Paris Discoveries

Written by admin on February 18, 2010 – 11:59 am -

To really enjoy the city, all you have to do is open your eyes and allow sufficient time to get lost, because when you do, you’ll discover something new. This past week has been a testimonial to that premise. I kept finding myself in places I didn’t expect to be and I’m continually amazed there are so many areas I barely know, even though they’re within minutes of my apartment.

During a trip to Neuilly-sur-Seine, I got off at the wrong Métro stop and ended up walking through the commercial area of Paris’s bedroom community.  In spite of the fact it’s just outside of the Périphérique and about four miles from home, this town is completely different from central Paris. Come to think about it, the last time I was there was to visit a friend in the American Hospital of Paris.

All of the stores are très BCBG, and the women and children certainly weren’t wearing tattered jeans. If they were wearing jeans at all, they were crisply pressed, and the women sporting them had dressed them up with high heels and fur coats.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Neuilly’s residents are rich. If they’re not, they’re probably housekeepers, nannies, gardeners—or inherited the house.

The apartment buildings are grand—many built in the mid-1980s and have balconies that go on forever and not only are landscaped but have (often red) awnings protecting them from the midday sun.  The majority of these low-rise units are set back from the road and gated. Inside the gates, you can spot the types of cars owners don’t want parked out for all to see because they’re magnets for vandals.

Neuilly has some drop-dead beautiful houses (pardon, villas), and you know that captains of industry must own them—and you wonder if anyone can make so much money and be honest.  After being somewhat dazzled by Paris’s version of Beverly Hills, it was time to get going or I’d miss my appointment.

Even though I’ve lived in France all of these years, I never remember that the French refuse to give directions—either because they don’t know where you want to go or because it’s going to take too long to explain how to get to my destination—or give the most detailed instructions waving their hands as if I’ll understand more quickly.

Then there’s always someone who gives directions, but they happen to be the wrong ones. In this case, I hopped into a cab and paid the driver and chalked it up to being born without a sense of direction and forgetting my plan de Paris or printing out directions from Mapquest.com.

Rationalizing a taxi ride is a way to see more and faster, I also like to use the captive driver as a French teacher. How I wish the use of cell phones (even with earpieces) were banned.  I want to speak French and not be subjected to someone’s private conversation—and frequently in a language that has zero resemblance to French.

Getting home is generally less chaotic if I don’t have another appointment. I can intentionally use getting lost as a means to see another neighborhood that’s beyond the usual limited bounds of my neighborhood.

When I moved from Washington, DC, to Boston, I ended up knowing Boston much better than the District.  My routine wasn’t set in stone as it had been back home. The way I initially came to know Paris was by hopping on and off the Métro or the bus, walking until I was ready to drop and then hopping on another bus or subway.

Each and every neighborhood was a new discovery. Now that I’ve lived on the same Paris block, I realize I’ve lost some of the feel of the City of Light. In a couple of weeks, I have a houseguest coming for a visit. I’ve already informed her she’ll be on her own during the days while I’m working.  I hope she’ll understand that when I tell her to get lost, I’m actually trying to encourage her.

But the more I think about it, I think this is the time to take a refresher course in Paris 101. We’ll get weeklong RATP all-purpose transit passes and explore the city the same way I did when I was a newcomer here.  And what makes wandering and getting lost interesting is that Paris is also changing.  It seems to me that, if Bonjour Paris is going to write about Paris, we shouldn’t be recycling press releases and stories from other websites.  Much better, I think, to get out and see for ourselves, even if we have to ask for directions.  D’accord?


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No, Buenos Aires Is Not Paris

Written by admin on February 17, 2010 – 12:03 pm -

There are so many wonderful places to live. In reality, I could move anywhere and have considered many options. I had been thinking about Buenos Aires.

After doing considerable reasarch, I thought HolaBuenosAires.com and the city might be my future. How many people do you know return from Argentina’s capital without raving?  The city is so charming and très Français. The cost of living is much less than the City of Light. And if I could master the very stylized steps (yes, the man leads), I could dance my last tango in Paris—and head to Argentina.

My mental bags were packed, having done a fair amount of homework. There’s a daily non-stop flight from Washington, DC, where my grandchildren (and their parents), live. Because there’s only a one to two hour time change, you don’t have to deal with killer jet lag. Since I was going in December, the forecast was the 80s and 90s, warm and sunny. There’s a lot to be said for crossing the equator in a cold, wet winter.

Well, that’s what I thought, but the weather wasn’t summer. It had never been so cold or rainy. Rarely did the sun have the courtesy of shining. Even so, I hit the streets, and wandering is a great way to see Buenos Aires. Walkers can spend hours exploring its 48 barrios, including San Telmo with its incredible stores filled to the gills with wonderful jewelry plus art deco artifacts.

No one should go to Buenos Aires and not visit the 13-and-a-half acre Cementerio de la Recoleta. It has more than 6,400 incredible vaulted tombs and mind-blowing mausoleums, 70 of which have been declared historic monuments. And yes, Eva Peron was finally laid to rest there after having made her political mark on the country.

Anyone heading to Argentina should read its history. Argentina (Eyewitness Travel Guides) gives people an excellent overview of the country and its tumultuous past and present.

Who cares if Argentina is famous for its beef, and 68 kilos (that’s 150 pounds) is the average per capita consumption? Even vegetarians can find plenty to eat. The country’s wine industry is exploding. I prefer French wines but the wines from Mendoza, San Juan, and La Rioja provinces are good and are making their mark in the global wine industry.

Why didn’t I fall in love with the city?  Why did my visit further persuade me France has a superior quality of life, albeit more expensive? Perhaps it was influenced by the fact English is not taught in the schools as a second language; or because I was depressed knowing that a third of the city’s population of 14 million people is officially classified as poor by the by the government. You can see the evidence in the presence of the cartoneros, the army of trash pickers who make the central area of the city look like an expanding landfill

If I hadn’t rented an apartment, I might have felt differently. But staying in a hotel gives people a false sense of security and well-being. That doesn’t make sense if you’re really trying to learn the city. You should feel a city, explore the grocery stores and get a taste as living as a local.

For example, after visiting the Park Hyatt – Palacio Duhau, it was clear I would have had a very different impression of Buenos Aires had I stayed in this drop-dead gorgeous hotel, which has been named one of the best business hotels in the world, and certainly #1 in Argentina.

Yes, it could have been transplanted from Paris in terms of style, incredible food and the French look and feel. But, it also commands Paris prices. More to the point, it’s not Buenos Aires, not the reality of the city. Instead, it’s a place for rich locals to gather and for foreigners to parachute in—and in which they could be anywhere where money buys everything you want.

I left Buenos Aires disappointed and with increased resolve to stay in Paris. Even though I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb in B.A., as I would if I were to live in Asia, it was clear it would be hard to assimilate in a country where families are incredibly insular and not overwhelmingly welcoming of foreigners—especially ones who don’t speak Argentine Spanish.

The Expat community isn’t as large or as active as Paris’s. It’s hard to visit the city without coming away with the impression of its  economy and the realization that Argentines have very little confidence in the country’s government and are vocal about its corruption.

It was surprising to me that real estate purchases are priced in US dollars, and a major topic of discussion is where rich Argentines can invest their money. They recall all too well when the banks closed in 2001, and the peso was devalued by 75% causing the worse financial crisis in the country’s history.

Having cited the negatives, my friends rave about Argentina and are making beelines there since they feel it’s so French and is one of the in destinations.

Now that I’m convinced Paris has the best quality of life, I can’t wait to return to Buenos Aires as a tourist, take tango lessons and spend my evenings at one of the city’s many milongas (dance halls). It will be fun to enjoy one of South America’s most vibrant cities. And, I’ll make the time to explore the countryside rather than apartment hunting.

Even if Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America, it simply isn’t Paris. If you’ve spent time in either city, invariably you’re going to have a lot to say.


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Posted in Around the World, Paris |