Wednesday, November 21, 2007


We made it to Switzerland despite the strike in Paris. After leaving at 6AM and walking to the one fully functioning Metro line (because it's automated), we arrived at Gare de Lyon and realized that the train would go more or less on time (just a 10 minute delay).

As we traveled, we saw mountains, snow, cows, sheep, and beautiful scenery the whole way. The travel took about 5 hours with a connection in Lausanne, but the trains were comfortable and speedy. Bern is a wonderful city with lots of cobblestone streets, Medieval architecture, and fountains. I can't upload pictures at the hotel, but will try later. We've had lots of good things to eat already, and more to come. The contents of the bakeries and chocolate shops look delicious.

Lorraine and her boyfriend arrive tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our Last Day in Paris?

The strike is still on (day 8), so we're not sure whether we'll make it to Switzerland or not. Today, government workers had their strike, which they had planned a few weeks ago, and that only added to the chaos. If we can't make it to Switzerland, we'll stay in Paris until it's time to return to Memphis

For more info on the strike, see:

France resolute on change as mass walkout cripples country
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

PARIS: Civil servants, from teachers to postal workers, began a mass walkout across France on Tuesday, the seventh day of a transport strike that has caused havoc on French rails. But the government said it would not abandon its planned changes.

Up to half of the country's teachers could stay off the job in support of higher salaries and job security, officials have said. Postal and tax services were also affected. Flight disruptions were expected, as air traffic controllers are also civil servants.

National newspapers were absent from the streets Tuesday as printers and delivery personnel joined the strike.

Though not state workers, they used the opportunity to protest job cuts.

With a paralyzing transit strike stretching toward its eighth day, Ludovic Boltz, a commuter, stood in the gloom on a suburban train platform Monday, fuming about his daily journey and shaking a bag of baguettes in fury.

"My opinion of this strike is that it's annoying lots of people and lots of workers," he said, voice rising above a bellowing announcement of another train delay. "It amounts to terrorism, and we're the hostages."

But there was no relief in sight to ease the commuter misery from the national transport strike that the government says is costing the nation from €300 million to €400 million, or $444 million to $591 million, a day. On Monday, rail workers voted to press on with the strike, most likely at least through Wednesday, when union officials will sit down with government officials and transportation executives for talks.

November is shaping up as the high season in France for strikes, with students challenging a new higher education law, tobacco shop owners organizing to demonstrate against a new anti-smoking law and French judges and lawyers poised for a Nov. 29 strike to protest structural changes that could result in the elimination of 200 courts.

Along the train platforms, weary resignation with limited services is starting to turn into resentment as the crippling strike continues. On Sunday, several groups organized a counterdemonstration in eastern Paris to demand an end to the conflict.

The governing party, the UMP, has been passing out fliers at train stations denouncing rail workers as a "minority defending a system of retirement at two speeds."

"People are really fed up," said Sabine Herold, a spokeswoman for a group called Liberal Alternative, which helped organize the stop-the-strike rally in Paris. "It's very complicated with the subway, buses and trains blocked. It's very difficult to have a normal life. People are really fed up because they think the strikers are egotistical."

The rail unions are fighting to keep special privileges for about 500,000 workers that grant locomotive drivers, for example, the option of retiring at 50 or 55 with full pension benefits. The government wants the workers to pay into the retirement system for at least 40 years, changes that have already taken place for workers in private industry and the civil service.

On Sunday, the stop-the-strike demonstration drew about 8,000 people, according to the police, or 20,000, according to organizers, who noted that people had braved bitter cold to participate, along with a general lack of transportation.

It was hardly the turnout of May 1968 when a huge showing of the "silent majority" converged on the Champs-Élysées to demonstrate support for President Charles de Gaulle, who was confronting student unrest.

But Herold said the group had united with others to organize another rally for next Sunday if the strikes continue. Others in her group, like Jean-Paul Oury, said they considered the counterdemonstration over the weekend just the first round.

Polls show that the counterdemonstrators are tapping into popular sentiment, with a majority of the French people siding with President Nicolas Sarkozy on changes in the pension system.

A weekend poll by Ipsos, commissioned by the government, found that support for changing the pension system had grown 10 percentage points to 64 percent in one week, while support for the strikers had dropped from 35 percent to 33 percent.

In the meantime, French commuters are turning to classic coping techniques: bicycling, roller-skating, carpooling and telecommuting.

Some small businesses are changing work hours so that employees come in earlier to leave before the gridlock begins.

Monday, November 19, 2007

On the Batobus

Ellen and I rode the Batobus, a boat shuttle which runs in a loop on the Seine. Since I'm writing about the river for this research project, I thought I needed to get out on it. Paris looks a little different from the water. You get a new perspective on buildings, monuments, and the whole city. We saw things we had never noticed before.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

At the Louvre

Here's Ellen puzzling over the map of the Louvre. We went today to see the 19th century French paintings and a show of Biedermeier furniture, among other things. It was cold and rainy as we left one of our favorite restaurants, Le Loup Blanc, but we made it home on foot. The strike is still on with no end in sight. However, we checked the internet, and the trains to Switzerland may still be running. We'll have to see.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ellen Is Here!

Ellen made it to town last night after a 3 hour van ride from the airport. The strike is still on, so traffic was worse than normal, and apparently she was the last stop on the driver's list. But I treated her to a nice dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants (Le Gai Moulin), and she slept late this morning. Here she is having an afternoon pick-me-up following our trip to Le Grand Palais to see an exhibition of Gustave Courbet's artworks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Parisian Layers

Paris is a city of layers, many of which you can see right before your eyes. This building on the rue Francois Miron demonstrates this principle well. It dates from the early 16th century, but its earliest components go back to the 14th century. Restored in the late 1960s, it remains one of the few surviving examples of Medieval domestic architecture in the city. Of course it's surrounded by much more modern construction from the 19th and 20th centuries -- hence the layers.

Throughout Paris, the mixture of old and new stands out, especially as I've seen a number of restaurants which have recently been remodeled and are shiny with glass and metal. My visit to the Quai Branly museum (about which I wrote a few weeks ago) reinforced that sense of the new. But there are still plenty of old buildings which have stood for centuries.

Still, I often think that people, especially tourists, focus on the old and the historic without realizing that Paris is a modern, growing city which often needs new construction. Just like every city, Paris is changing, even though many people still like to imagine it stuck in the past. But, even with all the change, the past remains, and it presents itself in buildings like this one.