Monday, February 04, 2013

Patron Saint of Paris Taxi Drivers to be Honored

Taxi drivers in Paris are the stuff of legend.  And urban myth, too, perhaps.  In all my Paris taxi rides, I have had only one driver who was less than wonderful.  (That is, when I could actually get a taxi.  But that's another story, and a long one.)  I know that other people will differ with me;  maybe I've just been lucky?

Or maybe St. Fiacre was looking out for me.

Who in tarnation is St. Fiacre, you ask?  Why, he is none other than the patron saint of French taxi drivers.  And this week he will have a new statue in his honor unveiled.  The term fiacre was used originally for the early horse-drawn carriages for hire in Paris.  So the next time you need to hail a cab in Paris, maybe if you make a special pryaer to St. Fiacre, it might help.  Can't hurt.

God bless that St. Fiacre!

I've had lively discussions about literature, politics, current events --- and, of course, the weather -- from the backseat of a G7 or Taxi Bleu.  A few accounts of my interactions with Paris taxi drivers:

1. I telephoned one to fetch me at my apartment on the place de la Madeleine, and the driver said "Non, Madame, I cannot -- there is a manif  [street protest] in your neighborhood and the traffic is blocked." (His taxi stand was around the corner, so he knew what the real situation was, but he was apparently acting on official traffic reports from the Prefecture de Police). I said, "Monsieur, I must tell you, I have the best view of the Madeleine of anyone, and I promise you that the traffic has completely cleared up. In fact, feel free to call me any time if you want a really good traffic report!" He perked up and said, "Okay, I'll be there in 2 minutes."

2. Another day I was bringing home two antique wooden chairs I bought at the Marche aux Puces in Vanves, and although I called the number for extra-large taxis, a regular size taxi showed up. The driver snarled, "You are moving furniture. Do I look like a moving man?" "No," I replied sweetly, "you look like a very kind chauffeur de taxi." He melted like butter. Even helped me move the chairs into the vestibule when we arrived.

3. It is after midnight. I am riding home in a taxi from a farewell dinner. "Brrr. Il fait froid," says the driver. "Moins 2." We make pleasant chit-chat and I note with irony that just as I'm leaving Paris I'm beginning to recognize the Celsius temperature readings without a mad mental scramble to do the math.

The car slides silently along the quai, past the Statue of Liberty on Ile de la Cygne, past the high-rise apartments across the Seine in the 15th. "How can I ever replace this?" I wonder. Even the mundane modern buildings take on importance. Suddenly the Eiffel Tower surges into sight; its brilliant blue lighting is breathtaking. For a brief moment I consider asking the driver to stop so I can take a photo, but it's too cold, I'm too tired, and I would have no way to upload it when I get home, because there is nothing left in the apartment.

4. And this, my all-time favorite.

This anecdote is the only less-than-wonderful experience:

After one Saturday dinner party in Paris, it being late I decided to take a taxi home. The reluctant driver picked me up -- I was his last fare of the evening -- and we drove from the Champs Elysees to my place in the 7e arrondissement. We arrived at my doorstep and I explained that all I had was a 50-euro bill. You would have thought I had committed highway robbery. I got the most severe tongue-lashing, with expletives, him furiously spouting, "If I had known you wanted to pay me with a 50-euro bill, I wouldn't have picked you up," and so forth. I apologized profusely, to no avail. Finally, he gave me the change for the 11-euro fare -- change which he had in abundance, it turns out.

Do you have any Paris taxi stories?  Any prayers for St. Fiacre?


Judy said...

ah, well, my 2010 visit to Paris ended on a sour note when the taxi driver to the airport started talking about how the Jews were behind 9/11...

Anonymous said...
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Harriet said...

During my Oct 2012 trip, I learned that there can be a string of taxis all lined up at the duly noted taxi stops and refuse to take a customer....I suppose all taking their break at the same time! Very frustrating!

Nothing left to do but to get in the street and try to hail one, and we all know how difficult that can be!

Brian said...

The closest I have to a taxi story is this one:

One day a certain Mr Less, probably visiting Paris for the first time, was waiting outside his hotel for a
taxi which he had ordered by phone. He was dressed shabbily with several layers of rough clothing due to the unfamiliarly cold winter. The taxi man walked right past him to the hotel receptionist to ask who ordered the taxi. The receptionist started calling
different rooms to find out who had ordered the taxi. Meanwhile poor Mr Less’ protestations that it was
he who had ordered the taxi fell on deaf ears. It was only after all other attempts to locate the caller
failed that anyone actually paid attention to him.

More tales about one hundred and one attributes of Frenchship in the book French Attitude 101 by Brian C. Kelly.

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