Thursday, June 3, 2010

Milliwatts O' Miettes

Which is to say, the power's back on. Got a call about 11 yesterday from the guy who does the job, and he said he'd be there at 2. I thanked him, and figured any time up til 6 would be fine. I almost passed out when he showed up at about 2:15, and before I knew it, I was back in action: all the toys on my desk made clicking noises and I knew I was back up. I then loaded a large bag with all the spoiled food in the refrigerator (and it was a lot: I'd stocked up), I retrieved the charging cord for the laptop from my next-door neighbor (thanks, man), and I was back up and running.

Interestingly, as I was searching Google Images yesterday for a picture of an Electricité de France electric meter to run as a graphic with this miette (all the images I found were copyright, though), I found tons of bitter political cartoons about EDF, its outsized profits, its crappy service, and its grip on the nation. When I lived in Berlin, I used to joke that Deutsche Telekom had gotten ahold of some of Lily Tomlin's Ernestine the Operator skits from Laugh-In (for you youngsters out there, one of her key lines was "Care? We're the telephone company. We don't have to care.") and thought it was a training film. Former state monopolies are like that: Tomlin shocked Bell Telephone into rethinking its customer relations. European monopolies didn't bother with customer relations until they were privatized. It wasn't until 2008 that I actually had great service from Deutsche Telekom: they sent an installer to my house on a Saturday, which is unthinkable, she was a woman, which from their previous incarnation was equally unthinkable, and I was astonished that she spoke English (although I didn't demand it, she was eager to practice). As recently as a year earlier, that would have been inconceivable.

I'm not quite sure how many institutions in France are privatized, but EDF is, for sure, and so is France Telecom, which now calls itself Orange, probably so that people won't bomb their offices. Orange is my next epic battle. When I moved into this apartment, nobody could find a record of a land-line having been here before. The way you deal with that is that you open an account with Orange, who open the line for you, and then whatever telecom you choose takes the line over and Orange bows out. Except they didn't. I had to call my provider, Free, and they sent a guy out who tested the line and noticed that Orange hadn't turned themselves off. He called, got put on hold for 20 minutes (good thing his mobile phone was fully charged), and eventually had a conversation with someone. "There, it's fixed, you shouldn't have any more problems," he said, and left. And it was true: unlike before he came, when things were going on and off, and I occasionally couldn't use the phone, service was smooth.

And then, this April, it stopped entirely. Something else odd happened: I got a bill from Orange for land-line use. Looking over my old bank records, I saw that they'd been charging me €19 and change every month for this, and until the financial meltdown which also occasioned the electric problem, my bank had been paying it. Now they were three months overdue, and within days the account went to a bailiff. I asked Free what I should do, and they said I should get Orange to admit that they'd been ripping me off like this, after which they could do something about it. I replied that since it was their guy who supposedly fixed it 18 months ago, maybe the ball was in their court. Meanwhile, I'd like all that money back, but the chances of that happening are, I'm sure, next to nil. Free has yet to reply, but I bet I get billed for the month I had no service from them because I was cut off for not paying bills I shouldn't have gotten in the first place.

* * *

Of course, all of this could be worse: a friend in another European country is facing eight days in jail for an unpaid debt of less than €300. I had no idea that debtors' prisons still existed, nor do I know whether, after serving time, this person will have repaid the debt.

When I think of debtors' prison these days (and I don't, much), the spectre of the old prison in downtown Montpellier comes into my vision. When my sister was here last year, I finally had the exuse to do the très touristy thing of riding Le Petit Train, a silly little conveyance you find in lots of French towns and cities these days, a fake choo-choo locomotive pulling a few open cars with audio through headphones which can be adjusted to play the narration in a half-dozen languages. I didn't learn much, but I did have my attention drawn to the old prison, which I don't think is in use at the moment. It's behind the Palace of Justice right near the Parc Peyrou, but -- fittingly for a jail -- it's almost impossible to get to (or, of course, out of).

I went for a meander the other day, and this was the best I could do, looking up to the end of this street. I note from the map that it's cruciform in shape, and is labelled "Maison d'Arrêt," which Harrap's Shorter French Dictionary: English-French/French-English (English and French Edition) defines as "remand centre," so maybe it's still in some kind of use. Another neat thing I found in that area, though was this, although I'm not sure the photo will show it as well as it might:

This is the side of the Palace of Justice, and shows where the new laws used to be posted so that citizens could come and read them, as well as, I believe, notices of upcoming trials. 

* * * 

And speaking of trials, you'll notice that the PayPal bug that once adorned this page is gone. That's because the bank account it was attached to is also gone. I'm attempting to hook it up with my old PayPal account, but that hasn't happened yet, and may not happen, if PayPal makes it as difficult as it might. Ever since the day my account was suspended for suspicion of money laundering, I've hated them, though, so it might never return. I thank those who've tried to help, regret refunding their donations, and remain broke but not poor, as Willem deKooning put it. That, too, should be passing soon, and meanwhile please buy tons of cookbooks from the Amazon bug over there and the French-English dictionary highlighted up in the last miette and feel free to come visit and buy me dinner! (You'll get a walking-tour of the city that's much better than Le Petit Train). 

Okay, my white horse is saddled and the valet is waiting with my lance. Off to do battle with Orange!

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