Need something to worry about in 2012? The Paris Fire Department to the rescue!
It’s that time of year. In Paris, autumn means a chill in the air, leaves on the sidewalk, wild game in the markets… and firemen in the street. Every fall, the Paris Fire Department prints up a calendar for the coming year and sends the rookie members of each brigade out to sell copies in their neighborhood.
For readers, especially women, who live in an Anglophone country, the words “firemen’s calendar” conjure up images of beefcake buffets like this one from New York City or this one from Florida. Nice, huh? Well, forget it. Despite France’s reputation for being a sexy, if not downright lascivious, kind of country, that’s not how they do things here.
In the Paris calendar, instead of titillating shots of handsome, muscular young firemen stripping their shirts off in the heat, the photos depict the terrifying emergencies that those hunks have to handle. In other words, it’s an inventory – and if you hang it on the wall a constant daily reminder – of all the unexpected ways you could die in the coming year.
To flip through it is to peruse a catalogue of tragic and all-too-concrete examples of potentially fatal misfortune. Fortunately, however, the PFD’s defeatist (not to mention hunkophobic) attitude is matched by its stinginess: there are two months per page, which not only reduces production costs, but also keeps the depressing imagery to a minimum.
January-February starts out with a classic: a raging, out-of-control fire in what looks like a large and outstandingly flammable store or warehouse of some kind.
Note to self: Stay out of public buildings.
To welcome the first warm days of spring, the March-April page shows a white-haired gentleman lying on the sidewalk holding his head as a fireman leans over him with a resuscitation kit.
Note to self: Stop aging.
In the merry, merry months of May and June, we have a body, I hope still breathing, wrapped up like a mummy, strapped to a stretcher and being lowered on cables from a passageway high above a stadium.
Note to self: Stay out of open-air spaces as well.
In July and August, while everyone else is relaxing on vacation, our tireless firemen are tending to a traffic accident that involves an overturned truck.
Note to self: Stay off the roads.
In September and October, usually my favorite season in Paris, the boys in bluish-black are in the Métro, placing another victim of some sort of medical or interpersonal misadventure onto a stretcher. (Maybe it’s the same guy they were lowering out of the stadium – the cables slipped and he fell down a Métro entrance.)
Note to self: Don’t take public transport either.
And, to end the year on a celebratory high note, we have another fire. But not just any fire – a fire in an apartment building that looks remarkably like mine!
Note to self: Don’t stay home.
In addition to spreading joy and optimism, the Paris Fire Department calendar has another idiosyncrasy: there’s no set price. When you buy one you just give a “donation” of whatever you’d like to give. But they keep track. There’s a detachable form on the back of each copy that your sales-fireman fills in with your name and address – and the amount of your donation, in both digits and letters, like on a check, just to be sure that there’s no mistake. Then he peels off the form and files it in a notebook.
Obviously, they’re keeping records of who donates how much. But why? Since I’m already in a cynical mood from contemplating their calendar, I suspect the worst. Should the day ever come when I need their services, I imagine the conversation around the firehouse will go something like this:
OK boys, ante up. Nothing wild, jacks to open.
Wait – we got an emergency call on line three.
Uh-huh. Who’s it from?
Somebody named Jaggard over on Rue de l’Anesage.
A truck crashed into his building, setting it on fire, his wife fainted, and he’s having trouble breathing after being assaulted in the Métro.
He in the database?
I’m looking. Oh, and his cat’s up a tree.
What do we have on this guy?
He bought last year’s calendar. He wants us to strap the cat to a stretcher and lower her down on cables.
How much did he give?
Five? I’ve got more than that in the pot already.
That’s not all – looks like the only reason he bought it was to diss our photo choices on the Internet.
Let’s finish this hand. Raise you 10…
Note: Cynicism aside, the city’s firemen do a difficult, dangerous job admirably well and deserve our support. So buy a copy of their calendar. Give them a 50. And tell them I sent you.
Reader Jacqueline writes: “Excellent column! The calendars are definitely not something you want to hang on your children’s wall either. But allow me to point out that those disappointed not to find beefcake shots of fireman as found in NYC’s version can ogle and even socialize with firemen in person at the several Fireman’s Balls held in fire stations across Paris on July 13-14 and open to all!”
David Jaggard replies: “Right you are. In fact, I wrote about the firemen’s balls earlier this year. My wife loves them. Fortunately (for me, not for her) they only come once a year…”
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An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.