October began in Paris this year on a Sunday, just as it did in the rest of the world, Nova Scotia included! But here it was a slightly quieter, cleaner Sunday than Paris usually enjoys.
Parisians were required to rest their cars. To take a break from the way of moving around that has done so much damage to this once glittering town – not to mention the rest of the world. Last year 2,500 people died from pollution-related illnesses in Paris; 6,000 perished from fumes in the greater lie de France region. So, maybe it is a good idea to ease up on something that many people have come to depend on while others suffer the consequences.
Some days here in Paris I find myself walking in a cloud of synthetic cologne and cigarette/vape fumes. When I have to walk behind someone trailing the sickening smog of their addictions, I especially miss the “scent free” Nova Scotia environments. Some of my fellow Parisians, I think, must have poured an entire bottle of perfume over themselves, since the air is dense with the disgusting odour for several minutes after they have hurried by. Even worse is the “sweet” billowing vape gas. Since I can't make any of them stop, I think about what I am leaving in my wake. What do I pass on for my fellows to breathe? Well if you could breathe compassion I hope it would be that. But some days I wish I had a water pistol filled with skunk!
I’m not sure this kind of musing is what the Paris authorities had in mind when they implemented their car-free initiative. But this kind of gimmick does invite reflection.
In fact, the roads were only closed from 11 in the morning until six in the evening. This got me to thinking about what people in Nova Scotia would do without the use of their car for a day. Of course this is an unsurprising reality to many who have weathered countless winter storms. But what about on a fiery autumn Sunday?
I wonder would my friends in Lismore walk to church? Or would they stay home and watch television?
And there is the problem with these kinds of little “day off” efforts: they are never a completely ‘off’ experience. First of all, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. is not even half of a full day. In fact my friends in Lismore could drive to church and be home in time to not really notice any difference in their Sunday routine. But here in Paris maybe the seven hours gave people some kind of pause. Perhaps some folks even experienced what a few hours of fresh air feels like.
The Mormons have a method of coming to a decision echoed in other recovery systems: they fast into a big decision. They abstain from food, thoughts, from engaging in things they enjoy to clear their hearts and minds. So did Parisians fast into some decision together last Sunday? Is taking cars away for part of a day really enough?
There was some follow-up after the event.
"It's magical. Usually when I come in for work, it is unbearable. Frankly, Paris without cars, is just a joy. It is a wild pleasure!" remarked one Parisian according to the local 'franceinfo' news channel. The same source cites a 35 per cent decrease in Paris's air pollution compared to the same time last year. Maybe the gimmick will pay off some day.
Maybe some day people in Paris will enjoy the kind of peace, and fresh air that make the Maritimes so heavenly. Another Parisian summing up her experience of the car-free Sunday really reminds me of the way I describe life in Nova Scotia to anyone interested in life beyond this city of fuming light:
"We breathe better. There is less noise. It is quieter!
Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia artist and filmmaker currently studying in Paris.