Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Studio 54?

Q: Who is humming "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm fifty-four" today?

A: Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa.

My little birthday offering: a French house-number image (as a topping for the birthday cake)?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Zero-six or zero-sept?

The end of an era is upon us.

Starting in 2010, French cell phones numbers will also begin with 07.

Unlike in the US, where cell phones can have any area code (and often the same area code as the owner's home region), in France, no matter what the region, all 10-digit cell phone numbers begin with 06. Evidently those 999,999,999 available mobile telephone numbers are about to be exhausted. That's a lot of cell phones, non?


Since all the 01, 02, 03, 04, and 05 numbers are taken by numeros fixes [land lines], and 08 prefixes are special (often toll-free) numbers, and 09 are telephony/VoIP/internet numbers, that means that the next step is -- egad-- 07.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In the inky darkness of my Virginia farm cottage, I am nudged awake by a distant groan. Is it a moan? The room is black and still, and I groggily raise my head up, straining to hear the noise again.

It sounds like a dying furnace, or a car transmission heaving a final shudder as it fails. I listen harder.

The sound is ... cows mooing in a nearby field.

It is 4:15 a.m. Is mooing legal at that hour?

Why are cows mooing in the dark? Is this normal? I wonder. Cows mooing by daylight are cute. Mooing under cover of darkness seems abnormal and almost eery. “The cattle are lowing,” I tell the walls. Hmm. What time of day is being referred to in that Christmas carol? First my thoughts race: worries of danger. Why would the cows (or cattle or whatever I should properly call them) be bellowing at a pre-dawn hour? As in pre-pre-pre-dawn.

COWS IN DANGER. Are they being attacked by a coyote? Nah. They outweigh those wily critters. It must be a bear! I’ve heard there are black bears around here. I am not quite awake but am fretting about these cows – they must be terrified.

I realize that I’m too much of an urbanite/suburbanite, and I don’t know diddly about bovine behavior. All I know is that these poor beasts must need to be saved. But it ain’t gonna be me. Not if there is some real or imagined black bear on the prowl.

So now it is the indulgingly late hour of 4:45 and I decide throw in the sponge and get up.

I toss on an oversized flannel shirt and jeans. I brew the coffee and stoke up the laptop for today’s online headline news.

In the dim of the first morning light I am distracted by the Hatfield and McCoy scenario at the birdfeeder, the purple finches versus the goldfinches. God, they’re up early, too. What is it with all these animals? Oh, early-bird. Got the etymology.

Properly fortified and caffeinated, I slip on mud boots and clomp across my hilltop to take a peek at the Angus herd. They are just lumbering in the field, chewing and mooing, on a neighboring hill. Just being cows. I sigh and turn around to head home. Hawks are having a field day overhead. A lone car passes by on the two-lane road.

I stop in my tracks as a vague panicky sensation creeps over me. Oh no. What has happened to me? I'm watching cows and birds. Am I at risk of becoming a rural dullard? Wait a second! Didn’t I recently live in Paris, with all the sophisticated, dazzling excitement at my doorstep, with cafes and people-watching in a daily life that seems derived from Central Casting? How can I have already adjusted to an environment where the biggest adrenaline buzz of the day is gawking at a pelican-sized Northern Flicker as it flaps away from its hammering on my rooftop? A place where the juiciest gossip among the neighbors is “how tall will they build that burn pile of brush before they actually torch it?”

Wait a minute! Didn’t I just live in Paris? Where I would never venture from my apartment without stylish leather boots and at least a passing attempt at make-up? Now I’m listening to cows moo in the night, and don’t attempt to scrape the mud off my boots any more. My biggest fashion concern in the countryside is whether I should go walking outdoors without my neon-orange polar fleece cap, lest a hunter take aim in my direction. Where are the Parisian thrill and the bling-bling of yesteryear? Am I being lulled into a bucolic stupor?

Then I pause and take in the view. That edge of blue. These days the skyline of the Blue Ridge Mountains has the same effect on me that the Eiffel Tower did in Paris. Every time it catches me off guard in awe, takes my breath away.

The mountains and the sky.

And I have traded the sparkling glitter of Paris at night for the drama of the Big Dipper twinkling in the blue-black Virginia night sky. In Paris I saw Stars. Here, I see stars.

But, still. When I get back to my cozy cottage, just to make sure I don’t lose touch with my inner Parisian, I rush to my laptop to search for the latest in Paris news: politics, fashion, celebrities, culture, gossip.

Whew. I get all the Paris I need this morning in one fell swoop, just reading about Rachida Dati.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Oh, if only moving were this simple...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fly Free to France in Jet-Lag Gig

Hey! Would you like to travel to France for free?

If you have some spare time on your hands, a research firm wants to fly you to France and study your jet-lagged brain cells. Sounds intriguing, n'est-ce pas?

View the entire announcement here.

Hmmm. Do they allow layovers in Paris?

Check out their website for more information.

info via Gadling

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Velib Hits the 'Burbs

Good news for denizens of greater Paris: Vélib is heading to the 'burbs. The ever-popular bicycle program, inaugurated in July 2007, has been comprised of 20,000 bikes circulating in Paris intramuros. That is all about to change.

Soon residents and commuters to or from the 30 communities peripheral to Paris will be able to avail themselves of the bikes as well. Work begins tomorrow on Vélib stations in Boulogne-Billancourt, and is expected to finish within about four weeks. Next will be Les Lilas, Gentilly, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Vincennes, Suresnes, Vanves, Saint-Ouen, and Pantin. By the end of 2009, some 300 new Vélib stations (about 10 per city) will have been constructed, all within 1500 meters of Paris city limits, adding 3,300 bikes to the current total.

View Larger Map

Inaugurated in Paris in July 2007, the Vélib program has logged an astounding 41 million rides.

For more posts about Velib, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monsieur Jacques a Dit?

Ooh, I love to read supposedly scathing articles about the French in the New York Times. So provocative. But, um, not really. Today there was a great slice-and-dice piece about food critic François Simon, perhaps more popularly recognized outside gastronomic circles as the ultimately-redeemed villain Anton Ego in Ratatouille.

I can't presume to judge the culinary dialectic. But I do have another bone to pick. For, although the NYT article refers to his Monsieur Simon's two food blogs, as a blogger I was disappointed that it contained no hyperlink to either the French- or English-language versions of "Simon Says!" Seems a disservice to their readers. So I'm glad to oblige.

Well, even if Simon is sometimes a demanding, dismissive restaurant critic and occasionally a biting cynic, his image was measurably softened in the film version by Peter O'Toole's sentimental portrayal of a character with an artichoke hide and a mousse center. And a lover of the genuine article.

Paris in the Snow

Darn. After three years, just my luck to miss out on the magic of Paris in the snow.

I mean, sno-globes, even shaken vigorously, just don't have the same effect.

That bone-chilling frigid weather. The complaints about traffic. Br-r-rrr. But I still wish I were there to experience it. I saw about three flocons de neige the entire time I lived in Paris.

In any case, Paris Sous la Neige has certainly been newsworthy recently.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

10 More Blue Doors

Why do I love the blue doors in Paris so much?

To see the others that I posted previously, click here. And now ten more, mostly from the 14e and 15e arrondissements.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Polly Platt: in Memoriam

Polly Platt, August 2007, at her house in the Dordogne

Francophiles around the world will be saddened to learn that Polly Platt died on December 26 in Vienna.

It is a huge loss to the world and a tremendous personal loss. She was a dear friend and colleague, a mentor.

How can it be? I just had dinner with her before leaving Paris, with promises to see one another when I returned.

In true Polly kindness and enthusiasm, she wrote me to find out how I was adapting to the US, and to report back on the "I Married a Frenchman" event at the American Library early last month.

Hi Polly,
How have you landed? ... Really a shame you weren't at the library two nights ago. Never had such an enthusiastic crowd -- they choked the place, so many they were out in the hall. I had the luck to be the last of the four panelists to talk -- so the audience was all warmed up ready to go and I had the freedom to do what I wanted ... and they loved it. Amazing. It would have been good for your blog -- the way dozens of them came up to me afterwards and thanked me for coming. Really satisfying. Amazing.
It's dark and drizzly in Paris but Paris is Paris.
Do let know how you are.`
love, love, P

We always had schoolgirl fun when we got together, whether at her favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the 7e or at her beloved farmhouse in the Dordogne.

I will miss her lilting voice, her passion for all things French, her witty and wise inspiration, her warm and loyal friendship.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

License Plates

Having been carefree and car-free in Paris for three years, I now find myself in need of acquiring an automobile in Virginia. Pronto.

And as I drive my rental car (and boy-o-boy, am I getting accustomed to the constant driving), I've noticed that lots of the vehicles here have vanity plates. I used to scoff at the notion of specialized plates, but they are such a way of life here, and there are so many witty ones.

I saw an old Volvo parked in town the other day with the license plate MON CUL.

The car disappeared before I could track down the owner. Damn. What fun! Who IS that person? And did the DMV know what that meant when they issued the plate?

Of course in France there are no specialized vanity plates, but rather the fierce loyalty of one's département indicated by the last two digits of your license plates. I was not alone in heaving sigh of relief when government efforts to eliminate the département from auto license plates was finally shot down.

It's all a matter of identity, I guess.

In France, one can proclaim one's vehicular identity by one's département on the plaques d'immatriculation.

In the US, your license plate can be an extension of your personality -- or maybe your projected persona. I spied one Virginia vanity plate on a spiffy BMW convertible that read UVA MBA. Gotcha. 'Nuff said. There are also lots of down-home and witty examples too numerous to cite. It is definitely a way of life.

So -- should I fork over the extra $10 annually and get a vanity plate that reflects my Francophile persona? As I drive around and wait at traffic lights I daydream about all sorts of catchy bite-sized logos that I could incorporate into a 6-character license plate. Then, after I've come up with the "perfect" plate, I abandon the idea as vain and frivolous. I don't really need to tout myself, right?

And yet, and yet. I am so tempted. Besides, it's fun to check out what they would look like on the DMV website.

Here are a few ideas I've come up with. Maximum 6 characters.


QUOI29 (Inspired by my blogging friend Cécile Quoi de 9)




Okay, folks: any other ideas?

Update: check out Olivier Magny's take on French license plates in Stuff Parisians Like.

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