More Reasons to Live in Paris

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:20 am -

Living in Paris isn’t for everyone. Some simply aren’t big city folks and never will be.  They love the country or small towns, and why should I try to convert them?  But living here in Paris suits the way I like to live, which I admit isn’t as efficiently as I’d like. Each week is filled with surprises or, in a really good week, serendipity.

If you’re not a member of the establishment and don’t have to turn up here and there with complete precision, so many things simply seem to happen. And if you’re someone like me, you live in total amazement when they do.

An example from two days ago: I was crossing Bv. Montparnasse and bumped (literally) into an old friend whom I’d wanted to see, and we hadn’t made it happen. Jean-Marc and his wife have been traveling, and coordinating schedules appeared to be impossible. To make a long story short, we ended up having a coffee (and then a glass of wine) at La Rotonde.

Even though it was cold, we sat outside (meaning on the sidewalk) under space heaters. The sun felt wonderful. The smell of cigarettes didn’t, but c’est la vie. Most importantly, Jean-Marc and I had a fast-forward conversation in Franglais about what had transpired in our lives since our last dinner—too long ago. We made a dinner date and we’ll see if it actually occurs because he’s in the midst of a project and one never knows.

This is one example of how France has changed. When my husband and I moved to Paris (May 1, 1988), dinner invitations were issued a month in advance and if a last-minute trip came up, the hostess would express discontent that her seating plan would be ruined, and why couldn’t Victor postpone the meeting? The concept that we were in Paris because of his company, and it had first dibs on his time, was an enigma to her.

Another event of the week. I called my usual hairdresser, and no one answered the phone. Assuming the number had been changed, I hotfooted it there to beg someone to take compassion and mask some of the traces of aging. The salon was closed and locked tight. There wasn’t even a note on the door. When I walked by the next day, ditto.

Desperate, I gave my business to a hairdresser who’d been in the same place for the past 20 years, but I’d always bypassed the place because the salon has the look and feel that it caters to older women. All the people working there were lovely and even though I’m beginning to think that Parisians are permanently attached to their iPhones, iPods and other mobile devices, everyone in the salon was that fascinated I was reading “Murder in Passy” on my Kindle. Plus, that I could make the typeface really big…but let’s not go there.

Another happening. I’m not big for meet & greet meetings, but a dear friend insisted I attend one I probably would have missed if I hadn’t been coerced. Five women piled into a car and off we went to the Marais. With the exception of one, none of us were tourists, which may be the reason we were crazy enough to be in a car.

Naturally, there weren’t any real parking spaces but one space had potential. After jockeying in and out for about ten minutes, we were about to give up, until the former New Yorker in the crew decided to inspect the car in front of us – assuming it would be locked.  Miracles of miracles it wasn’t. Recognizing we had little to few options, I hopped in, released the brake and we made our car fit and ran like hell hoping the police wouldn’t arrest five women who were possibly up to no good. As we were making our get-away, my business cards fell out of my coat, which only added to the Marx Brothers farce of what has been termed the “car pushers.”

After the meeting, I found myself in the Place des Vosges. It was nearly midnight (OK, some of us had stopped for dinner) and I realized this is where I’d begun my life in Paris when we rented an apartment there. It’s not that I haven’t frequented the square many times in subsequent years, but never alone late at night. Well, I wasn’t alone. Reynaud and I became fast friends and I wanted to take him home. But, the owner of this eight-month-old fuzzy white quasi-poodle wasn’t d’accord. But I like to think Reynaud liked running around the Place with me as much as I liked exercising with him. My sojourn there recalled so many memories.

The following night, I ended up listening to Joan Nathan read from her most recent book, “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous.” This isn’t a simple cookbook, but a compendium of some of Joan’s research about the evolution of Jewish cooking in France. Getting home was so easy: a fast ride and the bus let me out at a stop two minutes away from my apartment door.

So many people question me about why I love living in Paris. I could and have talked about the city’s architecture, its food, bread and wine and all of the things that attract people to the City of Light.

But for me, its real draw is the freedom I feel here and not needing a car (even if pushing one every once in a while is fun) or unlimited funds to make things happen. That might be true in Manhattan, but after a few days there, I find the density and the noise more than I would be comfortable living with on a full-time basis and want to go someplace that feels less frenetic. And in Manhattan, unlimited funds will let you just about get by.

The weather in Paris often leaves à désirer, but it’s not so hot (or maybe too hot) everywhere else I’ve been in recent years. It’s just proof, I guess, that wonderful Paris is real, not a fantasy. I’m alive, living, not dreaming, not at all.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Can You Guess Which is the Most Frequently Asked Travel Question?

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:19 am -

Let’s face it: When people travel to foreign countries (most especially if it’s for the first time), they can ask a lot of dumb questions. With the caveat that there’s no such thing as a truly dumb question, here are some that can’t help but make you laugh. And every one has appeared in the Bonjour Paris mailbox.

Bonjour Paris ran a mini-contest on its Facebook page asking members to guess which question is the most frequently asked.

Here are some of the questions we’ve received over the years:

- Can you give me the names of five hotels on the Left Bank that cost less than $100 per night and are lovely? Naturally, no one else should know about them.

- Should we stay on the Right or Left Bank? What’s the difference?

- Questions about restaurants are popular. Which are the least expensive? The best? Will I have to eat snails?

- Can you get a reservation for me at Frenchie tonight? The answer is no.

- Can I use my credit card in France?

- How much money should I bring?

- Do stores and restaurants accept dollars? Ditto for taxi drivers. Are taxis safe? Are metros and buses safe?

- Where’s the closest ATM?

- What are the rules and regulations about tipping?

- Does everyone in France speak English?

- When is the best time to visit?

- If someone is planning a trip in August, will all of the restaurants be closed? That question is frequently asked when there’s a holiday.

- Is it safe to drink the tap water?

- What days are the museums open and which ones are free?

- One Bonjour Paris reader (merci, M. Raspail) suggested the most frequently-asked question was about where to meet women. Ah hum. But, don’t think women don’t ask where to meet men. They do and the Bonjour Paris staff has a list of places and things to do where they might encounter the love of their life – even if it’s short-term.

- Can you use an American hair straightener or hair dryer without an adapter? What type of adaptors are required for computers and other appliances?

- Will my cell phone work? — and all of the other mobile devices that people carry these days. That’s a question that only your local provider can answer with certainty.

- Is it safe to come to Paris alone?

- It’s not unheard of for people to ask plumbing-related questions. No, you don’t have to worry about being confronted with turkish toilets in most places in Paris.

- Where is the best chocolate & pastry shop?

- Is there an app for that? [Thank you Kathy ;-) ].

Cindy Shoemaker won the prize for the most frequently asked question: “What’s the weather like and what kind of clothes should I pack?” Bingo!

What Cindy didn’t add is that people ask this question for two years out. If I had a crystal weather ball, I’d be richer than rich. Even though I consult the forecast every day, the weather in France rarely cooperates. I usually stick my head out of the window before deciding what to wear. And, frequently, there are days when people are exposed to four seasons.

Clearly, there are questions people have been hankering to ask and have been too shy. Feel free to post them at the end of this article.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

The French Paradox

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:18 am -

When it comes to the French, there are so many paradoxes—many of which I’ll never understand—nor am I sure I’m supposed to. That’s one of France’s appealing qualities. But, some things will remain mysteries and such is the world, which is more difficult to explain these days.

This article is dedicated to my French internist, who’s the best of the best. Call her, make an appointment and she’ll see you as soon as possible. If it’s an emergency, she’ll see you that day.

Her patients usually have to wait because she doesn’t allocate only twelve minutes, which some U.S. insurance companies have specified as sufficient, to make a diagnosis. My most recent appointment with her lasted more than an hour. At the end, she tapped some figures into her computer and it spit out a bill. I was more than happy to pay it on the spot, which is more than I can say when I see my internist in the U.S. and my hand shakes when I sign my life away (thank you Visa or MasterCard, but never American Express) after I’ve seen Jeffrey, who’s also wonderful and caring.

One time I called Nancy, certain I was dying because I was having trouble breathing and speaking, and suggested I needed a chest x-ray. Why not go there directly and bypass her? After all, time is precious. Nancy very calmly replied she didn’t know I was a certified M.D. and should come to her office tout de suite.

After she listened to me breathe in and out (with the help of a stethoscope), she pronounced me fine and handed over a prescription for antibiotics. After querying her as why she didn’t insist on an x-ray, she responded she was a more than competent doctor and she is.

But, if I’d been in the U.S., there’s no question there would have been an x-ray and who knows what else, a procedure straight from the C.Y.A. file. U.S. doctors are terrified of being sued. Americans know that story all too well, especially if they’re paying for medical insurance themselves.

Following my most recent visit to my French doctor, she prescribed some iron that didn’t like me and vice versa. I shot off an email and was informed I would be receiving a prescription for a substitute one. After four days, I emailed again and was (nicely) instructed to be patient. O.K., d’accord.

On the same day as the appointment, a Friday, I ordered a printer from Amazon. Much to my surprise, it arrived 19 hours later by Chronopost. Talk about customer service, but this took the cake!

To think the French didn’t even know what the internet was when Bonjour Paris launched in 1995. And over and over again, they said there was no way in hell they would ever buy online. My mind went into reverse, recalling all of the discussions I’d had from French business owners telling me I was crazy. I may be, but I was proven correct—and with a vengeance. More than 27 million French people bought goods or services over the internet in the third quarter of 2010. Wonderful and good for them. But my prescription was sent to me—never mind a pharmacist—not over the internet. It went into the mail—and evidently has stayed there. I guess that’s a paradox—and certainly a pain in the derrière.

True confessions: The other day, the Bonjour Paris office closed, and a staff member and I played hooky and decided to hightail up to Bv. Montparnasse and see the 3:00 p.m. show of The King’s Speech. Who could fault us for wanting to spend two hours watching Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter transporting us to 1937, when George VI of Britain ascended to the throne, because his brother decided to marry a divorced American woman of questionable moral character.

After the movie’s rave reviews, trying to see it at an 8:00 p.m. show would entail buying advance tickets and standing in line as if there were no tomorrow. The French love movies and will queue up for the worst and this one is proclaimed to be among the best. We were delighted to be able to be able to buy tickets, even though I was unable to qualify for a senior one because I didn’t have the right card. Quite frankly, it wasn’t worth waging battle over a few euros.

But here’s another paradox. A woman approached the kiosk and asked for a reduced ticket because she’s a chômeuse.  Excuse me, she is unemployed and… I was kind of taken aback, but frankly, this doesn’t upset me (I know it would some Americans). I guess that’s part of my being semi-French.

Another example of a time when I was stopped cold in my tracks: The other day, when I was taking a taxi (and yes, it’s allowed to have love-hate relationships with some drivers), we passed a building in the 17ème and found ourselves discussing the architectural detailing. Its façade was different and worth noting. When we arrived at my destination, he stopped the meter and asked whether or not I had a few minutes before my appointment. When I said yes, he said he wanted to show me a nearby building that he felt was even more interesting than the one we’d seen a few minutes before. He gave me a brief lesson in architecture and was delighted to mentor me.  That’s ever so French.

There are so many paradoxes—many of which I’ll never understand—nor am I sure I was supposed to. That’s one of France’s appealing qualities.

Oh, the prescription did arrive. It only took eight days via La Poste. I could have walked to the office in 15 minutes, so who knows where that envelope has been. Perhaps that’s the real paradox.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Being a Tourist in Paris

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:18 am -

If you read Bonjour Paris, you know we’re all for people visiting Paris as well as La Belle France. There’s so much to see and to do and if someone is bored, well…it’s his or her own fault.

Having proclaimed that, I must admit I “discovered” parts of Paris this past week. The catalysts were houseguests, who were kind enough to drag me to other neighborhoods. They are from the outskirts of London and weren’t going to allow any grass to grow under their feet during their long weekend here. They were scheduled up and down, inside and out, and were catching up with what seemed like, and was, a multitude of friends.

Parisians tend essentially to stay where they live or work. Since I work and live in the same place (which is both good and bad news), a walk to the Luxembourg Garden, the neighborhood grocery store and one of my favorite cafés on Blvd. du Montparnasse qualifies as an outing. There are so many movie theaters within a six-block radius I could be movied out and never see the light of day if that were my addiction.

Not having a car means my must-do’s are confined to the immediate area surrounding my digs. I can take the métro or bus to the Opera Garnier or the Bastille and hightail it to see some of the events that take place in Paris—so my cultural life isn’t a void.

But, to be honest, I’m lazy. My apartment is my haven and inviting people here gives me real pleasure. It’s so easy to cook a simple meal and does anyone care that a Kir Royale isn’t made with vintage champagne? As a matter of fact, using something much more than a good sparkling Vouvray is a waste when you’re adding cassis, which actually makes a very good jam. Plus, when you live in a place, you don’t go out to dinner every night unless you’re among the rich and famous and have a debit card that doesn’t ding.

So, a foray to Jacques Melac in the 11e provoked some culture shock. I’d eaten at this wine bar before, but since my previous visit, the picturesque owner has added real food to the menu. I remembered it as a place to go and sample wine and have a large plate of cheese or meat. It was fun, but it wasn’t high on my must-go-there restaurant list because it wasn’t within walking distance. We arrived at night, but it wasn’t hard to see that the neighborhood had lost its seedy look and feel. It was hopping and trendy.

Even though when I first moved to Paris I’d lived on the Place des Vosges near the Bastille and not that far from where I had dinner, it’s no longer my stomping ground. When you move from one side of the Seine to another, things change—and such is life or, anyway, mine.

I had another revelation. When you find a permanent apartment and are settled (hopefully happily ever after), you stop looking at real estate. When friends of mine started moving to the Pigalle area, they were pioneers. The other night, I went to dinner at Le Pantruche in the 9e and was surprised to find myself walking by some very trendy bars and others where there were (I assume and without any surprise at all) working girls waiting for clients. Some things never change.  I was eager to get home after a wonderful meal. On the way to the taxi stand I saw some glorious-looking buildings and a few courtyards behind gates including one where the fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier lives.

After climbing into the taxi, we sped by the Moulin Rouge and I realized i hadn’t been there for nearly 20 years! The driver (who lives in the 14e) and I discussed how much that area of Paris has changed. Some French drivers love acting as tour guides and he said he was surprised by how well lit and clean the area appeared. He’s also a Left-Bank aficionado and suggested we return to explore the area. I might have thought he was looking for a date if he hadn’t shown me photos of his family—four generations, no less—yet he talked non-stop about how Paris has gone upscale during the 30 years he’s been driving a cab.

The conclusion I came to after last weekend is that I need to resume doing what I initially did when I moved to Paris. I’d hop on the métro and walk neighborhoods until I felt I had begun to understand them, and that made them more my own.

After all, they’ve changed as have I during the past 22 years. Perhaps it time for a “stay-vacation” and getting to know my city as well as I know ones in faraway places. Just think about the money I’d save! And I wouldn’t have to go through airport security, wait for delayed flights or worry about the weather.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Fantasy and Expensive Paris Hotels

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:17 am -

As a perpetual romantic, I’m always on the lookout for hotels that make me feel more spoiled than spoiled. They should be beautifully designed and elegant or, perhaps, exquisitely executed examples of modern minimalism that make a statement. Many hotel architects and designers have been influenced by the Mies Van der Rohe “less is more” school of design, rather than the knock-your-socks-off opulence of the old grand hotels or their offspring, like the Taj and Peninsula Hotel Groups. Either one can do, depending.

I’ve always had a hotel fetish. It goes back to my days of fantasies about being Eloise at the Plaza, one of my favorite books when I was growing up. The idea of calling room service sounded just fine. Undoubtedly, that stems from the fact that my mother didn’t cook, and I would have liked something other than frozen dinners—you know, the ones in three-compartment trays, containing gray mystery meat, overdone vegetables and were those really mashed potatoes?

I love touring hotels, and what better city than Paris? There are some incredible ones here and more are opening all the time. It’s not only the décor, but it’s the ambience (bring on the flowers and they may make you sigh, or if you’re allergic, even cry). You may not be able to afford the latest design à la Philippe Starck, but if you look carefully, it’s possible to find high style at the right price and make it your own.

Even if I can’t afford to stay in these hotels, I can bask in their beauty and elegance and spend a few minutes feeling as if I am living in the lap of luxury. There’s a method to my madness. I enjoy seeing how old hotels are being renovated, upgraded and catapulted into the 21st century. Paris has always been a grand city, and here come the five-star hotels: if you have to ask the price, don’t consider staying there.

Happily, these hotels have bars with sumptuous seating areas where you can order one drink, eat premium munchies and pretend you’re one of the rich and famous.

My visit to the Shangri-La Hotel a few weeks ago was an eye opener. It’s very different from the Shangri-La hotels I’d seen in Asia where the hotel chain was launched. It was decorated in a substantially more subdued style and was more of a historic renovation and preservation than big-time flash.

One of my favorite Paris hotels is the Meurice. Going there for a drink in its elegant bar is always such a pleasure. The barman, William, who’s definitely in charge of the inner sanctum, has been there for more than 30 years, but never on weekends. Hot off the presses: on February 7th, the hotel’s Chef Sommelier, Estelle Touzet, was awarded Chef Sommelier of 2011 by the Pudlowski Guide.

People are flocking to the newly opened Hôtel Raffles Royal Monceau Paris. It’s lovely, but certainly not cheap and is one of the truly “in” hotels. Its terrace restaurant is one of the prettiest in the city and tout Paris gathers there.

Others are talking about a new boutique hotel and giving it rave reviews. I’ve yet to inspect a room at the Hôtel Champs Élysées Plaza but, based on the reports, I may splurge and book a room with a Jacuzzi and go on a stay-vacation for a night.

The Mandarin Oriental is slated to open this summer. In the interim, other hotels have completed or are undertaking heavy-duty renovations.

It’s interesting to see how people who walk into a hotel in jeans are treated. I wish people would dress properly (meaning they shouldn’t wear torn tee-shirts and baseball caps) in a hotel’s lobby. But in these days of informality, people sporting such outfits tend to be rock or fashion stars—you know, from the “industry.”

In my mind, a hotel is more than a place to sleep. They’re destinations that often provide some of the best theater you can see. As long as they have free WiFi, I’m happy.

If you could stay in any hotel in Paris, which would it be? And by the way, there won’t be a bill. Why ruin a fantasy?

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Being a Citizen of the World

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:17 am -

Life in Paris is glamorous. Well, sometimes Paris can be glamorous. Cold, however, is not glamorous, and I’ve been sitting at my computer wearing so many layers that I look like the Michelin man’s puffy sister.

But, even the weather improved and hopefully, now that President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, let’s hope there will be a smooth transition

I was sporting a vintage khaki down vest with red and black plaid lining, bought 27 years ago, that I wore in colder-than-cold Vermont.

Then it paid its dues in Provence during winter months when the wind was roaring down the Rhône Valley. Funny, the real estate agent didn’t mention the mistral, which seemed to come in three-day increments. By the sixth day, I was complaining. By the ninth day, I thought I was a goner. The down vest saved me then and is saving me now.

I also kept warm in front of a roaring… television set, waching the crowds in Egypt.  I am glad the demonstrations were peaceful, glad that Mubarak is gone, and glad it’s over.  But I know it isn’t.  There are so many possible scenarios that can spread and spread some more. Is this another Iran in 1979? What does this mean for the rest of that part of the world? Israel? And now there are protests in Iran.

However, I also think about the six times I’ve been to Egypt. It’s less than a five-hour flight from Paris, practically next door.  Rarely does a week go by that there isn’t a cheaper-than-cheap trip flashing on French travel sites, which, for travel junkies such as I, is as enticing as heroin is to others. Expats have the ability to explore different parts of the world more easily than they would if they weren’t moving from their home towns to other places.

My mind flashes to Luxor and the Oriental Institute run by the University of Chicago. Luxor is home to so much history and ancient archeology. Anyone who has witnessed a sound and light show in the midst of the ruins can’t help being moved now by the events that are taking place. The looting and destruction that took place in the Cairo Museum are a crime against history, if not humanity.

Tunisia is another country I’ve visited more than once. So close to Paris and yet so different. Emails have already started filtering into my inbox asking whether or not I think it’s safe to go to Morocco during school vacation. If I can’t predict the weather, I certainly am not competent to advise where people should and should not travel in the Arab world.

We’re talking about cultures, people of differing mores and religions and so much more. But more important, we’re talking about people and their lives.  The upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt make me realize that living here makes me more aware of international relations than I’d be if I were living in a small town in the Midwest of the U.S.; however, this awareness is not glamorous—just upsetting and a little depressing. Don’t forget Algeria, Yeman and ??

Perhaps worried is a better word for my feelings.  No one knows what’s next in Egypt.  Even with Mubarak gone, the amount of reliable information we’re getting about the military rulers—-presumably interim rulers—is scanty at best.  In a world of instantaneous communication, only some may be correct. And so much will probably be wrong. All anyone can do now is watch in anticipation of something wonderful emerging from all the chaos. And anyway, it takes my mind off the cold for a little while now and then.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Language Challenged in France

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:16 am -

One of the most frequent questions Anglophones ask is whether they’ll be able to manage in France if they don’t speak the language.

My advice has been (and will continue to be) that people should attempt to learn some rudimentary French before traveling here. You know, bonjour, au revoir, s’il vous plaît, pouvez-vous me donner les indications, and, naturally, merci.

If nothing else, it’s only polite and indicates you’re making an effort not to have the “here I am, I am a tourist, help me out” attitude and it’s up to the French to speak English. Unlike Holland, where the Dutch long ago realized no one was going to bother to learn their language and so they all learned English, the French didn’t feel it was a necessity to learn anything other than French since, once upon a time, it was assumed to be the language of diplomacy and general all-around classiness.

Well, those days may be coming to an end and there’s no question that some members of L’Académie française (not yet all deceased) are turning over in their graves. Good thing that Cardinal Richelieu, who founded the organization in 1635, isn’t around to see how French is becoming Franglais—and lots of other bits and pieces are chipping off the monument of la gloire française, too.

Why the change? First and foremost, English is the de facto language of aviation, the Internet, and business. Graduate schools such as INSEAD (“The Business School of the World”) conduct classes in English. No longer do people have to cross the English Channel or the Atlantic to be prepped to do big-bang deals.

An increasing number of Parisians speak English, including the butcher, the baker and the Bon Marché salesgirl. Initially gradual, English speaking has picked up momentum with the advent of the Internet. Now more English language movies are being shown in V.O., or original version, not with some wonderfully (or weirdly) translated French subtitles. Relatively few films are dubbed these days. Plus, today’s music (that is, music with lyrics) tends to be English or a form of it.

Now the French Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has declared he wants to “reinvent English teaching” in schools. His plan involves teaching English to children beginning when they’re three years old.

Chatel contends the trials, which have already been conducted, prove that the “sooner children begin to learn English, the easier it will be for them to learn additional languages,” adding that English is a priority. The debate has already begun as to who is going to teach children English, since the French education system is feeling the financial squeeze, and to who’s going to pay for the additional education?

The Minister of Education has indicated that teaching English via the Internet or “E-learning” is a real probability. Another future component of learning languages, he said, would be “mobility” in schools, and he expressed the wish that “each school and high school should have a twinned school or high school in Germany, England or the United States” so that at the age of 18 “every child has spent at least some time in another country.”

OK, so this is a big official step. But the reality is that speaking French in Paris and certainly in quartiers that tourists frequent has become considerably more difficult in recent years. Last week when I was inspecting hotels on Paris’s Left Bank, I must have had “Anglophone” tattooed on my forehead. The moment I walked in to see which hotels had done what, asked to inspect some rooms or even for a brochure, the person manning the desk responded to my request (made in French) in English.

Granted, this is the hospitality industry and the French government has asked people to master enough English to be able to communicate with foreigners from around the world. Granted, also, that as soon as I say Bonjour, the cat’s out of the bag.

But, who’d expect clerks in grocery stores to want to practice their English on me? My French isn’t that bad. Honestly. Ordering a glass of wine in French posed such a challenge in café after café that as soon the barman answered in English, my response was “Non merci” and off I went to the next bar.

I finally scored a glass of Bordeaux (by this time, I needed a drink) and was sipping it feeling a modicum of victory. As I took my second taste, the French gentleman standing next to me asked what I thought of the aroma. He was being pleasant (bless him) and must have immediately labeled me as a rude American when I ungraciously responded in French that the bouquet was convenable, which means anything from adequate to more than satisfactory. It’s a French expression that has many meanings depending on the time, place and the moment.

I am determined that I’m going to learn first-rate French and may have to spend a year in la France profonde. But, come to think of it, I already did that when we had a house in Provence and my language skills were only marginally better and my accent was more Provençal, which the French think is Italian, than American.

I have this sinking feeling that by the time (or if) I learn to speak eloquent French, it may be hard to find many Parisians with whom to speak. Well, maybe…

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Paris is Not Perfect

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:15 am -

Paris is not perfect. Well, no place is, but Paris is really good. I couldn’t wait for the plane to land. As I came in from the airport, I was so happy to see that some of the streets still had their Christmas lights glowing and, even though it was raining, their twinkling made me feel at home.

I’ve been settled in at home now for a couple of weeks and have already encountered a couple of sneaky taxi drivers who wanted to take me on the scenic route. Their confusing me for a tourist doesn’t bring out my best qualities. My French accent may leave much to be desired, but I must have learned the language (clearly by osmosis) in my sailor incarnation: I can really tell them off, always adding that they’re hurting the tourist industry and giving the French a bad reputation. Please understand that some of the same taxi drivers—well, their cousins—are driving in Washington, but their cabs aren’t as clean.

The six-week redo of my building’s elevator was postponed, which was a blessing because I would have been forced to drag suitcases up to the fourth floor. If I’d done so, it would have made a commotion, especially if I’d had a heart attack after eating way too much when I was on the cruise in Southeast Asia.

Come to think of it, that would have been one way to alert the neighbors I was home. Chances are they were wondering whether or not the apartment had been sold since there were other occupants in residence during my absence. The French do tend to talk, but there are some things that happen in the dead of the night and those include real estate transactions.

The elevator work began this week without an announcement and with a bang.  The building’s occupants had been advised it wouldn’t begin until mid-February. Why did I think such a massive rehab wouldn’t be noisy? And why wasn’t I smart enough to realize it would feel as if I were in a dentist’s chair with an old-fashioned drill? There’s a solution to any and all things, and my Bose noise-cancelling headphones are helping a lot.

The work is forecast to take six weeks because it’s très compliqué—well, what isn’t? Let’s hope it’s not so complicated that the job may become a work in unprogress. Another reason the work may take so long is the mechanics stop at 4 p.m. and take an hour break for lunch and every step or turn of a wrench requires a democratic consultation of the entire crew, with a unanimous vote before proceeding. If this were the building in Washington, D.C. where I stay, you’d better believe the tenants would be ballistic and striking in spite of there being five elevators.

I can’t complain about this building. It’s filled with light and my apartment is big by Parisian standards. Talk about luck. When we rented this apartment twenty years ago, all of the walls were painted hospital green and the apartment was in dire need of TLC. To be polite, the apartment was nothing less than depressing. My dear friend Connie appeared and announced the apartment was triste. How could I live on such a sad street rather than closer to Boulevard Saint-Germain which was/is a far more happening neighborhood?

To be honest, rents there were out of our league and less expensive digs were a necessity. Boy, you’d think we were to hell and gone in the ’burbs rather than a 15-minute walk and/or four stops on the métro from the land of the stuffy—or is it groovy?—germanopatins. Whenever Connie comes to visit, I make her eat her initial words, and she’s gracious enough to do so. When we bought the apartment in 2002 after receiving a “buy or vacate” letter, we stretched to do so.  Happily, it was a good investment even though the dollar-to-euro conversion rate has caused considerable heartburn. It’s a joy to be so close to the Luxembourg Garden.

In France, especially among expats, currency fluctuations and real estate are considered safe subjects. But, getting back into the social swing isn’t always as easy as one would hope, especially when people travel. Their lives go on (including their travels and family obligations) while you seem to up and disappear and reappear. Even with the best of intentions, their busy schedules don’t have a lot of flexibility and who can predict when you’ll take off again?  For that matter, because of my gypsy blood, I’m never 100% certain myself and am already plotting a trip to Berlin.

Why Berlin? Because I’ve never been there and it’s so close that it’s no big travel deal. There are wonderful hotels available at reasonable prices and why not? Plus, one of the joys of living in Paris is its central location and being a hub for airlines. It’s so easy to get from here to there. I’ve had incredible success snagging well-priced plane tickets on momondo. A round-trip Paris/Berlin costs as little as $99.00.

The first thing I did (before the elevator was condemned) was to invite some friends over for drinks. You have to work harder at maintaining social contacts when you’re the one who comes and goes.

I’m in the process of alerting houseguests they’ll be taking the stairs and to pack light. This will be the true test of how many friends I have, but I’m not too worried. A lot of people live in apartments without elevators and are used to it…

…Which may be one of the reasons gyms in Paris aren’t as omnipresent as they are in the U.S. But, that’s another article. All I can say is that it’s good to be back on this side of the Atlantic. It’s really good to be home.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Home Again in Paris

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:15 am -

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Paris, with any luck. Based on the recent disruptions of air traffic, no one could or should take the weather or travel for granted.

As much as I like exploring the world, it will be wonderful to be home and sleeping in my own bed. I love the electric pad that radiates gentle heat under the bottom sheet. No bed feels right to me any longer unless there’s a duvet. It does get cold in Paris and no one seems to be able to predict the weather no matter where and when.

Please, let the plane be on time, let my suitcases appear on the carousel, spare me from strikes and from jetlag and from feeling out of it for too long.

Leaving Washington fills me with mixed feelings and requires preparation. Gee, where did I put those documents, keys, converter plugs? And the list goes on.

The worst part about leaving D.C. is knowing I’m not going to be seeing my granddaughters as often as I should or would like, which holds true even when I’m there because they lead very busy lives, merci.

But this departure was stranger than usual, perhaps because I’d been away from Paris since before Thanksgiving and went to Asia between eating turkey and Santa’s appearance. Winter clothes and summer clothes accompanied me, and without question there were too many of both.

When I go on business trips or travel for less than two weeks, I manage with a carry-on. The fantasy that I’ll be out every night is neither real nor appealing. My idea of a good time is eating dinner someplace where I can hear the conversation, sharing good food and wine and discussing and debating issues with passion, but never anger.

As soon as I took the suitcases out of the closet this time, it was different. I could feel my French side emerging as I started pondering what to pack. In France, I wear layers, since people don’t heat their homes and apartments full-blast. In the D.C. apartment where I stay, electricity is included in the fees. Ergo, few tenants turn off all of their lights or lower the heat since it’s “free.” Well not exactly, but since they don’t see the electricity or gas bills….

When I’m alone in Washington, I usually walk around in a Bonjour Paris tee shirt and slacks and rarely turn on radiators since there’s enough ambient heat radiating from the apartments above, below and the adjoining ones. That’s not the case in Paris where you’ll find me wearing, and working in, three layers of clothing.

I still refuse to admit the winters are as cold in Paris as they are in D.C. or as long. I do confess the month of February can be gray and immediately find myself looking at last-minute cheapo fares to Morocco or Turkey where there’s sun. Looking tends to be where I stop since my energy level escalates as soon as I hit French soil and I can’t seem to get enough of the city.

My first day is spent sorting through mail and hoping there’s nothing waiting for me from the French government or the IRS. Happily, I receive relatively little junk mail and a friend culls through the majority of the envelopes and tosses them.

After I’ve unpacked the necessities, I take a nap, but awaken in time to go to the Luxembourg Garden, because that’s where I get my bearings. It’s not until I see the playground that I really know I’m home. I either grab a café crème at the Café Vavin before entering the garden or as soon as I leave. Continuity is very important, and even though I don’t go there every day, I’m considered a regular.

Before heading back to the apartment, I stop at an always-open grocery store on Bv. Montparnasse and grab some fruit and juice to tide me over until the next day. I rarely go out to dinner the first night because I have the luxury of not being a tourist and don’t have to do and see everything within a finite period.

One of the things that amazes me is that people in the U.S. continually ask me what I’m going to be doing when I’m in Paris as if I’m going to an extraordinarily exotic destination. When I respond that I have no real plans, I’m the recipient of those “what do you mean” looks and why not?

Well, because Paris is home and it’s where I live and work. I have a date to see the Monet Exhibit at the Grand Palais, have some (well, more than some) meetings regarding Bonjour Paris, will go to a couple of readings at The Village Voice Book Store, check out all of the new hotels that opened while I was away and entertain a few house guests. And if I’m bored for a minute, all I have to do is walk out the building’s door and take a short walk. Invariably, I’ll return having discovered something new. That’s one of the reasons I don’t mind leaving Paris. There’s always something new to see upon my return.

Maybe because Paris is home, I’m more relaxed and am willing to let things happen rather than spending a lot of time planning. C’est la vie and I’m so lucky it’s mine.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |

Another Year – It’s Hard to Believe

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:14 am -

It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone in the life of Bonjour Paris. It’s getting to the point I can hardly remember when I wasn’t singing the praises (and frustrations) of living in Paris and in France. Things that used to make me want to scream are normale now. I can’t say that my French accent is any better than it was when I first moved to Paris. But most people understand me, and more Parisians insist on speaking English even when I protest.

Paris has changed so radically that it’s like many other big cities, albeit with its own special charm and its architecture that makes my heart sing. I’ve changed (as has my life) and nothing stays the same same. If I could and it did, we wouldn’t be growing—we’d be dead.

So many people have been subscribers since Bonjour Paris’s inception that we’ve lived through a lot of good and bad together. Many of us have had the pleasure of meeting and let’s hope we can have many more get-togethers in 2011.

It’s amazing how we’ve remained a cohesive community. Some people miss the chat rooms and others bemoan the closure of our message boards. Count me among them. But, we do have Question & Answer Section. Please register and ask and answer away. People always have questions and our readers possess a wealth of information that we’d wish you’d share.

This website was launched in 1995 when the Internet was still news to most people. The French were still tied by the umbilical cord to the Minitel, and no one believed people would be communicating by “mail” meant anything other than “la poste.” Gone (well nearly) are the days of dial-up modems that took forever and invariably crashed just when you were making a point. More than 96% of our readers are connecting to the site via T1, cable or DSL connections. I’d really like to meet the 4% who access the site via dial-up and send them special thanks since it must take an incredibly long time to access the more than 6789 articles that are housed on the site.

People in more than 140 countries and territories read Bonjour Paris.  I suspect it’s because of the advent of Google translation software and more people reading English. When I think about it, there’s no question it’s a whole new world, and ponder what advances there will be in the future.  It’s really mind-boggling and how I’d love to have a full-time IT person on staff.

I shouldn’t go there, but I remember when I had the first answering machine on the block, bought a fax, which burned and died when I plugged it into a French electrical line, and when I bought my first computer. I held off buying a cell phone and the thought of the iPad was science fiction. My granddaughters (ages 4 and 7) are capable of doing more things with electronics than I’d ever imagined; such is life and progress. As most grandparents say, these children are simply being exposed to more things than we were.

But, the most pronounced change has been the emergence of bloggers, social networking and social media. When Joe Brancatelli of Joe Sent Me advised his readers to check the Twitter posts of airlines for the most current travel information, you know it’s a whole new world.  If anyone had told me I’d be “tweeting” even three years ago, I would have told him or her something else.

Little did I even imagine we’d have a Bonjour Paris Facebook Site that requires a lot up upkeep, but is another way readers can express themselves. We currently have 1800 FB friends and hope the number will increase.

I should admit there are times when I contemplate selling or closing the site. It’s not as if it’s a moneymaker, writers aren’t paid, the “staff” works for pennies. I work for zero plus my out-of-pocket costs. Readers believe content on the Internet should be free. Ideally, it should be, which is why I’m especially appreciative to our Bonjour Paris premium members and for each and any of you who rents a car, books a hotel or buys something from the Bonjour Paris Marketplace or any of our affiliates.

As I write this, I can’t help pondering what I want for 2011, because I know emphatically that I want health, happiness and peace for all Bonjour Paris readers.

My wish list would include more input from you, more interactivity and suggestions as to how to make Bonjour Paris better. For that matter, if any faithfuls would like to contribute time and/or expertise, we wouldn’t say no.

I had a recent revelation and it was when I took a dream cruise and the trip of a lifetime. Please don’t get me wrong; if the Wi-Fi connection had been stable, I would have enjoyed it more. But one thing I learned was more about me.  Our readers may have different beliefs, but we all have one thing in common.  And that’s a love of France.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we go all go on a cruise together, if only down the Seine?  Now there’s a thought.

January 2011

(c) Paris New Media, LLC

Posted in Paris |
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