Mirambeau, Le Coeur de la Nouvelle Provence
[Mirambeau, the Heart of Nouvelle Provence]
Above: Clickable map of Mirambeau
Mirambeau is easily the biggest city in Nouvelle Provence, dwarfing its rivals and forming the core and beating heart of the colony. It is the seat of government, the economy and transport and the major concentration of population in the whole Département. This situation is remarkably similar to that of Paris on Earth, where the capital is a dominant force, drawing to itself people, resources and importance. Indeed the two great cities are often compared, often with wildly different conclusions! Mirambeau is by no means as ‘established’ as Paris. It is vastly younger and has had less time to develop character, architecture and culture than its giant cousin. However, like Paris it has achieved a massive preponderance of local importance. It has the bulk of the theatres, galleries, great restaurants, financial services, and so on, ad infinitum. The rest of the colony revolves around Mirambeau, much as European France does Paris. Certainly each region is unique and important in its own way, but every one is dependent upon the metropolis for its government, prosperity and cultural leadership.
Also, like Paris, Mirambeau is a city of often startling contrasts. It contains the richest regions of the colony, with the greatest concentrations of wealth in Nouvelle Provence. It also contains shocking slums, areas where the promise of the new world has been tragically unfulfilled. It was supposed to be impossible to live in poor conditions on Tirane, the colonisation programme promised decent homes for all. However, over the years this has gradually broken down, and the results are most shockingly apparent here in the heart of the colony. Contrast extends to include every aspect of the city. There are amazing varieties of architecture, road planning, etc, etc. All human life is here, as someone once remarked about that other great city – London. This is just as true of Mirambeau.
The city itself sprawls across an area that can essentially be described as the Chari-Saasandra delta. This is a complex region and the city has grown large enough to escape out of the vast valley-system onto the uplands and hinterland. However, it is still focused on the river system and this perhaps provides the definitive core of the city. Originally the planners sited the modern Centre Ville on one of the large islands that form the delta (the delta is not a series of mud-flats, it is merely a division of the river course as it nears the sea). This island was christened Isle de la Cité (after the famous Parisian island). Thus the capital was based at the juncture of the river and the sea. It was founded as a nexus of communication, both internal and seaborne, a role it has retained. It was also founded as the colony’s main port, another role it retains, aided by the wonderful natural harbours afforded by the natural layout of the river-delta.
Needless to say expansion was rapid, initially moving west into Villeneuve. This expansion stopped as the swampy lowland of the Chott (a flood plain area sandwiched between the two rivers and a series of uplands) was considered expensive to drain and undesirable real estate anyway. So the city turned east and grew into the modern Petit Toulon area. All the while the basic infrastructure grew rapidly too, with new ports, maglevs, etc installed. Growth then continued, essentially in all directions, with little control. The one area that is worth noting though is the Chott. It soon became obvious that despite the cost the Chott would have to be drained. It was a reservoir of disease within the city and was a barrier to efficient growth and transport. Therefore, the decision was made to clear it and the project went ahead.
The work was arduous, but modern technology helped and the job was finished remarkably quickly. Still, though the Chott was not an area many wanted to inhabit. It was low-lying and the soil was marshy, leaving a legacy of trouble with subsidence, localised flooding and general difficulties in building and maintenance. Secondly it was still home to numerous annoying insects and other pestilential wildlife, less of a problem now but nonetheless an annoyance (especially once it transpired that they could often adapt to urban life). Finally it was a region of poor airflow, stagnant and cloying, which also served to catch the heat in summer. Its position meant it would also trap pollution, fumes and odours. In short it was an unpleasant area and not one many would chose. The city council initially favoured leaving it as a huge park or a low density industrial zone. However, it was soon pointed out that the area was ideal to solve a problem of the time, low availability of cheap labour in the city centre. Few poor people lived within reach of the centre, and as a consequence there was a shortfall of cleaners, shop assistants, janitors and other menial workers. Clearly the Chott was an area that would never develop into a gentrified, pleasant suburb, so any housing placed there would ensure a perpetual supply of low status workers. Thus Brazza was born. Brazza quickly ran out of control as it became a popular spot for incoming immigrants, poor people seeking city work, criminals, etc. It has become a horrible blight on the city, but also an unpleasant necessity. The dark heart of Mirambeau that guarantees the supply of cleaners for city offices.
So, this in a nutshell is the history of Mirambeau. It has now grown to spread roughly 40 kilometres in every direction. It is a truly vast metropolis, encompassing approximately 22,000,000 people, in a wide range of accommodation, ranging from jerry-built tenements to high-class detached housing. Its area takes in both high-density built-up zones and surprisingly central belts of well-appointed housing with plenty of land attached. There are parks, sports teams galore, museums, galleries, shopping of unparalleled quality, universities, squats, huge markets, ports, massive maglev termini, impressive bridges, etc, etc. In short this is the very hub of Nouvelle Provence, even of Tirane, and the largest city outside of Earth. It is an absolute must for any tourist.
As one approaches Ste. Jeanne Aerospace Port on the western margins of Mirambeau, one is treated to a wonderful panorama. From this lofty location high on the western massif it is possible to see right across the entire metropolitan area as it sprawls out before you. As one surveys the geographic spread of the city it is possible to make out the nearby uplands, the great basin of Brazza, the islands of the delta, and the plains and hills of the eastern bank. Much of this land is cluttered with high-rise development, especially in the poorer areas, elsewhere you can see parks, forests, industrial zones and all the other disparate sections of this mighty conurbation. Perhaps you can just about make out the more sedate city centre, with its broad boulevards, or the massive hulks of some of the many sporting venues, or the beautiful seaside residences of the rich, or the docks. However hard one tries it is impossible to take it all in.
Mirambeau is a vast place, in every sense. It is a place with absolutely everything. In order to begin to describe this diversity it is useful to break the city up into constituents. The locals have done this, and the divisions are now accepted and promulgated by the local government. Mirambeau is universally held to consist of six main regions, roughly organised along geographical lines. They are, from oldest to newest, Centre Ville, Villeneuve, Toulon, Quartier Catalan, Brazza and Chari.
CENTRE VILLE: Centre Ville is the very heart of Mirambeau, the original planned area of the city. It covers five large islands in the delta area as well as several tiny ones, almost all privately owned. The main island is Isle de la Cité, the expected extent of the city when first planned. It is now entirely full of buildings, parks and other facilities. So crowded is it that numerous houseboats also jostle in any safe anchorages around its shores. This is the heart of Mirambeau, where administration, shopping and commerce combine to provide the engine driving this huge metropolis. The island itself is divided into three broad sections. In the north is Quai Louis XIV, normally just Quai Louis. This is the least exclusive area, where there are more houses and less commerce. It is notoriously the home of whole swathes of the city’s middle management, as well as middle classes of all sorts. Gradually, however, the growth of the commercial sector is forcing up demand for housing on the island and the area is becoming increasingly gentrified.
Centre is exactly what is says it is, the heart of the city. It is a broad horizontal band across the middle of the island, containing the bulk of the administration, finance, corporate HQs and other economic and governmental powerhouses. It is not an exciting area for the tourist, but vital to the city and the colony. Housing here is exclusively of the penthouse variety in vastly expensive apartment blocks.
The southern part of the island is known as Beaux Arts and is essentially the small plateau at the end of the Isle and the flat plain south of this. This area is the shopping and cultural heartland. Here one will find a bohemian atmosphere, rather like the Left Bank in Paris. There are huge shopping precincts in the north, and the south is devoted to smaller interest shops, cafes, small venues, etc. Housing is more reasonable and many intelligentsia aspire to live here. This also means it has a more realistic social mix, and provides a reservoir of supervisors, shop managers and so on for the island as a whole. This region is the most frequented by tourists as it is the cultural heartland of museums, restaurants and the like, so it has many hotels from the outrageously expensive to the reasonable.
Besides Isle de la Cité, the other major part of Centre Ville is the Isle de Napoleon. This large island is directly south of the Isle de la Cité and is a different proposition. Northern parts of this island are expensive and exclusive zones for the rich. The island was originally developed to provide exclusive suburbs for these people. There are large homes and exclusive blocks of flats dotted amidst trees and expensive shops and bistros. This region is relaxed and pleasant. As one travels south the island becomes more heavily urbanised. Increasingly the housing becomes tenements, crowded together with little open space. The southern areas are quite poor, although not a slum. The contrast with the north is stark. Indeed the island is often unofficially spoken of as two parts, Nord and Sud (unimaginatively).
The rest of Centre Ville consists of three further islands, between which there is a severe contrast. The small island between the Isle Militaire and Impfondo is known as Charles (short for Charles de Gaulle, a popular Tiranais choice of name). It is a truly exclusive place. Unreachable by land it is inhabited by very rich types such as rock stars, corporate chiefs and the like. The island is shaped like a gently rising dome, allowing houses to be studded into its face like jewels. The island was long ago divided into a few hundred plots, each with plenty of land for a large house and decent grounds. Now these houses are visible from afar as beacons of power and privilege. Non-inhabitants are banned from even setting foot here, a policy enforced by strict security. There are only a few landing points, all heavily patrolled, and there is a single heliport, right atop the island which is likewise banned to non-residents. Besides there is little point in coming here except to gawp at the conspicuous consumption to be seen here. There is but one non-residential building, a club open to all inhabitants, which is of course expensive, exclusive and of very high quality. You will only go there if you are invited, but many aerial tours will cover this island just so you can watch the gliteratti depart for work in their private helicopters.
The middle island is utterly different. This is the Isle de Détention, complete with Nouvelle Provence’s first maximum security jail, the Centre de Détention de Département, or colloquially, the Bastille. When the city was first planned this was an isolated island, well away from the population, but allowing the government to keep any important prisoners closely under its watch. Of course, it has since been utterly surrounded by city, but it still retains this function. The island is a large one and the prison is extremely secure. It has multiple walls, fences, etc to keep out the unwelcome, together with its own ultra-secure docking facilities. This is on the north-east coast. Tourists may visit, but only by buying tickets at the Musée de Détention across the straits at Impfondo. All around the prison is a cleared free-fire zone 250 metres wide to further deter escape. However, beyond this in the south and west of the island are further government facilities. The entire island has remained in municipal ownership, despite generous offers and pressure. The government has done little with it, but is now putting in place new administrative facilities to ease the burden on Centre. The central offices of the Provençal detention services are already here as well as customs offices and a large harbour police boatyard. The island looks set to lose its backwater image and become another bustling piece in the Mirambeau puzzle.
Finally there is the sausage shaped island of Daba, again a different area altogether. Daba is something of a backwater, divorced from the ultra-fast communications of the rest of the city, the residents are at a huge disadvantage in the rat-race. However, it is a haven for those who do not want to work the commuter lifestyle, or for those who have a more sedate line of work. As a consequence there are all manner of craftsmen, writers, etc here. Daba is known for its slower pace of life, without the access to the transport net. It is not massively built up, for the same reasons, and is quite a comfortable place to visit. Two main sorts of people live here, those with crafts that are personal and require time and those who deal via electronic communications. Alongside potters, artists and authors, one will find software houses, banks and investment houses. The whole tend to come and go by boat, or airship, this is one of the last parts of the city to still rely on ferries to move people (although in keeping with Mirambeau as a whole these are 24 hour and very frequent). As a sort of introverted community the island provides much of its own entertainment with troupes of actors, poetry readings, etc. This has become a secondary source of income as mainlanders come over to see these displays. Daba is a strange place on a summer’s evening, comparatively quiet compared to the bright lights and high rise blocks of the rest of the city. It is interesting just to sit on the shore and observe the bustle of the nearby islands of Impfondo and Napoleon.
Those are the major areas of Centre Ville, but the region also takes in several other important parts of the city. The first is the bulk of les Isles Privés, the Private Islands. There a several dozen small islands dotting the delta region, all of which have been bought up either by individuals, government bureaux or companies. Some are now exclusive homes, perched in their private worlds (and heavily guarded to avoid trouble), others are corporate HQs and these are often delved deep into the rock beneath in wonderful grottoes, or perhaps they are harbour police bases. There are some wonderful gems here, for example a gallery dedicated to the local artist Winston West, a number of exclusive or just innovative clubs and at least one naturist club! I would advise the prospective visitor to carefully look into these specks as they might find an inspiring idea.
The Rade and indeed the other waterways are extremely busy all the time, with commercial traffic, personal traffic and general bustle. Indeed boats are considerably more common than cars in Mirambeau and water taxis are very common indeed, so transport by water is not a problem. The police have to be available to watch for pirates (yes, pirates!) who operate out of hidden bases on the docks, smugglers who try to sneak in from offshore and all manner of other criminals. This river traffic forms the second extra part of Centre Ville. There are large numbers of people who worked out long ago that houseboats are very cheap once built. They began to inhabit the shorelines soon after the city began. Now river living is common, from the run-down barge crammed full of recent immigrants to the exclusive floating palace. This is a whole new dimension to the city which few outsiders see. Only when one gazes out across the Rade and sees clusters of houseboats moored together, lights blazing, does one realise that several thousand people live this way. The sheltered waterways allow for this and the size of them allows commercial freight traffic to coexist at an acceptable safety level. Houseboats are used for myriad purposes, not just as cheap housing. They make excellent cheap hostels, they are often used as criminal safe houses, brothels, drug dens and all manner of illicit uses. The cultural diversity of Nouvelle Provence means that the river traffic is colourful, cosmopolitan and exciting. So be prepared to see extensive boating traffic alongside the monorails and trams, and if you are adventurous why not take a sail out and see the wonderful spectacle for yourself, perhaps stopping off for a drink in a floating Chai Kana.
VILLENEUVE: Once the Isle de la Cité began to fill to its limits the city planners began to contemplate something they had not considered a possibility when the city began, namely expanding onto the mainland. Sure the islands of Napoleon and Impfondo provided some room, but the rate of expansion demanded more action. Therefore, the planners marked out the zones west of the Isle where the city bridges already connected to the mainland. This was to become Villeneuve (New Town).
The new settlements started out clustered around the bridges, hemmed in by the large, wooded massif that looms to the west of the Isle. This hilly region was not impossible to develop, as it is a series of plateaux and gentle slopes, rather than sharp contours. Soon population pressures and the obvious savings in expanding the existing transport net rather than building anew saw the planners permit development of the massif. This has never stopped and Villeneuve has since sprawled out across the uplands to form a great new urban zone.
In character Villeneuve is extremely diverse. The central regions of Villeneuve and Cayenne are often referred to as la Petite Cité, since they are like a miniature city centre in themselves. There are major zones of commerce, extensive facilities and high-density housing. These areas look much like an extension of the Centre across its bridges, albeit more sedate and less compact. This area is prosperous and has an air of dynamism, containing as it does the northern parts of Le Creuset.
This atmosphere is not shared by the other four main sections. Along the north coast are the bucolic suburbs of Apsretto and Mbour. These areas are sedate to the extent of being character-less, kilometre after kilometre of well-spaced housing with local shopping parks and excellent links into the city. This is middle-class suburbia par excellence and the attractions are few and far between. However, it is fair to say that it is a good place to live, with little need for the security so prevalent in similar Earth areas. Belts of parks and woods separate the area from the concentrated housing further up the massif.
Atop the massif is a region known variously as Bidonville (African slang for a shanty town), les Banlieux (French for suburbs), etc. It is made up of the outlying parts of Pantin, Sidi Bel Abbas and Shabunda. Here the city has one of its main industrial zones. Unsurprisingly the housing is cheaper than elsewhere and contains much municipal housing. The area is not a slum, nor is it particularly dangerous, it is a salt-of-the-earth working-class zone. It is perceived as peripheral neglected and over-looked, all of which is true and the locals are often characterised as a sullen breed with chips on their shoulders. Still the council often moves surplus population here and it is not the sinkhole it is often characterised as, merely an area of lower income and less privilege.
Immediately south of this area is a further peripheral zone. As the massif swings away to the west, opening up the depression that is Brazza the suburbs become thin settlements, clinging to their hills as if they fear sliding into the morass below. They shield themselves with trees and parks, and bizarrely the regions of southern Sidi Bel Abbas, Shabunda and Montblanc are pleasant areas. There is none of the industry mixed in with housing as found further north. Here there are jobs as many firms have relocated to the outskirts to take advantage of cheap rent. The region is like a series of small peripheral towns clustered along the ridge of the massif. It is pleasant and increasingly popular. The proximity of Brazza is not at all obvious, it might as well be a world away.
Finally the ‘border’ zone with Brazza. This comprises the southern sectors of N’Guette-Ville and Petit Dakar, together with the Villeneuve parts of the Quartier Senegalais. This area is a strange one. It is a mixture of lovely middle-class estates, run-down rented housing and commerce. The main feature is the extensive Champs Guianaises that divides the Villeneuve region from Brazza. Above this is this interesting mix. Here the bulk of Le Creuset runs along the riverfront sectors and also a sizeable proportion of the city’s students live. It is these students who cause the run-down rented bedsit lands, but also mean that these areas can be run-down and yet not cause trouble for neighbouring middle-class residents. They are closely mixed in, as the better-off do not fear students in the same way they would the residents of Brazza. In fact the mixture leads to a quite cosmopolitan area, which also houses many immigrant communities. There are shopping areas and a more urban feel than many other regions of Villenueve. Clubs and bars also exist to service the students (or at least those too lazy to travel into the city, or le Creuset).
TOULON: Toulon is always talked of as a dockland zone, as if were characterised by fishy smells, sailor’s taverns with lobster pots on the walls and old women mending nets on their porches. It is this, but it is far more. The region is a large one, the single biggest in the city and takes in not just the docks but also the widely varying urban sprawl behind. However, any discussion really must begin with the famous port. The docks lie along the east coast of the Rade de Mirambeau in the Petit Toulon and Brindisi areas. The entire shore here is taken up with the activities of the sea, warehouses, dry-docks, transport heads, docks, sailors’ exchanges, shore-leave billets and so on. The quayside jostles with vessels and the activity is tremendous. Mirambeau is the major port for Provençal sea trade, a trade that is the major form of bulk transport on the planet. Ships can still shift goods far more efficiently than any other method. Huge container vessels can enter and leave the natural harbour and it is a sheltered anchorage. For a few blocks inland the housing is entirely given over to dockworkers. This is indeed the largest port many people will ever see and an exciting area for those of a nautical bent.
Brindisi continues around the Etang d’Italie and onto the north coast. Here it is primarily a fishing port, much more sedate and less compact than the inland harbour. The housing here is spread thinner and interspersed with fish packing plants, freezing plants and the like. The main shipbuilding yards of Mirambeau, employing hundreds of locals are also clustered along the north side of the Etang. Further along the coast one comes increasingly into middle-class commuter belts. The housing becomes more spaced, less dense and with more parks and small local centres. These are the suburbs of La Côte and St. Martin. Neither of these are exclusive, however, as they are just too large. They are mixed with poorer areas and are quite diverse. The further east one goes, though, the more exclusive it becomes. The further parts of St. Martin, around Sebta, are very wealthy and serve as the semi-rural homes of the great and good.
The remaining large areas of Gaoua, LeFevre and Koundara are a typically mixed urban region. All three have examples of all different sorts of conditions. A general pattern is that the lowest lying land is poor and the higher areas are wealthy. This is simply a reflection of the fact that local insects tend to prefer the hollows and dips, so these parts of the city are less desirable residences. This area would swallow many large cities from other regions and countries and it is a vast sprawling metropolis on its own. Everything one requires can be found here, whether food, entertainment, employment, or whatever. I was born in Gaoua and I have always felt a personal kinship for this area. It lacks the astounding facilities and sites of the western city, but it is a wonderful place to live. As a tourist I would be tempted to stay in the reasonably priced hotels along the eastern fringes, in the forested hills. This is a beautiful setting and has excellent access to the transport net, so you could reach your central destinations within minutes.
QUARTIER CATALAN: Like Toulon, the Quartier Catalan is a complex area. It also contains, if anything, more diversity and is regarded as even more peripheral and overlooked. However, the waterfront regions of Mourdiah, Impfondo and Poitiers are most certainly not. The detached island of Impfondo is a decent, almost suburban area. Housing here is a bit crowded, but is usually of good quality flats, most blocks separated by a few metres and surrounded with communal gardens. There are shops, bars, clubs and so on, but the proximity of Centre means these tend to be of local character. The island is usually regarded as a pleasant and comfortable enclave, primarily a commuter haunt, although with some service industries sited here. One common local employer is the ubiquitous mail-order catalogue house. In such a large colony there is a call for goods to be available for despatch that cannot be bought in the localities. To answer this several catalogues operate out of Mirambeau and other cities. They are usually warehouses with a staff of operators, managers and others. There is a large cluster of these around the southern bridge.
Both Mourdiah and Poitiers are large areas, extending inland as well as being waterfront locales. Both also have a belt of decent housing along the banks of the Sassandra. This part of the city is unsuitable for docks as the shoreline is quite rough, with broken terrain, small cliffs and generally unusable real estate. This terrain is ideal for medium and low density housing, which is the norm. Estates of small apartment blocks nestle on the clifftops, while the urbanised areas are broken up by parks in regions too rough to build on. This is a popular residence for the comfortable commuter, although there is rich accommodation here too, in the form of exclusive estates. Seen from the shores of the islands this part of the city is a green and pleasing vista compared to the urban jungles on the other shorelines.
Once one delves inland, however, there are immediate differences. The rest of the Quartier is a jumble of industry, commerce, poor housing and decent housing. As in Toulon the better areas tend to be in the rises, with the poorer swathes in the valley bottoms. However, in Quartier there are larger areas of deprivation as there is more industry. In keeping with other cities the well-off do not relish the prospect of living near factories and so the poor cluster there. So the large plateau in the south of the region, a horseshoe shaped rise looming out of the St. marc, Camargue and Adzopé districts, is actually within the poorer section. As a general rule the south-west, in the St. Marc and Camargue area is the poorest, although the notorious hell-hole and APT stronghold of St. Thierry is in the western side of Adzopé. The zone around the Rade de l’Intérieur is especially industrialised and has a really large proportion of high-density poor housing. Often during construction here areas were cleared and towerblocks were thrown up with no landscaping or facilities. This has left a legacy of urban wasteland with large areas devoid of plants and studded with unpleasant tenements. These are the worst working class districts of the city and an area well worth avoiding. Such zones further into the city, like St. Thierry are even worse, as they are now run-down and decaying, but they are fewer and less extensive than the great expanses of the Sassandra banks.
On the other hand as one travels out to the east, especially to the far side of St. Cybard, one comes into increasing prosperity. These regions are well-spread pleasant housing with a high proportion of light industry in special parks. There are a number of universities here and small-scale entrepreneurs flock around the area. On the very fringes are large high technology industries. These are far enough out that they do not loom over the homes and they provide a vital source of income and prosperity for the colony. Many of these plants have visitor tours and those of you who are fascinated by such items as computer parts, robotics and so on could benefit from a trip here. Another important section of the local economy is the co-ordination of orbital manufacture. Several companies making items in orbit have their head-offices in this region and do much of their administration, sales and marketing from these centres.
BRAZZA: Brazza was once labelled ‘the armpit of Tirane’ by a famous American newspaper. Sadly not only is this true but it is, if anything, getting worse. Brazza is essentially contiguous with the old drained swampland of the Chott. This is a large oval-shaped low-lying plain on the west bank of the Sassandra. It was cleared only to make way for poor housing and living space for low-status workers. The region is still somewhat swampy. The earth is usually soggy and muddy, there is frequent subsidence, flooding is sadly common and water occasionally seeps up from below. These conditions did not lend themselves to efficient construction and anyway the area was not built with an eye to quality. Thus there are whole areas of crumbling or subsiding buildings, in other parts the buildings lean disturbingly and there is damp in much of the housing. The overall impact is one of decay, and it is a decay and neglect that has concentrated in the centre of Brazza. Here in the heart of this warren of run-down housing there are few buildings undamaged, the streets are uneven and there is often standing water. As one radiates out the problems grow less and less until the area is merely under-privileged.
Add to these problems the annoying persistence of the former swamp life and you add yet another dimension. Aside from the insects that have never left the area (and can occasionally be seen as clouds from the massif) there are other larger creatures that have adapted to urban life. Some small varieties of Crapaud Rouge lurk in the sewers and alleys, a species of small Drukey has taken up residence in the eaves of buildings, etc, etc. Few if any of the animals threaten the population but they are a nuisance going through rubbish, sneaking into houses, killing pets, and so on. The existence of these pests simply adds to Brazza’s reputation and the reality of its degradation.
Brazza was never a nice area. The original inhabitants were poor and this has never altered. As might be expected there are a large preponderance of the downtrodden Africans of Zaire and Gabon. Indeed Brazza was named after its African populace. This area is, however, no respecter of race or creed. Clustered here are the very poorest of the city, regardless of background. Housing is almost entirely rented and there is a fair proportion of squatting. Employment is haphazard and tends to involve journeys into the city centre to clean or wait tables. Needless to say take-up of benefits is common.
It should not be thought, however, that Brazza is uniformly horrible. It is like a large onion, rotting from the centre. The outlying areas, and indeed the large majority of the area are simply poor. They house the truly under-privileged poor, but they receive the usual benefits, health and education given to other citizens. It is only the inner core rings that are really bad. Escape is possible and imminent for those who can make their way to the outer rings. Here they are only marginally worse off than their neighbours. Yet a Brazza address can be the death-knell for many a job application or attempt to get into university.
Physically the region is as I have said, characterised by improving conditions as one moves outward. Brazza tends to be host to many of the immigrant ‘ghettos’ that form around monolingual incomers and diehard conservatives. Brazza is ideal as it is not an area where people are very discriminatory or prejudiced. Nor should it be imagined that these areas are poor. Many are small islands of prosperity in the midst of this sea of deprivation. Often minority groups turn up some rich business people who pay for improvements. To these people Brazza is as much an opportunity as it is a fate. Elsewhere the outer rings tend to look pretty much like other poor areas, if perhaps a bit more dog-eared.
It is the central area that is the notorious hell-hole. This area is centred on the part of town known as Chassors-Neuve. Chassors is a truly repulsive locale. It is also a bizarre mixture of wealth and poverty. Poverty is everywhere, with drug addicts congregating in the area, desperate people of all sorts and even some indigenous inhabitants suffering too. The most desperate elements of society end up here. However, alongside this is a prosperous ‘black economy’. The wealth seen in expensive autos and clothes is, of course, the profit of various crimes. Chassors is a warren and is pretty large so all manner of illegal activity occurs here. The prime activity is prostitution. This is the red light district, and has earned the area the nickname of Soixante-Neuf. There are quasi-legitimate cinemas, massage parlours, etc alongside illegal brothels and hard core porn clubs. The various underground porn clubs are known as Poro, after secretive clubs in Africa. They are generally not obvious from the street and one needs to make discreet enquiries. The main areas of the sex trade are frequented by many from around the city. They are usually on the eastern side of Chassors, and oddly it is considered safer here than in many working-class districts.
Alongside the prostitution and pornography are the other illegal activities: underground drug factories, illegal bareknuckle fighting, dog fighting, smuggling, forgery, drug dens, fencing, organised crime hideouts, ad infinitum. It all goes off here and the area is notorious. However, in keeping with most areas of similar type it is usually safe as long as you don’t annoy the wrong people or try to muscle in on their rackets. Do keep away from the doss-houses and other haunts of the desperate though.
CHARI: The last part of Mirambeau to really become urbanised Chari is a flat plain on the south of the Chari river, together with the Caudéran and Bas Chari regions of the northern bank. Development came late here because of two major factors. Firstly the desire to extend the existing transport network rather than start afresh and secondly the fact that Brazza effectively blocked the region off from the rest of the city. However, once the Quartier began to extend along the Sassandra the Chari plain became more attractive. So the Abidjan tunnel from Homs to Sunyani was built and the development of Chari began. First to be built up was the Sunyani area. This became a new suburb for decent housing, especially in the southern regions. It provides much of the management for the industry in the less salubrious Camargue area. Sunyani is characterised as a leafy zone, with pleasant housing laid out in decent estates with plenty of parks and facilities.
Sadly the same cannot be said of most of the rest of Chari. The other main region of decent housing is in the upland flank of Caudéran in the far east. Here the pleasant upland economy and conditions of Villeneuve’s Montblanc and Shabunda prevail, making this area an extension of the usual rule that the eastern uplands are pleasant and prosperous. The rest of the lowland areas are less pleasing. Bouche du Chari is a dockland zone, based across both sides of the river-mouth and handling the transfer of goods from inland vessels, either for use in Mirambeau or simply to put on outgoing vessels. It is a region of warehouses, railheads and poor housing.
Both La Pradelle and Bas Chari are another sort of lower-status area, the mixed industrial and urban zone. With a burgeoning population in Brazza it became clear that the excess could be diverted off to labour elsewhere. Industrialists sought permission to build up in the Chari valley. Thus the Chari banks are clustered with factories and plants, making all sorts of goods, but also making for a noisy and uncomfortable environment. One positive effect of this was to improve southern Brazza and offer work to many who were marginalised on the extreme outskirts of the city. The whole Pré Sur Chari area of Brazza has improved immeasurably as a result and become a relatively decent area. The whole of this broad zone is by no means a hell-hole. There is work and the housing is better than in Camargue. There are municipal parks and places to shop and spend leisure time. It is, however, an uninterrupted working-class area where educational achievement is low, the prospects of advancement beyond menial labour are limited and there is a high proportion of those unable to speak French to a good standard. In short it is a salt-of-the-earth belt. I suggest you avoid it, as it is the sort of place were interlopers stick out a mile and attitudes can be uncharitable towards ‘snooty’ outsiders.
Finally there are two last areas. First is the incredible enclave of Zaraville. This part of the city was built before the main urbanisation of Chari. However, it was insular and small, taking up a region just upstream of the river mouth on the southern bank. Here the Parsees of Nouvelle Provence settled after they fled India. They built a pleasant and interesting suburb, surrounded by canals and parlkand. Today the area retains its mysterious qualities and is a popular and worthwhile tourist destination. The Parsees proved industrious and have provided a great deal of employment and prosperity for Chari and the city as a whole. Other than Zaraville there are only the southern outlying flanks of La Pradelle and the extreme tip of Bas Chari. Both of these areas are made up of better housing and support a more middle-class populace. They are often managers of the inner city factories or foremen, administrators and others who can afford not to live in the central region.
As a city of the modern world, designed from the ground up as a city for the future, Mirambeau is blessed with the most incredible infrastructure. Every detail has been planned and room for growth and improvement has been built in as standard. For example, a maglev marshalling yard will be three times the necessary size to allow for future growth. The immense spaces and virtually free land in Nouvelle Provence make this possible. The same process has occurred with power generation, docking facilities, hospitals, universities, and the whole range of public sector services.
Transport in the city is provided by several main methods. Links to the outside world occur via four major methods: ship, interface, maglev and road. Roads are of minor importance given the huge distances in the colony. Ships provide cargo capacity but are rarely used for long-distance transport. Therefore, interface and maglev are the key components. Interface is provided by two enormous aerospace ports, one in the west at Ste. Jeanne and one in the east at LeFevre. Both of these are ultra-modern facilities, with facilities for all interface vehicles, along with a huge capacity and space for airliners and airships. Ste. Jeanne was the first of the two and occupies the ideal location atop a plateau on the uplands west of Montblanc. LeFevre is much newer and is situated in a large valley in the Fôret hills east of LeFevre suburb. Both sites carry a vast amount of traffic and are considerably larger than most equivalent terrestrial facilities, thus enabling Mirambeau to function with only two such aerospace ports, rather than the scattering usually found around Earth cities. Both sites are also closely linked into the local transport network with monorail and maglev services running passengers into the city in a matter of minutes.
Maglev is something of a controversial subject in Mirambeau. Many French citizens are deeply concerned about the potential health risks of the high-powered electromagnetism used to drive maglev trains. Whilst government do not subscribe to these concerns they are conscious of public opinion. Therefore, maglev has been consciously minimised in Mirambeau and used only for the long-haul lines out of town. Indeed the current positions of the five main stations were each supposed to place them in the periphery of the urban area, but the speed of the city’s growth has brought them all well inside the boundaries. The Gare Central on Isle de la Cité was built in the original phase of growth, when Mirambeau was supposed to remain on the island. The other four were added later as the wider growth of the city and the colony made greater links imperative. When they were laid down they represented the very edges of the city. The policy of minimisation is quite obvious when one looks at the Gare Central. Although it is the very central terminus it links only to one of the others, the Gare de Wellon in Villeneuve. There is no direct maglev route to the other Gares. Indeed the whole network radiates in from the localities and then fails entirely to join up in the centre of the city. Connections are expected to be made via monorail, and specific lines have been built for the purpose. This looks curious from a cursory inspection of a map, but the linking service is efficient and well-designed and the incoming passenger merely has to change vehicles at the Gare.
Below, for your convenience is a table showing the main Gares and the branch lines they serve.
Table x: Main Maglev Termini of Mirambeau:
GARE CENTRAL: This Gare is simply the major central station of the city. It is situated right in the centre of the Isle de la Cité. It is a convenient hub for the rest of the city, but in maglev terms links directly only to the Gare de Wellon.
GARE DE FREIHAVEN: Serves the Southern Main Line of the SNCFdNP grid. This proceeds south via Douala to Aix and destinations beyond.
GARE DE NOUVELLE PROVENCE: The Vars Coast Line of the SNCFdNP. This is the most junior line, and the smallest station. It runs east to Lomé and then on up the coast to Bordella.
GARE DE TUNDUKUBWA: The home of the famous L’Oeil Express maglev, Gare de Tundukubwa is the gateway to the Chari line and the major point of departure for Kernascleden, Sette Cama and the centre of Nouvelle Provence.
GARE DE WELLON: Like its eastern counterpart the western Gare is quite small, handling only the coastal line of the Calanques and Bijagos line. The station serves as a feeder to the Gare Central and is the main point for western Nouvelle Provence.
Within the city itself transport is usually via the extensive, integrated transport system consisting of trams, electric buses and primarily monorails. These services have been planned into the city from its very inception and run efficient routes to every locale within the metropolis. The government guarantee that you will not be more than 5 minutes walk from a stopping point anywhere within the city. The routes are clearly marked and onboard terminals operate as route planners. Fares are extremely cheap, almost nominal, and the entire service on every line runs 24-hours, every day. Residents of Mirambeau are extremely proud of their system and it is the main reason why this enormous, sprawling city is able to run efficiently and in an integrated manner. Workers in the furthest suburbs can transit the whole city in rush-hour in a matter of minutes, and very cheaply. With this excellent public system taking complete precedence, and being incredibly efficient there is little private traffic in evidence. Cars do occur but are uncommon and tend to be used for weekend excursions or local runs. Residents of the city are issued with passes at a very low rate, and tourists can purchase them for a reasonable fee. Simply go into any post-office or public transport information office (of which there are many, to aid planning and promote the use of the system).
Mirambeau is absolutely replete with fascinating places to visit. The tourist could spend several months travelling around the various attractions, without repeating themselves and barely travelling the same routes.
Alize: This is a strange mixture of a place, but basically Alize is a restaurant/club situated on the shore at Mbour, lying beside one of the few natural beaches remaining in the city. It is a massive leisure and eating complex, complete with its own cinema in which diners can eat whilst watching the finest French films.
Arena de RFI (Radio France International): The State broadcasting service RFI has been influential in Provencal history. With this arena it seeks to retain some cultural importance and does so in style. This large building is a large group of concert halls and conference centres, clustered around the main venue. It s a massive sprawling edifice, right next to the bridge from Impfondo to Mourdiah. Here RFI present the finest classical music in Nouvelle Provence. Their own orchestra provides a central plank and they play host to several companies of musicians, dancers and singers. Music is nightly and the place is always bursting with culture. Well-worth it for an evening out, especially as ticket prices are low due to government subsidies on the arts.
Base Navale: The Isle Militaire is the main base of the Marine Imperiale on Tirane. It is a major facility that has drydocks, bethings, stores, barracks, and so on. Whilst the architecture is not exactly inspiring, many visitors relish the chance to go out on a small launch and view the mighty ships up close. The Navy is not overly keen on visitors and they have a perimeter set up, but careful boat pilots can get in close and afford their passengers a fine view. Boats undertaking these trips congregate around the Etang Anglais in Petit Toulon. The visitor is advised to exercise caution and I would recommend going to the piers here as most of the boats are genuine. Elsewhere you might end up being mugged or abducted, so be warned.
‘La Bastille’, Centre de Détention Départemental: The smaller of the two islands between Napoleon and Impfondo in the Sassandra delta is set aside for the detention of the truly dangerous. It is the colony’s maximum security holding jail and contains a number of notorious criminals. The government allows visitors, and even provides fascinating tours and exhibits for those who take the trip. The visits are strictly by ticket only and the visitors are shipped over by police boat from the adjacent Musée de Détention, the only place where tickets can be acquired.
Bois Nature: humans have a habit of simply remoulding and destroying habitat almost automatically. This is just as true in Nouvelle Provence where active steps have been taken to safeguard the integrity of the local ecosystem. As a result there is little genuine Tiranais countryside left within a large radius of Mirambeau. Worried that children might never see the real thing the government set aside a chunk early in the growth of Mirambeau. This is the Bois Naturel, a weird oasis of the alien Tiranais wildlife and plants right in the heart of Poitiers. The whole area is surrounded by a high fence to keep out terrestrial organisms and entry is restricted to certain points. Within is a huge park of several hundred hectares left essentially wild. The wood is a wonderful example of temperate Tiranais habitat and has a diverse collection of local plants and animals. Rangers and other staff work hard to keep the park natural and access is restricted, although it is not hard to get in if one is willing to queue. This is well worth a visit, especially for those who prefer the city and would like to experience the real Tirane without having to rough it in the hinterland. Be warned though there are predators here and although all precautions are taken they do occasionally kill people!
Boulevard Dréyfus: This long and broad avenue is the premier shopping street in Nouvelle Provence. It runs east from the Place du Département for 4 kilometres, ending in the seaside streets of the eastern Centre. In keeping with most of the Centre Ville style the road is lined with Napoleon III style Parisian buildings. The whole road is tree-lined and interspersed with pavement cafés and brasseries. The huge buildings also house a vast collection of flats on their upper floors, perched like eyries above the shops below. These are the most exclusive residences available to the fashion conscious, and come at a price! For the tourist it is important to note that the closer to the Place du Département one is the more exclusive are the shops. This road is primarily taken up with clothes shops, accessory shops, department stores and other fashion outlets. It is frequented by gaggles of ‘beautiful people’ who seem to think that their mere presence somehow embellishes the street. Probably worth avoiding if you are not interested in high fashion or have a tight budget.
Bourse: The Tiranais stock market is a thoroughly modern building, glaringly out-of-place amidst the pseudo-19th century glories of Centre. It is a huge glass and chrome pyramid looming over the rooftops a few minutes walk north of the Governor’s palace. It is interesting architecturally and allows visitors to enter and watch goings on. I find it a bit dull, but there are always those who might enjoy this!
Champs Guianaises: Named in honour of the Earth territory of Guiana, this is a huge area of parkland and open space on the sloping incline coming down from the massif in the west into Brazza. It covers a massive expanse and can be seen from the Isle de la Cité as a green stripe across the western landscape. The area acts as the de facto border between Villeneuve and Brazza, cutting the Quartier Senegalais into two neat sections, the Haut and the Bas. The lower or Bas is in Brazza, whilst the Haut sits higher up the massif. Despite its proximity to Brazza there is little trouble here. The northern parts of Brazza tend to be poor, not criminal and the locals from both sides of the park mix freely in this pleasant surrounding. However, there is occasionally trouble with gangs of muggers, but no more than often happens in large municipal parks with less security than the main streets.
Chef Lieu: Bizarre as it may seem I will now discuss a bureaucratic district as a tourist attraction! The region in question is the central administrative district of Centre. In planning the city the administration deliberately planned a huge swathe of government offices and departments in a nuclear area. True to local form they also planned these on a grand scale. So grand in fact that only now is the capacity of these offices being stretched to the point where some are being moved to larger premises. In possession of a huge grant from Paris and carte blanche to develop a wonderful capital the original planners produced this area in splendid style. It mimics much of the Paris of Louis Napoleon, with broad boulevards and neo-classical architecture. The overall effect is splendid, with no airborne pollution the buildings retain their original lustre and the area makes a great spectacle. Tourists are well-advised to visit this section south of Place de la République, where they can also find art galleries, bistros and other attractions. Chef Lieu is a local slang term for the administrative district, derived from African slang.
Le Creuset: This label refers not so much to a single site but to a whole region of Villeneuve, where the most fantastically diverse cuisine is available. Unlike the Qliq this area is renowned for its reasonable prices, as it grew up to service the vast crowds on the nearby Plages. Today all the commercial streets in the beachfront area of Petit Dakar and southern Villeneuve are host to numerous restaurants. As the restaurants took up residence so the bars, clubs and casinos moved in. This region is now the main nightspot for the less rich. It is a great place with street entertainers, exciting food, cheap wine and all the fundamentals of a good evening. Come here if you are looking for a decent night for a low price. However, beware the muggers and pickpockets who are known to hang around. Simple precautions should suffice but the warning is worth noting. The local chefs association has produced a sort of local restaurant seal of quality. The group have formed inspection teams and you can guarantee a good meal at any restaurant displaying this sign, written in white on a green background "Manger à la fortune du pot!" (Take Pot Luck!). This is a reference to the name Le Creuset which means a melting pot.
Doi Ahidjo: This is the new name for the massive Club Tennis de Tirane, the main Provencal centre for tennis. It is a sprawling collection of courts, administration and practice facilities, located in the outlying St. Martin region. The club is the venue for the Championat de Tennis Tiranais every year in the first week of July. At other times it is a site for minor tournaments and practice, as well as the scene of a major tennis exhibit. The club was renamed in 2997 after the death of Doi Ahidjo, the most important tennis player ever to come from Tirane. This great champion won Wimbledon and he was a much loved local figure.
L’Experience Francais: A new exhibit (opened summer 2299) and one of the best I have visited. As part of the government’s campaign to promote unity with France and Imperial fraternity we now have this wonderful interactive exhibit. It is a chance to directly experience life in France down the ages, and in many Imperial regions as well. The public are able to try food, demonstrate appliances, etc. It is pricey (this is Mirambeau!) but well-worth it. There is nothing like it anywhere else. Situated on the northern edge of the Chari mouth at Bouche de Chari, it is easily accessible, including by boat.
Hippodrome: The Hippodrome is a huge racing circuit for automobile competition. It is a bit isolated in the far-flung south-eastern corner of Adzopé, but for the enthusiast it offers a range of racing to delight. The circuit is the main one in the colony and hosts inter-colonial Grand Prix racing as well. Many families like to go there for a day to sit in the comfortable stands and watch the racing. The circuit certainly caters for the whole family, not just the enthusiast. There are junior play parks, restaurants and an interesting display of antique vehicles, including some on loan from the Musée des Autophiles. Racing is daily, although it occurs rarely on the large Grand Prix circuit. The smaller tracks used for bumper racing, drag racing and so on are always open.
Illico: This is the name of a major gay magazine situated in the trendy district of Gaoua, but in itself it is nothing particularly interesting. However, it is the nickname adopted by the main gay area of Mirambeau, a dazzling district of clubs, bars and other institutions flourishing in the usual Provençal atmosphere of tolerance. Here can be found many of the widely renowned gay clubs of Mirambeau, such as Hero, Club Ajax, Rosé, and so on. Anyone into clubbing can be assured of a fun and entertaining evening here. Highly recommended. The area is essentially a cluster of clubs and bars within a broad radius around Illico, and is best reached by getting to the Gare de Nouvelle Provence and then following the signs that the clubs set up on the street.
Insitut des Etudes Xenologiques (IEX) Campus and Parc Zoologique: The IEX is humanity’s premier research foundation into the study of extraterrestrial life. The campus is situated south of Mirambeau, about 5 kilometres outside La Pradelle. The site is a combination of a huge research and teaching facility and the massive pens and living spaces for the thousands of captive lifeforms. Much of the latter is built so as to act as a zoo, with specialised pens and viewing areas for nightlife and animals from incompatible biosystems. Creatures and plants from all across human space are kept here, making for a fascinating experience. See those legendary beasts from around the galaxy. Pride of place goes to the Beowulfian dragon, a truly impressive animal. The IEX campus proper offers a range of exhibits, visitable departments, catering and even accommodation. There is a specialised monorail service, best caught from La Pradelle Sud transport nexus.
Jardin de Tirane: the government of Nouvelle Provence is keen to promote respect and love for local plants. To this end they set up the Jardin to allow experiments on which plants would suit domestication, which could be grown in gardens, which in houses and which would appeal to humans. The Jardin today is less a research facility than a display of beautiful plants, including an arboretum. It is well-worth a look and it is a massive site, so allow up to a whole day. It sits atop the western massif, in the district of N’Guette-Ville, and can be easily found on local maps. For those of you from off-world please remember although the array of Tiranais plants for sale is tempting it is illegal to import these organisms onto other worlds and attempts to do so on Earth will result in severe fines or imprisonment!
Jardin de la Vielle Terre: Having put in place a significant native garden, the government then moved on to create a second wonderful garden, based this time on the finest old Earth plants. Over a few years they acquired the plants, selected the site and then commissioned a firm to lay out the garden. The result is one of the finest public gardens anywhere, worth a visit even if you are from Earth. Tiranais people are most strongly urged to go and look at this marvellous collection of beautiful flora. The Jardin can be found in the south-east corner of Beaux Arts, and is just a couple of minutes walk from the Gare Jacques Chirac.
Maison du Governeur/Maison Officielle: This large but not ostentatious mansion houses the colonial governor and his offices. It is situated a few streets north of the Place de la République, beside a pleasant garden square. In style it is merely a large townhouse in Georgian style, rather than a large palace. It is no more impressive than most mayoral residences. However, it does have a wing open to public with a history exhibition dedicated to the governors of the colony. All receive equal coverage, so LeFevre gets as much wall-space as some of the total non-entities forgotten even within their old domain.
Musée des Autophiles: It will probably surprise the terrestrial reader, but the car is an object of almost mythic status on Tirane. The petrol driven car that is. Although a virtually universal commonplace on Earth the petrol car never got used here, the colony was set up in the more enlightened times of the electric or hydrogen conveyance. Whereas petrol vehicles are still used in less-developed parts of Earth they have never been allowed on Tirane. As a consequence a whole section of people who might have spent weekends under their bonnets are frustrated. Then there are the immigrants with first-hand knowledge of real petrol cars. The car is uniquely interesting to many. Thus were born les Autophiles (the Club Autophiles de Nouvelle Provence). This group formed years ago and has been worshipping the petrol car ever since. There are those who claim that they can notice the lack of petro-chemical residue in the atmosphere from the lack of the internal combustion engine, and long to go to Earth and experience it! For the more casual visitor the Club have set up this museum. It contains both real and mock petrol cars, the cost of importing them is extremely high and the government limits their use to prevent pollution. So to supplement the small stock of real cars the enthusiasts have hand-built many more, using old plans. These are excellent examples of handicraft if nothing else and they all work. Here one can see the internal combustion engine, watch old footage of cars in action, watch displays of petrol cars in real life, and generally immerse oneself in petrol! The museum is to be found in Aspretto, and public transit information points can give travel plans.
Musée de Détention: Begun by prison warders who clearly had too much spare time, the museum is situated on the shore of the island of Impfondo, directly opposite the notorious Centre de Détention, or Bastille. The site provides a pleasing vista over the river and is a fascinating journey through the history and present state of statutory detention. Here is the only place the tourist can purchase tickets to visit the Bastille itself.
Musée Neo-Provencal: This is the largest and most general museum in the colony. A huge and frankly unattractive edifice perched in the south-western corner of Beaux Arts. However, inside it is a fantastic experience, covering all aspects of local life, with wonderful interactive displays and exhibits. It is constantly updated with specialised short exhibitions. Fun for the whole family and a treasure trove of Tiranais information. Also boasts an excellent bookshop.
Palais d’Alpha Centauri: One of the greatest mysteries of this colony is encapsulated in this building. How could the nation which laid out the beautiful Paris of Napoleon III produce such a monstrous edifice when called upon to provide a government building for its most important colony. The answer is simply fashion. When the Palais was built the fashion was for spartan, grey buildings. Being French the government opted to express this fashion in its purest form by commissioning a simple grey brick. The building lies in the seafront dockland of the Quai de Louis XIV, bizarrely nowhere near the main civic offices and bureaucratic towerblocks of Centre. The building is known locally as l’Edifice Gris, and that just about sums it up. It is esoteric in a strange way, so bland that the eye strains to find some subtle message or hidden character. Sadly it has none, but it does seem to attract visitors, perhaps in an attempt to disprove the stories. "it can’t be THAT boring can it?", yes it can! Go if you like, but I would not bother.
Palais Omnisports de Mirambeau: the largest indoor arena in Nouvelle Provence is also a common venue for the largest bands, for civic receptions and occasionally for high prestige conferences and conventions. The vast edifice perches like a huge tortoise on the northern fringes of Villeneuve, set in a slight dip to try and offset its looming presence and surrounded by pleasant parkland. It can hold 120,000 spectators and is a wonderful venue in which to watch sports. It was built in 2259 to house the final of the Mondiale when that prestigious tournament was held in the colony, and it is primarily a football stadium, but it is also designed for a variety of other sports and has a retractable roof to turn it into an enclosed hall. Offshoot buildings offer hotels, restaurants and smaller hospitality suites.
Parc d’Ahura-Mazd: The large Zoroastrian community of Zaraville on the south bank of the Chari set out this lovely park in order to draw positive attention to themselves and emphasis how they give to the entire community. It also serves to shroud and isolate their introverted settlement. In that respect this park was money well-spent since creeping urbanisation has left Zaraville surrounded by the new southern developments of Sunyani and La Pradelle. Well-worth a visit, the park contains numerous small exhibits and is a beautiful setting.
Parc-Exposition de la Guerre: The Third World War is a subject that might appear remote to the Provencal citizen. It happened on another planet, decades ago. It is this realisation that prompted the setting up of the Parc-Exposition. French government thinkers keen to promote a sense of unity and a fully understanding of the suffering of the nation in the Twilight War, decided to set up a permanent memorial and exhibit. The hope is that the park will promote understanding and fellowship with the French on Earth. It also serves as a warning to those on Tirane who might consider aggression, graphically revealing the consequences to those who have been fortunate enough to grow up in this island of peace. The Parc lies beside the River Gironde on the outskirts of St. Martin. It is surrounded by protected wild woodland and presents an isolated vista. The site itself spreads over several hectares and contains a huge amount of material, exhibits, libraries and all the paraphernalia of a properly constructed informative exhibition. Earth visitors may find it a bit odd, but it is still very interesting. However, beware that parties of schoolchildren are here every day during term time. However, they tend to be cowed by the ‘experience the aftermath of a nuclear attack’ interactive exhibit.
Parc de Tirane: The planet is often overlooked by those who live here, sometimes marginalised by an almost innate hankering for the Earth. In response the city authorities have designed a massive public park designed to glorify the planet Tirane and the wonders therein. It is situated just south of the civic quarter of Centre, and spreads extensively over the otherwise crowded locality. Here are to be found extensive collections of native flora and a number of semi-permanent displays of art and photography, all glorifying this most beautiful of planets.
Place du Département: South of the Place de la République runs the great thoroughfare of the Rue de la France. This massive tree-lined boulevard connects the Place de la République with its smaller southern neighbour the Place du Département. This plaza is nowhere near as ornate as its colleague, but retains a charm of its own. It forms a huge roundabout, with a large grass-covered island in the centre, and the outskirts surrounded by shops and beautiful buildings. The central swarth can be reached by means of underground walkways and contains a lovely and well-planned floral display, emphasising large shrubs and small trees. It is an island of peace amid the centre of the city and is often full of contemplative visitors.
Place de la République: This square is the symbolic heart of Nouvelle Provence. It lies right in the middle of the Isle de la Cité and is a huge plaza surrounded by a series of monumental statues of major French figures. On the east side of the plaza stands the vast Jaami’a Mosque, the largest and most important Islamic shrine on the planet. Opposite stands the Cathedral Church, seat of the Primate of Nouvelle Provence, the Cardinal Archbishop of Mirambeau. The two religious centres are set symbolically together in a message of unity and mutual respect. The two sets of followers are essentially invited to mingle in the cool shade of the square, and often do so. The rest of the boundary of the Place is marked out by a series of tall, classical-style statues. Each is 5 metres high and they are joined by a series of native vine plants, thus forming a sort of enclosure. Within is the beautifully paved Place itself, with its varicoloured cobbles used to form a series of geometric mosaics. A number of concentric rings of evenly-spaced flower beds and trees provide shade and break up the potential bleakness of such a vast open space. This shade allows room for cool rest, and the plaza is constantly frequented by intellectuals and chess players who are to be found dotted about on the plethora of benches.
Place du Senegal: This pleasant square is the major central point of the Isle de Napoleon. As such it forms both a nice attraction and also a great starting point for your visit to this island. The main monorail station of the island is just off the Place and the place is easily reached from anywhere in the city. Once there you can inspect the giant wall murals that line the edge of the Place, renowned throughout French space. There is an impressive 3D holographic display of the growth of Mirambeau, showing the whole process from a height using real footage. This runs daily and is free, the visitor need only queue, and it is situated on the north side of the Place.
Plages Artificiels: Mirambeau lies in a pleasant enough climate, a Mediterranean temperate zone on the northern reaches of Arcadie. Sadly it lacks natural beaches, most having been built on, or too rocky to use. In response the government decided that rather than have a huge exodus every weekend the city would act to keep the Mirambeau citizenry and their money at home. They cleared an extensive stretch of the Sassandra bank at Petit Dakar and created a long strand of artificial beach. The scheme was a huge success, with visitors flocking to the beaches. The scheme provided safe swimming along a sluggish stretch of relatively clean, fresh water. River traffic now has to travel up the eastern side of the river and the beach zone is complete with amusements, waterslides, bars, etc, etc. Not necessarily an attraction for the off-worlder, but if you have a spare day it is well worth a visit.
Pyramide des Cartes: France produced the great sculptor Rodin, Nouvelle Provence produced the ‘mad’ (or at least eccentric) sculptor Marie Dupres. Despite her famously weird nature she was also a genius and produced some truly wonderful work. Her gift to her hometown was a truly bizarre set of pieces inspired by Alice in Wonderland. They consist of enormous houses of cards made out of vast brass playing cards, and not actually attached, merely stacked together. The works are painted to look exactly like playing cards and there are a variety of different designs from two to several dozen cards. The largest ‘houses’ rise over 10 metres high and are visible for several kilometres around. Worried that the structures would collapse in heavy wind the city fathers placed them in a large park in Mourdiah. The biggest sit in the centre of the park so their fall will cause minimum damage. Strangely the structures have proved extremely resilient and were clearly carefully designed. The park now draws many visitors and provides a fascinating exhibition about Dupres.
Qliq Gourmand: What can one say that has not been said before! The greatest concentration of culinary genius on the planet! This is the slang name for the Gourmet’s Kilometre, or the Rue de Saint Jacques in Beaux Arts. This road (longer than a kilometre) is the heartland of high-class cuisine in Mirambeau. A French city, it is renowned anyway for its cooking, but this area is truly wonderful. With the fantastic culinary mix that is Nouvelle Provence, the tourist can choose just about any combination of food from anywhere in the Empire and beyond. There are restaurants selling traditional French food, Cameroonian restaurants, Madagscan, even ones selling only native meat. Restaurants jostle for space and there are high-rise blocks with a different one on every floor. Truly one is spoilt for choice here and it is said that one could choose a different eatery every night for a year and still have some left. The Rue is to be found (or smelled!) running east-west from the Musée Neo-Provencal across towards the Jardin de Vielle Terre. Numerous local transport stops service it and I wish you the best of luck for your visit!
Rade de l’Intérieur: As the city grew it became increasingly clear that it was inefficient to ship goods from inland to the main port at petit Toulon, especially those destined for consumption in Mirambeau itself. To counter this the government began to look into building a dock in the Quartier Catalan area. However, the weight of traffic would have been a severe block on the flow of river transport. It was then that a rare decision was taken to actually spend some money, and a massive artificial harbour was planned. At the time it was well south of the then outlying district of Homs, and construction proceeded quickly. The Rade is a huge circular harbour connected to the Sassandra river by a wide channel. Nowadays the city has grown out to meet the Rade, with Camargue’s southern reaches sitting just north of the docks. Whilst there is little to actually see here, except for those who enjoy watching river boats, the Rade is useful for arranging transport and getting cheap goods in the warehouses before the importers attach the usual hefty Mirambeau mark-up.
Rade de Mirambeau: Between the Isle de la Cité and Petit Toulon there is a huge oval shaped natural harbour, protected from the sea by the Etang d’Italie. This harbour is one of the finest in the colony and provides a wonderful facility to the Mirambeau economy. Here is the major goods point for imports and exports across Tirane, especially to Wellon. Huge container vessels can easily enter the port and moor alongside the jetties at Petit Toulon, whose giant cranes can be seen from the shores of Centre several kilometres away. Sightseers can watch the ships, or go down to the massive port and get up close.
Rue d’Aimé Jacquet: This road is the centre of the financial district, a vital and prosperous part of the Mirambeau economy. It sits in the region north of the Chef Lieu and west of the Place de la République. This wide zone contains dozens of banks, loans companies, insurance agencies, stockbrokers, and other financial services as well as a large number of corporate HQs, lawyers and other prestige firms. Unlike the areas to the south and east this region is not a smaller version of Louis Napoleon’s Paris, it is a highrise zone. The planners tried to avoid this by allowing for a huge city, but the shortage of land in the centre has inevitably driven the process of building upwards. The whole sector is known locally as Les Canyons as it reminiscent of the concrete canyons of New York. Architecturally it is, however, quite pleasing as the city administration keeps a tight rein on planning and anyway the French have a better developed sense of aesthetics than the Americans! For this reason it is worth a visit as steel spires battle with granite monoliths and glass spheres. Perhaps oddest of all are the Malian mud structures thrown up by some African corporations to add colour. It is a diverse scene, although one need not go there to view it, it rises high enough to be seen from any of the surrounding districts.
Sebta: For those with impressive resources the city boasts one of the most exclusive clubs in the colony, Sebta. This originated as a marina for the rich who had begun to build lovely homes around the mouths of the Gironde in St. Martin. Soon it became the focus of much of the higher echelon social life in Nouvelle Provence and came to buy up a large plot of then unused land straddling the mouth of the Gironde. This land has since been extensively fenced off and a veritable luxury country club has grown up. There are golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, health farms and all manner of facilities of the finest type. Still Sebta is primarily a marina and has a series of secluded berthings for the wealthy. It is a world by itself sealed off from the riff-raff and you would be hard-pressed to realise you were well inside a huge city. However, all this comes at a price. Membership is only available to those of sufficient means and it is alleged that if you ask how much the membership costs you are obviously too poor to pay. Don’t embarrass yourself unless you are very well off!
Stade de Tirane: This stadium was once the premier sporting venue in Nouvelle Provence, a status now firmly transferred to the Palais Omnisports across the river in Villeneuve. However, the smaller and less modern Stade (capacity 82,000) is still held in respect and serves many purposes. It sits atop a low bluff on the very western extremity of the Quai area and ironically it has a good view of the Palais, but otherwise the situation is excellent. A gentle sea breeze wafts in to cool the crowds and the stadium is famously good for breaking records. Nowadays it tends to cater for minority sports as the football has gone to the Palais. It has been part-bought by Vielles Francaises, the main football team in Centre who use it as their home ground. Otherwise it hosts a variety of sports and concerts, including baseball, hockey, lacrosse, etc. The council often use their allotted time with the stadium (they also part-own it) to stage free concerts, opera or plays. There is also a major fireworks display here every year on Bastille Day. Check out the local press to find out what is going on here during your visit.
Whilst the city of Mirambeau is widely renowned across human space for its superb standard of living, its varied areas and its culture, there is a dark-side. Some parts of the city are inadvisable to tourists. Needless to say this includes all the really run-down ghettos but I will also recommend some others areas, safe for locals but dangerous to visitors.
First and foremost, keep out of Brazza. Whilst much of the area is perfectly safe and the vast bulk of the citizenry there are honest and decent it is an area characterised by les Vautours (Vultures), gangs of mainly adolescent men who wonder about picking on strangers and anyone else who either stands out or cannot look after themselves. These criminals present a danger for those who enter even the relatively safe Chassors-Neuve district where they are less common, but still haunt the shadows. The depths of the Chott are not for the faint-hearted. The further one advances into Brazza the more run-down and dingy it becomes. In the central-western zone is the domain of drug lords, pimps, drug addicts and other people you don’t want to meet. Personally I am safe in the periphery and can travel into the centre with caution, but were I a tourist I would avoid the area entirely. I might even go so far as to keep out of the southern parts of Le Creuset and Petit Dakar. It is a sad fact that if you are young and less wealthy you are safer here. The middle aged tourist clutching his holocamera would certainly be set upon quickly and the police are reluctant to come here.
Whilst I am discussing the western side of the city I would avoid the working class districts around the rivers Chari and Sassandra. Both rivers have a closely-packed set of tenements and poorer housing along them (with the exception of Zaraville). This should keep you out of much of Bas Chari, La Pradelle, Camargue, St. Marc and Caudéran. For similar reasons I would keep away from the relocation estates in western Sidi Bel Abbas and Pantin. In keeping with large working-class zones everywhere they are introverted and localist places. People here are decent and good, but for whatever reason they often react adversely to foreigners, strangers and other outsiders. These areas are also poor enough that criminals lurk in the shadows and might take advantage of some soft targets. No doubt your tour company can provide maps.
Caution also ought to be exercised in the waterways as well. Crime is not common here and it is pretty safe for locals. However, again as a rule the tourist will stick out and could attract the sort of attention that can exist here. There are parts of the houseboat clusters that harbour less savoury types such as drug-pushers, prostitutes and pirates. Locals usually know where these are, but they exist within an amorphous mass of vessels, constantly jostling to change position, avoid the law or whatever. This jumble means boats moving all the time and rarely staying in place. A map cannot be provided and the best answer is to stick to the areas close to shore where the criminal element rarely come, or exercise extreme caution and check out any further hostels, etc with the local police or Syndicat d’Intiative both of whom can reassure you of the good character of an establishment.
Centre Ville is a basically safe area, and I would feel comfortable anywhere there if I were a tourist. Some of the southern parts of Isle de Napoleon are a bit rough and ought not to be travelled on foot. As for the east, well the tapestry there is far more complex. This part of the city is the most complicated and yet the least famous both in terms of coverage in tour guides and in the general perception. I would advise you to keep out of the docks of Petit Toulon and Brindisi after dark. Aside from that there are various less-well-off areas mixed in with the more affluent. Nowhere approaches the scale of Brazza but some of these areas really are unpleasant. Famously there is the terrorist APT stonghold of St. Thierry in the heart of Adzopé. The best advice I can give is in the form of my map ‘Mirambeau, parts to see and avoid’, available free at Syndicats d’Initiatives in the capital. Make sure and plan your trips carefully as the city is a huge and complex place that cannot be easily understood in a whole lifetime let alone a few days!