Each Wednesday, my wife strolls down the Avenue George V, which runs from the Champs Elysées to the River Seine. The avenue is one of the swankiest and oddest thoroughfares in Paris. Its buildings include the original Hermès shop, home of the unreasonably expensive scarf, the celeb-infested Hotel George V, the raunchy Crazy Horse Saloon and the embassy of the People's Republic of China.
There is also a Victorian parish church plucked from a large town in England – actually the American Cathedral, right, where our two daughters sing in the choir. Each Wednesday, as she takes our younger daughter to her choir practice, my wife sees a Romanian gypsy lying face down on the broad pavement of the Avenue George V, with a begging bowl in front of her. The other day the beggar was lying quietly in her usual abject position. She was holding the leashes of two tiny dogs which lay quietly on either side of her. The dogs, of apparently classic but obscure breeds, looked better groomed and certainly better fed than the beggar.
When Margaret emerged from the cathedral, the Romanian gypsy was sitting up, chatting to a middle-aged woman of a readily identifiable Parisian breed: slender, fortysomething, high-heels, dripping in bling, with newly-carved blonde hair. The woman had apparently just emerged from Claude-Maxim's, the most expensive hairdresser in the French capital.
After a friendly and animated conversation, the wealthy woman handed the beggar some money and walked away, taking her two little dogs with her. Conclusion. The economic crisis is biting. The Parisian super-wealthy can no longer afford professional dog-sitters when they go to the hairdressers.
Singing for his supper
Not all Parisian beggars are so thoughtful. A wizened and sly-looking old man got into my Métro carriage the other day and announced that, "in a tribute to Europe", he was going to sing songs about European capitals in several European languages. His tuneless, unidentifiable growling harvested not a single centime. He swore loudly, in several identifiable European languages, and moved on to the next train.
At last LA is back on track
When I first visited Los Angeles in the late 1980s, you could still see scraps of railway track embedded in the ten-lane avenues – remnants of an ancient, tramway civilisation crushed long ago by the automobile. California – the original anti-tax, motor-car culture – voted in a referendum last week to spend public money on a 600-mile, French-inspired, high-speed railway line from San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego. That is truly astounding news out of America.Reuse content