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.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Toulouse, I asked him if he found it polluted. Toulouse had been one of my candidate villes until I visited it last summer and discovered that on some streets you can actually see the pollution in front of […]

    Pingback by The Big Prune « France Insider by Paul Ben-Itzak — September 4, 2009 @ 11:22 am | Reply

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