Showing posts with label driving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label driving. Show all posts

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Driving in Paris

For English and Australian visitors to Paris, driving has always been been a somewhat disturbing experience, because the French drive on the wrong side of the road. Nevertheless, motoring calmly through Paris in spring or summer—maybe in an elegant open-top automobile—can be a charming way of discovering sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées and the Moulin Rouge… not to mention the site of Diana’s car crash.

But there’s always the risk of meeting up with a reckless and ill-mannered driver, such as this young fellow in his red Mini... who appears to be some kind of a tourist.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that a fellow who drives like that in the lovely old streets of Paris is frankly—to my mind—a public nuisance. Who does he think he is? And I can’t understand why the French police wouldn’t simply confiscate his license, and force him to move around Paris on a bicycle, or on foot, for that matter. Allowing such an individual to remain at the wheel of an automobile is—to my mind—simply outrageous, and proof of laxity. The people in charge of Paris ought to do something about it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

La Cabane Bambou

On the road from my place up to Grenoble, there's a marvelous spot where the road turns around the tip of the Vercors range before the final straight stretch of highway down towards the city. For several minutes, you're still dominated by the cliffs of the Vercors, on the right-hand side of the road, while the first summits of the Chartreuse start to emerge to the left.

Click to enlarge

Local drivers refer to this spot as La Cabane Bambou (bamboo hut) because of the derelict vestiges of a once-popular bar-restaurant, located by the roadside against a splendid background of limestone cliffs.

Old postcards show this place at the height of its glory.

Local drivers moving away from Grenoble are aware that this spot is particularly dangerous, because you have the impression that you've just broken free from the Alpine metropolis, and that the open road to the south lies ahead of you. Here's a Google image, looking to the south, of the short stretch of road that rises up to the blind curve where La Cabane Bambou is located (where the red truck is parked on the roadside).

Many mortal accidents have taken place in this vicinity, where certain drivers are capable of forgetting stupidly that fast traffic in the opposite direction can hurtle around the curve in front of La Cabane Bambou. Even if you slow down deliberately when reaching this spot (as I always do), that in itself can be an encouragement for reckless drivers to hit the accelerator and overtake you, which makes the situation more dangerous than ever.

This morning, therefore, I was saddened but not unduly surprised to learn through the Internet news that yet another terrible accident had just taken place at this spot.

Three vehicles came into frontal collision: a German camping car (whose driver died), a truck and a local automobile.

Over the 20 years during which I've been living in this magnificent region, I've heard so much about the dangers of the road between Grenoble and La Cabane Bambou that I've become almost terrorized by this spot, in spite of (or maybe because of) its rough beauty. A few years ago, imaginative road-safety technocrats felt that it would be a good idea to put up a red-and-black signpost at every spot where a mortal accident had occurred. Their scheme was frighteningly morbid. There were so many wooden "tombstones" alongside the road that you had the impression that you were driving through a cemetery. But the outcome was not necessarily effective from a road-safety viewpoint, because drivers were so distracted by the roadside views that they probably paid less heed than otherwise to behaving correctly. Frankly, I don't know what might be done here to reduce the steady stream of fatalities...

PS My blog post has used information from the website of our prestigious and excellent regional media organization, Le Dauphiné Libéré [display]. I hasten to add, too, that the actual building known as La Cabane Bambou (displayed in the above Google Maps images) no longer exists, as it was demolished a few months ago. That section of the road now houses a battery of electronic radar detectors, powered by solar energy, designed to flash warning signs as soon as wild boars from the slopes of the Vercors start to cross the road, during the night, on their way to the River Isère, to quench their thirst.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Covered in snow

Snow hit us massively during the night. Nobody can say we weren't warned. TV weather reports have become amazingly precise.

Yesterday, the visiting goldfinches were basking in the sun on the tiled roof of the bird house. Today, they would need to wear snowshoes.

In the middle of the morning, just after the passage of the municipal snow plow, I ran into my neighbor Jackie walking down the road on his way to Pont-en-Royans.

In fact, I had already discovered why Jackie was unlikely to do much driving, today, on the slopes of Choranche. Early this morning, I was taking my dogs out so that Sophia could "do her business". She only defecates at a fixed place, a hundred meters up above the house, and prefers to be accompanied for the occasion.

Continuing up the road a little, I was alarmed to find Jackie's little white vehicle in the middle of a snow-covered field.

I was relieved to find footprints leading from the stranded vehicle back up to Jackie's house. So I rushed up there to find out what had happened. Jackie told me that he had an appointment this morning with his GP up in Grenoble. Having heard that driving conditions might be difficult, he decided to set out early, at 6 am, in the dark. But, before he had done 50 meters, his journey ended abruptly. The vehicle started to slide on the very first slope, and refused to stay on the road. It continued to slide in a straight line, and that line lead into the field, where the vehicle only stopped sliding because of a conveniently-placed big bump in the grassy ground.

He was lucky in that the rough terrain prevented the vehicle from gathering speed, overturning and sliding into Gamone Creek.

As for me, I simply rule out any attempt whatsoever at using my old automobile whenever Gamone is covered in ice or snow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Favorite road sign

All too often, rural road signs make no attempt to be friendly. They order you to slow down, or turn in a certain direction, or stop… and that's all there is about it. They expect you to obey, but they offer absolutely nothing in return. On the contrary, a friendly stop sign might say: Dear driver, if you were to halt here for just a few seconds, there's a chance that you'll receive the visit of a charming hostess, who'll give you a bunch of flowers. Even those nasty radar cameras on main roads could be made vastly more friendly. For example: If you slow down to less than 90 km/hour, that will enable us to take a nice photo of your vehicle so that you can be enrolled in our next road-safety lottery, where you could win the privilege of a 24-hour speeding pass. But the authorities never have enough imagination to invent such friendly offers. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to discover this poetic sign:

It seems to be saying: Dear driver, you're in for a huge surprise, which lies just around the next corner. If you don't want to miss it, then maybe you should slow down a bit. As for the exact nature of this surprise, it's so amazing that words fail us. We simply don't know how to describe it!

As soon as I saw this sign, my mind started trying to guess what I was about to witness. Maybe the Mediterranean had finally gouged out a channel all the way up to the Vercors, and I was about to find myself alongside a beach, with Parisian tourists lounging on the warm golden sand, and a fellow riding around on a tricycle, selling ice cream. Maybe, on the contrary, I was being warned about the scene of a horrible accident in which a shepherd and his entire flock of sheep had been knocked over and flattened by a huge truck, leaving pieces of red meat and tufts of blood-soaked wool strewn all over the macadam. Could it be some kind of roadside nudist colony, with naked nymphs scrambling all over the roadway, pursued by Alpine beasts with horns? Was the road simply blocked by the fall of a high-speed train, which had strayed off the track between Lyon and Marseille? Within the space of a second or so, all these dramatic scenarios, and others, flowed through my mind.

When I parked my old Citroën by the roadside in order to get a closeup view of the exclamatory phenomenon, I was somewhat disappointed. It was a fizzer… as we Aussie kids used to say, designating double-bungers (a variety of fireworks) that hiss and smoke but fail to explode correctly. It was simply a bend in the road that was slightly too narrow for more than a single vehicle at a time.

In fact, this pair of warning signs, found on the site just after the exclamation mark, are largely sufficient to draw attention to the danger. They're considerably duller and less exciting, though, than the exclamation mark. So, all in all, I didn't mind about being swindled, as it were. For a few brief instants, I was invited to dream. And, in our mundane existence, opportunities like that are precious, and deserve to be appreciated in a state of joyous expectation, in an existentialist frame of mind.

Friday, May 1, 2009

By the roadside

The other day, on my way to St-Marcellin, I came upon the scene of an accident on a stretch of country road where there's never much traffic.

In fact, I've often noticed that certain local drivers, taking advantage of the fact that there are hardly any vehicles on this road, step upon the accelerator, ignoring the presence of several tricky little bends where the macadam hasn't been designed for speed.

The scene was a symphony of glaring red, orange and yellow.

Even the crushed automobile was red. I was impressed by the calm behavior of the accident personnel. They moved around in a determined but unhurried fashion, without even the sound of voices. Then the silence was interrupted by the motors of a waiting helicopter, which had just been loaded with a human form on a trolley.

I asked a gendarme what had happened. He told me that a local 32-year-old lady—alone in her little red automobile, and alone on the road—had simply failed to get around a minor bend, no doubt because she was driving too fast. Her vehicle left the road and bounced off the embankment. Apparently she had her seat belt on, and wasn't severely injured. In the future, she'll certainly need to buy a new car, and maybe drive a little more cautiously.

PS I've asked my neighbor Madeleine to obtain the name and address of the injured driver, so I can send her a little souvenir collection of roadside photos in dominant tones of red, orange and yellow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

French road sign

I wonder how foreign drivers in France react when they see this sign:

Accotement meuble. What on earth might that mean? To obtain a satisfactory translation, I think you would need a good and rather big French/English dictionary... unless, of course, your automobile guide book provides you immediately with the meaning. The noun accotement is a technical term, used by road builders, that designates the earth and gravel "shoulder" between the macadam and the adjoining land. But it's an unusual term. In French, if a driver wanted to say, for example, that he parked his vehicle on the edge of the road, it is rather unlikely that he would use the term accotement. Normally he would speak of the bord de la route: literally, the edge of the road.

Beginners in French will recognize the common noun meuble, meaning "furniture". For example, a furnished flat, in French, is an appartement meublé. So, is the road sign telling drivers to watch out for discarded furniture on the roadside? No, meuble is also an adjective meaning "moving", in the sense of "unstable". That explains why meuble is used for "furniture", that's to say, the mobile part of your residence, as distinct from an immeuble, which is the immobile building in which a residence is located.

So, this complicated road sign is simply warning drivers that the edge of the road was probably laid down recently, and hasn't had time to settle down yet. That's to say, it's unstable. If drivers were to park there, their vehicle might sink down into the earth and get bogged.

Instead of expecting foreign drivers to carry a dictionary with them, I think it would be more reasonable to invent some kind of a graphic sign. Here's a suggestion:

It could surely be improved by specialists, but I think it's already more easy to understand than the expression accotement meuble.

It's interesting, I think, to compare the two approaches from a sociological viewpoint. The verbal road sign is in fact very French, in an intellectual way. The roadbuilders are talking to the motorist as if he were an old fellow-student of their civil engineering school, and explaining the current situation in technical language: "You have to understand, my dear friend, that we've only recently laid down this macadam, and reinforced the shoulders of the embankments on either side. You'll appreciate therefore that the earth and gravel mix we've used as fill is not yet totally stabilized." My graphic approach is more down-to-earth, in a pragmatic New World style, and I don't seek to explain anything whatsoever: "If you don't want to get hurt, get your arse out of here." To be perfectly honest, I adore that old-fashioned expression: Accotement meuble.