Thursday, August 31, 2023





The humble bicycle has been a part of life in France for decades. The expanses of gorgeous countryside and mountain regions have numerous bicycle trails that are enjoyed by residents and tourists alike, for exercise, day trips, and tours of the country.

The City of Lights or Paris has a large network of bicycle lanes, and new lanes are constantly being added in various districts of the capital. Designed specifically to allow people to get around Paris safely by bicycle, the lanes are marked out using white lines, signs and bicycle symbols. Paris has improved immeasurably for cyclists during the last 10 years. There are bike paths and bike signs all over the place and some areas – including almost the entire length of the Seine riverfront – are completely segregated from car. With a massive investment in cycling infrastructure, the city of Paris is set to become one of the top bicycle-friendly cities on the planet. I am told that bicycling development has something like budgetary allocation. The investment in bicycling has increased from 150 million to 250 million euros for the next five years. The government aims to build upon the current level of 1,000 km of bike lanes, 300 km of cycle tracks, and 52km of provisional tracks as well as more than 30,000 parking stands with 1,000 spaces reserved for cargo bikes and 40,000 new secure cycle parking spaces. Other highlights include 2,400 electric charging stations on the road and 6,000 underground, as well as 10 fast-charging hubs.

I came to know that in France, the government also organises bicycle-related events where one can see crowds cheering the participants. The Paris Tourism Office (29 rue de Rivoli, 4th) has free maps of the bike lanes. Their website offers some suggested scenic routes for visitors and cycling tips. The Vélib' Métropole bicycle service, introduced by the City of Paris, provides self-service mechanical (green) and electric (blue) bikes for the public to hire. During my stay in Paris, I learnt some French words connected with bicycling like velo means a bicycle, casque means a helmet, piste cyclable means a bike lane, anti vol means an anti-theft lock and panier means a basket.

According to the New York Times, around 1 million people are riding their bikes in Paris daily. For tourists, cycling offers a multitude of opportunities to discover the City of Light differently. Some of the routes frequented by tourists in Paris are:-

1 From Paris to Versailles

2 Paris and its canals, from Bastille to La Villette

3 Paris along the Seine

4 From Paris to the Marne River

5 From the Arc de Triomphe to the Père-Lachaise cemetery


I was also told about the Paris Respire Scheme started by the government. Under this scheme, certain roads are made automobile-free on Sundays and public holidays from 9 am to 5 pm allowing bicycles and pedestrians free movement. This has also helped in the reduction of pollution. The roads covered under this scheme include those by the River Seine, in the Marais, the Canal Saint Martin, and Montmartre as well as some others falling in busy localities.

In Paris, I saw people bicycling to London in groups. The students, tourists, artists, farmers, university professors, teachers, professionals, traders and anyone and almost everyone owns a bicycle. I saw happy tourists and many Parisians cycling with helmets on the bicycle tracks. A college teacher in Paris told me this:-

" I go for my cycling on Saturdays and Sundays. I love it. You are moving with people. Smiling, communicating and looking at everything around you with complete control over your speed and direction. You get a feel of the ground and area through which you move. Unlike a car or train that keeps you shut up inside. Joy and momentum are with you as you move. And then there are almost no expenses for this joy. There is no fuel cost to this happy ride. I'm fitter and healthier than I've ever been in my life – and I owe that to cycling. As I have improved over the years my training has taught me discipline and focus and I take this attitude into my day job and life. And listen to what is latest; cycling has some of the same effects as some anti-anxiety medications. As soon as you get on the saddle and start your ride, endorphins – which are your body's natural painkiller – are released in your brain."

Can we give the bicycle a similar push over here in India .

( Avtar Mota )


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Tuesday, August 29, 2023



              ( Sartre with Camus)
( Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir in Paris )            

         ( Sartre's funeral procession in 1980 )

Jean Paul Sartre ( 1905-1980 ) …. For Parisians , Sartre remains full of   contradictions yet profoundly  influential …

"Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does."Jean Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher, novelist, playwright, polemicist, political activist, the secular messiah of existentialism, the prototype of the "engaged" French intellectual, died 43 years ago . He created existentialism, a philosophy that could be lived . His treatises and novels sold in the millions; his plays were watched by crowds and his public lectures were mobbed. He rejected the Nobel Prize saying,“I have always declined official honours. A writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution”. He founded Libération, which was to become France’s most powerful left-wing newspaper, and Les Temps Modernes, for years its premier intellectual journal. He also wrote philosophical  essays , short stories ,biographies and screenplays .

 As an intellectual superstar and monstre sacré , Sartre has no equal in the English-speaking world. Even in France you would have to go back to Voltaire to find a figure of comparable stature. He was a philosopher who spent his life testing the limits of traditional thinking. “The fact that life is meaningless gives us the opportunity to give it a meaning. It is precisely because it doesn’t have a meaning in advance that we are justified in creating one.”This is accurately what he believed in. In a world with increasing anguish and despair, Sartre teaches us that we are in control of our lives, that we are allowed to build it the way we want with our own values. Our life is our own work of art.

In his book No Exit, Sartre illustrates the difficult coexistence of people, because we are unable to escape the watchful gaze of everyone around us, which alienates us and locks us in a particular kind of being, which in turn deprives us of our freedom.“ All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me . What? Only two of you ? I thought there were more; many more. So, this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is other people  !”

Some critics say that in creating existentialism he simply took the ideas of Heidegger and gave them sheen. Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ , they complain, is just Heidegger’s Being and Time. But this is not fair. It is certainly true that Sartre, who grew up in a bilingual household, owed a great debt to German thought. But the starting point for his philosophy, as he always insisted, was the Cartesian formula “I think, therefore I am.” Consciousness, the core of our being, is an emptiness or “negativity” that must fill out its nature through arbitrary choices—that is the idea behind Sartre’s celebrated aphorism “We are condemned to be free.” Despite the phenomenological complexities of his philosophy, Sartre managed to make it exciting. Even Posthumously ,Sartre churns out best-sellers . His war diaries and three volumes of letters to De Beauvoir were a critical and commercial success.

Sartre had some discreditable moments too. He broke with Albert Camus because the latter condemned totalitarianism. Sartre was envious of the idolized and good-looking French Algerian, the "street urchin from Algiers," as he later called him. He was silent on the Gulag (“ the Soviet labour camps”), and he excused the purges of Stalin and later Mao. When the defector Victor Kravchenko published’ I Chose Freedom’, the first inside account of the horrors of Stalinism, Sartre wrote a play implying that Kravchenko was a creation of the CIA. Viktor Andriyovych Kravchenko was a Ukrainian-born Soviet defector, known for writing the best-selling book ‘ Chose Freedom’, published in 1946 .

 In opposing the war in Vietnam, Sartre  urged the Soviet Union to take on the Americans, even at the risk of nuclear war. And in championing Algerian independence, he wrote (in his preface to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth) that for an African “to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time.” His support for Stalinism in the early 1950s, for Maoism in the 1970s, his defence of civilian massacres in Algeria and at the 1972 Munich Olympics, obscured the range, versatility and ambition of his writing. The profound thinker, who believed in the individual's duty to redefine constantly his own road to freedom, sold a Maoist newspaper on the streets of Paris in the 1970s that advocated the random assassination of policemen and bosses. The "war-hero", who was captured by the Germans while sending up weather balloons, became a "resistance hero", whose chief act of resistance was to write unpublished tracts and heavily coded plays. The man, who never did a day of physical labour in his life, stood on a box outside a Renault factory in 1971 lecturing car workers on the Maoist paradise that awaited them.

Sartre’s philosophy of freedom was found inconsistent with the Marxist doctrine of historical necessity. He tried to make the two cohere in his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960) but ended up drowning in a sea of verbiage. In any case, existentialism had drifted out of fashion by the 1960s. It was superseded by the structuralism of Levi-Strauss and Althusser, which said that man, far from being radically free, was just a locus of social and linguistic forces. Sartre  was criticized when he  visited the Red Brigade terrorist leader, Andreas Baader, during a hunger strike in a German prison, and then told reporters that  Baader’s actions were “necessary to achieve a new organization of the masses.” Sartre’s literary works, often the vehicle for his political ideas, have gradually turned out of fashion, with the notable exception of “The Words,” his autobiography. Inspite of all this ,Sartre continued to fascinate intellectuals outside France. According to Sorbonne professor Helene Vedrine, Japanese, African and Latin American students produce the majority of doctoral thesis on his work.

The best description of Sartre the man comes in Ronald Hayman's biography: "Sartre felt most at home in cafes and restaurants where he could annex space by dominating the conversation and exhaling smoke ... To reassure his mind that it had nothing to fear from sibling rivalry with his maltreated body he constantly ignored all messages (that his body) sent out . He resented the time he had to spend on washing, shaving, cleaning his teeth, taking a bath, excreting and he would economise by carrying on conversations through the bathroom door" (Sartre: a Biography, Carroll and Graf).

Sartre  was probably alcoholic . He and Simone de Beauvoir  were famous as a couple with independent lives, who met in cafés, where they wrote their books and saw their friends at separate tables, and were free to enjoy other relationships, but who maintained a kind of soul marriage. Sartre was always surrounded by women--his beloved "Beaver" ( Simone de Beauvoir), Arlette, Wanda, Alice, Sylvie, Liliane, Michele and Melina . 

Sartre was born with a form of congenital blindness called retinitis pigmentosa, which caused him to have poor eyesight for most of his life. During last years of his life ,Sartre had diabetes, abscessed teeth ,  hypertension, arteritis, uremia, and almost complete blindness. He lost control of his bladder and bowels. He  felt  sleepy, almost glum, with a fixed smile of universal kindness on his lips (a smile caused by a slight paralysis of the facial muscles.).  In his last years of life, Sartre’s physical condition deteriorated, rapidly not only because of his workaholism, but also because he was a notorious chain smoker. He died in 1980 from swelling of the lung. However, Simone de Beauvoir remained fiercely committed to her man, Jean Paul Sartre till his end. A wrenching scene the night he died shows her uncensored depth of feeling for him:

"At one point I asked to be left alone with Sartre, and I made as if to lie down beside him under the sheet. A nurse stopped me. 'No. Take care . . . the gangrene.' It was then that I understood the real nature of the bedsores. I lay on top of the sheet and I slept a little."


          ( inside Montparnasse cemetery 1)
          ( Inside Montparnasse cemetery 2)
   ( The tomb of Jean Paul Sartre ) 

 ( Avtar Mota dropping  Metro tickets at the tomb)

                            ( Sartre 's tomb )


                ( Avtar Mota at Cafe de Flore )

In Paris , I came to know that  Sartre was first  cremated and later the ashes were carried to  the Montparnasse cemetery for burial . Official estimates say that over 50,000 people took to the streets of Paris to follow his coffin and millions watched on television. In Paris , many  people  told me that  more than 50,000 were waiting at the cemetery while  a  crowd of about 60,000 walked with his funeral procession. No philosopher had ever had a bigger following. On the day of my visit to the  Montparnasse cemetery ,  Baudelaire’s and Sartre’s  final resting places were busy with visitors who  had brought flowers and bouquets . Sartre's grave is a modest affair with a simple white marble tomb, befitting a man who (so he claimed) hated monuments and cared nothing for his own legacy. Some visitors had thrown unused Metro tickets on his tomb. I could not understand the purpose behind throwing the tickets on his tomb. Perhaps Le Petit Homme ( Sartre was 5 feet tall) and Castor (Simone de Beauvoir ) might like to return to the Cafe de Flore to drink coffee, smoke Gauloises, discuss their many infidelities, mock their friends and ponder, from a new perspective, the difference between "Being and Nothingness".  On the grave, also the last resting place of Sartre's lifelong "companion" Simone de Beauvoir, there was an anonymous, scribbled note: " Both of you changed the meaning of existence “. On his death , The Los Angeles Times wrote this :-

“Historians had to go back more than 100 years, to the funeral of Victor Hugo, to find such a public outpouring of grief. About 200,000 mourners, great and small, flooded into Paris streets, marching in dignified silence behind the casket of Jean-Paul Sartre. Teen-agers wept, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s lifetime companion, fainted, and the zoom lenses and television cameras recorded it all for posterity.”

I saw 42 -Rue Bonaparte in St-Germain-des-Pres (Paris ) , Sartre’s modest apartment. Sartre moved in here when he was forty-one years old to live with his mother, following the death of her second husband Joseph Mancy. They  were joined by Eugénie, the mother’s longstanding faithful family maid, who insisted on referring to the now-famous adult Jean-Paul as she always had — by his childhood pet name of ‘Master Poulou’. I visited Café de Flore  where he  spent his time . I visited Sorbonne University with which Simone de Beauvoir was associated . Simone de Beauvoir was a student at this venerable institution in 1929 when she met Jean-Paul Sartre. It was here that she met Sartre and  studied for and passed the agrégation, the highly competitive national examinations in philosophy. True, France still has writers on philosophical questions who also march in demonstrations. (One of them, Luc Ferry, has even been made the nation’s minister for education.) But there will never again be a combination of totalizing theoretician, literary colossus, and political engagé like Sartre. Today’s French intellectuals look like puny technocrats by comparison. Despite the criticism, there is a consensus that Sartre is  irreplaceable. And Annie Cohen-Solal , noted French historian and writer says ,  “Intellectual debate doesn’t exist without Jean Paul Sartre.”


( Avtar Mota )


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Monday, August 28, 2023





"Agar fursat mile paanī kī tahreeroñ ko parr lenā ,

Har ik dariyā hazāroñ saal kā afsāna likhtā hai"…….( Bashir Badr)


( Should you get time,

then do read the scripts this water has penned,

Every river writes its saga of many thousand years) 



The third-longest river in France, the Seine emerges from the earth in a remote spot called Source-Seine, in the Burgundy wine region of northeastern France. It flows northwesterly, curving through Paris, to the Normandy coast, where it empties into the English Channel. It embodies the serene beauty that flows through the heart of France, capturing the nation’s history, culture, and natural allure. Cutting through the very heart of Paris, the Seine River has been a witness to significant events that shaped the nation. This beautiful waterway is an integral part of the city and its fascinating history. Many of the city’s most famous monuments and buildings, such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Place de la Concorde, sit right along its banks. Lined with traditional booksellers and bordered by beautiful boulevards, famous cafés, historic bridges and charming neighbourhoods, the river is an attraction in its own right. Walking along the banks of the Seine or taking a relaxing boat tour down its waters is an excellent way to get acquainted with the City of Light and its resplendent past. Through Roman conquerors, medieval kingdoms, emperors and revolutions, the Seine has remained at the heart of Paris. The River has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous civilizations and played a pivotal role in the establishment and expansion of the French nation-state. From the early Middle Ages, the river facilitated the growth of commerce and the exchange of ideas, contributing to the flourishing cultural and intellectual scene in the city.

 Over two thousand years ago a Celtic tribe established a fishing village on the Ile de la Cité, an island in the Seine where Notre Dame Cathedral now stands, and called it Parisii. The chosen location for Parisii was no accident. The Seine was an important trading route connecting the English Channel to modern-day Dijon, and Parisii’s location at the centre of this route proved thriving Over the centuries the small riverside village grew into a bustling trading post and by the 12th century, Paris had grown into the largest city in the western world.

The two banks of the Seine are referred to as La Rive Gauche (the Left Bank) and La Rive Droite (the Right Bank). Both banks have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1991 and they each offer their distinct flavour of the Parisian experience. The Left Bank has long been linked to writers, artists and café culture. The likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Matisse all once called the La Rive Gauche their home and today it’s the perfect place to get lost on foot and watch Parisian life pass by. Whereas the Left Bank has historically been associated with the arts, philosophy and other intellectual pursuits, the Right Bank of the Seine has always had stronger links with commerce and trade. La Rive Droite was traditionally the wealthier side of the Seine, though this is not entirely true in modern times. This side of the Seine also lays claim to many of Paris’ most notable attractions, including the Louvre Museum and Arc de Triomphe.

As one gazes down the banks of the River Seine, one finds quaint little green boxes that line a large portion of the banks. These are shops; they are very prestigious and sought after. You can’t just buy a store; it is not easy you have to have it handed down to you; from generation to generation. There are about 900 Little Green Boxes which run for about a 3km stretch along the riverbank, usually open from dusk until dawn. The Bouquinistes sell unique rare old books, journals, stamps, metal boxes, and trading cards. The tradition is still very much alive; however, they have moved with the times and have started stocking souvenirs for tourists. Browsing bouquinistes along either side of the Seine is a quintessential Parisian experience and they are a great source for unique souvenirs and gifts to take back with you after your trip. You need to have some expertise in bargaining at these shops as prices quoted are generally inflated. You can also go to Rue de Rivoli or Montmartre markets for more affordable souvenirs.


Bridges ( Pont means bridge in French )


In the city of Paris alone 32 bridges cross the river; the Pont Des Arts spanning over the river that has become quite popular amongst the tourists is Pont Des Arts. Mysterious Legends surround this bridge which is the Love Lock Theory. What is the love lock theory? you and your beloved; take a padlock and have your names engraved on it. Together you lock it to the bridge; throwing the key into the River Seine by doing this your love will be eternal. That is the Parisian tradition. The Love Lock Theory swept the world and you see it in many other places in Europe.Over a dozen bridges connect the Left and Right banks of the Seine as the river snakes its way through the heart of Paris. Each has its own unique history and striking features, but there are a few in particular that certainly stand out.


Pont Neuf: Connecting the Left and Right banks with the Ile de la Cité, Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge across the Seine. Built under the instruction of King Henry III, it opened in 1607 and is distinguished by its striking stone arches. 


Pont Alexandre III: Completed in 1900, Pont Alexandre III is considered by many as the most beautiful and extravagant bridge in Paris. The beaux-arts bridge is famous for its ornate lamps and gilded sculptures at each end. It was named after Tsar Alexander III to celebrate Franco-Russian relations.


Pont des Arts: Perhaps better known as the “Love-Lock Bridge,” Pont des Arts is a pedestrian pathway connecting the Left Bank to the Louvre Museum on the Right Bank. The locks were recently removed due to their enormous weight and have been replaced by art panels.


Leonardo da Vinci, the eminent artist and visionary of the Renaissance period, found himself captivated by the beauty and allure of the River Seine. It was reflected in many of his landscapes. The river’s meandering curves reflected light, and the tranquil atmosphere stirred Leonardo’s imagination, leading him to capture its essence through sketches, paintings, and scientific observations. Leonardo’s fascination with the Seine epitomizes its power to ignite the creative spirit and instil a sense of wonder in those who seek its embrace. In the late 19th century, the Seine River played a pivotal role in shaping the artistic movement known as Impressionism. The Impressionists, including notable figures such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Édouard Manet, found inspiration in the ever-changing qualities of light, colour, and atmosphere that the Seine offered. They sought to capture the fleeting moments of everyday life along the river’s banks, infusing their works with vibrant brushstrokes and a sense of immediacy. The Seine became both subject and muse, enabling the Impressionists to redefine artistic conventions and pave the way for modern art.


A night river cruise is more than a pleasurable journey through the past of the city. As you glide along the gentle currents, you’ll be treated to captivating vistas of architectural marvels like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. These breathtaking sights, accompanied by the soothing ambience of the river, create an atmosphere of tranquility and wonder. Taking a leisurely cruise along the river unveils the enchanting scenery of the UNESCO-listed banks and bridges, including the Pont Neuf and Pont Alexandre III. Several of the main stops on a Seine river cruise are ideal locations to visit several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Palace of Versailles, the Palace of Fontainebleu and Chartres Cathedral.




The artificial beaches on the banks of the Seine in central Paris and the Bassin de la Villette, a man-made lake in the northeast of the city, have been a roaring success since they were launched by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe in 2002. Every summer 20000 tons of sand is transported to create beaches with lovely palm trees for Parisians to sunbake and enjoy outdoor concerts. Floating on the river are restaurants and cafes. The river banks are a place of energy and serenity; one will notice sunbathers, joggers, and people riding bikes along the footpaths. During the Corona pandemic, movie-goers in Paris came in for a surprise as the Seine River was transformed into a floating theatre. The project was undertaken as a part of Paris Plages, a yearly transformation of the river into man-made beaches. As a part of the project, 38 electronic boats were organised for viewers for a free viewing of the 2018 French comedy "Le Grand Bain." Solving the question of social distancing, the six-seater boats were boarded by people who knew each other and the rest were seated on the deck. 


                                      ( Free viewing of the French comedy "Le Grand Bain." in boats )

The timeless beauty of the Seine River continues to inspire artists, writers, and dreamers from all walks of life. Its meandering waters, historic bridges, and iconic landmarks provide a rich tapestry of inspiration, evoking a sense of awe and wonder. The riverbank promenades erupt in a riot of al fresco spots to drink and dine with views of the water. The river was prominently filmed in many French and Hollywood movies like ‘The Lovers on the Bridge (1991’ ), ‘Ondine (2009’), ‘Cat and Mouse (1975)’, ‘120 Beats Per Minute (2017)’, ‘Galia (1966’), ‘All the Mornings of the World (1991)’, ‘Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (2010)’, ‘The Bourne Identity (2002)’, ‘Goodbye First Love (2011)’, ‘Rescue Dawn (2006)’, ‘Paris Champagne (1964)’, ‘Tourist (1980)’, ’ Lovers (1999)’, ‘Les clefs de bagnole (2003)’ and many more. The longest-standing bridge over the river Seine, the Pont Neuf (or New Bridge) transects the Île de la Cité and joins the 1st and 6th arrondissements. Its inbuilt stone benches are a popular spot for canoodling couples, and the views it offers down the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are breathtaking. The bridge’s romantic and architectural appeal is so great that it has been the silent star of numerous motion pictures over the years, with the seven below representing the best of the cinematic bunch. 


             ( Above ..The houseboats in Alfortville )

I couldn’t see any person swimming in the river in Paris. To my surprise, I found some families living in houseboats moored to the bank of the river at Alfortville, a town on the outskirts of Paris city. I also visited the confluence spot  where River Seine is joined by River Marne. At Alfortville , just at the outskirts of Paris city , River Marne joins   River Seine  creating a grand  confluence near the famous Chinese  Hotel named ,Huatian  Chinagora. In fact this hotel is located at the confluence  point.. The huge hotel  is a true floating pagoda, one of very few resorts of its kind in France that possess this surface area.  A magnificent view of the confluence can be had from the nearby bridge on Seine or the footbridge on River Marne. The Hotel Huatian Chinagora rooms and terraces also give a commanding view of the confluence .


I was informed more than 100 years ago, in 1926, swimming was banned in the Seine River due to pollution concerns. Authorities in Paris have embarked on an ambitious project to clean up the river completely to make it fit for holding the 2024 Olympic Games. Seine River will see three Olympic and Paralympic events, namely triathlon, marathon swimming and Para-triathlon. Officials say, "When people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they'll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine. It's our contribution for the future." People believe that three spots on the Seine River will be open for public bathing in summer 2025.


( Avtar Mota )


(In May 2023,  a grand  night  cruise was organised by Shailesh Mota and Jeanne Allard for us ( me and my wife ) . We were in the cruise boat for about 3 hours . The night spectacle of Eiffel Tower was really unforgettable and an amazing experience .)




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