Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hallucinoscope at the Eiffel Tower

What, the Eiffel Tower isn't enough of an eyeful already?  It certainly blows me away every time I see it even from a distance, much less up close and personal.  Never fails to take my breath away.

Be that as it may, for those who might have a jaded, been-there-done-that feeling about la Tour Eiffel, there is a new way of experiencing its majesty between now and the end of November:  Hallucinoscope!

Hallucinoscope is a new virtual-reality experience, created by magicien Gerard Majax, available (to anyone over 6 years old) on the 1er etage of the Eiffel Tower.  Equipped with a low-tech helmet and a mirror, apparently you get the illusion that you are walking upside down on the beams and arches of the tower.

The hallucination-moment is free -- but of course you have to pay the 20€ to get to the first level.

Methinks I'll stick with the view from the Trocadero.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Winter Hour

This weekend -- Sunday, to be precise -- is when France changes its clocks for the transition from what the US calls Daylight Saving.  In other words, France will "fall back" -- move the clocks back one hour -- on Saturday night.  Passage a l'heure d'hiver, it is called. 

In France, most of the population is on vacances de la Toussaint. Time to be away on school holiday, or to visit the cemeteries with chrysanthemums for the graves of the departed.

In the States this weekend, focus is on Hallowe'en and the World Series. We'll move our clocks back next week, on November 7.

So for this week, as every year, the time difference between France and the US East Coast will be 5 hours instead of the usual 6.  Just to keep us all on our toes!

Photo:  Le defenseur du temps, via Flickr.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Circus at Ile Seguin

Ile Seguin has always been a source of fascination to me. Located in the Seine next to Paris, just off of Boulogne-Billancourt, it was known for years as the location of the iconic Renault factory.

Then the factory was demolished, and there was talk of Francois Pinault establishing a museum there (fell through) then of relocating the American University of Paris to part of the island, to consolidate its campus, with urban housing. Then, in an about-face, it seemed decided that it would become a cultural center.

Latest news is that the Cirque du Soleil will make its home on the island, along with a 15-hall Pathé multiplex cinema.

Such a dynamic and prime location. Can't wait to see what finally unfolds.

Photo credit: Pierre Giron Photographies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Protests in France

1. Certainly no one has missed news of the current strikes and protests in France over pension reform.  Make no mistake about it -- the massive protests are real.  In a few locations, cars have been overturned.  One lycée torched, and burned to the ground.  All this makes for tremendous and powerful headline news.

And yet.  Life goes on.  It is a major upheaval, and travelers' plans cannot be 100% certain. The disruption of daily life certainly can't be underestimated. But it is unclear to me whether any of the limited violent activity at the schools originates with the students or with others who are simply hell-bent on joining in any protests:  les casseurs.

One thing is for sure.  Business people -- heck, everyday people -- are being inconvenienced. But, honestly, police barricades are a norm of Paris life, for whatever reason.  So, c'mon, folks:  this ain't French Armageddon. 

In Paris, the RATP forecasts normal service.  The SNCF and the airports have traffic reduced by about 25%. There are potential gasoline shortages, etc.  Annoyance, yes.  Inconvenience,  yes.  Life goes on anyway,  yes.

2.  Concerned about some alarming news reports yesterday, I called my daughter, who is working as a language assistant in a lycée in Provence.  "How's it going?" I asked, unnerved.  No big news -- she mostly detailed her efforts to get internet service at her shared apartment inside the lycée. Bureaucracy and telecommunications woes. The regular.  "But -- how about the protests?" I pressed.

"Yeah, there were some blockades last week -- they blocked the entrance to the school with dumpsters.  And it's been weird, with I-don't-know-who setting off Molotov cocktails sometimes. Bizarre. Oh gawd, there's one exploding now.  Well, Mom, I gotta run -- have to make a presentation for my class."

To me, this says it all.  Protests are happening. Noise is happening. Noise. Sure, things aren't as smooth as might be hoped, but life goes on. Work goes on.  Classes to attend.  Dinners to prepare.  Vernissages, movies, activities to enjoy.  Everyone makes do.  But that angle doesn't make headline news, does it?

3.  This all reminded me of my arrival in Paris in 2006.  There were protests then, too.  This blog was only a twinkle in my eye at the time, but here is the missive I wrote about those supposed "riots" which led me to create this here blog:

April 1, 2006-- Last night I was dining at the Cafe de la Paix (how ironic), when suddenly  dozens of police squads showed up, flashing blue lights, guys with helmets and plastic shields.  No, they weren't there to take me away(!), but instead to barricade the boulevard des Capucines so that the soon-to-be arriving protesters could march down the street.  It was about 10:30 or 11 pm, so fortunately we were through dining.  Because of the manif (protest), my dinner companion was not able to take a cab back to Ile St.  Louis, and so -- horrors!-- had to take the metro.

The gendarmes wouldn't let me enter the street there at place de l'Opera (silly -- so I just walked around the corner and got in that way).  And then I strolled home happily down the center of a very quiet boulevard with no traffic.)

Then I got back to my cozy pied a terre and kicked off my high heels.  About five minutes later I heard the approaching crowds chanting and shouting.  Peering out my kitchen window, I saw the throngs marching down boulevard de la Madeleine, filling a whole city block or two (or more?) streaming past my front door at place de la Madeleine.  The feeling was one of momentum and energy and not at all of anger or fear. They were waving banners and shouting as they headed around the corner to the Elysee Palace.  I would have gone down to the street to watch, but actually had a better view from my lofty perch. Mostly I didn't budge from the fear that, if I left my 7th floor apartment, by the time I got to street level the action might have all passed me by.  It felt like being part of a Victor Hugo script.  Huge adrenaline rush!

(Anway, the most angry mob of Parisians I've seen all week was the thousands of cars backed up at place de la Madeleine at rush hour on Wednesday... because the cops blocked the roads for -- ta-dah! -- Condoleeza Rice to get to the Elysee Palace for her nanosecond visit with Chirac.  You've never heard such klaxons, such muttering later in the supermarches ("Yeah, I hear she even traveled from the airport in an American car..." "I bet it was 'super-blindee' [armored vehicle] -- she'll need it after making everyone so pissed...")
I bet somehow the American press didn't pick up on THAT little Parisian police barricade!)
I remember distinctly at the time receiving worried emails from family and friends asking if I was all right, if I was safe. The media was reporting calamitous activity!   I couldn't afford to actually laugh at their worries, but tried nevertheless to reassure them that life in France did not equal what they saw or read in the news.

4. Not currently in France, I don't have eyewitness observations about the reform protests and their ramifications.  But I do check my Facebook page, check status of my friends in France, skype with them. Most are at max griping about transportation, either slow-downs in public transport, lines at the gas station, or worries about being able to leave on vacation as scheduled.  Hmmm, not exactly what I would call The End of Life as We Know It.    

School vacations for la Toussaint in France begin this Friday.  I'm waiting to see how that affects the protest activity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

France-Shaped Cheese Board

Why didn't I think of this?  I spotted one of these France-shaped cheese boards in the museum shop yesterday.  Naturally it's by Laguiole, one of my favorite French cutlery companies.  (Opinel being the only other French cutlery company I know off hand.  Are there others?)  Not only is it shaped like la Belle France, but it also has the names of some of the more famous cheeses carved in their respective regions on the map.

Laguiole is sooo very French, as I discovered at home. 

But did you know that the company also sells champagne sabers? Yours for only 290 euros.  Now there's a niche market.

If you're not the saber-rattling type, how about a Johnny Hallyday knife?

Never too soon to start holiday shopping!
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