Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bargain Shopping

Here I am in back in New England, a.k.a. bargain shopper's paradise. Fortunately there isn't much time for me to do major wallet damage, and I lack storage space in Paris, were I to weaken and actually buy stuff that I don't need. But all the local favorites do beckon -- T.J. Maxx, Filene's Basement, Christmas Tree Shops, Building 19, Marshall's.

However, they just can't beat my favorite bargain stores in Paris, the various bazars that are found in virtually every arrondissement. A concentration of them seem to be in northern Paris. From truly kitsch to remarkably practical, the wares sold in these tightly-crammed riyads are a bit of everything. At this one, Bazar Dejean on rue Dejean in the 18th, I found more fans, this time a mere one euro apiece.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thinking of Paris

It's a curious phenomenon. When I'm in the states, I am barely able to write. My thoughts are more diffuse, my observations less concise than when I write in Paris. I have often wondered about this. Obviously many writers write wherever they are. Not me. I find simply that when I am in the US, a place where I can so easily verbalize the ideas swirling around in my head, I am not as able to articulate them as well. In Paris, my mental process is so funneled, so intense.

When I am in Paris, I often have stories that explode from me. I wake up and have to write a passage or a paragraph or an entire essay, and can't perform any other tasks or functions until the crystallized thought is transcribed. Business and other mundane details are tended to when I have captured the wild mental beast and put it into its written form.

Now I'm back here for a short stay in the US. The obervations and thoughts are there, but more transitory and elusive. "Oh, yes, I ought to remember to write about that". The compulsion isn't there. The idea has less shape to it, the story lacks flavor.

Lord knows I am no Hemingway --- but I wonder sometimes if other expat writers have found their voice when living in Paris, or any land where the native tongue is not their own. There, thoughts are distilled through the daily filter of another language, forcing the would-be writer to hone the narrative, giving a perspective that is unavailable when back "home." When I am living my American life in my maternal language, my native culture, my thoughts are more distracted, my prose muddier.

A friend recently told me she loves to live in Paris simply because it's where "a cucumber tastes like a cucumber." It's also a place where a thought tastes more like a thought.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ignorance was Bliss

Is there a French expression equivalent to "ignorance is bliss"? I don't think so. I've been blissfully living a relatively anonymous existence as the American newcomer in my apartment building for the past year. Now things are heating up.

I was depositing my recycling in the courtyard when I spied the very pretty woman from the rez de chaussee who is often out watering the flowers (with an empty Evian bottle). We usually just nod "Bonjour, madame" to each other and go on our ways. Not so today. This afternoon she stepped in front of the door, blocking my exit. With a nice smile she asked if the velo (now the only one out in the center part of the courtyard) was in fact mine. In rapid-fire French she began pummeling me with the details of who is in fact allowed to leave bikes there (no one) and that although some co-proprietaires are still protesting their right to park their bikes, that is not what has been voted upon at the Assemblee Generale, (the annual owners' meeting) certainement pas les locataires, certainly not for days on end, blah blah blah. She was so friendly that I couldn't take umbrage at her complaints. Smiling politely, I merely explained that I had been very careful to ask the gardienne before I went to the trouble and expense of buying a bike. The gardienne had given me the green light.

Oops, not a good idea to get the gardienne in deep doo-doo.

Madame was shocked, shocked, that the gardienne could have dared say such a thing. "I don't want to create des soucis for her," I pleaded. Nevertheless, off we trotted to the gardienne's apartment. Always cheerful, but with a memory like a steel caisse, the gardienne said "I told Madame Polly that she had the same rights as the other locataires (renters)." Which apparently is zilch.

This started another flurry of conversation which gave me far more information about the lives of the other residents than I ever wanted to know. They harrumphed that Madame Untel on the top floor had started parking HER two bikes dans la cour years ago when she was president of the Syndicat des Proprietaires, as if that august position awarded her special dispensation. That started the mauvaise tendance, they both agreed. Now said Madame Untel is no longer President -- why, she won't even dare to show her face at the pot luck supper next week! Then more gossip and tidbits about various people's comments at the Assemblee Generale last week. "Pour qui se prend-t-elle?" (Who does she think she is?) and so on. Juicy info about who doesn't want to or can't afford to pay certain charges (monthly fees), etc. Quelle histoire!

My mind is still spinning from figuring out the complex web of who speaks to whom. There is apparently some brouillon between owners of the apartments in the back section (mine) and owners of the more sumptuous apartments that face the street. Madame lives on the courtyard, a sort of netherworld in terms of allegiances. She just wants the bikes out of her sight line. "Maybe you should put the bike in the stairwell of your hallway," she suggested with malicious glee. "That'll teach em."

But the good news is that I have a new friend. I don't know her name yet, of course, but the pretty downstairs neighbor is working to help me find a solution, to see what can get arranged. She'll shuffle my bike around for me when I'm gone. The positive part of having a new "friend" is a new ally, someone watching out for you. It also means that there is someone who more carefully observes your comings and goings. Someone that requires more than a nod and a "Bonjour" each time we pass in the courtyard.

Oh, life was so blissful, so ignorant, just a few hours ago. Welcome to France.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I love it when you speak French!

The Addams Family was one of those 1960s TV classics that should get a prize for its impact on young brains. Sure, it was a little twisted perhaps, but a brilliant comedy. The premise and characters may have been weird, but the dialogue was ripe with irony and wit. A lesson in subtle sophistication for little 10-year-olds who eventually figured out what the canned laughter was reacting to.

The family values were good. The relationship between Gomez and Morticia, superbly played by John Astin and Carolyn Jones, was one of a loving couple and devoted parents, albeit tending to all sorts of creepy and far-fetched details in their bizarre family life. But hey-- it was an intact, multi-generational family. Well, intact except for the dismembered Thing. But they were all so kind and thoughtful to that ... hand. Such good manners!

More important, in a subtle way it inspired learning French. Well, mine, anyway. It is my firmly held but completely unsubstantiated belief that the Gomez-Morticia lovebird relationship gave a generation of young girls the impression that if they just spoke French, their knight in shining armor would be immediately transformed into a passionate, adoring Romeo. No matter what crazy activity Gomez was in the midst of, all it took was one little word of French from Morticia -- like savoir faire, or ensemble, and he dropped everything and rushed to passionately kiss her arm from wrist to shoulder. "Tish! I just love it when you speak French!" he crooned.

Ever cool, oh-so-femme fatale, Morticia would reply with a coy smile, "Don't torture yourself, Gomez, darling. That's my job..."

Gomez and Morticia: an unabashedly tender and passionate vie de couple while being loving parents and caring for older family members. Doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Betty and Rita and Me

Many moons ago, on another planet, I was a grade-school teacher. Sitting at the lunch table next to me one day, a doe-eyed second grader asked out of the blue, "Mrs. L, how old are you?"

"Well-l-l, Olivia," I chuckled kindly, "actually, I'm old enough so that you shouldn't really be asking that question." I noticed her quizzical expression. "But I don't mind telling you," I continued. "I'm forty-two."

"Ohh..." she cooed.

"Mrs. L?" she asked thoughfully.

"Yes, Olivia?" I offered my most motherly attention.

"How old is that in dog years?"

My love affair with dogs must have been evident on my face, even obvious to an 8-year-old. At the time I was the happy owner of a sweet black Lab (when is there a Labrador who is not sweet?) who has since departed this mortal coil. But my heart swells and I still get a lump in my throat whenever I look at her winsome portrait. Those searching, soulful eyes, begging to be fed a third dinner. Oh, dog owners all have tales to share; just get us started!

Now that I'm in Paris, home to 150,000 coddled pooches, with dogs in evidence everywhere I miss having a dog more than ever. It's just not the right time yet for me to have a new canine family member. Someday. So in the mean time I find ways to compensate. I offered to dogsit for the charming blond Nina, my friend Mary's Montmartre mutt. But Mary was worried that I would love having Nina too much and never give her back. Curses, foiled again! Now I have met Carmen, a beautiful black Schnauzer down the street, whose American mère and père are willing to let me take her for a stroll now and then. Carmen is show-stopper gorgeous and was even asked to model in a photo shoot. She speaks only French. This is a dog with pizzazz. But if I walk her, will all the handsome strangers I meet on avenue de Breteuil just admire Carmen and ignore moi? A minor concern, but I can live with it.

Lacking Carmen or Nina on a day-to-day basis in Paris, I still have Betty and Rita to keep me company. If you love dogs and you love Paris, Betty and Rita are the pooches for you, too. If you have Betty and Rita at home, you don't have to feed them. You don't have to call Taxi-Dog to dogwalk them. They are none other than the canine stars of the eponymous book Betty and Rita Go to Paris, a delightful rhyming photo album that chronicles these two Labs on their tail-wagging romp through the City of Light. Photographer Michael Malyszko and poet Judith Hughes brought their two canine pals on a dog's-eye journey through Paris that will make you smile. An excerpt (too easy to call this doggerel)::

Three major musées were the second day's fare;
we took l'ascenseur instead of the stairs.
A strange illustration right on la rue
Left nothing to chance on where to go poo.
At a cute bistro politely we begged:
Please, just a morsel; it worked, we got fed!

This wonderful book is not to be missed -- two of the classiest, quietest American tourists in Paris I've come across in a long time.

I've had Betty and Rita on my coffee table, where they have a permanent home, for about seven years. How much is that in dog years?

Available at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The downstairs neighbors are at it again

I can tell when the sub tenant who is in the apartment below me has found a new boyfriend and/or girlfriend because he always turns up the opera and drinks too much and shouts excitedly. Then angry complaints and stomping and pleading. Then... well, never mind.

He had told the owner, who is away in Los Angeles for a year, that he was a quiet divorced man, sadly getting over the break up of his marriage. I don't think so.

His latest rapturous overtures began in earnest last night, with decibel levels that certainly he had no intention of keeping private. Or perhaps no ability to. We live on an otherwise peaceful courtyard, and his concert-level antics keep all the neighbors awake. Like it or not, this is the old-guard seventh arrondissement, plain vanilla Paris, where the custom is to keep personal matters quiet, behind closed doors. The neighbors are mostly families or retirees, all polite and courteous. We shut our shutters at night.

Not so with row-row-Romeo below. That ain't happening. And tonight it is at fever pitch, windows open, music blaring. Their shake-it-a-baby shouts and cries at 10 pm make my ears turn crimson. The cross-courtyard neighbors are slamming their windows and shutters in protest.

I'm sorry that I won't be here for La Fete des Voisins next week, a pot luck supper when the building residents get together to get to know each other.. If loverboy is smart (which I doubt), he'll be busy that night, too.

Let's (All) Go to the Movies

Fellow Parisian blogger Tacoma Girl has a great post on going to the movies in Paris.

I love all aspects of cinema here, too. Except for one. I wish at least one movie house would offer French movies with English subtitles. So many of my anglophone expat friends, even those whose French is pretty strong, just skip French movies because it's too much of a strain to follow the French dialogue, and pay 9 euros to suffer. Thus thousands of Americans, English, Canadians, etc., who have chosen to live in Paris in part because of the wonderful culture, are shut out from one of the country's greatest art forms.

Here's the typical scenario: four friends get together for a movie and dinner. One of them is not so keen on a French movie because of the language barrier, so all four (even if two are French) will go to an American movie instead. This happens over and over.

And how about tourists? Millions of visitors from all nations who come to Paris have English as a first or second language. If one big cinema house -- oh, perhaps on the Champs Elysees -- showed French movies with English subtitles, everyone could then experience newly released French films as part of their cultural visit, instead of waiting to see them months later at home, if ever. Instead, they watch v.o. American movies in Paris. Or none at all. A sad state of affairs.

So if France wants to really promote its culture, why not make films accessible for all (or at least many many more)? Many museums now have signage in three languages. Most French movies are already produced with English subtitles -- but for international export only. They just aren't shown here.

My point is: what is more representative of French culture: American movies with French subtitles or French movies with English subtitles? The verdict is a no-brainer to me.

How about it, moviemakers? UGC? Gaumont? Why not give it a try?

Just think: you could do it for the sake of art, for pride in a great national culture. Or you could do it for the sake of increased sales.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I herewith admit that I am an internet Scrabble junkie. This is my vice.

It could be worse. Couldn't it?

I don't know of any 12-step programs to wean me from it.

I don't even play to win; just for the love of words.

There, I've said it. No interventions necessary.

Point It

My favorite traveller's phrase book has no phrases at all.
Point it traveller's language kit is a post-card size book with hundreds of clear photos that -- you guessed it -- you just point to in order to make youself understood, in any country. No text. Learn the language without massacring it first! I got mine at W.H. Smith.
Now all I need are the travel plans and tickets.

C'est Quoi, Toutes ces Bulles?

The other day on rue du Four I saw an older lady (by that I mean at least 15 years older than I am), stumble on the sidewalk, catch herself, turn around and glare at the spot on the ground, and then move forward, annoyed.

From a distance, I was thinking in my smug younger ego, "Well, at a certain age (ha! not me yet!) you just aren't as steady on your feet." And, I assumed, she just wanted something to blame. "Aardvarks," we used to call those invisible non-existent obstacles that caused the terminally clumsy -- or in this case, slightly aging -- to pitch forward but not flat out, as if someone had stuck a foot in front of you.

Punish me now, please. I am so unkind, so skeptical. When I got to the spot where she had tripped, I noticed an odd bump protruding from the otherwise smooth asphalt sidewalk. She really had caught her foot on something.

A few days later, crossing the Pont de l'Alma, I encountered a wild-haired, ragged guy on Rollerblades. He stopped dead in his tracks in front of me and, pointing behind him, demanded "C'est quoi toutes ces bulles?" (what are all these bubbles?) as if I was expected to know the answer. I moved on without responding to him, but did stop to look.

Sure enough, Paris sidewalks and streets are sprouting bumps faster than a teenager on Snickers bars -- everywhere there are annoying clusters or single protrusions where you least expect them.

So my weird little question to Mayor Delanoe and his team: c'est quoi, toutes ces bulles?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Photo Booth

So I was dawdling in the Duroc metro station and stumbled upon this mysterious photo-booth photo. Whom could it belong to? Why did she abandon it? Is she lost without that guide book? Can I find the owner of the photo?
Ha ha. Je plaisante. C'est moi. I have loved photo booths since waaay before Audrey Tautou popularized them in Amelie. Since I was 8 years old, to be exact. And I still have decades of photos to prove it.
Parisian photo booths, found in virtually every metro station and many grocery stores, have a wide variety of options, from standard fare ID photos to some with wacky seasonal borders and goofy J'aime Paris heart-shaped frames. 4 euros, and correct change only, s'il vous plait.
But there are now stern warnings, with posters and brochures at each booth, for folks who are having multiple passport or other ID photos taken: to make your ID valid, you must have a neutral expression in your photo. Fun is fun. ID cards, on the other hand, are serious business.
And I've been told that bien sur the French don't say "cheeeeese" for the big wide grin, the way Americans do, for photo-ops. In France, we apparently should say "petites pommes," which, in addition to meaning "little apples" or "small potatoes," also keeps your mouth fairly well closed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Somewhat Trivial Pursuit

Today I stopped into Variantes, a very well-stocked game store in the 6th arrondissement, to pick up a copy of Trivial Pursuit Paris. Always curious, I asked the owner if there were other jeux de société in the shop similar to Trivial Pursuit that might have Paris as a theme. He bristled and, looking at me askance, scoffed, "Mais madame, in my opinion Trivial Pursuit is not a 'jeu de société'." (Okay, let me wrap my brain around this for a second. I think of jeu de société to mean a board game or parlor game.) "Ah, oui?" I query. (Thank God I'm suddenly remembering all the words used in French for treading water intellectually while you process thought during a discussion: euhhh, ah oui? alors, enfin...) I rose to the challenge. "Well, monsieur, if it is not, then what is, in fact, a jeu de société?" "Un jeu de société, Madame, is something like Monopoly, " he reprimanded. "Or Scrabble. Un jeu where you have a chance to use your skills to win. Trivial Pursuit is just a test of -- little bits of information. Certainement pas social," he sniffed. So I had to take all this in and dwell philosophically about his perspective while forking over major euros for the bloody expensive game I was intent on buying. Thought in, money out: difficult mental multitasking. To me, Trivial Pursuit is like Jeopardy, like "the Weakest Link" (awful, I admit, but which exists on French TV as Le Maillon Faible.) I kind of understood what he meant but was totally confounded by his vehement reaction to my innocent question. IT'S JUST A GAME, I wanted to say. I bit my tongue. Hmm. In English we call them board games or parlor games, and I think we view them all the same. We either love or hate this kind of group activity. Camp-counselor-mom that I am, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of all entertaining activities that bring people together to have fun. Charades, Twenty Questions, Botticelli, even Parcheesi -- all are family favorites. His point was that this game of questions and answers creates only a competition -- egad, of trivia! -- and therefore is not a social activity but merely a concurrence. Either you know the answers or you don't. He curtly dismissed my purchase of Trivial Pursuit (which, we might note, he stocks in his store and was more than willing to take my cash for) disdainfully, "Maybe it's fun for ... people with un intérêt touristique." Ouch. That stings. Maybe he's just a sore loser. I won't be inviting him to my Trivial Pursuit soirées, that's for sure. Variantes
29 rue St. Andre des Arts
75006 Paris

Vive l'Amitié

America is losing a great friend from its shores. Gone but not to be forgotten, M. Jean-David Levitte has been French Ambassador to the US since 2002. He is being called back to France to be an international advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy. His positive impact on relations between the two countries leaves a lasting legacy.

With impressive goodwill, perseverance, and diplomatic savoir-faire, he weathered the sophomoric, knee-jerk "Freedom Fries" era of US-French relations. He fought back, when needed, with sound logic and cool-headed tenacity, defending the ties between our nations.

I had the good fortune to meet M. Levitte in 2003, at the height of the French-bashing, where even in liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts some locals quietly threatened to picket the reception in front of the home of the French Consul to Boston. Fortunately cooler heads and Bostonian reserve prevailed.

And a good thing, too. His purpose at that reception was to honor and promote the French-American friendship that is exemplified by the groups in the US who work hard to sustain the ties between our two countries initiated by the Marquis de Lafayette. I don't recall M. Levitte's exact words at the time, but his message was clear: America and France have always been close friends, ever since Lafayette and Washington forged their deep bond. Friends can sometimes have strain in their relationships, but true friendship is a testament to loyalty.

We wish M. Levitte la bienvenue en France, and hope that his successor will have the same dedication and devotion to that friendship which has endured over two centuries. The next Ambassador will arrive in Washington at a time when there is much to celebrate. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Lafayette. A wide range of exciting activities on both sides of the Atlantic are in busy preparation, from trips to documentaries to exchanges to special exhibits. Now it's time for all of us to remember why.

May 20 is the anniversary of Lafayette's death. Please do this for me: find out who is honoring him, and honoring French-American friendship, in your community. One small way of saying merci to Lafayette, to M. Levitte, and to offer a tchin-tchin to l'Amitié.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kilo, zero, oh-oh

I look at the weather forecast for today. Cloudy, drizzle, 19 degrees. Damn, how much is that? I have a vague idea that it's not really warm, but don't know if it's going to require a heavy sweater or an overcoat. To me there is a big difference between 50 and 65 Fahrenheit, which is the range I figured for 19C. I've been a year now in Paris, but I just haven't done the cultural Celsius switch yet.

That goes for kilos, and meters, too. While I can approximate a meter to be about a yard when ordering fabric for curtains, for example, I cannot do the same when someone asks how tall I am.

Old method. For example, my son is 6'3", so I figured he was about 2 meters tall plus a bit. WRONG-O! You should have seen the shocked look on that sales lady's face when I guesstimated that my son was 2 metres 4 centimetres tall. (That's about 6'8". Oops.)

New method: I avoid these conversations. I try to write pertinent information such as this in a little address book, but it is never handy to whip out the address book, even if I could find it.

I'm actually good at math, so of course when I have time I can sit down and do the calculation. I have a thermometer in the window in the other room which has both Fahrenheit and Celsius. But I want to just know it, to feel the Celsius temperature in my bones or to envision the metres in my spatial imagination.

On the other hand, I prefer not to calculate my personal weight in either kilos or pounds, thankyouverymuch. I am more fluent with grams than kilos; so asking for 250 grams of olives at the marché is not problem. That's about half a pound, easy.

I was just getting accustomed to the European clothing sizes (36, 38, 40, 42... ) when I found myself needing to purchase a fancy French soutien gorge. The vendeuse asks, "Quelle est votre taille, madame? 80, 85, 90, 95?" Aarggh. I hate it when I'm feeling so cool, so confident about my language skills, and then get thrown for a loop when asked to make some culturally translated calculation like this. My face shifts into a frozen, contorted grimace as I squeeze my French brain to work even harder. Ouch, it actually hurts somewhere behind the eyeballs as I try to concentrate on that one.

I need to get to the point where I just don't have to translate temperature, distance, volume, and weight. My expat friends who have lived in Paris a long time all talk in metre, kilo, Celsius, never switching back to the Am-uh-rican system of measurement. I am so jealous. I long to do that.

The cab driver says, "It's going to reach 25 today!"

"Ah, oui?," I feign some sort of reaction, but I have to hide that I don't know whether that's good or bad. I bear my ignorance with deep shame and embarrassment. My language skills are strong, so I sound like such a doofus not knowing the social currency of these very basic day-to-day exchanges.

I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway's story, "A Day's Wait," where a boy just back in the states has a high fever and the flu. At bedtime, the father sits down with his son after the doctor 's visit:

I sat down and opened the Pirate book and commenced to read, but I could see he was not following, so I stopped.
"About what time do you think I'm going to die?" he asked.
"About how long will it be before I die?"
"You aren't going to die. What's the matter with you?"
"Oh, yes, I am. I heard him say a hundred and two."
"People don't die with a fever of one hundred and two. That's a silly way to talk."
"I know they do. At school in France the boys told me you can't live with forty-four degrees. I've got a hundred and two."
He had been waiting to die all day, ever since nine o'clock in the morning. "You poor Schatz," I said. "Poor old Schatz. It's like miles and kilometers. You aren't going to die. That's a different thermometer. On that thermometer thirty-seven is normal. On this kind it's ninety-eight."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," I said. "It's like miles and kilometers. You know, like how many kilometers we make when we do seventy miles in the car?"
"Oh," he said.

Another Saturday Night and I Ain't Got No Money

If you find yourself like a gazillion other Paris denizens who did not "faire le pont" with today's Ascension holiday and leave for a long weekend, do not despair. There's a lot to do (duh) in this fair city, even though the weather is --

Well, let's all admit that we were uber-uber-spoiled by April, and no one is moaning much about Global Warming this month, are we? We're back to umbrellas and winter coats. Ah, Paris, that fickle woman!

So all the more reason to head indoors this weekend. A little low on euros? Pas de problème! Saturday night, May 19th is La Nuit des Musées. All 14 of the museums of the City of Paris will be open, free of charge, from 6 pm to midnight. From le Petit Palais to le Musée de la Vie Romantique, there is a selection of some known and lesser-known City-owned museums to prowl around for a great cheap date. Voilà.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

They're changing the guard at the Elysee Palace

This is Jacques Chirac's last full day in office. Tomorrow at 11 am Paris time, in a solemn ceremony, Chirac will hand over the keys to 55 rue du Faubourg St. Honore to Nicolas Sarkozy. (We don't have time to investigate whether there will be any teary wife-to-wife exchanges between Bernadette and Cecilia, but somehow we really really doubt it. We're not actually sure that Cecilia will even show up, or if she does what her sartorial statement will be.)

Oops -- we always digress into something girly. We apologize.

Ahem. From what we can surmise, changing of power, "la passation du pouvoir" in France is a different kettle of fish from the hoopla of US presidential inaugurations. When does he put his hand on the bible and swear to uphold the laws of the land, we keep wondering? Because we couldn't find that part in this information-packed Presidential Investiture site for the Office of the French President. Chirac will give Sarkozy the keys and -- a sobering little thought -- the secret code for nuclear attack. Then, the excitement begins in full swing when the election results are read out loud to Mr. Sarkozy, department by department by department.

Then a short presidential talk, most likely nothing like "Ask not what your country can do for you" or "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." But we're sure it will be gripping.

We hope we got the order right for all the activities. In any case you can observe for yourself! We'll be watching, most certainly. The ceremony will be televised starting at 10 am Paris time Wednesday. TF1, France 2, and France 24 will all broadcast the event and some may podcast it.
And tonight at 8 pm Chirac will bid adieu to the French people he has served for the past 12 years on TF1. And later, a program on "The Chirac Years."

Incredible. The last time a new French president was being sworn in to office there was virtually no such thing as a blog. Back in the good old days when "Paris" always meant France, not Hilton.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Feeling Snoopy?

Oh, for example, say you meet some dashing devil here in Paris and he gives you his carte de visite and you've agreed to meet for un apero on Monday.

Well, once back at home in your jammies, you log on to your computer and of course you Google him. That's kid stuff. And if you're more advanced and more curious you check out his neighborhood with the aerial view on or Google Earth.

Goody! Now Pages Jaunes shas added a new feature for the infinitely snoopy that actually allows you to see the facade of his building. (You of course want to be sure it is a building of tres grand standing, no?)

Part of me finds this really fun and part of me finds this totally creepy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Strawberry season is here. Dessert at its best.
Chez Francoise

Friday, May 11, 2007

I'll be good

Well I had better be a Really Good Girl from now on, because if I'm bad, when I die and they turn me away from the Pearly Gates, Hell is bound to be a place where a) there are bugs that make you itch and/or b) you have to do international banking transactions. And Tantalus will be there, exacting revenge, laughing and dangling reading glasses just out of reach.

Oh, dealing with bank accounts. And transatlantic bank accounts. Ugh. I admit that I am not the most organized when it comes to paperwork and finances -- it's that oh-so-artistic ADD streak in me. Deadlines? Why yes, I love them. In fact I cling to them like a life buoy. Need an adrenaline rush to get focused? Well, sure, so wait until the VERY LAST MINUTE of that deadline to assure total panic -- the more panic, the more adrenaline.

So I'm in adrenaline up to my scalp follicles right now.

I have to call Major Financial Institution in US this afternoon to wire transfer a small amount because I've overlooked a teensy little health insurance issue which will expire today if I don't get it done. Another reason to be good. And healthy. We love insurance, yes we do.

So I get on Skype, call the MFI at some amorphous location and go through the voice mail steps, shouting IDs, PINS, my mother's maiden name, everything but my dress size into the Skype headset. The cloying female recorded voice says, "I'm sorry; I didn't get that." Again. And again. Finally I break on through to a human being.

A young account rep (his voice hasn't even changed yet) named Gary tells me how to request the transfer. Patronizing and silly, he ends every statement, "'kay?" and jabbers on with queries about life in Paris. After endless inane chats while we're on hold with his supervisor (who was busy with college applications, I think) he informs me that --oops, his mistake! --in fact I have to send a fax, that it can't be done on line. Thanks a pantload, junior.

I look at the clock. Oh, god. It's now 8 pm Paris time and my beloved copy/fax store around the corner is closed.

Desperate, I search on line for other fax places in Paris. Les pages jaunes -- no help. Finally I Google it and find out that the Poste at the rue du Louvre (the one that's open 24 hours) has fax service. God, okay. I grit my teeth, jam the papers in my bag, grab my Navigo pass and am about to head out the door when the phone rings. I almost don't answer it. But I think maybe it's MFI changing their minds.

It's my friend Mary, calling from Montmartre.

After exchanging pleasantries I explain my quandary. Mary, who knows all things Paris, muses, "Don't most cyber cafes have a fax service?" (This is why God blesses us with friends. This is why God sends a little voice to answer that telephone call even though we're in a tearing hurry. Right now I love Mary so much -- she has saved me from a premature hours-plus journey to postal purgatory.)

Bingo. There is that B@byconnect internet center around the corner, where all the kids hang out to play video games. Worth a try.

I hang up and barrel out the door. Round the corner. B@byconnect is open! My saviour.

The very friendly attendant seems relieved to have someone over the age of 15 to talk to. She tries sending the fax. No go. Tries again. No go. Needs me to come listen to what the voice is repeating on the other line. Ah, familiar English: "Your call did not go through..."

Grabbing my belongings, I storm back to the apartment in order to call baby Gary and give him a scolding and to get a fax number that works from abroad. I reach the corner, rummaging for my keys. I left them, of course, at B@byconnect. Swing sheepishly by to scoop them up, then back to the apartment. It is now raining and gusting, blowing my umbrella inside out. By God, I'm taking the elevator up to the flat. No self-righteous keep-fit stair-climbing in this saga.

I clamp on the headset and call MFI again. Same log in, IDs, PINs, voice-recognition misunderstandings. Only this time the machine asks for my account number, too, and the date that I opened the account. This time I get Indira in India. She is sweet but vaguely unintelligible, and totally unsure of call-center protocol. Next we mercifully switch to a worker-bee apparently in the US: Clark. He's much more senior, must have graduated early this year.

Another fax number. Another reference number scribbled down. Back to B@byconnect. They are warm and welcoming. They are quick, efficient, saints. Please, someone: canonize them tomorrow. The fax goes through. Cost: 3 euros. Sympathetically she offers that they are open until 1 am tonight. God, so if all else falls into the money merde, I can always go back? And back. All is done. It is now 10 pm and I can come home and rest. Oh, and fix dinner.

So from now on I'll be Really Good. I promise. I have seen a glimpse of where Bad People go, and I don't like it one bit.

A Blog is Born

When I moved to Paris, I thought I would immerse myself totally in French life with my French friends. While this has been important, what has been equally important is getting to know other Americans who are flourishing here. Or languishing here. Some have been here for decades, some for a year or two. So I've been making the rounds of my American friends and acquaintances, and their friends and acquaintances: famous, not-yet-famous, unknown, anonymous or just plain fun. The project? I have started a new blog-to-book project devoted to showcasing their fascinating lives here in the City of Light, called Real Americans in Paris.

Criteria for being "Real Americans in Paris" are somewhat arbitrary: no French mother or father, and not having spent one's childhood or part thereof in Paris. Each interviewee will get a Proust-type questionnaire in advance, and we'll meet for an interview, in the interviewee's favorite Paris location for photo-op. With a few exceptions, in general it won't include many wonderful folks who have already written about their Parisian lives.

Literary agents are twitching in anticipation.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

As the World Churns

Hello, world.

Well blow me away. I finally figured out how to put in a site meter to see if I was just blabbing away in the great cyber void or if anyone really cared. Oh, I have some dedicated readers who email me and all. Still, I wanted to know.

But I didn't expect this. Now I'm so absorbed with my Clustr Map that I have to put a Band-Aid over the bottom right corner of my computer screen so I don't obsess. It's so exciting, I think to myself. Two thousand visitors in 10 days? Wow. Yow!

Then in a blogger's nanosecond I grasp that half-empty glass. I start griping, "Hey, Africa, wake up, will ya?" "Yo, Russia! Hellooooo??"

Metro Stop

Ever searching for the perfect housegifts or souvenirs to take to friends in the States this month, it's a challenge in these days of globalization to find a little present that is a) affordable, b) not available in their own hometown, and c) packable.

When you add in a heavy factor of loving maps as design, well, the RATP boutique is just the spot! All the items in the shop are of course based on the RATP theme -- bus, metro, getting around on public transport.

The mug above looks as though it could be right out of Polly Vous Francais, don't you think?

In fact, I have observed that many bloggers hawk mugs and other products based on the graphic of their site. So that got me thinking. Hmmm.... mugs, t-shirts, why even these lovely boxers:

Hey! Great idea! Maybe I should get some printed up.
Hmm. Where would that put the Polly Vous Francais stop?


It is ironic, in a way, to get nervous inquiries from State-side good citizens fretting about "riots" in France they read about.

I have never felt more safe anywhere than I do in Paris. Every day, every hour. I can walk home solo from a dinner late at night in the echoing loveliness of the streets and feel totally secure. Most single women I know in Paris feel the same. That is a priceless part of life here. In fact, a long stroll home is one of my favorite activities: a good way to clear the head from the evening's buzz, get some unwinding before heading home to faire do-do.

So when I think that Americans are getting all worried about "safety" here in France, I get defensive. Annoyed at overblown press reports. In lovely Charleston SC, in quaint Boston, MA, I wouldn't dare take a one-hour walk home alone at midnight except in the most upscale neighborhoods. Even then...

Always thought-provoking, my friend Wick Sloane sent me his recent article about a victim of violence in Boston. One of his students. Helps to keep things in perspective here.

Compare safety in France and safety in the US. Compare education opportunities. Lots to reflect on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Gentle Reminder

Listen up, children. Ecoutez, les enfants.

First, let's get the 2007 facts in order. This year the US celebrates Mother's Day next Sunday, May 13. France celebrates Mother's Day on Sunday, June 3. While this may cause some turmoil or confusion for transatlantic/binational families, I'm sure you can sort it all out. Until some body politic changes something, France and the US will honor mamans and mommies on separate Sundays. Nothing is ever that simple, of course. So we just have to deal with it.

I have spent much of my childhood and adulthood totally slavish to Mother's Day (right, Mom?). Even so, I had always believed that its genesis was from commercial Hallmark-card-and-florist interests. Couldn't be further from the truth.

It tums out that Mother's Day in the US was a women's movement first started by Julia Ward Howe (most famous for "Battle Hymn of the Republic") as a peace movement, then later by Miss Anna M. Jarvis in tribute to her own mother and all mothers. Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill officially recognizing the day, and fixing on the second Sunday of May.

La Fête des Mères in France, on the other hand, rose from somewhat different circumstances. Mostly promoted by men, for starters. In 1806 Napoleon, eager to encourage women to produce large numbers of little French patriots, promoted a Mother's Day in the spring. It wasn't until much later, in various 20th century governments, that the day was established as an official day to celebrate. Finally in 1950 the French Assemblée Nationale passed a bill officializing Mother's Day, and setting the date as the last Sunday in May. (If the last Sunday in May happens to also be Pentecost, then Mother's Day is bumped to the next Sunday, the first weekend in June, which is what has happened this year.) There are so many other May holidays in France, I guess there just wasn't a spot for Mother's Day on the same ticket. (Kind of the way that we enter Daylight Savings Time at different dates.)

When all is said and done, though, my vote goes to Mothers' Day in England, where they at least put the apostrophe in the right place.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Oh, boy. The emails and phone calls are already coming in. "Is everything okay?" "Are you affected by the riots?" "Should I cancel my upcoming trip to Paris?"

I don't know the actual numbers of protesters. I am not a journalist. But Paris is not on fire.

Then after reading all the French and foreign press I could get my hands on and still try to accomplish something with my day, I received the Borowitz Report.

I guess we all could use a little levity, this from a very irreverent American guy's perspective. Did he get the numbers right?

Rousseau, Hugo, and Mr. Handsome

Don't worry, I'm not becoming a groupie or anything. I was actually loooking at French products on line, and stumbled across this unlikely Tee-Shirt.

The caption: The Voice of Reason has a French Accent

The Motley Trio pictured: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Dominique de Villepin

Hurry now while supplies last.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Election Party at France 24

A throng of some 300 eager viewers packed the France 24 television studios in Issy les Moulineaux this evening to watch the presidential election returns in French, English, and Arabic. Champagne corks popped to fill the glasses of the Sarkozy supporters celebrating the victory; whiskey, bordeaux and jus de tomate were poured for the Sego fans who wished to drown their sorrows.

In the hubbub it was hard to hear the televised commentaries. The crowd, a mix of mostly French and Americans -- journalists, bloggers, expats -- mingled with strangers, sharing stories. "Did Sego have an earpiece on during the debate?" "Is Sarko going to move into the Elysee Palace?" It was not a time for political debate. There was revelry and there was despondence, but moreover a sense of camaraderie that could serve the whole country in light of the 53/47 ratio in the voter turnout. As all said, "Vive la France!"

Sunday Confession

Forgive me fashion gods, for I have sinned.

I went for a walk this morning in the chill air of election day morning. (That is not the sin.)

Here's what I wore: navy blue jeans, black polar fleece jacket, and size 10 grey New Balance sneakers. The really wide tourist-type for walking.

Trembling as I headed on my trek, I figured that somewhere around rue St. Guillaume the streets would open wide their jaws and haul me to the underworld for such a fashion transgression.

Here's what happened: nothing.

The fashion police didn't stop me for questioning, the little slim ladies walking their Yorkies didn't glare at me, no little kids pointed and said "C'est quoi, maman?" I was a fashion mess from toes to neck. No one cared.

There were mitigating domestic circumstances having to do with laundry and availability of thin sports socks to wear with my acceptable slender black "Bally" sneakers. It wasn't happening, and I had to have that walk. So I just did it. I am so paranoid about making fashion faux pas in Paris that I only dared go out in those hideous but comfortable shoes, that outfit, because I figured it was early enough and not many discerning people would be on the street. This is partially true, I think. Under normal circumstances I could allow myself to wear running shoes like that IF I were in also in a chic spandex get-up heading over to the Champs de Mars or Jardin du Luxembourg in a trot. Spandex was not in the lexicon today.

But just walking in that ensemble, you look as if you are going somewhere, dressed "normally". A clueless American fashion ignoramus. Okay, okay, it is partially true, but my fashion IQ is improving slowly after a year here.

Anyway, I'll repent and atone tomorrow: a whole morning in Ferragamo pumps.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

If you have knowledge, kindness and time...

"If you have knowledge, kindness and time, we would be very grateful you translate it to English ! " is the gentle request at the bottom of the page.

I am deeply moved. This is from a history page of a French website, La Place de l'Eventail. This is the sort of call for help that sways me to drop all my other, meaningless activities to pitch in. It's quite simply adorable of them to ask!

At the top of the page, they offer:

"We give here a translation with of course a lot of mistakes : we gratefully thank our visitors who will take some time for helping us !"

Followed by the touching,

"We forbide us stealing material from other sites, which is unfair and unuseful . Here is an exception :

Unable of translating well and quick the infra text of our own, we have taken for our english reading visitors a page from another site which gives some excerpts from well known books."

Their English isn't bad at all, basically. But the sweet, humble nature of the request is irresistible.

So how about it? Any volunteer translators out there?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

FYI US Citizen Services News

A news alert from the American Embassy, recopied here for practical purposes.

"Important Notice Concerning U.S. Citizen Services

After many years at the Talleyrand building, the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paris is moving to a new location. During the move, services will be limited to emergency cases only on Wednesday, May 9; Thursday, May 10; and Friday, May 11. The Embassy will be closed for all services on Tuesday, May 8 which is a French holiday.

To avoid delays, U.S. citizens who need routine services that require a personal appearance, such as notarization of documents and applications for birth reports and passports, should plan to avoid coming May 9-10-11 since only emergency services will be provided. Emergency services include applications for lost and stolen passports which will continue to be accepted throughout this time if proof of imminent travel is presented.

Our new address starting Monday, May 14 will be in the main Embassy building located at Place de la Concorde. Access for consular services will be at a special entrance at: 4, avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris. The métro stop remains the same: Concorde.

As of May 14, all consular services, including by-mail passport applications, will be available at our new address:

U.S. Embassy
Consular Section
4, avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08
Tel: 01 43 12 22 22

We look forward to providing consular services to U.S. citizens in France at our larger, more modern consular section.

If you have questions concerning American Citizen Services at the consular section, please write to us at the following email address: "

Adieu, Mr. Handsome

Today I was roused earlier than usual for my morning walk. The upstairs neighbors were having a feisty little morning spat, kind of like Sarko and Sego last night. It was better to get out of the audible crossfire.

And a good thing, because Paris in the tranquil morning hours reveals more than when it is in full swing with the glare of sunshine and commotion and traffic. At the end of my peaceful ramble, I rounded the corner from my apartment and stopped by the newspaper stand to get Le Parisien and Le Figaro to read their respective editorials about last night's debate.

Something looked strange. There were more trees than usual on rue de Babylone. A dozen more, to be precise. Twelve magnolia trees in large white planters were on a flatbed truck outside the back door of the Hotel Matignon, the Prime Minister's palatial residence with beautiful gardens. A Lomarec truck (Location de Materiel pour Receptions, a party rental service) was parked by the security guards' usual place. "Oh! They're having a garden party at the Matignon!" I thought gaily. "What a great day for it!"

Then the reality struck. It impaled me like a slender arrow in the heart.

Mr. Handsome is leaving the neighborhood. This is his going away party.

You see, the French press has been all aflutter about the fact that President and Mrs. Chirac are leaving the Elysee Palace after next Sunday and "downsizing" to a humongous apartment on Quai Voltaire lent to them by the family of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. But I haven't seen much (actually, I haven't looked) about where my dreamboat neighbor M. de Villepin is moving. (I'm not talking politics here when I discuss my admiration for Mr. Handsome-- I don't do that anyway -- I'm talking pure aesthetics. He is a sight for sore eyes, especially in person. Especially female eyes.)

So now he's moving out of the 'hood, to be replaced probably by either Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Francois Fillon. It just won't be the same without him. The daily frisson of possibly bumping into a man with movie-star good looks (okay, or his glamorous wife and lanky top-model kids). Well, c'est fini. Nevermore.

Too bad that shindig at the Matignon is not an American-style block party. The kind where you invite all the neighbors.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Before I moved to Paris, and in the first weeks when I settled here, I certainly had enchanting little images of what my daily life would be. Snapshots or movie vignettes, perhaps, but they were as clear in their emotional pull as they were gauzy but forceful visually. Oh, the life I would lead!

I recall these images now, each morning as I sip my coffee from my impractical but lovely large coffee cup, fine English Bone china decorated with little sparrows. I remember what I envisioned my Parisian breakfasts to be when I bought that pair of cups and saucers on an impulse in the wonderful old-fashioned cutlery store in the 2e arrondissement.

My image: intimate breakfasts by myself (or even with a fabulous amant), or with my visiting children, always with warm croissants or crusty baguettes and homemade jam, steamed milk, coffee press coffee, sitting at a table reading Le Figaro as sunlight streamed in the room, listening to jazz or classical musical, before heading off to some meaningful quotidian activity. First, perhaps a soft-boiled egg. Even the crumbs or the overflowing egg yolk looked exquisite and were so tasty and picturesque. Like all those photogenic foodie photos.

But here's the twist. Paris doesn't let you do that. Guess what? Life doesn't let you do that. Not mine, anyway. The imagined life is just that -- imagined.

Well, my usual morning reality is that I zap a pitcher of Candia boxed milk, put the pod in the Nespresso and whack the machine's backside until it begs for forgiveness, then turn on the laptop and start the daily onslaught of emails, news and what-have-you on my dining room table that hasn't unlearned its role as an overloaded desk. Breakfast is a banana from the Shopi, hopefully not overripe.

Hey, wait! This wasn't part of my Paris croissant dream.

Hey, wait! One French woman I just read about says she hasn't eaten a croissant in 10 years.

This is so depressing.

Where is my Paris of my imagination? And while we're at it, où sont les neiges d'antan?

Here is real life: Every morning I make plans. I vow to really get into shape, to return to my pencil-thin former self to blend in seamlessly with the chic Parisian women. So now part of my new Paris reality entails a daily hour inside some sweaty gym instead of spending that hour living the real Paris?

This was definitely not a part of my Paris dream. In my Paris dream I was speaking French all day long, working alongside some fascinating cultural powers-that-be and spending evenings hosting witty salons and attending glittery champagne-soaked soirées and glamorous theatre openings in stilettos, and afternoons in hip unknown cafes sipping café express with important people, perhaps.

Here's my reality.

I shudder as I examine the piles of to-be-opened mail from my three-week departure. I look at the still unfinished IKEA desk that I simply must do something about. Bureaucracy to deal with, plumbers arriving, and on and on and on.

But here's the deal. I get up and walk out the door and more than ever Paris is more than my dream come true. My "indoor" Paris - the cozy flat with its "parquet-moulures-cheminées" (hwf, fpl, mldngs) has the bones of the Paris ideal. A splendid backdrop. But life is life, and bills must get paid, dishes washed, groceries bought, laundry cleaned, calls returned. But then I walk just a block or two down the street or ride my bike to the marché, and there is nothing -- I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, but NOTHING -- that compares to the sheer exhilaration of living in this city. Just the everyday errands -- oh, go to the dry cleaners -- and the beauty of life that swirls around all the mundane stuff on a daily basis makes it worth every minute.

Paris the flaky-croissant-cliché is not here -- it's better than that.

Le Re-Looking

Oui c'est moi.

My fairy blogmother, Ariane, came to the rescue and updated my blog banner. Looks zippy, n'est-ce pas? So very Paris!

Soon I'll have the whole darn blog redone and it'll be the blogosphere version of a facelift, un lifting.

This is just a little preliminary Botox.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

La belle demoiselle qui passe...

I can't believe I actually found this.

Three centuries ago, when I was about to enter 7th grade, I had to spend a summer listening to ALM French lesson records on our hi-fi to prepare for taking beginning French. Below are the sentences we had to memorize in perfect pronunciation. (First, say "la demoiselle" about 15 times. Then "la belle demoiselle," ditto. Then "la belle demoiselle qui passe", etc... )

Tu comprends le truc, non? You get the drill? And I mean drill. Evidently these three sentences have all the sounds heard in French, plus all the syntax constructions you'll need for a lifetime of speaking French.

1. La belle demoiselle qui passe là-bas est la voisine de Jeanne à la classe de mathématiques de la capitale.

2. Le jeune monsieur qui travaille à côté est le nouveau professeur de Charlot au cours de littérature espagnole du collège.

3. Le gentil garçon qui prononce bien a un voisin ennuyeux qui bavarde constamment dans une classe de français à Verdun.

Even today I still could recite almost all of nos. one and three by heart, which is how I was able to Google it. Shows what torture will do to the young brain. I think ALM stands for A Long Memory.

And you can imagine how thrilled I was at age 12 to listen to anything other than the Beatles, Herb Alpert, or the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. But somehow something clicked and it eventually didn't seem so difficult. And now, here I am, 99.9% fluent. In Paris.

Watch the Royal-Sarkozy debate in English

On May 2, Wednesday evening, at 9 pm (Paris time), all eyes and ears in France will be focused on the Sarko-Sego debate, broadcast live on TF1 and France 2, plus several radio stations. Moderators are the popular Patrick Poivre d'Arvor and Arlette Chabot.

Good news for anglophones: according to Le Nouvel Observateur, France 24 will have a live broadcast with simultaneous interpretation in English and Arabic. For those who have cable, a boon.


Radish season is here-- so many to choose from. These were on display at the marché on avenue de Saxe.

Radis in French also is a colloquialism for a penny or a pittance. Je n'ai plus un radis means 'I'm broke;' cela ne vaut pas un radis means something is worthless.

Not so these tasty little roots. Get me some beurre or some gros sel, quick!


With sentiments heating up over next Sunday's presidential elections, there is no shortage of defacing of political campaign posters. Eyes scratched out, mustaches drawn in, and personal commentary of all stripes. Somehow, in my mind's eye, I imagined that these graffiti-makers were young voyous, the same types you see with their giant magic markers in ill-supervised metro stations writing on the billboards.
Until today.
Riding my bike down rue Dombasle in the 15th arrondissement, I saw a man, about 50-ish, with shoulder-length hair and wearing sandals and a backpack, violently scribbling on three Sarkozy posters. I tried in vain to snap a photo of him from afar. By the time I got closer, I was too scared of him to actually take the picture. He looked big and mean. Scowling. So I rode past, then turned around to see if I could get a shot of him from down the street, but he hopped into his dented old Peugeot junior, which still had the engine running, and sped away.

The message: 1,58 metres de haine pure (5 feet 3 inches of pure hatred)
Of course, defacing political posters isn't exactly an act of loving kindness.
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