Saturday, May 31, 2008

Painting Paris


After lengthy discussions, my friend Mary Blake has finally started a blog. It's called Painting Paris, which is what she does. Mary lives in Montmartre and takes her easel to the street every day to paint an outdoor scene of Paris. And does she have tales to tell!

Mary has been calling me for occasional help with Blogger, which is weirdly difficult. Two Americans in Paris, one with a Mac, the other with a PC. One with Blogger in French, the other with Blogger in English. I can't explain to her on the phone how to perform a simple task like dragging an image down on her compose screen. We might as well be in different continents, talking in tongues-via-Skype to each other. "What, a Mac doesn't have a left-click?" I ask.

But, oh, we have belly-laughs about daily street-happenings as she paints. "The question jar!" I hoot. "Put that tale in your blog, verbatim, exactly the way you just told me! Please, please, just do it!"

She demures. Each blog is a personal creation-- and Mary is carefully crafting hers to be just what she wants. I can respect that. I have to. I may have two years' blogging seniority over her, which is worth about 25 American cents. She's got the vision for her own blog.

I'd forgotten what a learning curve blogging had been, after that first morning two years ago when I got an email from my dear friend Ariane announcing to me, "Your blog Polly-Vous Francais is up and running. Here are your address and your password. Start posting!" Sheer panic set it, but I have to admit that I loved it. It took me almost a year before I figured out how to put a stat counter on the blog. Almost 1-1/2 years before I got comments enabled. Shoulda gone to blogger-behavior school, I guess. Or bought a copy of Blogging for Dummies a bit sooner. But to me, there's a certain poetry and choreography to singlehandedly surmounting the blogging technological head-scratchers. I still have a long way to go.

Looking back, it made me realize that I'd missed my two-year bloggiversary a few weeks back. Really? Five hundred and eighty-seven posts?

Gawd, what a blabbermouth.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What's the Story, Morning Glory?

Last Sunday was Mother's Day in France. As promised, I bought flowers for my window box. In my mind's eye I've pictured for two years the floral composition I wanted, but it took a while before I could figure out how to execute the master plan.

This is the only single-casement window in the apartment, at the entrance, and I envisioned morning glories recklessly scrambling up the wall on both sides during the summer months. The maverick in me loves a bit of untamed countryside in the middle of the structure of the city.

First challenge. The window box. There is a metal-covered sill just below the ornate grill work, but no obvious way to safely perch a window box on top of said sill, lest it topple to the courtyard below in the first gust. (I wanted the flowers at the bottom of the window, rather than on a hanging balcony-basket, which would block the view in the middle).

I finally devised a scheme. With my handy cordless screwdriver/drill (purchased long ago to assemble all those IKEA DIY furnishings), I drilled two holes in the top of the planter, then strung heavy-duty wire through them for fastening the box to the grill work.

Second challenge. How to lace up the strings for the morning glories to twine around and climb upwards? The apartment building is stucco-covered stone, so hammering little nails into the casement wasn't an option. Brilliantissimo! I figured that a tension-sprung curtain rod would do the trick. But installing the rod nine feet up in a wide open window was no mean feat for even the deftest of individuals, let alone for a somewhat uncoordinated, artistic type like me with terminal vertigo. I was terrified but determined. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to attach the strings to the rod first. Then I tied them to the railing.

Third challenge. Ever-present: Sacks and the City. Sacks of potting soil, that is. This time rather than spending days cleaning up the dirt in the cracks in my kitchen counter, as I did after my most recent urban gardening adventure, I simply spread out an old table cloth on the floor and transplanted the lavender, lobelia, and morning glories into the window box. Then I hoisted the box into place in the window, twisted the wires to the wrought iron. Done!

After just a few hours the tendrils are already curling around the strings, eager to have a destination. The lavender, warmed by the afternoon sun, sends wafts of Provençal fragrance into the apartment.

Urban dwelling.
I can live with this.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


The good news: there will be increase of almost 5,000 more taxis on the streets of Paris.

The (kind of) bad news: you'll have to wait two more years to reach the full increase.

It seems that everyone has a Paris couldn't-get-a-taxi tale of woe to tell. The government has been trying to find a solution for a while. Finally, yesterday, an agreement was signed between the Ministry of the Interior and the FNAT (Federation National des artisans taxis), the independent taxi-drivers association.

Currently there are 15,600 taxis circulating in Paris. That equals 2.9 taxis per 1000 residents, compared with 7.2 in New York. The agreement calls for an extra 1200 cabs to hit the streets this year, and the total numbers of taxis in service by 2010 will be 20,000.

There is discussion afoot also about possibly changing taxis' rooftop lights to indicate more clearly if they are available or busy. (Red and green lights? Say it ain't so!) That particular change does not get my vote, but I won't complain as long as there are taxis when I need them.

More taxis! That's news worth hailing.

George et moi -- What Else?

Wow. I can't wait to fly to Milan to shoot the next Nespresso commercial with George Clooney. Oh, I know they're having a casting call and maybe -- just maybe -- a handful of other women will sign up for the contest. But George and me -- it was meant to be! This time, they'll want to cast a woman closer to George's age instead of those gorgeous, svelte twentysomethings, n'est-ce pas?

Besides, I invented the term Nespressoholic. Don't I deserve to be The Chosen One?

Honestly, I promise not to sign up at the web site more than once... per hour.

If you think you even have a snowball's chance en enfer, here's how to participate.

First, you have to be a Nespresso Club member. I used to scoff at that notion, every time I buy my little coffee capsules, but now I'm sure glad I am part of that elite group.

In 150 words or less tell them why they should choose you and not me.

Give them your best glamour mug shots -- a full-length photo and a head shot.

Cross your fingers and wait for the decision on June 10 -- What Else?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A French Goddess

Isn't she a beauty? And she is indeed a French goddess -- une Déesse, the nickname for the Citroen DS (pronounced day-ess). I found her rear end -- excuse me, but I'm serious -- on one of my favorite Paris photo blogs, Un Jour à Paris. Enthralled, I wrote Cil at Un Jour à Paris, and he sent me the entire photo -- a Polly-Vous Francais exclusive. Everyone else gets to see this Venus dramatically divided in part 1 and part 2.

Un Jour à Paris is a daily photo blog with unexpected glimpses of daily life in Paris. It's one of my daily reads, and I highly recommend it.

The Déesse caught my eye because a decade ago I had the wild experience of driving one for a whole month. We did a summer house swap with a family in the Loire Valley when my kids we in grade school. As was the fashion, we swapped not only houses, but also, cars, pet care, garden watering chores -- the whole enchilada -- through a great home exchange organization called Intervac.
Without a lot of explanation, our French host Maurice gave me the keys to his Déesse, and then he hopped on the plane for our place in Boston. While living in our house in New England, he drove a prosaic Volvo wagon for the month (automatic shift). All I knew was that I had a quintessentially standard-shift French car to drive. Little did I know that it was legendary. What a classic I was driving!

But imagine my surprise and consternation when on my first outing, stopped at a red light, the car lowered to the ground. Panicked, I thought something was amiss, and tried to pull over to the side of the road to see what had happened. Had the air gone out of the tires? But when I put her in gear, she rose back up like a mushroom cloud. Maurice hadn't warned me about the hydro-pneumatic suspension system. Once I figured out that it was a normal occurrence, the Déesse and I got along like soul sisters. She purred like a kitten down the autoroutes or départementales as we scoured the French countryside.

Now, that summer seems like an ancient dream.

It's rare to see a Déesse roaming the streets in Paris; I'm not sure why. Too valuable -- too much a collector's item -- to risk getting in a fender-bender, perhaps?

With the advent of spring weather, though, the Men In Convertibles seem to proliferate in Paris, cruising for love or some facsimile thereof down the boulevards. I am unswayed by the Mazzeratis, the Porsches, the various open-air décapotables that zoom past on the boulevard des Invalides with a solo male driver checking out the female scenery.

Then, one day -- a thrill. I spot a Déesse approaching, driven by a handsome man about my age. Ah, now there's someone I could relate to, I think. The car nears, and as it slithers around the corner, I notice a child seat in the rear.

I instantly hoped it was for his grandchild.

Probably not.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sundays with Richard and Polly -- May

The first time I ever visited the Parc de Bagatelle, over a year ago, I had ventured out on a self-imposed solitary expedition. Meandering among the the grottoes, the follies, the winding paths, the Orangerie, oohing and aahing over the strutting peacocks, I was transported. It was sublime, everything I'd ever wanted in a French park. Or any park. My garden-induced rapture was jolted by the ringing of my cell phone. It was the friend I was meeting for lunch nearby in the 16e arrondissement.

"Where are you?" he inquired.

"Uhh, I'm not sure," I replied breathlessly. "But I do I think I've died and gone to heaven."

So it's easy to imagine how much I was looking forward to returning to the Parc de Bagatelle for the monthly adventure of "Sundays with Richard and Polly." We'd had the plans lined up for weeks. Directions to the Parc, decisions about picnics on the lush lawns. I was burning to get back to that little bit o' heaven in the Bois de Boulogne on a lovely May afternoon.

Then SNAFUs struck. Logistical challenges, out-of-town guests, the usual Paris glitches. So at the eleventh hour, Richard and I decided to stay in the center of town and go to the Sainte-Chapelle for our monthly outing instead.

Logistical hell.
Oh well,

Crossing the bridge from St Germain, I arrived first , and a sizable line confronted me outside the entrance. There is a security check to get into the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie because they are both located within the walls of the Palais de Justice, more or less France's equivalent to the Supreme Court. Patience is a virtue and a learned skill in trying to visit popular Paris spots.

Waiting for Richard and Vincent, I struck up a conversation with the couple behind me. Actually, they struck up the conversation: "Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais?" asked the lady in a lovely Aussie accent. I gave her my basic I'm-an-American-living-in-Paris spiel.

Relieved, she sighed, "Can ya tell me, then, what IS it exactly that we're standing in line for?"

Ahem. I know I usually think I've heard everything in Paris, but this was a new one. She and her darling husband were obligingly standing in a long line of tourists -- let me get this straight -- because they saw a bunch of other tourists and figured it had to be a Worthwhile Thing to See? But they had no idea what? I sputtered as I sought a reply. Then I realized, hey -- come to think of it, maybe that's not such a bad tourism tactic after all. Ditch the guide books, and follow the crowds. Ask a knowledgeable person -- and presto! -- you've seen Paris.

Anyway, Richard and Vincent lucked out because by the time they arrived I had advanced our spot in line close to the front. We both admitted that we hadn't visited the Sainte-Chapelle since we'd been here, an embarrassment somewhat mitigated by the fact that the church had been closed for renovation for a while a few years ago. We chatted about our Hall of Shame -- the must-see Paris sites that we haven't visited yet.

We finally made it through the metal detector and experienced the mini-frisson of being frisked by the handsomest of the two gendarme security guards. At least one of us wanted to return for a repeat performance. I'm not telling who.

When you enter the ground-floor level of the Sainte-Chapelle, the first inclination is to hum along with Peggy Lee in "Is That All There Is?" The vaulted ceilings and the boutique are pretty, to be sure, and the medallion-maker tempting and very busy, but there isn't an automatically-revealed sense of some other incredible space to visit beyond the low-ceilinged chamber, with its enticing polychrome frescoes that look like like rich tapestries. Knowing the glorious stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle from Art History class eons ago, I knew we had to figure out how to get to see them somewhere in the building. We spotted an inconspicuous narrow stairway in the corner, and made the climb to the upper level.

Have you ever imagined what it is like to be inside the tumbler of an exquisite kaleidoscope? I hadn't. But that is precisely the whirling visual impression I got upon entering the chapel. There are practically no walls above about eight feet -- just stained glass. A myriad of jeweled glass designs and biblical stories far too detailed to write about here. I spun around and walked around and gazed upward until finally Richard urged, "Come, sit." I sat, in one of the chairs lining the length of sanctuary. A wise decision.

Please, if you visit the Sainte-Chapelle, do yourself a favor and take time to plunk down and simply stare at the glass. For a good long while. You'll see much more than if you snap away for photos of the stained glass with your digital camera. Slow down and absorb all the intense visual stimulus. There is no book, no slide show, no video tour that could replace the first-hand experience. Sainte-Chapelle was a good decision. I'm happy, in a way, that my photos of the stained glass didn't turn out well, because nothing can attempt to capture being there. I took close-ups instead of the fleur-de lys patterns and angels.

Finally oxygen depletion and sensory satiation forced us to reach the departure-decision. This meant descending the treacherous stairs opposite the ones we had climbed. So worth it, despite the vertigo.

Sainte-Chapelle was by no means an "oh-well" destination, it turns out. I realized why it's on the must-do lists of sites in Paris. So I'm now inspired to go to visit all the other sites on my Hall of Shame... after I take a quick jaunt to Bagatelle, of course.

Now, let's go see what Richard wrote about our Sunday.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Regard sur les Etats-Unis

I like to read the news. Online, I usually read the news about France in French, and then I read Art Goldhammer's French Politics for the timely analysis. To get the U.S. and world news I scan all my favorites: the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, any other on-line news source that lets me read for free.

Lately when I log into my Yahoo! account the Yahoo! News page pops up as Yahoo! France is not merely Yahoo! US translated in French, of course. It's news deemed of interest to a French readership. Its tone and content lack the gravitas of regular French newspapers, somehow. I think it's! the! exclamation! point! I really miss all the major, life-altering headline stories on English-language Yahoo!, like Lindsay Lohan's missing mascara, or how to make perfect scrambled eggs.

But, in all earnest, one interesting feature of Yahoo! France is a great blog called Regard sur les Etats Unis, A Look at the United States from a French view. In my lifelong learning curve about France, I find it helpful in general to look at my own culture from a foreigner's perspective. And REU has news and commentary, as well as some interesting blogs on its blogroll -- French expatriates in the US writing about the American cultural and political scene from their viewpoint.

I applaud REU's effort to include an English version on their site. It's a noble effort, brought to you by Google translate. But try reading this English version of the latest Clinton/Obama story, where the possessive pronoun his or its is constantly applied to Hillary.

"The awkwardness of Hillary Clinton unworthy democrats

This is the latest controversy to date, across the Atlantic. Hillary Clinton has committed the blunder to justify its continuation in the race for the Democratic nomination through rapprochement with the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

The candidate wanted to make it clear that the Democratic campaign could be extended and that everything could still happen.

The problem is that his opponent, Barack Obama, is regularly subjected to death threats and is constantly under protection of U.S.
secret services.

As for Democrats is consternation. Even if the candidate has made his apology, particularly with respect to the Kennedy family (which also makes the headlines as a result of the hospitalisation of Edward
Kennedy), everyone's attaches to say that fatigue does not justify

This controversy is further proof that the campaign has gone on too long term

Who needs Comedy Central when you've got automated translating?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lights are on at Deyrolle

I stopped by Deyrolle today. Phoenix-like, it has risen from the ashes. Yay! They've opened again, on a temporarily smaller scale, after suffering a terrible fire in early February. As you can see from the photograph, the lights are on in less than half of the former space; the more damaged area on the left, the locus of the fire, will have to undergo more extensive renovation. The current space was repainted, floors sanded, and it seems just like the old, beloved Deyrolle.

Many of the lions and pigs and birds were there; some of the larger beasts are still in taxidermy hospital. Virtually the entire butterfly collection was wiped out in the fire -- a terrible loss.

I finally got a close-up view of "Plumes," the scarf created by Hermès to help finance the reconstruction of Deyrolle. The scarf, 265€, will be available in September; and for now can be ordered only in France, apparently. Here is ordering information for those who love Hermès and Deyrolle -- two classic Paris institutions. A third venerable Paris institution, Editions Gallimard, has lent a hand, and published a book on the future of Deyrolle for 15€, if that is more in your budget.

Ile Seguin

View Larger Map

One hundred years ago, Ile Seguin, an island in the Seine just outside Paris, was quiet and verdant. In the late 1920s, Renault built a car manufacturing plant on the site, where over 30,000 workers were employed.

Until 1992, the factory was in full production, with a barge of 500 newly-minted Renaults departing twice daily from the island. After the factory closed down, a plan was in the works to create a museum to display the vast art collection of billionaire financier François Pinault. Pinault abandoned the project in 2005, citing bureaucratic difficulties, and moved his art collection to Venice.

Then other projects were in the works, including an artists' residence, a four-star hotel, the headquarters for the CNRS and France's National Cancer Institute, a campus for the American University of Paris. Now caught in political crossfire, the fate of the island is still up in the air. It seems as though the now-desolate island is like a child caught in a bitter and drawn-out custody battle: the one who suffers is the child. Will it be a sculpture garden? A battlestar galactica superbuilding dominating the riverfront? Only the politicians know for sure.

To see a slide show of the old factory in production, click here. Now there is virtually nothing on the languishing island but bare earth. Tabula rasa.

"Ile Seguin, derniers éclats," is a superb exhibit of photographs of the Renault factory before and during demolition that has just opened at the Galerie Christian Arnoux. Hubert Fanthomme, a photographer for Paris-Match, was one of two reporters allowed on the site to photograph the final days of the factory building over a three-year period. The photos are poignant still-lifes that tell a rich tale. A deeply detailed and evocative expression of faded industrial architecture.

Ile Seguin, derniers éclats
May 22 - June 29
Galerie Christian Arnoux
42, rue de Seine
75006 Paris
01 56 24 31 37

Friday, May 23, 2008


I had lunch on a sunny terrace at the home of a new friend who lives in Versailles, not far from the Château. Versailles: the very name conjures up gilt moldings and grandiosity. Before I got there, I expected a frilly, fussy, stuffy house, kind of Louis-something. Was I in for a surprise.

The side street was narrow and inconspicuous. Except for the fact that there was hardly any room to park, it could have been in a village in Normandy. Entering the outer cobblestone courtyard, I already began to swoon.

The terrasse was picture perfect.

The garden made me long for my old garden in the States. Since I've been an urban dweller, I've persuaded myself that my garden had mostly been a chore; I haven't missed the weeding and composting. Right?
And then this. I think I want a garden in my future. With a humble stone fountain at the end, like this, pleasing the eye and ear.

But, mostly,
I want a bathroom with a crystal chandelier.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Paris isn't for changing planes. It's for changing your outlook! For throwing open the windows and letting in... letting in la vie en rose.

This memorable line is from one of my favorite movies of all time, a movie whose transformed heroine made me believe in the transformative powers of Paris, very early on in my life. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Of course it's a 1950's Hollywood fairy tale, but there are elements about Paris that director Billy Wilder nailed perfectly.

Sabrina, a chauffeur's daughter, has gone to Paris to learn to cook, and to forget about an impossible relationship -- her crush on the wealthy playboy son of her father's employers, played by the dashing William Holden.

The wise cooking instructor tells her he can tell she is in love.

"A woman happily in love, she burns ze souffle. A woman unhappily in love, she forgets to turn on ze oven."

After two years in Paris, Sabrina is indeed transformed. She has found a new recipe ... for life. In her letter home she writes,

"It is late at night and someone across the way is playing La Vie en rose. It is the French way of saying 'I am looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses.' It says everything I feel. I have learned so many things, Father. Not just how to make vichyssoise or calf's head with sauce vinaigrette, but a much more important recipe. I have learned how to live, how to be in the world and of the world, and not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life, or from love, either."

Well, we'll all just have to run out and rent the DVD to watch the full Sabrina. I hardly need to, since I almost know it by heart.

My parting line, another favorite piece of advice (except the umbrella), is Audrey Hepburn saying to Humphrey Bogart, the stodgy businessman workaholic brother,

"We can't have you walking up the Champs Elysées looking like a tourist undertaker! And another thing, never a briefcase in Paris and never an umbrella. There's a law!"

Carrie Bradshaw en francais

Whodathunkit. Sarah Jessica Parker speaks French! Well, at least 10 words.

"Bonjour, je vous aime, enchantée, merci, merci, merci, merci, merci!"

La belle SJP was in Paree at the Sephora on the Champs Elysées to launch her new perfume, Covet.

The throng of fans was not disappointed, apparently.

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Love Me, Love My Blog

One of the charming thrills of living in Paris is occasionally rubbing elbows with -- and even getting to know well -- people who are in the upper echelons of the literary, journalistic, artistic, diplomatic or business worlds. You get accustomed to it -- at a sought-after gathering there's usually quite a mélange of guests. One person who was interviewed in the New York Times or the Economist the previous week, for example, and another who wrote the article. And then there's me. And a pale guy still hanging on the social coattails of his late mother's international fame. And a blonde who announces she can't stay at the party because she has to catch a plane to Cannes. That's just the day-to-day world in Paris. The mighty and the lowly, tossed together like a macédoine at any given social function.

Yes, the lowly -- such as the humble bloggers. Not the famous Paris blogger-authors like Clotilde or Petite or David. Just random bloggers like me who are having fun sharing their version of Paris with the gullible dozen or so readers who actually believe that I live here. (I'm really writing Polly-Vous Français from my garage office in the suburbs of Spokane.)

Ha-ha, naturellement, I'm kidding. But really. Being a blogger in Paris. It's often hard to get taken seriously in this city of people who wield their impressive talents and get paid for it.

Not enough of a self-promoter, I don't pimp my blog in casual conversation much, but sometimes I do get asked about it.

Typical scenario. I am at a large weekday conference-soirée milling around with friends and acquaintances. "How's the blogging going, Polly?" asks one pal, with the same ever-so-slight pause after the word blogging, the same intonation, as if he had asked "How are you enjoying clown school?" When American friends in Paris ask "How's the blog?" there is often a suppressed smirk accompanied by a benevolent closed-mouthed smile and a bemused twinkle in the eye. Oh, yes, a blog. They gleefully mime the twittering of fingers over a keyboard when they say it. I want to reply coquettishly, "Goodness me, why are you asking -- don't you read my column faithfully, mon cher?"

But gosh darn, no, I don't say that. I'm so eager to please. I just chirp, "It's great!" with my usual perky all-American smile, and then I spew out some fictional weekly statistic to prove how respectable I am. Actually, this blog does have about 3,500 individual hits per week, about 5,000 page loads. Those numbers never fail to either a) impress or b) make people want to hook me up to the nearest polygraph machine. "On your blog?" they ask incredulously. Well, sure. Of course, I don't reveal that 25% of my readers are Boomers reading my post on Morticia and Gomez, and another 25% are Estonians googling for pictures of French babes in lingerie.

Then there are chums who have the opposite reaction: embarrassed, they say nothing about my blog, pretending it doesn't exist. It's as if they don't want to have been caught reading it, as if knowing what I have written on my blog is tantamount to sneaking a peek at my intimate diary.

Don't worry, folks, I yearn to say. It's published on the World Wide Web, over 1.3 billion internauts served daily there. So go ahead, it's okay to read it. More than okay -- encouraged, actually. Please pass it on. Tell your friends about my blog. Especially any publisher friends looking to find the hidden talent in me and sign a six-figure book deal.

And, blessedly, there are the kindhearted journalists or editors who occasionally express admiration, real or pretend. "Oh, you write Polly-Vous Français? Love the blog!" It's happened -- exactly twice, which isn't quite putting me on the superhighway to a Pullitzer. Sure they love blogs. Blogs are, of course, an excellent source of initial field research for writers at many august dailies and glossies. A recent statistic claims that about 70% of all journalists skim blogs for information and timely topics. I don't mind doing the legwork for them for free, for the most part. It doesn't pay the rent, but, heck, I'm flattered whenever a story or idea of mine gets borrowed and rewritten and put into print... usually. Don't any of these print publications want to hire an in-house blogger? I'm available!

Ah, blogging in Paris. No fame, no glory, no income. Quand même, I love it. I'm accustomed to the reactions or lack thereof at parties. So these days I don't mind it when a charming rascal mimics that keyboard-typing gesture when mentioning my blog. It's kind of sweet.

But if ever -- ever -- some fellow dares to ask about my "blog" while using his fingers in little-rabbit-Foo-Foo "air quotation marks," I hope I'm wearing my pointiest stilettos.

There goes education

I just heard the most incredible news. So incredible that I didn't believe it until I came home and researched it and found out it's true.

The College Board, administrator of AP exams, SATs, and all the other (supposedly) important barometers of high-school ability for college placement, has made a decision to cancel the Advanced Placement exam in French Literature, effective in 2009.

As a lifelong student of French literature, knowing how much I learned from studying not just the language but also the literature, I am not only outraged but totally depressed at the political dumbing-down of American education, by people who ought to know better.

Please join me in writing the College Board to protest this stupid decision, which they claim is final. And pass the word along to all your Francophile friends.

Please send letters to:
Gaston Caperton
The College Board
45 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10023-6992


Lester Monts
University of Michigan
503 Thompson Street
Room 3084 Fleming Building
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340

Monday, May 19, 2008

Understanding French Body Language

Glancing up at a sizable group gathered on a fifth-floor balcony in the 8e arrondissement the other day, I mumbled to myself, "Il y a du monde au balcon." Then I laughed, remembering what that phrase means. Then came the flashback. To a black-and-white photo in a book, of a man in a turtleneck, miming the phrase il y a du monde au balcon to indicate seeing a large-breasted woman.

The book is called Beaux Gestes, and it is the Rosetta stone for deciphering French body language. Gallic puffing-out of cheeks or the finger-pulling-the-lower-eyelid got you confused? You'll find the answers in Beaux Gestes. An entertaining, witty, loving look at French gestures by probably the most avid American Francophile of all time, the late Laurence Wylie. The online version of Beaux Gestes and an excellent biography of Professor Wylie are found at an informative website called FranceInfo US.

I first discovered Professor Wylie's work when I read A Village in the Vaucluse, the tale of Wylie's family life when he was a teacher in Rousillon in the early 1950s. It was a tremendous hit with Francophiles well before Peter Mayle ever dreamed of writing A Year In Provence. (If you read both A Village in the Vaucluse and Mayle's books, you'll see the differences in their approaches. Professor Wylie was a witty and eloquent esteemed Harvard social anthropologist, chair of the Department of French Civilization. Mayle's background was as an astute advertising exec.) I loved A Year in Provence, though in parts I found it a bit condescending to the villageois. Mostly I wished that Professor Wylie's books could have had the same best-seller accolades. They deserved it.

Lucky me to have been a French major: Beaux Gestes was required reading for a French civilization course. Some of us have to do the hard work!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shooting Paris

Not a day goes without my thinking that Paris looks like a movie set. Every setting -- street, courtyard, bridge, café -- could be a backdrop for a film.

And apparently, it is. Filming is going on all over Paris.

In my early days here, I was awestruck one afternoon seeing the film crews in Montmartre shooting La Môme. "Ooh," I thought. "Maybe I'll see La Môme some day and say proudly, 'I saw that being filmed.'"

Well, I used to be wowed by manifs, too, and now they're just a ho-hum daily occurrence. (The first time I saw a Paris street demonstration, I was inside a store on rue de Rennes. I pointed to the crowds marching by and exclaimed excitedly to the shop owner, "Look, look, it's a manif!" I cringe with embarrassment now, thinking how idiotic that statement must have seemed to a Parisian.)

I don't mean to sound blasé, but it's starting to feel the same way with movies being filmed on location here. This morning at the bus stop bright and early, I saw camera crews setting up light tents and tripods to film inside the boulangerie across from the St. Francois Xavier métro station. The street was lined with trucks and the stars' trailers. I realized how my attitude has changed since the La Môme filming. I just thought, "Oh, yeah, another movie set."

As I rode by on the bus, I saw Jean Rochefort (I think) chatting with some friends outside his trailer.

My reaction?

He must be the only French movie star who isn't in Cannes right now.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Yes, it is.

Photo taken here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

French Magazines Available Online

When I was in the U.S. and longing to be in France instead, I used to throw myself a little pity party and blow a wad of cash on my favorite French magazines. I'd settle down with a glass of Sancerre and pretend I was on vacation in France, leafing through the pretty publications, savoring every article, every image. But it wasn't always easy to find the magazines I craved.

Now has a new service whereby you can download an unlimited number of French magazines for €17,90 per month (approximately $28 at today's exchange rate). In an effort to save the planet and cut down on paper consumption, this service is not only a boon to Mother Nature, but also a godsend to far-flung would-be readers who can't necessarily grab the latest copy of Paris Match, Le Nouvel Observateur, Elle, Cðte Ouest, and so forth at their local newsstand. If you prefer to give the subscription a trial first, you can subscribe to four magazines for one month for €9,90 (about $15.50). The subscription site, for now, is only in French, but I hope that in time and with enough demand there will be an English-language version.

In addition, from each €17,90 received, Relay will donate one euro to the World Wildlife Fund to protect the forests. Of course downloading is not the same as holding the colorful glossies in your hands, but I always collected way too many stacks of magazines anyway.

Relay is a mostly known as a magazine kiosque -- a familiar sight to all travelers in France. You find Relay in train stations and airports, chockablock full of all varieties of publications, books, and on-the-go nibblies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Soiree with the Authors

There are American writers who write about Paris. There are Parisian writers who write about America. There are writers who have simply been inspired by Paris. The list of award-winning authors falling into all these categories is long and impressive.

So it is wild -- almost unfathomable to me -- to imagine having dinner with about ten of them in one night. But in less than two weeks, on May 27th, that's just what I'm going to do.

At its annual fundraiser, the American Library in Paris invites a renowned author to speak. This year, the all-hailed Prince of Paris, none other than Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon, will return to Paris to be the featured guest speaker. But the organizers of the Gala came up with a 'novel' spin on the always sparkling event: this year they have also invited a group of literary luminaries to create an unprecedented event in recent Paris literary history. It is a Francophile bibliophile's dream come true.

Warning: name dropping ahead!

In addition to the hallowed Mr. Gopnik as honored guest, also in attendance at the soirée will be authors Diane Johnson, C.K. Williams, Jake Lamar, Alan Riding, John Baxter, Alice Kaplan, Lily Tuck, and the doyenne of American literary Paris, Mavis Gallant. And, none other than BHL himself, Bernard-Henri Lévy and his luminous wife Arielle Dombasle.

I admit, I'm sometimes tongue-tied when around famous people. So I'm nervous about the nature of idle chit-chat or intense conversations with these acclaimed authors as we swill our champagne or tuck into our four-course dinners. Gushing "I loved your book" is such a -- cliché. To avoid the brainless banalities, I'm trying to think up a few 'impromptu' conversation topics.

Any ideas? Please chime in! If you have a question you'd like me to ask, let me know, because I'm spending the whole evening with these glitterati, from hors d'oeuvres to après-diner chocolates. Now is your chance, so please send me any questions you'd like to ask these literary greats. I'll report back on all the answers, I promise! And photos, too.

But, wait! Are you jealous? No need to be. Here's the good news: you can come, too. If you're going to be in Paris on May 27, it's not too late to don your best evening attire and attend the dinner. I called the American Library today, and the staff said that they can actually take reservations -- if fully paid -- through next Tuesday, May 20. They are expecting an intimate, sold-out crowd of about 200 for cocktails and dinner at the elegant and private Cercle de l'Union Interalliée on the Faubourg St. Honoré.

It is a fundraiser, of course, so the price for a swish evening with the authors is €300 per person, and all proceeds benefit this most venerable of American non-profits in Paris. Call me star-struck, but I like to think of it this way: 300€ divided by 10 authors equals about 30€ each. In my book, that's mere peanuts for spending an evening in the company of so many fascinating people you might never have the chance to have meaningful conversation with otherwise.

And companies such as Air France, Chanel, the International Herald Tribune and the fabulous Hotel Pont Royal -- the literary hotel of Paris -- all think it's a cause worthy of their support.

Who am I to say no? But ... what am I going to wear?

For more information, contact 01 53 59 12 67

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Les Parisiennes

Tonight was the preview of the exhibit "Les Parisiennes," a retrospective of works by Edmond Kiraz at the Musée Carnavalet. These perky Parisian Barbie Dolls so dear to the artist's twinkling eye are shown in stylish skimpy outfits in amusing vignettes, doing what some Parisiennes do best: sipping coffee, shopping, bicycling, suffering through a boring dinner with maman and papa. Checking out the guys. And carrying weightless shopping bags, pocketbooks and birdcages: lightweight is a key theme.

It's a fun exhibit, frivolous and frothy as the frill on the lingerie of the subjects. As sweet and lo-cal as Candarel (the French version of Splenda), the ads of which are also on display. Ditto for the Kiraz Perrier ads and the lasses depicted therein -- effervescent and bubbly.

Many of the original gouaches have witty captions underneath (in French). A classic in any country: "My closet is overflowing and I don't have a thing to wear. Try explaining that to a man."

But my favorite quintessentially parisienne of the cute, silly captions was a young beauty saying hastily to a perfume-store sales clerk: "Don't bother wrapping it; it's for seducing someone right away." Looking beyond the store window in the painting, you see a policeman ticketing the young mademoiselle's car.

Of course one of the joys is of visiting this exhibit is simply being at the Musée Carnavalet itself -- the museum of the city of Paris. The Kiraz retrospective is certainly worth a detour, if only for tasting a fluffy slice of recent contemporary culture. The Parisiennes in this exhibit are not exactly reading Nietzsche or discussing globalization or analyzing Proust. So the girls who populate Kiraz's world, while appealing in their own right, really only represent one small sliver -- albeit a delicious sliver -- of the Parisienne population. Hmmm. Maybe in that case they ought to change the title to "Des Parisiennes."

Les Parisiennes de Kiraz
May 14 - September 21, 2008
Musée Carnavalet
23 rue de Sevigné
75003 Paris
Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 am to 6 pm

Velib by the Numbers

The City of Paris has just conducted a customer satisfaction survey about the Velib bicycle program. Here are some of the results:

94% are satisfied with the service
97% would recommend it to a friend

20 million Velib rentals to date (since the program began last July)

190,000 subscribers

18 minutes average length of use

39% of Velib users are between 25 and 35 years old
33% of the users come from the suburbs

58% of long-term subscribers are men
65% of short-term subscribers are women

19% of riders say they have used a Velib for a trip that they wouldn't have taken if Velib weren't available.

61% of long-term subscribers use Velib to commute to school or work.

96% say it gives a positive image of Paris
94% say it makes Paris more pleasant

88% say it's good for their health

No official mention of Velib stations' reputation for being good for your love life --a great place to pick up a potential date.

Read more here.

Wine. Teeth. Whatever.

Some days I just notice things more than others. Here was a small shop that I pass several times a day on rue de Sevres in the 6e arrondissement. Clickity-clack going down the street, minding my own business, and then I had one of those gasp-out-loud-clamp-my-hand-over-mouth moments. After continuing along, startled, on the sidewalk for ten more paces, I did a volte-face and returned to take a photo.

This is a shop, not uncommon in Paris, that purchases jewelry and gold from individuals. Discretion guaranteed. Immediate payment. Watches, lingots, diamonds, coins, andandand... dental gold?

I saw this and immediately felt a throbbing, possessive ache in my molars. No, no -- not my crowns! More reason to fear the dentist.

And then thanks to a tip from my pal Going Like Sixty, here's a fascinating and timely companion article by Geraldine Baum on the Credit Municipal de Paris -- the Fort Knox of all pawn shops, euphemistically referred to as "chez ma tante."

Apparently you can pawn anything at the Credit Municipal -- even bottles of wine.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

When May rolls around the urge to garden is strong. Apartment-dwelling and gardening aren't always a match made in heaven, but I do what I can.

Usually if I'm potting a plant (because the previous specimen died from severe travel neglect) I spread out newspapers and have a go at it. But I've been too assiduous about daily recycling, so I found myself sans papiers and avec a mess of flowers to plant as my Mother's Day treat to myself. The sign at the fleuriste on the quai de la Megisserie said "les geraniums -- le roi du balcon!" I just needed something perky that wouldn't die over the summer. I admit to agonizing a long time over the proper hue of salmon-pink to complement the kitchen.

After an initial attempt at taming the potting-soil monster and keeping my fingernails clean working in the cramped sink space, I threw in the towel and let the dirt fly.

I decided to put these geraniums on top of my garde-manger that's in a back air well. The tin roof of the garde manger slants to allow rainwater to drain off. Uh-oh. The planters looked as though they might slide off.

Necessity is the Mother of invention, and not just on Mother's Day. Mon astuce: old wine corks, sliced to perfection, are very handy for remedying the slant and keeping the window box level.

And voilà! Now when in the kitchen I can focus on the peachy geraniums in the window instead of the streaks on the stuccoed wall behind, which look like a blonde with her mascara running.
Happy Mother's Day to everyone who's celebrating it today, and especially to my Mom, who has recently begun to experience the joys of apartment life herself.

I'll plant some more window boxes in two weeks, when France celebrates Mother's Day. I'm contemplating morning glories.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A visit to St. Francois Xavier

One of the minor perils of the routine of daily life anywhere on the planet is taking your surroundings for granted. Yes, even in Paris.

And one of the easiest sights to ignore is the spot where you begin and end a day's journey. When you're embarking on your travels, your mind is focused on reaching your destination (late again!). And on the return trip thoughts turn to getting home and slipping into -- comfortable shoes.

The other day I went to my neighborhood metro stop, St. Francois Xavier. It was the destination, not the starting point. And I appreciated it with new eyes.

Click on the photo below to enlarge it. Take a peek at this one glimpse, what you see upon exiting the metro station stairs. How many visual clues saying "I'm in Paris" are there in just one view?

1. The curved bench & cobblestones
2. The historic plaque
3. The garden hoops
4. The graffiti
5. The walk sign
6. The Hotel des Invalides (do you see it peeking out to the left of the building in the foreground?)
7. The yellow mailboxes
8. The newsstand
9. Monceau Fleurs (open 7j/7, seven days a week)
10. The traffic lights

And of course the building's architecture itself. And this is just the metro entrance! Then cross the boulvevard des Invalides to another park, le Parc Pierre de Gaulle.
Tidily raked gravel. Outdoor ping-pong tables. I've never played ping-pong next to a flowering shrub before. I purchased some paddles and day-glo outdoor ping-pong balls. If anyone wants to challenge me to a game, I'm ready. I've never had very good hand-eye coordination, so I actually stink at playing ping-pong. I don't care if I lose. I love the idea.
"Ping-Pong in Paris." Has a nice ring to it.

The park also has the requisite green benches in sun and shade and playground equipment at the far end. One Sunday morning in this park I saw a young Miss Clavel in jeans and boots (who'd have thought she was so hip without her habit?) accompanied by twelve little girls in two straight lines. I'm not making this up! And the petite filles were sporting broad-brimmed beribboned hats, prim blouses with peter-pan collars and long blue pinafore uniforms just like Madeline, too. I kept rubbing my eyes, convinced I hadn't woken up yet. Miss Clavel and the girls tossed a ball in a circle; the girls were allowed to toss their chapeaux gaily in the air once or twice for recreation, then skipped and clapped happily around. The whole scene was unbelievably storybook-perfect. Except for Miss Clavel's habit, of course.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Paris Apartment Living

Today as I left my apartment, I was confronted with this missive, taped prominently to the glass door of the vestibule of the building. It was next to the announcement for the annual Reunion du Syndic -- basically a co-op or condo-owners' meeting -- next week, to which I'm not invited, as a mere locataire (renter) not a proprietaire (owner).


"Hello! Good Evening!


We have a delicious noise of a motor blowing and a cool draft, coming from the chimney conduit of our living room, accompanied by falling soot and dust....

We have deduced that it is from an air conditioner connected into our chimney conduit...

This is very unpleasant and probably not within the art or science of the laws of installation...

What should we do?

THANK YOU to those who might feel a little bit concerned, and who might contact us, to recognize and stop the problem.

The XX Family"

Yankee-Protestant-guilt-ridden that I am, I immediately worried that they were referring to me, the token American -- Lord knows why, since I don't even own an air conditioner.

Then I took a deep breath and assumed my newly-acquired Gallic shrug -- and headed out to enjoy the day.

I've since decided that the "Gallic shrug" must be the original version of "WTF."

Chimneys of Paris

Walking in the Chaillot quartier earlier this week, I was amazed by the design made by these chimney flues. Ramonage -- sweeping of the chimney -- is a requirement for having apartment insurance. The ramoneurs sure have their work cut out for them.

But it reminded me of a story told to me by a friend who lives not far from the Assemblée Nationale -- a very swish neighborhood of Paris. A wealthy man who lives on the top floor in the building across the street from her has purchased all the roof chimneys of the residents of his building. No mean feat, and for a princely sum, to be sure. He will cap off the chimneys and install a rooftop garden, so in vogue in Paris these days.

Plus c'est la meme chose...

My petit quiz for the day for non-Parisians -- what do the following names have in common: Marceau, Iéna, Kléber, Victor Hugo, Foch, Grande Armée, Carnot, Mac-Mahon, Wagram, Hoche, Friedland, Champs-Elysées?

Here's a hint. (Nice photo, n'est-ce pas? I'm rather proud of it.)

Answer: Yep, these are, clockwise, the twelve avenues that radiate from the Place de l'Etoile. After two years in Paris, I almost know them by heart -- in order, no less. Hmmm... next if I can memorize the names of the bridges of Paris, I'll be ready to win (or not lose too badly) the next nail-biting round of Trivial Pursuit Paris.

Today being a holiday, I decided to take an urban trek in this oh-so-familiar territory, and found myself walking in circles -- literally. I've long been intrigued by the Neoclassical buildings that ring the Arc de Triomphe, and the circular street behind them: rue de Tilsitt and rue Presbourg. For an aerial view, click here.

When they were designed in 1854 by Haussmann's architect, Hittorff, the mandate was to create twelve uniform hôtels particuliers (private homes) that would be an appropriate backdrop to Napoleon's majestic triumphal arch.

Evidently Hittorff did too good a job in the uniformity department -- Haussmann proclaimed the facades to be too ugly and too short, and ordered trees to be planted in front to obscure the view.

Today, each has its own personality. Some of the "backsides" of the buildings have been filled in or renovated, like this art nouveau entrance.

Mostly, however, I have been wondering about the urns perched on the Mansarded eaves of these buildings. Next time you're visitng the Arc de Triomphe, check them out.

Some urns have disappeared. But who got rid of them? Did they sell them to some architectural salvage company? Weren't those urns protected as architectural elements by historic preservation covenants? Were they ever planted with flowers, or were they always strictly ornamental? (I suspect the latter.) Ah, the mystery of the urns.

In any case, somewhere in the timeline of the past 150 years the uniformity seems to have been abandoned. Some of Hittorff's dozen buildings are now fancy corporate headquarters, and a few remain residential. You can't improve on real estate location-location-location than this address. And the view of the illuminated Arc de Triomphe from the windows is breathtaking at night.
To see how much change has taken place, compare some of the windows that used to be exactly the same, all on different buildings. Plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change?

Locations of visitors to this page
Travel Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory blog search directory Targeted Website Traffic - Webmasters helping webmasters develop high value relevant links. Promoting ethical web-marketing using the time trusted pillars of relevance and popularity.