Help Wanted

Help Wanted
The road ahead

Friday, 3 May

Maybe because of its deep historical roots and multiple associations, May Day in France is a national holiday celebrated in earnest. Spring, the original reason the Romans then the early Christians observed it, is really here, which makes people happy, encourages them to offer sweet lily-of-the-valley to a friend as a token of good luck, as they have been doing since the 16th century. Since the 19th, it has also been the moment to honour workers, who take part in parades or, more accurately these days, demonstrations.

Spring has sprung

On the eve of this May Day, another association came to mind as I was walking Tasha to the vet. With less than three months to go until the Olympic Games open in Paris, the city does not seem remotely ready to receive the 15 million people who are expected to descend upon her streets. On the contrary and as I mentioned more than once last year, I'm not sure I've ever seen her looking more dishevelled. There are still road works or building renovations or both almost everywhere you look, and it occurred to me that instead of celebrating workers' rights and exchanging flowers, we might consider shouting the international signal of distress. Mayday! Mayday!

"Shouldn't we be worried about this?" asked a concerned citizen.

Fun fact: the expression 'mayday' was cooked up in the 1920s by Frederick Stanley Mockford. As the radio officer at the Croydon Airport in England, he was tasked with finding an oral equivalent to the sibilant and hard to hear Morse Code SOS signal. Since much of the Croydon air traffic at the time was with the Paris airport Le Bourget, he came up with 'mayday', aurally easy to distinguish in English but also in French, as it is a perfect homonym for m'aider (to help me)...and in this case help...

Street in distress

...if not a full-blown miracle, is wanted.

I was taking Tasha to the vet for a crusty thing on the inside of her ear that olive oil was not curing. It's usually a lovely walk across the Seine to the right bank, where we stroll along either the quayside or the edge of the place de la Concorde, through the Jardins des Champs-Elysées and a stretch of streets in the 8th arrondissement to the rue Monceau.

But not this time.

Along with road works and building renovations, preparations for the games are further blighting the urban landscape. They are also significantly limiting our freedom of movement. Getting to vet this last day of April, I felt like a mouse in a maze, with many other mice, since the tourists are back in force. The quayside, both river and road level, was closed. We could not walk along the edge of the place de la Concorde because the stands are going up for BMX freestyle, break dancing, skateboarding and 3X3 basketball (might be quicker to list what is not now considered an Olympic sport).

"Let me out of here!" cried the horse.

Most of the Jardins des Champs-Elysées are off limits. There are barricades absolutely everywhere.

You can't get there from here

Having successfully navigated the labyrinth, I collapsed in the chair of the waiting room at the vet, thinking I'd probably endured this trial for nothing, since the crusty ear suddenly seemed better. But the vet got very serious while examining the dog, listening long and hard to her heart, feeling for ganglions in her lymph nodes. He asked in that measured tone doctors have which makes you really nervous if I'd been to the south of France. Yes, I answered, last November we were in Arles...

Turns out there's now leishmaniose (leishmaniasis) to add to the list of mosquito-borne tropical diseases (along with dengue and West Nile fever for humans and heart worm for dogs) that have landed in climately-changed metropolitan France. He'd seen three dogs recently where the affliction had manifested itself with a crusty ear. The prognosis is dire. Furthermore, it's a zoonosis, ie transmissible to humans.

He prescribed some cortisone cream and organic coconut oil ("without any of those harmful chemicals") and reassuringly said she was unlikely to have caught the disease in cold November, that Tasha's crusty ear didn't quite look like the others, but I made my way home through the maze and the barricades and the throngs of tourists, trying but failing to imagine 14 million more of them, feeling spooked. With the mess of the broader world never far from my conscience, the city felt dystopian.

Running away from the light at the end of the tunnel

Of course, as of mid-June, moving around the middle of Paris will become close to impossible. Metro stations and many bridges will be closed. During the Games, you will need to show a QR code to get near the Seine, where I live.

But hey, it's May. Besides Wednesday's holiday, we have two more, bizarrely back to back, next week: the 8th (end of World War II in Europe) and the 9th (Ascension). Just in case we still feel short-changed, there's Pentecost Monday on the 20th. And the French are too fashion-conscious to let Paris be shown in such a scruffy light - unless the workers strike, which they are threatening to do.

Best of all, however, is that Tasha has dodged the mosquito's bullet; her ear has healed. And we will have the good fortune to be far away from the crazy, crowded city this summer.

Safely away

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