WHY FRANCE? WHY PARIS?
That's the most frequent question I receive from
readers. Here I explain my very personal preference, no
TRAINS. I've traveled the "City of New Orleans"
and Amtrak on the Hudson. I have a passion for
railroads, stations and trainyards that makes my wife
jealous. France is train country. Its railroad stations
are living monuments. Railway is the safest, cleanest
and most comfortable form of transportation. The French
fast train (TGV), which travels at up to 200 miles per
hour, has never had a fatal accident. In comparison, car
travel is like going to war. And you can't read in a
car, use your laptop, doze off or simply watch the world
go by with zero stress. In America, if highways were not
obscenely oversubsidized by the state, with railroads
grossly underfunded in comparison, you'd witness the
rebirth of passenger trains.
Two railroad tracks have the hourly passenger-carrying
capacity of 16 highway lanes. Two railroad tracks
require about 50 feet of right-of-way compared to about
400 feet for 16 highway lanes.
New Transportation Vision.
BICYCLES are a beloved icon. Both rural and urban
cycling provide fine sensorial pleasures. Though behind
Amsterdam or Copenhagen in bicycle lanes, Paris is
advancing rapidly. Parisian drivers, all the while
growling at each other, respect cyclers in their
asked: "I see Parisians hanging out at all hours in
cafés; do they ever work?" Hanging out is a national
sport. Café-bars, shady public squares, streets: people
chatting, people holding meetings, people finding a
nesting place for reading the newspaper.
(Check out Ray Oldenburg's classic book, The Great Good
LIVING HISTORY. Centuries-old buildings artfully
preserved, often outlive the newer ones.
MIXED-ZONING. If you chose to, you could live a
rich life without even leaving the neighborhood. In
cities and many villages and suburbs (but not all of
them) everything you need is within walking distance. No
senseless separation of commerce and residence. Without
knowing it, you keep fit, just by doing normal errands.
ASYMMETRY. The phrase "city block" is unknown. No
grid. No typical length from one corner to the next.
Buildings adopt the form of angular streets. Funky
alleys, passageways, inner courtyards are the vital
capillaries, hidden connections.
affordable health insurance, managed by the state but
with private partners. Pre-existing conditions do not
affect coverage. In fact, insurers do not ask for
pre-existing conditions. You can choose your doc. The
French health care system was rated number one by the
World Health Organization. Next time I'm hospitalized,
though, I'm bringing some Mexican hot sauce to improve
the taste of the food.
HIKING PATHS crisscross the country. You can go
anywhere by foot. Private farms are required to respect
public access to footpaths. With hundreds of hiking
associations throughout the country, footpaths are cared
for and well-marked. A map lover's delight. Hiking
during hunting season is not a good idea.
TEXTURES. I am a lover of textures. France is not
silky slick, it's not sweet violins. It's a gutsy sax,
earthy, gritty, sensual, full of quirky patterns, uneven
cobblestones, peeling paint on old window dormers.
SECULARISM. Brought up on Thomas Jefferson, I
find comfort with separation of church and state. In
France, invoking religion will get you nowhere in public
policy. Religion is a strictly private choice. Even
atheists enjoy meditating in a French gothic church.
THE FAMILY FARMER. Sooner or later agribusiness
will probably engulf AGRICULTURE, but for the time
being, the French generally cherish the small farmer,
and outdoor farmers markets abound, as do maraichers,
which are urbanites or suburbanites who grow and sell
ELECTIONS. I'm not a citizen so I can't vote. But
I can wager. My preferred candidate has never won, but I
can win money with the British bookies if he gets more
than the predicted percentage of vote. Elections are
fun. Makes up for missing the NCAA basketball
tournament. No political contributions permitted. No TV
ads permitted. The campaign is mercifully short. Every
qualifying candidate (all eleven or twelve of them), get
equal TV time. Debates are refereed rather than
moderated. There's a first round, in which folks can
vote their true conscience, without "throwing away their
vote", knowing that two weeks later they get to vote for
the lesser of evils of the final two qualifiers.
FUNKYTOWNS USA. Many aspects of American
counterculture are cherished in France and readily
available. Ella, Ellroy, Woody Allen. Mississippi Delta
Blues. Bukowski, Coltrane, Kerouac, Cubop, Nuyorican
salsa. Come to France: discover Chaplin; discover Laurel
and Hardy. You get some old American B&W films on prime
time TV that you can't find in the USA.
What I miss most about the
"The customer is always right."
A baseball bat is not a weapon.
Sidewalks are not for cars or dogshit.
Homer Simpson speaks English.
The bureaucracy gets it right the first time (most of
Saratoga after the rain, breakfast at Santa Anita's
Clockers' Corner, summer racing on a Friday night at
New England in the autumn, Southern California in the
winter just after the rain, Maryland and D.C. in the
spring, Tahoe in the summer, and the Great Plains at
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