Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Champs-Élysée, Nature Capitale

First, a reminder of how the Champs-Élysée normally looks, with traffic whizzing around on its six lanes which stretch from La Defense to the Louvre, passing the Arc de Triomphe at the midway point.

The Champs-Élysée is important to all biking enthusiasts because it invariably hosts the conclusion to the world's most famous bike race, the three-week Tour de France, which I follow faithfully from Canada.  I forget how many laps the riders take up and down this street, but they go flying at speeds which are absolutely frightening, particularly on those cobble stones.  Some exceptionally brave riders leading the pack may briefly ride in the gutter on the side of the street because those granite stones are more smooth, but if a right pedal should touch the curb, it's curtains.  My shoes (below) give a bit of perspective to the size of the gutter, likely no more than a foot wide--hardly the space one desires when biking at 50 km/h or more.  I forget what the red shells were, but they gave the sense of walking on soil rather than on a wide street paved with granite cobblestones.

We started at the eastern part so that we could walk with the sun to our backs rather than in our eyes.  We were greeted with an enormous pyramid of boxes of all sorts of fruits and vegetables.  In part, the display was advertising wooden crates.  By 10:30, the lettuce at the very top was already starting to get a bit limp in the hot sun, but the colours were wonderful against the blue sky. 

At this point in the exhibition, cars were still allowed on the road, but there seemed to be a hundred or more tents along the sidewalk with displays of all sorts, mostly food producers showing their wares, cheese, milks, meats or talking with people.  

I enjoyed a display of barley ready to be harvested.  This was actually a carefully constructed series of boxes with styrofoam in the bottoms, into which people had carefully inserted each and every dry stalk of barley.  It was a labour of love and gives one the impression of a field in late summer.

We eventually came to the final grand stretch which was devoted only to pedestrians.  Apparently the Champs Élysée was closed to traffic the previous night at 10 p.m., when untold numbers of trucks descended, with goodness knows how many workers, to set up everything by morning.  Possibly a km of the street was taken over by great big boxes of living vegetable plants and even cattle, sheep, goats, olive trees, vineyards from various regions in France.  Something like that happened 20 years ago, but that display was entirely devoted to wheat.  I remember seeing pictures of large combines harvesting wheat on the Champs Élysée and thought the photo was a fake.  I underestimated the French passion for excellent wheat.  This time, many more groups of producers of food were involved.  First, a quiet shot of people walking parallel to the Champs-Elysée, under the trees.  We often sought the shade.

I doubt that this was a working bee hive.

It does seem strange to see steers eating in the middle of the most famous street in all of France, but this is the only way most Parisian children (and adults) can come into any sort of contact with the source of their food.  Food is so important to the culture of France.  It is not uncommon to give a full three hours to a leisurely dinner, slowly going from course to course, with lots of conversation.  The French pay a much higher percentage of their earnings for food than we do, but then their food is really superior to ours. 

Heinichen's workers explained the importance of hops, barley, etc. for making beer.  I liked the intensity with which people listened.

Lest there be any doubt, this was a popular event.  One saw a sea of humanity enjoying the displays.

If you were willing to wait long enough, you could get a lift above the crowds and take photos.

The above lift, seen from a distance:

Alsatian vines