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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Posted in Paris |

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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Posted in Paris |

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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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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Traveling during a Period of Uncertainty

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:10 pm -

When the seasons change, the Bonjour Paris mailbox is traditionally filled with questions pertaining to what clothes people should bring to France. If they’re heading to the Côte d’Azur, will it still be warm enough to swim? And could you please suggest 22 day trips?

That’s part and parcel of running a website; we’re used to giving advice, making recommendations and hoping for the best. There’s no one answer that satisfies each and every person. But c’est la vie, and we do our best.

This week’s queries have been different. Is it safe to come to France? If you’ve been watching the news, you know the Eiffel Tower has been closed twice in the past week. Both times were false alarms. A friend of mine who lives near the Tower said she had zero idea about the closures until a family member called from San Francisco to see if her family was OK. Jane was amazed since she said the area was “tourists as usual.” She’d just returned from the playground with her toddlers and commented that no one looked panicked in the least.

In addition, one of Paris’s train stations was evacuated. As tends to be the case in such situations, someone had left a suitcase. Until the police and the sniffer dogs came and the area was declared safe, people were inconvenienced. Better safe than sorry.

This reminds me of when a bomb was detonated in a trashcan on the Champs-Élysées in the ’90s. The receptacles were solid with round openings. People weren’t as aware of terrorist attacks then, although the French government claims it had its antenna up and out.

Rather than waiting for another possible occurrence, the trash bins were sealed tight as drums. What people did with their accumulated trash was a bit of a challenge. The city placed brown box cartons that overflowed with paper and cans, etc. Finally they were replaced with transparent plastic bags hanging on rings so garbage could be tossed without having the sidewalks look as if they were trash dumps.

During that era, travelers were concerned as to whether or not Paris was a safe destination. Initially, I found the trucks filled with national police from the CRS always visible and looking extremely well-armed and rough-and-tough unnerving.

What I ultimately realized is the French government doesn’t want to hide the fact it’s willing to do battle with anyone or any group with subversive motives.

The police are visible in a show of strength. Imagine my surprise when I was doing an interview with one of the officers in a truck only to see the others playing cards. At the same time, they were constantly on the lookout.

My brain flash-backed to the days after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 and riots erupted over the country. The 14th Street corridor in Washington, D.C., was torched. It was one of the most shocking occurrences in my lifetime.

I was young and naïve enough that it didn’t even enter into my realm of consciousness that something so terrible could happen. At that time, I lived in the Georgetown area of D.C.  Because it was where many government officials lived, the Marines and the National Guard were called into to protect the area as well as other parts of D.C.  It was an eerie feeling being surrounded by armed soldiers. We breathed a great sigh of relief when they disappeared and it was deemed safe to return to our daily routines.

There have been numerous troubling and horrible occurrences since that time, but does that mean people should give up traveling? My vote is no. I’ve even made it a point to take a flight on September 11th, the anniversary of the Twin Towers being destroyed as well as parts of the Pentagon.

There have been rumors of terrorists’ plots brewing in the U.K, France and Germany, and security has definitely been beefed up. The U.S. government is working with its European allies. But Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declined to provide specifics. “We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies.”

In France, Olivier Bagousse, who runs the Paris police department’s Command and Information Center, said authorities have stepped up their alert level following recent intelligence. They are manning a restricted area in Paris’s central police headquarters (across from the Notre Dame Cathedral) that looks and functions as a small version of NASA’s Mission Control. From there, they can survey Paris utilizing 400 closed-circuit cameras that are strategically placed throughout the city.

The seminal question is should people stop living because of fear? On top of that, my guess is there probably aren’t many cities that are considerably safer than Paris since the authorities are being more than vigilant. It goes without saying that tourists should stay alert.

Would you postpone a trip to Europe?  I wouldn’t, though I know not everyone shares my mantra that living in fear isn’t really living.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Observing the French

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:44 am -

The longer I remain in France, the less I understand the French. Or perhaps, I understand them better and have come to accept they’re quixotic. What you’d expect them to do, they don’t. What they do, you wouldn’t imagine they’d do in 1000 years.

Think of the Roma, formerly tziganes or Gypsies, if you want to get a sense of one of the French contradictions. They may complain about the les Roms, but let Sarkozy deport them—as he did—and they’re up in arms. Or consider this. Most Frenchmen and Frenchwomen agree that the welfare state as it is needs reform, beginning with pensions. In the first reading of the bill, it has passed the Chamber of Deputies, 329 to 233, a pretty clear signal. Nonetheless, the strikers will be out again next week and next month. Raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 feels inhumane to them.

And here’s an example that I find fascinating. Politeness is an attribute most French consider essential. Naturally, some things are easing up, as the world becomes more homogeneous and bad manners, rather than good ones, spread. However, the bourgeoisie usually follow certain rules.

But there are exceptions. If you own an apartment in Paris, the annual meeting of the co-propriétaires can feel as if war is being waged. People who nod to one another if they’re sharing an elevator or pass one another in the entrée will frequently raise voices when issues regarding the building are being discussed.

I’m sure there’s a French version of Robert’s Rules of Order, but they don’t appear to be enforced. My French friends tell me these meetings can be difficult and revealing about their neighbors. They can last until each and every person has had his or her say.

When the French debate, they do it with panache and have the ability to focus—especially when it comes to spending money for capital improvements. As is the case with most building associations, there are those who advocate expenditures while the long-term residents are generally satisfied with the status quo—and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Generally, these meetings are lively and, by the end, an onlooker might suspect the building’s residents must have hearts of stone. Not at all.

For example, the other day, I was walking by the grocery store at the end of my street. There were three police vans and at least six men and women in uniform holding walkie-talkies in front of the building. Had someone been raped, robbed or murdered? Clearly, it had to be a federal case to generate so much commotion.

Rather, the police had come to remove our neighborhood clochard, who lives on the street. For the past twenty years, we’ve had an ongoing relationship and wouldn’t consider not nodding when passing. During this time, we’ve both aged and gone through various stages of living and life. He’s lost his companion dog and part of his right leg, and it’s clear he’s drinking more wine on some days than others. He’s moved from one place to another, but likes our quartier as much as those of us who are paying big euros to live in the 6ème.

I’ve bought him food, water, juice and sustenance; he’s chastised me for selecting a small round of Camembert that wasn’t ripe enough. It was clearly his responsibility to give the resident américaine an education.

By no means am I the only person. I’ve seen him wearing a neighbor’s cast-off overcoat, and when it’s really cold, another neighbor has taken him blankets. Even thought the City of Paris has vans that take street people to shelters for the night and make certain they’re fed and bathed before letting them leave the following morning, not all people will go.

After looking to see what was taking place, it became evident that our street person was being taken to the police station. He was showing his identification and following the rules—and even though he wasn’t drunk that day, it was clear someone had complained. His possessions appear to have multiplied—and he’s not a neat freak—and things were spilling out onto the sidewalk from the doorway that he’d made home.

Speaking with the police was futile. They responded that they knew who he was and were doing their job and essentially, I should disappear. As I walked down the street, I bumped into two neighbors and blurted out what was taking place at that very minute.

Eric responded, “Ce n’est pas possible” and took off saying that he was going to keep the police from taking Michel to the station. He summoned some neighbors who happened to be on the street and there was a posse running to the corner—the famous Parisian mob, united in purpose, in this case made up of people who had nearly been at one another’s throats over the need of painting in the stairwells.

The next day, Michel was back, none the worse for wear. But I keep wondering if the flying squad of neighbors who ran to try to rescue him from the cops the day before are still united in purpose or grumbling at each other over higher wattage bulbs in the common halls or the paint or the number of recycling bins in the backyard.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Memories, Paris, Provence, Loss, Sadness and Joy

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:19 am -

Ever since September 11, 2001, most people can’t have that day come and go without remembering the devastating destruction and loss that occurred. Three thousand people lost their lives, and we lost some of our freedom. For many, it was the end of an age of innocence. It’s one of the defining acts in recent history that has impacted travel and so much more. As much as we’d like, the world will never be the same.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in Paris in the afternoon, writing away. Because of the six-hour time difference, it was morning on the East Coast of the U.S. My son would usually sign on his computer and thank goodness for AOL instant messenger (IM)—even though we were on different continents, I had the feeling of being able to “talk” to him if necessary. As soon as he signed on, he started typing as if in a whirlwind. Where was I? What was I doing? He told me to turn on the television so I could see what was happening.

I ran into the living room just in time to see the second tower crumbling down. This couldn’t be real. Clearly, this was a bad movie and couldn’t be real.

Please remember these were the days before most of us had high-speed Internet, much less Wi-Fi. I grabbed my laptop and moved into the living room, plugged in the rinky-dink modem and, amazingly enough, was able to snag an AOL dial-up connection.

Sitting on the sofa in total disbelief, I IMed with my son and a couple of other people on my buddy list. Who could possibly believe what were seeing on CNN and why was this happening? The horror and the terror were not to be believed. It would be a while before we knew the whys…

I was unable to reach my mother who lived less than two miles from the Pentagon. All of the phone lines were jammed and there was no way I could make a call from Paris to Washington, DC. The irony was my mother thought I should move home (meaning where she was) because of some mini-bombs that had recently been detonated on the Champs-Élysées.

A buddy list friend, who lived in the area, finally contacted my mother who’d been sleeping. My son had gone home to his wife so he was off-line.

People frequently want to know what it feels like to be an expat. In this case, I wanted to be with family. But would that have changed anything? In essence, we were all impotent and could do nothing but wait and hope the nightmare would abate and we’d wake up and realize it had been a bad dream and shake the dust out of our eyes.

Phyllis Flick, who’d just moved to Paris to study, had rented a room down the street and didn’t have access to CNN. Even though we’d never met except through Bonjour Paris, she asked if she could come up to the apartment so she could see English-language television. That was fine with me. I was pleased to have the company and I think she camped on the sofa in front of the television. To be honest, the entire time was a blur.

How well I remember my neighbors knocking on my door and asking if there was anything they could do for me. We really didn’t know one another, but they knew that I was l’américaine and at times such as this, even the French don’t stand on formality.

The memory of my downstairs neighbor who worked for Microsoft will be indelibly etched in my mind. Michel appeared and insisted I come downstairs for dinner and their door was always open in the event I wanted coffee, company or a cigarette. Yes, it was politically and socially correct to smoke in La Belle France then.

My husband Victor had left for Provence a couple of days before. He so loved that house in the vines, and I was planning to join him a couple of days later. Since his U.S. office was headquartered next to the World Trade Center, he was concerned about many of his colleagues and friends. What a terrible time when he heard that one of the offices where he’d worked was no longer standing. So much sadness.

When I started writing this, I realized today is the fourth anniversary of Victor’s death. I came across this article in the archives of Bonjour Paris and thought it would be appropriate to republish.

To the many people in all of our lives who’ve been lost for myriad reasons, let’s raise a glass to them. To those who are our friends and part of our families, let’s do everything possible to nurture and cherish them.

Please know I consider Bonjour Paris readers family. You may come and go, but we’re a community and so many thanks to each and every one of you for being there.

September 12, 2010

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Welcome to France and the World of Strikes

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:18 am -

You may be a tourist and here for R&R. But that doesn’t make you exempt from the realities of French life. Since I live in Paris, I’ve learned (well, kinda) to factor in some of the negatives that drive others nutty and provoke people to call the French some not very nice names. Lord knows, tourists can come away with some mighty negative impressions. To be succinct, it’s the season of la grève first and la négociation after a while. The French strike first and talk it over later.

Dealing with strikes means acquiring an acceptance that you can’t change the way things are done, merci beaucoup. The first year I lived in France, the strikes were enough to make me want to jump out of my skin and decide to make a religious study of France’s best agricultural product.  Ah, drinking way too much wine succeeded in numbing some of the pain and suffering derived from the post office being on strike in addition to Paris’s public transportation system.

This sounds like the dark ages, and yet it was (only) 22 years ago. I had no option but to walk and walk and learned a lot about Paris and happily lost some weight. However, I wasn’t a happy camper since this was pre-internet (no VoIP or Skype) and phone calls were a major line item in our budget. We bought a fax, but still trying to stay close to friends and family cost a ton of old French francs. No, my husband and I didn’t get divorced over the FranceTel bills. However, there were some mighty heated conversations about my intrinsic need to communicate.

People learn to go with the flow or try to without going into cardiac arrest. For example, children are back in school; the rentrée has occurred—or so their parents thought. Twelve million students finally returned to class after a long summer—and let’s get on with education. Easier said than done since the unions that represent France’s 850,000 teachers are going on their first strike of the academic year this Monday and Tuesday.

Teachers’ unions are protesting against the government’s pension reforms and the job cuts. Approximately 16,000 jobs have been axed for this academic year. 30,000 posts were cut between 2007 and 2009. There’s serious talk of 16,000 additional cuts next September and teachers and other members of the staff aren’t happy. Nor are the parents who want their offspring to go to school and actually have the opportunity to learn.

No one is happy. This year’s reforms mean that large parts of curricula at all levels have been rewritten, and several textbooks aren’t ready for distribution. There’s talk of extending the school week so children will be less exhausted and many other changes. Change is generally unpopular.

On Tuesday, while the teachers will be striking, a general strike is planned for people who don’t want to see the retirement age raised from 60 to 62—which may give the teachers a hard time deciding which strike to join that day. All of the other unions will join this industrial action, and if you want to get from here to there, forget it. Whether or not President Sarkozy will be successful in getting this reform passed is more than problematic. There’s been a lot of yelling and screaming even though the French trade unions’ protests failed to rally enough street power against the proposed crucial reforms regarding France’s costly pension system. Anyone who reads the economic news is aware that an economic crisis is spreading across Europe and needs to be contained. Being required to work two or three extra years may ease the problem.

But are strikes and turmoil any reason for tourists not to come to France? The answer is absolutely not. Please anticipate that you may be somewhat inconvenienced, but restaurants will be open. You’ll probably encounter what frequently looks like a Fourth of July parade with vendors selling sausages and drinks to keep the protestors going. If you’re sightseeing, wear a hat with a big brim (things get thrown occasionally) and be prepared to walk and explore some off-the-beaten path neighborhoods.

Politics is a sport and a science of its own. I am by no means dismissing the long-term ramifications of these very key issues. A lot of people’s futures are on the line (including President Sarkozy’s), and French society’s future is resting on which reforms are adopted and which aren’t.

Think of it this way: Vacation is over and it’s a new season and life is back in the fast lane—or maybe it’s the breakdown lane.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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What Happened to Paris?

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:18 am -

It’s only been a day, or possibly a week, but the Paris I love has changed complexion. It’s not that I’m not still enamored with the city—it’s simply different.

Footsteps are audible in the apartment above me. Ditto for the sounds of my neighbor’s two children, who happily have reached the age that they rarely use the hallway as a non-stop racetrack as if there were gold at the end of the tunnel for the child who comes in first. Yes, you can occasionally hear their voices, which signifies they’re home from visiting their grandparents who take charge of their offspring plus their offspring in Normandy.

Mail is finally being delivered. Perhaps employees of La Poste went on vacation. More realistically, it’s that most of the residents of this building go away, so why send mail if there’s no one home to receive it? France is in many ways more “green” than the U.S. and you don’t have to fight your way through tons of junk mail to find a letter. As is the case in the U.S., bills are automatically deducted from my bank account, accounts are accessible online and it’s hard for me to recall the last time I received an honest-to-God letter. If it weren’t for invitations to some art openings, I’d toss everything without looking.

During August, parking is free where I live. Until the last couple of days, I could have parked anywhere if I had a car. Now people are forced to jockey for spaces, and beginning September 1, the meter maids will be out in full-force, writing tickets and collecting money for the city of Paris. Vivent les pervanches!

Shutters are being opened, and everybody’s cleaning house: duvets are hanging out to air, and it feels like a new morning. The apartment where I witnessed the recent raucous party is also undergoing a metamorphosis. Gone are the sex, drugs and rock and roll as well as the red curtains and the inhabitants. Perhaps they were ephemeral squatters who were taking advantage of the fact that they were not going to leave a forwarding address.

Now, there’s a painter giving the walls a coat of white. I couldn’t hightail it quickly enough to the café below to ask the owner whether or not the apartment is for rent. Perhaps I have a friend who might want it and could snag it before it goes on the market, which it will any minute if someone hasn’t already purchased the property.

I’ll know the answer tomorrow and was able to take a look at the very nice digs. In the process, I was able to get some exercise because there’s no elevator and walking up to the fourth floor (that means the fifth in the U.S.) means it would have to be a very healthy friend. Actually, I should probably move into it—my legs would be so much better for the exercise. In addition, I’d be forced to be so much more organized, because who wants to go down and up four flights because of a forgotten liter of milk?

Construction crews are back and the relative sounds of silence have gone away. Work that came to a grinding halt at the end of July is now being finished. The lobby of a building that has been in the process of being renovated forever may actually be ready.

Parisians who have the means to spend the month of August elsewhere have returned home all at once like lemmings: highways have been filled with bumper-to-bumper cars waiting their turn for their sortie that will take them into Paris.

Women are meeting, greeting and gravitating to cafés, as if they haven’t seen one another in years. It’s clear they have a lot to discuss after having been separated while on vacation. Or have they been? People seem to be having conversations while socializing but the hot thing is that everyone who’s who (and who’s not) has an iPhone, which seems to be in constant use.

This year’s fashion style for “older” women is tights and shirts that are loose flowing tops, as if they’re not quite ready to make the leap to wearing true city clothes. Feet are covered with sandals; people are hanging onto summer. Women’s faces and arms are bronzed and many of them look as if they’re waiting for an appointment with the hairdresser because they’re allowing their hair the privilege of being a tiny bit wild and naturally streaked—which is unnatural in Paris.

Last week, grocery stores were nearly empty. This week, you get the definite impression that people are stocking up after their time away. Grocery carts aren’t filled with that day’s necessities, but are brimming, and purchases are being stacked in plastic boxes that will be delivered within the following two hours—or so they tell you.

Voilà the trucks filled with cartons of groceries, water, wine and more that people have ordered online. Those sites didn’t exist until about five years ago and people using them initially might have been chastised for not caring enough to select their own items. Quite frankly, I don’t feel the need to handpick my own laundry detergent. I do choose produce and fresh fish at the local markets. And naturally, cheese, glorious cheese….

What’s most poignant about this period is that children are obviously getting ready for the school year. Parents are assiduously ensuring their charges have the right books, pencils with gradations of thickness, pens, notebooks with grids and so many other sundries.

After giving the August-September phenomena some thought, I realize my new year always began in September because that’s when we returned to school. The official January 1 new year was always symbolic of the winter-holiday vacation more than another year and a new start. Is this a universal feeling of people where the school year begins in September?  Do we ever break the feeling even if we’re no longer lugging book bags?

Perhaps we’re eternally school children at heart no matter what nationality is stamped on our passport. What do you think?  As some children say, “Good night, Moon,” perhaps we should say, “Goodbye, August.”  But, there will be another one.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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