Moral Unequivalence

IMG_3275I’ve been in quite the grouchy mood, one would think, from my recent posts. When it rains, it pours.

A banal mishap this summer rocked my world, and I feel like I’m living in some kind of Groundhog’s Day of repeats of it, if not personally then existentially.

P1070038
Small road, deep ditch. Not even a tire’s width of flat grass, then a ditch (called a fossé in French) that could easily eat a car.

One day I was driving on a back road between two villages. It was unusually busy–undoubtedly people dropping off their kids in one village for a big event and then heading home; in fact I was on my way to the event. I know the road well and would pull over and wait on the spots that were a few inches wider. These roads are barely big enough for two small cars to pass, and forget about an SUV. So over and over, I eased my car onto the grass, all the while aware that the shoulders are not even a foot wide. One day, on a different but also narrow road, I passed a car that was upside down, having been too polite and pulled over too far. A man with his 8-year-old-ish son stood bewildered on the tarmac’s edge as a tow truck winched the car out.

IMG_2696
“A” is for awful. Actually A means apprentice, a scarlet letter affixed to cars during a driver’s first year of having a license, so other drivers know stupidity lies ahead.

Then a beat-up Clio came barreling toward me. The driver had a cigarette in one hand, the steering wheel in the other. She didn’t make the slightest effort to move to the right. I had two wheels on the grass and didn’t dare go farther.

IMG_3928
More of the same. Ditches on both sides.
IMG_3930
Not much space at all to pull over…
IMG_3929
A tiny bit more on the other side of the road.

Bang! She tore off my side mirror. That made her pull over (on the wrong side of the road). She came up to me: “It’s your fault!” she yelled. She had a convoluted theory that the car that was going faster would suffer less damage and thus be shown to be at fault; since her mirror was gone she was the victim. I pointed out that I was barely moving and that my side mirror was missing as well. I asked for her insurance information.

“There’s no point,” she said. “The code de la route says that when two cars cross each other, any accident is 50-50 each driver’s fault.”

IMG_2718
Even worse: I hesitated to WALK over this. No way in a car. Not even in my half-size car.
IMG_2719
Check the drop! This passes for a “bridge.” Happily, it connects nowhere with nowhere.

And it’s true. It doesn’t matter that she was driving like a lunatic, didn’t slow down and didn’t make the slightest effort to move to the side. And with that, she hopped into her car and took off again. I have a strong suspicion that, having a Renault Clio, one of the most common models around here, she will simply take a mirror off another Clio in a parking lot and her problem will be solved without spending money. I got a new mirror online for about €30. So it was a small thing but it really irked me.

Do you find yourself in situations where you’re minding your own business, being respectful, obeying the rules, and then some ogre/idiot barrels along and sets you back, and, on top of it all, blames you? And the rules don’t support you at all?

IMG_3269
Parking lot lines are for other people. (Red car in center)

I remember a friend’s child who was getting picked on at school. The main bully was the teacher’s pet. The teacher refused to believe his pet could be mean. The child had to speak up, he told her parents. On the playground, when the mean girl acted against my friend’s daughter and she asked the teacher for help, the teacher said the kids needed to work things out among themselves. The mean girl took that as a green light to keep up the bullying. More importantly, the other kids also saw it as the teacher acquiescing to the mean girl, giving her even more power.

These days, among adults, bullying is more subtle, and among the hoi polloi, committed via cars. It’s about taking up two parking places, or the gutless wonders who “ICE” electric vehicle charging spots (ICE means internal combustion engine; “ICEing” means parking in the charging spots to inconvenience people with electric cars). Or who park in handicapped spots–the lowest of the low.

IMG_3866
And this guy…construction blocked the road, and what’s usually parking was for exiting this service road. Except that this jerk parked so that nobody could squeeze by. What was he thinking? He was thinking, “I got a great parking spot.”

Those are just examples of being discourteous. There are bigger, more serious crimes that are committed, and the response is, the other side is also to blame. But often–usually–the other side’s real or imagined offenses are nowhere near the same scale. The idea of both sides being at fault magnifies small faults and lets real offenders get off.

IMG_3926
A pretty view, to reset after this rant.

After my experience on the road, I went to the gendarmerie. It was another Catch-22. He informed me that since the wicked woman stopped, she didn’t flee from an accident. I pointed out that had she not stopped, I wouldn’t have been able to get her license plate number, considering the speed she was driving at. The law says that even though I pulled over and she didn’t, we share the blame equally. But I could file a report anyway, to give my side, the gendarme consoled me. Who knows–if she does this regularly (and I somehow don’t think that she usually drives with great care) then it will be in her file. Most of all, it was cathartic. I felt like I had done something, however small, against somebody who flouts the rules.

IMG_3935
Grape harvesters hard at work…it’s still the season.

Are you a rule follower? A rule flouter? What do you think of people who commit terrible acts and then say, “the other guy isn’t perfect, look at him!”?

Driving in France

Peewee Herman signIt’s entirely possible to vacation in France without a car. High-speed trains connect the big cities as fast as planes, and even the slower trains are faster than going by car. And inside any big city, a car is more of a hassle than anything—parking is nigh impossible.

A car is useful only if you want to get out into the countryside, for example, to go from village to village, or to get out into the garrigue. Even if you plan to bike, it’s important to know the rules of the road, which aren’t at all like in the U.S.

priorite a droite
Priority to the car on the right. Be careful!

Possibly the most important, or the thing the least like the U.S. is priorité à droite. When in doubt, priority is to the car on the right. There are no four-way stops. A triangular sign (point up), bordered in red, with a black X means at the next intersection, you have to stop for any cars coming from the right. Look out; sometimes the next intersection is with an alley you barely see, and the locals will plow right into you because they know they have the right of way. In case of an accident, fault is easy to determine—the car dented on its right side is wrong.

White line for stop
This intersection has both a stop line and a stop sign…rare.

The French hate stop signs. Instead, they paint a heavy white line at intersections where you are supposed to stop. So you have to watch the pavement as well as the signs.

A dashed line across the road means yield. (Actually, they often interpret it as ‘I see a car coming, so I’m gunning it to cut in front.’ So you’ll probably have to slam on the brakes a lot.) It can be a dashed line instead of a solid stop line like above, which basically means you can do a rolling stop. Or it can be where you merge into traffic.

prepare to stop passing
Arrows mean the passing lane is near the end.

As in the U.S., a dashed center line means you can pass and a solid line means no passing. Sometimes, they have a solid line where there is a long sight line, just because the road curves a bit. And sometimes, they have a dashed line where you can’t see oncoming cars. Lesson: just because it’s a dashed line, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to pass. And beware of passing stuff like tractors and bikes where there’s a solid line because you can get a ticket if a cop sees you. Also: they put curved arrows when the dotted lines are about to end, meaning it’s too late to start to pass.

Speaking of cops, they rarely pull you over. Instead, they sit in their cars or hide in the bushes with radars that take a picture of you speeding by. The picture is mailed to you (or to the car rental place, which will then just bill your credit card). No sweet-talking your way out of it. With special binoculars, they can get you from over a kilometer away. They do have traffic stops, where they check every car or every fourth car or whatever, to check for drunk drivers. They are strict: the limit is 0.5, which is about one glass of wine. When you go to wine country, you’re going to need a designated driver (called le capitain). The French are very sharp at spying cops in hiding and will flash their headlights when there’s a speed trap or traffic stop ahead (or for other reasons, like an accident, or a mess on the road—whatever the reason, it’s best to slow down).

There are radar signs on the highways, which indicate a fixed radar lurks ahead. They, too, take pictures of speeders.

Speed limits, unless indicated otherwise are (in kilometers per hour):

50 in towns of any size—as soon as you get to the sign that marks the town limit, you have to slow down to 50. Watch out, because there could be signs limiting the speed further, like to 30.

City limit leaving
Leaving the city limit (it’s not a “no Carassonne” sign)

80 out of town on any road (tiny track between vineyards, county road, national highway). Sometimes the speed will be limited to 70, but that will be indicated with a sign. Beware: the speed limit changed July 1 to 80 kph from 90.

110 where indicated on national highways that have two lanes in each direction, divided by a median (just because you have two lanes doesn’t automatically mean you can go faster).

130 on autoroutes, except when it’s raining and then it’s 110 (and yes, they do check).

A triangular road sign with a heavy black arrow, intersected by a thinner line means a crossroads is ahead.

A diamond-shaped yellow sign bordered in white means you have priority. Same sign with a black line through it means you no longer have priority (so look out for the black X or the arrow with a line through it, which warns you of intersections where you don’t have priority…but they don’t always mark these intersections).

A circular sign bordered in red with a white center means cars aren’t allowed. Not the same as a do not enter sign, where you would simply be going the wrong way on a one-way street.

A triangular sign with three curving arrows making a circle means slow down for a roundabout ahead.

Céder le passage = yield. Usually with a triangular sign, white bordered in red, with the point down.

A sign with a red circle and a red car on the left and a black car on the right means no passing.

A blue sign with arrows pointing up and down, with one in black (or white) and the other in white (or red) means the road is narrow and the car in the direction of the bigger arrow has right of way.

A round sign with a blue center and a red border with a red line through it means no parking. The sign on the right, above, means you need one of those little hour-cards that you can buy at a bureau de tabac. You set the time you arrived. Same sign with an X means no stopping.

A round sign with a black line through means end of something. A sign like that with the number 70, for example, means end of the 70 kph speed zone, i.e., 80 kph.

A square blue sign with a P means parking. If it has a little meter in the corner, it means you have to find the meter (someplace on the street, it might be two blocks away) and pay and put the ticket on your dashboard so the meter readers can see it.

A square blue sign with a kind of a T, where the T is in red, means dead end.Traffic circle ahead

Signs for highways with the city names on green backgrounds mean they are free highways.

The same kinds of signs with blue backgrounds mean tollroads.

The same town signs on white background mean departmental roads.

Roads are numbered like this:

D123 (I’m making up numbers here) with yellow background means a departmental road. Like a county road. Small, lots of stops. Usually, the bigger the number the smaller the road.

N123 with a red background is a national highway. Can be 1, 2 or 3 digits.

A12 with a red background is an autoroute, usually toll, but some stretches may be free. (1 or 2 digits)

E3 with a red background is a European highway. This just means you can follow the same road across borders and perhaps not get lost because the national numbering systems aren’t the same. (1 or 2 digits)

Sortie means exit. The exit signs are an oval with the autoroute sign (two parallel lines converging in perspective) and a little arrow coming out of the right line, along with the number of the exit.

A kind of double white X on a blue background, with the points of the X connected to each other by curved lines, means a junction of two autoroutes.

At the tollbooths, do not go in the ones marked with a T (usually an orange T). Those are for people who have the RFID tags, like EZ Pass. A blue or white sign that says CB means credit cards (Cartes Bancaires). A green sign, usually with a kind of outline of a person in profile leaning out a window, or with a bunch of circles (for coins), means you can pay in cash, to an attendant.

A curved arrow painted on the ground means merge in the direction of the arrow. So if you’re getting onto the highway, it’ll point to the left, meaning the entry ramp is ending and you need to move over. Or if three lanes turn into two, it’ll point to the right, meaning the left lane is about to disappear. Sometimes these turn up where there’s road construction.

Aire = rest stop. Watch out: some have gas/food and some are just with toilets and picnic tables. They are marked.

Vehicles exiting
I love those exclamation points.

Péage = toll.

Rocade = peripherique = ring road that goes around the town.

Sortie de camions = truck exit/entrance (caution for slow trucks)

Piétons = pedestrians

Attention! Nids de poules en formation = beware! Hens’ nests (potholes) forming. This is on the road to Carcassonne and I giggle every time I see it. The road has been repaved and now is as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but the sign remains.

My favorite, though, is the top sign, which reminds me of “PeeWee’s Big Adventure,” where PeeWee is in the truck with Large Marge.

I just don’t have time today to write. This is a repost of one of my earliest entries, updated with the new speed limit. I hope it’s useful.

I am up to my ears in baking. We are having a gigantic party this weekend. I’ll give the rundown next week. This is not the moment to bake–it’s the canicule–heat wave, and yes, related to canine, but it’s because of a constellation, Big Dog, whose brightest star, Sirius, rises and sets with the sun during the hottest part of the year). We have mostly been spared–highs around 34 Celsius, or 93 Fahrenheit, but that’s hot enough when you don’t have air conditioning.

Any driving tips to add? Questions? How are you dealing with the heat? Bon weekend!

Highway to Hell

P1070978Gigantic pickup trucks have sprouted like mushrooms on French roads. Until recently, the only pickups were some museum pieces–ancient Peugeots, their rust barely holding them together, usually slumped to one side, the way many of us end up late in life.

06.MARCH 12 - 65 2
A Peugeot 404. Classic.
04.JANUARY 12 - 1
Talk about rugged…typical “camionettes” used by artisans and winegrowers below:

 

P1070030
A camionette in the vineyards.

Considering that French streets are about four feet wide and parking spots are the size of a kitchen sink (and underground parking garages have ceilings so low you have to commando-crawl out of them), the new generation of pickups on steroids are more often found outside cities.

P1020749
Example of a wall in the center of town that has taken a beating. The streets, laid out around 1260, are barely wide enough for a small car to pass a small parked car. The sidewalks are similarly skimpy.
P1020750
The lump on the right is called a “chasse-roue” or wheel-chaser.

Check out this pickup description, on a car site: “the arrogance and exaggerated size of U.S. monsters…” And on the Parisien: “In the city, where its outsize build that isn’t always easy, attracts disapproving and inquisitive looks, proof that the big 4×4 still has the image of a polluter.” And on another car site: “If some consider them retrograde…” and later calls them “mastadons.”

P1090457
XXXL vehicle in M parking space.
P1070806
Can’t fit into a parking space? Use the sidewalk.

The main reason for this sudden love of gashogs? Taxes! You didn’t think it was because they are practical (not) or beautiful (absolutely not)?

For some reason, France decided that big SUVs weren’t ecological and slapped an €8,000 malus (penalty) on them, causing sales to drop. And for some reason, France decided that pickups are utilitarian vehicles and so their pollution is OK, regardless of their emissions.

On top of that, they qualify for one of Europe’s favorite tax dodges: company cars. Companies not only don’t have to pay taxes on company cars but they also get to deduct 100% of the TVA (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée, or value-added tax–a special kind of sales tax, kind of, which is 20% on fuel) on diesel.

P1070192
My car would fit in that wheel well.

During the summer, a traveling monster truck show passed through. In French, they’re called monster trucks, but monster sounds like mahn-STAIR. Stunt vehicles are cascaders.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯P1070194

 

P1070186

Who knew!

The Iconic French Car

IMG_4648The Citroën 2CV–pronounced deux chevaux, or two horse, after the engine–is the model that most screams “French.” While Detroit was churning out land yachts in the postwar years, Citroën came up with the modest 2CV as an economy model in 1948. They were in production for 40 years. Is that classic or what?

Citroën, are you listening? Bring it back, but electric!

The 2CV might be barebones and simple, for easy maintenance and low gas consumption, it has tons of style.

That curved top, that rolls back for a sunroof! It was designed so people could transport big items, letting them stick out vertically. Practicality plus style–so French. IMG_4829Those round headlights, with visors like eyelids!IMG_4815Those voluptuous fenders and fender skirts!P1040714I think my favorites, besides all red, are the two-tone paint jobs that accentuate the curves.2CV copyIf Citroën gets the good sense to bring it back, I hope they don’t do like the VW Beetle and the Mini Cooper and make it too big and blown out, like somebody puffed out by steroids. Keep it small and simple. With flair.IMG_4811If you want to see the 2CV in all its cinematic glory, here are a few films:

Brigitte Bardot drives one very badly in “La Bride sur le Cou” (The Bridle on the Neck–it’s an expression that means doing whatever one wants).IMG_4808In “Eat, Pray, Love,” Julia Roberts’ friends drop her off in Rome in a two-tone 2CV.

In “Red 2,” Mary-Louise Parker drives, with John Malkovich nervously riding shotgun, in a car chase in Paris against a Porsche.

IMG_4810
This isn’t a 2CV but a Citroën Dyane, a model based on the 2CV.

To show how poor the madly-in-love couple (Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson) is in “Indecent Proposal,” they drive an old 2CV.

There are some great moves in this old French movie, “Le Tracassin.” I have witnessed the drive-on-the-sidewalk move in Paris.

IMG_4807
Another Dyane.

Carole Bouquet drives Agent 007 to safety in a 2CV in “For Your Eyes Only,” but then he takes the wheel.

A 2CV figures in “Les Amants,” a film far better known for Jeanne Moreau’s portrayal of an orgasm.IMG_4816There really are too many more to count–which is only to be expected from a car that was produced for four decades.

Tree dreams (fixing technical problem)

Bouihonnac dreveDrève is one of my favorite words in French. It’s where trees line both sides of a road, touching in the middle overhead.

Malves dreve

I hear the word rêve in it. Dream.

Trebes dreve

Going through a drève on a hot summer day is indeed a rêve. The heat shimmers on the pavement, making everything seem as if you’re looking through water. You probably see a mirage puddle on the asphalt.

trebes dreve 2

Then you plunge into the cool tunnel of trees. It’s another world. A dappled world where you can breathe, unlike in the scorching heat outside.

Dreve 2

And then you’re out again. Wondering why trees weren’t planted everywhere along the roadsides.