A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Driving in France Part 3

13 May 2011

(Read Part 1)

(Read Part 2)

In the first part of Driving in France, I had described a protracted battle that I had with some rond-points (traffic circles) in the Alps.  Now that we were in Paris, and having la bougeotte (a craze for traveling), I was determined to meet fearlessly the challenge of the ‘star’ of all rond-points.  I use the word ‘star’ advisedly here, since this one is known as l’Étoile (the star) for a good reason.  Located at the top of avenue des Champs-Élysées, and having the famous Arc de Triomphe at its center, this traffic circle — not for the faint at heart or lily of liver — has 12 spokes that radiate in all directions.

While navigating the circle, one has no idea from what direction any car / motorcycle / bus / taxi / moped / bicycle will come, or, for that matter, where any vehicle will choose to go.  There are 41 things to watch at any given moment, both moving and stationary, and a conversation begun prior to entering the circle will inevitably slow to monosyllabic barks.



To the scientific mind, the experience is a three-dimensional, dynamic, trigonometric challenge; to everyone else, it’s bumper-car time.  My wife, as a defenseless passenger, alternately covered her eyes, laughed, cried, screamed and shrieked.  This drolatique experience, with equal amounts of pandemonium within and without the car, made it even more difficult to concentrate while I was trying to survive, but I exhorted, “Avançons!” — and then, "Le doute ne mène nulle part" — doubt leads nowhere, especially if you ignore the double negative — or as we say, he who hesitates is lost.

One must céder le passage (yield) to vehicles entering from the right, but once at the inside of the circle, it is a challenge to force one’s way to the outside in order to exit.  After several rotations we were ultimately able to squirt out onto one of the spokes, but it wasn’t the one we wanted after all, so it was once again back into the living French model of a radioactive atom with Colleen screaming.  L’étoile en voiture is a true Parisian experience that should not be missed.

Later, from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and breathing regularly again, we could look down on the circle from which we had just narrowly escaped.

By way of warning, the following are some examples of slow-moving vehicles that one may encounter in a traffic circle, and which require extra caution as they may affect one's perception:


les vélos (les bicyclettes) — does looking at too many bicycles distort your vision? Watch out for them on traffic circles (don’t worry, in this case your eyes are not playing tricks; the building in the background of this row of vélib's is under reconstruction and has been covered in a canvas most artistique)


la moto (la motocyclette) — occasionally motorcycles may dream of La Madeleine and begin moving more slowly. Beware on traffic circles


un camion des éboueurs — be careful around these slow-moving vehicles, which often require hand-feeding


les crocodiles — uh, technically one doesn’t encounter these slow moving vehicles on lÉtoile, but as they may be found in the window of a nearby grand magasin (department store), they could constitute a distraction


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When it comes to stationner (parking), Parisians have a singular approach:  if there is a space, no matter how minuscule, the car will fit.  For, as they say, Impossible n'est pas français — Impossible is not French.

While walking down a relatively quiet street in Paris one afternoon, we noticed a large, bright red executive car pull up next to an empty parking space across the street. This car was perhaps not that large by North American super-sized SUV standards, but certainly much bigger than its French compatriots and much more expensive.  There was no way that the car would fit there, I thought.

Nevertheless, the car nosed into the small gap, lightly touching the rear bumper of the car parked in front of it.  Soon, with clouds of dust and smoke from burning rubber, this car began pushing the car in front of it in order to facilitate an appropriate parking space.  At this point, a waiter in an apron stepped out to observe the parking demonstration in front of his bistro.  He stood motionless, his head slightly atilt.

Next, the driver of this upper-end model went about very pragmatically to make this coveted parking space suit her car by ramming the car behind her, and since that still didn’t leave enough room, she pushed both that car and the car behind it with tires squealing, various wrenching and grating sounds, the roar of the racing engine, and even more smoke and noise.

When the car at last stopped coercing its neighbors and the engine was shut off, all was quiet again.  The waiter, sensing that the show was over, calmly turned to walk back into the doorway of the bistro.

Parking accomplished, the woman got out — she was elegantly dressed, her jewelry jangling, a paradigm of fashion — and nonchalantly walked off.

This was our free lesson in haute parking à la Paris.



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Later that day, in spite of the heavy traffic on the Quai d’Orsay, I realized how wonderful it was to be in Paris again and to experience the quality of light, the magnificent architecture and wide boulevards, the art, the little old ladies with dogs, the extreme-fussiness-about-everything-but-in-a-state-of-denial-laissez-faire, the almost-heavenly food, and a long list of imponderables in the French language and customs.



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: