I mean no malice towards the old girl when I call her crazy, but anyone who's spent more than five minutes in this beautiful city need only look at the traffic to know that the people behind the wheel are NUTS. Do you know about the traffic circle that surrounds the Arc d'Triomphe? There are a dozen streets that emanate from that circle, and cars are entering, exiting, and going round in circles constantly. Drivers entering the circle from one of the streets have the right-of-way, and all of the drivers in the circle must yield to them.
"Eet eez craw-zee," said our tour guide Regine as we headed to the Arc. "Zshou en-tair and moost immediately yeeld to a-no-zair car." Our driver plowed into the circle and cut across a few lanes. Half-way around, he cut back across the lanes and plowed down Champs Elysees. Horns honked. Lights flashed. I prayed.
(Side note: If an accident occurs in this traffic circle, both parties are equally responsible, and their insurance companies split the cost 50-50.)
At a traffic light a few minutes later, I looked out the window to see three motorcyclists scurry between our bus and the cars in the next lane so that they could get to the head of the line.
"Zay air not too vorried, air say?" wondered Regine.
While I'm on traffic, let's discuss the parking situation in Paris. Many major streets in Paris have parking in the middle instead of on the sides, Even more amazing is the fact that there are parking places on sidewalks. (See the photo above.) You take your life in your own hands walking down one of these "walking lots" (my term, not theirs). Of course, it's always fun to watch the guy in the SUV try to park in a spot that would barely fit a Smart car.
Moving on. It's cold here. It's FREEZING here. The high today was somewhere in the 40s, and while the wind wasn't as bad as it was in Normandy, it was still darn cold. Why then, I ask you, were people sitting OUTSIDE at cafes? I was trying not to be obvious, so I didn't take photos of the masses at a few cafes today, but I did stare. We ate dinner at a place that had tables in the window and small heating vents near them, and even though it was relatively warm, I kept my coat on.
"Ex-cuze me, Wait-air. My coffees eez cold."
"Of courze eet eez. Zhoo air seeting outzide."
"Zhou know," Regine told us, "theez peep-ails dem-ohn-strate all zee time. Zumtimes, eet eez fair one ow-air. Zumtimes, eet eez one day."
The demonstrators or strikers can close down the city or the country at the drop of a hat. Did you hear about the time French farmers dumped six tons of manure in front of McDonald's restaurants in southern France? Or the time they dumped manure on the Champs Elysees and then fllled it with plants, cows, goats, sheep, etc? And then there was the time the farmers dumped milk and manure in front of government offices in Paris. These guys know how to get attention. (Maybe we should do that in front of the congressional offices!)
We were walking down Rue di Montparnasse this afternoon and noticed that there was no traffic in either direction. A block later, we saw a large group of demonstrators heading toward us. The had signs proclaiming something about dangerous liquids, and someone was pulling a wooden rocking horse behind her, but I have no idea what they were protesting.
About three hours later, we headed out again and came upon the same protestors. This time, they'd blocked another major street and intersection. They were singing and dancing in the middle of the street, and the cops just stood and watched them. (That's probably a national pastime, too.)
We've been in the Montparnasse district this weekend, but tomorrow we move to our apartment in the Marais. I'm hoping things quiet down a little in that area. I'm sure I'll let you know. ;-)