Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Street life: Part Two

I am well aware parents should try not to pass their bad habits and negative character traits on to their children. Heaven knows I do my best but some things will out.

I do plenty of walking in Paris. It is not easy with a toddler and pushchair, but it easier than the alternatives. As a pedestrian, top of my list of gripes about Paris are a) the amount of dog dirt on the pavements and b) the number of cars that park on the pavements or on pedestrian crossings.

To start with the dog dirt; it is everywhere and it is truly disgusting. You assume Parisians walk around staring at their shoes because they are a bunch of cheese-eating-misery-guts. Wrong. They walk around staring at their shoes to avoid stepping in poo. The more chic the arrondissement the greater the mess. I once challenged a well-to-do French woman whose poodle - sporting a bejewelled collar - had just done its business outside the building where I lived. "Excuse me. Would you please clear this up?", I called after her. She turned on her elegant heels and huffed snootily: "That's what I pay my taxes for," before clacking off. I cannot remember exactly how many tons of dog dirt are deposited on Paris streets every day but it is a lot. They used to employ men on scooters armed with a kind of dog doo vacuum cleaner to get rid of it, but they have now gone. I felt for those guys, I really did. How did they answer the question: "What do you do, Papa?"? Maybe that is why they have gone.

Then there are the illegally parked cars. This is what the French call "incivility"; I have other, less polite words for it. Cannot find a parking place? Never mind, stick the car on the pavement or across a pedestrian crossing so that it completely blocks the way forcing pedestrians out into the busy road. What a good idea. Paris is already a difficult city to conquer with a pushchair. Metro stations have stairs, lots and lots of them, many buses have large steps, sometimes there are even steps in the middle of the pavement. Add the bicycles, motorbikes, scooters and parked cars and even the shortest a-to-b on foot can become a perilous obstacle course. When La Fille was younger I decided to photograph every illegally parked vehicle I came across on our 15 minute walk to and from the creche for a week (sad, non?). On the first day, I was shouted at by a van driver making a delivery who had completely blocked a zebra crossing but who objected to me recording this fact. On the second day, I had so many photographs my phone memory was full.

Clearly, all this has gone straight into La Fille's pretty little head. This morning on the way to the halte garderie she pointed to some dog dirt and went: "Urgh, urgh, urgh...yuk". She then pointed to a car blocking the pavement. She let go of my hand, walked up to the vehicle, swung a pink zebra-print wellington boot (do not ask) and with a "naughty car" landed a swift kick on its front tyre. I could not have made it up. As I say, I do not know where she gets it from.

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