Monday, 8 September 2008

Paris: Traffic & Other Beasts

Just when I was getting used to the right-hand-side driving of Canada and the U.S. I visit England and it's back to front again. Suddenly I have to unlearn this binary re-wiring. Then after I week I'm in Paris and it's right-handed again.
This wouldn't be an issue if Parisian drivers weren't so hell-bent on playing the part of the bowling ball in these narrow alleys. The reason that French cars are smaller than American cars is to allow Paris-dwellers to hurtle down cobbled lanes at autobahn speeds, pedestrians be damned. A marked crossing means nothing. Before venturing out on a set of zebra stripes, I peer one way and the other, then turn my head like a gazelle, sniffing for unseen danger which might present itself only by the faint odour of burning rubber. Then, scurrying across a lane, I take refuge on concrete islands and behind traffic signs before repeating the process. The labyrinth of Parisian roads is a savannah for Citroens and Peugeots, low-slung and lunging.
The two-wheeled of the species is deadlier than the car. Scooters fly around the city like bats around Gotham, ducking, weaving, and hungry for the blood of the unwary. Unable to command respect in any other capital in the world, scooters in Paris are vituperous harpies of the inner city. First, the pitched whine of a tiny engine strained to breaking point; then the discordant beep warning peaceful citizens of an imminent challenge to the rule of law; then the pedestrian turns, alarmed, to see a bescarfed motard bearing down at a speed unknown to gods or men. Grown gentlemen faint; women swoon; dogs break briefly from their urban toilettes. The scourge of Paris is on the wing, and none are safe. After the flapping from the scarf recedes into the distance, a wary peace settles over the street. Citizens gird their moral loins and bustle across the street, glancing this way and that like pantomime villains. The street is not their home.

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