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"Photograph and stencil art within by the inimitable Nemo.
If you need Nemo to brighten up your neighborhood, contact us."

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 Living History
                    Living History

Mixed Zoning
                                   Mixed Zoning

With mixed zoning, everything you need is  within walking distance. That means less  carbon emission in the air, more purposeful  exercise, and attractive street life.

     Photo: Claude Abron for Privileged  
     Entries in France

Town in Vercors region
                           Town In Vercors region

Photo: Julie Wornan


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That's the most frequent question I receive from readers. Here I explain my very personal preference, no objectivity implied.

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 midst.   

CAFE-BARS. An American 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 Place.)

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.

HEALTH CARE. Everyone has 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 produce.

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 USA:
"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 the time).
Saratoga after the rain, breakfast at Santa Anita's Clockers' Corner, summer racing on a Friday night at Canterbury Park.
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 sunset. 

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