the Triumph," a tribute to the classic English Triumph Spitfire sports car).

The staircase seen in this photo was optimized for going down quickly, by far the most common direction for safety reasons. The upward journey was more tedious for the nobles, as they would generally walk backwards due to their genetic condition.

The disparity of leg lengths also led to the word gauche (French for left ) being synonymous with tacky , as their longer left leg was felt to be the limb at fault.

Interestingly, the largest impact of the French Revolution, which got rid of the nobility, was the abandonment of circular staircases altogether, introducing straight stairs for the masses. In fact, the violence of the revolution, described at the time as an escalation , led to the French word for staircase, escalier , and became a lasting symbol of the revolution and the French people. This is obvious from the famous slogan, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Escalier (later unfortunately abbreviated to remove the final word).




Streetwalkers


One of the reasons that tourists flock to Paris, even at this otherwise miserable time of year, is for the joy of walking along its streets. In particular, it is the sidewalks that are so exciting to these street walkers.

In the rest of the Western world, sidewalks offer nothing more than slabs of boring pavement that separate the asphalt of the street from the concrete of the surrounding buildings. This tedious pattern was established long ago by the Romans, as part of their "All roads lead to Rome, and so do the sidewalks" campaign that they forced onto all of their colonies.

But in France, there was always a quiet rebellion, starting from the small village of Asterix the Gaul and extending, over time, to the rest of this great nation. "Sidewalks," they said, "should not just be for walking to the side." In fact, there is a subtle dig at the very concept of standard sidewalks in the French word for sidewalk, trottoir , denoting both the pavement itself as well as pig feet (like the Saxon, now English, word trotter ).

Instead, the French have maintained a proud tradition of installing partial sidewalks next to vast trenches of dirt, or mud , allowing pedestrians to enjoy strolling on Nature's original Earth, instead of simply these man-made fabrications forced on us by the Roman overlords. Coupled with ample leavings from numerous Parisian dogs, these organic paths call to mind a back-to-nature feeling not experienced in large urban areas since Las Vegas constructed the beautiful and environmentally pure canals in the lovely Venetian hotel.

Often will you hear both tourists and locals alike exclaim their happiness at the Paris pedestrian experience by saying, "I feel so dirty!"



Illumination

The French have taken the idea of portable gadgets to a whole new level. Obviously, the shower head is in my bathroom here is portable, because holding it below shoulder level is the only way to keep down the flood level in the bathroom. (For some reason, none of the French bathrooms I've ever encountered have successfully mastered the technology of shower curtains, resulting in cracks roughly the size of Montana sitting directly in front of the shower head, guaranteeing that the only thing to not get completely soaked in the near vicinity is me, as I try desperately to shut the thing off to prevent dousing the lower floors of the hotel). But hand-held showers are old gadgets indeed, dating from the Napoleonic wars when Napoléon himself, so the story goes, inspired the invention by demanding that someone lower the shower head for him.

When I arrived back at my hotel room last night, I was lucky to see the next wave in portable technology, as my door slammed into the electrical cable which draped from the ceiling to the light that was now sitting on my floor. Some might have suspected that the light fixture simply fell out of the ceiling while I was gone, perhaps because it was some cheap piece of crap that wasn't installed or maintained correctly, resulting in an electrical danger zone and fire hazard. But I could tell that this was much more than that; this was progress (or, as the French would say in their more obscure and delightful language, progrès ).

Ever since Thomas Edison first exclaimed "File that patent!," humanity has been leashed to the nearest light socket like a dog to a light pole outside a Starbucks. We've been captive to wherever the contractor saw fit to install the light bulbs simply because of our incessant need to see (Fr: voir ), even if it's only more cat pictures.

But now, the French are finally showing us the light toward a brighter future, a future in which we can do anything, go anywhere, and see anything, simply because they've given us this illuminating technology. Through mechanisms like I glimpsed in my hotel room, we'll finally be able to wander inches, even feet, from the nearest light socket. Why, I could almost peer into the very bedroom itself from the entry (Fr: entrée) _without turning on any other light , if not for the fear of certain electrocution from the dangling 220 volt cables.

Thank goodness the French are lighting the way.




The Happy Homeless

"Oh, to be homeless in Paris," as the saying goes.

Paris has long been considered the top destination of the alcoholic destitute population. With the beautiful streets, curbs, and alleyways of Paris, how can you blame them?

Paris also has a strong history of social welfare, as evidenced by Marie Antoinette's famous quote, "Let them eat cake," which was actual an excerpt from a longer conversation with a poor peasant that she met in one of her frequent strolls among the rabble. The more complete translation of the conversation goes something like this: "I'm so sorry your children didn't eat their vegetables or their meat course; I should have had the chef check with you on an agreeable menu. I'll tell you what, I'll have my driver bring back some soup that I'm sure they'll enjoy, and I'll do my famous roasted broccoli for them. I'll pack that along with some lovely veal that we were saving for our holiday meal, and have it dropped at the curb here for you. In the meantime, let them eat this cake."

Ms. Antoinette was well known for her charity work, but this was by no means unusual at the time. In fact, the French Revolution started out as a simple food fight with the bountiful meal that the King had delivered to one of the well-appointed soup kitchens, which unfortunately escalated slightly out of control.

Meanwhile, the drunken homeless are revered by the French, as they practice the kind of carefree, happy-go-lucky lifestyle that we would all love to have if not for our jobs and pointless addiction to stability, roofs, and healthy livers. This is clear from the French word for drunk, "ivre," which is an abbreviation of the phrase "joie de vivre," or "joy of life." Ah, those lucky, lucky souls.

In the picture, you can see the remains of a pleasant evening's repast of one of these happy homeless citizens. Champagne is not an uncommon beverage, although the more common sight is a bottle of cognac , which is an appropriate way to finish off a meal typically consisting of a baguette and foie gras , in addition to some local fromage , of course.
Post a Comment