Allô Maman bobo

Invasion of the electric scooter in Paris

When my kids were young, back in the late 90s, scooters came into vogue. La trottinette, as they’re called in French, was suddenly all the rage. Of course, it wasn’t the first time, as this photo from 1927 shows.

Unlike the pogs, the Tamagotchis and Tuggles of the day, I approved of the trottinette. It got the kids outside, tooling around the neighourhood, and seemed a lot less dangerous than skateboards or bikes. Besides, they seemed like fun.

Until I had to carry one home from the park one day and banged my shin on it a bunch of times. Bugger, those things were heavy. I had the bruises to prove it.

A few years later the trend hit the adult segment. By then the kids had finished with them and their scooters were gathering dust in the garage.

Suddenly, business people in suits, satchels and briefcases slung over their backs, were riding them all over the city streets. They thought they were cool; I couldn’t help but think they looked ridiculous. Absurd even. Yet the trottinette became the very ‘bobo’ (short for Bourgeois bohemian, the French forerunner of today’s hipster) thing to do in Paris and Lyon.

Lo and behold, in the era of new forms of transport like Uber, along comes the electric scooter. Now the streets of Paris have been invaded by the contraptions. Needless to say, it is causing all kinds of havoc. Not to mention a great many ‘bobos’, of a completely different kind.

A bit of vocabulary:

‘Trottinette’ comes from the word ‘trottiner’ which means to scurry or trot along like a child. Presumably this is where we get the name for sidewalk: trottoir.

‘Bobo’ is a French baby talk for what we in North America sometimes call a booboo or the kind of hurt finger that children run to Mum about.

As one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Alain Souchon, captured in this song, sometimes even as grown ups we feel like crying to our mums. It’s a terrible recording, featuring the French penchant of the day for lip-synching on live performances. But watch for a surprise appearance at the end of the clip.

Yes, that’s France Gall. The singer who won the Eurovision song contest in 1965, inspired Serge Gainsbourg and Michel Berger and, sadly, died of breast cancer early this year.

Back to the trottinette. With the advent of companies like Lime and Bird, who offer electric scooter rentals that you can pick up, ride and leave anywhere, she age of ‘free floating’ has arrived in Paris. And it’s a mess. French sidewalks are busy places, the streets filled with wobbly cobblestones and other dangers; there are not enough bicycle lanes and the roads are not places for anyone without a helmet.

The French authorities are currently reworking the law for motorized scooters and hover boards, to decide whether they belong on the street or elsewhere, and what rules should be set for their use. Theoretically, such devices have a maximum speed limit of 25 km, but I hear there are those that go much faster.

In my opinion, anyone on wheels should not share space on a sidewalk with pedestrians (except for tykes in strollers). Clearly defined rules of the road for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, skateboarders and cars – need to be rethought, and each of us from the age of adulthood should be made to demonstrate that we understand and respect them. That is the way of the future for all of our cities, as we become more aware of the need for exercise and non-polluting modes of transport. In old-world cities like Paris, it is becoming urgent.

In the meantime, beware of bobos on trottinettes!

What’s your favourite mode of transport?

Je m’appelle Higgins

I am called Higgins, as we say in French. But that doesn’t mean I come when I’m called. Madame has posted about this character trait here before. I can’t say whether it’s because I’m a purebred French bulldog, un bouledogue français, or just 100% French.

About the purebred part. I suppose it’s why she fell for me. She’s had a soft spot for Frenchies ever since she first came to France way before I was born. Something about big ears and brown eyes. But beyond that, we have a special connection.

Ever since she and Monsieur came to pick me up from my breeder’s place in Toulouse, back in 2012, she has fallen under my charm. I must say I was a handsome fellow even as a young pup. Although ma petite maman didn’t seem to be too sure about giving me up so young.

I got my good looks from her, don’t you think?

Anyhow, the thing about being a French bulldog is we belong to a group called called brachycephalic breeds. It means we have a skull with a short snout. There are quite a few of us: cats, from Persian to Burmese, and dogs, from boxers to pugs, lhasa apsos, chow chows and chihuahuas. While this gives us round eyes and flat faces reminiscent of the human, it also makes it a little difficult to breathe.

All my life I snored up a storm. Snorted and reverse sneezed. It got pretty loud at night and Madame ended up putting me downstairs in the laundry room.

Also, I’m no good in the heat.

This was one long, hot summer and by the end of it I was feeling sluggish. I could hardly walk around the block without panting for hours to catch my breath.

It’s not as if I could cool down with a dip in the pool. Me and deep water don’t get along. Thing is, I sink like a stone to the bottom before I even get a chance to try and swim. Happened this very summer. Madame threw the ball and I was so intent on chasing it I fell right into the deep end. The little lady sure has a set of lungs on her!  Dieu soit loué, Monsieur was home. He came running, dove right in and popped me up for air almost before I knew what hit me.

This is right where it happened.

Anyway, after all the heat this past summer they decided to take me to a specialist for BOAS surgery to help me breathe better.

As you can see I was a little nervous when we went in for our appointment, even though I made a new friend.

The vet was very nice. He trimmed a bit of my soft palate away to open up my airway. Then I got a nose job! How do you like these new nostrils?

This was taken in the car on the trip home a few weeks ago. I’ve been feeling pretty perky ever since. You could say the operation has given me a new lease on life. I’m sure giving my roommate Humphrey a run for his money. He’s a much better breather than me and pretty light on his feet despite his heart murmur.

A bit of a show off! Sorry for the pooch porn.

You see, that’s the thing with us purebreds. We’re prone to certain congenital problems thanks to all that breeding. So even if people go to a reputable breeder, we tend to be a bit of a crap-shoot healthwise.

Speaking of health, I guess I’m pretty lucky. That’s twice in one year I’ve been under the knife.

Guess it’s not only cats who have nine lives, eh?

Note from Madame:

Thanks for taking over the guest post, Higgins. You certainly are a survivor! But I must say, you boys are a lot of work. I would suggest that anyone who is thinking of adopting a French bulldog as a pet consider a rescue. There are so many sweet Frenchies out there who have been abandoned.

Here is a link for friends in France. http://www.rescueboule.com/

Do you have a story of a rescue dog? Higgins and I would love to hear it!

 

La soif: thirst for life

J’ai soif. I’m thirsty.

To ‘have’ thirst (or hunger, or cold, or sleep) is how we express basic needs in French.

I am often thirsty. Which means I drink a lot. Water. Coffee. Tea. Beer. Wine. Not always in that order. But in general, I am someone who needs a lot of liquids. Unlike others who forget to hydrate unless they make a point of it, I actually enjoy drinking water. When I’m truly thirsty, I prefer tap water to anything else. I always have a glass of water on my desk as I work. A bottle of water when I travel.

Pretty sure I’m not diabetic, so what does this mean? Other than the fact I never stray too far from the loo. Maybe it runs deeper than a physical need.

J’ai soif de la vie. I’m thirsty for life, for information, for always trying to do better than I did yesterday. I don’t always succeed – far from it. But I keep trying.

It’s a good thing I’m not a tree. Around here it is drier this fall than I’ve ever seen it in France. We’ve had maybe one rain since August, and the entire summer was basically a drought. The leaves on the trees are crispy, their branches stiff with dryness. The exposed earth has big cracks in it. It would take days, weeks of rain for nature to get to back to normal.

It’s scary. I’m not even sure ‘normal’ as we once knew it will ever return. There is a drought warning from mild to severe in almost every region of France. There are water restrictions for farmers and the water tables everywhere are dangerously low.

Here is a map of where the worst drought conditions are:

We are in an ‘orange’ zone next to Switzerland in the 74 department of Haute Savoie, which means fairly severe restrictions on water use. Yet my next-door neighbour waters her personal garden of Eden every night. All summer long I’ve been tempted to carry out a stealth operation and go shut it down but in the interests of peace I have refrained. But it breaks my heart to see the fields so dry and the human energy pigs with their green oases

I’m not really one to judge. We have a swimming pool. Still, I try to fill it as little as possible and stay sensitive to what’s going on around me.

The EU voted to ban single-use plastics yesterday. It’s a step in the right direction. And it’s not like the impact on our lives will be so huge. I mean, who really needs plastic straws? Seriously? Or disposable cups for that matter. We can always buy or bring a refillable bottle when we go out.

I have an unquenchable thirst. I hope to satisfy it a little each day by trying to think differently, to rearrange my life a little.

J’ai soif. Et toi?

Chasse à la chasse

Hunting season has been open in France since September. On Sunday, a cyclist was killed not far from where we live in the Haute Savoie town of Montriond, near Morzine. It’s an area we know well enough. My husband’s cousin runs a hotel there and we often go skiing or to stroll around the lake.

The cyclist was a British man in his 30s, and in a stranger-than-fiction turn of fate, may not be mourned by all who knew him. But that doesn’t change the fact that each year, lives are lost to la chasse in France. And not just those of the prey.

It seems the hunter, a young fellow just starting out, mistook the cyclist for the target. They were hunting wild boar and so the bullets are big enough to kill instantly. Often, when it’s small game or birds, the rifles use buckshot. The fellow who fired the fatal shot has been hospitalized in a state of shock but an investigation is ongoing.

Sadly, it happens more often than you might think. One of my husband’s uncles was killed by a member of his own hunting party years ago in Normandy. Recently, though, the number of deaths from hunting accidents has been dropping each year. So does the popularity of the sport, which, along with fishing, remains one of the most popular in France.

Hunters are generally thought to be good citizens, who are careful and follow the rules. They must have a license to hunt. They are respectful of nature and only hunt the species and numbers allowed. Still, as I’ve posted before, running across men with guns while out for a walk on a Sunday is far from reassuring.

It’s not always very obvious that you are near a ‘réserve de chasse’ (hunting ground). There will be the odd sign but they are not necessarily visible if you come through a forest path. Sometimes main paths and small roads will be blocked off with a sign that says ‘Attention, tir à balles’, indicating that a big game shoot is happening.

I am not a fan of blood sport, but I do support the right of those who practice la chasse to pursue their hobby within the framework of the law. Should that law allow hunting to go on just steps from where people hike, ride bikes, walk their dogs? On a Sunday? Not in this blogger’s opinion. One very simple change that could save lives would be to set one day of the weekend for hunting and leave the other for the rest of us. Even better, allow hunting only during the week when most people are at work.

In the meantime, you are strongly advised to wear brightly coloured clothing, make a lot of noise and strap a bell on your dog when out walking during hunting season in France.

I’m game for that. And you?

Octobre Rose

I’ve always hated pink.

Not just the colour, but what it represents. Pink for girls, blue for boys. Berk, as they say in my adopted land. Yuck.

But I’ll make an exception for pink this month. It’s ‘October Rose’ in France, Pink October. And breast cancer prevention is worthy of even the most vile of shade of rose bon-bon, candy pink or my most-hated fuchsia.

I guess I hate breast cancer even more.

My mother died of breast cancer in 1989. That will make it 30 years ago next March. I was pregnant with her first grandchild at the time. Her grandson, Elliott, born the following September, helped me get through that first year.

There is something especially cruel about breast cancer. Cancer du sein. It attacks the very heart of motherhood. That maternal breast that nourished us as babes in arms is eaten up by cells that grow haywire, out of control, that harden and metastasize. In my mom’s case, it went into her liver.

That was after the chemo. First came the trauma of a mastectomy, then the nauseating treatments and hair loss. But she rode out that first wave. Came to Paris for our wedding in 1986. By then her hair had grown back. A few years later so did the cancer.

While research has made great strides in understanding the genetics of the disease, and therapy has become more targeted, detection and prevention of breast cancer have not advanced much. Aside from those with a genetic predisposition to the disease, particularly that ticking time bomb of BRCA mutations, the only ‘prevention’ widely used is early detection by mammogram.

Essentially this means that, beyond living a healthy lifestyle, eating well and not drinking too much, our only option is irradiating our breasts to find out if we have a tiny tumour in the making. I have been getting biannual mammograms since the age of 35, which adds up to a lot of radiation over time. Now there is considerable controversy over whether that is, in fact, a good idea.

Some countries, like Switzerland, have opted out of routine mammograms. It seems they consider the risks, between radiation exposure and over-diagnosis, outweigh the benefits. Yet what choice does someone with a family history of breast cancer have? You are damned if you don’t and, possibly, damned if you do.

Not to mention how unpleasant it is to have that particular part of your anatomy squeezed flat between two pieces of glass, pinching the skin of your arm pit while the technician orders you not to breathe or risk having to do it all over again, doubling the dose of radiation. I remain convinced that if men had to submit to a similar procedure for testicular cancer, they would have found a better way long ago.

Still, it is better than the alternative. And I can only imagine how grateful one would feel when such a test picks up a cancer very early on.

That was the case for Caitlin Kelly, a fellow Canadian and a journalist who shares her recent personal experience with breast cancer on her blog, Broadside. Happily, her prognosis is excellent. This week’s post also includes a link to Caitlin’s story, published in the New York Times, about the importance of touch in medical care. Check it out: https://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/08/exposing-oneself-to-millions/

So, pink it is for this month at least. Let’s hope that increased awareness will save lives and that research will get us a better way to detect and prevent this terrible disease.

I’ll raise a (small) glass of rosé to that!

Has breast cancer touched your life?