On the road again

I’m writing this while on the Eurostar to London for a few days of meetings. The train is flying past small towns in France on its way to Calais and a big hole we know as the Chunnel. It’s a nice journey, I think this is the fourth time I’ve made this trip.

The Paris Strike

Well, the strike is still going on. The first day wasn’t too bad. I walked and walked and rode my little scooter. I survived the day surprisingly well. It turns out that the metros and buses are still running, just not at full strength. This brings a different dimension to the strike.

At first, I thought it was just a matter of building up endurance for the journey. As the strike continues, I’m building up my patience. You see it’s not about physical exertion, rather mental exhaustion.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
There are two main metro lines that run fairly steadily. One is all automatic and doesn’t require a driver. It goes at full schedule. The other is the main metro. It cuts across Paris and carries the majority of the traffic. It runs at 50%. The other metro lines and buses run at different levels of service from 20% to not at all.

I can easily take my first metro, the automatic one. But it only takes me 60% of the journey. Normally I’d take the #3 metro and it’s a simple journey. However, the #3 is only running at 10%. That means I could wait in the metro stop for an hour. When that train finally arrives people will be stuffed like sardines in it. So, that’s not really an option.

There’s a bus that goes from the stop to my work. But it is at quasi-null status. That leaves me with grabbing a bike to ride uphill, taking another metro to another station and walking, taking a taxi, or just walking. Usually, I just walk the distance, about 3 miles. Today, I took a cab because I didn’t know when I was leaving for London and didn’t want to arrive to the office too late. The line for the cab was 1 hour. If the strike continues next week, I think I’ll walk up to the beginning of the #1 line and take it across the city. It’s about 2 miles walk to the station and then 1 mile from the final stop to my work. I could always grab a bike at either station.

Paris has 20,000 community bikes in the city. That’s why I keep saying that I can grab a bike. Every metro stop and most major intersections have a computerized bike station where you can rent a bike. It’s free for the first 30 minutes and 1 euro for each 30 minutes afterwards.

Tonight, I gave myself about 1 1/2 hours to get from work to the train station. It took almost 2 hours and I missed my train. We were stuck on one street for about 30 minutes. I thought I was in Los Angeles for a while. It would have been about a 20 minute journey on the metro if there wasn’t a strike.

In general, I’d say the strike hasn’t been that difficult. The weather has been cold, but the availability of minimal service has kept us from freezing. I’m just glad I wasn’t here a decade ago when the strike went for three weeks in December with snow.

Patience.

That’s a virtue you learn quickly in France. In fact, it couldn’t come fast enough.
the transit strike pose
I have been waiting for bank stuff, a phone, internet, stuff to arrive, the traffic to move, the waiter to bring a check, the metro to arrive, the bus to arrive, the weather to warm up… Just as I get frustrated I remember that I’m not in California and some things simply move at a slower pace.

Jean-Pierre was telling me that in France you take time to relax, to take a deep breath, to spend time with family, the arts, yourself. I was complaining about stores closed on Sunday. He was telling me that they should be closed, the people that work there need the time for their life as well. It’s about not burning yourself out as fast as possible and enjoying your life.

Health check and immigration interview

All immigrants to France have to take a health exam before getting their residency. France provides health care for everyone. Yeah, can you imagine that? Health care for everyone. It’s still unimaginable. So they want to find problems before they develop. They give you an eye exam, chest xray, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc. I came out well. I was expecting some high blood pressure after my stressful week, but I was right on target. My blood sugar was low as I didn’t have time to eat before the appointment. (I celebrated with a slice of coconut flan!)

They also interviewed me to see if I needed any assistance or education. I got a certificate saying that I passed the basic level of French comprehension. They offer 300 hours of free classes to learn the language. I need to take a test to evaluate my experience and then arrange to attend classes. I need to learn past and present tense and to improve my writing ability. Otherwise, I need to watch more television and talk in French whenever possible.

French TV

Victoria Silvstedt French TV has taken some of the worst elements of American TV and amplified them. My favorite is Wheel of Fortune. The Vanna White is a blonde with enormous boobs, low cut dress, and a jack russel terrier. Whenever the game gets boring, they cut the cameras to her bending over to pet the dog. I’m not kidding! Vanna White is flashing the audience!

They also have the requisite talent shows and other silly games. The channel I watch mostly is Arte. It is filled with art, travel, cinema, and science. It’s like the A&E/Bravo/Sundance channels. Pretty soon, my internet/tv/phone package will begin working and I’ll have 300 bad television channels to select from. I can’t wait to watch semi trucks slalom race in Sweden.

Food

For the most part, my eating in France has been uneventful. As you know, I’m cheap. Really cheap. It’s even worse when my French debit card wasn’t working and I had to use my American account. Ted + US Dollar + Europe = Very Cheap.
So, I’ve eaten a bunch of cheese sandwhiches, fruit, bread, fruit, cereal, and a bit more fruit and cheese sandwiches. I have gone out with co-workers and friends. Just not that often.

If a company in Paris doesn’t have a cafeteria, they have to provide meal allowances for their employees. At the beginning of the month, we get a book of 8 euro coupons that can be spent on a warm meal at a local restaurant. It’s a great deal, however I didn’t get a book in November :(. That means Ted has to spend money on lunch and he is too cheap for that. Don’t get me wrong, I have money in the bank to pay for it. I’m just too damn cheap to spend it.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to receive my December allowances. I’ll be downright giddy.

Markets

As you’ve read, I’ve been to the flea market. There’s also a farmers market outside my apartment twice a week, on the way to the metro once a week, and next to Jean-Pierre’s house twice a week. Parisians don’t go to Price Club and stock up. They buy what’s needed for a few days and eat fresh food all of the time.
Organic food at the market
Saturday, Jean-Pierre and I went to his market. I bought some adorable potatoes. They look like russets, but are about the size of two grapes. I’ll roast them with some olive oil, onions, mustard, and chevre one night. I also bought a bunch of apples to snack on. I’ve got about a pound left, so I may make some apple sauce when I return from London.

Yesterday there was a market in front of my house for food and goods made outside of Paris. It was a really nifty market. I bought a pair of brightly colored striped mohair socks and a dark blue pair as well. I also bought some booze for a christmas gift, a beeswax candle, some bran muffin-like cakes filled with jam (for the London trip), and Aligot.
More Aligot
I’ve been dying to try aligot since I first heard of this incredibly stringy cheese dish. It’s very difficult to make, as you mix this special cheese with boiled potatoes and stir until both arms fall off. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as stringy as pizza. However, it was a great meal on the cold day. It tasted like a very rich mashed potato dish.

Back to the chunnel

I’m under the English channel right now. There’s not much to see. Just darkness and the occasional light on the side. They used to announce it. I must have missed it. I’m listening to my iPod and the Ethel Mermans disco record was blaring. No, really, I love my Ethel Merman disco record. Or is it Durward’s?

Keep an eye on these web sites for more adventures

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Now playing: Elvis Presley – I’m A Roustabout
via FoxyTunes

My first Transit Strike in Paris

I’m reminded of a few lines in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Hedwig is commenting about the day after his sex change operation.

“I woke up the next morning
And I was bleeding down there.
My first day as a woman
And it was already that time of the month”

It’s my first week as a Parisian and I have my first major transit strike. I woke up this morning with some dread. My friend Jim in California called and let me know that it was supposed to be 0 degrees outside. I’m looking at freezing weather and a 11 km walk. How bad could it really be?

The journey begins

Transit strike, no busses today
I had planned my route in advance, I wanted a simple journey that I recognized. I also wanted to avoid too many busy intersections. So, I set off with almost a straight shot from my apartment on the far east side of Paris to the Yahoo! office on the far west side of Paris. Yes, I’m walking across the city.

This sounds daunting for a California boy. Heck, we get into a car to drive around the corner. It would take a day to walk across San Diego and a week to walk across Los Angeles. Well, two days walking and 5 days recovering. But Paris is a much smaller, dense city and it’s not really that bad. My walk is going to be about 7 miles. I can do this.

Should I stay or should I go?

I keep walking by metro stops and watching people exit them. I know the busses have stopped, but have the trains really stopped? I rode one last night well after the announced stopping time.

I have to say, there were two reasons why I didn’t go down into the metro to see if the trains were running.

  1. I wanted to really experience my first transit strike. Taking a metro would have been cheating.
  2. I was afraid I’d have to climb steps to get out of the metro station after the fruitless journey.

I think #2 was more a deciding factor. I needed to save my legs and the back of my mind knew that if the metros were running, the streets would not have been full.

Why don’t I have a bike?

Paris traffic during transit strike
Paris recently introduced 20,000 bikes to be used for free. Unfortunately you need a pass to use them and the procedure to get one is unbelievably stupid. I wont’ go into it now, but lets just say that I don’t have a velib pass yet.

However, there were plenty of bikes available and plenty of people using them. I did see some Velib stations in the center of Paris that were full and people were not able to return their bikes to the docking stations. They waited in line for someone to leave with one of the docked bikes.

mmm…. Chocolate

I celebrated my first transit strike with a Pain Chocolate, or croissant filled with chocolate. It was damn good. I washed it down with a coffee while walking, no time to rest for the weary.

Starbucks

Transit strike, no busses today
Thank god for Starbucks. I really needed a huge cup of hot coffee after walking for two hours. I didn’t want a cute little cup of espresso. I wanted a gallon of black death, with cream and sugar of course. While waiting for my coffee, I noticed the most god awful outfit on a mannequin. I don’t even think the Gotti brats would be seen wearing something this tacky.

Final Result

It took me 2 ½ hours to walk to work. I felt fine, it was all flat land. I could do this again, although a 5 hour commute to work is pretty crazy. I’m going to buy a scooter tonight to make it much easier. I’m not going to carry my laptop home and I’m going to thank Heidi again for sending me some super comfy and warm socks from Alaska.