It’s Getting to Be That Time of Year

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:29 am -

It’s getting to be the time of year when family and friends ask what I’d like for the holidays. When I respond love, peace, health and happiness, I’m told that’s not the right answer—not an answer at all. When I told my granddaughters that I didn’t want them to fight, they responded in unison, “We can’t give you that, Gran,” as they hugged the other.

My other answer tends to be “nothing.” My take is that gifts shouldn’t be given (or exchanged) on a specific day. Unless a child’s bubble will burst because he or she would definitely know there’s no Santa or Père Noël, my philosophy is presents should be given when you see something that someone would love or really needs.

Leaving out the fact that many of my friends are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, December has become the ho-ho-ho month of giving—and Christmas, which has become generic rather than religious, is simply our largest commercial festival. So, as I listen to Christmas carols, here’s a list of what I’d like to receive, merci. Hey, I can dream like everyone else!

First on my list would be a yearlong pass on Open Skies.  That way, I could hop on a flight between Paris and Washington, DC, wherever I felt the urge. Even though I do travel between the two cities frequently, I’m having a mini-guilt attack that I missed Grandparents’ Day at my 7-year-old’s school. That’s an example of when the Kodak moment, now e-mailed, is not quite the same as being there.

So here’s the rest of my wish list—and forgive me if it’s not in logical or alphabetical order. Holidays and birthdays have that type of impact on me. On the other hand…

I do love chocolate, and having tasted and tested more than my fair share, those from zChocolat have a special place in my heart. One of the company’s slogans isA single bite is an instant of pure seduction and sensory bliss one has never experienced before.” You know, the French really do have a hard time getting to the point—or writing advertising copy. But their stuff does make me weak in the knees.

I’ll never forget the day Born to Shop Suzy Gershman and I agreed to be chocolate guinea pigs. We drove to Aix and sampled so many that we finally yelled ça suffit! Not only are these chocolates you’ll never forget, but also J-P (who owns zChocolat) is a genius when it comes to packaging. Perhaps I’ll have a box made this year for my son and daughter-in-law; the box will have a photo of their daughters, two of the loves of my life.

That was the day (or one of the many) that we got lost, so a Garmin GPS would have come in more than handy. Suzy and I were always taking off in pursuit of cookware of all types and we amassed quite a collection. Perhaps if we had the perfect pots, we’d become accomplished chefs. It’s a doubly good excuse—to shop and not to cook.

Those were the days before you could download cookbooks on a Kindle but we’re both converts now. For people who haven’t made the jump to the i-Pad (I’m waiting for the price to come down before adding it to my wish list), the Kindle is a great solution.

Another gift I’d give my travel-holic friends is a MedjetAssist policy. This is a service that guarantees to transport you to the hospital of your choice if you’re away from home and get sick. As much as I love France and French medicine, friends from the U.S. want to be able to return to States in the event of being in medical extremis.

On the cheerier side: gift certificates to restaurants from Ideal Gourmet make ideal presents for so many occasions.

What do I really want this year? I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d be more than delighted to spend more than a few nights at various hotels. The elevator in my apartment building is going to be redone and it’s going to take six weeks.  Walking up five steep flights of stairs will do nothing but good things for my weight and lord knows I won’t need a gym.

Still, I wouldn’t mind spending some nights at a hotel or three in many places throughout the world. I grew up reading Kay Thompson’s Eloise at the Plaza and wanted to live in a hotel where I could call room service. The Meurice or L’Hôtel would certainly fit the bill. If I wanted to stick closer to home, I’ve always wanted to stay at Hôtel des Academies et des Arts which is considerably less expensive!

This is some of what I want—and you may want as well.  Feel free to ship them to me, even if they arrive a few days late. The French tradition of giving étrennes on New Year’s Day gives everybody an extra week.

And what would you like? Let us know because you never can tell what good things may happen if you just ask.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

Living in Paris for Too Long?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:26 am -

Wait, there’s no such thing as living in Paris for too long. Anyway, that’s my opinion.  Anyone who reads Bonjour Paris is aware I’ve been a champion of its positives for so many years that I feel as if the French government should be employing me. At the very least, it should give me a medal. A Légion d’Honneur would be acceptable, but I’d never be so presumptuous.

Paris isn’t perfect, but it’s always pretty good. UNESCO, suffering from too long a diet of Parisian cuisine, wants to declare French cooking a World Heritage… thing, I guess. Next, we can start looking for monumental bronzes of blanquette de veau, navarin d’agneau, and moules marinière strewn here and there around the city to reflect—or gloat at—the honor. Any city has its frustrations and annoyances, but France is filled with so many good things beyond its food that I always look at it with something like stars, or maybe they’re tears of joy, in my eyes.

I’m writing from Washington, D.C., where my family and friends gathered for Thanksgiving. As expatriates know, being with family takes on a very significant meaning the longer you’ve been away from where you were born, grew up or where your nuclear family resides.

When I moved to France in 1988 (for six months that morphed into 13 months and then…), seeing family and friends was no big deal. Invite and they would appear—and more often than one might really want when there were deep-discounted airfare wars so Americans could travel to Paris, often for less that $300 round trip, including taxes, but excluding TSA knows-all-sees-all screenings or security pat-downs.

My son would come to Paris at the drop of a hat and an issued ticket. My mother even arrived one year with a Butterball turkey defrosting in the cargo department because those were the days when it was impossible to buy a large enough bird to feed our friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

Since then, times have changed. Family members have died and dynamics have shifted. My son and his wife have two perfect daughters, and transporting this mob isn’t so easy, plus the cost isn’t insignificant. The children also have other grandparents and interests that have nothing to do with strolling around the Luxembourg Garden. Expats can either decide to miss out or take their turn to pick up and make the reverse commute, whether it’s transatlantic or simply flying across the continent.

Much to my surprise, it’s hard to avoid culture shock no matter how frequently you go from one place to the other, and this even holds true when assembling this traditional family meal where you’d feel guilty if you were to serve roast beef.

What’s the most striking when you live in France versus the U.S. is that a fresh turkey costs 89 cents per pound (if you have a grocery store loyalty card) and one trip does it all. The cranberries and all of the fixings were in the same area and I didn’t need to go to four stores to find what was needed to serve the crowd.

I certainly needed a car to get the many (too many) bags home, but come to think of it, if I’d been in Paris, the groceries could have been delivered whereas relatively few chain grocery stores offer that service unless you order online, and somehow that doesn’t feel right for such an important meal.

If you’re the type of cook I am, you have to meet the turkey (even through it’s wrapped in plastic) before making the commitment to stuff the bird and spend part of the day basting and making two different types of potatoes, corn bread, cranberry sauce—and that’s just the beginning.

Living away from the U.S. causes you to forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the dirigibles or are they blimps or very large blow-up dollies? The thing that has shocked me the most is the Black Friday phenomenon. I haven’t been away from the U.S. so long that I do remember the day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been the kick-off date for Christmas shopping, but it seems to have acquired a new and malign branding, as if a holiday itself. Shop or else! Line up at three in the morning! Trample the slowpokes!  Sounds a little like bayonet training.

However, having stores open at midnight is news to me. In recent years, Wal-Mart would open before dawn, but now everything is discounted and how. Winter sales in France don’t begin until January 12th, so don’t think you can get away without paying retail for gifts that are going to be delivered by St. Nicholas, Santa or an emissary. And now that people walk around with electronic devices that can surf the internet such as an iPhone, iPod, Android, Blackberry or some other claptrap, the retailers are expecting you to say you’ve located the desire of your heart for six bucks less somewhere else and they’ll meet the lower price.

Even though the developed world is becoming more homogeneous, there are simply traditions that don’t change in one place contrasted to another.  Most people would consider that a plus, but it still takes more than a bit of compromising and adapting to different styles of living.

The one constant is that if you cook a turkey either in France or in the U.S. these days, there always seem to be leftovers. But I’m still convinced that born-and-bred-in-the-USA birds are fatter. The other constant is that no matter where this meal is served, the hosts leave the table wondering how so many dishes could have been used, and if they’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, odds are that more than one load will be required if you’ve invited a crowd.

Even though I consider myself more than flexible, will I be continually confronted and feel a boomerang effect because of cultural differences.  Or will I be able to say, here is here and there is there?

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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How Times Have Changed When Talking Turkey in France

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:22 am -

Ah, it seems like yesterday, but it wasn’t. To be precise, it was twenty years ago. Being a good American, there was no way that I wasn’t going to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was the one holiday where we’d get together, eat too much, laugh and have a good time.

Of course, getting up at the crack of dawn in the U.S. so the bird would be ready before noon was kind of a pain, but Thanksgiving and the NFL football games went hand in hand. It seems distant now, but that was the way it was in those days when I lived in Washington.

After Victor and I moved into our new Paris apartment, we decided to invite our American friends to come and celebrate, which (for Americans) falls on the fourth Thursday of November unlike Canada where it falls on the second Monday of October. We included some French friends who thought it was more than a strange meal and a stranger ritual.

All I knew was that I was hell-bent on having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. What I didn’t anticipate was that we could have gone to the most expensive restaurant in Paris and eaten for less than that dinner cost, but we wouldn’t have feasted on turkey—and please don’t say “so what?” In those days, it mattered.

Being of the Butterball generation, it didn’t occur to me that chemically treated über humongous birds simply didn’t exist in France. I went to the butcher only to be told that it was impossible to buy a turkey large enough to feed twenty people before Christmas.  Didn’t I understand these were free-range birds and weren’t going to grow large enough just because I wanted one?

OK, that was no problem. Being resourceful and being able to add, I ordered two turkeys. Defeat would not be mine. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t been able to add when the bill was presented. It was nearly $125. Were the birds stuffed with gold?

By the time the fixings were purchased (what do you mean one can of Ocean Spray cranberries costs $6?), it was time to contemplate taking out a loan. But defeat would not be mine: a tube of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce on a plate, with the marks from the can looking like ribs, is a sine qua non of Thanksgiving, particularly if no one eats it and it is thrown out whole.

I won’t bore you with what it cost to import enough pecans to make a sticky and gooey pie. It was sheer determination… defeat would not be mine. Ah, hmmm. That was until I picked up the fowl that morning only to realize there was zero way both could possibly fit in one oven, especially ours which was French and small.

That was the year of our becoming extremely friendly with the concierge of our building. We usurped that oven and shuttled up and down five floors so we could baste both turkeys. Each time we went down to the ground floor apartment, we took a bottle of wine. After all, that was only polite.

Dinner was a roaring success. In fact, it was the best Thanksgiving we ever had as twenty people were stuffed into our dining area, which usually seats eight.

I went to bed with a headache that night, undoubtedly from the stress of cooking for so many people and the fact that the guests each brought a lovely bottle of wine—and there was no way we could insult anyone by not drinking all of them.

Since this wasn’t a French holiday, dinner didn’t begin until 8 p.m. By the time it ended after midnight (thank goodness someone brought a bottle of first-rate cognac), I wondered how our guests were going to be able to work the next day.

But this being France, the only one who had a real hangover was I. And clearly it was due to the fact that I refused to go to bed until all of the dishes, glasses and silver were washed and put away.

Happily, Thanksgiving comes only once a year—it takes that long to recover. But that evening was one I’ll never forget.  Nor will our guests and the concierge who’s still talking about it:

Vivent les Américains (even if they are crazy).

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Christmas in Paris & Some Make Merry Suggestions

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:19 am -

There’s no place more magical than Paris during the Christmas holidays. Even if you’re not a believer, when Paris is decked out and decorated to the nines, the city is incredible.  Eye Prefer Paris Tours & Cooking Classes is celebrating the holidays by launching special Christmas Tours & Cooking Classes during the month of December.

Sign up for a tour:

Richard Nahem will personally lead private Christmas tours highlighting the magical shop windows, gleaming outdoor lights, beautifully decorated trees and festive Christmas markets throughout Paris. You’ll visit the department stores Galeries Lafayette & Printemps, walk on the Champs Elysees, duck into the famed gourmet shops Fauchon & Hediard on Place Madeleine, and peruse the rue St. Honoré. Because it will be cold (dress accordingly please) you’ll welcome a mandatory hot chocolate stop at one of the top shops in the city.

Beginning on November 29th and ending on January 9th, 2011, Richard will be leading them seven days a week, except on December 25th, 26th & January 1st and 2nd.

Tours are three hours long from 11 AM-2 PM, or 3PM to 6PM and the cost is 225 euros for up to three people; each additional person 75 euros. Tours are private and limited and the maximum number of people is eight.

Cooking Classes:

Cordon Bleu trained chef Charlotte Puckette of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes, has devised a spectacular five-course Christmas menu (see below) with traditional French holiday foods.

- Sea Scallops with julienned celery root and garlic butter

- Roasted quails with a foie gras stuffing

- Roasted chestnut and potato pureé

- Seasonal cheese course

- Profiteroles with chocolate sauce

Students will be given a tour of a fresh local Parisian food market to shop for some of the ingredients and then go to Charlotte’s private commercial kitchen near the Eiffel Tower. Charlotte will assist and teach students how to make this holiday feast.

At the end of class, students will dine on the menu they prepared and drink Kir Royal and wine.

Classes are offered Tuesday through Friday the month of December from 9AM to 2PM, with a minimum of two students, maximum of six. The cost is 200 euros per person.

Contact: Richard Nahem  Email: r.nahem@gmail.com

Tel +33 6 3112 8620

Be sure to tell Richard Bonjour Paris recommended you contact him.  The 10th and 25th people who sign up will receive a prize – it’s a holiday secret!


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Ten Reasons I Love Living in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:15 pm -

Are there only ten? No, and in fact I have twelve here. Though I could go on forever—or at least for another dozen reasons, lists of Ten Best or Top Ten or Ten Dancing Girls seem to go over better, a fact of life from vaudeville to the internet—and it probably started in Ur of the Chaldees.

Anyway, I figure I can always come back for more. So here are my twelve reasons for why Paris is the place I live and love.

1. Architecture: There’s eye candy as far as the eye can see, and I’m not only referring to the city’s roof tops. Look at the buildings’ façades, windows, balconies, and wander into small passages. Invariably you’ll find a garden or something you weren’t expecting—like a bicycle circa 1955, still in working order.

2. Safety: The feeling of safety and most especially as a woman alone. Being able to return home after midnight alone (using big city smarts) gives one such a feeling of freedom.

3. Food: I’m not just thinking of restaurant meals, but what you can buy in markets. Even though people do buy French, you can go to ethnic markets throughout the city and come home with a taste of other cultures.

4. Cars: You don’t need one. Public transportation really works, and considering the saving that comes from not having to buy, maintain, insure and garage a car, I could (but don’t) hire a limo. If I want to go away, I either take a train or rent a car from Auto Europe.

5. Solitude: Being able to sit in a bar or café and keep to myself when I want to be enveloped in my cocoon. When I feel social, it’s perfectly safe and comfortable to go to a nearby jazz bar for the music and a glass of wine, and nine times out of ten, I’ll end up having a conversation with others. Music is a great equalizer. But being alone is sometimes just what I want.

6. The gardens and parks: There’s my favorite, the Luxembourg Garden which I think I mention more often than just about anything else. But the city has many magnificent parks like the Parc Monceau—not to mention those forlorn and seedy little squares where my friend and colleague Joseph Lestrange sits and daydreams about the other people sitting on benches and gives the half his sandwich he can’t eat to some down-and-outer. And you don’t have to look far to find what American urban planner Jane Jacobs would have labeled vest pocket parks. You want more? Take a look at a list of Paris’s parks.

7. The world is my oyster: You can be exposed to other cultures by simply boarding a cross-town bus. India, China, the Middle East, anywhere—Paris is anything but a homogeneous city. There have been clashes between people, but rarely between the different cultures that coexist within Paris proper.

8. Talk: The main topic of conversation here isn’t money or real estate. I have friends who live in humongous apartments and others who live in shoeboxes. People aren’t judged by their financial means, but rather by who they are and what they do and think.

9. Shopping: It’s all here. Women can buy anything from haute couture to black jeans (black anything) and look chic. Men, too.

10. Culture: There’s always something going on. It’s nice to be able to buy a big-euro ticket to the opera or the ballet. But if you can’t, you’re by no means going feel culturally deprived. So many events are free or cost next to nothing.

11. The height restrictions in Paris: Central Paris doesn’t cause people to feel claustrophobic, as New York City tends to do. Washington can also make a similar claim, but the architecture there is most decidedly not Beaux-Arts.

12. The monumentality of the city: I’m the first to admit I’m prejudiced. Before moving to Paris, I thought my hometown, Washington, DC, was a glorious capital city. It isn’t at all bad, but its scale and grandeur simply aren’t as spectacular as the views of Paris. Perhaps it’s because, unless you’re at the Tidal Basin or the Lincoln Memorial, the vistas aren’t the same. And even though it may be gaudy (well, before the paint fades and dirt settles on the gold leaf), the monuments glistening when seen at a distance highlighted in gold are spectacular.

No matter how many times I leave Paris and return, my breath is invariably taken away when I pass Notre Dame, the Pont Neuf and the Grand Palais. And I know it’s crazy, but what really touches my heart and my soul are Paris’s florists. Some are more haut de gamme than chic and très cher. But there are so many other flower stands where you can buy a bouquet for three euros and it can’t help but make me feel cheerier, even on a very gray day.

It’s Paris for twelve reasons or more. But I’ll give you one perfect reason. Here I am chez moi.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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My Favorite Neighborhood and a Few of its Hotels

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:15 pm -

People are constantly asking me where they should stay in Paris.

If they’re friends, I suspect they’re angling for an invite. Who they are and whether they’ll need a tour guide will influence my answer. Then there are times when there’s no room in the Fawcett Inn.

My guest room is also my office. Need I say more? Some people find it unnerving to sleep surrounded by flashing lights. Yes, I know for the sake of energy conservation I should unplug modems, routers, phones, computers, the printer and all of the electronics that comprise command central of Bonjour Paris at night.

I’ve learned better: first, because I may find myself sleepless and typing until sleep overtakes me, and second, I have zero tech skills. The chances of rebooting each day (in a timely fashion) are next to none. As a result, EDF is making extra euros and I’m not being green.

So pointing to a nice hotel nearby has been my traditional solution. How times have changed, though. When people used to ask me to book a hotel rooms for them, it was a pain in the neck. It entailed making numerous calls and, if hotels were filled, I’d have to walk from one to another to see if I could use my charm and snag a room.

As no-shows burned hoteliers, I’d have to plunk down my credit card in order to reserve the digs. If the person forgot to cancel, I’d be stuck for a night’s deposit.

With the advent of the Internet and hotel booking sites, my life has changed. People can make the choices based on what’s available for their specific dates. If their hearts are set on a specific hotel and there aren’t any rooms, the site will suggest alternatives in the area that have space.

Hotel booking sites offer all types of specials. What the consumer pays with them is less than the rack rate or even what I can negotiate. Individuals simply don’t have that type of buying power and when I ask hotel managers for their best price, their response (sometimes) is that they’re listed on the Internet and I should look there.

Being someone who tends to be dubious, I wonder if people who book over the Internet receive the worst rooms. I’m told that’s not the case, but if I can afford it, I try to book the slightly bigger room—usually termed deluxe rather than classic.

If your travel dates are set in stone, pre-paying the total amount can save you substantial money. But these reservations are not reimbursable. If you’re unable to make it, you’re in for the dollar, the euro or the yen.

I’ve identified some of my favorite hotels located within a fast walk of my apartment. No, they’re not the Renaissance Paris Vendôme with an indoor swimming pool and a spa, or my favorite hotel, Le Meurice, or The Crillon. These hotels are located on the Right Bank and are a wee bit out of most people’s price range.

Some of my personal favorites are only moments away from the Luxembourg Garden. There are many other wonderful areas in Paris, but these are ones I know in my sleep. My choices tend to be boutique hotels that have charm and where you don’t get lost navigating hallways. The rooms tend to be small, but as the French would say, très correct. Do look at the photos carefully and keep in mind the wonders of wide-angle lenses. Think small!

Each has its own personality, and even though they lack hot and cold running staff, you’re taken care of and the hotel’s personnel don’t look at you as if they’ve never seen you before. Because these hotels are small, they rarely have dining rooms that serve anything other than breakfast. That’s not a negative since you can’t walk more than a few steps without being surrounded by restaurants of every type.

My criteria: Good design, renovated rooms and bathrooms that may be small but have a new look and feel, and FREE Wi-Fi. My taste tends not be be as traditional as many people’s—so please don’t jump at one of these selections since there are thousands of hotels from which to choose.

Here are some of my Parisian choices, but I use this specific booking site—Booking.com—any and every place I need a hotel room throughout the world:

Apostrophe

La Villa des Artistes

Le Six

Hôtel Des Académies des Arts

Hôtel De La Paix

Hôtel Le Chaplain Rive Gauche

Hôtel Le Sainte-Beuve

Chances are more than good that we might bump into one another if you stay in one. Paris neighborhoods are villages. And if you’ve ever stayed in any of the above, please post your impressions.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Time in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:13 pm -

People who don’t live in Paris appear to be endlessly fascinated by those who do. Perhaps that should be rephrased to specify Bonjour Paris readers, a clearly self-selected group that wants to know so many things that it feels as if I should be keeping a diary of how I spend my days.

There are the endless questions about the weather. Let me go on record and say I have zero idea what it will be like on April 8 and dress for all seasons.

If my emails serve as an indication, many people would opt to move to France or keep one foot in their home country and one on Gallic soil. The reality is that no matter where you live, life is an endless train of facts and inevitabilities, and such things as dealing with mail, doing the laundry, brushing your teeth, washing and buying groceries are realities, that is, unless you’re able to afford to hire hot and cold running staff—and some things on this list money just can’t buy.

I’m among the very lucky who is free enough to not have to work in an office and not have an hour-long commute. I’m my own boss—for better, and come to think of it, sometimes for worse. How I’d love to work a thirty-five hour week, have five paid weeks of vacation plus quite a few (paid) holidays thrown into the pot.  There are also times I wish I worked in an office with other people. There would also be equipment that more than not works and someone on staff with IT skills.

In addition, being an American, I don’t take some French holidays and because I’m in France, I don’t take some American ones. What’s wrong with this picture? There are times I’d like to strike (higher wages, more benefits, fewer hours) but against whom could I protest? As for the retirement age, let’s not go there.

Paris is similar to most big cities where if you take advantage of the many things you can do (and they don’t necessarily require spending tons of money), you can keep busy morning, noon and night.

In the past week, I’ve attended a fundraiser for a group I hold near and dear. Each attendee paid 50 euros and met for champagne and appetizers at one person’s apartment where we spent more than an hour listening to wonderful classical music performed by counter-tenor Dominique Corbiau and pianist Katsumumi Suetsugu.

The group crossed the street to another host’s apartment where there was a buffet dinner and incredible jazz with singer/songwriter Ferricia Fatia, Ti Harmon, flautist Sabine Boyer and other accompanists. The guests really got into the spirit, making this event one everyone would remember.

The 16th Salon du Chocolat was taking place and anyone who attended could get a sugar high simply walking into the exposition center. Let’s not even discuss how many calories attendees gained just taking the tiniest samples. I bought a tiny gift from La Cuillère Suisse. Who could resist one of the company’s logos, “Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth lies”?

The Monet Exhibit at the Grand Palais is another must-see and I was lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket. It’s anticipated that at least 500,000 people will see this show before it’s over on January 24, and 83,000 tickets had been sold before it even opened. This is the largest retrospective of Monet, showcasing nearly 200 examples of his work.

Those have been some of the highlights. There have been trips to the post office, the SNCF office to buy a round-trip train ticket to London, the bank, the phone store where I received zero satisfaction, the dry-cleaner and naturally the grocery store—which sounds like something you can do in Cannes or Kansas, though that would be an amazing train ticket. When you live in Paris, you don’t go out to dinner every night even though I’ve eaten at a couple of restaurants that make me wish I could afford to do so.

No matter how rushed, I make a daily pilgrimage to the Luxembourg Garden. It may only last a few minutes, but it restores my soul. It is also one of those parts of Paris for which I cannot think of an equivalent anywhere I’ve lived or traveled. Perhaps that’s why it’s so restorative.  It reminds me where I am—and why I live here and love Paris so.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Back at Home in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:12 pm -

I’m home and it feels so right. Yes, there are strikes and there are more to come. But, if you’re in the City of Light, it doesn’t feel as if it’s the end of the world.

Based on all the news reports and shows of violence being looped on television, who in their right minds would consider coming here now?  Ahh, hmmm… let me attest: plenty of people. When I arrived at Dulles airport, my first questions to the airline personnel were about the strikes. The what? No, there hadn’t been more cancellations than usual on the Paris-bound flight.

The plane from Washington, DC, was 80% full. After asking a few passengers if they were concerned about coming to France, they really didn’t know about the strikes. Or if they did, they weren’t concerned over being affected by them.

The flight took off on time and landed 40 minutes early. Getting into the city wasn’t substantially more difficult than usual although it did take a bit longer because some people, who might have taken mass transit, were driving. Gas stations were open and plenty of cars were waiting to receive their allotment of gas.

As angry as the French may be, they generally don’t lean on their cars’ horns to express their displeasure.

The French passengers with whom I spoke shrugged and said, “C’est normale. We strike first and hope we can negotiate later.”  Even they admitted they didn’t think the French government was going to back down from voting in France’s pension reforms.

The most cogent discussion I heard about the strikes in France was broadcast on The Diane Rehm Show, which is aired in Washington and networked by NPR to its member stations. Her guests explained a bit about the French mentality in addition to the economic necessity of the pension reform.

Alexander Chancellor, columnist for British newspaper The Guardian, had another explanation about the strikes.  “British resistance to government cuts will never match those in France. Some will certainly fight the cuts tooth and nail, but it is more in our national character to unite in shared suffering.” The famous British stiff upper lip seems to have been deployed, if perhaps with a crinkled nose and squinted eyes, while the French are out in the streets as they have been since before the Saint Bartholomew massacre.

The French feel they are defined by revolution, and look back with nostalgia to the events of May 1968. They are conditioned to distrust their ruling elite and think they are only living up to their finest national traditions when they are burning cars or throwing cobblestones at the police. If we find comfort—and we don’t always—in following our government’s calls for self-sacrifice in the national interest, the French find it in defying their government.

Brits are astonished the French are making such a fuss about the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62 when it has already been raised to 67 in Germany and will soon be raised to 66 in the U.K. According to opinion polls, a majority of French people actually accepts that the retirement age must go up if the country is to be able to afford its generous pension system.

The French Senate officially adopted the reform bill and the final vote will likely take place during the week of Oct. 25, with the law expected to be enforced soon thereafter. We’ll see if the strikes continue, as unions and other strikers vow will happen.

But what am I seeing in Paris? People are walking, biking and when I went out last night for a dinner that made me know I was home, the #83 bus that’s always late came immediately. The patrons in the restaurant were enjoying their dinners and no one could be audibly heard complaining.

A trip to the grocery store was another indication that life is good. People are on the streets and in the shops and if there are any visible signs of striking in this area, it’s that the trash trucks haven’t been by for a couple of days. Some heavy trash bags have joined the trash bins but are placed just so because in spite of the strikes, the French maintain a sense of order.

Please don’t get me wrong and think I dismiss the strikes as nonsense. Anything but and it’s distressing that some students (in addition to probable thugs up to no good) have joined the strikers. Their activities seem self-defeating, especially in a debate which is over.

What is amazing to me that I returned home to find a sign on the main door announcing the one elevator in the building is not going to be operational for six weeks beginning January 3rd. Living on the fifth floor (U.S), that gave me pause. I immediately encountered my next-door neighbor who is well over 80 thinking she’d be upset.

Chère Mme Morin commented we’d better remember all of the groceries we needed so we wouldn’t have to make more than one trip to the grocery store each day. I was too tired to remind her that grocery stores deliver and wasn’t about to mention all of the Internet grocery sites where you can order everything including the kitchen sink.

If the same thing were to happen in the U.S., I assume the tenants would go ballistic and… there would not be a strike because what or whom would they be striking against? A dilapidated elevator? Yet, I’m not thrilled and can’t believe it’s going to take six weeks to repair. On the other hand, I need to lose some weight and will use the stairs as the way to do so. I try to take them once a day when I am in Paris.

Now, I’ll simply have to take them more frequently. And to be sure, no one in the building will go on strike although Mme Morin suggested we might want to put a chair on each floor so we could rest before continuing up. She’s absolutely right and I’d better inform some friends who’d planned to visit during that period that they might want to reconsider.

My guess is the lack of an elevator will be more of a deterrent to houseguests than the strikes. As the French would say, on verra.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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In Washington D.C. and Paris Bound

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:11 pm -

I’m in Washington D.C., getting ready to head to Paris—and am I ever glad. I’ll miss my family, but we’ll resume our weekly Skype sessions. To tell you the truth, though, the girls are leading their own lives and becoming increasingly busy with school, birthday parties and things children do.

I’m looking at the clothes to be packed, gathering papers that seem to travel with me no matter where I go, and making mental notes of chores I need to do, such as alert my US phone carrier to reactivate roaming, so I won’t be hit with a mega bill when emails start rolling in the minute I arrive in France. My lists are beginning to multiply.

Electronics are sitting in one corner including a Kindle in addition to extra large jars of crunchy peanut butter, bars of pink Dove soap, bags of Hershey’s chocolate kisses and two bags of dark brown organic sugar which is probably available in France. Still on my to-do list: a run to a drug store that sells vitamins and other pills in super-size-me bottles.

I’m not living in fear over the current strikes. To be honest, I’m more concerned over the weather, so thank goodness for waterproof shoes, raincoats and umbrellas. For the past seventeen years, the Bonjour Paris mantra has been you don’t come to France for the climate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am following the strikes very carefully, reading the French news, watching France 24 and knowing the strikers are determined to strike and will do so until… well, until what always happens happens once again. They will stop because no one really believes the president and the legislature are going to cancel the retirement-reform legislation. And not everyone is happy: schools are closed, which the students may enjoy, but the parents of young ones do not. High school students are also protesting.

In case you’ve missed it, gasoline is beginning to run low in the tank farms—and the refineries are closed. But the French government is telling the gas companies to use their own reserves and don’t think they can tap into the government’s month-long reserve. Will the government force the lines to be open to supply fuel to Paris’s airports?

I am constantly querying friends in Paris as to whether or not they’re suffering and not being able to navigate within the city itself. Are grocery stores being raided? Are people stocking up on wine (this is as good an excuse as any) and has life come to a grinding halt? The answer has been no unless they are depending on trains; if so, there will more than likely be some inconvenience. One friend says she’s postponed her trips from the Loire to see her dentist in Paris, but it’s not the end of the world.

There are noises (and loud ones) about fuel supplies being cut off at Paris’s two airports. Will it mess up my flight? Time will tell and I may be fuming if my plane doesn’t depart much less arrive in Paris. However, this is a part (the worst part) of the travel experience and even though I’m eager to arrive home and walk through the Luxembourg Garden, if I don’t get home at the appointed hour, I’ll have something to write about next week.

Having lived in France for the past 22 years, I’ve learned unions (declining in membership) strike first and then negotiate. Actually, it’s a bit funnier than that. First, they issue a préavis, a notice that they intend to strike on a certain day. Then they strike, issue several more préavis, do it again, and then they negotiate or, as I suspect in this case, they simply go back to work. How much inconvenience they cause is another story. But here’s a précis: The flights that have been canceled (although not long-haul ones) cause havoc. The Eiffel Tower was closed for one day. If I’d only had one day in Paris, I might have been upset.

French postal workers are now making noises about striking. Yes, that would be an inconvenience. But nothing like it was when there wasn’t any mail the first winter I moved to Paris. Nor were there many faxes and who’d heard of the internet? That was the winter of major discontent (plus my being homesick) and a telephone bill that precipitated some very heated conversations between my husband and me.

I have attended so many strikes that feel more like a 4th of July parade—where people sing, chant, and naturally eat. Note that in France, attending strikes is similar to going to the movies: you don’t participate, but you do watch—and incidentally get counted as part of the manifestation. There are always food trucks and strikers stop before dinner because most French wouldn’t consider missing their evening meal.

People form a type of solidarity during strikes. I’ve hitchhiked, ridden on the back of motor scooters, biked and confined my projects to places I can walk. I cyber-commute no matter where I am, so I have a definite advantage.

The key point is the government is not going to cave in over the pension reform. As an American, the idea of retiring at 62 sounds pretty good to me. France has the lowest retirement age in the EU except for Greece, where the government—good luck to them!—is trying to raise the retirement age for women from 50 and for men from 57 to 60 and 62. Germany’s retirement age is 65 and it’s being upped to 67.

One thing I do want to weigh in over is the fact that CNN, France 24 and other media outlets can cause things to look worse than the reality. As I’ve said, no one I know—or have read about—is actually suffering anything more than inconvenience so far. And it worth noting that even some of the students who are protesting have conceded that life expectancy is much longer than it was when the current pension system was established.

Strikes to worry about: dock strikes, fuel strikes, truckers because of the movement of goods (e.g., food), etc. Would my bet be this will be the last strike? No. Do I think there will be more days of disruption? Yes! And, for the record, striking or attending a strike beats working. And the poor French Socialists think they’ve got a lock on the presidency in 2012. They also think Galileo was wrong and the sun revolves around la belle France.

My worries are more centered on France’s long-term economy, the euro zone and the fact that too much bread is being pre-made in factories. In spite of these problems, and given my druthers, I wouldn’t live anyplace else.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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It’s Hard to Feel French Here

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:11 pm -

It’s hard to feel French when you’re not in France. Or is it? The fact of the matter is I tend to see things with a French point of view even when I’m in the U.S.

There’s no question it’s undoubtedly easier since I’m in Washington, DC, which acquires an internationalist undercurrent from the embassies and transnational institutions such as the World Bank, the German Marshall Fund, and the Organization of American States. On the other hand, the Luxembourg Garden is only a block away from my apartment in Paris. And in Paris, my usual two-minute sprint to the bakery finds me returning home with a just-out-of-the oven baguette that smells so good, it’s rare when it gets to the apartment without my having devoured (at the very least) its heel—which they tell me, anyway, is required by French law.

My D.C. digs don’t have local clochards or street people visible within a block or two of my walking out the door. I’d have to get in the car to find someone begging for coins, which is easily done. But I don’t make a habit of going downtown in order to be benevolent. And if I do, the best option available to me, since I don’t like giving cash to fuel their next drunk, is to buy some poor soul a burger from McDonalds instead of a chunk of Brie, which I am told on occasion is not yet ripe enough to eat.

Even though I’m less than two miles from the White House, the apartment is in the suburbs. Rather than seeing rooftops, I look at treetops from the 14th floor windows.

Having said that, my neighbor across the hall is French, in addition to many other residents. Come to think of it, that shouldn’t be a shock since there are more than 250 units in the building. Because the elevators are gargantuan compared to my retrofitted one in Paris, where you feel you have to get married if there are more than two people in it, people tend to bump into one another frequently and have more of an opportunity to exchange words when the elevator stops at several floors on the way up to mine.

The mail arrives each afternoon and people tend to congregate and meet and greet and dump the junk mail into a paper recycle bin. There’s where I encounter more French natives. They work at the French Embassy, the International Monetary Fund, or another international organizations.

If you get on the mailing list, you can do something French each morning, noon and night. There’s the Alliance Française where you can enroll in French classes, attend lectures, participate in tours and meet a lot of people from the French community who cluster there. There’s also La Maison Française if you’re looking for French.

In addition, there’s an active international group that sponsors something to do or see practically every evening—including how to waltz—that took place at the French ambassador’s residence.

I’ve been invited to join a French movie group and have been remiss because I’m working and would rather try the French restaurants that spring up in the Washington area. Besides, I’m here for a finite period of time and would rather try to teach my granddaughters some French.

Not wanting to lose my knowledge about wines, many liquor stores sponsor wine tastings and some take place almost every day of the week. Winery representatives more than likely speak French because they are French or have learned it and are more than delighted to discuss its smell, taste, nose, and bouquet in their native tongue and are pleasant about putting up with my butchering their language and (contrasted to when I’m in Paris) don’t tease me about my accent or immediately start speaking English.

Wine bars are à la mode here and are multiplying like mushrooms. I try to concentrate on sampling French wines, but have been known to succumb to drinking wine from different countries, especially ones from California. Dollar for dollar (as weak as it is against the euro), my take is that comparable French wines cost less that ones from the Napa or Sonoma Valleys.

Some of Washington’s great pleasures are its museums, which are rarely as crowded as those in Paris. Go to the French collections at the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection and you see paintings that were created by France’s greatest masters. When I was in my teens, I lived two blocks away from the Phillips and would stop and sit in front of Renoir’s painting Luncheon of the Boating Party. That painting really motivated me to study the French Impressionists and painters from the French luminous period.

Some people comment that Americans tend to hang out with one another when they live in Paris and unless they’re coupled with a French native, they can live their lives as permanent expats.

It’s clear the same is true for the French who live in Washington. Their children can attend the French school and live in a relatively cloistered environment. But, isn’t that missing out on the best of different cultures and not assimilating? I have no illusions that anyone will ever think I’m French… unless they look into my inner soul.

But scratch even deeper and they’ll quickly see that I was born here and will always be a Washingtonian. For that matter there are few of us who can claim their family lived in the Nation’s Capital when it was a village and my granddaughters are fifth generation.

So, it’s a compromise, I suppose, but maybe an unequal one. The things I love about France and the French can be had in Washington, at the price of some effort and often enough money changing hands. In Paris, they’re just there.  I can’t do anything about it, so I have learned to live with the compromise and have grown to like it.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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