"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work." -Émile Zola
Paris is known for its extensive and dependable system of public transportation--the largest underground labyrinth of snaking metro trains, punctual street buses, the RER--the urban train system that transports the suburbanites to and from the city, and the world famous TGV, the fastest modern train yet to date.
Are you presently reading a sales pitch for RATP transport services? No, but it must be made clear that it is impossible to not get where you are going in Paris--whether from one side of the city to another, or just down the street on a rainy day there is something and someone to get you there. Unless of course there is a transportation union workers strike--the Greve--that literally cripples the rhythm of everyday Parisian life. Surprisingly though, the Parisians do not bitch, they accept and move on. When public is down Parisians turn private--which means to take to the streets. From dawn until much after dusk the main avenues and boulevards become blood clots of honking motorists spattered by flocks of snaking bikers and herds of rushing pedestrians on foot. Chaos ensues as unexperienced bikers, drivers, and yes even rollerbladers unfamiliar with the above-the-ground route to their destination strain to read road signs and traffic laws that seem nearly non-existent. As a temporary Parisian resident I only feel it my duty to contribute to the street circus--therefore I join the perturbed masses dans la rue on my bike, a 50-some year old rusty orange two-wheeler named Émile (ehh-meal).
Bikers are a different breed of people; bikers choose to bike even when it is far easier to arrive via some other mode of transport. Bikers enjoy numb faces and frozen fingers, they do not mourn over the tears that are ripped away from the eyes and carried away by the frozen wind, and they accept the imminent outcome of disheveled hair and a broken sweat. City biking is a game of adrenaline, pleasure, and stealth. Bikers play the role of the motorcar but with the perks of the pedestrian. Bikes belong in the street, observe traffic laws and lights, but have the bonus of snaking and sidewalk jumping to pass, weasel, and play as one wills. There is a rule however, it is to play responsibly and to not die.
I acquired my velo from a guy named Eddy. Eddy runs his bike business from a subterranean garage full of a near 200 used bicycles--some sparkling and new, and some rusted and flat. I told him I wanted a 60euro or less--he wheeled out around 12 rusting beauties and I proceeded to spin around on each in the deserted parking garage. After eliminating the models without brakes, he flat tires, and the broken bells, I found Emile--rusty, orange, hard-seated, but with a little something reminiscent of charm and past glory. Look closely and it's mark is a Jacques Anquetil--for those Tour de France patrons out there the name will lift a brow as he was the first to win five maillot jaunes. I took Emile after only 20minutes, and my first adventure through the streets of Paris took me from the northernmost tip of the 18th to the southernmost dip of the 16th. Taking the Champs-Elysees, the actual street, not the sidewalk, by night and in the rain for the first time was yet again one of those moments. An hour and a half ride past the glittering Eiffel Tower and the tourists along the seine and aboard the river boats--yes I had my map as I loose myself in the metro much less in the actual streets--but I have become a Parisian biker and am beginning to feel the streats, and though to many Emile is naught but a rusty bit of junk and at first un peu embarrassing, he has traversed the city and has not failed me yet. And though it isn't quite as exciting as a key less-entry previously owned by a former White House adviser (hehe), I do not have to worry about it's theft! When the chain falls off: put it back on I say. Unless of course the wheel falls off.
Émile is named for Avenue Émile Zola, which we ride along on our way to class. He will stay in Paris after I have left though--he belongs in Paris. Paris is made for bikes, whether its a historical connection or an evolution over time, there is a respect, expectation, and place for them in the rue. Émile Zola said, "The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work." And though this has nothing to do with bikes or anything of which we have discussed up to this point, it is quite a smart thing to say.
A bientôt & happy birthday dad.