It’s Getting to Be That Time of Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

Living in Paris for Too Long?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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My Favorite Neighborhood and a Few of its Hotels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apostrophe

La Villa des Artistes

Le Six

Hôtel Des Académies des Arts

Hôtel De La Paix

Hôtel Le Chaplain Rive Gauche

Hôtel Le Sainte-Beuve

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

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Time in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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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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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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Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll in the Summer

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:17 am -

Good, I hope that got your attention. It’s not that the French avoid sex, drugs and loud music for eleven months of the year. But they are more discreet about when and where and how. When August comes, people remaining in Paris assume they’re just about the only ones left, only tourists are walking the streets, and no one is looking out of windows—a Parisian pastime. Clearly, that’s not the case, and if you’re the least bit aware, you may see things that weren’t intended for public viewing. Or you might not see when the weather’s in the single digits Celsius. But August is warm.

If someone lives in an old Parisian building, most windows require curtains that are three meters in length and can set you back a pretty centime. Since the majority of these apartments don’t have air-conditioning, people leave their windows open to let in the air and let the noise out. If you live on a street that’s narrow or looks out over a small courtyard well you may be privy to activities for which you didn’t buy a ticket.

Though all those churches make France look like a Catholic country, relatively few people attend Mass or go to confession. Many (especially middle-aged and younger) French residents appear to have been born without the deep-seated modesty genes good Catholics were supposed to have. Seeing someone in his or her underwear is no big deal. Watching a person (hopefully the occupant) clean the apartment wearing next to nothing isn’t unusual in the summer. Perhaps it’s because it tends to be hot or maybe it makes sense since it cuts down on washing clothes that get dirty during the process. Whatever…

I’ve seen people cooking in their über-chic designer kitchens, eating dinner, sitting in their living rooms drinking wine, having conversations that look heated, putting babies to bed and making love. Come to think of it, I’ve seen relatively few people watch television—even though I know full well they do.

During summer months, I’ve spotted my homosexual neighbors across two courtyards make love as if they’re dancing and want an audience. Oh, to be that limber! Rather than yelling bravo, I close my blinds or exit the kitchen. There are some things that are none of my business; what a consenting couple does between is their business (please), and my fantasies just don’t work that way.

As for drugs, the teens (and older folks) who remain in Paris appear to feel no one’s looking and they can smoke marijuana or do a little coke (not cola) with impunity and immunity. The other night (rather morning) I decided to sit on the balcony at 4 a.m. and witnessed a party in full swing. Being of the live-and-let-live frame of mind (that does not apply to my son and his offspring), I figured what they ingested was their business, wasn’t doing any harm to my central nervous system, and wasn’t going to get my apartment raided.

But I was highly offended by the rock and roll emanating from the apartment. How dare it rupture my silence? I took my trusty whistle and blew it with all my strength. I didn’t want to yell la ferme! since I knew they’d know it was l’américaine who was putting a damper on their party and their fun. Then I began to wonder whether or not I was the only person left on the block or if everyone was so sound asleep they were oblivious to the music that was blasting loud enough to entertain people on the Right Bank… I’m on the Left.

There’s also another August phenomenon. When you think about it, it makes sense. People vacate apartments. It’s as if it’s the end of an old and the beginning of a new school year. Parents are undoubtedly getting situated so their children are settled when the semester begins.

Still, it’s a quiet month because when the French move, they move efficiently and quickly. The truck, complete with scaffolding that goes up and down mechanically, is parked in front of the building and boxes are loaded and unloaded in a fraction of the time it takes in the U.S.

Even though the French don’t move anywhere near as frequently as Americans, there’s been a fair amount of turnover on my street. This is good and bad since it undoubtedly signifies the neighborhood’s value is increasing as apartments are virtually dismantled and reconstructed. It also means the street can be blocked while the movers are at work. Some of the apartments, which had permanently closed curtains or shutters, can now be seen, leaving me to wonder if they had been vacant or inhabited by moles.

Invariably when a property is sold there will be increased noise for a while because the French are now into major renovations. We all know that can take forever and generate a lot of dust and forget about quiet. Anyone who’s lived through a property being gutted down to the studs, rebuilt, etc., knows it isn’t a silent process. I’m fully aware I’d better find another place to work when floors are being sanded, because I feel as if I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair with him drilling my teeth.

Happily, most workmen take the month of August off or concentrate on renovating commercial properties. That’s when they’re most in demand, can charge premium prices and have a finite period to gut and reconstruct before the rentrée and “new” establishments doors open.

By the last week in August, the world eases back to normal. Bakeries reopen. Restaurants spring to life. Invariably there are some new stores and prices have edged up just a tiny bit—as if people wouldn’t notice because they’ve been away. If nothing else, you can count on that. And of course, there are sex, drugs and rock and roll. They’re simply less visible because more people may be watching.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Summer Cheap & Free Paris

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:10 am -

Okay, you’re coming to Paris. Even if you have lots of euros, this is the time of the year when you don’t necessarily have to shell them out. Actually, it’s fun to see how few you can spend and still have a terrific time. Summertime is when the living is easier, and even though Parisian natives allegedly get up and go to the country, that’s not the case for everyone.

Buy a copy of Pariscope at any news kiosk even if you aren’t fluent in French: you’ll be able to figure it out (just in case, take a look at how to read it).  It’s published each Wednesday and lists events taking place in Paris that cost next to nothing in many cases.

To do:

Walk and walk some more. That means investing in some comfortable shoes. Please don’t wear them to a nice restaurant or you will look like a tourist.

Rent a bike.  They’re inexpensive and a Vélib’ will get you from here to there without too much trauma or drama. The first time I rode one, my heart was in the pit of my stomach.  I quickly acclimated and loved being able to go a few blocks, park the bike, stop and do whatever, then pick up another and continue to my next destination.  In order not to run up extra fees, never keep a bike more than 30 minutes. Important: do remember priority to the right is the rule of the road. If you’re a chicken (or a correctly cautious rider), a bike helmet is in order. The hell with chic and let’s hear it for safe and sound.

Eats:

Invest in a cheap tablecloth, sheet or whatever and picnic to your hearts’ delight. Sandwiches can be purchased in most grocery stores, pre-made salads and so much more. There’s always a corkscrew in my bag. Need I say more?

Do your restaurant eating at lunchtime when there are prix fixe menus that are veritable bargains.

Do you love to dance?  Head to the Seine

If so, you’ll be in heaven as you join the throngs of people on the quai Saint-Bernard and practice your tango, salsa, rock & roll (or whatever). Don’t feel you have to come as a couple. There are lots of singles and who knows, you may meet your true love—well, at least for the evening. The dancing caters to all levels of experts. Expect to encounter some stars who will steal the show. Don’t be intimidated. More than few participants have two left feet.

If you’re a concert-goer, check out musical performances that take place throughout the city when the weather is nice.  Every weekend (and frequently during the week) you can hear music free at a park’s gazebo. My favorites take place in the Luxembourg Gardens because it’s a minute from my apartment. But there are parks all over Paris.

Some performances are definitely better than others, but hey, even you can get in the spirit while listening to a school’s marching band.  It may not be Mozart or a noted string quartet, but those performances take place as well.

Paris’s City Hall has listed many events taking place this summer. There are outdoor movies, film and jazz festivals, classical music performances, art festivals and of course, there’s the Paris Plage.  Even if you didn’t anticipate coming to Paris to survey a man-made beach, it’s worth doing.  It may not be St-Tropez but you’ll see people at their best and at their worse—and watching the children frolic is always a pleasure.  I won’t mention all of the lovers…

During the summer, free readings (please buy a book and don’t bring your copy from Amazon expecting the author to sign it) at bookstores appear to slow down. Some are taking place at Shakespeare & Co. Pick up a copy of FUSAC (it’s a magazine, filled with ads and more); it will have announcements about what’s taking place in Paris.

Don’t miss the concerts at Radio France.  They may cost a few euros but some of the performances are spectacular and the auditoriums are air-conditioned.

Duck into churches even if you’re not looking for religion and/or inspiration. Architecture is free and some stained glass windows can take anyone’s breath away. Plus, you may find that someone’s rehearsing on the church’s organ.

Every Sunday at noon, there is music and dancing at the bottom of rue Mouffetard; free, fun and fabulous.

When you’re scanning one of the magazines, you may see plays announced where the public is invited for free. Again, the performers appreciate if you drop something (called cash) in the hat at the end of the evening.

Tour the city using only one metro/bus ticket. The #29 bus begins at the historic Gare St-Lazare, glides by the Place des Vosges, the Opéra Garnier and ends at the Bastille Opera. You might not have someone telling you in one of five languages precisely what you’re seeing but what do you expect for less than $2?

Bonjour Paris readers already know which Paris museums are free and there’s no charge for looking at the Eiffel Tower.

I’ve listed just some cheap or free events. I’m too busy sitting at a café watching the world go by which, in my mind, is some of the best theater in the world.

These are tips for Paris, but in reality, most big cities in the US and the E.U., stage summer festivals.  All it takes is some research.

If you can add any and all things I’ve missed, and there are tons, please do.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Cross-Cultural Relationships – Playing with Fire?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:36 pm -

It’s June and based on the questions in Bonjour Paris’s in-box, love must be in the air. Or, at the very least, like—okay, lust. There are so many e-mails that begin, “I’ve met someone who lives in France (or remplissez le blanc) and am considering…”

Perhaps it’s because people are more mobile and even though air travel may not be glamorous or pleasant, it’s easy enough to fly wherever you want for the person you want than ever before. And with the advent of Internet and email, it’s simply easier to maintain long-distance relationships.

And that’s only the beginning. Anyone can instant message, Skype and spend as much time (at least) communicating with someone else as if you were in the same city. The main impediment to whether or not you should pick up the phone is the time difference. I don’t care how much you love speaking, not everyone feels like talking at three in the morning.

Some conjecture that on-line dating has opened up a whole new world. People who would never have “met” twenty years ago are striking up cyber relationships that may develop into something substantially more.

Can two people from different countries see eye to eye and agree on little things such as where to live, how to raise children, who’s responsible for doing what and how? Factor in religious and political differences and you’re asking for double (a conservative estimate) trouble. If you don’t speak the same language, a lot gets lost in translation.

Will these relationships work? For some people yes—and for others, forget it. Unless they’ve been raised with the same set of values and references, cross-cultural relationships are too much of a stretch.

Some people are truly better off marrying someone from their community and (with luck) living happily ever after. The fact that fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce seems to be lost on a lot of people. Marriage, or just getting together with reasonable seriousness, is, well, a serious matter. And who remembers the quaint thought that it’s ’til death do us part?

The divorce rate is lower in France, which doesn’t mean that people are necessarily more content. But, because France is a nominally Catholic country (all right, Catholicism ceased to be the state religion a century ago, and attendance at mass is on the slim side most Sundays), perhaps people are less likely to divorce for the sake of the children or their status within the community. And many couples opt not to marry for all kinds of reasons—including being able to establish a civil relationship, which is more common among heterosexual couples than homosexual ones.

But what’s different now and interesting to me (and perhaps this is due to the somewhat older demographics of our readers) is that many of these emails are coming from Baby Boomers. We’re the post-WW II generation of people who are (possibly) easing into retirement and many are “empty-nesters.”

There’s a good chance you like to travel if you’re reading this site. So what about falling in love or like or lust and changing your lifestyle? Are people more willing to take a chance and move to another country? There are certainly a lot of reasons not to. But as I reminded someone who was chastising me for living in Paris because my grandchildren are in Washington, DC, I reminded them that the commute is an hour longer than if I were living in California.

Many of my American friends in Paris came to France for their college junior year abroad. So many of them stayed, married and have become more French than the French. Have their marriages worked? Not each and every one—but I am surprised how many have and how many of their children speak English with very French accents.

So much in relationships has to do with expectations and the ability to compromise. Can you be flexible in the way you approach life? Are you able to give the other person space to do what he or she needs to do—most especially when it comes to dealing with family who may live on the other side of the world? Are you capable of doing with someone from another country what is hard enough to do with someone from your own?

Real life situations cross us up, and unless you’re a take-charge type, you may need to assert yourself. I was just speaking with someone who commented that even though he’s 50 percent Italian and 50 percent American, he and his Italian wife don’t understand one another all of the time. Duh—who does?

When I questioned a friend who’s a therapist and does mediation training and conflict resolution, his first comment was that men and women tend to speak in different languages, and people (no matter their sexual orientation) get out of synch. And yes, there are some real negatives to being involved with someone from a different culture. On the other hand, there can be real pluses. Some people thrive in different cultures and may turn out to be more interesting than if they’d never left home. I like to think that’s my case.

What’s the best way to approach cross-cultural relationships? I have no idea. Only you and your other can have a clue. Try to figure it out, but look at the person, not the scenery, not the material. So what if he or she has the most spectacular apartment in Paris? You don’t make love—or even like or lust—to an apartment. On the other hand, if you feel right together, where you live, isn’t the be-all to end all—and there are worse places than France.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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