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 |

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 |

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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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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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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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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French Bureaucratic Hell?

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:16 am -

I’ve been worrying about this for two years and I’m not exaggerating. Would I or would I not be allowed to stay in my adopted country? There are “eight million stories in the naked city” and I was certain each and every one of them would befall me.

If you live in France and don’t have an EU passport, and haven’t been exposed to a discussion about obtaining a carte de séjour (or titre), you’ve been living under a rock. That plasticized card is worth more than its weight in gold, especially if it permits you to work.

Horror stories abound where people have been literally been given hours to pack up their belongings and get out of Dodge—or actually Panam’ to use the equivalent for Paris in the old days. This is not referring to the recent crackdown on illegal immigration. I’ve known people who’ve outstayed their student visas and have been forced to hightail it back to the U.S.

Others have chosen to remain here sans-papiers—yes, some of my best friends don’t have residents’ cards. But it’s become increasingly difficult because if you’re taking a France-bound flight from the U.S. without a return ticket within 90 days (and no, that doesn’t mean three months) you stand the risk of not being allowed to board the plane.

So you opt to become legal. There’s no way out of having all the many papers translated by an official translator, of proving you can support yourself without working, of having medical insurance, divorce decrees, a marriage license, an official address in France—and that’s just the beginning.

And as is true with all bureaucracies, the rules change or maybe it’s more accurate to say they are moving targets.  One fonctionnaire will ask for a paper another one doesn’t feel is pertinent or required. Welcome to long lines, repeat visits, and Excedrin headaches.

So my day had come and my stress level was on the rise. It was time to renew my ten-year card and, being a wee bit of a pessimist, I was convinced the French government would bid me au revoir. I realized this was highly unlikely since I own property in Paris, pay taxes and, darn it, sing the country’s praises.

My first ah-huh moment came when my photos were turned down because they didn’t meet specifications.  I avoided going to one of the ubiquitous booths that ask me to buy my identity photos here. I spent more at a photo place because I didn’t want to screw up. Well, I did because I smiled.  The application papers were returned and I had photos taken that make me look as if I’m a prisoner on death row. Hopefully, I won’t have to show the card frequently, but probably will since it’s valid for ten years.

No more official letters meant (I hoped) good news—no news is good news, right? I decided to make the foray to the Préfecture de Police on the Île de la Cité, which is Paris’s central headquarters for official business and also houses some fairly mean-looking people awaiting trial in one of the building’s jails.

It’s common knowledge you should expect to spend a day when having to accomplish anything official. Registering a car in Paris took so many hours that I became friendly with a woman in the process of waiting and being shuttled from guichet to guichet.

So, I determined this would be a lost day, shoved a book, a sandwich and a bottle of water into my bag and assumed I’d be home before dark. After all, this is August. I walked up to the métro to be greeted by a train pulling into the station and then whisking me to the Cité stop. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, I would have stopped and bought (or at least admired) the plants and the flowers at the open market at the top of the métro stairs.

But, I was a woman on a mission. I expected a line a block long to just be able to go through security. There was no one ahead of me, and I was in the door, having had my bag go through x-ray and walking through a metal detector so quickly that I assumed I was in the wrong place. I headed to the building where you take a number and wait your turn. My ticket number was 69 and, when I looked up, I saw that I was next. I didn’t even have time to take a gulp of water before my number was flashing on the sign.

In I went and was greeted by a young man with a beaming smile. I said “bonjour” and he replied “hello” and off we were going to getting my new card.  I asked for the card for Mme Fawcett and his face lit up with (I must have been imagining it—hallucinating?) with a modicum of recognition. He looked in the collection of dossiers under F and returned to report my card wasn’t ready.

My new best friend, who insisted on speaking English while I was babbling in French, asked to see my old card again, smiled and immediately went to another area.  He was looking in the wrong place since my identity in France will always be under my nom de jeune fille (maiden name) even though I can hardly remember when I was called that.

Bertrand, my bureaucrat pal, instructed me to go across the hall and purchase a tax stamp for 120 euros. That took precisely two minutes, and I was almost home free. Or so I thought.

I was back waving the stamps and was about to take my card and hit the nearest café and order a glass of champagne. No such luck. Bertrand was holding my card. I could see it—well, thank goodness I couldn’t see the photo—and he told me I’d have to return in six days since that was the day my card expired. Oh, couldn’t he please make an exception. He assured me no (in English) since he’d lose his job. But who was this lovely man who said he’d look forward to seeing me the following week? A mean and nasty French fonctionnaire? Hardly. Perhaps things are changing in La Belle France.

Or realistically, I got lucky, and August may be the best month for dealing with bureaucratic matters. So many Parisians are en vacances and office workers are actually glad to see you since they’re not frazzled or being hassled.

But, what’s with their speaking English? Is that correct? Can’t say it wasn’t helpful, though.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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August in Paris & I Want to Stay Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Where is Home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paris New Media, LLC


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