Monday, 5 November 2007

Park like a local

Went off to a local church this evening to train an English choir. They've got a Carol Concert coming up and have decided that I would be the best person to help them, based on the fact that a) their regular chorusmaster is abroad and b) when asked, I said 'yes'. It's a very laid-back affair with an awful lot of focus on the interval refreshments. Virtually everyone comes with a large bag or box chock full of cups, plates, cakes, mulled wine, coffee and tea. The music folder may or may not be found under all of this. They're enthusiastic and sing pretty well, so it's a pleasant evening out.

When we arrived, we did as most civilised people do and parked in the car park. This is, apparently, not what the priest does. Not for him the risk of leaving his car amongst the conveyances of the faithful: he opens the double front doors, folds in his wing mirrors, slips into first and cruises towards the Almighty. The congregation has to squeeze past his Renault to get in. OK, he doesn't park in the nave itself but most of the reception area does get transformed into a rather sad version of the Paris Car Show.

The lady who gave me a lift in told me that her daughter was 'learning how to drive at a French driving school'. Anyone who has ever tried to cross a road in this country would find that at least mildly contradictory. Yesterday, she nearly backed into a Mercedes 4x4; no doubt her instructor will work hard on improving her aim. I trust he'll inform her that it's illegal to change down into second for any corner less than than 90°, too.

The pavements of this ancient city are peppered with bollards to prevent 'drivers' parking on them. Very often, they are so narrow that only pedestrians in their fourth month of hunger strike can walk down them without toppling over into the road. Add the bollards and you're stymied. Bring a pushchair into the equation and you've no choice: you're in the street. Pretty soon you're being honked at for obstructing traffic by the self same people whose indiscipline and selfishness pushed you into their way in the first place. On the plus side, it's a very good way of learning new vocabulary and gestures.

The problem is not new in Old Europe: how to arrange an immobile architectural infrastructure to accomodate the senseless love of the motor car. People who insist on driving 400 yards to the corner café and then spend fifteen minutes trying to park will not, generally, be receptive to any campaign aimed at reducing car dependance. Politicians are loath to enforce anti-car legislation for fear of not being re-elected onto the gravy train that is French politics, so we're stuck with half-arsed measures such as 'Pedestrian Priority Streets' and the like. Lovely in theory, abysmal in practice; any right-thinking person is going to save his own skin rather than risk being in the right and spending a few months in traction.

There's often talk of the lunacy of the Italians and Spanish on the road but I'm convinved that the only safe French car is a parked one. Unless you're trying to take communion.

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