Motorcycle Taxi in Paris – Getting around Presidential Traffic Jams

I had my first ‘motorcycle taxi’ ride last Friday. It turned out to be a classic experience of getting to the airport JIT (just in time). My flight was at 4:15pm and I left my meeting at the MEDA headquarters at 2:30pm. According to the driver, we would arrive within 25 minutes, no sweat.

Motorcycle Taxi service in Paris

My first thought about the Motorcycle-taxi regards the very different experience of getting “into” the motorcycle taxi, this being my first such taxi ride. The first point is that my driver, David, felt the need to shake my hand. A personal touch. The next challenge was the suitcase which was apparently much bigger than expected. However, after some stretching of the veritably industrial elastic bands, the suitcase was cabled on to the back of the bike. Then, with hairnet to boot, I slipped on the second helmet. The final ritual involved the alcoholic gel for the hands before putting on the provided gloves. Only fitting, I thought, before you split your legs and sit behind a total stranger. All aboard, we went off with a relaxed feeling – I was, indeed, very confident that we would make it in time. So confident, in fact, that I decided to make a quick stopover at my home – basically on the way to the Roissy (CDG) airport, some 30 kilometres north of Paris.

Having arrived at our home, I scrambled up and down and was back on the saddle at 2:45pm. A little tight, but we should get to the airport at 3:10pm at the latest assured David, my friendly driver. As it turned out, as we arrived at the first entrance to the péripherique (Paris’ ring road), we found the on-ramp blocked off, causing general mass confusion of honking, a lot of frustrated drivers and a quite unexpected traffic jam. We diverted to the next entrance, not without jumping a few curbs. Same problem. The entrance was again blocked. By the time we arrived at the third entrance, my heart had taken on a noticeably less consistent beat. We asked the policeman, who was nonchalantly shooing us off the on-ramp, how many of the entrances might be closed off. “Presidential Procession” was the surly explanation, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.

After the fourth ‘diversion,’ we wiggled and ziggled and finally found a route onto the A1 toward the airport via St Denis. At last, we experienced some free sailing. We arrived at terminal 2A at 3:18pm. Pretty good, I thought, but later than I would have wanted and less than an hour before the international flight was to take off. Catastrophe struck as I found out that the right terminal was actually 2E. Fortunately for me, David was still re-arranging his bike for his next trip. Putting the helmet back on, without hairnet this time, and jamming the suitcase between us, we zipped over to the E terminal, which, if you don’t know CDG, is a good kilometre away. Imagine my horror, when I discovered that the real right terminal was 2F, some 500 metres away by foot. The sprint was on. I arrived at the check-in counter to hear “sorry, sir, the flight is closed for check-in.” To my good fortune – and thanks to the electronic new age – I had pre-checked in and had a boarding pass. The woman accepted my situation (and my C2000 card) and I was able to go through the final formalities to board the plane. Hurray.

Anyway, the motorcycle taxi definitely saved me… I cannot imagine what might have happened had I been in a classic car taxi. It was worth it all the way. Anyone else want to share a Moto-Taxi experience? Zip on over here and tell us.

UK parking wardens equiped with camera to take offensive photos…

Parking Ticket on Car in EnglandWhen I was in London recently, I observed a lady parking warden walk up to a street sign and snap some close up photographs.  It was a curious sight, as I initially imagined that it might be a cross between curiosity and tourism.  Then, she went some five or so metres back and started taking photographs of workers climbing off the back of a lorry, parked off of Oxford Street. I went up to her to ask what she was doing and she replied that the new policy was to document with time-stamped photographs the infractions, at the same time as handing out a parking ticket.  The parking warden looks like a techy geek these days carrying a handheld machine for registering and printing out the offense, as well as a digital camera hanging around the neck.
Lego Digital Camera
I would have to believe that the responsible lorry driver would be less “flippant” about tearing up any parking tickets as a result of the patent proof.

In any event, I would have to believe this is a best practice for parking wardens around the world… Not sure how city governments and their parking wardens share any such “best practices,” but this blog post could mark a beginning!

Parking nightmare in Paris in August 2009

Parking Meter in ParisIf you drive a car in Paris, then you know what a daily battle it is to find a parking place…. especially one that is not under a pigeon-infested tree which will cause the chrome paint to dissolve the following morning because of all the pigeon dooodoo.

On national holidays, parking on the streets (in legal “paying” spots) is free.  And, in Paris, during the month of August, parking is also free… in some places, not ALL places.  I had thought that all Paris, all the month of August, was free.  Clearly, there is a lot of shared misunderstanding out there, even for the true Parisians.  I was walking back from work last night and observed a few “signs” of misunderstanding in the form of a screaming match between two Parisians and a parking tickets emitter.  And, for the owner of this “abandoned” mini (photo below on the right), the surprise will likely be all the bigger upon his/her return from holidays as the car was clearly left in the street, believing that the month of August was “libre.”
Parking Tickets on Car in Paris
If parking in Paris has become ever more difficult over the years, when will they abolish even free parking in the month of August for all?  With more Velibs and the same concept for cars (Autolib) coming in 2010, the idea of owning a car in Paris may become, finally, either a ridiculous luxury, or a real nuisance.

Parking Meter Cards in Paris – Way to recycle?

Another Idea for the Environment:
Eco-Conscious Parking Cards

Parking Machine in ParisI have long enjoyed the card machines that you use in Paris to pay for your street parking. Originally, you used coins to pay, then they introduced the prepaid cards (e.g. 10€ or 30€ option). Naturally, it took some getting used to because you had to know to buy the prepaid card from the tabac.
Now, most machines only accept the prepaid cards (or a system called Moneo where you top up a bank card for instant payment). Now, the thing that has come to irk me is the waste inherent in these cards.

Once the card’s credit is used up, there is no way to re-use (top up) or recycle it. My suggestion for the collection would be to add a little compartment on the side of the machines in which to deposit the used cards. Afterwards, I have no idea if there is truly a way to recuperate and/or reconfigure the cards. But, at least there seems like there would be an easy gesture to gather the used cards. Anyone know of any organization that could figure out how to make a business out of this opportunity?
Herewith some tips on parking in Paris, courtesy of parisinfo.com.

Velib in Paris – Wheels are coming off…

The wheels are coming off the track for the Vélib bicycle programme in Paris, a subject I have been following since its inception. According to this BBC write-up (taken in turn from Le Parisien), the Parisians seem to have taken a little too much liberty with the vélo liberté…
Velib Bicycle in Paris
It seems that, after 18 months, the verdict is that the Vélib system in Paris simply does not function. The city of Paris has had to indemnify JCDecaux for the damage and disappearance of so many bicycles. In fact, 19,600 out of 20,000 bicycles have had to be replaced or repaired, with nearly 8,000 of them having disappeared (into Eastern Europe and Africa). The replacement value of each bike is 400 euros, not cheap, eh? And, then there is the Vélib Extrême / Freeride trend which has popped up on YouTube.

What a poor statement. The youtube site dislaims: “none of the vélibs in this film were mistreated…” Appropriately, the accompanying music is Highway to Hell. Why has the criminal underworld descended on Paris? How many Parisians are responsible themselves? How is it that the similar programmes work so much better in other cities? And, importantly, for cities wanting to replicate the Parisian system (London, San Francisco…), how can such base vandalism be avoided?

English Words Being Removed from the Collins Dictionary

The Wisdom of Winnowing Words?

I have often read, with keen interest, about the addition of new words to a language, typically to French and English where I can gauge the novelty, meaning and importance of the word(s) in question. Last week, however, I came across a TIME magazine article (European edition, October 20, 2008), entitled “War of the Words,” that talked about the opposite: the culling of what are considered archaic words from the [Collins] dictionary. Here is the list of words that are under review [in England]… There are 24 such words up for axing, in order to make room for 2,000 new words (presumably that means that the new words have little in the way of derivative definitions and the archaisms fill up reams of pages?).

Apparently, there is an opportunity for some words to “fight for their lives” by being used six times in an authentic “quality” fashion in the next few months (death knell is February 2009). My post here will not constitute an effort to “save” any of these words, but I find some of the words on the block (that may not have been around the block enough?) rather charming. From the list of 24, here is my selection of words that I would consider keeping:

Apodeictic: Unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration(and a good one for spelling tests)
Caducity: Perishableness (surely a necessary word for the Sustainable Developers?)
Fatidical: Prophetic (since vaticinate, meaning prophesy, is also up for damnation, I conclude that being prophetic/forward thinking is in trouble?)
Fubsy: Squat (to be come up with a sequel to Bugsy Malone)
Griseous: Somewhat grey (for those who can’t ever make up their mind?)
Muliebrity: The condition of being a woman (love this one, a sequel for André Malraux)
Olid: Foul-smelling (so close to fetid, and living in cities we’ll need lots of adjectives on smell)

Apparently, embrangle (to confuse or entangle) garnered the most support through a London Times survey. This Times Online article uses all the words, more or less, in context. You can read more from VisualThesaurus. But, while the announced intention to cull these words has received so much press, I am inclined to say that it is the addition of 2,000 more new words that is fascinating. With so many lesser languages dying every year, the addition of new words to English is a sign of a vibrant, dynamic language. Making space by cutting 24 words (or less as the case may be) is basically irrelevant, especially in the virtual era, where paperbound dictionaries will become less and less printed, much less interesting (lack of Random Access Memory, etc.).


What do you think? Should words make exits or not?

Life in the Fast Lane and Hooters

Eagles Life in the Fast LaneI would like to share with you with a little thought today.

There used to be a time when I thought it desirable to live life in the fast lane. What does that mean? Well, by my understanding it means living with time whizzing by, memories blurring, names & faces forgotten and years merging into decades. Surely, going to lose your mind… Oops, might have plagiarized that from somewhere (call it my Eagle eye).

Now, for many of us, life in the parking lot seems to be all we canHooters Girls Calendar 2008 handle. Between having to crane your neck (it’s so stiff) around as you reverse in the ever smaller spaces and watching out for the piping hot coffee in your lap, while answering the cell phone and inserting your earpiece and, simultaneously, turning down your music… life in the parking lot is sometimes as fast you might want life to be.

Then again, life in the odd lane might be the more fitting route these days. The search for the rarity and the personality. I came across this charming site, typically Canadian in a way, Life In the Fast Lane.ca. And what is quirky in this “Life in the Fast Lane” post is that everyone is walking with heavily laden horses to visiting the Hukuo Waterfalls of the Yellow River in China. And while I’m at it (nice one Deborah), here is a hoot: The new Hooters Calendar 2008. I attach this month’s oogle hooter to ogle.

In terms of riding in the fast lanes in cities, it does seem that the special bus or taxi lane is getting slower every year. As much as the traffic jams get worse, the fast lane slows down too. In large part, that is because there are too many deliveries and odd obstacles in the special lane, not enough police patrolling of the civilian infiltrators and, finally, because the special lane must Happy Easter Chick 2008merge with the plebeian (normal) lanes all too frequently. Enough to say, that life in the fast lane isn’t what it used to be, certainly not what it is cracked up to be and should be fastened onto memory lane, so that we can,–slowly and deliciously–enjoy our every day at the speed we can handle.

If you are needing a mundane definition of the idiom: try here: life in the fast lane.

Now back to my piping hot coffee. Have a great day. Oh yes, and Happy Easter 2008. (Don’t mind the Easter Chick).

Shimon Peres in Paris leaves Champs Elysees Empty

Shimon Peres Paris
The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, was welcomed to Paris today with gAbbey Road Beatlesreat pomp & circumstance. It was also with a great holdup in terms of traffic throughout large sections of the west side of Paris. Walking to the office, I was held up at a crossroads nearby the Elysée Palace, then diverted on to the Champs Elysées where I snapped the shot below. A potential new setting for Abbey Road relived (right)? The Champs were empty from the Concorde all the way up to the Etoile (Arc de Triomphe) — a fairly impressive site, particularly since there was no one lining the avenue either. One person coming to my office in the 8th arrondissement was held up for over an hour by the consequent traffic.

I’m not sure if it was the image of French President Sarkozy singing “Come Together,” or perhaps it was Carla singing “Octupus’ Garden” that caused me to think of the analogy.

Barcelona’s City Bicycle Program – Nice Bicing

Barcelona features–like Paris’ oh so grey Vélib or London’s bright yellow OYBike–a city-sponsored rent-a-bicycle-easily program called Bicing. The small-wheeled red bicycles (photo to right) can be remarked easily, being ridden by mostly Barcelona citizens on grey days and sunny days alike. Started in March 2007, the Bicing program is notable for one thing: it is thought to be only for the Barcelona residents! Every local person (e.g. taxi drivers and pedestrians) to whom I spoke said that these bicycles could only be rented out by the locals. This is in contradiction to the brochure which clearly is written in English (as well as Catalan and Castillan, of course) and states that the bike can be rented out for all your touristic visits. Moreover, the majority of the bike stations are located at the highly touristic centres. Even the Bicing website, which is only in Catalan and Castillan, talks about the usage for tourism purposes.

For further reading on Barcelona’s Bicing, please go here: Treehugger or BlastBlog.

The Barcelona program is an overriding success if you listen to the citizens. That said, with only 1500 bikes (100 stations), there must be some challenges in terms of availability, etc. Paris’ Velib now boasts around 20,000 bicycles. London’s program, begun in August 2004, is largely focused on the western region of London (I can’t find how many) bikes there are in the OYBike program). Other cities that feature a similar bicycle program include Copenhagen (2000 bikes), Stockholm CityBike (with the same bikes as Bicing, but in blue), Lyon Velo’V (1500) and in Germany, for those traveling one-way along the Ruhr Valley, in the revier rad network, there is the Hase low-rider bicycle.

Certainly, with all these programs cropping up in Europe, you would hope the same eco-friendly initiatives might take root in certain cities in the States. In Asia, in certain cities, it might be like bringing coals to Newcastle… although with the increase in motorcycles (Hanoi, etc.) and cars, keeping the bicycle tradition wouldn’t hurt. Anyone know of any cities in the US considering or doing a similar program?

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.