Thursday, December 25, 2008

Growing Old in Paris

Some thoughts bear repeating.

I mentioned to my family this Christmas that although I am delighted to be back in the U.S., I ultimately want to spend my dotage in Paris. Yup. It's a long way off (hey, in my mind I'm still quite the spring chicken), but now's the time to plan! When and if I have to grow old, for umpteen thousand reasons I'd prefer to do it in Paris. And preferably sooner rather than later. (The Paris part, not the aging part.) Hmm. More reflections on that reasoning for a later post. Meanwhile, it reminded me of something I wrote this time last year, which I offer here, slightly edited, for cheap regifting appeal. 'Tis the season.

Excusez-Moi, Madame

This has now happened to me three times in the past year. I'm striding down the sidewalk, high-heel boots clicking confidently as I bob and weave through the tangle of pedestrians. I'm concentrating on my next destination -- métro, bus stop, café, or wherever. Then, from nowhere a sweet, quavering voice calls out, "Excusez-moi, madame." I slow down and turn to see a diminutive dame d'un certain age, elegant wool coat buttoned against the cold, silk scarf neatly knotted, gripping the knob of her cane as she inches in baby steps toward the curb. "Est-ce que je pourrais vous demander de me rendre un service et de m'accompagner à traverser la rue?" she asks. ["Can you help me cross the street?"]

Each time this happens, I positively melt. MELT! I'm not quite sure why. First off, I'm honored that from a quick glance she has deemed me trustworthy enough to ferry her across a treacherous passage. The high curbs, you know; and the cobblestones are so uneven and the traffic so aggressive. I'm also pleased that she addresses me in French. And finally, of course, I do sincerely like to help; and this has never happened to me in the States.

I offer my elbow, and we begin five minutes of exchanging pleasantries. "Oui, oui," I nod, "it's not so easy crossing the streets these days. Oui, je comprends. Non non, madame, cela ne me dérange pas du tout -- it's my pleasure." We wait for the walk light to change as she clutches the crook of my arm; then we inch slowly across while she looks up at me, chatting in genteel appreciation. As we reach the safety of the next curb, she offers her most winning smile and heartfelt merci. Then our mutual au revoir et bonne journée, and we part company. I pick up the pace and continue on my route, this time with more of a spring in my step.

Every time this scenario happens, I get a lump in my throat.


Perhaps because I have an 85-year-old mother. Perhaps because I recognize my own future.

I deeply hope that some day, thirty-plus years from now, I'll be tottering down the streets of Paris, coat buttoned against the winter winds, hesitantly approaching a curb and eyeing the passersby to nab a younger woman whom I can stop and ask,

"Excusez moi, madame, est-ce que je pourrais vous demander de me rendre un service et de m'aider a traverser la rue?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Joyeux Noel 2008

This is a vintage card from the 30s or 40s that I found at the Marché aux Puces de Vanves. At first glance there appeared to be no inscription inside. But when I unfolded the card, in the interior was a lengthy love letter penned by a forlorn Frenchman to his future bride. So sweet.

I hope this Christmas, wherever you are in the world -- whether you have the gleaming snow or not -- brings as much cheer as that little bird and as much warmth as the yellow light shining from the cottage.

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année, y'all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm...

...After they've seen Paree?"

It's a song that rings through my head daily.

Here's my version of the farm, where I am living in Virginia.

And the view..

And the neighbor, my new best friend.
It's hard for me to imagine that three short weeks ago I was an urban dweller, a resident of Paris. I am now surrounded by hawks and fields and rolling hills; Paris is a world away.
At the same time, it's hard for me to believe that I am not still in Paris. I meet other Americans here who have lived in France. We talk of the urge, the need to return. Or some who claim that "you can't go home again."

Home meaning Paris.

I'll keep writing about Paris and France and the French connection as I settle into my new life (when current spotty Internet connections permit..) I've realized that Paris is in my bones, no matter where on earth I am.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Etat des lieux

Etat des lieux.

The very phrase strikes fear in the heart of those who rent apartments in Paris.

"The state of the place." It is the official walk-through of the apartment chronicled in a boilerplate tri-fold document which will ultimately decide, when you exit your apartment, whether your caution [security deposit] is refunded in full, in part, or not at all. There is 1) the état des lieux d'entree and 2) the état des lieux du depart, and if there is any difference between Thing One and Thing Two, you might be out a euro or two -- or thousand.

For my moving-in état des lieux three years ago I was all Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so thrilled to have my dream apartment that I hadn't wanted to fuss about minor paint issues or sticking doors. The very next day a seasoned Paris expat reacted in complete horror when I told her how trusting I'd been in the walk-through with the landlady and the management company.

"Oh My God," she'd said. "You should have checked every prise [electrical outlet] to make sure they work, checked every tiny little detail and written it down on the damned document. Otherwise, when you move out they'll blame it all on you. Trust me. I've done it a dozen times."

Oh, great. Typical Polly naiveté. So ever since I'd been living with this dread, this sword of Damocles over my head: that I had been a trusting fool to have been so agreeable and say the apartment was mostly in fine shape when I moved in. The Seasoned Expat had told me tragic tales of woe about persnickety, tightwad apartment-owners who withheld the lion's share of the deposit due to trivial blemishes that most of us would consider normal wear and tear.

As my état des lieux du depart approached, I tried to reassure myself that I'd been a model tenant for 2-1/2 years. Nevertheless, I was scared spitless. I had made only three nail holes in the entire apartment, having mostly hung large-format posters with scotch tape. I had improved much of the apartment, polished all the brass fixtures. I had covered the parquet floors with rugs.

But, paranoid to the hilt, prior to the final état des lieux I had nightmares akin to Tom Hanks' antics in The Money Pit. In my bad dreams, my feeble attempts to patch plaster pin-holes resulted instead in gaping three-foot holes between the studs, with the landlady peering at me from the other side.

In preparation for filling my three minuscule nail-holes, I had gone to the trusty neighborhood bricolage/quincaillerie to fetch an equivalent to Spackle. Ah, Spackle: another brand-name product for which I didn't know the proper word in French. "Bonjour, Monsieur. I need the product for filling in nail holes before un état des lieux," I asked, hoping for his complicity and understanding of my predicament. I was not disappointed.
"Oh, vous voulez de l'enduit," he said, pointing to a 5€ tube of white stuff.

Hurrah. I learned yet another French household term just prior to the moment where I wouldn't ever need it again. Of course, my friends had recommended using tried-and-true toothpaste to fill plaster holes. But I happened to possess only a tube of inappropriately bubble-gum pink Irish toothpaste, which wouldn't do. I came home and applied the enduit, with only three hours to spare before the troops arrived for inspection.

The real estate guy showed up first. Then my landlady arrived. With a hint of forced cheeriness in my voice, I greeted them in the echoing apartment, and realized that -- heh, heh -- it was dark outside and there were only a few overhead lights.

We chatted amiably, took a spin around the apartment. The real estate man asked, "Do you have anything to point out?" "Non, rien," I replied in all honesty, "though you might want to fix the shower before the new tenant moves in next week."
They looked around, smiled, and said, "You have really maintained this apartment so well. It's been such a pleasure to have you here and we're so sorry to see you go." I nearly fainted.
Without blinking, my landlady wrote me a check for the full caution, and added, "I may owe you more; let me know. " Something to do with extra rent from moving in late and leaving early. We both signed the tri-fold déclaration d'état des lieux, and she laughed, "How lucky we are that it's so simple in France. When I lived in Belgium, the état des lieux form was a 20-page tome and the landlord inspected every square centimeter with a magnifying glass! It was awful!"

We laughed again and said au revoir; and for the first time since I'd known her, we exchanged bisous.
"And keep in touch when you come back to Paris," she said. She really meant it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Jewelry Heist of the Century in Paris

Definitely naughty, not at all nice.

Some thieves did some early holiday shop(lift)ing in Paris on Thursday.

To the tune of $100 million.

Dressed as women, the jewel-hungry villains robbed the Harry Winston boutique on avenue Montaigne at gunpoint in "the Heist of the Century," snatching diamonds, watches, and other jewelry.

Pere Noel will be depositing a lump of unrefined coal in their stockings this year. If he can find them, of course.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Walking around Paris, I never lack for visual surprises. Some -- most -- are splendid and architectural.

Others are subtle and enigmatic. For example, this pair of trousers splayed in the middle of the sidewalk off avenue Daumesnil in the 12th. They seem to be rather successfully running away from their owner.

A few days later, I spied the foot-weary partners, perhaps. They'd made it as far as boulevard Montparnasse.

Let me know if you find the rest of the outfit.

Monday, December 01, 2008


It is after midnight.

I am riding home in a taxi from a farewell dinner. "Brrr. Il fait froid," says the driver. "Moins 2"

We make pleasant chit-chat and I note with irony that just as I'm leaving Paris I'm beginning to recognize the Celsius temperature readings without a mad mental scramble to do the math.

The car slides silently along the quai, past the Statue of Liberty on Ile de la Cygne, past the high-rise apartments across the Seine in the 15th. "How can I ever replace this?" I wonder. Even the mundane modern buildings take on importance. Suddenly the Eiffel Tower surges into sight; its brilliant blue lighting is breathtaking. For a brief moment I consider asking the driver to stop so I can take a photo, but it's too cold, I'm too tired, and I would have no way to upload it when I get home, because there is nothing left in the apartment.

Well, nothing but seven suitcases and a bed.

Entering the apartment, I feel like Audrey Hepburn's character in Charade, opening the door of her Parisian apartment to find it stripped bare. Mine lacks the gilt and the Givenchy of the Hollywood scenario; but the emptiness of a tall-ceilinged Parisian apartment is dramatic. In addition to the echoing from the parquet to the moldings, there is the stark blackness: I have no more lamps.

In the kitchen, one of two rooms with recessed ceiling lights, I sit at my improvised desk -- the rejected ironing board lowered to 3-feet tall -- and sit on a tiny metal sidetable, also a tag-sale reject.

Is this any way to spend the last night at my home in Paris?

It's odd. In every other house I've lived in I've felt a deep sense of sadness leaving the actual dwelling. Although I adore this apartment, I'm not emotionally attached to it. The sense of place and home, and the angst at leaving, is more about this big engulfing city.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Paris Christmas Decor

The Christmas lights are up all over Paris, ready for the seasonal extravaganza. Sigh.

Marion Cotillard was the guest of honor for the crowd-pleasing hoopla of lighting the holiday lights on the Champs Elysées last Wednesday.

There's no debating the dazzle factor. The glittery, sparkling lights festooning the trees and streets do have a special magic. From one arrondissement to the next, they enliven the long darkness of wintry nights.

But, truth be told, I prefer the simpler, more old-fashioned touches of Noël à Paris, such as this display of ornaments I spotted last night in the window of an antiques shop on rue de Babylone in the 7e arrondissement.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Married a Frenchman

Well, I didn't actually marry one myself.

But if you did, or you know someone who did -- or if you've ever dreamed of marrying a Frenchman -- you'll want to check out the 'Evenings with an Author' event at the American Library in Paris on Wednesday, December 3.

I wish I were going to be in town for that talk. Or at least a fly on the wall. It's an understatement to predict that the conversation will be entertaining and animated, and the audience feedback lively... even heated?

Hmm. I wonder if any of the French husbands will attend.

Free and open to the public. Wednesday, December 3, 7:30 pm at the American Library in Paris. 10 rue du General Camou in the 7e arrondissement.

Is this how you imagine life as the wife of a French man?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Polly-Who Francais?

A weird thing happened the other day during my apartment sale. A dozen or so strangers and friends were milling around; the atmosphere was convivial. They asked how the move was going, my reactions to leaving Paris and returning to the states; and in turn I asked what brought them to Paris, how long they planned to stay. It all sparked some lively conversations.

Lots of comings and goings. In the midst of it all, one unknown fellow turned and asked me obliquely, "Soooo, is Polly Platt moving back to the US too?" Puzzled by his Q, I didn't quite know how to give the A.

"Er... well, no, I don't think so," I shrugged. "She still has a pied-à-terre in Paris, and lives in the South of France the rest of the time."

Unh-hmmmm, he nodded, lips pursed, eyebrows slightly raised.

After the crowds left, I kept mulling his odd question and reaction. Did he think Polly Platt and I were related or something? Or (a lightbulb pops!) did he think that I was in reality THE French-or-Foe Polly Platt masquerading under the nom de plume of Polly-Vous Français?

Wow. A heady thought. I would adore being as wonderful as Polly Platt. There are many American women writing in Paris whose lives I envy deeply. I have often wanted to live in their skins -- to be them instead of me: Patricia Wells, Mary Blume, and Polly Platt, to name but three. They have well-respected careers as serious journalists. I'm just a piker blogger.

Are Polly Platt and I the only two Pollys in Paris? I doubt it.

Are we friends and colleagues? Yes, most definitely.

I know of at least one other Parisian Polly: the famous bar, Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?

Now I wonder if that's partially a rhetorical question.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Post(wo)man Only Rang Once

Out of the blue the doorbell rang tonight. Since no one had buzzed me from the intercom in the lobby, I was wary, figuring that it was either an itinerant bogeyman or else one of the city workers selling their holiday calendars. 'Tis the season. I cracked the door open, security latch attached, and two uniformed women were on the landing. "We're selling the Calendrier de la Poste," they announced.

Sure enough, I recognized both female mail carriers -- les factrices -- from the neighborhood. They sported their habitual bluish satchels slung over their shoulders and wielded a huge stack of calendars. Most weekdays I spot them chatting with the gardiennes of the various apartment buildings on the street as they make their appointed rounds.

So I opened the door, and of course happily agreed to buy one of their calendars. These ladies were chummy and funny, and we had a good long chat. "Yes, I'm so glad you found me now," I said. "I'm leaving en permanence to move back to the US next week." They peeked at the overflowing boxes in the furnitureless living room and exclaimed, "Wow. You are en plein déménagement!" [really in the middle of a move].

Much discussion ensued. The sadness factor. How had I enjoyed my time here? Would I return? Lots of gossip about the neighborhood and the building. "Tiens," said our building's factrice. "Did you know that another American now lives in this building? Let's see, where is he from? ...Boston."

They gave me not only his name and apartment number, but also told me where he works, and suggested, "You should invite him over some time -- he's only been here a very short while. But he's young and speaks incredibly good French." (I hope they weren't implying that I'm not so young and don't speak great French; but I let that one slide.) In this apartment building it was rare to have even one American, we agreed. But two? Both from Boston? We laughed at the demographics, the impossibility of it all.

I gladly forked over a 10€ donation for an Almanach du Facteur. It's filled with helpful information that I won't use much in the US: a map of French départements, the school calendar for 2009, a list of communities in the Ile de France, Saints' Days, a street map of Paris, etc. All 100% French, except the cover photo, inexplicably of a beach in the Philippines.

I would have wanted to offer them a token holiday bonus in any case. Really, how could I have refused? Look at the banner of my blog. Look at the old banner. Am I not a letter-and-stamp aficionado?

Besides, the mailmen and mailwomen have the coolest bikes.

I've loved the French letter-carriers' bikes ever since I saw the Tati film L'Ecole des Facteurs.

L'Ecole Des Facteurs (Tati)

How Champagne is Made, circa 1949

If you have eight minutes to spare, enjoy this almost 60-year-old educational film, in English. It starts in Paris, with some great street scenes of places you might recognize.

While everyone else is getting feverish about the arrival of le Beaujolais Nouveau 2008, you can kick back and learn about the ancient art of making champagne. I wonder how much it has changed.

Bonus: if you've ever been baffled by how to pronounce Reims, you'll have it perfected by the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm just a girl who can't say no

Uh-oh. Watch out. I'm getting all nostalgic.

Tonight I had the urge to snap a picture of the disorder on my desk, to chronicle a moment in time.

In order to tidy up the kitchen appliances, the refrigerator magnets were all removed.

I piled everything en vrac on the desktop, along with myriad cherished miscellania which I can't decide where to pack until I prioritize. Plus the usual scribbles, receipts and what-have-yous.

O-U-I are just three letter magnets I bought in the US. Coulda been IOU, I guess. eek.

I'm not fooling anyone who knows me well -- they all know I like it when my desk looks homey like this!

Carla Bruni on the Today Show

Première Dame Carla Bruni-Sarkozy charmed host Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning.

"Call me Carla," she smiled. Watch Matt swoon.

On tour in the U.S. to promote her new album, Comme si de rien n'était, she was an instant hit with her winning smile and gentle, self-effacing diplomacy. You can see the entire segment here.

Most notably, when asked what advice she might have for Michelle Obama about raising children in the spotlight of the presidency, she replied, "Well, I think it would be better for me to get advice from her."

Update: via SuperFrenchie. She was also on the Letterman show last night.

Trivia: the cover of her album was shot at the Parc de St. Cloud.

Polygon Street

You all know that Mark Twain "greatly exaggerated rumors" quotation so I don't have to repeat it, right?

I feel kinda Twainish meself lately.

Since letting the cat out of the bag about my leaving Paris, I've been receiving such kind, thoughtful emails and condolence letters as if Life Itself were coming to an end. "We'll miss you!" they say.

Whoa, guys, wait a sec. You can't get rid of old Polly-Vous Français quite so swiftly.

Yes, I'm leaving Paris. No, I will not stop writing Polly-Vous Français. How shall I explain you?

Polly-Vous Français (the idea, not the blog) preceded my move to Paris. Polly-Vous Français has always been my Francophile persona. It's just that shortly after I arrived in Paris I got tricked into starting a blog of that name by a wily Frenchwoman. (heh. You know who you are!)

And I have about 200 semi-completed blog posts that I haven't had the time to polish to my usual perfektion. So even though I head to Roissy this time next week, you'll have to put up with my over-inflated dontcha-love-Paris-like-I-do posts for a long time to come. And who knows -- maybe a few other thoughts might stroll into my head as well once I'm on the other side of the Pond.

My dear French friend Diane, my favorite person in the whole world (who was my role model, my mentor, my "second mother", my daughter's godmother) said to me with characteristic twinkle two weeks before she died, "Don't erase me from your address book yet."

So to paraphrase ma chère Diane, "Don't delete me from your RSS yet."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Still Life

On a dark November evening, packing up my most prized possessions, I find myself poring over my stash of French magazines that are older than I am. I flip through images of dramatic, vivid 50's fashion advertisements, photographs of outdated Renaults and mechanical devices, and portraits of statesmen, socialites and artists long departed.

In a 1954 issue of Plaisir de France, I come across this image in a review of an exhibit at the Galerie Charpentier.

It murmurs. It sighs. It whispers "November" to me. The painting, entitled Pain et Vin Blanc, is by Georg Flegel (1563-1638).

It's the grey that beckons. So many variations on grey. Matte, soft, shiny, muddy, pearly, mushroom, muted, pewter, cloudy, silver greys.

This reminds me of Paris in November. The grey -- no, the many many greys -- are exquisite this time of year. Daylight can't find an edge. Tree bark, cobblestones, sky, building cornices, the Seine: are all in subtle shades of grey begging you to stop and notice.

So hard to describe. The grey is anything but bland or boring. The nuance is moving.

Apparently the Yup'ik language doesn't really have 200 words for snow. But I think the French language shoud have a thousand words to describe Parisian grey.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Madame l'Ambassadeur Kennedy Schlossberg?

Dear President-Elect Obama,

I admit that I am leaving my beloved Paris soon, so my voice doesn't pack the punch that others' opinions might have.

I know that it is a busy time for you, and that you will not be announcing any official nominations for Ambassadorships until the much-hallowed date, January 20, 2009.

I have heard rumors that you might be mulling offering Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg the post of Ambassador to the United Nations or Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Please, Mr. Obama. Please. If I can ask one favor of you: would you please consider offering her the post of Ambassador to France?

Ms. Kennedy Schlossberg speaks fluent French. Her father was President of the United States. Her mother Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was of French descent, and French citizens spanning many generations revere her family for many reasons, especially remembering her parents' triumphant visit here (or memories of it) in 1961.

France deserves it. US-French relations, though already much improved of late, deserve it.

U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton has done a wonderful job strengthening the bond between France and the U.S., along with his French counterpart Jean-David Levitte. Appointing Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg as the next U.S. Ambassador to France would take those steps and advance them squarely, strongly in the new 21st century.

I've been a pretty good civilian ambassador myself, I think, but I'm not pitching for the Big job. Yet.

Very truly yours,

Polly-Vous Francais

P.S. A personal note to Ms. Kennedy Schlossberg: I know you don't know this, but I saved you a lot of angst and trouble when you were an undergrad at Harvard and I was a recent college grad living in the Square. Scores of people thought I was you. They accosted me and asked for information about your family. Some reacted in disbelief when I told them a) that I wasn't you and b) that if I were Caroline Kennedy that , duh, I wouldn't be working a day job in the apparel department at Design Research. Not that you Owe Me One, but let me tell you: if there had been major paparazzi back then, I could have been your decoy. So as an ardent promoter of French-American relationships, I beg you to please push for the position of Ambassador to France. And I promise to never let Louise Bourgoin in your sight. Merci.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Stairway

Sometimes all it takes is one frame to get a huge cutaway slice of Paris life.

And what better slice than an apartment stairwell?

In a 48-hour period, life in my stairwell has told volumes about what makes Paris Paris.

1. Tuesday morning, I was with Gerry, the smiling, energetic guy who brings order and cleanliness to my flat once a week. When he had finished making the kitchen sparkle, I asked if he would help me bring up a few remaining items from la cave for my moving sale.

I am really spooked by the cave -- and cave is a far more appropriate term than basement or cellar. I hate going there alone because the lights go out every two minutes and it's pitch black because it sucks the very lightbeams from a flashlight until you can find the light-timer switch and it's terrifyingly old and cobwebby and moldy and you are stuck down a labyrinth of ancient walls and dirt floors and you know this time you are going to die in the dark and no one will find your dessicated body for months because after all it's a close cousin of the Catacombs. So I was more than a wee bit distracted and anxious, but relieved to have company for the dreaded spelunking.

As we headed out the apartment door, Gerry asked, "Do you have your keys?"

"Yep," I answered, clutching the keys to the cave in my hand.

Click went the apartment door.

Then dread. I froze in my tracks.

"Gerry, you have your apartment keys, right?" I said in horror.

He looked at me, panicked, and shook his head. "No, mum, I just asked you if you have your keys before I closed the door."

"My cave keys. Oh shit." I don't usually swear like this in front of Gerry because he's just too sunny and sweet a fellow. But this was one of those moments. Gerry and I possessed the only two known sets of keys to the apartment, both of which were on the other side of that closed door.

I have heard the horror stories of being locked out of one's apartment in Paris, and I didn't ever want to experience it. One friend of mine locked herself out of her apartment on Christmas Eve and had to get SOS Serrurier to break into her apartment and change the locks, and it cost her 2000€. Yes, the zeroes are correct. From what I've heard, if you're lucky you can squeak through the lock-out ordeal by paying only 1000€; but holiday rates are higher -- if you can find a locksmith.

Tuesday was -- a holiday, of course. I saw my financial life passing before my eyes. And since it was a holiday, of course when I frantically rang at my gardienne's apartment there was no one there. Not that she had any keys, but maybe we could use her phone. Or sit someplace warm.

So Gerry and I went back to the cold stairwell on my fourth floor (3e etage). We were hunched over on the steps, thinking out loud. Okay okay. Something has to work. It turned out Gerry had his cell phone.

I could call my landlady, who lives in the 6e arrondissement. Maybe she had a key. But it was a holiday, and I was sure she'd be away for the long weekend with her family. And I didn't have her phone number, which of course was inside the apartment. Maybe I could get it from directory assistance, I hoped.

"What's the number for information?" I asked Gerry.

"Information?" Gerry looked puzzled. Although he speaks English really well, his first language is Tagalog.

"Wait, wait!" I said. "I know!" We were sitting on the steps and I started singing the peppy dancing-guys TV jingle, "Cent dix-huit, deux-cent-dix-huit." I punched 118-218 into Gerry's phone, but it didn't work.

"Oh, yes," said Gerry, catching on. "How about 'cent-dix-huit-sept-cent-douze'?'' he sang, mimicking another commercial. We bobbed our heads to the beat. Brilliant. 118-712 worked.

The very kind directory assistance voice gave us the number (whew -- it wasn't unlisted) and wished us a very very bonne journee, and I held my breath as the phone rang. Five times, six times, and then, hallelujah. Monsieur le Mari de la Proprietaire answered in a gravelly voice. I wanted to kiss the phone, but first quickly explained our predicament.

This man is a true saint. A saint. He explained that his wife was at the office, and he was home with their young son, and he hadn't even showered yet, so he apologized that he wouldn't be able to get to the building in less than 45 minutes; and, since the apartment belonged to his wife, he didn't really know if there was a key or where it would be. He called us back in 5 minutes and said he'd meet us at the front door in three quarters of an hour.

Whom do I call to have this man canonized?

To kill time until Monsieur le Saint arrived, ever-efficient Gerry suggested that we at least go get the stuff from la cave, since that was the one set of building keys we did have in our possession.

The basement door is at the bottom of the stairwell. After wrangling with the lock for a few minutes, Gerry gave up. Then I tried, remembering that there was some trick which the gardienne showed me, but I couldn't quite imitate. I think it goes like this: wiggle the lock a lot clockwise till it stops, then counter clockwise until it stops. Then rattle the door. Repeat. Then stop for a few moments of blaspheming. Give it a hip check and a quick jiggle of the key to the left, and the door bounces open.

We hastily retrieved the last items from my wooden cubicle in the cave, and I am thrilled that I will never have to, er, darken its doorway again. Then Gerry and I sat on the steps together again and he told me stories of his other employers, his family in Manila, how he came to Paris, showed me all the business cards he has collected, and we were just about to go into family genealogy when Monsieur le Saint arrived, we found the proper squarish key, entered the apartment, and all was right with the world.

Make that two saints: Monsieur and Saint Gerry.

2. Yesterday was a busy time at my moving sale, and I was looking forward to spending some time with Pam FrogBlog and Claire Bonheur Occidentale, who stopped by to check out the mayhem and the goods and to lend moral support. They loaded up their bags with great selections, and we left the bags chez moi while we headed out to le Nemrod for a little post-sale pick-me-up. We could have chatted forever, but since dinnertime was approaching, Pam and Claire had to head to their respective homes. They retrieved their bags back at my apartment, we gave our little bisous, and they stepped onto the shadows of the landing to get the elevator.

Before the hallway minuterie button could be reached to turn on the light, and with all her bulky stuff, Pam shifted to the right, where there is no landing, only steps. We heard the tumble in the dark. I pictured a Scarlett-O'Hara-falls-down-the-red-carpeted-stairs type terrible accident. We heard crashes and bangs. The lights went on. Pam had very intelligently let go of her bags in order to clutch the railing and save herself from a fall. She was uninjured (or didn't let on if she was aching) and the contents of at least one bag were strewn down the length of the stairway.

Normally that wouldn't be too much of a story, except that one item was a half-liter jar of honey. Bouncy bouncy bouncy down the four flights of stairs went the honey, ping-ponging down until it hit the banister on the 1er etage, smashed open and then spewed and dribbled waves of honey and glass shards on the stairs and walls all the way to the rez-de-chaussee. I was glad it was just honey and not Pam that we had to mop up.

We attacked the clean-up with two basic things.

1. Paper towels. A bit of digressing into word history here. I had been referring to paper towels as serviettes en papier all my life, until last week when Gerry had asked me to buy Sopalin. I thought he meant some sort of soap. Sopalin, it turns out, is the name commonly used in France for a roll of paper towels (the same way we call all facial tissues Kleenex in the US). So fortunately I had a big roll of Sopalin.

2. Une serpillère. I am enough of a Francophile to know that every household must have a serpillère to take care of all sorts of household clean-ups, and it's a useful big soaker rag that absorbs and swabs and does just about everything while looking really grey and hideous. I had bought a serpillère when I first moved here and it was still under my sink, freshly folded, untouched, price sticker still on. But believe me, honey dripping down the walls called for the serpillère-and-bucket touch, and we were not disappointed with the results.

When we were through, Pam remarked that what made the whole ordeal even more 'French' was that none of the neighbors had emerged from their apartments to see what was going on. While we three were on hands and knees ("les Gervaises," quipped Claire) scrubbing the floor, walls and carpet, my upstairs neighbor arrived with two friends, greeted us with a friendly and perfunctory bonsoir, climbed in the elevator and rode up to her apartment. It was strictly mind-my-own-business as is usual here; she didn't ask what was happening. I can't say that it's better or worse than American custom, but just different.

And I know enough gossip about the neighbors on the other floors -- love, hospitals, other life issues -- to figure out why they might not actually have been home. But I wonder, if they had been there, would they have emerged from their apartments to see what all the honey-drenched ruckus was about?

And, finally, a quandary. I always want to do the right thing, but I don't want to make unneccessary complications, either. I think I asked Pam and Claire about five times, "Should I call the gardienne to let her know?" "What's the protocol in a Paris apartment building?" No one had a good answer.

I still haven't told the gardienne. Should I?

I know what I would do in the US.

Monday, November 10, 2008

He's Just Not That Into You: VF

Apparently Liz Tuccillo, author of He's Just Not that Into You, had a tough time doing the cultural translation of her best-selling book in France.

So she travelled to Paris to interview women of all ages here about why her pearls of wisdom fell on deaf ears in the City of Light. Of course, one would assume that a woman who wrote for Sex and the City would have some sort of leg-up -- even among Parisiennes -- when discussing the vagaries of dating and relationship challenges.

Au contraire.

Her take? "If I could, I would have an operation to become a French woman."

Check out her eye-opening videos here.

Love for Sale

Love for sale? Well, it's kind of that.

I love Paris.

I'm leaving Paris. The miscellaneous accoutrements of my wonderful three years in Paris (the machines that don't have proper voltage, or items that don't transport well) are on sale. Items that I bought loving Paris, envisioning that I would live in Paris forever.

But, honestly, what is forever these days?

I've created a one-off blog for the sale event. Don't ask me to tell you much more; my vision is still blurred by tears, and I'm not being melodramatic, though lawd knows I certainly have that capacity.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Parking, Parisian Style

Outside my front door, this evening. Why am I not surprised?

Half an hour later, when I returned from errands, the car was still angled at the curb, inched over the handicapped zone. No blinking emergency lights signalling an imminent return. No indication that the owner might feel a need to change the geographic or geometric status of the car.


The car was getting a few sidewards glances from passersby, but mostly it was Parisian Parking As Usual.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pardon my French Cuisine

At Charles de Gaulle Airport last week, I was waiting in line at the overweight-baggage payment line with a fellow American. The executive was returning home to upstate New York after a week in France for a business conference at "some chateau about an hour west of Paris."

I asked how he liked his time in France.

"Well, I'm looking forward to going home," quoth he. "I mean, the French people were very nice and all, but I have to say I really don't like the food."

Wow. I've heard all kinds of Americans' objections to travelling in France, but that was a first.

"Yeah," he continued, "one night it was duck something, then one night they served me bone marrow."

"Oh, moelle!!" I squealed. "I love it!"

He looked at me as if I were some sort of modern-day cannibal.

"Then I think they caught on to the fact that I don't like all that weird stuff, so they stopped telling me what they were serving -- dishes like rabbit or black meatballs."

"I guess that's the trick," I suggested. "Just don't think too hard about what you're eating -- just see if you like it."

"Well," he said, "maybe some folks like French cuisine, but I just can't wait to get home -- when this plane lands I'm heading straight to Chick-fil-A."

Friday, October 31, 2008

The French Connections

So many French-American connections. So little time. Today's short-list:

1. America [hearts] France.
If you don't already know about it, there exists a museum of Franco-American Cooperation, at the Chateau de Blérancourt, about 90 minutes from Paris. Watch this 10-minute video, mellifluously narrated by Philippe de Montebello, and you'll be itching to visit.

Although the museum is currently closed for renovations, the exquisite grounds and gardens can be toured. Additionally, from November 8 through November 11, there will be special activities to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice.

2. Did you know that the great-great-great-grandFather of our Country was French?
Nicolas Martiau, ancestor of many prominent American statesmen, most notably George Washington, was born on Ile de Ré in 1591. A statue of Washington was erected in honor of this French-American connection on Ile de Ré (my sometimes home away from Paris) in October 2007.

3. In my mind I'm going to Carolina (or nearby).
Good travel news: starting in April 2009, USAir will offer a direct flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Paris.

4. Eurodisney Redux.
On a more frivolous note, juicy TV teen drama Gossip Girl mentions the President de la République.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What am I eating?

At La Grand Epicerie yesterday I was dutifully getting my bananas weighed in the produce section. Next to the scale there was a mound of what looked to me like petrified maggots.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Without gagging, and masking the astonished horror in the back of my throat, I calmly asked the serveuse about them.

"Ce sont des crosnes," she replied matter-of-factly. Noting my interest, she added enthusiastically, "They are somewhat of a specialty item in France; they taste a bit like artichoke, but you cook them like a potato. The are appreciated by gourmets, but are somewhat rare, which is why they are priced at this level."

Which was €39.95 per kilo.

You only live (or die) once, so I took the plunge and asked for une poignée -- a handful.

Guess what I'm having for dinner tonight?

Not Sunday with Richard and Polly and Rosemary

"This is Major Tom to Ground Control..." I heard the Bowie tune blaring in the entrance hall of the grand Bibliotheque nationale Richelieu as we entered.

"Uh-oh," I groaned. "One of my least favorite songs."

I caught on immediately, though. Not so subtly they were setting the mood for the special opening Monday night of the exhibit 70s: Le choc de la photographie americaine.

Having made it past the metal detector and the first invitation controle, we were directed to yet another line to wait to enter the gallery hall. The event had begun at 8 and we were pretty prompt, but it was already filled to capacity. Our patience was tested, but after 10 minutes we were in. We inquired as to whether there was a cocktail accompanying the vernissage (Roederer Champagne was the sponsor, so it seemed a reasonable question). Negative. Damn. One more check of our precious carton d'invitation and we were granted permission to enter the packed room. As we walked through the door, Rosemary said in a whisper,"That's Pierre Rosenberg," indicating distinguished man exiting as the seas parted around him. Art-world ignoramus that I am, I confided that I didn't know who he was. "The former director of the Louvre," she explained. There were clusters of invitees inside with the same famous aura about them, and it was hard to tell if they were some of the famed photographers, or journalists -- or just looked like it.

For the most part, the black and white photographs were all interesting, but I had a vague feeling of having seen most of them somewhere before. Arbus, Winogrand, Friedlander. It didn't seem all that much of a shock: I lived through the 1970s in America myself.

No actually, I began to get much more interested in the rest of the scenery -- the attendees at the exhibit opening. There was a scattering of tall, handsome men looking bored. I couldn't tell if they really were bored or just working on the look.

I stood in the middle of the packed room. Then. You know that odd two-step that happens when you step aside to avoid collision with someone and they shift the same way, so you dodge the other way and simultaneously they do it too? Then you both laugh a bit and wait for the other one to go ahead?

A funny variation on this happened. A man swiveled around and we were nose to nose. So I moved to the right. He moved to my right too -- but off-tempo, with about a 1-second delay. Repeat to the left and to the right. I smiled and stood still. He stood still too, unsmiling, but direct eye contact. I couldn't tell whether it was a technique to draguer or some sort of passive aggression. We finally parted ways.

At this point I wasn't focusing on the photos at all any more -- there was so much more entertainment in observing the crowd, noting behaviors and listening to little snippets of conversations.

Of all my eavesdropping, I heard only one couple actually discussing the art on the walls. They said, "Oui, c'est tres simple mais le montage est parfait."

Next I felt a fuzzy bear push me out of the way. Oh wait, it wasn't a bear, it was a lady in a linebacker mink coat and 1/2 pound diamond earrings, with a pouffy blond chignon, clunky heels, careening through the exhibit, dangling her wide-open clasp pocketbook by her side. As she grazed past the images I heard her spouting to her husband, "There is a grande soiree chez Dorothee, that will be much better." I think she and monsieur did the whole room in under five minutes.

As Monsieur and Madame Mink were exiting they crossed paths with a mover and shaker who appeared to be Somebody, in bright red chinos, cashmere sweater, a soft white shirt, Italian loafers. I didn't see him really inspect any of the photographs, either. Oh, he was looking around, all right. I felt better realizing that I wasn't the only one just surveying the crowd.

A pale bearded man in a heavy turtleneck and his bobo pal in a jacket and dark shirt were engrossed in conversation as they slid along past the photos as if on a conveyor belt. "People went to that party because they expected quelque chose de bien." "Ouais, I saw people the next day and they didn't accept what was happening. You don't laugh about anyone like that."

After about half an hour, when we were ready to leave, the room was almost completely vacant. There was more space to actually see the photos, but where had all the jammed crowd gone in such a short time? Locusts, descending and then vanishing.

High up on a wall near the exit was an inscription by Diane Arbus:

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them."

We wandered out -- Richard, Rosemary, and I -- into the main hall.

Grace Slick was belting out her best over the loudspeakers. "Don't yo-ou want somebody to lo-ove..."

Now read Richard's evening description here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween in Paris

I'm a die-hard member of the adults-dress-up-for-Halloween school, one of those deep maternal character flaws that always made my kids cringe in embarrassment.

Needless to say, I've grown out of that habit -- though not the will to do so -- living in Paris.

Naturally I was overcome with childlike glee when I happened upon Aux Feux de la Fete, a costume and fireworks store on boulevard Montparnasse. I popped inside to find out what the offerings were.

The owner was one of the most thoughtful Parisian shop-owners I've encountered. I asked him if Halloween was really popular. "Oh, l'Halloween, c'est surtout pour les jeunes," he said with a chuckle. "A few years ago, a lot of adults were having costume parties, but that's pretty much leveled off. Mostly it's les petits."

"Do they go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood?" I asked.

"Oh, well, not door-to-door," he said. "But they do stop in at the places they know to show off their costumes. They have little parties at home, peut-etre. But when the children visit my shop in their costumes, they bring me the candy, not vice-versa. C'est charmant. Many of these little ones I have known all their lives -- since they were in the ventres of their mamans." He made a big gesture of a round belly. "Now they are grands comme ca," he added, holding his hand at chest height.

Monsieur may have mostly the younger crowd as clientele, but he certainly is well-stocked for the more -- dare I say mature? -- generation as well.

There is something so quintessentially French about Marie Antoinette wigs, of course.

But you have to admit, nothing is more French than being Johnny.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Little Bit of Paris

Feeling depressed at the thought of leaving Paris in a month, I did my usual walk-the-streets therapy. Paris almost always offers some entertaining encounter or entrancing glimpse to brighten my day. Quirky only-in-Paris moments that I have been chronicling for a few years now.

This time, the Paris-strolling had the opposite effect. It made me even more morose. "Departure" seemed stamped in black on every scene. These charming tidbits of my day, one month hence, wouldn't be at my doorstep or even the next bus stop. All I could register was impending loss.

Every step, I ruminated. How can I leave Paris? How can I wrench myself from this place that has fueled my soul, my mind, my creativity and joy? Then I chided myself: Whoa, girl, halt the pity-party and stop being so melodramatic! I knew these rhetorical questions had far too many reasonable answers, from "it's the economy, stupid" to "fambly is fambly." I kept trying to rationalize that most other people on the planet would be thrilled to spend just one month in Paris. Call me a drama queen, but I could only view my upcoming final month as awaiting execution. After that, Paris will be guillotined from my daily existence.

Orchestrating a departure from Paris is to me like planning a break-up with someone you're still deeply in love with, but you know the relationship just won't work. Each infatuated moment together is bittersweet at best.

I cannot descend into this overinflated sentimentality, I thought. Must pull self up by bootstraps and carpe diem. To no avail: spirits were soggy and flagging. I caved in and indulged in a premature pick-me-up going-away present. Heading homeward I stopped at Librairie Fontaine at Duroc and purchased a copy of "Un Peu de Paris" [A Little Bit of Paris] by Jean-Jacques Sempé. After all, I reasoned, my decades-long admiration for Sempé and his amusing vignettes of French life had contributed to the ardent francophilia that propelled me to live here. And I have the rest of his books in storage in the US. So what more fitting souvenir of a city that I'm permanently besotted with?

I can justify any purchase, eh?

"On ne se trompe jamais avec Sempé," said the sales clerk as she led me down the spiral staircase to the beaux livres section. ["You never go wrong with Sempé."] I agreed.

Back at the apartment, I stretched out on the sofa with a cup of tea and began leafing through the Sempé drawings. This was both a huge mistake and a very smart move.

They took my breath away: Sempé had captured MY Paris! All those quirky moments, little ironies and joys and frustrations of daily life. And I found it impossible to merely flip through the pages. Most of the drawings are so richly detailed or subtly expressed that I hovered over each one for minutes. He got it all. I alternately hooted with glee and sniffled with wistfulness. Then I simply had to shut the book for a while. Killing me not so softly with his images.

Most of the drawings are black and white ink with gray wash. Sempé captures the essence of Paris, the nuances of gray, and flecks them with the bright funny moments or ironic twists that comprise daily life here. Irate drivers blocked in traffic protesting the banner-waving protestors. Weary commuters huddled together under the bus stop in a downpour. The dynamic between a young hipster on her cell phone and a matronly dame d'un certain age as they face each other on the bus. Paris-Roller. Hordes of panicked jaywalking pedestrians. A tired gentleman exiting the stairs of his apartment building with an hors-service sign subtly drooping on the elevator. Joggers outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg waiting for opening hours. Sometimes intimate views, sometimes with bird's-eye omniscience. Always witty, perfect infinitesimal Parisian moments.

If I had only one way to wrap up Paris and take it with me when I leave, it would be this.


As promised, some scenes from Barcelona.

Tibi dabo. Latin for "I give it to you." Tibidabo is a mountain overlooking Barcelona, with a spectacular view of the city, an ancient amusement park, a church, and a fun, funky funicular ride to the top.

So I give to you a little slide show so I can test my technological skills.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

The French New Wave

Contemporary French culture in the performing arts is not only thriving, but has an exciting future, according to a photo-essay in the New York Times T magazine.

"Oh-la-la!" crows the writer. "Not since the fabulous Josephine has a French first lady been so entertaining. But Madame Sarkozy is only one of the adventurous, unconventional multi-culti talents coming your way."

Check out "The French New Wave." which naturally features first lady Carla Bruni, but also a dozen other rising French stars. Guillaume Canet. Eva Green. Aïssa Maïga. And the cast of award-winning "Entre les murs."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Polly Arrow Barcelona

One of the things that happens when you realize that you're going to be moving away from Paris (or any place, I imagine) is the mad scramble to do all the stuff you haven't done in the time you've been there.

One thing I haven't done much is travel beyond Paris.

So hola! Here I am in Barcelona. Of course I was inspired by Vicky Cristina Barcelona, yes I admit I saw it twice in Paris. But I had wanted to go to Barcelona for a long time and never had the impetus until it occurred to me that I have precious little remaining time when I could just "hop down" to Spain for a short jaunt. And when I found that the round-trip on Iberia was $145-- well there wasn't much stopping me. Only an hour and a half plane ride.

So here I am mid-week, exploring Barcelona, amazed that it's taken me so long to discover this enchanting, buzzing, humming city. As is my practice in any new city, the first day I rode one of the double-decker hop-on-hop-off buses, just to get my bearings. There was so much to cover -- such a dizzying array of sights and culture and sensory input that I needed to shut down for a while to absorb it all. Four days in Barcelona is barely enough to scratch the surface.

And no kidding, the first sight I saw from the turista bus was this. Worthy of a post of its own, perhaps.

Next: Gaudi, Tibidabo, and more.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palling Around with Tourists

What's all this fuss I've been hearing about that nice man, Barack Obama, "palling around with tourists"?

Someone seems to think that there's a problem or some danger with that. What's-her-name. Tina Frey? Tina Fay. Tammy Faye? Whomever. Whoever that silly lady is with the poofy hair and mascara who talks a lot and doesn't really say much. I think this is a shameful and slanted statement for her and her partner to make.

Tourists are lovely people. Why, I often have houseguests here in Paris; and when they are visiting me, well, gosh darn, they are tourists in Paris. And I pal around with them a lot. I may not be running for president of these United States, but I don't see anything wrong with befriending the tourist.

My friends are tourists. Tourists are my friends. And tourists are an important part of the global economy, which needs all the help it can these days. With my pals, we go to all the tourist places, and we buy snow-globes of the Eiffel Tower. And key chains! We provide jobs to those trinket-sellers. We ride the double-decker buses. And certainly, I admit it's a bit embarrassing to be seen with them in their windbreakers and white sneakers and Cubs baseball caps, or -- even worse -- when they wear berets to try to look like rakish Frenchmen. But heavens, it's not sinful, and certainly not worth whatshername telephoning all my friends about with automatic robo-phone calls.

I think we should make up hundreds or thousands of tee-shirts that say "I've been palling around with tourists." And be proud of our friends, The Tourists.

Oh -- what's that you say?


Never mind.

What Happens in Paris Stays in Paris

Last night I attended the book launch for Naughty Paris: A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City. The invitation said the party was to be held at a chic boutique called Yoba on rue du Marché St. Honoré. I'd never heard of it, so I found Yoba's website and, um, was drawn in a bit longer than planned as I perused the wares and advice on therein. Definitely an NC-17 kind of site (it's all in French, but there are pix), so be warned ... Or thank me later.

The launch was festive, and Yoba was doing a brisk business in the fun 'n' frisky objets department. Oh, I may be on the fast lane to middle age -- but, you know I'm from New England, and I am soooo naive. Or I used to be. Now I've been to Yoba. I get it.

There were such fun little toys! I guess for playing with rubber duckies in the bathtub or make-believe cops and robbers?

Or hopscotch?

A feather tickler for a rousing game of Blind Man's Bluff?

And the good news is that Yoba sells batteries, too.

It was an eye-opener, and it was sheer fun and a pleasure to meet Naughty Paris author Heather Stimmler-Hall, pictured here with a friend, Paul.

Treat Yourself to Naughty Paris

Ladies (and gentlemen), it's time for a little break. Time for a few minutes' hiatus from the news, from fretting over the Dow Jones, the campaign mudslinging and Tina Fey lookalikes. Forget dwelling on the impending gloom of autumn, the holiday decorations you just don't have the get-up-and-go to get-up and get.

Ladies, we all know that reading is the ultimate cheap thrill, the easiest way to escape the daily doldrums. Some of us may read bodice-ripper steamy pseudo-novels. Some may read of exotic travel in guides to foreign lands. Some may read self-improvement books. But if you've ever wondered how to really relish the life -- or even a moment or two -- of no-holds-barred romance and seduction à la française, please treat yourself to the guilt-free, oh-so-guilty pleasure of reading Naughty Paris: A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City.

Naughty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But Heather Stimmler-Hall's new book is a gem. A gold mine of how-to's and where-to's for any woman traveling to or living in the City of Love, or even dreaming of it. Call me jaded, but I found this guide to be an excellent primer -- with precious little to be titillated about -- on how to find your inner femme fatale. Your naughty may be another's nice, but this book is an unapologetic romp into the foundations and fundamentals of being a healthy, gorgeous woman who attracts the opposite sex. How to understand the French dating and pick-up codes. Where to buy the best lingerie for your money. Toys. Boys. Seduction poise. But it's not all that naughty, really. It's just authentic and French: there are even chapters on history of French women, literature, museums. An intelligent, cultivated woman is, of course, the most alluring.

Admit it, most of us appreciate such lucsious advice. We devour it. We're just not supposed to acknowledge it. Naughty Paris rips the bodice off the false-prudery and gives you all the steamy details. (If your prim sensibilities find the end chapters on certain clubs and activities offensive or embarrassing, just discreetly exacto them out.) As I read through the book, I thought, "If Mae West were alive today, she would have written the foreword and the jacket blurbs. Heck, she would have written the book."

Naughty Paris has plenty of pointers for flirting à la française. I have one flirt tip to add: read this book on a plane, a train, or in a café, and trust me, you'll have one of the best conversation starters a femme fatale wannabe could ever want.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Love Seat?

This shapely chair was in the window at Arredamento on quai des Celestins.

Here's a side view.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ya gotta love Paris

For all the other Pollys in the world, another reason to love Paris.

Rue Parrot in the 12th arrondissement.

And no Polly-wanna-cracker jokes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Treasures of French Royal Family at Auction

Sorry. I couldn't resist posting this tidbit.

For those unaffected by (or in denial of) the current economic situation, there is important -- and perhaps ironic -- shopping and acquisition news in Paris, according to The Guardian.

"The last remaining treasures of the French royal family – including a silk purse embroidered by Queen Marie Antoinette in her prison cell – will be auctioned in Paris next week." Read more.

Practical details: on Tuesday, October 14, some of the estate of the late Count and Countess of Paris will be auctioned off at Christie's Paris. The auction catalog is here.

Viewing times are Sunday, October 12, 2 - 6 pm and Monday, October 13, 10 am - 8 pm, at the showroom on avenue Montaigne. Items will be on sale Tuesday October 14 at 11 am and 2 pm.

9 avenue Montaigne
75008 Paris

Metro is Alma-Marceau; but I imagine that if you're buying at this auction, you're not taking the metro.

Dumbing Down my French Accent

How many years of my life have I spent in the language lab, headphones squeezing the life from my weary brain cells, perfecting, perfecting, perfecting my pronunciation of French? Sentences like this pounding through my head:

Répétez: "La timidité de Virginie lui rendit la vie difficile."

I would répétez répétez répétez, the prof or language lab instructor at command central occasionally surreptitiously listening, piping in an unexpected correction that would make me jump.

I had initially learned French mostly by ear, beginning in middle school and continuing through college. After all those years of aural-oral phonetics calisthenics, I finally grew up and -- ta da! -- moved to Paris, pronunciation-proud and raring to go. Of course I made a few gaffes here and there.

Then, wham! At a recent dinner party, I was engaged in light banter with my table companion, an attractive-enough French businessman. In mid-conversation, he remarked, "Vous parlez presque sans accent." [You speak French with almost no accent.]

"Merci," I replied brightly.

"It was not a compliment," he retorted with a thin smile. "You should use more of an American accent. It would be more sexy than if you try to speak French too well."


"Ah-lore jer dwah parrlay frawnsay cawm saw?" I joked. "Say ploo sexee?"

He simply smiled.

I didn't know whether to be furious or thankful. First off, I considered whether it was a no-no to answer "merci" in response to a perceived compliment. But my honest initial reaction was an appreciative "Thanks! Yeah, I worked hard to reach this point." Maybe I need to come up with a new scripted answer for that "presque sans accent" comment, which I field from from time to time. Next, though, I was smoldering; not at him -- he was just teasing me, I think -- but at the notion that I ought to dumb down my French accent in order to be more alluring. Sheesh, I'd feel like a traitor to the legions of French instructors who drilled precise, proper pronunciation into my ears. And all the tuition money spent for the privilege!

I don't think I'm alone in this quandary.

Since living here, I have learned to smile appreciatively when someone says "Do I detect un petit accent? Vous êtes Anglaise ou Américaine?" Status quo accent is fine, charming, fun. I just don't want to have to adopt a fake-o American accent that I never really had.

If you want to practice improving your French accent (I still do!), here is a fun site for phonetics practice.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Le Clezio wins Nobel Prize

A decade ago when I was in graduate school studying French Literature in Massachusetts, there was an endowed lecture program that enabled the university to invite renowned French authors to speak to the students.

In our Contemporary 20th-century literature course we were reading Annie Ernaux, Tahar Ben Jelloun, J.M.G. Le Clezio, and other great post-1950 French authors.

We had the great fortune to have Ernaux, poet Yves Bonnefoy, Le Clezio, and a handful of others, as speakers that year. And in true French-American style, there was always a small wine-cheese-crudités reception following the intellectual portion of gathering, where we had the chance to talk more informally.

Le Clezio visited our graduate seminar and fielded questions from the small group of students about his novel, Onitsha, which we were studying.

I was, as usual, so tongue-tied and awestruck by his fame and ability that I was only able to sputter unintelligible questions about the work, and the powerfully moving poetry of his novel. Besides, Le Clezio in person was an Adonis. A brilliant, literate French Adonis.

I may have semi-flunked the seminar-participation portion of my graduate school grades.

But, wow. As of today I can boast that I have met and discussed French literature with a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Time to read some more of his works.
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