Sunday, February 15, 2009

The French are good at organising

The French are good at organising. Very good. They have excellent roads and first class motorways which connect a zillion cities and towns and villages continually fit to burst with things going on. Which is to say, they’re good at organising physical stuff - infrastructure - and social stuff too – events of all types as long as they involve masses of people and lots of bonheur. And people in Provence are super-good at organising. In my local small town, for example, Isle-sur-Sorgue, the Sunday market is an affair of gargantuan, astonishing proportions filling every street and occupying every square metre of road, square and pavement. Starting in the early hours before the birds are up, stallholders set up tables, canopies, displays, acres of bread, cheese, olives, olive oil, ham, spices and just about everything else you can think of and heat pans of paella big enough to feed a city of giants and grill hundreds of chickens. There are clothes stalls with changing rooms thrown together in the backs of vans (floor-length mirrors on demand.) People selling knock-off makeup and jewellery or puppies and kittens and kids (junior goat variety.) There’s everything and more and miles of it.Wall-to-wall mostly small-producer commerce. And the most astonishing thing is the casual, total, lack of fuss about setting up and clearing away. At the start of proceedings the traders all appear from nowhere, park their cars and vans and mooch around smoking fags and drinking coffee. Like some sleight of hand, stalls seem to assemble themselves as people chat and poke each other genially in the chest and claim to make less money than everyone else. At the end of proceedings, the goods, the stalls, the changing rooms, animals, people and vehicles sort of fade quickly and quietly away, with a few packing and stowing motions, au revoirs and a la prochaines, leaving not a sign, not even a discarded paper cup, that they were ever there. In many countries, such a smooth-running event on such a scale would be a major achievement, probably staged in a large city, that could be managed - with subsidies and fanfare, a marketing department and legal team, committee meetings and sub-committee meetings, and everything going catastrohically over budget – perhaps once a year. Here, it happens every Sunday. In a small town. Even in winter.

If the French were to organise the Olympic games and I have no idea whether they ever have or not (having no interest whatever in the kind of games played at the Olympics – why they ever interest anyone is beyond me but I suppose it’s just the hype and context – after all if a friend said to you ‘Do you want to come over to my place on Sunday and watch Bill and Tom throw a chair up the garden to see who can throw it furthest, or sprint to the corner shop to see if one gets there a thirtieth of a second before the other, you would quite rightly decline, thinking you had better things to do with your time) but if the French did organise them, they would throw up the approach roads, stadiums, arenas, seating, changing rooms, ticket offices, car parks and restaurants over a weekend, with charm, efficiency and co-operation and none of the sulky point-scoring or infighting in the anglo-saxon countries and the prices would be reasonable and the food would be great.

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