The letterboxes in our hallway are full to bursting. In August the French middle classes traditionally descend on the Côte d’Azur. They’ll tell you that Paris is deserted in that month, though that’s not strictly true and they’d have no idea anyway as they’re too busy stuffing themselves full of ratatouille and chilled dry rosé as they cook themselves pink.
You hear more English and American and German accents as you walk the boulevards and avenues in the centre, Australian too, but the nearer you are to the périphérique the more it stays the same. At one end of my street for instance, there’s a large Algerian community and the markets are still fully functional and people carry on as usual, whereas at the other end all the hipsters have taken flight and half the businesses have shut up shop for the month.
I suppose it’s similar to London at Christmas. When I lived in Stoke Newington it was a really peaceful time to be in the capital over the Yuletide period, but when I moved to Tottenham I was astonished how many shops were open and how many people were loitering around even on Christmas Day. But then why the surprise? Most wouldn’t be observing Christmas because they don’t believe Jesus to be the Son of God, and you don’t have to travel far to spend it with mummy if mummy already lives around the corner on White Hart Lane. And anyway, the travel people are absolute fuckers and put the prices up to extortionate levels. I know I was too poor to go anywhere last year and I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one.
Last week we were in Saint Malo watching Nick Cave at La Route du Rock. This week we’re back in Paris, and so far it has been a dog. The coolest thing I got to do was ride in a fire engine, though in rotten circumstances it must be said. *Claire was feeling rubbish, and when we attempted to go for a gentle walk around Père Lachaise she fainted before we’d even got there. Some nice Parisians called the emergency services and some Pompiers were there in minutes. There was also a chap who offered to let her sit in his car though he seemed a bit seedy and weirdly insistent (sorry Monsieur Voiture, you’re probably a lovely, lovely man and were only being kind but you did seem a bit dodge). We went to the hospital and we were seen to fairly swiftly. Claire wasn’t carrying her Carte Vitale though the hospital types seemed fairly relaxed about it.
For the record, the health system in France is regarded by the World Health Organization as probably the best in the world, and it looked that way to me to from this one brief experience (may that long remain the case), and that’s because the state provides so much of the funding from people’s taxes. It’s a system that works. It goes without saying but had we been in the US then people would have walked on by, afraid to get involved, and we would have been up Rue Merde sans un snorkel.
*Claire is currently convalescing at home. If this story has touched you in any way then feel free to send me money and presents, it’s been tough. Thanks.