Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Comfort Food in Paris

When the Paris autumn air has a constant chill and the days get dark early, there is a need for comfort food for dinner. Comfort to me means warm and tasty and not painfully long to prepare or clean up after.

A poulet roti from the boucher always does the trick. At the boucherie, they know when they see me coming that I'm not asking for a filet mignon. It's always the same. They greet me and politely ask what I would like, but I've noticed that they start heading over to the rotisserie before I've even given my response. I pick out the juiciest-looking roasted chicken; monsieur weighs it and then asks, obligingly, "Et avec ceci?" He knows that I will reply, "Ce sera tout, merci." I love the little dance, even though it never changes.

Next stop is the Quatrehomme Fromagerie across the street where I can get just a small bit of really fresh butter. I've learned not to keep butter for long in the fridge -- better to have small quantities of the really fresh stuff. Otherwise, after a week or so it starts tasting like the past-expiration contents of the refrigerator.

Once home, I warm the chicken in the oven, boil small potatoes and eat them with the tiniest amount of delicious butter and gros sel from Ile de Ré. If I want to be really healthy I'll toss in a few haricots verts from Picard. Quick, lazyman's comfort for a fall evening. Don't forget that glass of bordeaux!

Fun with Martine

Either you know Martine or you don't. If you know Martine, you probably have strong feelings one way or the other about this famous fillette heroine of French children's literature.

Saccharine-sweet Martine and her perky pup Patapouf have been best-sellers in French children's literature since the mid-1950s. Perhaps many people love Martine and recall her charming adventures with great fondness. On the other hand, many find the Martine series to be -- er, how shall I say this -- Cloying? Smarmy? Vapid?

If you are in the latter category -- or maybe even if you like Martine but have a wonderfully warped sense of humor -- you'll love the Martine Page Generator, a site dedicated to make-your-own parodies of the Martine book covers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

La Famille Adams

As I walked through the Cimitière Montparnasse the other day, the first tomb that I spotted gave me an unexpectedly chilling chuckle, for such a solemn place. The Adams Family. It seemed so à propos, even if the name was missing the extra 'd' for the Addams Family of television fame. Morticia, you will remember, did love to speak French.

Hallowe'en in Paris

Halloween is not a huge stuff-your-sack candy free-for-all in Paris the way it is in the States. For one thing, all the kids are on school vacation -- vacances scolaires de la Toussaint.

But it has gained in popularity in recent years, I gather, and there are some celebrations here and there.

The Marie Antoinette costume in this store in the 12th arrondissement seemed to be saying "trick or treat" as if there were no difference between the two.
On the other hand, I kind of liked her surreal blockhead mask, too.

Voila: A Scornful Spy

When I have a bit of a fever -- the beginnings of an "angine blanche" -- my brain turns to mush. I abandon attempts to accomplish anything that requires common sense, decision-making or editorial judgment. Resigned to faire le cocooning in my apartment, swaddled in polaire (polar fleece) and sipping tisanes. The rest of the world has to go away. Whatever intellect my febrile cerebellum may have had before, all it could muster yesterday was making lists of words. Such as:

Fully Spoons Caviar
Canal Frivolous Spy
Oops: Sinful Cavalry
Voila! Play, Cross, Fun
Cavalry Of Upsilons
Safari Pulls Convoy
Voila Snafu, Cry Pols
Vanilla Scoops Fury
Flouncy Saliva Pros
Soupy Naval Frolics
A Colossal Fun Privy
Voila A Scornful Spy
Voila Puns, Cry Loafs

What on earth are these? Why, they're anagrams of "Polly Vous Francais," of course.

Don't worry, I didn't spend the day rearranging letters on my own. I didn't have the energy for that. But I did discover the Internet Anagram Site.

So I decided to check out anagrams of names of some of my favorite people, sayings and so on. Trust me, you can kill a whole day -- bedridden or no -- oh say, finding deliciously evil anagrams of despised individuals you'd love to get even with. Or, more kindly, discovering witty anagrams of famous people or companies you'd like to charm. The cool part is that you can plug in any word or phrase and search for anagrams in French or English (or a number of languages.)

For example, I learned on the site that an anagram for "New York Times" is "Monkeys Write." Anagrams just don't get more adorable than that! "Clint Eastwood" is "Old West Action."

Here are samples of a few other of my favorite publications I wasted an afternoon finding....

Le Figaro
Log Afire
Frail Ego
A Frog Lie

Le Monde
Led Me On

Alien Orbit
Alibi Toner
Latrine Bio
Able in Riot

Le Canard Enchainé
Adrenaline Chance
Cancan Header Line
Adrenal Acne Niche
Enhanced Clean Air

International Herald Tribune
Threadbare Nutritional Linen
Rehabilitation Errand Tunnel
Rattlebrain Unlined Antihero
Trainable Indentation Hurler

Le Parisien
Praise Line
Alien Spire
A Lie Ripens
I Repeal Sin

and, finally, a glossy anagram that I couldn't resist:

Madame Figaro
Afraid-Age Mom

I checked on my hometown numero uno rag, the Boston Globe, and came up with a cheerful list:

Longest Boob
Bootleg Snob
Blog Sob-Note

Fortunately, today I'm feeling much better. Anagrams and milligrams of vitamin c: the new cure-all. Any further attempts at word lists would mean that I am simply engaging in "A Certain Sport". Go ahead, you figure out that one.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Contest Winner

A week ago I announced the Polly-Vous Francais Paris Elevator Photo Contest.

And the winner is... Anna, a new Parisian blogger at Fernweh / Paris bébé.

Okay, she was the only person who entered the contest. Probably because she has a cool fish-eye lens. I knew it was hard to take a picture of the inside of a box. Felications, Anna, and welcome to Paris!

Says Anna of her elevator:

"I guess it's what you would call a 'three person' capacity, but it's crowded with two. I rode up with the gardienne last week, and we were nose-to-nose for three floors."

I think Anna deserves an extra award just for that.

Next, stay tuned for the "Why Polly Vous Francais Doesn't Have Blog Comments Enabled Yet" haiku contest. One contender already!

Home Town Pride

For those of you who have asked if "they follow the World Series in France," I present you a prominent headline of today's L'Equipe, the sports newspaper.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Eyes Have It

All right. If you are my mother or my children or any of my Episcopalian friends and kin, please stop reading now. Right here. Please go into the other room or onto another screen, back to your Free-Cell, your Facebook, or your New Yorker magazine or whatever and let me tell this to the rest of the gang. (For heaven's sake, give me this one break. It's taken me a year of being in France and adjusting my prim sensibilities in order to have the gumption to take this public.) Bye!

Good, they're all gone now? The doors are closed and it's just us? Now I can whisper to you about losing my virginity in France. My eye-sex virginity, that is.

It was a year ago, in the innocence of springtime. I'd only been in France a few months. The setting was so... mundane. There I was, relaxing in the front passenger seat of K's rental car in Normandy, having spent a rejuvenating weekend in the countryside. We were parked at a grungy Esso station near Routot en route back to Paris; K was inside looking for the cashier, to pay for a tank of gas. Ensconsed in the back seat, K's older sister Pamela was peering down through her reading glasses, absorbed with the needlepoint Becassine pillow cover she was stitching to take home to New England. I leaned back and gazed out the window aimlessly.

A car circled around in front of ours and stopped -- a Renault Espace, of all things, France's own version of the mini-van. The driver glanced over through the frame of his open window; then for no apparent reason, he began staring intensely in my direction. Handsome, with soft chestnut-colored hair curling at his shirt collar. It was too far to judge, but I believe his eyes were brown or deep hazel. At first, not to be intimidated or flustered, I stared right back. Slowly he edged his mini-van forward a few meters, while still engaging that penetrating Look. It was Just One of Those Things. Now our gazes were locked as if magnetized. We continued staring. Intensely and intently. Eventually I realized this was no ordinary staring contest. This was of a higher order.

It was surprisingly electric, that Look. It zapped straight into me, and down my spine. Finally, without budging a centimeter, I murmured ventriloquist-style, "Oh my god, this is just incredible."

Pamela perked up, stopped her needlepoint and piped from the seat behind me. "What? What's incredible?"

"Uh, I think ...I'm having eye sex right this very minute with the man in that car," I smiled ethereally, but I was failing miserably at being nonchalant.

"Wherewherewhatman," quizzed she, now totally uninterested in Becassine and craning forward to see the Man. "What do you mean, 'eye sex?'" her voice spiked.

"Shhh!" I hissed. "Um, um, I don't exactly know," I mumbled in a low voice, not being at my most eloquent and unwilling to make the slightest movement. "I'm just having... eye sex ...with the gorgeous guy that grey van over there."

Pamela started giggling excitedly, bobbing to the side to get a peek. I continued staring through the windshield, Mona Lisa inside my vehicular bubble. Transfixed. This was pretty good, this French eye-sex. The Look. The Return Look. Pulse racing. The fantastic distant promise that we all knew was going absolutely nowhere. I was transported.

Presently K crossed through our sight line and plunked down in the driver's seat to start the engine. The spell was broken, and the Espace guy gradually pulled out of the station with a final lingering glance. I noticed a pair of baby seats in the back of his van as it rolled by.

Still giggling like a schoolgirl, Pamela reported to K, "You missed the action. Polly says she was just having 'eye sex' with a guy in another car."

"What's that, EYE sex?" asked no-nonsense K. "What on earth do you mean?"

I fluttered down to terra firma from my lovely distant planet. "Hmm, I don't really know what I mean," I shrugged merrily. "All I know is that two minutes ago I was an eye-sex virgin. And now I'm not."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Look! Up in the Sky! it's a Green Thing

I promise, I was not sending anybody on a wild goose chase. The Goose Man of the Seine apparently had ultralight engine troubles today, and lost the birds in the process. (I saw it all on the 8 o'clock news tonight.) He's going to try again on Sunday.

Meanwhile, if you were going to faire le jogging along the Seine hoping to see the geese parade aloft, do not despair: instead can you look up at the Palais de Tokyo. If you see what looks like a 1990's-style Winnebago on the roof, you are not imagining things.

There is a modern art installment getting prepared for the world to see. Called "Everland," it is a live-in module that will function as a hotel for a year.

I have to admit, you can't beat the Paris views from the top of the Palais de Tokyo. So for a starting price of a measly 333€ per night, not a bad place to spend the night. Cheaper than many four-star hotels. I don't know if the room service will be too predictable, though. And you are "part" of the art installation, whatever that means.

I wish I had more precise information on Everland Hotel to report. Last week when I stopped by and took these pics, the Everland press department promised to invite me to their vernissage. But, oh well, I guess they lost my email address.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Other French Kissing

When my daughter was two years old, we were sitting one feverish afternoon in the pediatrician's waiting room. Waiting. The doctor's office was kind enough to furnish some pastimes to distract the younger patients until they could be escorted into the examining rooms.

My blond cherub picked up the stub of a purple Crayola and started scrawling on whatever paper was available -- in this case, a dreaded Disney coloring book. Her artwork was nowhere within any lines at that age, of course. After a few minutes she finished her embellishments and proudly exclaimed, "Look, Momma!" as she held up her masterpiece. The page of the coloring book was a black-and-white outline of Prince Charming bent over Cinderella's hand, giving it an elegant kiss. "Look!" she cried, "Da pwince is fixing Cindewella's boo-boo!"

I practically piddled trying to suppress my laughter. Of course, in her world, all spot-kisses were bestowed maternally with magical powers of healing bruised knees or pinched fingers. How could I expect an American toddler to know anything about the European culture of hand-kissing, le baisemain?

Even we American adults in general are not that familiar with le baisemain (pronounced le bez-menh). I think that most of what we know we've gleaned from movies. I don't know the long story of it, but it's a fairly aristocratic gesture in origin, so I imagine that it went out of style in the US around the time that American colonies chucked our ties to the monarchy. If it ever reached our shores to begin with.

Personally? I love le baisemain. It doesn't happen on a daily basis, not for me anyway. But oh, when it does! It's so full of gallantry and elegance -- when done properly by a Frenchman who's got the lifelong skill honed to a delightful art. I admit that I still blush a bit inwardly.

On the other hand, it's kind of sweet and silly to see American men imitating the gesture, trying to be polite and do-as-the-French-do when they're in Paris. Last year I attended a dressy Paris reception with a group of visiting Americans. One guy from Georgia planted a noisy wet smooch on the hand of the French lady he was introduced to. She was genteel and smiled broadly and kindly (before subtly reaching for a mouchoir, no doubt). Because contact in le baisemain should be even more distant than the other French kissing -- the double-cheek kissing, the bisous. The lips don't actually touch the other person's skin, en principe.

According to my good friend, French etiquette coach Marie de Tilly, there is a well-established code around le baisemain: where, when, how. Officially, minimum distance should be a few centimeters between gentleman's lips and lady's hand, for example. Often the man merely nods toward your outstretched hand as he lifts it ever-so slightly.

Tonight I was at a dinner and it happened again. A lovely baisemain, and with it a feeling of flattery, respect, and being totally charmed. Maybe someday I'll find it ho-hum. Until then, I probably feel the way Laura Bush looked when Chirac plied his French baisemain charms on her for this photo-op.

Just a teeny little frisson.

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Plane! It's a Bird!

According to an article in today's Le Parisien, tomorrow in the early morning a man flying an ultralight plane (ULM) will guide a flock of migrating geese up the Seine, landing around Notre-Dame. Depending on weather conditions, of course.

Honest. I couldn't make this up.

So if you're up early, wander over to the river and take a gander at the V-formation and snap those photos! I might still be asleep.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Familiar Sight

On a midday stroll in the Montparnasse Cemetery, I spotted this building from a distance, and instantly had a feeling of déjà vu that I couldn't shake.

So I asked a British couple passing by if they had any description of it in their guide book. "No, it just says it's an old windmill," they said.

I stared harder. Then it dawned on me. It looks just like Rapunzel's Castle!
Image from

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What Time is It?

Listen, although I'm concerned, I'm not going to get involved, here, in the current hoo-ha about Daylight Savings Time, Congress, and the effects on our planet.

No, I simply want to know when to get up (or not) in the morning so that I can show up (or not) where I'm supposed to go.

I admit it. I get confused about time zones anyway. Lots of US friends still get mixed up as to whether it's six hours earlier or six hours later in Paris. So I offer a handy little clock on the right-hand column of "Polly Vous Francais?" so readers know what time it is, real time, in the City of Light. I dearly hope that my US friends who are thinking of telephoning me after a night out on the town take a peek at that little clock before they start to dial.

Finally, I get into the transatlantic time-difference routine. Then I return to the US for a while and get it all backwards again.

I am not alone. When I asked one Australian reader what the time difference was between Sydney and Paris, he replied, "About 24 - 25 hours, I think."

Um. Um. Um. Wait...wait, let me wrap my sorry little brain around that notion. Not exactly. I think that's maybe in the Twilight Zone... or Howdy-Doody Time.

Changes in Daylight Savings Time can make it even more confusing. Then I discovered this cool website that lets you see what time it is anywhere in the world. Boy, are they going to have their hands (block that pun!) busy in the next two weeks. France and the whole EU end daylight savings this Sunday morning. The US ends daylight savings the following Sunday. And yes, I do know that the proper phrase is Daylight Saving Time (no "s"). I just can't make my mouth say it or my fingers type it that way.

So "fall back" in Paris this Sunday, October 28. Set your clocks back one hour. "Fall back" in the US on November 4. That means that for one week the time difference between France and the East Coast of the US, instead of the usual 6 hours, will be 5 hours.

I think.

The First Americans in Paris

Who was the very first American in Paris? (Hint: he wasn't an American when he arrived.)

What happened when Franklin met Voltaire?

Where did Jefferson first envision the idea of a Library of Congress?

How did Franklin hone his treaty-writing skills while negotiating with the British after the Revolutionary War?
(Hint: a French lady was involved.)

Is your curiosity piqued? Good! Come along and take a stroll into American history in Paris. Find out the answers to these and many more questions on Lire et Partir's wonderful walking tour, The Founding Fathers in Paris, this Sunday October 28 at 2 pm.

I stumbled upon on Lire et Partir's Founding Fathers tour last July, and loved it every inch of the way. Shari Segall, Rebecca Brite and Pamela Grant are superb tour leaders, knowledgeable and passionate about their subject. So I'm returning this Sunday for a much-anticipated repeat.

And I promise to arrive on time, as I have been reminded to set my clock back on Saturday night. You will too, right?

On this approximately 2-1/2 hour tour they'll help us celebrate the world’s oldest, most resilient international friendship by following in the steps of the first American expatriates in Paris : Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and other heroes of the new republic.

Lire et Partir is a walking tour group that features French or English-language visits of literary and historic Paris. Another favorite is their popular "Lost Generation" tour, where you'll be glad to "find" Hemingway and pals with these connoisseurs of Paris history.

This Sunday bring your cameras, your enthusiasm and your walking shoes for the Left Bank tour, which begins across from the Musée d'Orsay and will end in the vicinity of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Be ready for some fun!

Where: Meet at the Statue of Thomas Jefferson (pictured above) across from the Musée d'Orsay, corner of rue Solferino and the Seine.
When: Sunday October 28, 2 pm, rain or shine. (Also Sunday, November 4, 2 pm. )
Price: 15€ per person. Please reserve by Saturday evening.

For more information and reservations, tel : or

SPECIAL OFFER: the first attendee to answer the following trivia question on Sunday's tour will win a free ticket for another Lire et Partir tour.

Question: which Founding Father penned the following letter, and who was 'Polly'?

"Paris, September 14, 1767

Dear Polly,
I am always pleas'd with a Letter from you, and I flatter myself that you may be sometimes pleas'd at receiving one from me..."

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Get a Lift Out of You


When apartment hunting in Paris, inevitably you'll come across an ad for what sounds like the Parisian flat of your dreams.

rental apartment (une location)
great location (bon quartier)
well-maintained building (immeuble de grand standing)
the rent (loyer) sounds affordable, plus
wonderful, unobstructed views (vue dégagée).

Then, ahem, the teensy little afterthought tacked onto the tail end of the announcement: the dreaded "sans asc."

Sans ascenseur= oops, no elevator!

Now, let's use deductive logic. Great views = oh, maybe le 6e étage? That's French étage, mes chers amis, which is 7th-floor American style.

Please, please, listen to me: no matter how delightful the apartment sounds, no matter how much it oozes with charm, you just don't want to move in if it's way up in the ozone and sans ascenseur. "Oh, that's okay," you fantasize. "It sounds so... Parisian! So romantic! I'll get used to it -- and climbing all those stairs will tone my thighs."

No, no, no. Trust me -- what it will do is make you dread going home. It will make you buy extras of personal items you realize you've forgotten just when you've lumbered down to the rez-de-chaussée and simply cannot cope with trudging BACK up the 7 flights to retrieve them. To wit:

"Damn! I left my Carte Orange on my desk? Well, just this once I'll buy another métro ticket anyway." "It's raining and my three spare umbrellas are upstairs in the closet? Oh, well, just this once, I'll buy another." And so forth. "Maybe I'll pay to have the groceries delivered.. just this once." "Hmm. Out of milk for my coffee this morning. Okay, I'll go have a café crème in a café. Just this once."

Psychology, mes amis, psychology. Rewards and pain.

Eventually that "cheap" rent gets expensive because you spend a euro here, ten euros there, to compensate. Believe me, I've been there. This summer a friend offered to let me use her 6e étage walk-up chambre de bonne -- in a seductively swish neighborhood -- to set up as an office. View from the window: the tip of one weathervane of the Louvre. I swoon.

I was also smitten with the notion of a separate office. The apartment was minuscule and charming. I saw it for the first time using her 5th floor elevator, of course, which was not part of the daily deal. We crossed over to the servants' stairs in back for access to the top floor.

I joyfully moved in my files and papers, and spent a while sprucing the place up. After the first few outings, I've virtually stopped going to my "office" to write. Why? Because each time it takes me a half hour to recuperate from hyperventilating once I hike to the top of the very, very steep stairs. I've gotten to know the landing of the 4e étage intimately -- my habitual pit stop. This fabulous bohemian garret may be closer to heaven (le ciel), but even my Puritanical you-gotta-earn-rewards mentality, it's more punishment than I care to inflict on myself.

Now, therefore,

Let us praise elevators. When I get home to my cozy 3e étage real dwelling, avec ascenseur, I practically weep with joy at the happy reunion. Although I admire the idea of the stair-climbing exercise in principle, I am head-over-heels in love with elevators of every size and shape.

Mine is officially a three-person elevator. As in: three people who get along really well, have bathed recently, haven't eaten too much at lunch, and no oversized pocketbooks, please. And one of the happy smushed trio gets to kiss the fuzzy Velcro walls in the process. But when friends pile in, it's zany, like those telephone-booth stuffing contests of yore.

Lacking guests, most days I'm riding solo. If I take the elevator down when I'm running late (often) I can do a last-minute hair-and-earring status check: there is a mirror with dim yellow lighting that somehow always makes me look good. Unfortunately, it's so dim that it doesn't let me see that I've applied eyeliner to only one eye, for example. Or notice that residual pale-blue dab of toothpaste on my chin. But, damn, I always look good in that mirror-mirror on the elevator wall! Scrutiny under broad daylight is another story.

Then when I return home, woe to me if I'm clutching three plastic grocery bags in each hand. My dear elevator (whom I call Darth 'Vator on these evil moments), requires a key to function. (I still don't understand the rhyme or reason of it -- something to do with les charges and who did and didn't pay for the elevator installation 30 years ago). Holding grocery bags at the knuckles and turning the key and simultaneously pressing the button for the third floor requires gyrations only performed normally by circus contortionists. Loath to let go of those bulging bags, I turn the key with an available finger and (shh!) press the elevator button with my nose. Yes, my nose. Stop laughing. How would YOU do it? It gets me where I need to go, most days. Once I did nasally press button "2" by mistake: I exited the elevator and and spent a few minutes inadvertently trying to unlock the door of my downstairs neighbor's apartment. But that's a story for another day.

My US visitors laugh at it, but my 3-man elevator is not the tiniest elevator in Paris, not by a long shot. I have ridden in plenty of two-person elevators. I have crammed into a one-person elevator, where I had to inhale deeply just to let the doors close. This is not recommended for people with Poe-esque taphophobia. Happily, it doesn't bother me -- and in my book, a coffin-sized elevator is sure better than none at all. (Note to self-- lacking a little bell and string, always bring cell phone when riding elevators.)

I was wonderfully spoiled by the elevator in my first Paris apartment. A fabulous classic wrought-iron cage, nice well-oiled gliding doors, a grand, expansive family affair, and it only broke down occasionally. The genuine article in antique Parisian elevators. I hope they never have to change it.
Some of my other favorites have rattan inner doors. But my attempts to chronicle these delightful, quirky elevator interiors have understandably been a challenge.


I herewith announce the Polly-Vous Français Paris Elevator Photo Contest. The tricky part is is how to successfully photograph the inside of a box. Go ahead and try -- if you send me the results at that yahoo address in the right-hand corner, I'll publish the winners.

Allez les Chaussettes Rouges!

Next (happy) dilemma to solve: how to watch the World Series from Paris.

(Reuters photo)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Summer Porch © 2006 Jim Minot

Sometimes in Paris the days seem so complex and complicated. Racing around my apartment, prioritizing a mental tangle of computers and committees, finances and French, schedules and Skype.

Then, sometimes, a gentle reminder crosses my path that suspends daily enervation and springs me from my urban worries. An email link arrives. I click. I take one look at this painting, and a yearning rises from deep within. A lump forms in my throat. In an instant technology evaporates, the bustle of the city recedes, and I am no longer in Paris.

I am an ocean away, on an island in Maine. I am splayed on the warm steps next to this rocking chair, soaking up the August sun. Just back from another long walk on the stone beach, I sit on the porch, lazily sorting through my trouvailles: elegant driftwood, turquoise and green sea-glass and perfect, whole sea urchin shells.

The wind sifts through the pines and ruffles the tall grass in the field. An occasional osprey cries, a lobster boat chugs by in the distance, seagulls circling hungrily. Other than that, there is no noise. No electricity to make the slightest hum.

Time stretches endlessly at this antique wood-shingled farmhouse, on a remote point of land on the island. Each minute holds hours of wonder.

My only care right now is to choose the most exquisite of the shells for the sculpture I am designing. The kids are off exploring in the woods or fields somewhere along the ancient dirt road; there are no cars or other concerns. At most we'll tend to mosquito bites or sunburned shoulders, or scratches from brambles, when they return.

They'll eventually scramble back to the house with proud discoveries and new secrets, and we'll prepare for the evening ritual. But before it's time to light the gas lamps and candles inside, we'll sit on this porch and marvel at the view as the sky turns a pale transparent lavender, a soft hue that I'm convinced exists only here.

How can I distill the air and take it with me when it comes time to leave this place? A soothing fragrance of deep pine and salt blended with the subtlest distant hint of ripening raspberries. I'll simply absorb all I can to carry it within me when I go.

Until then, I am sitting on this porch, on an island in Maine, and I don't want to be any other place in the world.
Watercolors by Jim Minot,

Friday, October 19, 2007

Uh-Oh. Velo.

PrettyLady downstairs has stopped smiling at me when we pass in the vestibule or on the sidewalk. I won't say that she sneers, but she's tight-lipped and cold. Naive moi, I had thought she was a new friend.

I guess she only smiles when she wants something. What she wanted was for me to get rid of my bike.

Yesterday the residents of our building got the following note on our doorsteps (click on image to enlarge):

Roughly translated

"A reminder that parking bicycles is only "tolerated" in the courtyard. We are going to create a space in the basement, with an easy access by the building off the courtyard. In the meanwhile, we ask for your most respectful cooperation in order to make life better for everyone in the building (parking bikes on the street when possible, taking them down to the basement when not being used, etc.).

[The rest is about how to recycle your trash]

Well now, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. She, I, we, they, all know that it is 99% impossible to take a bike into the basement. Tiny narrow stairs, no light. Lotsa spiders. Heavy bike. C'mon.

Bikes on the street? Well, they tend to get vandalized or stolen, peed on by pooches, and anyway, there are sometimes other randomly enforced laws about where parking of bikes is allowed on sidewalks, not attached to fences, etc. You apparently can get ticketed.

I consulted a few web sites. Evidently a law was proposed in July in the Conseil Municipal of Paris, to require building owners to allow bikes in the courtyard, but it was struck down for unclear reasons.

Yes, of course Velib is a good solution in general, but what about people who have child seats or simply need a bike for longer? Or who already own a bike? It seems to me that if the City of Paris is really set on making this city a paradise for bicyclists, they could help us out with fussy neighbors who are trying to run the show ... simply because she lives right on the courtyard, is the head of the Condo Association, and doesn't want to have her view spoiled. If I hadn't asked before I bought the bike, I would feel remorse. Instead, I'm just steamed.

Anyway, now I am going to join Velo 15et7, an association for bicyclists of the 15th and 7th arrondissements, which has helpful information for bike owners in similar predicaments.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kickin' down the cobblestones

I ventured out to meet a friend for lunch and decided to check out the streets of Paris during the transportation strike. On foot, of course.

I'd never seen such a brilliant blue sky in this city, the perfect backdrop for the golden dome of the Invalides.

Perhaps because the streets, at midday, had very few vehicles. Fewer fumes! Shops were open for the most part, but there weren't many crowds anywhere.

I wandered over to the Café de l'Esplanade, the chic see-and-be-seen spot next to the Invalides. Usually bustling at this hour of the day; but today outdoor tables were going begging. A few chauffeur-driven cars with vitres fumées (tinted windows) pulled up, their passengers exited to the cafe's interior.

Down the boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, a line of six taxis sat idling. In front of the 7th arrondissment's fanciest restaurants, the voituriers (valet parking attendants) were twiddling their thumbs. It looks as though Parisians took the warnings to heart and made other plans today.

Lunching on the terrasse of La Terrasse, we spotted two buses go by -- Number 82 -- in the space of 35 minutes. Each one had about nine passengers. I guess no one expected to be able to ride the bus, so there was little demand. I rarely see them so empty.

This isn't what I expected a massive transportation strike to look like. I don't know exactly what I expected, but on last night's 8 o'clock news I had seen images of throngs of stranded passengers waiting at train stations, and so today I imagined snarled traffic clogging every thoroughfare. I think most others did too.

In my neck of the woods today, Paris was a delight.


This Yahoo! ad on my email today. Is there some new expression that I'm unaware of? Wordsmiths, please clue me in...

Le jeudi noir n'aura pas lieu?

I may be jumping the gun, but today's anticipated "Black Thursday," so called because black indicates the highest level of traffic congestion, seems to be a no-show, at least so far this morning.

Webcams of Paris show light traffic on the streets. The Prefecture de Police traffic site shows green streets, meaning smooth traffic flow.

It doesn't mean that people's lives and schedules haven't been disrupted, because of the transportation strike, of course. But dire predictions in the press of "chaos" don't seem to have materialized. Most activities simply got cancelled, the way it would happen in New England when a blizzard is forecast.

There will be a manif, which I'm sure will be covered by the press, since there's not much else to write about in terms of crowds in today's news. Starts at 12h30, gathers at place de la Republique and will parade down boulevard Voltaire.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When Love Falls Apart

Since much of France will be more or less immobilized by today's transportation shut-down, there will be ample spare time to devote to reading today's French glossies.

A bunch have the Sarkozy marital saga on today's front page.

According to Le Figaro, this week's Paris Match, on the stands today, is devoting an entire issue to Cécilia, featuring exclusive photos. Le Point, l'Express, and le Nouvel Observateur will have cover stories on the Sarkozy couple and their marital difficulties.
Meanwhile, rumors that Madame Sarkozy formally filed for divorce on Monday have yet to be confirmed. Presidential spokesperson Martinon refuses to comment.

In a country that oft times defines itself by its devotion to Love, the most poignant commentary of anyone in the government, by the Minister of Education, in Le Monde:
"Je trouve simplement toujours douloureux de voir que l'amour peut se défaire".
("I simply find that it is always sad to see that love can fall apart.")

Men Seldom Make Passes...

Not so long ago, when I thought I was young and invincible, I used to smirk (inwardly), so unkindly, about people of a certain age who held the restaurant menu at arm's length and still couldn't read what to order. Or my older colleagues who were constantly misplacing their reading glasses despite owning multiple pairs. "Ha! That'll never happen to me," I thought smugly. "I have good eyesight and I eat lots of carrots."

God is punishing me now, big time. "Neener, neener, neener," says God.

Is there a French equivalent of "neener, neener neener?" I wonder. Because living in Paris puts a special twist on the need for reading glasses. There is the weird irony of going to a restaurant avec an English-speaking dinner guest but sans specs. So as my pal painstakingly pronounces, one by one, each menu item to me in phonetic but unrecognizable French, the waiter returns for the third time, asking "Vous avez choisi?" It's pathetic.

Although I'm no longer officially in denial about my need to correct my presbyopia, I still have a Freudian mental lapse about remembering to take them with me at important times.

Last summer I settled into my seat on a 3-hour TGV ride to La Rochelle, with good thick book ... and NO reading glasses. I felt like a wino without a corkscrew, a smoker without matches.

Oh, yes. The trick of always keeping a spare pair or five works great-- until you use the spares and leave them in wrong spot. And I'm too vain to get a chain to wear around my neck. For now. I still want to be oh-so-hip and carefree, not part of the chain gang. I know plenty of women who have gone for the contact-lens reading glasses route, but I'm not ready for that level of daily maintenance. For now. Do French women my age wear reading glasses? I don't recall seeing them do so, in public at least.

In Paris, the best place to pick up a pair of standard non-prescription reading glasses (les loupes de lecture) is in a pharmacie. The pharmacien(ne) will help you with fittings and so forth, and especially love it if you ask their opinions about which looks best on your face.

In the hair salons in Paris, if you are having messy stuff put on your scalp and tresses (of course of course not moi -- my hair is so very naturally auburn/chestnut-with-highlights), the coiffeur will give you des protege-lunettes. These are skinny plastic baggies that slide over the sides so you can keep reading Gala magazine gossip while the color cooks, without getting the staining goop all over your glasses. Maybe those filmy sheaths exist now in the US salons, but I don't think they're as ubiquitous as in France.

Resigned I am. But my all time favorite reading glasses -- the ones I have held onto the longest, too -- came from Bob Slate's, a stationery shop in Harvard Square, two years ago. If you have to be an old fogey and wear reading glasses, these are hands-down the coolest specs to own. Everyone I show them to loves them.

They are -- ta da! -- the Magnificent Nanninis.

Italian award-winning Nanninis have amazing pivotal hinges that move 360 degrees, so the sides simply don't break off.

They are designed to fold as flat as a passport.

In a pinch you can configure them so you simply hold them up like lorgnettes, which reminds me of the fussy socialites in the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera every time.

And best of all, Nanninis are not for the terminally middle-aged. (Nannini is NOT Italian for neener, neener. I don't think.) No, there are cool sunglasses and motorcycle goggles, too. The website,, tells you where to order worldwide.

And if I can't get my Nanninis soon enough, maybe I can get me some of these.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Entre Autres

Tonight I attended the premiere of Jean Rochefort's Entre Autres at the Theatre de la Madeleine. Rochefort is a gentleman, a respected comedian, and opening week tickets were half price. "What's not to love?" I thought.

Well, you know how it is, right? After a yummy steak-frites pre-show dinner and a glass of wine you sometimes tend to nod off during the performance.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen tonight.


With the planned transportation strike Thursday fast approaching, residents are looking for ways to make their appointed rounds. The strike is anticipated to begin late tomorrow evening and end Friday morning at 8 am.This will be the first time that the Velib program has been put to the test. Already, savvy commuters have been lining up alternative methods of transportation. Automobile traffic is understandably expected to be a mess. The carpooling initiative has decided not to charge its normal rates for the duration of the strike. Taxis, motorcycle taxis, and boats along the Seine are all expected to pick up a lot of the movement, but are already maxed out with reservations, according to news sources. Even Segways are expected to be booked solid.

Lacking those resources, it may be time to haul out your own rusty two-wheeled steed, be it bicycle or trotinette. Or else your most comfortable sneakers.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Four-legged pals in Paris

Last weekend's Le Figaro has a little fluff piece (block that pun!) on the latest crazes for pets in the city.

First, le bouledogue francais -- apparently the only canine actually indigenous to Paris, is touted as an ideal apartment dog. Small, good with children and only snores a wee bit. Ounce per ounce, though, your leetle bouledogue comes with a hefty price tag -- around 1000- 1200 euros for the 8-14 kilo Fido.

Next, the latest tendance in cats (it seems that Maine Coon cats are sooo last year) is the Ragdoll, so named because it goes limp in the arms of its owner. And some of those sweet Ragdolls are as big as a small bouledogue. And about the same price. Yow! Meow!

Finally, there are les rongeurs -- mice, rats, ferrets, and so forth. Rats as pets have been gaining in popularity since Ratatouille, says the Figaro ("Les rongeurs séduisent"). And -- hurrah! -- no need to clean up the sidewalk (or pretend to) on morning walks. On the other hand, best to avoid a rongeur at home if you already have a bouledogue. The were originally bred as ratiers.

Lots of websites for finding your perfect Paris pet.

La Societe centrale canine, for all breeds of dogs
L'Association Francaise du Ragdoll
L'Association de promotion du rat comme animal de compagnie

Then, the fun begins. Just underneath the article, a bevy of information in the "Bonnes Affaires" classified ads:

Cremadog "Vous avez respecté leur vie; respectez leur mort" -- for cremating your dog. Whoa, wait a minute! Let's not rush matters. I've just gotten to know little Toutou, and already we're thinking about where to put his ashes?

City Canine "Donnez-lui une vie sociale!" Kind of a for dogs? Dog play time, cushioned floors, big park next door. Plus canine etiquette lessons for your pooch; and instead of a nannycam you can log in and watch Toutou on a Canicam while you're toiling away at the office.

Taxi-Canine "Enfin, plus de soucis pour transporter vos animaux seuls ou accompagnés." A Paris taxi service for pets and, if needed, their owners, too.

Canicalin - "Salon de Toilettage," which is dog-grooming. (Pronounced twah-lett-ahhj.) A beauty salon for your pup, featuring trims and -- do I read this right -- epilation? Er, I presume that canine epilation doesn't involve wax.... 01 40 50 13 14
Ani Seniors At-home pet care.

Kennel Club. "Livraison à domicile." Doggy take-out/home delivery meals. Croquettes, boites, biscuits. (Kibble, canned food, dog biscuits). 01 45 25 42 42
And by the way, should you decide to get a little Parisian pooch for a new pet-- bouledogue or jacquesrusselle or whatever, remember -- according to French tradition, 2007 is the year where your dog should be christened with a name that begins with the letter "C".
Hmm, how about Cécilia, or Clooney, or Chanel, or Courbet or... Wow. Endless possibilities.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Window of the Seuil?

One of my favorite doorways in Paris, on avenue de Tourville near Ecole Militaire.
(The pun was beyond my control.)

The Green Challenge

I never thought I'd start a post with the phrase "I've just been tagged..." because I don't usually know what to say. (My apologies to others who've tagged me in the past and I let it fall through the cracks.)

But today I got tagged by Kimberley of ParisianEvents, who is passing along the Green Challenge to bloggers: How do you introduce environmental sustainability in your daily life?

My mind races. This topic requires a fair amount of intellectual honesty. Have I been recycling every plastic yogurt container or just the ones I've rinsed out? Well, I can fudge on that one. I immediately start feeling guilty about my Nespresso maker, which is environmentally unfriendly. I did write to the Nespresso Company last month asking why they don't have a capsule recycling program here like they do in Switzerland. That may have been a noble effort, but doesn't really qualify as action helping the environment.

I start to worry if I am actually doing anything to introduce environmental sustainability in my daily life. What am I going to write about for the Green Challenge? Nature hates a void, and my brain starts filling up with everything that I'm not doing. This isn't helpful.

Old-fashioned Protestant guilt snowballs as it serves up my list of naughty environmental behavior: I keep the heat higher than I should in the apartment -- I just don't function well in the cold. Bad, bad. I forget to take my baskets when I go to the Shopi and end up bringing home 6 or 7 plastic bags, which Paris doesn't recycle. I buy water in plastic bottles. I buy prepackaged goods. I leave the lights on in rooms that I'm not using.

Help help help! I'm not doing so well in the day-to-day green score, I am thinking. Guilt is wracking my soul. I may have to write a lovely fib or something.

Then I pause and take a mental step back, for a little perspective. Wait a minute. How am I green in my everyday life? Here's the answer:

I moved to Paris.

Eighteen months ago I lived in a lumbering old six-bedroom house in Massachusetts, far more space than I needed for me and my two teenagers, who were away at school most of the time. I had to heat, clean, and maintain all that space. I had a wonderful green yard and a garden -- certainly good for the environment, but requiring lots of mowing and dreaded leaf-blowing when I couldn't muster the energy to rake it all myself. And an occasional bit of Round-Up for persistent weeds. I had a nice station wagon that I drove everywhere, a necessity of suburban life. I ran loads and loads of laundry each day. In the US, I got a triple-grande no-foam non-fat latte from Starbucks, every single morning.

Then I moved to Paris: I sold my car. I live in 70 square meters. I travel on foot, public transport, or bike. I read the New York Times online. I air-dry my laundry. I give old clothes to Emmaus or La Croix Rouge. I return the metal hangers to the dry cleaners. I recycle in the two bacs in the courtyard, according to the Mairie de Paris guidelines. I have yet to grace the doors of any Starbucks in Paris. I may not be Madame Verte, yet, but maybe I'm not such an environmental sinner after all.

Can I keep my Nespresso maker, please?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

En dehors des clous

Long ago, before Paris had zebra-stripe pedestrian crossings, there were passages cloutés. These were crosswalks delineated by large nails (clous) driven in lines into the streets, originally between the cobblestones. The heads of these nails, about the size of a hamburger bun, were smooth and rounded, allowing for automobile tires to ride smoothly over them. So elegant in the streetscape, those rows of nails -- but I guess they were too subtle a warning for today's traffic.

Although the original passages cloutés -- the ones that really have the nails -- have all but disappeared, the phrase remains to mean a crosswalk. The figurative sense of the word still remains as well: whenever someone walks outside the nails (en dehors des clous), that person is stepping beyond the normal boundaries. Today it means not only jaywalking, but also "thinking outside the box".

So today, although I was literally inside the nails, I was figuratively en dehors des clous when I stopped in the middle of avenue d'Iéna next to the Arc de Triomphe and started snapping this photo of old clous in the street. Especially since the light had changed and people were staring.

But I couldn't resist. I wonder how many vestiges of crosswalk nails still exist here in Paris?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another day, another manifestation

Just another ordinary day in Paris. At the intersection on rue de Babylone, the police were redirecting traffic yesterday afternoon. Cars were backing up, honking. I could see the far end of the street was blocked off by a white police truck. Another day, another manif. (I recalled my first days in Paris when I saw my first manifestation ever, parading noisily down the rue de Rennes, and was so excited, snapping pictures, thrilled with the drama of it all.)

Now I don't even bat an eyelash, and simply do the mental calculation of how to change my transportation plans to get where I need to go. This manif was headed down to les Invalides.

So I walked down the rue de Babylone anyway, figuring that I could get to the boulevard, but that bus service would be interrupted and I'd simply have to take the metro at St. Francois Xavier to get to my meeting across town.

Think again.

This time the two policemen wouldn't even let pedestrians down the street. "C'est bloqué." is all they would say. A small crowd of would-be passersby stopped, incredulous that we weren't able to go the one block to the street. One by one, they asked the same question. "Can't I just go to the metro?" Same curt but polite reply each time, "C'est bloqué." We all started looking at each other with an oh-well-what-the-hell shrug. "Can we get to Duroc station, au moins?" asked one lady. "You can try, but I can't promise anything," replied the gendarme, clearly tiring of his role as an information desk clerk.

"Can you least tell us the projected route of the manif?" she pressed her luck. No reply.

I stood there immobile for a moment, weighing my options. I was already running late, and couldn't decide which way to head to catch a bus or metro that would skirt the manif. I chewed on my fingernail as I contemplated.

"Surely, madame, you cannot be so anguished as to have to do this," said a smooth gravelly-voiced man. I looked up and saw a 60-something gent, wavy hair, silk ascot, imitating me by biting on his finger. He smiled.

"Mais si," I replied, returning the smile. "I'm trying to figure out whether I should try to go to Duroc or Sevres-Babylone to catch the metro." I stuck my index finger back in my teeth. I needed to think, fast.

"Ah, parfois il faut choisir dans la vie," he said with a twinkle. "Il faut prendre des risques."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's On the Bag

Something's been missing in my life since I moved to Paris. I couldn't quite put my finger on it for the longest time. It was a vague sense of a nagging little fundamental lack in my life. Something that had kept me grounded, a minor security blanket in my daily existence.

Then it dawned on me:


I don't know the reasons why, but twist-ties are as rare as hen's teeth in France. I don't really want twist-ties, mind you; it's just more adjustment in the learning curve, one more old habit to shed, a new method to acquire. The old daily familiar gesture of spinning the bag of Pepperidge Farm wheat bread or hamburger buns or whatever, a flick of the thumb and forefinger for two clockwise twists of the twist tie. It doesn't happen here. Ever. A daily reflexive movement, vanished. It's as if I stopped brushing my teeth.

There are plastic bags, of course. If you buy sliced bread or pita bread or english muffins at the supermarché, the closure is a finicky plastic strip that you have to tear off with your teeth. Score: one point for the dentist, zero for keeping the opened bag's contents fresh for any length of time. Or a short metal clasp that fits around the closing of the bag when only applied at the factory, impossible to re-close once it's been opened by a human.

Plastic garbage bags in France have a more ingenious system, sans twist-ties. It took me a while to figure it out. On the bottom of each garbage bag, I noticed, is a thin plastic ribbon. In my first few months here I though the ribbon had to stay attached to the bottom of bag and yet seal it shut. I won't bore you with a description of my early Paris garbage-dumping days, but it was not a pretty sight. Mangled, deformed trash bags.

Eventually Sherlock here figured out that when it's time to take out the trash, you simply yank the ribbon off and tie it in a pretty bow after you've spun the bag by the neck a few times.

The only items that I have found with twist ties are cords in packaging of new electronic devices. I straighten out these black twist ties lovingly and put them in my tool chest. Who knows when I'll see another one?

Joni was right -- Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ophelie, the Barometric Leech

In the window of a pharmacy that I pass every day on the rue de Sevres:

"Ophelie, our leech, is since time immemorial a meteorological indicator.
If atmospheric pressure goes down, she does, too.
If she is lying low in the bottom of the jar, bad weather and rain will come soon.
If atmospheric pressure goes up, she will rise up forthwith to the surface of the water, and sunshine and good weather will not be far away."

Here's la charmante Ophelie. Get out your umbrellas?
My sources seem to indicate the opposite.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The IgNobel Awards

I love autumn in Paris, but it does make me wistful for New England. For the heavenly scent of rotted leaves, of course. But mostly for my favorite fall activity. No, not apple-picking or Hallowe'en or even leaf-peeping.

I miss attending the annual IgNobel Awards, which were celebrated yesterday in Boston. A scientists' parody of the real Nobel Prizes, it is an evening of goofy, wacky, intelligent fun. "Makes you laugh and then you think" is the motto. I miss sitting on the balcony of the theatre, joining the hundreds of participants as we fly our paper airplanes onto the stage as fast as we can fold them. Watching actual Nobel Prize winners sweeping up the stage with their pushbrooms. A crowd of brilliant people not taking themselves too seriously.

Is Paris ready for the Igs? Annals of Improbable Research founder Marc Abrahams would like to bring the Igs to Paris, but we need a venue and an impresario.

Institut Pasteur? CNRS? Anybody? Anybody?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Packing Anxiety

Packing for a week's travel used to send me in such a tailspin. But I thought I'd finally grown up and gotten over that little anxiety. Frankly, I assumed, since I have now lived in chic, glamorous Paris for a grand total of 18 months, that packing for Beirut would be a no-brainer. My hostess reminded me before departure that it was still pretty summery here, and suggested that I would need some LBDs (translation for the menfolk: Little Black Dresses) for the nightlife and khakis or nice pants for daytime. No problemo. Beirut, a mere four-hour flight from Paris, couldn't be all that different, right?

But somehow, having not seen hot sunny weather for over a year in Paris (except the warm and glorious month of April) I kinda forgot what hot truly is. Canicule of July 2006? Can't seem to conjure it up. Honestly. Beirut is still in glorious summertime, a season I'd all but forgotten this year.

I don't know what possessed me, but I packed some early fall clothes, thin silk long sleeved tops, silk pants, nice shoes. When Beirut dresses up, it's dressy. I happily obliged -- but for a Beirut winter, not September. Oops.

Just about everything I packed was wrong. It wasn't my hostess's fault. I just processed the information through my skewed Paris filter and screwed up completely.

For example. The LBD? Well, I have no choice but to wear it tonight to a formal dinner. But it's wool crepe. The evening temperature here is easily still in the 80s and -- duh-- we're right on the Mediterranean, so humidity is a way of life. What was I thinking? I'll have to glisten sweetly all evening.

I left my casual jeans at home, thinking that Beirut was too dressy for faded black denim. How do I mess up? Let me count the ways. So I found myself wearing microfiber khaki lookalikes while hiking up and down the ruins of Baalbek, Byblos, and Tyre. As in microfiber that is thin but doesn't wrinkle -- or breathe. Works kind of like those plastic sweat suits for losing water weight.

"Oh, and if it's really hot," I thought while tossing too many inappropriate clothes into my suitcase last week, "I'll wear a few debardeurs to keep cool." Non, non, non! Of course it is not respectful in many public places in Lebanon for women's shoulders to be bared. I had known that, and had assumed I would remedy that faux pas by wrapping a shawl around them when necessary. Ix-nay. How much do YOU feel like swaddling yourself in a Pashmina when you've already got beads of sweat combining to create a constant rivulet between your shoulder blades? I think not.

Now I'm packing to return to Paris. You'll be able to spot me at Charles de Gaulle tomorrow. I'll be the fashion disaster arriving in Terminal 2.

Nul n'est prophete

Yesterday I was invited to visit the temples at Baalbek with two archaeologists. There are spectacular monuments in this world, and then there is Baalbek.
More about the dizzying ride through the mountains, later.
The rock in front of the middle column above is about my height, just for a little perspective.
Leaving the historic site and winding our way through the souk up to a main street, we stopped in to beat the heat at my friends' favorite tiny corner shop. About 80 square feet of air-conditioned bliss, packed floor to ceiling with candy, biscuits and chocolate in shiny packages. The store owner squeezed three mugsful of fresh orange juice, and we sat there chatting with the young woman (his sister or wife), in French.

"Oh, you were visiting the ruins?" she asked with a smile. "Honestly, I never go there." We chatted about most people never see the sights in their own back yard, unless visitors arrive, and how often the things we take for granted are much more appreciated by people who don't live there. "Oui," she continued, "nul n'est prophete dans son pays."

It puts those visits to the Eiffel Tower in perspective.

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