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Springtime in Paris

The paulowina’s, lilacs and horse chestnut trees are in bloom, the parks are full of Sunday picnickers, and the café terraces are packed full of sunglass-wearing Parisians. The women are showing off their new pedicures (and still pale legs under the short babydoll dresses of the season), and the pharmacy windows are full of ads for creams that you rub on your thighs to miraculously lose five pounds in five days. Yes, spring is officially here.

The weather seems to have put everyone in a fine mood. My car, a 1991 Renault Clio (a very common French car) has had a dead battery since December, which has been no big deal because I rarely drive it. But it has been parked next to a building having its facade cleaned, so it was getting covered in a fine film of limestone dust. It needed to be moved. I had already tried jump starting it with a friend’s car, with no success (and a line of impatiently honking cars behind us not helping). So I went to the nearby gas station and the batteries were €110, a bit high, and I wasn’t sure how to get the old one out, so I went to the Renault Minute garage in Chinatown to get my battery and some advice from the experts.

I go to the window for parts, and buy the battery for €72, which still seems higher than what I paid for the last one. I ask the sales guy how to put it in (or more importantly, how to get the old one out). "You want to do it yourself?!"  He suggests I go to the service window and ask them. The battery is so heavy that I wish I had my little market wheelie cart. I haul it over to the service window and they tell me that I need special tools to get the battery out, and that I should bring it in so they can do it.

"But it won’t move, the battery is dead," I say, feeling a very French moment of absurdity coming on.

"Can you push start it?"

"It’s parallel parked between two cars," I reply.

"Well, I guess we’ll have to jumpstart it for you and bring it back here. Otherwise it will cost you €200 to have a repair truck come and change the battery." Sounded like a no-brainer to me, so I leave the heavy battery at the window and head back to my car with a technician (and a mobile "booster" unit to jumpstart the car) and a salesman (who drives us the four blocks to my car in a new Renault minivan, trying to convince me that I wouldn’t have as many problems with a new car).

They manage to jumpstart the car right away although when I let off the gas it immediately died, so the technician decided it was better if he drove it back to the garage. They changed the battery and even washed off the limestone dust, and didn’t charge me a cent (of course I’d already paid for the battery…). I don’t know if this is typical of garages to be so helpful (it certainly isn’t, in my experience), so I’m going to blame it on the fact that it was a fine Friday afternoon and everyone was looking forward to their weekend of picknicking. And voting, of course.

The first round of the election results are in, and the number of candidate posters plastered (and defaced) all over the city will now be limited to Nicolas Sarkozy (30% of the votes) and Ségolène Royal (25%). The poster people have been very busy the past few weeks, covering up or ripping down competitor posters and replacing them with their own, sometimes several times in one day. One tour group noticed that Sarkozy’s posters were most consistently graffiti’d (and some prankster has been putting red clown nose stickers on all of them). So no last-minute surprises from less popular candidates (Bayrou and Le Pen) knocking out the main political party contenders, like in the last election when Le Pen beat out the Socialist candidate Jospin in the first round. French voters make their final decision in two weeks: May 6.


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