09 April 2009

A question of scale

The St. Louis Post Dispatch is without doubt a local newspaper, but it doesn't qualify for the category the initial comment and my last blog post were about, which was "small town newspapers."

I got curious about how St. Louis would compare to French cities. The population of St. Louis is about 350,000. Only four French cities — Paris, Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulouse — are bigger.

Who can tell what kind of flowers these are?
All four pictures show the same kind of flower.

The population of the St. Louis metropolitan area is 2.8 million. The only zone urbaine larger than that is Paris. The Lyons, Marseilles, and Lille metro areas are not much more than half as populous as the St. Louis metro area, and all the other metro areas in France are a lot smaller than those.

The Tours metro area has a population of 375,000. I guess it would qualify as a small town by many measures. Seen from Saint-Aignan, it is a big city. The population of our whole département is is less than 350,000, and it covers 2500 sq. mi. St. Louis, with easily as many people, covers 62 sq. mi.

Of course, the St. Louis metro area, with 2.8 million people, covers about 8,500 sq. mi. and the population density is 125/sq. km. The Loir-et-Cher has a population density of 50/sq. km. The population density of the neighboring département, which includes the city of Tours, is 95/sq. km.

The population of Saint-Aignan is about 4,000. I imagine that the Saint-Aignan "metro area" — all the people who live within 10 km. of the center of town — might have a population 10,000, but I think nobody keeps those statistics.

And they are just statistics, but the fact is the scale of life is really different in France. It's a country of small towns with just a few fairly compact urban zones. And people have started leaving the cities to move back to the country, now that good communications (telephones and DSL) and easy means of transportation (the TGV and the autoroutes) make rural life less isolated and lonely.


  1. Well, let's hope that those new country dwellers join us in trying to maintain or improve public services in the land of no DSL, no mobile phone signal, no doctors or ER within 30 miles, reduced train services, no bus services except school buses, closing post offices and schools ...

    I love living in the country and wouldn't swap it for urban life, but there are downsides. Unfortunately the small percentage of the population without adequate access to the public services urban dwellers take for granted doesn't interest politicians!

  2. So we are nearly twice as densely populated as you! I would never have guessed it.

    Without looking up any references, I think the blossoms are probably apples of some sort, but I guess pears or quinces are a possibility too.

  3. Veronica, I don't know how I would survive in a place without DSL. Of course, we came here and moved in without even thinking about it. Luckily, we got DSL service less than 6 months after arriving.

    I almost never use the post office. They are threatening to close the one in our village. But then Saint-Aignan is only 3 km away and I can't imagine they will close that post office any time soon.

    You list a lot of cookbooks on your blog. Do you use any French cookbooks? I've always got my nose in the Larousse Gastronomique, or find myself consulting Monique Maine, Ginette Mathiot, Tante Marie, or Renée de Grossouvre.

    Susan, I think your part of Touraine is probably even more sparsely populated than our part, along the Cher river. Tours and its built-up area raises your department's population density figure by a lot, I'm sure.

  4. looks ike rhododendron to me

  5. Maybe they are what we call "Mountain Laurel" here in Alabama. They are in the rhododendron family, so I agree with Melinda...

  6. I didn't think the laurel leaves in the background of the first photo belonged to the flowers. The flowers appear to be on a deciduous plant, with new, slightly furry leaves coming. I still think it's a fruit tree of some sort, but IDing flora and fauna from photos is a hazardous business :-)

  7. Hey, cool that you chose to write about St. Louis :) I'm glad that you pulled in the info about the "metropolitan area", because "St. Louis" is now really a term that applies to the whole area around St. Louis (it's the suburbs of the city, but those suburbs are in St. Louis County, so the folks around here just call the suburbs "the county"). This, to me, is what the modern U.S. cities are like, now, except for the major ones-- NYC, Chicago, Boston (I don't know about LA). It seems like each of those major cities is still a thriving metropolis, with lots of business and lots of population living there, but in the rest of the states, most of the "major" cities are dying out, with businesses and population moving out to the surrounding suburbs. As a result, this really makes terms like en ville difficult for our U.S. students to comprehend, because they don't live in an environment where they go "into town" or "down town" to do shopping and go to work. They take a highway and go to the closest (stinkin') strip mall. I'd say that one of the things I like about France is that it seems to me that small towns still exist, instead of suburban sprawl and stip malls. (I guess we discussed this similar topic when you came home from NC, Ken.)

    Veronica, I'd go nuts without all of those "modern conveniences" (like hospitals, high-speed Internet, etc.)!


  8. I quite agree with Susan. They are the blossoms of some kind of fruit trees. For me it's hard to tell which ones without seeing the leaves and even more bark.
    As for the Mountain Laurel, its flower is quite different. The petals are not separate and the flower affects the shape of a pentagon with straight sides, which is not the case for the flowers pictured here. Consequently they are not any kind of rhododendron.
    The glossy leaves seen in the first photo are those of what I think is a "Laurier-tin" Viburnum tinus. Same as the one that makes Ken's and Walt's edge around their property.

  9. After a closer look, CHM I agree with you- it's a fruit tree of some sort. Maybe Ken will let us know what sort it is soon. Perhaps it's a pear tree...

  10. Evelyn, you are right, it's blossoms on a pear tree. Susan and CHM had pretty much figured it out too. And as CHM said, the leaves you can see in at least one of the pictures are on the bay laurel hedge around our yard. The tree is the little pear tree you can see from our front terrace.

  11. Ken, what a trickster! I thought you were asking a question. Come to find out it's a pop quiz! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

  12. Hi Ken

    Actually, I don't use many French cookbooks apart from a couple of cheap supermarket-shelf ones. Most French cookbooks seem a bit staid and predictable compared to British ones. I learned to cook French food from Elizabeth David, Beck, Bertholle, and Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), and Mireille Johnston (who is French but writes in English).

    I do follow French food blogs though! A few of my favourites:
    C'est moi qui l'ai fait
    La cuisine de Mercotte
    Menus Propos
    Very Easy...Kitchen
    La table de Lorette

    These are all in my blogroll. Then there's the amazing Marmiton.org, better than any cookbook!

    PS DSL wasn't even invented when we moved here, and unfortunately it turns out that we live in the only village in our pays that is too far from the exchange for DSL to work :( Population 270, so France Telecom are not interested, even though we pay the same phone bills as everyone else. Maybe it wouldn't be such a problem if we weren't in the web design business!

  13. Hi Veronica,

    I like marmiton.com also, and some other French cuisine web sites. I use the Larousse Gastronomique and a bunch of other old cookbooks that I have collected all the years, but more and more I use the Web.

    I also have Julia Child's books and several of Elizabeth David's. I like to look at Jacques Pépin's books too. But I think it would be too bad not to use some authentic French books too. Maybe I'm staid! Actually, nobody is more culinarily staid than Child and David.

    Are their other people in your village who would want DSL? Maybe you could have some kind of signal booster installed if there are enough of you to make it worth France Télécom's time. That's what people around here have done -- the ones who are too far from a telephone exchange, as you are.

  14. Believe me, Ken, we've tried everything :( Including being on a local working party dedicated to sorting out communications in rural areas. The Region has promised to cover all the zones blanches one way or another, but they've been promising that for 5 years now. Current suggested date is "sometime in 2010 if you're lucky", but by then the rest of the country will be on 20 MBits, and we'll be on 2 ...

  15. Hey, we are on 1 megabit service and I think it's great.

  16. Veronica

    Is France Télécom the only provider of telecomm sevices? Does your cable provider for TV signals offer other services for voice or data? May be this would be another avenue for High Speed Internet or access.

  17. The Beaver, I'd be surprised if Veronica has cable where she lives. There's no cable TV around Saint-Aignan. It's too rural. Satellite via a dish (une parabole) might be an option down there where Veronica is.

  18. Cable!! Hahahaha! No, definitely not an option :) There are competing telcos to FT now (e.g. SFR, Neuf) -- but they aren't interested in unprofitable clients either.

    Nope, satellite it is. 64K ISDN up, somewhere well below the theoretical 1 Mbit down, at a price probably triple what you pay for an 8 Mbit broadband package that includes free phonecalls.

    We are currently seriously investigating 2-way satellite, which used to be prohibitively expensive, but has come down to consumer-level prices recently, around 35 euros/month, hence less than we are paying now -- but the hardware you have to buy costs 400 euros.

    What gets me is that we do not live in the middle of nowhere! I spit with rage every time I see one of those FT ads showing someone surfing merrily on a laptop in the middle of a field :)


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