France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

July 28, 2008

Toulouse: La Trek

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 4:29 pm

…which actually happened July 18 but since, and because of, I’ve been, for just about the first time in a year not counting fall-out from a couple of poor stomach investments, sick sick sick with a respiratory attack, as in the week-long killer cold I used to get about twice a year when I lived in the big city, or cities, they being Paris, New York, and San Francisco in reverse order. Of course it could also be that I interact with less people around here in Les Eyzies, population 998 since I arrived. (NB: Does it count as interaction when a town official in the market disdainfullly regards you from head to toe in your San Francisco hippy clothes? Just asking.) Anyway, I’d been meaning to get to Toulouse since before I moved here — indeed, its proximity was one of my justifications for moving here. (“Okay, I know it’s isolated, but it’s near a lot of other places I might want to live.”) In reality I’ve been living too much in Keyboard-ville. Fortunately, in addtion to Sonia, my cat who’s still here on Earth, I’m now watched over by two angel cats, Mesha and Hopey, both of whose bodies left this earth in the last year, and early this month, I’m convinced — because it couldn’t have been Sonia — Hopey, my adventurer, my voyager, said to Mesha, my cat who likes to knock things off tables (gently nudging them to the edge until they fall with little paw-taps) to get my atention, to tip over the quarter-filled water glass I’d left in dangerous proximity to the keyboard, because she knew putting my keyboard out of commission was the only way to get me out of town, which she did, and which I did, believing that finding a replacement (I’ve a Mac) required a trip to a city three hours away.

As it turns out I didn’t get the keyboard (that’s Sonia typing now), but 15 minutes outside of Toulouse, I saw someone who looked remarkably like the girl who’d abruptly terminated with me a few years ago in Paris, painfully but justly, giving as her reason that she didn’t know if she was staying or going, the going maybe involving a return to Toulouse. “Amadine?” I asked, using her real name with her even though I’m not with you. And indeed it was. Looking almost exactly the same. Squeezing my hand and telling me to look her up if I passed through Toulouse again, she let me go with some very general directions.

It was love at first sight, once I got through with not getting the keyboard — with Toulouse I mean. I found a canal tout de suite, right where the lock opened onto the great Garonne (which apparently is not so simple to pronounce as it looks, judging by the mystified looks of various Toulousians I asked for directions. Ga-ron! Ga-rone! Euh, Eau!), presided over by giant old red brick bridges, including the Pont Neuf, which loomed above and a bit beyond me after I descended to the quai to lunch on olive sauccison, pepper cheese, and a banana. Where I fell in love was promenading afterward in whatever part of the old city that is just above the bridge: I had finally found a place that was beautiful, mellow, and yet with the attractions of a city! I’d found my next place. I was moving here.

The red brick of course made the beauty, and my enraptured excitement continued as I crossed the bridge, intuitively finding the one area I’d heard about, St.-Cyprien, because that’s where the dance research center is and apparently an area in development. It reminded me instantly of the French Quarter of New Orleans: the three-story old brick houses, the narrow balconies. This is what had captured me about Nawleans 30 years ago as a teenager on a cross-country trip with my brothers, dad, and belle-mother. What had turned me off was that it was also dirty with a strong sense of vice. Unfortunately, I had no sooner fallen in love with the similarly-house-decored side-streets of St. Cyprien/Toulouse when I noticed an over-powering piss-smell.

In effect, Toulouse a)has very few public toilets, b)the ones there are (I counted three working) charge admission and c) the city appears to have a significant homeless/sans-arbre problem. This is *not* to say that homeless people are more likely than others to piss on the street — I got close! — but that if you don’t have a home, and you don’t have money, well, what’s a body to do…? The city of Paris, which also used to be famous for being pissed on, did a very smart thing a few years ago: it made all its public toilets free. Et voila, moins d’air de piss.

When I re-crossed the bridge, I noticed more than before the car pollution; at one point, walking along the rue Alsace-Lorraine, I could swear I even *saw it.* Later, back here in Keyboard-land, a representative of the Toulouse welcoming committee told me by e-mail, after I asked if it’s always this polluted, that “Toulousians love their cars!” Just like Parisians.

One solution Paris is trying to get people out of their cars is Velib, a network of bike stations. Toulouse’s version doesn’t seem to have diminished the car traffic, but it has contributed to yet *another* form of pollution: Pollution de Pub! (In French, “Pub” doesn’t just mean your local watering hole, but commercials and advertising.) On each of the Velib or Velov or whatever they call it there bikes is plastered an ad for a certain international bank. So basically, if you’re riding a City-coordinated bike, it’s not you that’s getting the free ride but the advertising agency you’re in effect working for.

I have not always been a fan of the policies of the Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe. Even though he supposedly hates cars too, everything he did in the six years I lived there supposedly to make the city green seemed to have the opposite effect; for example, if you take away the parking places, the cars, at least those driven by Parisians who love their cars, don’t actually stop coming to the city, they just drive around longer looking for someplace to park — and running their engines which pumps their fumes into the environment and my lungs. (Apparently Delanoe’s next big project is, well, big; he wants to bring sun-obscuring sky-scrapers to the City of Light; et voila, Manhattanization.) But at least he has a plan. In Toulouse, I see a beautiful city where, at least as concerns very real issues of propriete, including the air, no one is in charge.


July 8, 2008

Sarkozy is right, Segolene is wrong

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:29 am

Last week after seven years in France I finally opened a bank account, with the post office. I had tried to do this in Paris but to no avail; for some reason it’s easier here in the country. Everything was going smoothly until the kindly bank counselor, who had already interviewed me the week before, said, “I see you’ve written something about Nicolas Sarkozy.” I’d been Googled — and busted!

I swear it’s not to cover my back that I’m writing the following. If I tell you that politically, my two choices for president in the last election would have been François Bayrou of the Movement Democratic or Olivier Besancenot of the League Communist Revolutionary, just re-baptized the party of anti-capitalism, you might get a hint of where my ideas stand: On ideas. What Bayrou and Besancenot have in common is that they refuse to cleave to traditional ideologies. As I’ve written before, for the French, who are used to cleavages, Bayrou’s ‘centrism’ was misunderstood as ‘flou’ — mushy — when indeed what it means to him is that he considers himself free to take, or express, ideas from any camp, without regard to whether they conform to a particular ideology. Thus last summer, when a simple control d’identité at the Gare du Nord quickly degenerated into a riot between police and young people, the Right took recourse to the need for order, the Left to the need for social programs in the suburbs, and it was Bayrou who simply pronounced, “This is what happens when young people fear the police.” As for Besancenot, one gets the impression that he is truly concerned by the suffering of those who are less fortunate, whereas with the Communisits, one often gets the impression their biggest concern is to recruit more members for their flagging party.

I think the reason many people are disappointed with Sarkozy is that they believed he was also free from cleavages. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case, particularly as pertains to his tendency to privelege private enterprise and propaganda. Except… in the case of public television. In announcing that he wanted to see the abolition of commercials on public television — to the consternation of many on the Left as well as the television commentators reporting (with bias) the news — he also stated that he wanted to see the quality of public t.v. programs improve, explaining simply that he often couldn’t see the difference between programs on public t.v. and private. La, je suis d’accord. Some — on the Left — expressed outrage, but seriously, what’s the difference between a chain that broadcasts Law & Order and one that shows Cold Case? Indeed, the more intelligent of the two — Law & Order — is on the *private* or commercial chain. Donc la, Sarkoz a raison.

Since losing to him a year ago, Sarkozy’s Socialist opponent, Segolene Royale, seems to have taken every opportunity to prove the adage, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” (Trad. trés approximitif: “Il n’y a aucun cholere dans l’enfer comme celui d’une femme jeté.”) At first it seemed useful to have her on every move Sarkozy made. But she went too far — and exposed her selfish motives — last week when, as everyone else, from Right to Left, rejoiced at the freedom of Columbian-French hostage Ingrid Betancourt after six+ years, Royale nah-nah’d, “Nicolas Sarkozy n’ete pour rien,” or Nicolas Sarkozy had nothing to do with her freedom. Here tout la France for once let cleavages go to join in unanymous, genuine jubiliation — even on the faces of the television news anchors like David Pujadis, one could see that the smiles were not pat, but earnest, joyful — but Segolene just could not let go of the chip on her shoulder and shamelessly tried to exploit the opportunity to score points against Sarkozy. (Fortunately, even some of her own colleagues, like Jack Lang, were embarassed and scolded her.) Deuxieme pointe, she’s just wrong. If, as Betancourt recognized, Sarkozy’s predecesors also deserves credit, since being elected Sarkozy has not ceased to make Ingrid’s freedom a public priority, even volunteering to go to Columbia himself and retrieve her from the hands of her captors. Even if it meant consorting with Leftists like Hugo Chavez. And as anyone knows, the key to keeping hostages alive, let alone securing their freedom, is to keep their names and cases in the public eye. Non Segolene, Sarkozy y est pour qqchose. Vous par contre….

July 2, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:46 pm

The Columbian Army Wednesday, in a commando operation, liberated Franco-Columbian hostage Ingrid Betancourt and 14 others from Farc, which had held the senator and former presidential candidate for more than six years WHOO-HOO!!

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