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."
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.