Actually, a red letter week if not a red letter year.
Nearly six years ago, feeling pressured to work outside of the home by my other half, I 'forced' the purchase of a new, more commodius house with a garden. Up to then, we had lived, relatively happily, in a house without a garden, but one that did have a garage.
I should point out that we have always lived in the center of town. Few things are more dispiriting than living in the suburbs in France. I mean, we are foreigners. (At least the adults in the house are...) We didn't come here to have a suburbian experience, let alone a lesser suburbian experience (no, 'starter castles' haven't made it to France... and commuting, well, let's not go there).
So we live in the center of town. We walk most places, or take our bikes. Sometimes we take, gasp, public transportation. In fact, they've just opened a second subway line, only about 3 blocks from our house. Hooray. It goes almost door to door from our house to the nice Montessori-like school daughter 1 goes to.
Another fabulous benefit about living here is the fruit and vegetable market that happens one block away from our front door, 6 days a week. I've gotten to know a few of the merchants, one of whom told me it is the largest daily market in Europe.
(You're probably wondering why I hate it here so much. I wonder too, sometimes. That's probably the subject of another blog, or perhaps 20 years of psychoanalysis.).
Anyway, we live in a nice spot. But the one problem with our neighborhood, being so close to town, is that it was hard to find a parking spot near our house (there is no on-street parking in front of our house, but about 1/4 of a block away). When we first moved here, (as I said nearly 6 years ago), finding a spot was tough. As the years have passed, it became nearly impossible. I, or my dh, would literally cruise the neighborhood for upwards of 45 minutes before parking 8 blocks away (that being the closest spot we could find).
The Mayor of town decided to put in resident parking in the main center of town neighborhoods, and started with neighborhoods that are less 'activist' than ours. Our neighborhood protested vehemently against resident parking. I guess the prevailing opinion was that it wasn't fair to make the residents pay for what ought to be theirs for free. Not only that, many of them probably knew that getting resident parking meant they would have to 'merit' it. By this I mean living in a legal apartment (one where you pay taxes for it) and also not have access to other parking.
Regardless, the Mayor didn't care and his evil plan got put into place, systematically, in all the neighborhoods, but ours (it was euphemistically said that ours would happen, eventually). It was a sort of chinese water torture of parking, because as each neighborhood was converted, people would migrate to those neighborhoods where parking was still free. So, the original fight against parking slowly converted into a fight for parking.
Parking was always easier in the summer and vacation periods, when the numerous students would escape the city, but this last summer it didn't improve. If anything, it seemed to worsen. In June, the Mayor announced that our neighborhood would finally have resident parking "Late August". I was thrilled, as was dh. The 'rules' were that we would get a special badge for the car, and a payment card that would permit us to buy tickets that allowed two full weeks of parking. I wondered why they couldn't issue some sort of yearly pass, but was so giddy at the idea of just being able to park I accepted the seemingly odd rules.
I dutifully filled out the forms and sent in the required papers (our resident tax paper, car registration paper, and recent electricity bill), and then I waited, anticipating with glee the day they would call for me to come get our parking badge.
I waited through August, into early September. I noticed no parking meters, so there was no system in place. I found out in early September that the date had been pushed back to October 22nd. The date seemed magical. Anytime it would come up for another reason, I would get a shiver of excitement, as though some amazing event were planned for that day.
Late September the Mayor's office called me, and we made an appointment for me to get the 'badge' on the 11th, at a pre-arranged time. I marked the date carefully into my pocket pc, and when the day came I loaded up dd2 in her stroller and insisted we move quickly to get there at the appointed time.
We arrived at the office and she issued us our badge and the special payment card to be charged up at the local bank. She showed me how to use it and informed me of the fines involved in losing the card. I asked her why there was only a two-week limit, and the question seemed to perplex her. I noted that many big cities had yearly passes for residents, and she smiled saying, "Ah, this wouldn't work. You see, the ink only lasts about two weeks on these tickets, then it fades." Ah, the folkloric and absurd response we so often expect, and get, in France. I guess it didn't occur to anyone that the badges for the cars could be printed up with a yearly expiration date.
So we left the office with our new toys. We pasted the badge on the car and charged up the card. As October 22nd neared, meters were installed and the words "Paid parking" were stencilled on the asphalt near the parking spots. As this happened, people slowly stopped parking here, wondering if it was pay parking, unsure, and moving on.
The morning of October 22nd, dh took the car to work (unusual but he had visitors) and with it the payment card. When I left on my bike a bit later, I noted that there were quite a number of available spots.
Later, when I returned, even more spots were available. I giggled as I pedalled up our street saying, "I just love this place" before I realized what I was saying.
So miracles do happen and red letter days do occur in France, after all.
Michel Odent on breech
1 week ago