Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting out and around

You get punished for being a homebody in Paris. In the past few months I missed seeing the runaway horse, the naked pole vaulter and most recently (sigh) the naked models walking down the street where I get my hair cut, all of whom were galavanting just blocks away from our apartment. Oh well. Ever since I opted to blow off Woodstock and stay home and drink beer with friends, I felt like my destiny is always to miss the real party.

Fortunately I've discovered if you do manage to get out and around and keep your eyes open, there are still little surprises to be found. Some examples:

The other day I was passing a neighborhood wine shop which had their weekly specials in the window. Among them was a bottle of Cotes-Du-Rhone which caught my eye. The reason was the label.[See above left. Take a close look.] It had bumps all over it, like Braille elevator buttons, I thought. I told my wife I saw wine for the blind. I told my friends. I got the look usually given to people who say they have seen a UFO.

But I was right. The label was in Braille. I learned that since 1996 the wine maker, Michel Chapoutier, has been labeling all his wines with Braille, partly as an homage to the previous owner of the property who created a shorthand version of Braille, and partly to make his wine more accessible to wine lovers with impaired vision.

(Sometimes forgotten among in the thickets of history is how much various French innovators have done to improve the lives of the handicapped. A blind autodidact and gifted musician and inventor, Louis Braille gave the world the raised dot reading system used today on books, elevator buttons and wine labels. Another Frenchman, Abbe Charles Michel de L'Epee was the first person to establish a school exclusively for deaf children. It was replicated in the United States with the help of one of his teachers.)
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On a more mundane note, I am constantly fascinated during my Parisian walkabouts by the extremes to which people go to keep their bikes from being stolen. This person removed his seat and U-locked the bike to a tree guard. It must take him an hour to get ready for a ride:

And I cannot get over the fact that sometimes you can turn an ordinary street corner and see hundreds of rollerbladers coming at you:

That's almost as good as a runaway horse.

Fascinating French Fact: Abbe Charles Michel De L'Epee is interred in the historic 17th century church of Saint-Roch on the Right Bank, where there is a statue of him and, below it, a thank you plaque from the blind people of Belgium.

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