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Paris: Biking to the Arc de Triomphe

    All Images: T. Brack's archives, Shoes by Herman Delman (Creator of "Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers" since 1919)

All Images: T. Brack’s archives, Shoes by Herman Delman (Creator of “Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers” since 1919)

Decauville Poster, early 1900s

Decauville Poster, early 1900s

By Theadora Brack

Celebrating the new bike lanes on the right bank in Paris, let’s take a sentimental journey!  Pop open a Coke, crank up Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” and prepare for some bumpy late 19th century time travel along avenue Foch. This centuries-old promenading stretch is my favorite spot for gazing up at the Arc de Triomphe. Each time I tumble flat.

Pump it up

Don’t forget les bicyclettes. Ladies, this includes you! By the 1890s, thanks to the introduction of the Starley Rover Safety Bicycle and its handsome pneumatic tires, “all Paris was a-wheel,” and women were not only pedal pushing in public but also “unblushingly” flaunting menswear or something “alarmingly” like it. Oh, la la.

So what to wear?  “The first costumes were mostly home-made affairs, designed by the riders and made up by work-women sworn to secrecy,” reported Scribner’s magazine in 1895. Exercising in public was brand-spanking-new then, see.

Possessing “real legs,” excitement about the bike craze and its newly-adopted garb quickly spread, and soon women were spotted biking all over Paris, wearing gaiters, straw caps, high-collared blouses with leg o’mutton sleeves and tight, tailored bodices, along with knickerbockers and short bloomers, adding “one charm more to the Bois de Boulogne!”

xx

Easy Rider, Pigalle Brocante Treasure

Bike Boom

During the Gay Nineties, you were in with the in-crowd if you were seen pedal-pushing the new status symbol. Thanks to mass production, it was also an affordable sport. Everyone was “mounting the steeds of steel and rubber” or learning how to ride. In sheltered bicycle rinks, lessons were available for 12 to 15 Francs. Two favorite rinks were located in the Bois de Boulogne and along the Champs Élysées. And like today’s Vélib’ Bike Program, bikes could be rented by the hour.

Freedom

Even photographers, artists, and writers got caught up in the frenzy. In fact, the bike makes more than one cameo in Émile Zola’s “Paris” novel (1898). Marie, his protagonist, sings the praises of bicycling by saying:

If I ever have a daughter, I shall put her on a bicycle just to teach her how to conduct herself in life. . .By wearing rationals [sensible clothing] women free their limbs from prison; then the facilities which cycling affords people for going out together tend to greater intercourse and equality between the sexes . . . In this lies the greatest advantage of all, one takes a bath of air and sunshine, one goes back to nature, to the earth, our common mother, from whom one derives fresh strength and gaiety of heart!  Just look how delightful this forest is.  And how healthy the breeze that inflates our lungs! Yes, it all purifies, calms, and encourages one.”

The Alluring Arc de Triomphe

The Alluring Arc de Triomphe

Get set! Go!

Now, let’s glide on over to the Arc de Triomph. FIRST one to reach the monument buys the vin chaud! As we make our way up the wide, park-like avenue Foch (formerly, the avenue du Bois de Boulogne), keep your eyes and ears open for Claude Debussy’s old digs at 23 Square l’avenue Foch.

Here the composer wrote, “There’s nothing more musical than a sunset!” I couldn’t agree more. Tip: The Arc de Triomphe at l’heure bleu makes a dandy of a backdrop for your Paris photo op. So plan accordingly!

Arc de Triomphe

Like a sympathetic angel in a Wim Wenders film, the Arc de Triomphe looks down on the city of Paris from her post on top of the hill of Chaillot. Located at the center of the heavily trafficked Place Charles de Gaulle, she is the key piece of L’Axe historique—a series of monuments that starts at the Sun King’s equestrian statue in the Musée du Louvre courtyard and ends in the outskirts of Paris at La Defense.

Flashback: Although the Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, she didn’t reach her full regal glory until the 1860s, when city planner Baron Haussmann made her an urban center of attention. At 165-feet-high and 150-feet-wide, she’s the second largest triumphal arch on earth (the only larger one is a slightly expanded replica in Pyongyang, North Korea). “The pile of stone for a pile of glory!” is how Victor Hugo described the Arc de Triomphe’s overpowering allure.

xx

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

L’aimant (the magnet)

Her domineering stature has also made her the perfect staging ground for pageants, parades, and demonstrations. Often called L’aimant, she’s attracted lovers, suicides and daredevils!

Winding it back: In 1919, French aviators were somehow left out of the planning for the WWI victory parade. They were quite sore about it, so they decided at an impromptu meeting at Fouquet’s bar on the Champs-Elysées to “repair the affront.”

Lieutenant Charles Godefroy was assigned to the task of rectifying the omission. On the 9th of August (three weeks after the parade), he flew his Nieuport biplane through the womb-like arch with the greatest of ease, after practicing with a wooden replica of the same size. It was a risk worth taking, as the aviators were never left out of any future celebrations!

In fact, nowadays the French Air Force provides the finale for the Défilé militaire du 14 juillet (The Bastille Day Military Parade) the oldest and largest military parade in the world, which has been held each year in Paris since 1880. If you’re in Paris at this time, don’t miss it.

Historical tidbit for the road: The fabulous Wright Brothers financed their flight experiments with the profits made in their bicycle shop during the 1890s Bike Boom! It paid off when they took off in 1903. Flight attendants, take your seats!

Clipping from Debussy again, “The century of airplanes deserves its own music!” So keep on biking and flying!

Avenue Foch and the Arc de Triomphe, 1907

Postcard, Avenue Foch and the Arc de Triomphe, 1907

Avenue Foch and the Arc de Triomphe, 1923

Avenue Foch and the Arc de Triomphe

Avenue Foch and the Arc de Triomphe

Bon Voyage! Carpe diem! (Cycles Jussy, 1908, Paris)

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85 thoughts on “Paris: Biking to the Arc de Triomphe

  1. AAHHHHHHH The Arc de Triomph! I so remember my first visit to the Grand Lady, I did not realize there were elevators and climbed to the top. To this day, I still do ………just because. You know the Tin Man’s birthday is on July 14th and a French theme is always part of the festivities. Once while dining at a lovely steak house that used a mixmash of china, I was served on a plate with the Arc de Triomph emblazened in a lovely flow blue………I stole the plate and have it to this day! So lovely a post my darling. Thank You!!!!!

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    • Tin Man, I also take the stairs!! It’s all about the journey, eh?! So you were born on the 14th of July?!! How fabulous is that? I am not surprised. Say, I loved your story about the “Arc de Triomphe” plate. I would have stashed it away in my pocketbook. I’m sure of it! What size? Do you still use it? Very funny!! Moving, too. T. (Happy Weekend!)

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      • Honey, it was not easy to get away with the plate……..it was a DINNER PLATE! Up under the shirt it went as I waddled out of the place……ha!

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      • Funny !! I’m laughing out loud as I type this. Perhaps, perhaps the “Dinner Plate” will make a cameo in a future Chef Emil post?! Oh, la LA !! T.

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  2. I so enjoy reading your narrative but I have to admit your photograph of the pointy shoes with the striped socks is brilliant. Nice to see you again! ~Theadora (who know goes by Time With Thea.. long story)

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    • Thanks, Thea! It’s been great fun to feature my shoes. It’s how I now justify making my bargain purchases!! Say, have you written a post about organizing shoes?! T. (By the way, I love the new “Time With Thea” name. What a great way to start the New Year!)

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      • No, I haven’t written one about how to organize shoes yet, but it is in the future plans. Thanks for the compliment on the new blog name. It was a bit of a risk for me taking my blog to a more personal level. But I have found out that your followers and visitors like to know the blogger. Having to change the blog name was unexpected and created a lot of adjustments that had to be made but I am quite happy with the change. It certainly is a lot less to type compared to the last one. Hope all is well, Thea

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  3. Those bold socks peeking through the shoes were hard to ignore! I just had to read the rest. Thanks. Love the topic and the discussion.

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    • Thanks!! You can’t go wrong with loud socks!! T. (I’ve got a mad, mad penchant for collecting both the shoes, tights, and socks. Especially the socks! Though, I’m now obsessed with 1890s boots. It’s my new mission. . .)

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  4. I think your socks are probably the most eye catching ones I have seen, you won’t get run over in these by a cyclist, they won’t be able to miss you which is just as well, as you wouldn’t want your gorgeous shoes ruined!

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  5. Time travel – I love the way you do this Theadora! so quirky and always entertaining. I wish I could go and follow these trails this very weekend! thank you. Philippa

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    • Ah, thanks, Philippa!! It was a fun post to create. The research was fascinating!! I’m still reading about the big Bike Boom during the 1890s. I’d like to find out the exact locations of the rinks. Perhaps a few foundations are still standing? Traces of the courageous movement must exist somewhere. Stay tuned!! T. (Enjoy the weekend!)

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  6. Gorgeous images! I’d never heard the phrase “mounting the horse of steel and rubber” but I suppose that’s exactly what bikes were to early adopters. It would’ve been such a sight to see the ladies in their knickerbockers and short bloomers along the avenue.

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    • Thank you, Susan! It would have been great fun to see the ladies and dandies in their “Naughty Nineties” sports garb. I love the “1907” postcard.

      Here’s how Scribner’s described the hustling, bustling scene: “The colors also are amazingly varied and it seems incredible that such color variety can be obtained by the use of brown, black and dark blue, the colors really allowed by fashion which harmonize well with the sandy gray of the roads and the green of the lawns and trees.” YES. I love this passage. It must have been quite a sight.

      Enjoy the day!
      T.

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  7. Well, after seeing your latest, I can tell you that THIS white-haired gent is now in the market for a bicycle built for two–though I might be more careful than the bloke on the poster regarding the billowing outfits of any would-be passengers getting caught in the spokes!

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    • You are funny. Thanks for the big giggle, Martino!! YES. Please ask your fellow pedal pushers to wear appropriate garb. And for the love of Isadora Duncan, just say NO to scarves!! T.

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  8. Wonderful as always T! I live the posters! I think I must’ve been a French woman riding bikes in Paris in another life because I can so relate! 🙂

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    • Say, thanks for helping spread the word about the Paris bike ride to the Arc. I really appreciate the nod! T. (I’m in the process of creating a post for runners. It’s also a great city for running!)

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    • YES. Brigitte, you must have been a French pedal pusher!! Freedom. Also, you’ve got the look. The Belle Époque would have adored you!! T. (Enjoy the weekend!!)

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    • Well, thank you!! I appreciate your swell words. I plan to cover the other historic and scenic promenades in the city, along with the fabulous arcades. So ground much to cover! Time for more shoes?! T.

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  9. Loving those socks, Mlle B.! (And the shoes are nothing to sneeze at, either!). Merci beaucoup for the wonderful history lesson…the Arc is one of the finest structures in the world! Love the ‘oldies’ images, too…still have a hard time believing how women were forced to dress so ‘heavily’; they must have truly suffered an awful lot ‘en ete’!?!

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    • YES. Biking was a true garb game changer. Bloomers were added. Skirts got shorter. Blouses replaced long coats and capes. Imagine! I’m now reading Zola’s “Paris.” Times were changing and clothes were shedding—at least until Paul Poiret introduced the dangerous “Hobble Skirt.” The New York Times wrote in 1910, “The Hobble is the latest freak in women’s fashions.”

      This is interesting! Some believe Monsieur Poiret was inspired by Mrs. Hart O. Berg, the first woman to ride in an airplane. Apparently, before boarding the plane, she tied a rope around her legs to keep her skirt in place! Oh, la la.

      Delman shoes are pretty great looking. I wonder if their grand showroom at Bergdorf Goodman still exists. It was pretty grand looking at one time.

      Enjoy the weekend!
      B.

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      • Funny…the lady and her ‘roped up’ skirt!!!

        I used to bike everywhere, but don’t even own a bike anymore…Chicago streets are ‘tres dangereux’…drivers, especially cabbies, seem to have no respect for those operating a vehilcle with only two wheels!

        Hope your weekend is going well, also! I really enjoyed this post, Mlle B.! I love reading your quips and how deftly you weave them into the history of the most romantic city in the world!

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      • YES. Biking in the most cities is very tricky. I used to bike in Baltimore from time to time. It’s pretty easy in Paris because the traffic is usually slow moving. And now there are bike lanes. Positive changes !! B. (Thanks for your nice words. Enjoy your Sunday !!)

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      • Bike lanes seems to be a great solution, Babs…it’s catching on here in the States, but not in Chicago proper. Evanston put in a ‘green bike lane’ between the curb and the parked cars…a biker can still be knocked about by an opening door! Not much intelligence in many of these overpaid ‘city officials, I fear!

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  10. Wonderful post, T! The images are delightful (including your socks). I’m really taken with the idea of sheltered bicycle rinks. And I love the aviator/ Arc story – it seems so typically Parisian.

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    • Merci, Richard!! I’m also now very interested in the sheltered bicycle rinks. Obsessed! I plan to track down the exact addresses. Perhaps traces from the past still exist? Fingers and toes are crossed. I’ll keep you posted. Enjoy the week!! T.

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  11. Thanks for another insightful and entertaining post Theadora – starting with the shoes and sox!! Great research and photos, so I look forward to more. We missed out on getting to the top of the Arc last visit, so as bike enthusiasts, maybe we can ride there when we come back next year – you come up with such interesting stuff – your posts are a tonic!

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    • Thank you for such sweet, sweet words!! Bubbly praise is always appreciated. Positive energy is contagious, eh? So Paris is on your 2014 travel list? That’s very cool!! You’ll love the new right bank bike paths. Crossing the Seine is about to get easier. During this year, I’ll create a few more bike posts for your trip. . . T. (Enjoy the week!)

      Do you have a favorite spot to pedal push in Paris?

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      • Nope, cycling In Paris will be a completely new experience, so will look forward to more bike posts!

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  12. Wonderfully entertaining as always, Theadora. You bring out the true spirit of Paris in all your articles. And I love the photos and old postcards. Brilliant!! Bless you, dear friend.

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    • Oh, thanks Lizzie!! Say, I plan to feature more Paris iconic darlings. I’m currently working on a post about Galeries Lafayette. The dome is fantasical. A trip to Paris is in your future, I’m sure of it. And your photographs will be stunning!! T.

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      • It is one of my dreams to live in Paris for a few months. Who knows? I really do believe that dreams come true. I look forward to learning more from your wonderful articles. Thank you, dear friend.

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  13. On a cold, icy day in Chicago-land, I love dreaming about being out and about on a bicycle. In the interest of full disclosure, my biking-riding husband actually is out riding! 🙂 As usual, I enjoyed my Paris outing with you and the fascinating look into history. I especially love the flight through the Arc, which I’d read about before but forgotten.

    janet

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    • Well, thanks pedal pushing with us. I’m beat!! So your husband biked yesterday in Chicago. I’m VERY impressed. I also love the story about Lieutenant Charles Godefroy. I’m trying to dig up a photograph of the super hero. I plan to return to the area soon and shoot infamous Fouquet’s bar, along with the Arc de Triomphe’s steps. Enjoy the week! And stay warm! T. (Is the French Market still in business? I guess I’m thinking of the one located in the train station. I love the mural of the Eiffel Tower.)

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      • I haven’t been to the downtown Chicago market yet (it’s a long train ride or drive away), but Naperville has a farmer’s market, but only in summer, as does Wheaton. I’ll miss the wonderful farmer’s market in Cleveland when I move as they only take off a few Saturdays between seasons and go indoors in the winter: http://www.northunionfarmersmarket.org/. Donita, who got it all going, has done a marvelous job and there are markets all over the greater Cleveland area.

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  14. You had me with the stripped stockings in the sedate shoes , Theadora. Then you took me on a glorious ride on wheels through Paris. There is something wonderfully romantic about bicycles – even when they no longer function. I painted an old bike I found at a Thrift Shop white, then all summer long covered it with flowers. It stands at my front door promising excitement and adventure. V

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    • MERCI. Virginia, I love your “bike rescue” project. Lucy bike. Basket? Bell? Color? Have you created a post about it? Is there a link? Ah, what a wonderful idea. Is Oscar the rabbit a pedal pusher? T. (I found the Delman shoes in a vintage clothing shop. They’re in great shape. And budget friendly, of course!)

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    • YES. For the love of Spring Cleaning at the beginning of the New Year, I added a few more headers. Thanks for noticing ! T. (I took the “twilight” shot at a friend’s house. He lives on the top floor, in a former maid’s chamber. Cute place with view !)

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  15. Great post Theadora! Just got a new bike with basket to ride to the market on Broadway and weekend Farmers market in Inwood. I will be dreaming about Paris on my next ride. All the best

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    • Well, thank you, Gregory! It’s so very nice to hear from you, Sir. How is biking in the city? Broadway and Inwood? How are the markets? I’m green with jealousy. That’s quite a ride! And a hill, eh? Stay warm! T. (Big hugs!)

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  16. Well, I may very well be the one buying the vino fresquito, takes me forever to comment. I know, I know.

    You’ve done it again, a dulcid post effortlessly mixing vintage imagery, fashion history & useful–yet typically unheard of–tourism tips! Qué maravilla! Your shot of Avenue Foch was perfect; that POV was the frame-of-reference I needed. (So much nicer than google-earthing it!

    Love the quote about teaching your daughter to ride a bike when she turns 10! (My training wheels stayed on a bit longer than the average kid.)

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    • You’re on time!! I changed the text from “last” to “first.” So I guess I’m buying! And I should. Thanks for your swell words. I appreciate it! I thoroughly enjoyed the research, of course. It’s high time for a Marie Antoinette post, I do believe. Cooking up something, now! T. (Say, have you seen the “The Great Gatsby” trailer? Gorgeous headpieces!)

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      • High time for an m@ post indeed! (Wait…were you talking about me or you? Either way, I’m due.)

        I haven’t seen the “Gatsby” trailer yet…do you think it will be better than the Robert Redford one? I’m not sure I buy Leo DiCaps as Gatsby but after I read a book I always have a fixed character image in my head…I try not to read the book before the movie anymore, if I can help it.

        Vis-a-vis the vin, let’s say when I finally haul my cookies over to Paris, we’ll both buy. One can buy before we hit those gift shops, one can buy after. We’ll shop on bicycles of course!

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  17. How fun! I love the vintage pictures…they really take me back. Fortunately, though, they don’t take me back on a bike! (Too much work! I prefer the Autolib’ 🙂 )

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    • Thanks, Paul! YES. The Autolib’ is pretty darn cool. And affordable, too. I dig their kiosks! T. (Say, I think I solved your “Wednesday Where Is It” pop quiz!)

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      • You did! I’ll post your correct answer next Wednesday along with the other answers and…your coveted Chupa Chups badge! 🙂

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    • Merci, Tuttacronaca !! You are a doll. Thanks for the swell shout-out. And congratulations to you !! As you know, the feeling is mutual. I love your work. And yes, it is inspiring. Enjoy the week ! T.

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  18. Pingback: Vintage Miscellany – February 3, 2013 | The Vintage Traveler

    • OH. YES. I’m hooked on the art of the postcard. By the way, I’m working on a post about Henri IV and I just scored gorgeous postcards at the flea market. What a handsome devil! So stay tuned! T. (Enjoy the weekend!)

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  19. Nicely done. I haven’t been to Paris since the mid – ’90’s. It was the last time I visited the Arc. While partial to Italy I grudgingly admit that Paris is the world’s most beautiful city.

    Regards

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    • Well, thank you! It was a fun post to research. I agree. The Arc is a beauty. Did you stroll up and down the Champs-Élysées? France. Italy. Smitten. Both are gorgeous. I’m currently planning a trip to Italy.
      Cheers!
      Theadora

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  20. I was so surprised that avenue Foch was for pedestrians in 1907 ! One century after, the city wants to do it and everyone is against…. People forgot their own history so sad ! Thanks for the article !

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    • Yes, Avenue Foch was with popular with the stylish promenaders and bicyclists, too. Positive news: The city has been adding more bike lanes, along with widening sidewalks. A great idea! T.

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      • Yes but that’s more complicate than that ! People in this area are so wealthy they can decide for others. I hope I’ll come back because after all, life is a circle !

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