Friday, September 25, 2009

Paris Notes

It is with great sadness that I learned today that Paris Notes, a venerable insider's guide to the BEST of everything Paris, is ceasing publication.   For so many years before I lived in Paris, it was my umbilical cord to France when I was longing to live there; and it was a source of irreplaceable information and tips even when I was a denizen of the City of Light.

Editor Mark Eversman reports:

During the past 17 years it has been our distinct privilege to provide you with passionate, reliable, quality Paris information. We've visited every corner of the city, dined in hundreds of restaurants, checked out countless hotel rooms, had more than a few coffees in a multitude of caf├ęs, ogled art and artifacts in every single museum in the city, walked hundreds of blister-prone miles of Paris sidewalks, interviewed luminaries and lightweights alike, endured weather of all extremes, and kept a daily vigil for even the smallest shred of information that would be of interest to you, the Paris Notes reader.
Good news for those who love Paris is that the last 50 issues of Paris Notes are now available for free to read and save -- and savor.  Should be bound -- enshrined --  in book form, in my estimation.

When a door is shut, a window is opened, I guess,  So fabulous France Today magazine has agreed to meet the needs of current Paris Notes subscribers for the remainder of their subscriptions.

Happy reading to all, and best wishes for future endeavors to all who contributed to almost two decades of such a wonderful publication.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Curious (non) connections?

This photo just appeared in the Huffington Post's "Funniest Protest Signs of 2009," which admittedly has some real doozies.  Check 'em out.

But curiously, the HuffPo caption for the photo was "Polly Vous Francais?"

Trust me, HuffPo, I didn't submit that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Here, have some Chocolate

"Tell us that chocolate story, Mommy!" my kids would beg when they were little. "Pleeez?!"

So I would once again tell them about visiting my friend Isa in France. At about 5 pm, when we were in initial preparation for dinner, her kids were hanging out in the kitchen. They started pulling grapes from the fruit basket and popping them in their mouths. Isa reprimanded them. "Stop eating all that fruit. You'll ruin your appetite. Here, have some chocolate instead." She handed them a tablette of dark chocolate. They each took a square or two.

At each telling, my kids would giggle anew with delight; and that anecdote became a staple in the family repertoire of Why We Like France: chocolate instead of fruit before dinner??!!

When I lived in Paris, I lost any sweet tooth I may have had. Lunches or dinners were rarely followed by dessert, but I almost always had a little espresso and a square of dark chocolate. I'm not much of a chocolate connoisseur, but I found that even the thin Nestle or Cote d'Or square were silky and had just enough bite to make them interesting.

Here in the US, it's been a challenge to find the proper chocolate replacement. Lindt hasn't done the trick. I can't remember all the varieties I've tried, but I have thrown out many big bars of unacceptable chocolate. It's as if the manufacturers think that it has to be bitter or sweet. Besides, the bars are all too thick for my taste.

Yesterday at the local gourmet foods grocery store, at long last I found Ghiradelli chocolate in individually-wrapped thin squares. Yesss! I was thinking. The perfect dessert. I was recapturing, I hoped, a bit of Parisian life.

Then, at the check-out. The courteous cashier rang up the salmon, the cous-cous, the wine, the grapes. She held the chocolate out to me. "Did you want to keep the candy in your handbag, ma'am?"

Update:  this photo (via Nestle)  is of the chocolate that kept me happy in Paris.  Chocolate with bits of cocoa bean.  That's not candy, it's cuisine!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What French Women Know, Part 2

What do you get when you cross a francophile and a bibliophile? 

A lot of great books have been written by women attempting to explain the French mystique.  These are just the ones that I own, that I could find quickly. They are piled up in no particular order.  All but one written by non-French women.  All worth a read.  (Yes, that is Olivia deHavilland's book you see in the middle.  Written in the 1950s and still timely!)

It's not an exhaustive collection; and feel free to suggest your favorites if not included in the photo.  Off the top of my head, most notably missing are books I've lent to friends, such as Petite Anglaise, Paris Hangover, and everything by Diane Johnson.

Making any list is terrible because there will be unforgivable omissions.  I humbly apologize in advance (like fraulein Maria kissing the ground before the nuns walk by). 

Please go out to your local bookstore or library or favorite online book source, and enjoy these.

As I said, I'm a francophile and a bibliophile.  I wanted to pay tribute to an incredible posse of writers describing what French women know. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

All that glitters isn't goldfish. Or is it?

It's time for a break in the action. Definitely.

And as long as I'm living my life in a fishbowl these days, I figured it was about time to have a Special Someone in my life to share it with. My last Special Someone, alas, is still in Paris, hanging out with a woman named Sofia.

And since companionship-seeking is not the kind of activity I feel comfortable doing on line, I'm heading to town for some action.

Yup, I'm a-goin' to the pet store to buy me a goldfish.

You may remember my tales of Lou-Lou in Paris. I sadly bid her adieu when she was adopted during my final days in Paris by some lovely people. Afterward they emailed me periodic updates as to her health and general happiness. We've lost touch a bit, though. I don't know how Lou-Lou is these days. Or if Lou-Lou is these days.

But to paraphrase Camus, il faut imaginer Lou-Lou heureux.

Poisson rouge# 1 was Matisse. Poisson rouge #2 was Lou-Lou (named for Louise de Vilmorin).

Poisson rouge # 3 is yet to be named, and I am taking suggestions.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What French Women Know: Part One

Wow. French epistolary literature is beginning a new era. I bring you the first chapter: What French Women Know.

August 14, 2009

Dear Polly,

I finally found you! I'm an author with a new book coming out next month about French women ("What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind"). A few years ago, while I was writing the book and talking to countless French women, someone sent me a copy of a blog post about flirting in France. It was a personal anecdote. The post didn't have a source. I thought it was a perfect representation of a fleeting moment of French flirtation (experienced by an American), and I quoted it in my manuscript. When it got time for serious copy-editing, no one (not me, not my editor) could find the source of the anecdote, and it was deemed officially off-line. (This is a windy road getting to my point...bear w/me!) Then just last month I was in Paris, met [
name of Parisian blogger], she sent me a post she'd written about lingerie, which had a reference to a piece you'd written, which lead me to your blog, which led me to... the anecdote above.

All this to say, first, bonjour. Am very glad to have finally "met/found" you. I'd love to send you a galley of my new book, and also tip my hat to you in my blog. I finally got a new web site up ( which will soon have a blog, though -- full disclosure -- I'm not much of a blogger. It will probably be more random/impressionistic than journal-ish. Still, I'll find a place to salute you.

If you sent me your snail mail address, I'll make sure you get a galley asap. In the meantime, hope you're doing well wherever you are. Perhaps one day our paths will cross in France.


Debra (Ollivier)

Same day, reply. Blogger fawning over published author:

Hi Debra!

So good to hear from you. Your first book was kind of a bible of mine, so I may be a little biased when I read the next one. I think you won't mind... Sorry I never wrote you any fan mail -- I may have mentioned it in the blog.

I would love to read a galley proof of your book. So happy you have another one soon to be published
. [here I inserted my snail mail address].

And let me know if you need any help with your blog. They're not obvious, and I spent my first two years in Paris going from zero to sixty on the blog learning-curve. At least I now have an extra transferable skill.

Keep in touch.


A full two weeks later. Too late to correct galleys? Bound book (not galleys) received chez moi August 27, with concomitant outraged What?! You Forgot to Credit my Blog!? post published. After twenty-four hours attempting to calm my rattled nerves, I wrote this:

August 28, 2009:

Dear Victoria [publicist at G.P. Putnam; cc'd to Debra Ollivier]

Yesterday I received an advance copy of "What French Women Know," published by G.P. Putnam and with an anticipated sale date of September 3, 2009.

And while I was pleased to start reading it and found the book had great merit, I was startled and upset to find that a long passage of my original work was printed therein without permission or attribution. I am the proprietor of all copyright in a literary/artistic work entitled "Polly-Vous Francais?", which I began writing in May 2006.

The text on pages 25-26 of "What French Women Know" is identical to my copyrighted work. Since permission to use my work was not granted it therefore legally constitutes infringement of my rights.

In normal circumstances, an infringement of copyrighted material would bring demand that you immediately do one or more of the following.
1. remove all infringing content and notify me in writing that you have done so;
2. credit all infringing content to myself in a manner to be deemed appropriate;
3. immediately cease the use and distribution of copyrighted material;
4. undertake in writing to desist from using any of my copyrighted Work in future without prior written authority from me.

Not being litigious by nature, however, I would prefer as a first step to discuss with you and the editorial department at G.P. Putnam some positive and appropriate way to correct this ethical and legal wrong.

I await to hear from you at your earliest convenience, but by no later than close of business on Tuesday September 1, 2009.

Yours truly,

[Polly etc.]

Received Tuesday evening, September 1

Dear [Polly-Vous Francais]

I received your e-mail last Friday, August 28. It was my intention from the start to fully credit the passage that I used from your blog; as you know, I was unsuccessful at locating your blog in order to specifically attribute the passage at the time I was writing the book. I am pleased that I now have the opportunity to do so.

I have spoken with my publisher and they will include the name of your blog in future reprints of my book as well as in the paperback edition. So please let me know how you would like your blog credited; I will then pass that information on to my publisher. Thanks very much.


Debra Ollivier


Hmm. Of course, reprints and paperback rights are an interesting offer, assuming the book gets to that point. But what about the current audio-book versions, e-book versions, and foreign rights, such as China? Methinks we need to reconsider.

I've been so touched that friends, colleagues, and peers -- including my wonderful readers -- have sent kind words of support. Some have sent reviews to Amazon mentioning the copyright flap. Curiously, all of those reviews seem to have been yanked by unknown powers. Keep trying!

Meanwhile I find myself in a bizarre David vs. Goliath pseudo-battle that I never wanted or anticipated.

My question is now: am I sabotaging my own efforts to some day get my own book published if I make a stink out of this? If so, that's my loss, I guess. But I believe it's the right thing to do.

I'm no Donna Quixote, but I just call it as I see it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Top Ten Expat Blogs about Paris

This brightened my day! This week Polly-Vous Francais was named one of the top ten expat blogs about Paris in Arthur Frommer's online Budget Travel.

Budget Travel has always been one of my favorite resources. Now it is my number one!

Obsessed about Paris? Um, actually, I guess I am.

Un grand merci to Budget Travel -- and kudos to all on the list. There are so many great Paris blogs.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Please don't pick the flowers

In my recent peregrinations on the East Coast of the U.S., I came across this sign.

It struck me as funny. Because in the multitudes of delightful flowering gardens both public and private in Paris, I never saw signs admonishing passersby not to pick flowers. I guess it's simply understood: if the beauty of the landscape is there for all to admire, you just don't snap off a blossom to take home for your personal use.

Which brings me to a delicate confession. Perhaps an analogy? Or just a story.

A few years ago a Certain College Student Who Shall Remain Nameless had come home to Paris on summer break, with one of his pals from school. One morning, after the gents had spent the previous evening acquainting themselves with Parisian nightlife, I found near their sleeping quarters an exquisite, huge rose. Pale salmon, petals edged with deep pink. A prizewinning bloom.

When they finally awoke, I asked about the rose.

"Um, I don't remember exactly where we got it," said my darling miscreant. "I think it was some garden near the Eiffel Tower."

Aghast. I was aghast. But I held my composure. "Sweetie, I said, "there are so many gorgeous flowers growing all over Paris. No one picks the flowers. It's just not done."

"But it was in a spot where no one would really notice," he said. "I didn't think anyone would mind. It was just one flower, and it smelled great!"

"I know," I replied. "But that's not the point. I don't even need to say the classic 'if everyone did this' what the consequences would be. The point is that someone else -- whether a professional gardener or some little old lady -- spent a lot of time cultivating that rose. It belongs to that person, who lovingly grew that flower so that the the rest of the world could enjoy it."

"So," I concluded my sermon, "I know you won't ever EVER do this again. But if some time you lose your senses and commit such an egregious mistake again, please do me one favor."

"Okay," he said. He seemed genuinely contrite.

"Please promise me that if someone ever catches you in the unforgivable act of snatching a flower from a garden, you'll make up a really convincing Parisian-style story. Fabricate a clever story and tell them you simply had to have it to win the heart of a beautiful girl you were in love with. Anything. Just don't try to defend your right to take a flower because you thought no one would notice or care."

I turned and walked away to fix some coffee, shaking my head at how much I'd learned in Paris.
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