Late-night nicotine fiends are giving everyone fits in Paris.
Paris is now trying to resolve that age-old urban conflict between being a “city that never sleeps” and, of all things, sleep. It seems that the mayor’s office has been besieged with complaints about noise in the streets at night since the enactment two years ago of a ban on smoking in public buildings.
As it turned out, this measure has created a good news/bad news situation. The upside is that the olfactory experience of walking into a Parisian bar or nightclub is no longer like French-kissing an ashtray. The downside is that at any given moment about one-fourth of that bar’s patrons will be out on the sidewalk mixing up their own inhalable cocktails of air pollution and tobacco smoke. And talking. And laughing. And ticking off the neighbors.
Earlier this month Mayor Bertrand Delanoë hosted an event entitled the “Etats Généraux des Nuits Parisiennes,” the first “Convention on Parisian Nightlife,” at which he unveiled his plan for reducing the decibel level in the streets before it becomes a mitigating factor in a homicide. And what exactly does Monsieur Delanoë propose to do? Well, for one thing he’s going to send in the clowns. Literally: starting next spring the city of Paris will deploy a squad of “agents de silence” — mimes and clowns who will patrol the hotspots at night, silently (“and humorously!” says City Hall) reminding people to keep their voices down. Apparently, this solution has been successfully tested in Barcelona, although given the prevailing public opinion of street mimes I can’t help but picture more than a few clubgoers waking up the next morning with greasepaint on their knuckles.
In any case, all the uproar about this issue reminded me of a particularly noisy night in my own neighborhood last summer. One early Sunday morning my wife and I were roused from slumber at about 3:30 am by an argument outside. Nocturnal shouting is not entirely unusual on our street, because it’s a main thoroughfare between Montmartre and the nightclubs on the Right Bank boulevards. But this was one loud dispute—thanks to double glazing I’m rarely disturbed by street noise, and it even woke up my wife, who sleeps with earplugs. After the commotion had continued unabated for about 15 minutes, we figured there was no getting back to sleep any time soon, so we got up and looked out the window.
There were two cars parked right in front of our building with their doors open and five young guys standing next to them on the sidewalk, yelling and gesticulating furiously at one another. Since they were four floors down and there were always at least two of them bellowing at once, it was hard to make out what they were saying, but after a while we understood that the evening’s selected topic of debate was: “Who should drive the stolen car?”
Leading the “Resolved: You do it” team, we had Big, Beefy Guy with Deep Booming Voice, while in the opposing camp, admirably defending the “Why is it always me?” position, we had Tall Skinny Guy with High But Piercing Voice. Before I could summon the presence of mind to summon the police, they apparently arrived at a mutually acceptable conclusion and took off, all in one car. Presumably the one that one of them actually owns.
It was a good illustration of how people in the street can be oblivious of the fact that people in the surrounding buildings can hear them. There we had five car thieves essentially going out of their way to make sure that anyone within earshot would know they were car thieves. They must have awakened at least 80 people on our block, but nonetheless kept hollering away for nearly half an hour about their freshly committed felony.
I regret not having called the police sooner, of course, but even more than that I regret that no whitefaced “silence agent” came around to shush them. I would have given my car to see that.
© 2010 Paris UpdateFavorite
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