Pietrina and Dick's Paris Update

Last updated on 8 January 2000 -- to be notified of updates, please tell Dick by clicking here:


trees fell
The Trocadero: If you could get to any of our 400 parks, they'd look somewhat like this
28 December 1999 -- with comments added on 7 January 2000

Apocalypse Howl

Thanks to all of you who have emailed or called to see how/if we were affected by the storm (really a six-hour hurricane). The short answer is all is well for us but our beloved Paris is somewhat the worse from what is looking like its worst storm of the century, if not ever. (OK, we were in Texas so long that we no longer can use any adjective not in the superlative, but Paris did record its lowest ever barometric pressure -- maybe its equipment just had an early Y2K problem). If you need more details, the New York Times had as good a description in English as any. Click here to read their article.)

Below is a picture the Times posted to the web showing Notre Dame with a bent spire. I jogged by there in the dark Wednesday morning and everything appeared to be OK. We've heard the sacristy was significantly damaged but that part of the building was added in the 19th century and we may be better off without it. (Update: later observations made in daylight fail to show to this viewer's eyes the damage. Where did the Times get this picture???)

bent spire on Notre Dame

Winds reached 95 miles per hour at ground level around us with over 150 mph winds atop the Eiffel tower (which we photographed the next day and found the countdown sign to be OK). (Update: The Esso building in Rueil-Mailmasion had its roof blown off in spots on the 8th floor).

Out of touch

We were somewhat clueless about the storm as we did not have the radio on. Instead, as we went about our Sunday touring with our favorite daughter, Maria, we gradually became aware of problems. To start with, Dick was awoken when our bedroom window popped open. Seems it had not been completely shut for a long time but no one noticed until the storm. He then went around checking other windows and removing Pietrina's window boxes, afraid they would crown some pedestrian (This place no longer treats royalty all that well). Our front has a few window boxes with tiny Xmas trees. We lost about half of the garland Pietrina had threaded through them but we found it (and left it) on the streets. Looking out the windows we saw a few broken skylights, downed awnings, etc. but Paris buildings are built pretty solid and nothing looked serious and our electricity and all the street lights we could see were functioning. Turns out that over 60% of the roofs of the city will need repairs. That morning we ran out of hot water for the first time in our 10 months in the apartment and now figure that the gas supply was probably interrupted for a while. Everything is fine now as it was by mid morning.

Mess transport

We then decided to journey out for the day to visit an art show. Walking to the nearest subway through the Palais Royale, we noticed broken windows and awnings dumped on parked cars. Subways seemed slower but we didn't think much of it. Getting to the show we noticed about half of the subways were down but figured this was another French strike as the Metro workers probably didn't want to work that day. (In fact half of the local lines and almost all of the express subways which ride on outdoor track were out of commission because of fallen trees on the tracks).

The show was good, based on European painters at the other end of the 20th century -- appropriately named "the Fauves.") After the show we decided to visit a Children's Christmas village/ice rink on the Trocadero grounds (a large park across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.) Getting to it we noticed several large trees uprooted. (We took a few pictures but we've been playing around with the digital camera a lot so have nothing good to share other than the few pictures on this page). Turns out Paris lost about a half million trees including 40% of those in the two huge parks on our east and west boundaries (These are each about the size of Rouge Park in Detroit).

Here's a before picture of the Trocadero park:

poster of Xmas park

The Trocadéro park was closed (as it turns out, all of the Paris parks and gardens -- over 400 in all -- are still closed and will open one-by-one when the trees can be checked for dangerous limbs). City workers have been diverted to getting the subways, roads, and railways cleared of fallen trees. In general they are doing well and today (Tuesday) have the subways functioning and most of the area railroads.

Our next non-stop was the Pere Lachaise cemetery -- a neat place that Maria wanted to see as it is filled with old fashioned grave sites (more like sculpture and actual stone houses that completely cover families' burial sites). After a long subway ride we emerged to find the place closed. Turns out that behind those locked walls 100 trees are down and over 200 burial sites are wrecked. This place will probably never be the same and it is highly unlikely that Maria will get to see it before she leaves next Monday.

They call the wind

After that we wandered through The Marais -- a trendy area of the city that includes the early 17th century court area (Place Vosges)as well as the Jewish section where we treated Maria to corned beef deep in the heart of French cuisine, and the usual shops and boutiques. Nothing here appeared to be damaged although the multi-treed Place Vosges area park was locked; but the covered galleries that surround it were active with restaurants serving Sunday dinner and being entertained by the one-man band we photographed below. (His name is Bernard Constant --"l'homme orchestre"-- who has somewhat of a following as a subway busker, film composer, whatever.) Finally the on-again, off-again rain turned persistent and cold -- driving us back to the subways and on home.

one man band -- 19K

A day in the life

The next day's (Monday) trauma was getting to Charles De Gaulle airport to pick up Mike, Maria's boyfriend. This proved to be an ordeal that took Maria and Dick two hours including changing trains on the same route three times (usually 25 minutes on one train). Finally we retrieved Mike (whose plane had been delayed since both airports had been closed for a long while in Paris). Mike ended up waiting a while but was in his usual good spirits. (He had gotten upgraded to business class where a fellow passenger, Barbara Walters, was in to cover Paris for the year end do.) The taxi got us back quickly as most Parisians were staying off the roads.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Maria and Mike took a map and wandered around town without incident. I went out to run late afternoon in the Tulleries gardens (about the only place I can run unobstructed when the tourists are out) and found them closed as well. The roads by the Seine were also underwater as they are whenever the river is high. This forced more traffic up to street level and I got sick of the fumes and ran around the inside courtyard of the Louvre until the rain drove me home.

Today is a little too wet for Pietrina and I to venture out so we are staying cozy at home and will try to dent some of the leftovers crammed into our Parisian apartment refrigerator. In a few moments, we'll venture out to see our former neighbor's (Oscar Wilde) new movie called the Ideal Husband. Maria and Mike are off to three days in London on the Eurostar (thank heaven for trains!) and will join us later in the week so we can see 1999 out in style.

Recovery

City workers are still assessing the damage. It looks like half the 500+ schools in Paris suffered some damage. We've seen reports in the paper that Notre Dame's newly reopened West façade received some damage. (Below is a picture Maria took of Mike in front of it yesterday. Both Mike and the façade -- much older--appear to be OK.)

Mike in front of Notre Dame

We've heard that Sainte-Chapelle lost some of its stained glass. This 600 year old chapel IS stained glass. (Update: the damage appears to have been done at the Sainte-Chapelle to our East at the Chateau de Vincennes -- a lot of damage but this chapel does not have the artistic value and tourist traffic of the Sainte-Chapelle near Notre Dame de Paris. Regardless, it appears that 5 of 6 large stain glass windows have been destroyed and the inside of the chapel is still exposed to the elements.) We were going to go to a museum this afternoon but see that it has a damaged roof and is probably closed. I hope to get up early tomorrow and jog on over to check these places out before the tourists get up and clog the sidewalks. Euro Disneyland suffered some damage and injuries but has reopened. We'll probably let others check this out first; ditto for the MacDonalds. If you're bringing kids over anytime soon, we can check on this for you. (If you're not bringing kids with you, then you really don't want to know).

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