Curious encounter with a laundromat and a philosopher

You might expect to encounter a philosopher in a trendy Paris cafe near the Sorbonne, knocking back an espresso, but in reality, it’s not the sort of place you strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Consider instead the humble laundromat. If you travel more than a few days, sooner or later you have to experience one. It seems mundane, I know, but in Paris they just do it differently – and therein lies a tale.

Washing clothes seems simple enough – almost everywhere it’s the same: work out the coins, shove in a few clothes and put the coins in the slot and away it goes. Except in Paris. In Paris they take a perfectly simple idea and overthink it – which is okay, but you then have to follow the train of thought. It comes down to politics and a culture of philosophers.

An individualistic culture that is all about efficiency and commerce, like the US or Australia will have each machine take its own coins and it is self contained and modular, that way, if a machine breaks down, you swap it with a new one and the system keeps going.

Paris laundromat

Paris laundromat – the first 6 instructions…

In Paris the logic is based on a fundamental philosophy of centralised bureacracy. So the machines are all governed from a central machine that handles the financial transaction – separate from the process of handling the clothes. Each machine has a number, so you put in your clothes, note the number and key it into the machine across the room that handles the money. This applies to the detergent dispenser, the washer and the driers. One machine, many numbers.

The instructions are there on the wall – taking up most of the wall. In French. And some letters are missing. It is an easy 9 step process, across six notice boards.

Fortunately travellers are all in the same boat when confronted with this unique system, and there is a cameraderie among travellers – so there is usually someone who can introduce you to this seemingly complex system. That means people talk to each other.
Complete strangers you would never otherwise meet start talking, and that is what happened.

This day, I was in first thing in the morning, trying to puzzle out with my schoolboy French, when in walks an African Parisian. He quickly sized up the situation, and explained in perfectly good english how it worked – quite logical really.

He saw that I had a book to read – in English – on the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. He asked where I was from and I told him.

‘I studied next to an Australian, in Boston,’ he replied. ‘I was there for three years, and he told me a lot about Australia.’

I asked him what he did and he told me was a mathematician – and that at his university the mathematics department was part of the philosophy department. I noted that I had taught French philosophy at university in Australia. ‘I prefer the German philosophers myself,’ he said, and we proceeded to to discuss in some depth the relative merits of the French versus the German Continental Schools.

It could only have happened in a laundromat – in Paris…


A little park in Paris

I have been sick with a local gastric bug that seems to have taken up residence in my lower intestine and likes living there very much! It’s slowed me down a little, but the other day we decided to pay a visit to Musee Carnavalet.

When ever we go to one of these smaller museums we use the trip there as a n excuse to explore the district a little more. While walking in the general direction of the Musee Carnavalet we found a small park. I spent a pleasant hour seated at one of the park benches in order to  draw a little of it.

Drawing from a park benchWith this page spread I wanted to play with framing techniques in my travel journal so I cut up a local tourist map collected from the tourist information centre. I would have liked a stronger contrast but that is what I had to hand. You can click on the image to see a larger view.

Drawing from a park benchThis is the full page spread in context. As you can see sketching is only one part of my travel journalling as I write a fair bit about the day in the evening. I write as I travel as otherwise little details get lost. The word Paris is cut from the front of the same map and the black tape is washi tape I bought with me. I have been using it throughout the trip and I will probably finish it. The Fleur de Lis is made from a craft punch I have at home. Before leaving a cut a pile to use while away.

Anyway this is one of two page spreads about the day. We had a lovely day at the Musee Carnavalet and it has a lovely garden itself . Jerry will share his impressions later.


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Chateau de Versailles – Review

Sharon and I took the Bus Rouges full day tour and it was just what we needed. The price of the tour was about the same as the price of all the entries put together so it was like the transport was almost free. As a ‘booked tour’, we managed to avoid the worst of the horrendous lines, and we got a free audio-guide included in the price. The tour was unguided so we were given tickets for the gardens and the Trianon (Queen’s mini-chateau) and told to meet back at 17.40 (5.40pm). That is our kind of tour – just get us in there and leave us to it – that way we can linger or not as we please. I’m happy with security lines – it was a cursory bag check, and it really didn’t take too long.

Versailles

Versailles

The palace was impressive, but the crowd control was non-existent so we were elbowed and jostled and in places you could almost lift your feet off and still be supported. This coloured our impression of the palace as you could really only see the richly painted ceilings.

Versailles

Versailles

The Chapelle Royale is very impressive and if you can find a gap, and avoid getting elbowed, head to the railing and take in the spectacle, from the huge pipe organ to the gilded details – this ‘chapel’ would rival any decent sized church

Versailles

Versailles – Chapelle Royale

The larger dimensions of the hall of mirrors provided a respite from the crush and only then could we really appreciate what a masterpiece this place is.

Versailles

Versailles

The palace staff were courteous and polite when asked directions, and considering the visitor numbers I thought the staff were very patient, quietly and politely advising people if they got too close or if their cameras flashed (mine didn’t, I hasten to add 🙂 ).

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Most of the rooms were just that – impressively gilded and painted, but largely devoid of furniture and other accoutrements. Most of the above shots were in the Queen’s apartments – and cropped/framed to remove the people. The Chateau’s scale is impressive, but it lacks the attention to detail of the Hotel de Ville.  Personally, with those crowds I would avoid the palace.

Versailles

Versailles

Okay so to the saving grace of this visit – the gardens are amazing – even in Autumn. Laid out in patterns, with trees sculpted like hedgerows and the many reflecting ponds and fountains – which operate from 3.30pm-5.00pm

Versailles

Versailles

Everywhere you are serenaded with 18th century French orchestral and chamber music which really sets the right mood for the place.

Versailles

Versailles

We queued for a bottle of water and baguette, and had a pleasant picnic in the shadow of the palace.

The fountains are a real highlight, If you walk around them in the afternoon, you too might catch sight of the wonderful rainbows playing within.

Versailles

Versailles

And don’t miss the wild horses among the foam

Versailles

Versailles

– or the walks among shady tree-lined walks with statues, urns and seats along the way.

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

The colonnade is not to be missed! Get there in the afternoon when the fountains are playing all around the perimeter

Versailles

Versailles

For us, the gardens were the real highlight after the hustle and crush of the palace. That and the amazing variety of lavenders in the Trianon gardens. You can also hire bikes, and boats – to row on the grand canal, or you can scoot around on the inexpensive train to get from one part to the next in this vast complex.


Museé des Arts et Metiers – steampunk’s delight

There is something about the Belle Epoch that had the French making some great technological advances – albeit they somewhat ran out of…er… steam by around 1906. Much of that story is told the museum of industrial arts.

Around the time that Captain James Cook was bumping into Australia, an engineer by the name of Nicholas Cugnot was demonstrating a new vehicle at the Paris Arsenal. With its twin cylinder double acting engine, front wheel drive and rack and pinion steering, this 2.5 tonne vehicle was able to move under its own power and tow an artillery piece (up to 4 tonnes) – thereby overcoming the problem of horses taking fright on the battlefield. The vehicle had forward and reverse, and could travel at up to 4kph. Not bad in 1770.

Cugnot's Fardier á vapeur (steam tractor)

Cugnot’s Fardier á vapeur (steam tractor)

Sadly, its lack of brakes became apparent when it ran a bit out of control and hit the arsenal wall which earned the vehicle the dubious distinction of being the first manned self propelled vehicle and also the first motor vehicle accident ever recorded. So the experiments were stopped and the vehicle pushed into a nearby barn where it stayed undisturbed for nearly 100 years. At that point it was donated to the Arts et Metiers museum where it resides today – showing almost no signs of its low speed collision. You can see a modern replica being demonstrated here on YouTube.

By 1875 Amadee Bolleé had built l’Obeissante (the obedient one) – a steam bus  in 1875 which made the first road trip between Le Mans and Paris in 18 hours. L’Obeissante carried 12 passengers and had a cruising speed of 30 km/h (19 mph) and a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). It was driven by two V-twin steam engines, one for each rear wheel. This too is preserved in the Museé des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

l'obeissante - steam bus

l’obeissante – steam bus

It was a pretty impressive vehicle – the stoker worked at the rear and controlled the throttle, while the driver steered – a study in teamwork! The passengers sat on side seats next to the driver

l'obeissante - steam bus

l’obeissante – steam bus

But the dream of the era was to get airborne – and there were many imaginative ways to do so. The first balloon flights took place in Paris – the montgolfiers taking off from the Palace of Versailles, on 19 October 1783 while the first manned hydrogen balloon lifted off from the Champs de Mars near where the Eiffel Tower now stands.

But there were dreams of controlled flight

model dirigible

model dirigible

and various versions of heavier than air models, such as this quad-copter – now popular among radio control enthusiasts

quadcopter

quadcopter

But the prize for the the first manned, powered flight may well go to Clement Ader, who has a strong claim to have flown 250-300 feet in 1897 – six years before the Wright Brothers. Using a self-designed lightweight steam power plant with twin 20HP engines powered from a lightweight flash steam generator with a condenser to re-use the water he made one fairly well documented flight, but crashed on a subsequent demonstration for the army. The plane had no control surfaces so it could only be steered by weight shifting of the pilot. The Wright Brothers rightly claim the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight. Ader’s Avion gave its name to the French word for aircraft.

The Avion

The Avion

While it was somewhat modelled on a bat, it had a number of important innovations – an enclosed cockpit, a tricycle undercarriage, it was a monoplane, and it used contra-rotating propellers. A surprisingly well-thought out aircraft for its time.

This next plane was the first to fly the English Channel – flown by Louis Bleriot in 1909. It, too, was a monoplane and was a successful commercial design.

Bleriot XI - first plane to fly the English Channel

Bleriot XI – first plane to fly the English Channel

And if you thought the Segway was an innovation – guess who had them back in the 1890s? Okay this was designed by a German, and they were manufactured under licence by BSA in the UK, but it sure looks like a fun ride 🙂

Otto bicycle c.1881

Otto bicycle c.1881

Anyhow, more on the Arts et Metiers museum later 🙂