Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bonne Annee

Bonne Annee!

These piccolo champagne bottles, from Champagne Pommery, available at the check-out counter of my local Shopi Supermarche in the 7th arrondissement, are all the rage. Most fascinating is the fact that they come with free sipping straws. (God forbid anyone should be seen drinking directly from a bottle.) At 10 euros a pop, these are not for mass consumption.

Anyway, reflecting on their tiny size, I thought it might be an appropriate seasonal moment to rehash the various sizes of champagne bottles:

Piccolo : from 0.187 L to 0.2 L
Split: 0.375 L
Standard bottle 0.75 L
Magnum: 1.5 L
Jeroboam: 3 L
Rehoboam: 4.5 L
Methuselah: 6 L
Salmanazar: 9 L
Balthazar: 12 L
Nebuchadnezzar: 15 L
Melchior (also called Solomon): 18 L
Sovereign: 25 L
Primat: 27 L
Melchizedek: 30 L
Here's wishing everyone a New Year filled with a Melchizedek of joy, prosperity, happiness and good cheer.
A votre sante!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

While my darling jet-lagged adolescent chickadees continue to sleep, I have ample time to reflect on the cliche of resolutions for the new year. I think, perhaps, this is more an American phenomenon and tradition; intuition tells me that the French make their resolutions at la rentree in September. Voici les miens:

1. I will finish assembly of the IKEA desk that I bought last May, once customer service sends me the right parts.
2. I will overcome my fear of going into my cave and put away the fans I bought during the canicule last July.
3. I will limit my internet Scrabble addiction to one game per day.
4. I will not set foot in La Piscine or Le Mouton a Cinq Pattes. Or if I cannot restrain myself, I will leave my wallet at home. (Apparently I am genetically incapable of exiting from those discount boutiques without a coup de coeur purchase in a bag.)
5. I will read a French newspaper every day.
6. I will clear an entire day in my calendar for dealing with France Telecom so that I can actually watch the cable television I've been paying for since August.
7. I will entertain at least once a week, thereby overcoming my natural laziness, angst about cooking poorly in France, and embarrassment of not having my "real" furniture in Paris -- yet.
8. I will learn how to execute all manner of technical procedures: using my digital camera's various functions, backing up my computer, transferring Outlook accounts, using French accents on my keyboard, switching Blog serivce providers, understanding URLs, RSS, feeds, hyperlinks and so forth and then REMEMBERING how to deal with them. If I'm on a roll I might even learn Excel.
9. I will practice, practice, practice writing down French phone numbers as I hear them on voice mail so that everything over 70 will be properly transcribed. My friend Isabelle promises (threatens) to give me little dictees, just for good measure.
10. I will enter all my Parisian friends' digicodes on my portable. Actually, make this #1 on my list. It's too cold outside these days.

City of Light

For anyone who thought my "Christmas Rant" post about muzak, tinsel and lights was too harsh, too critical, too grumpy -- I humbly apologize.

For everyone who nodded in agreement -- you're invited for dinner any time. To set the record straight:

I love Christmas.

I love Paris.

Now, please read this New York Times article by Elaine Sciolino, about a Frenchman who really speaks my language in terms of tacky lighting in Paris: "It's so Las Vegas," he says.

Bonne Annee!

P.S. When I can figure out how to get comments, feeds, and all other technical matters working in this blog, I'll be one happy, techno-savvy woman. Meanwhile, email me at

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Try Me!

Santa -- I mean Pere Noel -- also got me this "Talking Polly" annoying play-back toy which is actually kind of a hoot. The funny thing is, Pere Noel explained to me, that none of the French elves in Jouet-land could figure out what was so amusing about this battery-operated squawker. "Did you explain to them that all parrots are called 'Polly'?" I asked.

"Mais non," said Pere Noel. "En France tous les perroquets s'appellent 'Coco'."

Maybe that's why I love France so much - no pollywannacracker jokes.

Joyeux Noel

Here's what I started to write:

Pere Noel was very kind to me and left an antique Citroen 2CV toy car under the tree to add to my collection.

Papa Noel's TRUE present(s) will arrive at CDG on Wednesday morning in the form of two beautiful offspring (mine!), Bee (20) and Harry (18), arriving from Boston. It just hasn't been Christmas without them.

Instead, here's the email I just wrote this morning (after indulging in hot tears for 5 minutes):

Dear Bee,

How awful about forgetting your passport in South Carolina! I got your phone message when I woke up this morning. It's terrible that you just discovered this last night and didn't check when you got to Massachusetts a week ago. Anyway, call me immediately when you get up.

Meanwhile -- in writing:

1. In the morning first thing you MUST go to Fedex office to retrieve the airline tickets that I sent last week.

2. Armed with tix, you must call Virgin Atlantic to see what you should do in case of "no passport" but you will have it by the next day. Find out the following: can they accommodate you on another flight? How much more will it cost? If you take a different airline just to get over to Paris/London, would you be able to use the return portion of the ticket? (Many airlines don't allow you to use the return part if you haven't used the part to get there.) The same will need to be done for British Midlands, London - Paris, once you have the answer from Virgin Atlantic.

3. Delta has a one way ticket from Boston to CDG for $346 for Dec 27 or 28. Can you scrape together the money for that, assuming of course that Virgin will let you use the return portion of the ticket?

4. I can't do any better than this to help you, sweetie. This was already really stretching it for me-- I paid for your tickets out of savings because I want so dearly to see you at Christmas. I can't do more. I wish I could. Let me know what phone calls I can make, if any. I'll be running errands etc. getting things done for Harry's arrival, and hopefully yours the next day.

5. Do you know where your passport is at your apartment and will your boyfriend be able to break in and find it and Fedex it in time for a next-day flight? Will someone be at Dad's when the passport gets Fedexed so that you don't have the same runaround with Fedex again?

I hope we'll still be able to have a merry Christmas together. No time for lecturing now -- we already know all that would be said. Time and money are finite and precious commodities, time together being the most precious of all.



Friday, December 22, 2006

Do Not Adjust the Knobs on Your Set

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Don't attempt to adjust your knobs on the television. The images that you see are real. It is not a fun-house mirror. You are not in The Twilight Zone.

You are on avenue George V, one block from the Champs Elysees.

Paris is so creative with scaffolding covers. This one's over the top.

O Beau $apin

Ho Ho oh la la. My fir$t ever Chri$tmas tree in Pari$. I picked it up around the corner at Monceau Fleur$ and carried it home my$elf. 46 euro$ for a tree that i$ $horter than I am. That'$ about 62 dollar$ at the current exchange rate. I gue$$ we pay extra for the tree $tand -- half a yule log with a hole drilled in it.

I am agha$t. Pere Noel need$ to lighten up on u$. Now I under$tand why many of my friend$ here buy a fake tree.


French Women don't Get Fat but Americans Do

Okay, I admit it. Since arriving in Paris last March I have experienced the newcomer's equivalent of new college co-ed's "Freshman 15" -- gaining the dreaded transitional weight. Fortunately, the "French-man 15" I had gained was calculated in kilos (whew -- divide by 2.2, so it seems better!!) and not nearly the prototypical avoirdupoids amount-- probably about 4 kilos. Too much delicious food and wine, and justifying every bite with "I didn't move to France to eat Clif bars." However, when my "fat" jeans couldn't close any more without pinching flesh in the zipper, AND the dollar/euro exchange rate made acquiring a new wardrobe not only depressing but usurious, I decided that it was time to fight back.

In the States I often would forget to eat a meal, too preoccupied with work or gardening or other projects. Really-- two years ago I was referred to in a Boston gossip column as "she with the chiseled features." Now here I am in Paris, of all places, feeling like "she with the camel features" -- too many bumps and lumps, in the wrong locations.

Oh, don't even ask. I've been practicing what all the "find your inner French woman" books recommend, and in fact had already living that way that for years without reading their ideas. You know: walk walk walk, take the stairs not the escalator or elevator, don't eat lots of bread, no snacking between meals, yadda yadda yadda. To no avail. How DO these Parisian women do it, I wondered?

Then I took a poll of my French female friends. They ALL go to the gym.

So, girding myself for that experience, I walked -- briskly of course -- over to the Club Med Gym on the rue de Rennes. The Paris Club Med Gym chain is just about the only game in town, as far as I can see, with the exception of private clubs or the uber-expensive Ritz or Meurice spas. (And one other terrifyingly hip all-chrome-and-glass place near the Opera.) Club Med is your basic pay-as-you go American-style gym. After entering the big 19th century cobblestone courtyard, I walked through the door and found a pleasant and run-of-the-mill modern facility. Vincent, or Benoit, or whatever the nice young man's name was, showed me around; and then I saw, to my horror, some Parisian ladies about my age looking drop-dead gorgeous and totally toned in their calecons and debardeurs as they leaned against the elliptical machines, subtly preening in full view of the men on the rowing machines. Damn. How could I even show up with my American corporeal baggage, love handles and all?

Well, that panicked moment was 10 days ago. I have since then been doing the body-fitness equivalent of "cleaning up the house before the house cleaner arrives," i.e. getting in shape BEFORE I set one little pied in the gym, just to save -- um, face?

Clad in my sporty new gym clothes from Decathlon, I'm now almost ready to face the treadmill, the abdo-fessier lessons, the hammam. I've got a long way to go. But watch out, you gorgeous Parisiennes, me voila! Let somebody else eat cake.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Stop the Muzak, Turn Down the Lights

Will someone please tell owners/managers/clerks/emcees of Parisian retail establishments to please turn off the tacky music?

Especially the annoying American music.

Every time I hear "Santa Baby" over various stores' airwaves -- and that's a LOT -- I want to scream and tell them that do they know what terrible images of overweight Kirstie Alley it conjures up?

It's not just Christmas music, either. Oftentimes it's the top-40 most irritating pop songs from the 60s and 70s, such as the all-time worst "I Started to Cry" and other grating tunes. Not what you want to having ringing in your ears. (What was wrong with that guy's voice, anyway? Was he down a well?)

I don't know which Parisians decide that this is cool or even vaguely appealing.

Ditto for the hard core rap songs that blare in the Biguine hair salons (and most of the others too). Hey guys, look around at your client base -- not a soul under 40 most days, median age probably 55. But I digress.

Okay and here's my final Bah-Humbug. Did anyone ever explain the concept of "less is more" to the Parisian holiday light & decoration brigade?

I absolutely adore some of the Christmas lights that make the city sparkle. And some big store holiday displays are simply spectacular. But many of them are simply gaudy, gilding the lily at best. And please, let's go easy on the tinsel. Paris is a beautiful city, as everyone knows so well. If you are an elegant Grande Dame, you don't need to over-dress in too much blue eyeshadow and cheap paste jewelry, just because it's the holidays.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Checking 'em Out at the Check-Out

Is it me, or does the check-out line at the home delivery section of Carrefour tend to be a flirting magnet? First there was Mr. Tousled Hair . Then last week, a new round.

In the livraison a domicile line in front of me was an attractive grey-haired man. Nice Italian loafers, crisp blue button-down shirt and jeans -- an air and slight paunch of healthy affluence and joie de vivre. No wedding band! He was pushing a tottering pile of party food in his cart. Shrimps and patés and crackers, chocolates, heads of lettuce, hams, pickles, sparkling water, cheeses. Cases of champagne and bordeaux and Kronenburg trailing behind on the floor, unable to fit safely in the oversized grocery caddie. As there was another full cart ahead of him, Mr. Party disappeared into the depths of the store to retrieve a few last-minute items. He returned five minutes later with four roasting chickens. With a winning smile he apologized for abandoning the line. After he inched his groaning cart forward, we exchanged some witty pleasantries about where to find a certain items in his pile. "I sell eet to you for a price!" he teased me charmingly as he disappeared again to get some thing else. More chickens, I wondered?

Another eight minutes later the young couple at the head of the line finished transacting all of their business. Mr. Party was no where to be seen. The cashier was waiting, I wouldn't have moved in front of Mr. P's cart, but I literally couldn't anyway, because his beer and wine cases on the floor were too heavy for me to maneuver. So, in order to get the process going, I simply began unloading his items onto the conveyor belt. The clerk and I were doing our female-bonding tut-tutting about men and grocery shopping as I uncovered squashed tomatoes (under wine bottles!). Finally Mr. P returned, really apologetic and funnier than ever, thanking me profusely. He eventually got to the bottom of his cart, where a case of eggs 100% broken was oozing yolks all over the floor. More jokes, shrugging shoulders. Would we wait while he returned to get a new flat of eggs?

Why not? At this point the party was happening right there at the caisse. He thoughtfully offered to leave a check and his carte de visite (we laughed about this too -- he meant to say carte d'identité) with the cashier so the order could get processed. I peeked at the carte. He was Belgian. But darn -- I couldn't find the age or name without my reading glasses.

Eggs returned. He then disappeared yet again to get a discount card, but as he was mostly finished the cashier was able to begin processing my order. I didn't have my discount card with me, I explained to her, thinking that since I had been so nice and helpful and we had "bonded", she would give me the discount anyway, like at Stop & Shop in the states. No way.

Just then the prodigal Mr. P returned, and, smiling broadly, offered "Why don't you use MY discount card? It's the least I can do."

"Ah-ah-ah," said the cashier, "you can't do that. Madame here has already explained that you two are not together."

"Ah, but we are," he protested, eyes twinkling. "For several months now, we are together. Un vrai couple! Actually, I must admit, it's quite longer than that. Madame and I and I actually have three children together," he added with a concupiscient nod in my direction.

"Oh, oui," I chimed. " It's just that the children are not au courant about the matter."

That totally won Mr. P. We had successfully out-charmed each other in this little encounter, so now, alas, it was time to leave. In a flurry of goodbyes and thank yous, he dashed off to his next errand.

"Don't forget to mail my invitation!" I laughed, only half kidding.

Nevah Weah Leopard before Noon

"Dahling, nevah weah Leopahd before noon!" was a punch line many moons ago from a great "ladies in leopard" anecdote by my Massachusetts friend Cee-Cee. Leopard just wasn't very New England. My gal pals and I used to snicker about such things.

Before I left my prim coastal community last winter I had to de-accession clothing that I presumed would be inappropriate for my new life and closet space in Paris. So, sadly I sent my unworn Ferragamo leopard flats up for adoption at the local consignment store. I really grieved, if it's possible to grieve for a pair of shoes. (Some of you will understand this. Others will think I'm nuts. Both are correct.)

They had been such a find -- in my hard-to-find size in Filene's Basement, gorgeous leopard-print suede ballerina flats, for an unbelievable bargain of $49. Honest-to-god brand-new Ferragamos. I had bought them on a whim two years before, and then rarely had the chance or gumption to wear them in Boston, what with the noon rule and all. Besides -- a divorced woman, in leopard, in Boston? Dahling, puhleez.

So imagine my utter extreme terrible heartbroken dismay to discover that this year in Paris, leopard is not merely acceptable, it is all the rage, 24/7. De rigueur. Fashion note: just one article of leopard at a time, s'il vous plait.

If they even made that style this year, a pair of those shoes would fetch about 275 euros at the Ferragamo boutique on rue du Faubourg St. Honore.

Do you think I could get that consignment shop to return those flats to their birth mother?

For Political Parties??

Quick! When you think of French bureaucrats, politicians, elected officials, what comes to mind? I bet the words "humor", "witty" "clever" were not first on your mind.

Well, think again.

At the new and newly stocked Boutique of the Assemblee Nationale, there is a myriad of delightfully funny gift items, perfect for the avid politics-lover (or hater!) on your holiday gift list.

Included are items such as the Gauche and Droite oven mitts pictured here , which I bought for my friend the journalist who has to dwell deep in Sarko-Segoland every day. These are also available in socks for men and children, cufflinks, mugs, and more. There are T'shirts reading "100% Pour" or "100% Contre". You get the idea. Self-effacing and funny. And most are at stocking-stuffer prices. Erasers shaped like Marianne, for 1 euro. And more mundane products, for sure, reflecting the sobriety and importance of the institution.

No, they weren't drinking bourbon at the Palais Bourbon when they came up with some of these, but a number of them were conceved by senateurs or deputes with esprit.

Among my favorites: his-and-hers director's chairs labeled Depute and Deputee, and a book of "perles" which are actually malapropisms excerpted from real discours in the Assemblee.

And they gift wrap for free, cheerfully. 7 rue Aristide Briand in the 7th arrondissement. Open Monday - Saturday 10 am to 7 pm.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mysteries of French Washing Machines

I got back to Paris after a 10-day trip with lots of laundry to do. When I went to the kitchen to start a load, to my utter dismay I discovered that a previous load of clothes had been washed but never removed, and so had sat in the machine for the entire period without hanging up to dry.

I admit that I am sometimes laundrily-challenged in that way. In my Massachusetts laundry days, such a lapsus would have meant a tub full of sour, mildewing laundry requiring pints of Clorox and several subsequent washes and rinses. A drill I know all too well.

Not so with my weird little French lave linge. The clothes had been spun almost completely dry, and smelled lavendar-lovely. After 10 days! I'm not even going to try to figure that one out, and just be glad that I have something to wear.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

France 24

M. Alain de Pouzilhac
President and Directeur General
France 24
Issy-les-Moulineaux, France

Dear Monsieur de Pouzilhac,

It is with delight and eager anticipation that we await the initial broadcast of France 24 on December 6. This exciting venture, which will give France a competitive edge on Fox News and CNN, is certain to put France in the forefront of the global telecommunications scene.

I understand that you have invited 12 bloggers from around the world to attend the launch and visit the studios. There are a number of bloggers right here in Paris who would be glad to join them, and no need to buy an airline ticket! When people worldwide want to know what's really happening in France, they look to The Paris Blog to get the inside scoop. So we are a natural partner for France 24.

Wishing you the very best in your new endeavour, monsieur, please accept the expression of my most distinguished salutations,

Polly Vous Francais

p.s. resume enclosed

Friday, December 01, 2006

Information, please

Here are some of my favorite reources for making life in Paris go a little more smoothly.

1. Obvious for a number of reasons, including the predictably useful pagesblanches tab. Extra astuce: if you can't remember the name of the place, just plug in the street name and browse through the listings. Also excellent for looking at aerial views of where you and all of your pals live. And webcams of various parts of Paris. Great map feature.

2. I can't live without this. Best ways to get across Paris by public transportation. Plug in your destination and preferences (mode, fewest connections, fastest, least foot travel, etc.). Voila!

3. This of course is the French equivalent to MapQuest, but I find it much more user-friendly. Great for those of us who like to get around on foot, but equally good for getting yourself out of town by car.

This site from the Prefecture de Police of Paris will tell you which of the above transportation routes are disrupted this week by local manifs, defiles, visites d'etat, and so on.

This tells where all the outdoor markets are, by arrondissement. Basically, getting to know the website is the most bountiful resource of all.
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