August in Paris & I Want to Stay Here

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:13 am -

It’s August when well-to-do Parisians flee the city like lemmings, leaving the other critters behind. But for the past eighteen years, I’ve opted to stay here. To be truthful, August is my favorite month in the City of Light; it’s the one when you can veg out and, yes, restaurants are open. Honest.

Even though my husband and I owned a wonderful house in Provence, which was situated in the midst of the vines—with a pool and all—I’d rent it out during July and August and hightail it to Paris. I didn’t like the crowds or having to place an order for the next day’s bread unless I planned to be in town at 7 heures précises. If I wanted the International Herald Tribune, it had to be ordered since they were snapped up by all the Anglophones who were passing through. There were simply too many tourists, and trying to go around a caravan of trailers (loaded to the gills with more equipment than you can imagine) lost its charm.

When we bought our house, it wasn’t in a chi-chi area. There was one design store and next to nothing for those hunting for bling. A butcher selling horsemeat didn’t qualify.

But after it was discovered, Vaison-la-Romaine assumed the characteristics of anything but a quiet village. Thank you Patricia Wells for writing At Home In Provence and so many others books that were researched or written from her mas overlooking the town.

Our area of the Vaucluse became so crowded that locals stopped going to the Tuesday market. You’d have to watch out for your feet and shoulders, and wrap yourself around the sack of fruit you had purchased since it would invariably end up squished in the crowds. Ah, welcome, you busloads of tourists, and after the Tour de France added to Mont Ventoux’s fame (did you see Lance Armstrong?), the area was on engraved the map of must-see places in France. So much for the summery charm of Provence.

As a result, the area became increasingly chic, so if we rented during the house high season, we could recoup part of the cost of running our country digs that were high akin to dumping euros into the ocean. Being a city girl, dealing with a septic tank was nothing I’d ever experienced and could pass on the privilege, merci.

My husband, who died three years ago, hated leaving Seguret no matter the season. He wanted to watch fruits of his labor grow in the potager. Victor poured over seed catalogues every winter. Each year, he’d become more ambitious as he spent hours squatting on a stool in this plot of land, placing each seed in the earth with slide rule precision.

He spent hours with neighbors and farmers from the area discussing what would grow best. It was Victor’s garden. He came by this passion naturally, maybe genetically. Victor was a man of the land and felt if you couldn’t get your hands dirty, you were missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. He was born and raised in Italy and constantly recounted his childhood memories of climbing up and down the stairs next to where he lived on the Italian Mediterranean. The stairwell was surrounded by fig trees. He could as a boy watch figs grow—imagine that—for hours, so as a man it made sense for him to watch zucchini grow.

Good for him, but the garden was mine to weed and to water—and why the hell didn’t the automatic water system shoot water where it was supposed to go rather than shooting it elsewhere? Then there were those zucchini. I’ll spare you the gory details about what you do with a vegetable that grows so large overnight that it could be used for a baseball bat and as abundantly as kudzu.

I was much more pragmatic. I loved entertaining in the South. But there were some days when I felt as if I were running a hotel and conducted more than my share of wine tours though the Côtes du Rhône. In addition, just as I sold the house, it was only then that FranceTel took the leap and installed lines so people could connect computers via DSL rather than being forced to use dial-up modems that were so slow (and took multiple attempts) that I could do the laundry while waiting to hear, “You’ve got mail.”

I grew up in an apartment and didn’t love my summer forays to girls’ camps where we slept in tents and had to walk (for what seemed like forever) to the cabin with toilets and showers. Plus, there were those ever so unexpected encounters with snakes and other animals that crawled in the night. When we finished renovating, expanding, and landscaping our perfect house in the vines, I couldn’t believe there were critters crawling in the night, and dear Kitty, whom I mourn each day, would present us with snakes. Perhaps I loved her more when she became a city cat.

If you think Paris is hot in the summer, double that when you think of Provence—and throw in the wind. Depending on where you are and whether or not the mistral is blowing, you can broil. It’s not that I don’t love the area; I do. It’s simply that I prefer to visit when there are fewer people on the roads and vying for, well, everything.

If anyone tells you Paris closes during the month of August, that’s nonsense. Yes, “my” bakery will shut down and I’ll simply have to walk a block further if I’m craving a croissant in the morning. Or, they have terrific frozen ones (don’t tell) at Picard. They’re open during August (even on Sunday) and if it’s a hot day, spending time in one of their stores is a great way to lower your body temperature. It’s even cooler than the movies with their air conditioning—and you don’t have to buy anything.

One of the things I love about being in Paris during August is that everyone who is here is very much more laid back than when business and work are in full gear. Gatherings happen spontaneously and people you might never have met appear to turn up where you least expect to find them.

How do you feel about being in Paris during August or any big city where people (if they can afford it) take off for the country?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Where is Home?

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:12 am -

When I ask the question Where is home, I’m not referring to where you were born. Or where you grew up or even graduated from high school. And, yes, home is where the heart is—or, as Robert Frost taught us—“home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But so much more comes into play and the equation.

Perhaps people who have always lived in the same place have an advantage over others who’ve taken to the road. Sure, there are bound to be changes, but they tend to be subtler—or perhaps, more gradual than they are after you’ve been absent and haven’t been privy the (for better or worse) changes.

They may move away—to college, on a business assignment and even for romance or a job. But you know it’s transient and you’ll return. You may even venture beyond your comfort zone. But it’s always in the back of your mind that it’s not a question if you’ll return home, but when. Whether or not you do, is something else. But the thought gives you solace, doesn’t it?

Others, often referred to as “hired guns” by headhunters, go where the job is, do it and keep on going to the next assignment. People who’ve opted to join the military move frequently, and packing is a way of life. Their friends tend to be ones they encounter on different assignments. Ditto for those who sign up for the Foreign Service. But, when queried, the majority of them will have a precise place in their minds about where they’re going to retire.

But then there’s the real expat. I keep wondering whether or not there’s an invisible line that, once crossed, there’s no going back cannot be crossed again, except for serious family reasons such as taking care of elderly parents. And once that’s done, they return “home.”

At dinner the other night, this was a big topic of conversation. One woman moved to Paris because she loved France. Twenty-five years later she’s still here and working as the Director of Communications at an internet company. She ultimately married and divorced a French man. Deborah now has a 14-year-old daughter, who’d left the previous day to visit her grandparents in Southern California. We all agreed the weather in that part of the world is a whole lot more seductive than Paris. Why doesn’t she move “home”?

After considerable discussion, she said she welcomes going back once a year, enjoys seeing family and falling into the sand and surf groove. But when it comes to living and life, she’s become Parisian. Her daughter has too because after ten days of going to the beach and hanging out with contemporaries, even she is bored—and it’s not because her English isn’t fluent. She has grown up with a different frame of reference.

Deborah elaborated that when she goes to California, she says she’s going home because that’s where her family lives. But even they put it into perspective, when they assured her she should stay in France because that’s where she belongs and it’s her home.

Another woman said she really hasn’t lived in the U.S. since she was in her early 20s. Even though she returns frequently for work, she no longer really understands the culture. Neither woman could envision herself moving back permanently although both agreed the Paris expat community plays major roles in their lives.

Jim Haynes, who’s known for his Sunday night dinners that attract people from all over the world, rarely leaves Paris unless it’s to attend the Edinburgh Festival or other book and arts festivals in the E.U. He doesn’t make frequent pilgrimages to Louisiana where he was born. Jim doesn’t want for friends or meeting new people since they gravitate to his place.

If you attend one of his soirées, it’s not unusual to encounter lots of tourists who are passing through Paris, plus those who’ve chosen to live places other than their home country, many of whom have opted for Paris.

The reality is that no one ever totally becomes the nationality of the country they adopt even if their language fluency is 100% perfect and they’re totally assimilated into the culture. People still maintain their native identity despite any outward adaptations they may have made.

No matter how long you live in a place, there’s nothing like talking “shorthand” with someone who understands your language, the nuances and how to say something so fast that there’s zero need for a translator. It’s essentially subliminal and what the hell. Jane and I just had a drink and it was akin to bingo. She and Olivier are in the process of moving their chicer than incredible cooking school to three-story digs overlooking the Seine. Both of them are excited but there’s nothing like a construction project to make anyone nervous.

After our glass of wine, I realized my construction terminology is now in French rather than English. The last three properties I’ve renovated have been in France. Don’t get me wrong; I have no illusions of being French. It’s simply my frame of reference has changed—and how. It’s symptomatic of where my head is … for better or worse and if I need a plumber.

After polling some expats, the best answer I received about how to define what is home came down to one word: “homesick.” Tirumalai said, “When I first left my native country, I’d get homesick in my adoptive country after visiting my native country. After living here for several years, I found the situation reversed. I became homesick for my adoptive country while visiting my native country. That was the defining moment for me.”

No matter where I go, I find France is always part of my psyche and how I view situations. It’s not that I can’t be comfortable in the U.S. I can be and don’t feel completely out of place. On the other hand, I’m not completely comfortable anywhere and don’t expect to ever be 100% integrated. I like to rationalize it’s because my mind is always being challenged which I think is positive. But, not everyone agrees, and I’ve even been criticized for being too much of a travel junkie.

I’m saying it’s not the easiest life, but it’s the life I have chosen. If you have similar feelings, how do you manage? Let us know at Bonjour Paris.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Falling in Love Again

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:11 am -

It’s not unusual for people to fall in and out of love. Isn’t it wonderful when a relationship goes on forever and a couple feels the same fervor for one another the day they die as they day they met.

It’s not all that usual. Wouldn’t it be nice? But falling in love with a city or a place— isn’t that something else? The other night I had an epiphany. After wondering whether or not Paris was still my true passion, I came to the realization that it is, and it’s OK to let a place (or a person) get on your nerves, and still know it’s an integral part of your heart and soul.

Life doesn’t always go swimmingly wherever you happen to be. We take ourselves with us, and depending on the time and the moment, that’s not always the lightest load to lift and carry.

There are the day-to-day challenges that comprise—and sometimes compromise—life. Did the check clear, much less arrive? Is the meeting you’ve been waiting to happen actually going to take place? Why is there yet another strike when I can’t get from here to there?

Then there are the joys of finding yourself without Internet, and after calling the cable company numerous times (and being charged for the pleasure of doing so) being told it’s your modem and no one else’s and a technician will be available next week for an on-site visit and will repair the problem.

You sit back, try not to scream and tell yourself this would never happen back home. But of course the very same thing happened when I was last in Washington, DC, and my Blackberry didn’t get a signal and I surmised we were under nuclear attack.

The Internet amazingly restarted all by itself (and that includes telephones, thank you very much). When I called the cable company to cancel the technician’s visit and informed “technical support” that the entire building was sans Internet, the person on the phone didn’t even bother to respond. Oh well, big deal and (in my case) the mega-crisis was over.

But being disenchanted with Paris – that’s something else. Even though the Bonjour Paris mantra is that people shouldn’t come here for the weather, this month’s heat alternating with torrential downpours can leave you feeling out of sorts. One can’t take it personally—although perhaps Sarkozy did when the skies opened on his 14 Juillet parade. Were the weather gods trying to tell the President of the République something? No one with half a heart could help but feel compassion for the soldiers who marched down the Champs-Élysées without visible grimaces.

There was a business networking party on one of the boats on a quai of the Seine. I walked to it and was greeted by a sea of totally unfamiliar faces. People from all over were in attendance. Lord knows how many countries were represented. But no matter the attendees’ native language, everyone spoke French and English. People were based in Paris from anywhere from three years until forever. More than one person said they came to Paris on a year’s assignment more than 10-20-30 years later and had zero intention of ever leaving.

Even though the French are supposed to be unfriendly (sic), people were delighted to meet and greet. Not one person failed to comment on the beauty of the city and we all waved to everyone on the bâteaux that floated by.

I left at nearly 11 pm. Rather than heading up to the sidewalk, I walked along the quai.There were so many couples celebrating the evening. Some were nearly making love and who cared?

There were a few clochards (bag people). In some situations, I would have felt threatened and walked in a more protected area. In many places, I would have jumped into a cab. Rather, I ended up taking the Métro and exited at my usual stop.

Even though it was past midnight, I didn’t want the evening to end. I walked along Bv. Montparnasse and ended up at one of my favorite bars, The Rosebud. Upon walking in and sitting at the bar, Dominique shook my hand and looked at me quizzically and asked, “Irish déca”? I nodded yes. I immediately realized it had been more than six months since my last visit and my last decaf Irish coffee and I am by no means one of their only clients, but Dominique remembered. The place is packed with regulars, many of whom are from the neighborhood. It’s rare you’ll find many Americans, which doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t speak English.

Upon leaving, I realized I’d come home. I’m no chicken but there aren’t many places I’d feel secure walking home alone without looking in front of me and behind me. During the seven minutes it took me to wend my way to my apartment, I saw no one after crossing Bv. Montparnasse. Those few minutes gave me the chance to realize I’d been seduced by Paris again. I will always travel and revel in it. But, I wonder whether or not I will ever leave—except feet first.

How many people feel this way about where they live? Do you?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Summer Cheap & Free Paris

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:10 am -

Okay, you’re coming to Paris. Even if you have lots of euros, this is the time of the year when you don’t necessarily have to shell them out. Actually, it’s fun to see how few you can spend and still have a terrific time. Summertime is when the living is easier, and even though Parisian natives allegedly get up and go to the country, that’s not the case for everyone.

Buy a copy of Pariscope at any news kiosk even if you aren’t fluent in French: you’ll be able to figure it out (just in case, take a look at how to read it).  It’s published each Wednesday and lists events taking place in Paris that cost next to nothing in many cases.

To do:

Walk and walk some more. That means investing in some comfortable shoes. Please don’t wear them to a nice restaurant or you will look like a tourist.

Rent a bike.  They’re inexpensive and a Vélib’ will get you from here to there without too much trauma or drama. The first time I rode one, my heart was in the pit of my stomach.  I quickly acclimated and loved being able to go a few blocks, park the bike, stop and do whatever, then pick up another and continue to my next destination.  In order not to run up extra fees, never keep a bike more than 30 minutes. Important: do remember priority to the right is the rule of the road. If you’re a chicken (or a correctly cautious rider), a bike helmet is in order. The hell with chic and let’s hear it for safe and sound.

Eats:

Invest in a cheap tablecloth, sheet or whatever and picnic to your hearts’ delight. Sandwiches can be purchased in most grocery stores, pre-made salads and so much more. There’s always a corkscrew in my bag. Need I say more?

Do your restaurant eating at lunchtime when there are prix fixe menus that are veritable bargains.

Do you love to dance?  Head to the Seine

If so, you’ll be in heaven as you join the throngs of people on the quai Saint-Bernard and practice your tango, salsa, rock & roll (or whatever). Don’t feel you have to come as a couple. There are lots of singles and who knows, you may meet your true love—well, at least for the evening. The dancing caters to all levels of experts. Expect to encounter some stars who will steal the show. Don’t be intimidated. More than few participants have two left feet.

If you’re a concert-goer, check out musical performances that take place throughout the city when the weather is nice.  Every weekend (and frequently during the week) you can hear music free at a park’s gazebo. My favorites take place in the Luxembourg Gardens because it’s a minute from my apartment. But there are parks all over Paris.

Some performances are definitely better than others, but hey, even you can get in the spirit while listening to a school’s marching band.  It may not be Mozart or a noted string quartet, but those performances take place as well.

Paris’s City Hall has listed many events taking place this summer. There are outdoor movies, film and jazz festivals, classical music performances, art festivals and of course, there’s the Paris Plage.  Even if you didn’t anticipate coming to Paris to survey a man-made beach, it’s worth doing.  It may not be St-Tropez but you’ll see people at their best and at their worse—and watching the children frolic is always a pleasure.  I won’t mention all of the lovers…

During the summer, free readings (please buy a book and don’t bring your copy from Amazon expecting the author to sign it) at bookstores appear to slow down. Some are taking place at Shakespeare & Co. Pick up a copy of FUSAC (it’s a magazine, filled with ads and more); it will have announcements about what’s taking place in Paris.

Don’t miss the concerts at Radio France.  They may cost a few euros but some of the performances are spectacular and the auditoriums are air-conditioned.

Duck into churches even if you’re not looking for religion and/or inspiration. Architecture is free and some stained glass windows can take anyone’s breath away. Plus, you may find that someone’s rehearsing on the church’s organ.

Every Sunday at noon, there is music and dancing at the bottom of rue Mouffetard; free, fun and fabulous.

When you’re scanning one of the magazines, you may see plays announced where the public is invited for free. Again, the performers appreciate if you drop something (called cash) in the hat at the end of the evening.

Tour the city using only one metro/bus ticket. The #29 bus begins at the historic Gare St-Lazare, glides by the Place des Vosges, the Opéra Garnier and ends at the Bastille Opera. You might not have someone telling you in one of five languages precisely what you’re seeing but what do you expect for less than $2?

Bonjour Paris readers already know which Paris museums are free and there’s no charge for looking at the Eiffel Tower.

I’ve listed just some cheap or free events. I’m too busy sitting at a café watching the world go by which, in my mind, is some of the best theater in the world.

These are tips for Paris, but in reality, most big cities in the US and the E.U., stage summer festivals.  All it takes is some research.

If you can add any and all things I’ve missed, and there are tons, please do.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Going Green in the City of Light

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:08 am -

Most people are all for going green until it costs them something or limits their freedom, merci beaucoup. Yes, here’s to a more sustainable environment—but what’s the price we’ll have to pay.

For a third year now, National Geographic has assembled a Green Guide to make living a more environmentally aware life easier and to help create some ways of achieving it. With GlobeScan, the Geographic is looking to develop an international research approach to measure and monitor consumer progress towards environmentally sustainable consumption. Sounds good? Sounds right? You bet and the 2006 carbon dioxide emissions results prove that the poorer the country, the less impact it has on the environment.  Not surprising: the poor have less—and less to waste, to burn or to throw away.

Most developed countries are recycling glass and paper, promoting alternative forms of energy, trying to cut down on water usage, utilizing recyclable building and storage materials, and screwing in light bulbs that are longer lasting and consume less energy.  But this is just the beginning.  We need to utilize cleaning materials that are ecologically friendly and not throw out things because they’ve been used once, substitute paper or cotton for plastic and use “green” products because we care about future.

But living a green life—even a pale shade of green life—isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to us, (especially Americans) any more. Europeans have always been more energy conscious since electricity is expensive and why pay for lights and heat that aren’t needed? Until relatively recently, many of my French friends didn’t have dishwashers and would hang just-washed clothes outside or use an indoor clothesline. Most Europeans drive smaller cars. It’s not only a question of gas but also finding a parking space.

Now, I should study the label on every detergent I buy. Do I even know if the chemicals in this product or that are harmful?  Where am I supposed to store the dead batteries and the defunct smoke detector and all the other dangerous junk (who knew it was dangerous?) before I throw them out? And where did I put all that stuff, anyway.

Some may have hybrid cars, use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, but other people can’t adopt the entire kit and caboodle—and hybrids still use gasoline and only gasoline over 40 miles per hour. As much as I chastise myself over my carbon footprint, I’m not going to stop traveling by plane. Nor am I going to unplug my modems each night to save some electricity. I will wear a sweater when the apartment’s temperature is colder than I like and even a pair of socks or furry slippers in the house. So I’m pale green at best.

And now there’s a huge hoopla in Paris courtesy of Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. First, he narrowed some major streets by adding bike lanes. He was a big proponent of closing off others and turning them into pedestrian walkways. Many people loved it while some vendors are still cursing this move has ruined businesses.

When the mayor mandated in 2002 that Paris was going to have a plage (beach) for four weeks on the Right bank of the Seine, some drivers may not have been happy, but figured that not everyone could go to the country so they’d grin and bear it.

But now, the Mayor is adamant that he wants to close the Left Bank expressway that goes from the Musée d’Orsay to near the Eiffel Tower. That’s a total of 1.2 miles. Paris’s City Council will vote on the ban this July and, if passed, that part of the city will have a new look and feel in 2012 when there would be 35 acres of new cafés, parks, permanent foot and bike paths, sports facilities and floating islands complete with palm trees. Parisians would be able to pretend they were someplace exotic—if they’re not seeing red.

Taxi drivers and people who use the Quai de Branly are ballistic. Closing this area would displace approximately 30,000 cars each day. It’s been the fastest way to get from here to there. Here’s an example. A friend staying in the 11e arrondissement had an appointment with a doctor in the 16e—that is, point A and point B are both on the Right Bank.  The métro was having a problem, so he grabbed a cab.  The driver asked which way he wanted to go.  He said, take the Left Bank then cross the river again. The driver, from Senegal, beamed, saying, “You really know Paris, don’t you?”  The trip took twelve minutes—and the driver only ran one light.

Bonjour Paris readers were polled about closing the road by the river. Some think this will be great and a boon to tourism and make the city more livable. Others are more than annoyed, saying that traffic is already a mess in Paris and this will only exacerbate the problem. Not everyone agrees you don’t need a car in Paris, especially if they’re in a service business and don’t want to be dragging things on the métro or waiting for buses. Many say they don’t live near a convenient métro and don’t want to be jam-packed in with other riders.

David Tussman, a frequent Paris visitor, who lives in Berkeley, CA, said, “This is a fabulous idea. How many people really need to DRIVE in Paris? Tearing down the Embarcadero freeway in San Francisco after the earthquake in 1989 totally transformed the waterfront and remade the city. The area along the Seine is horrific now with all the traffic and this will be a gigantic change for the better.”

Some Bonjour Paris readers think Delanoë should have his head examined. What do you think? Is this too much a theme-park notion or really a green idea?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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