Paris Journal 2003

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Friday, August 15

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Jules Simon, an advocate for public education

Jules Simon, a politician, philosopher, and advocate of public education, 1814-1896.  Here, in Place du Guatemala, next to St. Augustin's Church, he is holding an armload of beer bottles.   With the heat wave, lots of young people have taken to picnicking and partying all night in public parks, then sleeping all day.  This is only a slight variation from their normal behavior. 

Notice how few leaves are on the trees.  Paris seems autumnal now, with piles and layers of fallen leaves on the sidewalks and in the parks.  The trees' natural defense against the heat and drought is to give up the leaves.

Headquarters for Meteo France

The headquarters for Météo France, home of the country's weather forecasters ("previsionistes") is located on Avenue Rapp on the left bank of the Seine.   We walk by it often.

Dial 3250 for the current weather report.

Météo France has a short, four-digit number that one can dial to receive the current weather forecast.  I'm sure they were swamped with calls during the heat wave.   You see my reflection at right.  Tom and I went out for a 3-hour walk yesterday.  The weather was pleasantly warm and the air pollution improved to the "mediocre" level.

On the Avenue Rapp side, Météo France has a bookstore/boutique.

On the Avenue Rapp side, Météo France has a bookstore/boutique.

A chapel in the St. Augustin church.

A chapel in the St. Augustin church.

Children playing on the Champ de Mars.

Children can play in the sun again, now that temperatures have dropped somewhat.   This is one of the playgrounds on the Champ de Mars.

3,000 Deaths!  The Hottest Summer EVER in France!

{Source for info and quotes in this account, except where noted:  Le Parisien, Thurs. and Fri., Aug. 14 and 15}

Well, it is worse than I thought.  The official estimates now indicate that the heat wave has killed 3,000 people in France.  So, for those of you who thought I was exaggerating on the 13th when I said the real number would probably be in the hundreds, you now see how conservative I am.  (By the way, photos have now been added to the entry for the 13th.)

Although the alarm was sounded sometime ago by Météo France, and last Wednesday by Dr. Patrick Pelloux, the president of the association of emergency room physicians, the authorities only yesterday launched the "white plan," a step that should have been taken a week earlier.  And yesterday was the day the temperatures finally started to go down.  It is a little late, guys!

The "white plan" is basically the emergency preparedness plan, which makes more hospital beds and medical/emergency personnel available.  I think it also contains other provisions, such as a temporary means for handling the large number of cadavers, and preventive measures/public information as well.

Today it feels downright cool.  But the effects of the heat wave are still being felt.  There is a backlog of bodies, funerals, and burials to take care of.  And the ground is still very warm.

There are blackouts occurring here and there in Paris because the ground is so warm.   The electrical network here is 10 meters underground.  That's one of the reasons Paris is so beautiful.  It isn't plagued by a tangle of overhead wires.

But the earth at 10 meters below ground is now 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) due to the long, long heat wave.  Imagine that:  dirt 10 meters underground is 86 degrees F!  This is incredible.  The hot dirt causes the insulators in the electrical network to malfunction, causing short circuits and local blackouts.

Even though the air has cooled, it will take some time for the earth to cool all the way down at a depth of 10 meters.

Tempers are also still hot.  The chiefs of government here, except for President Chirac who is in Canada, have finally seen fit to cut their vacations short in order to tend to this crisis.  The Prime Minister, Health Minister, Director General of Health, and the head of the Old Persons Agency (no kidding, Personnes Agées) met yesterday and invited Patrick Palloux.  Dr. Palloux took time away from his heavy load of work at the St. Antoine Hospital E.R. in Paris's 12th arrondissement.

In leaving the meeting, the Director General of Health, Professor Lucien Abenhaim, and Dr. Pelloux had a few words.  The professor accused the doctor of "telling stories" about the role played by his health services in this "affaire."   The good doctor retorted, "It is you who had not recognized quickly enough the magnitude of this health catastrophe!"  More words were exchanged.  The two parted.  Then the professor, still very angry, came back and stopped the doctor.   "We must talk about this," he said.  "We work for the same goals."  The good doctor said, "I advised, on Wednesday, August 6, all the responsible services about the gravity of the situation.  I don't believe I was listened to.  And today we see the result."

Germany also suffered from the heat wave, but apparently did not have any deaths attributed to it (Le Figaro, 8-15-03).   Is it because they have more air conditioning?  I don't know.  Or is it that they have a better emergency and health care system?

More from Dr. Pelloux, who called a press conference at his hospital: 

His portable (cell phone) has a message from a friend, an ER doc at the Beaujon Hospital in Clichy  - the message says the friend can't join the press conference because he's busy dealing with 21 deaths at his hospital.  Dr. Pelloux laughs.   He explains, "Frankly, it is better sometimes to laugh because otherwise, it is just pure desperation in this situation.  We often brag that we have one of the best health care systems in the world.  This time, it must be recognized that the Direction General of Health [the professor's agency] has understood nothing.    The system has failed."  And he had even more to say:   "We have a problem of comprehension between the people of the earth, who we are, and the France of the altitude [read:  the professor, the Health Minister, and the arrogant like].  It isn't that the authorities weren't warned.  If the white plan had been implemented earlier, many lives could have been saved."

We visited the St. Augustin church again yesterday -- we'd been there before (see   Here it is, below, not looking quite as good as in 2001 because we still have some air pollution out there.


Across the huge place St. Augustin is this Defense building (below), for the armies of the land, sea, and air.  It is quite elegant and club-like.  It is undergoing renovation, including installation of air conditioning.  Lucky officers.   I'd say this building is for the France of the Altitude, not for the People of the Earth.

Military club building

More news:

Ingrid Betancourt is reported to be in good health, according to Paul Reyes, spokesperson for FARC, the guerrilla group that is holding her hostage.

Today is a big holiday in France, the Assumption.  There will be three processions of the faithful in Paris -- one on Montmartre, one on the Ile de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located, and one in the 5th arrondissement where the church of St. Nicholas of Chardonnet is located.  Almost all the stores and restaurants are closed.


Last night, we went back to Le Bistro Champêtre (107, rue Saint-Charles, telephone 45-77-85-06).  We discovered two more important things about it:  it is AIR CONDITIONED and it is OPEN on holidays, even on the Assumption.  So, we'll go back there tonight with my brother and sister-in-law who are returning to the U.S. tomorrow.

Le Bistro Champêtre has a great bargain on escargot.  You get twelve of them for 8 euros!  So we shared one of those, and I had duck breast, thinly sliced and cooked just to medium-rare, while Tom had veal medallions.  Sauces were divinely and perfectly French.  Tom also had a dessert -- a fine apple tart served with flaming brandy.  I had a small pitcher of the house red wine, a Brouilly, which was just fine.

In general:

Right now, the weather is cool and we have all windows open.   Sunlight is streaming into the apartment.  We no longer have to try to keep it out.  Down the street, a Muslim chanter is practicing.  We could be in Istanbul.   We're being called to prayer at the mosque.

And somebody else is playing a guitar.  Flamenco style.  We could be in Seville.

The president of the Movement for the Defense of the Bicycle finds it "scandalous" that the city government hasn't reacted to the falling of the leaves.  Really.  The leaves hide all the obstacles on the public way, he explains, notably litter such as bottles and cans.  In defending himself, the adjunct mayor in charge of the environment says it is impossible to pick up all the leaves that fall in the capital in a single day.  No city in the world has the means to do that, he asserts.  Many trees have lost 70 to 90 percent of their leaves.

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