Tuesday, 19 June 2012

EIGHTH WEEK - A Bit of Bureaucracy

We endured our first proper, face-to-face, in-the-motherland encounter with French Bureaucracy yesterday.  It was a heady experience.   We’d brushed with a little when applying for our visas but it’s something else to disturb it in its nest.  We were trying to get a phone plan as we find the credit on a pre-pay phone evaporates like the promises in an election platform.
So, we traipsed off to the local post office (which, in a stroke of social genius is also a telecommunication provider and a bank), secure in the advice from a postal worker several days ago that all we’d need would be a passport and a bankcard.
From the outside, the place is a kind of creepy, vaguely-Fascist Modernist box (the kind whose architects were so busy throwing off the shackles of tradition that they overlooked the constraints of the human condition – I love ‘em); inside, the white space has a similar feel despite the plastic shininess of the fresh refit.  Seemingly random counters deal with different aspects of the post – stamps here, bank accounts here, parcels there, phones? Where?   Oh well, we just approached a kindly seeming little lady whose oversized tortoise-shell glasses were almost as thick as she was tall.  She very kindly pointed out that we need an electricity bill and a RIB (some sort of number to facilitate electronic transfers).
 Okay, so we headed off to another company because we don’t yet have an electricity bill and surely we can get a phone without one.  Deep in the overheated bowels of an enormous subterranean shopping complex we waited patiently to learn that we needed a bank statement.  We could get one from our bank – which happens to be the post.
Another post office, another snaking queue, another kindly helpful older woman who eventually manages to communicate to us (my French has long reached its limits by this stage) that with our current bank accounts the post is unable to issue bank statements intended for other telecoms.
Everyone was helpful but four hours later, all we’d achieved was a strong need for a strong drink.

Earlier in the week a lovely sunny day (even rainman myself is beginning to see the appeal of old Sol), we walked through the remnants of a fresh food market and picked up an enormous bag of sweet, shiny-red cherries,  a bottle of rose and sat by the Canal St. Martin.  The banks lined with similar baskers and a trio of old men sailing little remote control ships through the peaceful, green waters.   Otherwise, rain.
Another day, we bumped into some friends at the local bar and ended up back at theirs for some food and drink.  A great apartment!  Some twenty floors into the sky in one of the Alphaville towers that sprout around the 13th – the view from the window was a forest of such towers, a thousand and one windows glinting softly yellow in the night (even noticed one that was pulsing red and blue, a tiny private disco in the sky).  Inside the apartment was a veritable country farmhouse.  Complete with little white stuccoed corner fireplace and exposed wooden support beams.  The walls were filled with a marvellous collection of beautiful and intriguing objets d’art – from antique Balinese basketry and shadow puppets to taxidermied tortoises and old-fashioned train seats.  It was a dream house – this little slice of nostalgia and coziness nestled among the clouds.  They are a nice bunch of people, too.

A fault in Line 6 trapped me below the ground for an hour and a half, stuck in a web of connecting trains.  Such a staggeringly huge warren of tunnels and tiles.  Sense of direction reduced to colour-coded signs that you just have to trust.  The acrid stink of piss strong on every breath.  A turn in the tunnel and suddenly the striped canopy of a fruit seller’s stall, the bright sweet fruit so alien amongst all these grimey tiles and torn posters.  Where does the fruit come from? Does fruit even still exist up there? Crumpled, stained bodies every few turns, snoring loudly on cardboard beds.  Crippled old women softly croaking Piaf classics to a crowd that never stops.  No one makes eye contact as we weave amongst each other in a complicated dance.  How do people keep from going loopey in this labyrinth?  Where’s the cheese I’m looking for?  Then, a glimpse of an old man playing accordion on a clickety-clanking train and the music waltzes me calm.  If I wasn’t so BUSTING this would be really great.

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