Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Charles de Gaulle and Off to the BMX Races

The newly-expanded Charles de Gaulle Airport must be among the most stunning in the world, the latest example of France's commitment to its public places.  It combiness clean lines and simplicity with soothing touches, such as the four vertical gardens hanging in Terminal M:  40 by 20 feet of ferns, hedges and waves of other plants.  A similar vertical array is echoed outside, in what must be the finest smoking section around.  There are high-art chaises for those who need a nap, colorful little cubes for kids to watch TV and pastries plus coffee for four pounds six.  It is a sumptuous place.
I arrived shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday as luxury shops were opening their doors for day, Prada bags back on display, $300 sun glasses opening their eyes again and Hermes scarves waving to the rich once more.  As the day got going the Africans stole the show with their gowns and great hairdos, followed by the Asian children.
The long flight to Bangalore, over Kirkuk, Tehran and Karachi, was made easier by French comedies and wine.  The Bangalore airport is equally modern and the landscaping, alongthe long boulevard in and out,reminded of those gardens at CDA and then began the bumpy ride through dark space into the city, weaving around an elevated freeway under construction.
It turns out Bangalore seems to be everywhere under construction, half constructed or half abandoned.  High-rises where colonial era buildings stood just a couple years ago; random piles of sand, gravel and stone slabs on roadways or sidewalks; giant billboards that would have driven Lady Bird mad; lovely old parks and huge shade trees holding out for a little peace and quiet.  Urban planning got lost on the way to Bangalore. 
My host and the ACCION chief here, of whom we will hear more later, Siddhartha Choudri, says the populaton has doubled in the seven years since he launched ACCION here.  The official population is 5.7 million but Sidd thinks it is eight.
 Virtually every high-tech company in the world has a presence here and a good portion of it is research, not call centers or backoffice work with an Indian accent.  Although India is said to be the largest democracy in the world it is also the largest socialist experiment in the world, much of which has not worked as the recent lights-out all over India demostrates.  Free market reforms launched almost 20 years seem to be of the no zoning, do what I want with my property, built-for-speed variety. 
And then there is the traffic.  I expected madness and I got.  The streets are a river of scooters, scooters with cabs here call rickshaws, bikes, buses and more buses (except the one you're waiting for).  It took me 10 minutes to dash across the first opening on a one-way street, using a covey of women to run interference for me.  I am reminded of BMX racing since drivers (but not their passengers) are required to wear helmets.  But you'd have to put 50 times more BMX racers on the course to even come close to a comparison. 
There is a thrill to be a part of all this and I find myself going with the flow, walking the streets as if the piles of garbage weren't there and resolving to think about all this later. 
Hopefully I'll be come back and populate this posting with photographs.  This is supposed to be an adventure with pictures and with movies but my loading skills are decidedly lacking.  Between the stalwart ACCION office and my assigned agency, Vindhya, I'm sure help is on the way. 

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