22 September 2008

Welcome Back

I step off the night train from Berlin into a rare morning sun of the Gare du Nord. Make my way through the station's wrought iron pillars like spindly tree trunks. Descend into the cavernous left luggage office to drop off my suitcase before heading off to teach. Go through the whole ordeal of x-raying my bag, emptying my pockets, taking off me belt, only to get inside and find that the change machine for the lockers is out of service. Back out through security and out to buy something I don't need then back again through all over again.

Go to the métro entrance to buy a ticket and find huge lines 20 people deep, to buy tickets at the counter. No automatic ticket machines. Go to the next entrance, find automatic ticket machines, half are out of service, an unstaffed ticket counter and more huge lines 20 people deep.

Finally get on the platform and hear the chimes of a service announcement: "Due to a strike by railway workers, service is currently disrupted and no trains are circulating outside of peak hours..."

Welcome back to France.

15 September 2008

My Walk Across Canada

Alternate title: My Walk From One Canada to Another

A sunny September day, I set out to walk across Canada in Paris.

I started at the Place du Canada and set out for my destination, la rue du Canada, seeing what I could along the way.

Place du Canada is tucked away behind the granite Belle Epoque extravagance of the Grand Palais (the Rocky Mountains?), right on the bank of the Seine (the St Lawrence?). I thought it bizarrely apropos that the intersection of Franklin D Roosevelt Avenue and Queen's Way was the Place du Canada.

Ironically, the Rue du Canada abuts the Rue de la Guadeloupe, which the French decided to keep in exchange for handing over Canada to the British after the Seven Years War in 1763.

A beautiful view of the place. Maybe meant to represent the Praries?

Some friends I picked up along the way.

My Canada includes Quebec.

Weird and spooky abandoned market I came across.

Canada Retouch? Indeed it does.

Destination: Rue du Canada

Rue du Canada seen from the intersection of Rue de la Guadeloupe.

07 September 2008

Andorran Vignette

The lunchtime sun shines off the mountainside into the river valley and I pause in front of a restaurant jostled between duty-free electronics stores. I consider the menu taped to the stucco as the restauranteur approaches. "Come in! Eat! Its good." I sit down. "¿Hablas español?" "–Sí, sí" I respond as Mr Moustache hands me a menu, written entirely in Catalan. Some recognisable, but what is "Botifarra amb mongetes"? "Xipiros"? "Espatlla de xai lostadas"?

Fourty seconds of bewildered menu searching later, Mr Moustache returns. "Are you ready to order?"
—"No. This menu is Catalan, not Spanish."
—"It's the same thing!" Shakes his head, and walks away –presumably to get a new menu. However, he does not return, affronted by my horrible linguistic faux-pas.

The sun blazes through the azur and shadows make pavid slants. I realise I will never know what "xipiros" are. I walk across the street to the welcoming arms of a picture menu, happy for the glossy, unjudgemental embrace of its laminated photographs.

03 September 2008

Operation T.D.

William Burrows writes about the 'Annexia', but it sounds more like France to me:

"I deplore brutality," he said. "It's not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence, gives rise, when skilfully applied, to anxiety and a felling of special guilt. A few rules or rather guiding principles are to be borne in mind. The subject must not realize that the mistreatment is a deliberate attack of an anti-human enemy on his personal identity. He must be made to feel that he deserves any treatment he receives because there is something (never specified) horribly wrong with him. The naked need of the control addicts must de decently covered by an arbitrary and intricate bureaucracy so the subject cannot contact his enemy direct."

Every citizen of Annexia was required to apply for and carry on his person at all times a whole portfolio of documents. Citizens were subject to be stopped in the street at any time; and the Examiner, who might be in plain clothes, in various uniforms, often in a bathing suit or pyjamas, sometimes stark naked except for a badge pinned to his left nipple, after checking each paper, would stamp it. On subsequent inspection the citizen was required to show the properly entered stamps of the last inspection. The Examiner, when he stopped a large group, would only examine and stamp the cards of a few. The others were then subject to arrest because their cards were not properly stamped. Arrest meant "provisional detention"; that is, the prisoner would be released if and when his Affidavit of Explanation, properly signed and stamped, was approved by the Assistant Arbiter of Explanations. Since this official hardly ever came to his office, and the Affidavit of Explanation had to be presented in person, the explainers spent weeks and months waiting around in unheated offices with no chairs and no toilet facilities.

Documents issued in vanishing ink faded into old pawn tickets. New documents were constantly required. The citizen rushed from one bureau to another in a frenzied attempt to meet impossible deadlines.