La ville est plus belle a velo—The city is more beautiful by bike—VELIB in Paris

I studied here in college, married a French guy and lived here for a few years; I feel I know Paris pretty well—OK well that was mostly in the 20th century. Some things are so the same… the familiar smell of the metro, the dog poo on the cobblestone streets, the near ghost town in August as all Parisians high tail it to the coast or country or abroad–heck even hospitals close but not the Pigalle red light district! Cities evolve, populations morph, culture mutates.. Here are a few brief observations:

  • There is much less smoking—I, who used to embrace the smoky cafe culture, now love the fresher air.
  • Air conditioning or ‘clim’, short for climatisation as it is known, is not really an option except in the best of stores, restaurants and hotels. The metro is a steam bath and the pungent passengers make for an unforgettable olfactory experience.
  • Paris is still humming with multi-ethnic vibrancy but times have changed. More Arab women and girls wear veils, young men of African descent mimic US rap culture with low riding pants and brash street culture and Parisians in general are way more casual in their dress.
  • The French are suffering from economic woes, the Euro is punishing for American travelers but almost as harsh for the French—the joie de vivre is still palpable but one can sense tough times are here too.
  • Let them eat bread! Baguettes are still affordable, I think there is actually a law to keep bread subsidized or at least affordable.
  • Cars are smaller—tuna cans, but impressive nonetheless given the oil crisis.
  • A fabulous bike ‘rental’ system is now in place—’velib’ as it is known is all the rage, like a car share one can borrow a bike for a half an hour and return it to another parking area—they are all over the city!
  • Organic is called ‘Bio’ and is all the rage.
  • Public transportation and medical services still appear fabulous compared with our US system, something I am experiencing as I follow my friend’s surgery and recovery. Cutting edge treatment, humane treatment and she is yet to see a bill. She has an unemployed person, paid by the govt. to clean her house and is spending 5 days in hospital to fully recover from all the trauma. In the US you’d be home after day surgery.
  • Things I remember fondly include weird small doorknobs, the lights on timers, showers without high holders so one has to juggle to shampoo one’s hair—but at least there are shower curtains now!

It’s only day two of my sojourn but I’m drinking it all in…

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