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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


If you feel like getting in the holdiay spirit and belting out some fine music, now is your chance. Join the Paris Choral Society this Sunday, December 3 for its popular annual Handel's Messiah Sing-Along (Christmas portion + Hallelujah Chorus).

No auditions.
No experience.
No commitment.
Enthusiasm helpful.
Festive occasion assured!

Best to arrive early for good seats. Concert begins at 4 pm. 10/15 euros. American Cathedral, 23 av. George V

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reading Balzac in Paris

Okay boys and girls, sharpen your pencils and pay attention. This is a multiple-choice test.

Please answer the following question. Why did Polly buy a copy of Le pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac last week?

( ) A. She analyzed the list of books in her blog post and was embarrassed by how vapid it seemed

( ) B. She is having lunch with her former 19th-century French literature professor next week and wanted to be au courant.

( ) C. Blessed with an aging memory, she can re-read it without remembering the plot.

( ) D. She was leaving on vacation and wanted a good read that looked vaguely intellectual while on public transportation.

( ) E. Everyone who moves to Paris must read this book.

( ) F. All of the above.

Of course the correct answer is F, you sillies. You knew that all along, so you get an A+.

Answer explanations.

A. The books weren't all vapid, but mostly lightweight. The most intellectual book in the List was Les Cent-Jours by Dominique de Villepin and I couldn't really make my way through all the footnotes (is he like that in real life, qualifying every statement with someone else's opinion?). In all honesty, I had only bought his book because I actually encountered the Premier Ministre walking home one day (he lives in my neighborhood), and hoo-boy, is he handsome! He even nodded "Bonjour" to me with a slight smile. So, I reasoned, if I ever saw him again I wanted to have something to mention other than French politics while my knees wobbled in appreciation. Such as gushing, "I loved your book." Otherwise I'm actually quite shy and don't know what to say to famous people. Or any people.

B. Ten years ago I got a Master's degree in French literature. One of my dear professors is in town right now, staying at her little pied-a-terre on rue du Bac. I remember 10 years ago in class listening enviously to references to her Paris flat and drooling just thinking how lucky she was. Now I'm living the dream, around the corner in the 7e, to boot. We're meeting next week, and our conversation is sure to be peppered with lofty literary references. So I don't want to blow it by sounding like a dunce and make her wish they'd never given me that full scholarship.

C. I've read Le pere Goriot several times over the past 30 years. Who said aging isn't fun? You can hear jokes, read entire novels, over and over, each time with virginal enthusiasm. No plot spoilers here! What could be better? I've just read the same page 3 times without realizing it until I'm half way through. The fog in Paris isn't only in the air.

D. Okay, c'mon everyone, admit it. You don't want to be seen everywhere reading Gala magazine all the time, do you? Right. So if I want to project the intello-feminine image, Le pere Goriot is fine, and so ...non-threatening. Plus, it fits easily into carry-on luggage. It isn't quite the calibre or heft of, say, War and Peace, but I also have a hard time wading my way through more contemporary authors like Yourcenar. And Proust is fabulous but definitely not airplane reading.

E. If you haven't read Le pere Goriot ever or even in the past 10 years, and you live in Paris or simply dream of living in Paris, you must read this novel. Why? Because in my book, it's as relevant today to the get-to-know-Paris learning curve as it was in 1835 when it was written.

F. So kiddos, stop reading this little blog post right now and go to your nearest bibliotheque or librairie or Brentano's or Smith's or the American Library in Paris and get a copy of Le pere Goriot in whatever language you read best. Here's just a taste:

"Paris is in truth an ocean that no line can plumb. You may survey its surface and describe it; but no matter how numerous and painstaking the toilers in this sea, there will always be lonely and unexplored regions in its depths, caverns unknown, flowers and pearls and monsters of the deep overlooked or forgotten by the divers of literature."

Scram -- va-t'en! Start reading.

You can thank me when you've finished the last page and you decide to name your poodle Rastignac.

Noisy Neighbors, part I

A visitor from the States swung by my apartment the other day to help me load my suitcase into a waiting taxi. He lugged the luggage to the building courtyard while I closed up the apartment. When I got down to the front door I found him ambushed by my first-floor neighbor, an otherwise sweet but old-fashioned and very fussy octogenarian, who was berating him for making too much noise in the evenings. She mistakenly thought he was the new tenant in the apartment above her on the 2e etage.

My pal just kept smiling and nodding his head, having little understanding of what she was saying, and even less knowledge of what to reply. Here's what he heard: "monsieur...s'il vous plait... pantoufles .... bruit.... plafond.... porte ...dormir...." Most of the vocabulary and verbs sailed past him. Not that he had a chance to get a word in.

As we hopped into the cab the lady must have felt a huge sense of relief having gotten all that off her chest. And is expecting improved behavior.
It reminded me of this Far Side cartoon: What We Say to Dogs/What Dogs Hear.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I swear!

I've been finding that I talk to myself a lot lately. Certainly something to do with age, with living alone.

The good news is that I'm muttering in French. "Ou est-ce que j'ai mis mes lunettes -- encore? " and "Je ne vois pas du TOUT ou est l'arret de l'autobus dans ce quartier." Things like that. (Don't worry about translations. It's just mumbling.)

And even when there is something that annoys me, like bumping into a protruding table leg or finding a hole in a sweater, I'll utter a little "aie!" or "merde!". So very French I am becoming, n'est-ce pas?

So, for example if I am skittering down to the subway to do some Paris exploring and just miss the subway car, I might puff out my cheeks and whoosh an "Ah, merde!" to myself. And wait for the next car.

On the other hand, if I am sitting in my pajamas in my apartment drinking cafe au lait and the phone rings at 9h45 and it's my French colleague saying "Where ARE you the meeting started 15 minutes ago" and I mistakenly thought her changement about the meeting was moving the time to 2 and it was moving the address to a 2 and I had been hoping to impress Mr. Big Businessman by being so Audrey-Hepburn-elegant and professional and so I lie and promise to be there in half an hour and I take the world's quickest shower and slap on Hermes body lotion and face brightener and guzzle mouthwash and verrrry carefully put on mascara and blush and throw on clothes that should have been ironed and rush out the door and stampede through the street and down the stairs of the metro station and accidentally stomp on the ankle of the kneeling woman with the "S.V.P. aidez moi" cardboard sign and toss out a "pardonnez-moi madame!" and then wonder if beggars are supposed to be addressed as Madame and dash down the smelly corridor as I hear the train's doors squealing as I run run run to the platform and the doors slam shut in my nose,

then I shout, "F*CK!!!"

Actually, since I have read Kirsten Lobe's delicious novel, "Paris Hangover," I now say, "f*ckityf*ckf*ck" which actually may sound a bit more ladylike and delicat. It sure feels better.

I don't think Audrey Hepburn ever said the f-word. Now that I'm living in Paris I'm trying SO hard -- really, I am -- to be more poised, more sophisticated, more civilized; and somehow, when I am speaking in French, I can do this. It's a different me, in a way. So, what language I speak makes a difference in who I am. In French I am more French, if that makes sense.

But it is so funny, how emotional peaks and valleys can elicit responses only in one's native tongue. Walking across the Pont de la Concorde one afternoon last week and seeing the western Paris sky at sunset, vermillion, salmon, rose, lavender, gold -- I unexpectedly belt out "Oh WOW!" and then catch myself and return to my adopted "refined" French comportement. There are, er, other times, too, when dialogue is flowing and engaged and in French, but in the heat of the moment suddenly arrives there just aren't words to automatically express that particular intense emotion en francais.

And last summer, wandering through BHV with my daughter, we hear the usual announcements over the department store public address system. Then we turn to see the hair-gelled, smiling man next to us crooning "Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs" into a cordless mike, and it is HE who is making the store announcements, live. I burst an American style (almost hyena) guffaw and screech, "Omigod look -- it's him!" Yes, customers on all 5 floors of BHV heard Polly's so un-French comment broadcast by that live mike.

In Paris, I try to channel Audrey Hepburn, but sometimes Lucille Ball unexpectedly puts in a suprise showing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Visitor from the Black Lagoon

I am learning (from my French and American friends in Paris) the perils of having all the people who were never nice to you in the US suddenly being your best friend when they think it means a free place to stay in Paris. Real estate is very expensive in this city, and people rent/own just what they can afford. Almost no one keeps an empty guest room - that's not only wasteful, but I’ve just learned that we all must pay a taxe d'habitation based on the square metres of space occupied divided by the number of people living there. So it’s no surprise that residences tend to be small.

Then of course there are your truly dear friends from “home” who would love to come to Paris (and whom you would GLADLY lodge on the sofa for months for the mere pleasure and delight of their company) who, because they are so thoughtful and sensitive, don't even ask to come because they wouldn't want to inconvenience you. What terrible irony! These are the ones you truly want and need.

Evidently everyone falls into this when they first move to Paris and then they learn.... about the evil houseguest. My learning saga:

First, I hardly know him. I'll call him "Sam". We had a couple of dates in New York before I moved to Paris, dates at his brownstone in Brooklyn that were okay but basically went nowhere. Highly opinionated, self absorbed yet thinks he's helpful in his critiques and observations, he can't understand why he has a hard time getting along with his children. I hadn't heard a word from him in a year. Or cared to. Then suddenly when I was back in New York last month I got an email from him saying that he’dl be in Paris in November and he'd "love to see me" -- he would be staying with old friends in the Marais.

Now to be fair, at the moment I had some other romantic prospects here in Paris, and so I naively thought it would at least be good to parade around some American "competition" to get the message delivered, testosterone jump-started, etc. I don't usually do this, but it was all to bolster my self-esteem, which was flagging at the moment. I thus forgave myself for any extent to which I may have been shamelessly exploiting Sam's interest in me.

So I accepted to see Sam when he was in Paris-- he very specifically asked me to block out Saturday evening and Sunday. Sounds like a date to me, with a D majuscule.

Said Saturday rolls around and he is no where to be seen at the appointed hour-- I had given him digicode, interphone, etc., all the instructions for getting to my place. As agreed, once he is 15 minutes late, I will go down to the street to look for him, in case he has digicode difficulties, a known phenomenon in Paris. Every 10 minutes I head down to the street -- no Sam. Finally after 40 minutes have elapsed I go back to the street and see him walking down the street away from my building -- he thought my address was a different number, and hadn't brought it with him.

Is it me, or have I gotten impatient with people who don't understand about the importance of planning ahead, keeping all the info that you have told them is VERY important to keep? Visiting Americans who think they know better than you in Paris are exhausting.

Exasperated, Sam complains that it was impossible to find any subway entrances in the 4th arrondissement, so had to walk 45 minutes across the Seine etc,. to get here, got lost, very very VERY sweaty and so asks immediately if he could remove his shirt (strip down to sweaty yellow mildewed Tshirt - ugh) because he had thought he should bring a wool jacket and a rain jacket, and wore them both while speed-walking the wrong way through Paris.

OK so already things are not going so well.

He looks at my apartment and laughs and says, "You're living in a college student's apartment" and laughs at about everything else I'm doing. I graciously chalk it up to nervousness on his part. Then after drinking a few of my beers he says, wherever you'd like to go for dinner is fine with me. So I obligingly take him to my favorite neighborhood resto, Au Pied de Fouet, where I am known and almost ready to be a neighborhood habituee. Very cheap and boisterous and good food. Very tiny, Parisian and old fashioned. A delightful gem.

At the end of the remarkably inexpensive meal, he leans in toward me and semi-seductively says, "Polly, it would be my great honor if you'd let me pay for this meal." Like it was f*cking Taillevent or something and he was putting down a purple velvet cape for me to walk in the door. Puhleeeez.

But I'm too nice. So I thank him profusely, we go for a spin on foot around the neighborhood and wind up back at my apartment door. I’m ready to call it a night and bid him goodbye. Then-- he asks that I accompany him to the subway station, three blocks away, so he won't get lost again.

Okay, I guess I've become too Parisian in my sensibilities, but that was such an un-macho move. Gross. A real turn-off.

So let's do the addition. Sweat, bad manners, correcting me (did I mention that?) about my knowledge of French, being conveniently feminist/new-age when it comes to paying for meals, complaining about Paris, bashing my computer, more sweat, ridiculing my lifestyle, being a sissy about going to the Metro. Oh and I forgot to mention stray nose hair and how he totally befouled the bathroom, right after stripping down to his T shirt, moments after arriving. The spray can of Air Wick lavande is there for a reason, Mister. Ditto the ventilator fan.

Why oh why did I even agree to meet him the next day? I guess from boredom, and because I had said I would, and we have friends in common in the US, he's intelligent enough and likes French literature and we can have decent conversations. And I think it's sometimes more fun to be out and about in Paris with a member of the opposite sex, when there is the opportunity. And he’s not ugly or even plain.

So Sunday we meet -- of course I couldn't get him to even try to travel to any place new to meet, since now all he knows is my apartment. So I head back across the Seine from church, in the 8th, to meet him at my apartment in the 7th, then we head back to the 8th to the Parc Monceau. A colossal waste of time, all that back and forth We have a so-so lunch in a gorgeous setting; my fault for picking that restaurant? At the end of which Sam says, "Let's just split it 50/50." I am definitely not accustomed to this from a 60-year-old man. Then he gives me 20€ for his half of a 46€ bill and figures that's even. I am in shock.

I spend the afternoon showing him all the great lesser-known sites of the 8e and 7e arrondissements. Then, walking back to my apartment along the esplanade of the Invalides he pops the question. "This is awkward, I don't know how to ask this..." Finally getting around to some sob story that he has to leave his hosts' place Monday but doesn't have to be in London until Tuesday, so maybe -- well who knows how things will evolve, he says, but could he sleep at my place Monday night? "I'm happy to be chaste," he says.

"Spell that, please, " I retort.

So at a weak moment I agree -- I had no plans for Monday evening, so what the hell. Someone to take me to dinner, how bad could that be?

Then he departs to his hosts' house to go to a dinner party being held in his honor. Oh, really? So I'm so irrelevant in his Paris visit that he couldn't even lightly suggest to his hosts that they invite me, for example? Not that I really wanted to go, but at this point I'm feeling mightily used. Only relevant enough to be tour guide and lodging provider. (Serve 'em up, Polly.) Bon appetit, Sam. Have a great party.

The next day he rings the bell at my apartment at 6:01 pm, suitcase in tow. Immediately asks for a beer (before I could even offer one). Relaxes with his feet up on my beige couch, shoes ON. I am busy finishing some correspondence on my computer. Then he asks if he could check his email when I'm through. No prob. I'll be glad for him to get his shoes off my sofa.

Sam then proceeds to write many lengthy, lengthy emails to lord knows who using the "I am an angry cub reporter typing on a Corona manual typewriter" approach on my slim new laptop. He is heaving big sighs, wiping his dripping brow with the back of his hand, and smashing the keys with mach force. From the other room I can hear the keyboard being furiously bashed. I am cringeing. This delicate keyboard already has some issues. "What kind of computer do you have at home?" I venture. "Does it have an old, sticky keyboard? Is that why you crunch the keys so ...adamantly?" Clueless, self-absorbed, he doesn't answer.

"You know, this keyboard of mine is SOO incredible," I offer, "All you have to do is lightly tap the keys and it goes even faster. Very sensitive to the touch."

"Naw," he starts complaining, "I just can't deal with this -- this PC. I have a Mac at home. Much better configuration."

Then after "checking " his email by brutalizing my laptop for another 45 minutes, he mercifully stops what he's doing, stands up and says, "OK, I'm ready for dinner," as if he expects me to have been Domestic Diva whipping up a five-course meal while he was waiting.

"There's a nice little restaurant down the street, a little more upscale, if that meets your budget," I offer. So we head down to rue de Sevres to delightful Le Petit Lutece, and things seem a little better. Sam at least has enough savoir faire to order some interesting menu items like civet de singlier, and I order the brandade de morue. Musing over what wine to choose, Sam puffs up and "gallantly" says, "Polly, you can choose the more expensive wine (24 euros!) -- I'll pay for the wine and we can split the rest of the bill."

Oh man, he's just killing me with the chivalry -- not only as a guy but as a guest! How much would a hotel room have cost him? Jesus, if he thinks he's going to get free bed AND get lucky tonight, NFW. He's just slapped a soaking-wet duvet on any faint sparks that might have been lurking around.

Then the wine comes and the waiter pours a little into Sam's glass, and instead of tasting it he just SMELLS the wine and nods that it's fine. Excellent wine, that Chateau de Cretin. I wonder if he would have nibbled the cork. The excellent dinner arrives and he insists that we share tastes and proceeds to jab at food on my plate with his fork. Good thing none of the food falls in his lap, because his napkin is still very nicely folded next to his plate. I'm starting to lose my appetite, and desperately hope that the waiters aren't smirking too much.

I am at a loss for words to dissuade him from any of these behaviors. I simply talk more about my new business project I’m working on with my friend Marie: a course to help American women learn French etiquette, fashion, and comportment. Tonight this gives me a venue to discuss charming anecdotes of good and bad manners from both cultures. I guess I have become too Frenchified -- or else too stunned -- to outright criticize what he is doing, as he is neither a stranger nor a member of the family. Some story I mention must finally resonate. He eventually catches on a bit, and says, "I am probably a transgressor in many of those areas."

"Don't worry, you can learn," I suggest.

Then, joy of joys, time to come home and make up the guest bed in the pull-out sofa. Yes indeedy. It would have been the biggest leap from zero to supersonic speed, dating-wise, to have any other sleeping arrangements. Trust me.

Whew. I'm home-free, I think. But no, the final coup. Sam announces, as if this were already a given and no problemo, "Well, I guess it is best to head to bed now, as I have to be at Gare du Nord at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Don't worry, I don't expect you to take me to the station."

Excuse me??? So I have to get up at 5:45 to make sure he's actually gone in time? And I'm supposed to be happy to be relieved of dropping him at the station? I don't even own a car.

I am either too gracious a hostess or too much of a sucker, and so the next morning I actually arise and fix breakfast to send him on his way.

As he's wheeling his suitcase toward the door, he says, "You know, Polly, if you weren't living in Paris I would really want to pursue a relationship with you. You are a fascinating creature."

I smile generously as I nudge him into the elevator cage, "Oh, I'm sure you would. But I AM living in Paris. So – well, c'est la vie. Bon voyage, Sam."

Watching that elevator descend out of sight I dance a little jig.

And dash to my computer to write a blog post.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Paris Choral Society

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

According to wikipedia, in World War I there were
1,375,800 French military casualties and
40,000 civilians, for a total of

1,415,800 French lives lost between 1914-1918

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An American Manif?

I woke up this morning with a crazy idea (this happens) and said "I just have to do this. For Art!"

And I mean Art Buchwald.

After seeing that CNN interview and writing the post for the blog yesterday, I knew I had to do something else. This will probably be his last Thanksgiving.

So my wild idea was to gather a huge crowd (hundreds -- thousands?) of humans - expats, French, whatever --to spell out

"merci, Art!"

in some obvious Parisian place and have it photographed or videoed and sent to or broadcast for him for Thanksgiving.

He has done so much to help Americans think of the French at Thanksgiving, with his tale of Le Jour de Merci Donnant and his many years in Paris with the International Herald Tribune, the "only newspaper he ever loved."

So mostly I need to find someone who has done large-space spelling so that we could do this and have people line up to spell the phrase, plus some coordinators for crowd & artistic management. I think that with blog power and other (lots of expat orgnaizations) we could gather a huge crowd -- for example on Sunday afternoon.

And someone to help deal with the tangle of Prefecture de Police regulations, which could be the biggest wet blanket of all unless someone has a piston. OK, in my really wildest dreams maybe Yann Arthur-Bertrand (Paris Vu du Ciel) would photograph it! I've cold-contacted a few sources, so we'll have to see what pans out, if anything.

I hope this can move forward; it'll be too late next year (unless Art pulls a great stunt!). Any thoughts and ideas and contacts are welcome.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Art Buchwald

Art Buchwald, the U.S. journalist and humorist, gave the world the classic column entitled "How to Explain Thanksgiving to the French", which has been a staple at our family Thanksgivings for years. His memoir of Paris, "Don't Forget to Write," has been comic inspiration for many Francophiles, including moi.

Now , at age 80, battling a host of illnesses, Art is flunking hospice by outliving his doctor's estimate of "three weeks to live" 8 months ago.

So this November, as a tribute to Art Buchwald, I hope that we will all read aloud his tale of Kilometres Deboutish and toast this great friend of France and expats in France.

Kyra Phillips of CNN just interviewed Art. The piece is linked below.

(Cut and paste this into your web browser):

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Tree Grows in Paris

Eight months ago, March 3, I arrived in Paris to "turn the page," as the French would say, on a new life. In order to mark the passage of my time in Paris, I started to grow an avocado pit during my first week in my gorgeous furnished flat on the place de la Madeleine.

Stubbornly, that pit sat impaled by three toohpicks in a glass of water for months and didn't budge. Then finally, the pit cracked and and sprouted roots and leaves, and I duly planted it in some potting soil purchased at BHV. (I won't read too much into the "stubborn pit" part, but it just might correspond to my initial HUGE learning curve in Paris, despite being relatively fluent in French-Literature French; B.A. and M.A. degrees just don't teach about RIBs, releves and all other manner of French day-to-day lessons.)

Here is a photo of my avocado tree -- perhaps a symbol of my life in Paris. Who knows?

It could just be a tree. But as long as it thrives, it will be a monthly feature, a reminder of how to grow and prosper in this city of light. This photo was taken three weeks ago. It, and I, have grown even more ("not sideways, I hope!" to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How many Expats does it Take to screw in a French Light Bulb?

One to go back to BHV to get the right kind of bulb.
One to call EDF.
One to fax the justificatif de domicile, passport, college diplomas, tax returns and two photos to EDF to get the account working again.
One to call the proprietaire to complain.
One to call the gardienne and ask her very very sweetly if she by any chance knows why there's no light, and leave her a tip and a bouquet of roses for answering the question.
One to go back to BHV again to get the right kind of rallonge.
One to go to the bank for cash to pay for .345 euro-per minute phone calls to EDF because the first one is still on hold.
One to track down the first-born child because evidently that's part of the payment plan.
And 85 bloggers to write about it!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Trying to Deal with France Telecom

Sunday, October 29, 2006

French Flirting

My friend Polly Platt, author of French or Foe and Savoir Flair, is soon to publish a third book on l'Amour a la Francaise. "Any thoughts?" she asked me. Although I'm a Polly too, I know precious little about "love" in France, I told her. I've only been here since March. But as a relative newcomer to Paris I have noticed how the preamble works.

The flirting -- it's everywhere!

One observation, initially, is that in France all flirtation skills get honed and ready for practice on a daily basis. Until last spring I had been living in frosty old New England for almost 30 years and not at all accustomed to it. But somehow being in France, if one is at all adept at joining the esprit of the repartee, the flirtation takes place.

One simple moment. Last month at the Carrefour at Auteuil, in the checkout lane for home delivery, in front of me was a tall, ruggedly handsome man, clearly just back from vacation. He was wearing Bermudas and topsiders, a polo shirt and a great tan. Tousled hair. I was doing my own "check out" by trying to determine his domestic status by analyzing what he was buying (a great game in any case). We were jostling and bumping a bit because of bulky items in our respective carts. Anyway, I did eventually notice a wedding ring on his finger, so he was off-limits, officially, at any rate. However, when it was my turn to go to from the cashier to the livraison a domicile desk, the clerk said, "What else can we do for you, madame? Vous etes avec le monsieur, n'est-ce pas?"

I replied, with my best stage sigh and engaging smile, "Non, hélas!"

Mr. Tousled Hair was flattered and amused, and gave me a glittering glance and complicitous nod as he headed out the door.

It was a great little moment of connecting. (I would NEVER have done that in puritanical Massachusetts, especially not as a divorced woman. Bad, bad, bad.) I guess part of it is that in France it feels as though it's your duty to show appreciation of beauty or something pleasing.

Another little moment: One Sunday after church at the American Cathedral a small group (4 women, one man) decided to have lunch. As we were exiting the church building, the sexton gave us beautiful flowers left over from a Saturday wedding. When we entered the cafe on avenue George V, the waiter asked what the flowers were for (we all had identical bouquets of antique roses). Quick to rise to the opportunity, I quipped. "Aujourd'hui on les offrait aux plus belles femmes du quartier." (They were giving them to the prettiest ladies in the neighborhood.) The handsome waiter, just as quick in his French flirtation skills, replied with a smile, "Ils n'avaient pas tort!"

Paris just brings this out in people. And this is only the lighthearted banter. There is, for those who can handle it, a little teasing that goes on that creates a positive (magnetic?) tension between men and women. It leaves the door wide open for the next step and the next step.

Moment number 3. I arrived for a business meeting in the entrance to a gorgeous Haussmanien building. One attractive Parisian businessman whom I'd met previously was there already, and he greeted me and we chatted aimiably in the grand courtyard. A beautiful setting for any encounter. After about 15 minutes when my French colleague hadn't shown up yet, Mr. Big Business and I decided it was best to give her a call. He teasingly said to her into the phone, "Yes, Polly and I have been here for a while, but I won't tell you what we've been up to." I giggled (not very French?) and maybe blushed. Hanging up, he gave me one of those very French looks and offered a coy apology, saying, "Alors, I hope I didn't shock you?"

"Mais non, I was actually flattered..." I warbled.

(Is it really me saying things like this? Polly-who-stammers-at-the-slightest-crush? Where do these words come from? Is it because I'm speaking another language? Or is it just Paris?)

So, ladies and gentlemen, the next step is --- ??

My guess is that 99% of the time the "next step" doesn't take place. But then at least everyone continues on their day, slightly more charged than before.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another French Paradox

I've discovered a new French Paradox. I took part in it. Yes, a paradox because it is, at once, the most French and the most un-French thing I've done in the 8 months that I've been in Paris. And I paid to do it:

Facial gymnastics.

Here is the scenario. Four parisiennes and me, sitting around a formal dining room table in a swish but hip comme il faut apartment in the 16th arrondissement. We had enrolled in the class through a group called La Belle Ecole. Catherine Pez, our instructor, tells us her story. She's 58, her doctor husband had long ago banned any form of plastic surgery, so she had to invent her own way of preserving her looks. She thought she was doing fine until 3 years ago when her dermatologist told her that her neck looked like chair de poule (chicken flesh). That launched her into action. She investigated facial exercises from all parts of the world, adopted the best ones, and became so renowned for having restored her youthful appearance that she started giving lessons and, of course, wrote a book.

So, where is the paradox? Mais oui -- in order to become beautiful and wrinkle-free, we had to spend two hours making the most hideous grimaces and facial contortions. An American and four French women sticking their tongues out at each other, and enjoying it. And if we want to keep our faces maiden-smooth and taut, and scalpel-free, we'll have to do at least 15 minutes of the terrifying facial feats daily.

And who said the French don't know how to celebrate Halloween?

That French Glow

Riding the 92 bus on Thursday, stopped in vacation traffic at the Ecole Militaire, I see a not-unfamiliar sight. A sleek, shiny Jaguar, with slightly paunchy Parisian papa at the wheel. In the rear seat is pale, bespectacled 9 year old boy, perfectly groomed, gazing out the car window and de-crotting his nose in a big way. In the passenger seat is chic 40-something maman, her bejewelled hand holding the portable to her ear.

Wait -- what's wrong with this picture?? The lady is a different color from the rest of her family. No, she's not a different race -- she just has that golden-orange French perma-tan that can only come from little carrot pills and manmade UV rays or sprays.

My initial reaction is: they must rarely spend any time together as a family, because they just don't match. Anyone would know right away she didn't get the tan from basking at the beach. Maybe a 10-day Toussaint vacation will even the playing field.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Polly's Choice

Oh, I'm just soooo parisienne, aren't I? I'm such an habituee of my neighborhood coiffeur, Sergio Bossi, that I no longer need to ask, "Vous avez le temps pour un brushing?". When I pop my head in the door, they smile and can always accommodate my impromptu request. "Vous avez le temps pour un brushing?" just rolls off my tongue, even if I cheat on Sergio and go to Jean-Claude Biguine for variety.

In NYC last week, I needed to have my hair look decent before a big event. So without the little nanosecond of communication angst I have before conversing with most Parisian shop owners, it was going to be a breeze chatting with the hair stylist. After all, we speak the same language, right? So at 9 am on Saturday I popped my head into a little hair salon on Amsterdam Ave. The handsome 30-something guy at the desk greeted me.

"Hi," I said in my most sophisticatedly-cool-I-live-in-Paris-but-am-visiting-NYC way. "Do you have time for a blow...."

Okay, English words failed me and I thankfully stopped my self in time. I could only wave my hands. And gesture at my hair. And think of Kevin Kline saying to Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice, "It's seersucker."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just quidding

Well, watch me disappear. I just discovered , and for an information junkie like me, it simply doesn't get any better. The online resource to beat all resources. I only knew it in its fat-book form.

What a delightful black hole of time -- the "personnalites" section alone can use up an entire morning. Time to go hibernate; I'm now a quidkid.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be

A quick observation in New York. No shortage of love of French culture here. Why did I even need to leave Paris? In a brief walk on the West Side yesterday, I came across several arrondissements/quartiers:

Pigalle -- -- a pretty authentic bistro, but not many like this in Pigalle, I think.

Le Marais -- -- a steakhouse

Montmartre -- no website, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Nothing like the Montmartre I know. A trendy upscale women's apparel boutique, descibed by some as for "Stepford Wives". Or was it "Desperate Housewives?" I don't know the difference.

This all reminds me of the restaurant I passed by in Paris in some heavily touristed area. The name of the restaurant, on the awning , is "Authentic Parisian Bistro". Yup. Doesn't get much more authentic than that, n'est-ce pas?

We borrow, we lend names, words, icons, don't we!


Not that I really believe in horoscopes, mind you, but if I did, it would be a great time to be a Capricorn, which I am. I have to admit to reading the daily Yahoo horoscope as well as the back pages in Elle, where I'm learning all the French astrology vocab. All these places tell me that I can expect to have it all in the coming months -- social, career, everything will go my way if I just go for it. Oh happy day!

So I find myself in New York City right now, drumming up support for Lafayette 2007, celebrating two centuries of French-American friendship. (Why don't we ever say American/French friendship? A question to be pondered another day.) Contacts and meetings are productive, and thus the career prospects of this old goat -- er, I mean Capricorn -- are looking up.

Jet lagged beyond mercy, at 6:00 am I am pressing my nose against the window of the Starbucks on Columbus and W. 76th, thirsting for my triple-grande-no-foam-no-fat latte, which I haven't tasted (or missed) for three months. Settling into my window seat with that first magical sip, I take out some light reading. Not Elle magazine, but L Magazine, a hip New York freebie. On the last page, I kid you not, here is this week's horoscope for Capricorns, written by Laps Trinity:

"Why can't the Yanks and the Frenchies get along? Ever since the whole Freedom Fry flap happened, I've been trying to reconcile these two groups, whom I love dearly. I've had transnational adventure camps, quiz nights, key parties ... all the fun things I could think of. But you know what finally did it, Capricorn? Getting them to gang up on Canada. When in doubt, attack the weak."

Now, how can I NOT believe in horoscopes?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Love in the Afternoon

So here's what got me so mad.

We're all gathered together in a beautiful living room in a beautiful flat on a beautiful square in the 16th arrondissement: several dozen well-dressed ladies drinking delicious iced tea, and the piano concert is about to begin. I'm relaxing on a beautiful upholstered brocade settee, next to an open window, sun shining on my face and a gentle September breeze lilting through the room.

The concert is, unexpectedly, a sublime little jazz/blues recital with William B gliding over the Steinway with tunes such as "Autumn Leaves" and something from the Blue Note. He's so young and talented, only 24 and a true musical artist. I feel as though we should be coolly snapping our fingers instead of simply applauding elegantly.

In my seat next to the balcony, I am on the cusp between indoors and out, so the concert I hear is a blend of children's happy shouts from the park below woven into the mellow, swinging piano music. I am delirious. This is Paris at its finest.

Then, for a finale William plays Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love". To look around the room, nothing has changed. The sunlight is still brilliant, the atmosphere is luxuriant. But somehow my afternoon is shifting to darkness and sadness as I listen to the melody. Sad, because I used to really believe in love songs. I am wistful for the naive days of innocent believing. Then he begins to sing, in a soulful but muted voice:

"When I fall in love,
It will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love.
In a restless world like this is,
Love is ended before it's begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart,
It will be completely
Or I'll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that
You feel that way, too,
Is when I fall in love with you."

So that's when darkness turns to bleakness and blackness and I get boiling mad. Damn YOU, Nat King Cole! "Forever"? "Completely"? Who are you kidding? It's just not true.

After the concert, I make the smiling rounds and say my polite goodbyes and thank yous and air kisses, get on the metro and go home and cry.

The Pollyanna in me used to adore the romantic lyrics of Nat King Cole. Now I need to exorcise this song from my brain. Maybe the whole repertoire.

Not in my life. And not in most French lives, from what I can gather.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

L'Ecole Buissonniere

Today I played hooky.

I love the French phrase for playing hooky, which is "faire l'ecole buissonniere," or go to the school of the greenery or bushes. Conjures up idyllic notions of walking through the countryside or wading in a stream. I guess my stream is the Seine. I did check out the scenery and the greenery. But I did not sit at my desk working. Not today.

It was one of those gorgeous blue-sky September days in Paris. I didn't intend to blow off all my work. Feeling rather productive, I made some business calls first thing and then decided to get fit and go for my morning constitutional. Here's the stream I followed.

I headed first to Invalides, which is right around the corner : . One project that I am attempting is to find as many ways to walk across, around and through Paris dodging the rain, for all those winter months when there never seems to be a day without at least a little precipitation. The courtyard of the Invalides is a splendid find in this regard-- gets me across a major stretch, all under the colonnade. Oh, and I did swing by the museum boutique, just to see. Lovely place for Christmas shopping. But true to my exercise regime, I kept moving and didn't stop to buy a single thing.

I wandered around the gardens a bit -- why hadn't I done this before? Beautiful fountains, and I came upon a spot where a ceremony must have taken place just moments before. Fresh white long-stemmed roses were strewn upon a memorial to victims of terrorism. Spread out on the other side of the statue were large, formal floral arrangements with official ribbon sashes proclaiming the bearer's office: Maire de Paris, Le Premier Ministre, le Syndicat du RATP.

Between the Hotel des Invalides and the Seine is the broad, grand esplanade. (Check it out on google earth -- invalides paris.). Let me make a little confession here: I am so comforted by the built environment of Paris that in that sweeping, wide-open space I find myself feeling just a teeeensy bit agoraphobic. Too much free area. I dread crossing it. But today I descended the esplanade to my beloved Pont Alexandre III, heading toward Le Grand Palais. Every time I glimpse Le Grand Palais from afar, with its proud tricolore flying atop the dome, I feel as though I'm looking at a Pierre Le-Tan New Yorker cover.

Today was my day to enter. I hadn't been inside since the 10-year renovations were completed. The feature attraction right now is the Biennnale des Antiquaires, gorgeous paintings, antiques, jewellery. Fortunately I got reduced admission of EUR 12,50 with my Amis du Louvre membership card. The exhibitors were fabulous galleries, and many of the well-heeled attendees seemed to be there to pick up a little Bonnard or Degas for the study at home. Needless to say, in a sea of Chanel flats and Hermes ties I was way underdressed in my black jeans and walking shoes, even though I was wearing Bally sneakers, tres francaise (no one at TJMaxx had known what to do with them, I guess). I sat for a pause at the little cafe de la Biennale and got a Perrier in a plastic cup for EUR 4,50. That's when I knew it was time to leave. Fortunately they did have lots of good free magazines as giveaways, so I grabbed some as I headed out the door.

At this point I realized that hooky was in full swing, so I hopped on the first bus I found -- the 83. I hopped off randomly in the 5th arrondissement and happened upon the Academie de la Biere ( ) The chef's special was moules paysanne, which, with a glass of crisp muscadet and crusty bread, was heaven distilled into culinary form. And at EUR 9,00 for the entire bowl, it more than compensated for that earlier glass of Perrier. After lunch I walked up the boulevard and sat in the sun and drank a cafe at Le Select, reading my French magazines and nibbling on the little chocolate-covered almond that accompanies your express in the good cafes.

Then I walked most of the way home, took the 92 bus for the last bit, landed back in the apartment and took a nap. Absolute bliss. I never do this.

I finished off the day by heading over to "Bunches," my favorite new florist at the corner of boulevard Raspail and rue de Vaugirard. For EUR 10,00 you can choose either 5 bottes of flowers (which can be an entire armload of sunflowers or irises, probably 30 - 40 total, or a botte of 50 tulips or 40 roses. What's not to love? So the apartment is now filled with bright red tulips -- in a cheerful yellow teapot on the dining room table, in a tall glass vase on the marble mantel, in a little tumbler on the bedside table.

Greenery -- by the armful or the dayful -- does wonders for the soul.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Paris Views

Yawn. Too tired to even attempt wit. Just back from the Marche aux Puces at Porte de Vanves. All I can muster is looking at webcams of Paris on and looking at what everyone else is doing, hoping that the weather will be kind to us. Tonight we celebrate the 60th birthday of my friend Mary Blake, artiste extraordinaire, who lives in a cool atelier in the heart of Montmartre with her dog Nina and a few cats. Her work includes wonderful vibrant street scenes of Paris and joyful abstract tableaux.

The embodiment of joie de vivre, that Mary. We're not sure how many people are showing up tonight to wish her the best -- she lost track along the way -- but in any case there are bound to be Memorable Moments, some perhaps not even publishable.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Etes-vous une vraie Serial Shoppeuse?

Some things make me chuckle in France and some things make me laugh so much that I snort (only in the privacy of my appartement, bien sur).

This honest-to-God tag line from a junk mail advertisement from 3 suisses (kind of like Sears/Target) hit my funny bone.

Maybe a bit close to home, too? Although I have learned to keep my belongings to a minimum, because French lodgings just don't have much storage space, I am starting to master the art of shopping a la francaise.

Armed with my bible, "Paris Pas Cher" and combined with great advice and help from other local friends -- Mirenchu, Kathryn, Isabelle, Mary, Gisele and others -- I have managed to sniff out some of the better bargains available in France. From fabrics in Montmartre ( to la marche aux puces at Porte de Vanves to France's equivalent of the "Dollar Stores" , I have been making the rounds and have set up la vie a la Parisienne.

And when my tres glamorous friend Nina was visiting from New York in May we found Anna Lowe on rue du Faubourg St. Honore, which has real couture pieces that you can actually afford. So what if it's last season when you're an American fashion simpleton?

I've visited brocantes in the Yvelines and the Gers, the marche in Dinard and in Marciac, always comparison shopping.

When I needed to go to an important gala or have the right business clothes, I went to a great store called La Piscine. Yes, it is located in a former indoor swimming pool. Well, the pool is still there -- but the water is gone. They've added palm trees, so verrry French to make the most of what is. Great designer clothes at cheap cheap prices.

I don't really like to go to the big department stores, though it is tempting when it's raining.

My other favorite store in Paris is Deyrolle, not for clothes but for decor items.

If you're a PETA fanatic you won't like this store, but it is my idea of heaven. I got the most wonderful seashell there -- about the size of a soccer ball, a luminous and salmon colored cocnh shell. For anyone who thinks that a puppy is the only way to meet new people, let me tell you this: walk down the streets of Paris with a gorgeous huge seashell in your hand (too fragile to have it swinging from some plastic bag, of course) and you'll start conversations with all the kinds of people you'd really like to meet!

But I digress.

Shopping at BHV is another favorite. I have also discovered that my little neighborhood droguerie/quincaillerie (hardware store) has just about everything I need at BHV prices or less, plus good advice.

Next to my apartment building is "Le Depot Vente Rive Gauche", a great consignment store with everything from blue jeans to Hermes pocketbooks at rock-bottom prices. It is great to have the space restriction because it has forced me to become much more judicious and selective. I buy only what I really need (a suit for one business meeting, casual pants for another meeting) and then allow myself an occasional "coup de coeur" for the rest.

Now, where to put all that inappropriate apparel that I brought from the US? Actually some places in the US are great if you have an eye for French fashion and then go for a trip to the states -- especially Target and TJ Maxx.

My friend Michel disdained my shopping exploits when some American friends were in town. "Ah oui, les Americaines aiment ca, " he sniffed. Well, maybe les Americaines do like to shop, but evidently we're not alone if 3 Suisses coins the serial shoppeuse phrase.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Save the Cedars?

Last week I was riding the RATP bus on one of my "get to know Paris cheaply" afternoon excursions. In the seat in front of me was an American couple, about retirement age, both sounding relatively educated and cultivated. They were, however, bickering needlessly about who had the right idea about taking the bus and who , in fact, was right about just about everything they had done since their arrival in Paris. I was getting exhausted doing all that anonymous eavesdropping on all the petty acrimony.

As the bus approached Place de la Bastille, we could see a growing crowd of people, all either wrapped in or waving Lebanese flags. Music was playing. The people were resolute and smiling.

"Look, Bob!" exclaimed the American lady to her husband. "One of those French demonstrations. Let's check it out!!"

"What is it all about?" he grumbled, as he hoisted himself up, not wanting to be bested.

"Oh, well, it looks like 'Save The Trees' or something." she flung over her shoulder as she scrambled off the bus.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

L'Hopital Laennec

Just down the street from me on rue Vaneau is a huge abandoned property, the former Hopital Laennec. It is about to be transformed to a new mixed-used residential and academic center, with international collaboration from Stanford and some of the grandes ecoles in Paris. Here's one website for information. The city of Paris has some info in French as well, under Projet Laennec Rive Gauche.

In addition to being much contested for the demolition of some older buildings and amid local concerns about building heights and density, the property has acquired another place in neighborhood culture: the home of the beloved stray cats. A small band of residents juggle their schedules to make sure that each day the 6 adults and 15 kittens get fed. They slide opened cans of cat food under the rusted gate. While some folks gather to scrutinize the construction/demolition permit signs posted by the Mairie de Paris, others young and old hoist themselves up to peer over the wall and look at the admittedly beautiful felines.

Yesterday I saw one well-dressed lady being dragged by her dog down the street because he knew they were reaching the kitty stop. Being a French dog, he wasn't interested in the cat food at all -- just all those enticing chats. One of the neighborhood cat-feeders was there, and told us the story: 6 adults, feral and unadoptable. The neighbors have contacted the Mairie of the 7th arrondissement, which is helping them look for a new terrain for the adults who will soon be displaced by the construction. 15 kittens soon to be seeking a home.

I won't be one of the adoptive parents, but if I were, I could come up with some great names.

Monday, August 14, 2006

August in Paris

August in Paris -- you've heard it all before, right? Stifling hot, filled with tourists, all stores shut and shuttered, can't get a decent baguette without walking for miles.

Sshhh! Don't tell anyone. It's not really true.

We've had glorious clear weather, rain and positively autumnal chill.

The tourist spots are indeed crammed with a great mix of international visitors. Always will be, 12 months a year. The Louvre is a swarming madhouse, and on the Champs Elysees hardly a word of French is heard among the teeming masses.

But in the residential nieghborhoods, it is quite simply delightful. The pace is relaxed. Neighbors greet one another in camaraderie. The trees rustle in the breeze. I have friends, native Parisians both, who choose to take vacation in June and July so that they can enjoy Paris in August. If they let me divulge their names, I'll tell you. They may disown me for letting this secret out of the bag.

The majority of Parisian Fidos appear to be away with their owners, so the the narrow sidewalks are navigable and crotte-free. I can wander the streets and look at the facades (my favorite pastime) and not be jostled or have to practice Parisian "double vision," a neat trick of simultaneously looking upward at beauty and downward to avoid slippery little dog patties.

Closed? Sure, most of the small shopkeepers have taped "Fermeture annuelle" signs to their stores for their well-deserved holidays. One quick reconnaissance mission will let anyone know which favorite neighborhood spots are open and where to find substitutes. But staff in the shops that are open are cheerful and happy to have clientele.

Driving in Paris is a breeze in August-- now would be the perfect time for me to practice getting around the city by car, as there is very little traffic and lots of on-street parking.

There are a lot of planned activities -- like outdoor movies and Paris Plage, which turns the banks of the Seine into a beach for August. I haven't even checked those out. I'm just happy to explore the city and discover the Paris that gets lost in the hustle and momentum of the other 11 months. This is the reward.

On August 1 at the Sevres-Vaneau bus stop, a dear older lady gazed at the vacant street with delight. "Regardez cela, madame," she rhapsodized to me -- a total stranger -- as she waved her cane at the calm. "Pas une voiture sur la rue de Sevres. Enfin Paris est a nous!"

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I AM an American in Paris

It's funny how settled in I feel in a way. I'm totally accustomed to the French phone lady on voicemail, and not at all traumatized any more about going into stores and asking questions. It helps that I've learned to stop trying to masquerade as French -- that will never work, because it ain't so. So I just try to be a civilized americaine, ya know do my bit to make French people think that Americans are halfway intelligent and francophone (and even funny).

Sometimes I get the impression that French people don’t expect foreigners to have anything amusant to share with them. No fun light banter with shopkeepers in stores, for example. Usually it's pretty serious interaction. I was in a boutique on rue Tronchet trying on pants, and said jokingly to the lady, "The pants are great; it's the body that needs help!" and she frowned and said "Mais non, " and went on a little mini-tirade about how you must respect and love the body you have. Oh well, it was just my way of trying to engage in lighthearted banter... So I tend to do that less and less, because they just don't seem to get that level of levity.

On the other hand, I have learned how to engage in conversation with cab drivers, and so far can charm just about any of them. I called one to come pick me up and he said "I can't -- there is a manif in your neighborhood and the traffic is blocked." (His taxi stand is around the corner, so he knew what the real situation was, but he was apparently acting on official traffic reports from la prefecture de police). I said, "Monsieur, I have the best view of the Madeleine of anyone, and can tell you in fact that the traffic has cleared up. In fact, feel free to call me any time if you want a really good traffic report!" He said, "Okay, I'll be there in 2 minutes."

Another day I was bringing to the apartment two antique wooden chairs I bought at a brocante, and although I called the number for extra-large taxis, a regular size taxi showed up. The driver snarled, "You are moving furniture. Do I look like a moving man?" "No," I replied sweetly, "you look like a very kind chauffeur de taxi." He melted like butter. Even helped me move the chairs into the foyer when we arrived.

Then -- enfin! -- a little foray into Polly-humor that kind of worked:

Yesterday I got a bad blister on the palm of my hand from trying to assemble an IKEA table with a too-small screwdriver. I immediately dropped everything and went straight to the beloved pharmacie at the corner for help. I told the mademoiselle about spending the morning shopping at IKEA, and showed her the horrible, painful result of the afternoon's assembling efforts. She found all the right pansements to miraculously cure my blister, and a nettoyant for cleaning my hand. As we approached the caisse, I noticed a homeopathic product in promotion called "Memo-Boost pour aider le memoire." I said, "Ah, I will take this so I will remember not to go back to IKEA!"

She actually got a good chuckle out of it, before then saying, "Quand meme, il y a des choses tres interessantes chez IKEA."

Of course I’m absolutely passionate for IKEA; unfortunately, I don't think there is a French phrase for "just kidding". Maybe "c'etait pour rigoler"? I dunno. But I got her to laugh!

Masses taking over the streets in Paris in April

In the cold pink dawn of a Sunday in Paris, once again the police had barricaded the streets: rue Royale was just a silent sea of cobblestones, so I strode down the middle as I headed to the Place de la Concorde to see what all the tumult was. Gendarmes were everywhere.

Coming from the Champs Elysees there appeared to be an endless river of human beings, running in my direction. People were shouting, the police cars were wailing their sirens as they drove ahead of the masses. First came a throng of black men, leading the pack. The rest of the crowd followed close at heel.

A large oomp-pa-pah band began playing, celebrating the opening of the 30th annual Marathon de Paris.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Which means "note de la redactrice". I owe a huge thanks to dear friend Ariane for setting up this blog for me, as I'm totally inept.

An explanation of "Polly Vous Francais:"

When I was very very little my older siblings gave me my very first French lesson, telling me to respond to the question "Parlez vous francais?" by answering "Oui, un peu."

I obliged, but I asked them what it meant; and, in all fairness, they explained "It means, 'Do you speak French?' ."

Great. But then little Wog was very upset to hear the same question being asked of her older sister. I thought they should be asking "Suzie-vous francais?"

Not eactly an early attempt at cartesian logic, but the genesis for a lifetime of learning French.

Le Look Parisien

written in April 2006

She's getting it figured out. Le Look Parisien. After finishing le petit dejeuner, she dons le look.
Well-pressed jeans. Check.
Suede boots. Check.
Long scarf coiled around the neck. Check.
Face lightly made up, lips glossed. Check.
Hair coiffed. Check.
Brown shearling jacket. Check.
One last check in the mirror before heading out the apartment door to a meeting. Looks pulled-together.
Into elegant wrought iron elevator cage, down to floor "0".
Push "porte" button to enter courtyard.
Push exterior "porte" button, out heavy ancient door onto place de la Madeleine.
Nod "Bonjour, monsieur" to shopkeeper next door who stands guard smoking all day.
Deep breath, get ready for the Parisienne-style walk, which will take her past Dior, Gucci, Chanel and all the neighborhood stores:

Head tossed high as though you're looking over the person in front of you. Check.
Posture: not exactly "chest out", more akin to "boobs first". Check.
The stride - a mild version of the fashion catwalk, heel-toe, heel-toe. Check.
Longchamp bag hung just so at the elbow. Check.
Feeling good, got le look. Within minutes, a man calls out from behind her, "Madame?"

Hmmm. Does she deign to respond? She turns oh-so-slowly and confidently around.
He says, "Vous avez un morceau de papier colle la!"

Mais oui, Polly's customized version of le look parisien includes a yellow post-it note flapping from her derriere.
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