Sunday, 23 December 2007

Paris non fumeur

I can't believe that we may have just had our last dinner in a smokey restaurant or brasserie. Supposedly, all cafes, restaurants, etc., are going non smoking in January in Paris. Almost every time I'm in a cafe with someone, we get annoyed by the smoke, and invariably someone remarks that they can't believe it's all changing in January.

I'll have to see it to believe it. I think, but I'm not sure, that smoking can still happen at outside tables. If this is the case, in nice weather, all the outdoor space will be thick with smoke which will be a shame for non-smokers like me. (Actually, truth be known, I'm really a smoker at heart who hasn't had a cigarette in 21 years- I had a regular habit as a teen and young adult. I'm married to a deep down non-smoker who smoked for a number of years.)

Anyway, as of January 1, 2008, you will see people having heated discussions at cafes while chewing gum like mad, or while gnawing on their fingernails. And at regular intervals, someone in the group will amble over to the door, duck outside and have a smoke, and re-enter about 5-7 minutes later. People will have to get used to missing out on parts of conversations, or they'll have to tough it out.

I wonder if they'll be any surprising side effects from the ban of smoking in bars and such. For example, my friend in Dublin said that when the pubs went non-smoking in Ireland, there was an awful odor of gas throughout. This may be due to the drinking of Guinness and the dark ales and the like.

Maybe the side effect of a smoking ban in Paris will be that people will become even more amorous in public. Instead of a non-smoking section, we'll be looking for a non-groping section. Who knows, time will tell.

I expect to see some resistance. Although, unlike Cincinnati, when Paris passed the non smoking law, it provided for paid enforcers of the law who can dole out tickets for offenders- 88 Euros for an individual, and over 100 Euros for the establishment. It will be interesting. We'll be in Cincinnati until the first week of January, where people, despite the lack of enforcement, have generally obeyed the law.

Until Januuary...

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Cheeseburger please

And make it greasy. If you're anything like me, you like to have a juicy cheeseburger every couple of months. Tonight we happened into Le Seven on rue St. Dominique. The tapas with guacamole and tomatoes on the menu were what initially took me inside the smallish restaurant. I was happy to find out that they would serve dinner at 6:30, which is quite early for a French dinner.

My family piled into the back (espace non-fumeur- for what that's worth in a small room). The kids were happy to see TV screens on each wall showing a soccer match. The friendly server spoke to us in English, and when I was surprised to see cheeseburgers (not steak hache) and COLE SLAW on the menu, he explained that it was an American diner. Oh, no wonder they serve dinner earlier and have items like quesadillas on the menu.

Our food came quickly as we were the only ones there for a while. While Lyon tied Nancy in the soccer match, we enjoyed our cheeseburgers and fries. The fries were more like potato wedges, but very tasty, and come to the table with little packets of ketchup and mayonnaise, as well as barbecue sauce. The cheeseburger was everything I had hoped for despite the bizarre bright orange "cheese sauce". I was a little disappointed to see this sauce instead of a melted slice of cheese, but the overall taste was great. Tomatoes, lettuce, pickle and onion accompanied the burger which added to my enjoyment.

The curry chicken penne that my husband ordered was not as satisfying however. It tasted like some experimental dish I would have whipped up on my own. His first choice of gorgonzola penne was no longer available, so he tried the curry penne, and neither of us would recommend it.

So for those of you craving a thick, tasty burger without spending a fortune (12,50 Euros), I highly recommend Le Seven. But see if they'll give you a real slice of cheese on top. They probably don't have "American" cheese, which is fine, but Emmenthaler or Comte would be fine. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A Little Peking in Paris

There is an entire section of Paris seemingly dedicated to circuses. It is found at the Pelouse de Rueilly in the 12th arrondisement. We were headed to the "Cirque Peking" (which was quite entertaining), but passed about 5 other "big tops" on the way to the Peking Circus. The area smelled of a zoo, and had a strange surreal feel to it. We were in the middle of carney land, but in the distance you could make out the city of Paris.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Chateau de Versailles

Friday, my posse of older French women and I went to Versailles for a tour of the Chateau followed by a tour of the town. Security was tight and tense because Libya's Colonel Kaddafi had the same plan to tour the Chateau. After our guide fought with the security at the entrance, we began our tour which included an "Argenterie" exhibit which displayed lavish silver pieces from various countries' royal collections.

The Hall of Mirrors was especially lovely with the refurbished paintings on the ceilings. At the far end of the Hall of Mirrors was a recreation of the throne of Louis XIV, and its marble ornamentation which led to the throne, set up on a platform. This was all made out of cardboard which was a little disturbing. It was like the set of a high school play, not something that one would see at the actual palace of Versailles. I couldn't believe it. It would have been preferable, in my opinion, to see nothing. Instead, after experiencing the beauty of the Hall of Mirrors, the visitor enters a sort of shadow box which cheapens the experience.

The railing in front of the Queen's bedroom was a facsimile also, but at least it was made out of wood, and looked like the real thing. I do so like the idea of my own bedroom, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

Among other information presented,it was pointed out a few times that part of the problems of France during Louis XVI's and Marie Antoinette's reign was the amount of money going to support the war of Independence in America. Many of France's nobles went to fight in the war, including Lafayette. Louis XVI was encouraged by his advisors to support the efforts of the new "Americans", despite the lack of money at home.

At first I felt bad because the French paid such a dear price for involving themselves in the liberation of my country. But then I realized that this (in part) led to the French Revolution, which gave rise to the "Republique Francaise" and "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite". Fighting in our efforts for independence, and having a bankrupted country is perhaps just what was needed to fire the people up to spark their own revolution. I wonder if this is what our American President is up to. What would another American Revolution look like? Hopefully the fate of Laura Bush would not be the same as Marie Antoinette.

As it turns out, we were quite lucky to see the Chateau of Versailles at all. Our guide spoke to a colleage as we were leaving the chateau, and it turned out that her group's visit was cancelled due to Kaddafi's visit. I hope he's not planning to see Asterix at the Olympic games tomorrow. The kids would be shattered.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Techtonic dance in Parc Monceau

This type of dance is quite popular here in Paris. Q and M have seen a lot of youths doing this dance, and have decided it is quite cool. On occasion, we'll peek into Q's room and we'll snatch a glimpse of him doing a bit of techtonic dance. He's got some good moves. I think he'd take offense at my posting a video of him, so we can watch these ados at Parc Monceau instead. They were quite willing to be videotaped.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Carte de Sejour- Final Act

Today we got all dressed in our best undergarments and headed out for our final (hopefully) appointment in the Carte de Sejour process. This was the medical inspection. I suppose we needed to be given a clean bill of health in order to have a year long visitor visa.

The medical appointment was near Bastille, France's Ellis Island, where all immigrants shed their clothing above their torsos, have x-rays taken of their lungs, and meet with a doctor.

The process went very smoothly and lasted just over an hour. Everyone was kind, helpful and even smiley. It was strange. It was too smooth.

But wait, Sean still hasn't finished his visit with the doctor. I heard him in there on the other side of the wall while I was meeting with my appointed doctor. It sounded like they were having a good time. There was talk of knee surgery... and then I couldn't listen anymore as I had to go back to the waiting room with my pulmonary x-rays in hand. I had appartently passed inspection. But where's Sean?

The woman at the front desk was feeling for me. She too wondered what was taking so long. People were being sent on to pay their money and receive their Carte de Sejour, and I just sat. And waited. Front desk woman said she could send me on, but that I might as well wait for my husband. Sure, I guess.

It turns out that without his translator present, Sean was no longer the silent monkey, but a person, and an interesting one, with stories and information to keep an audience attentive for hours if not days. Good god, where is he? I had half a mind (what's new) to storm in and see what was going on, but I just sat and smiled at the Front desk clerk.

It turns out that Sean's doctor took a particular liking to him (who doesn't? get in line, doc), and he had lots of questions for him. Sean was not sure if the man was asking the questions on behalf of the State, to size up if he was really here legitimately and was of sound mind to be in the country, or if he was genuinely interested in him as a person. The questions involved the size in square meters of our apartment, what amount of money we're living on, and did Sean think he could cope mentally not working a year. (It's been really rough, doc, but we're pulling through so far). Of course, there were the medical questions also.

At one point I was actually afraid that maybe his x-rays had spots all over them, and that he had some sort of medical issues. I tossed up a quick prayer which was immediately followed by, "Something better be wrong with him, or why else is this taking so long!"

Finally, Sean was sprung from the doctor's "examination" room, and the front desk clerk sent us to pick up our carte de sejour down the hall.

So, we're legal until October of 2008. Vive la France!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Stage Fright

On Tuesdays I've been taking a theatre class. It's been interesting and challenging.
We never know what we'll be doing in class.

Our first class had us acting as if we were a machine,all with different movements and sounds. In another class we created dialogue based on scenes from postcards. In November we focused on improv.

I think December is classical theatre, whatever that is. All I know is that today I had to memorize my lines from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and perform WITH my fellow actor, not just NEAR her. So all week, I have been muttering my lines on the metro and while walking down the street. I've been receiving many odd looks, and I have to say that I don't care. That's the beauty of the big city. I'm just another anonymous crazy person.

Today I entered class late and the other two students were engaged in a serious piece. The teacher was constantly stopping them and criticizing and changing something about it. I was glad to just watch for a while.

Then, it was time for our dialogue in Bourgeois Gentilhomme. I was scared, but decided "what the Hell, give it your all, sister." And I did. I lost my place once, but felt that I stayed "in character" and was not afraid to be silly or project my voice.

I'm glad that I'm still taking the class. My mind tells me to quit sometimes. It's harder than I thought, because the teacher always asks more of us, and sometimes I have to be a character that I don't understand. I stumble over the words at times. My feelings have been hurt. I've been accused of not staying "in character" by another student. Sometimes I zone out, and have no idea what everyone is talking about. Sometimes for the life of me, I cannot properly say a word. (The word was "trou". I can say the "ou" sound fine on its own or in conjunction with most other consonants, but the fact that the "ou" followed that nearly impossible french "r", totally did me in. My fellow student kept trying to teach me, and i kept trying, but to no avail. "Can we just move on please!" is what I was thinking.)

Today's piece was even more comical because my character was giving a phonetics lesson involving the proper way to pronounce the vowels in French. I'm glad I stuck it out, because it was fairly fun, and the teacher didn't tear us up (this time).

Monday, 10 December 2007

November is over and...

You may remember my post from September about how our daughter's teacher stated that November can be a bleak month for the students (she actually painted a much more frightening picture- don't look for the post, I've removed it for now). The days are short (except for the school day), the excitement of moving to a new city/school has worn off, and here they are facing the doldrums that we ourselves have to contend with as adults, except at school the kids have to deal with it in a new language with new kids.

We seemed to have gotten through November okay, but December has been a bit disturbing. Things have been getting a little rough at school. Maggie was knocked down at recess one day by a boy in Quinn's class. She didn't seem to mind, however. One boy was recently "expelled" (for only a day), for punching another child in the mouth (knocking a tooth out?). Another boy keeps ending up in the office for "strangling" other students. Again, my daughter doesn't seem to mind. This may be a bit disturbing, except for the fact that she is mighty tough herself. She fires fists of fury at her father when he pronounces the french word "sur" like sewer. The pronuciation is shocking, but she reacts a tad bit strongly.

I wonder what has become of me. Usually I would have inquired of the boy's mother who either had or didn't have his tooth knocked out (but was indeed socked in the mouth) as to whether the boy was okay, and did she feel okay with what the school was doing about it, etc. Perhaps it's the fact that as a whole we are really enjoying ourselves here, and I myself am totally loving living here, that I'm choosing not to get as involved as I usually do. There is a fine line between being a control freak or busy body and an advocate for the students, and sometimes the line is blurred with me. I did write a note to an administrator who told me basically it wasn't my business.

So there you have it. The teacher kind of was right about this time of year, but instead of hurting themselves to get out of school, they are turning on each other. Soon, we have a holiday break which the students can obviously use.

When I asked M's teacher in September about how the rest of the year unfolds (after the bleak NOvember discussion), she stated "they survive." Not the most positive of descriptions. I'm starting to understand exactly what she meant by that. This has been some sort of physical, psychological, social, cultural and academic bootcamp for the kids. And yes, siree, they are "surviving" quite well. I think.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Yes I did

I traveled as far away from our apartment today as possible without leaving zone two of my metro pass. Charenton Ecoles was my destination, and it is outside of the peripherique of Paris. What was so intriguing that I took an hour commute to an otherwise unknown metro stop? Well, this gem of a bike was the reason. It was being sold on Craig's list for 20 Euros, and in the end, I paid 15 Euros for it. The big adrenaline rush for the day was taking it into the metro. Bicycles and roller skates and blades are not allowed on the subway. But this little colorful bike hardly takes up any space, so I snuck her on, even passing a group of police as I transferred trains at Opera. Phew, as Maggie would say. I just looked at the map again and realized if sneaking the bike onto the metro hadn't worked, I would have ended up paying well over 60 Euros for that little bike because the cab fare for such a long route would have been astronomical. Double phew!

Christmas at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Musical moments

Last night while settin' on the couch and listening to a French "jazz" station (89.9), which really sounded more like 60's lounge music, we heard the song "Fever".

You know the song. Here are some of the lyrics:

never know how much i love you
never know how much i care
when you put your arms around me
I give you fever that's so hard to bare

you give me fever
when you kiss me
fever when you hold me tight
In the morning
Fever all through the night

It's kind of a sassy song. It ended up being our wedding song by default. We never picked a song, but at the end of night, the band who played at our wedding (Drums for Peace), encircled us and played "Fever" very slowly. It was magical as we stood outside under the stars on my parents' patio in the hot and misty air in the early hours of the morning with drums and voices surrounding us and wishing us well.

So I say to my husband, next to me on the couch, "hey, they're playing "Fever"!" "Yeah", he said disinterested, "they play it all the time."

Just now I was listening to a Nick Drake song and thought, "What if Nick Drake and Norah Jones ever played together?" I don't think I'd be able to handle it. Their voices are so beautiful and their music is so soulfull on their own, I can't imagine what it would be like to hear them together.

Favorite Norah Jones song (for the moment): "Nightingale"

Monday, 3 December 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...

a Charlie Brown's Christmas. At least here in our apartment, anyway. We got this little tree from the flower shop down the street. I think the kids wanted it because it looks like it needs a little cheering up. We'll do our best.

We decorated a little bit for Christmas, but there is not comparison to what the Galeries Lafayette's windows are showing.

Sunday, 2 December 2007


We just arrived back from a nice trip to Brussels. What a time we had! Here are my top 7 (because it's such a magical number) memories.

7- Tin Tin murals.
6- A Dungeon and Dragonesque carrousel.

5- Waffles and frites(apparently Belgium is the true home of the "French fry".)
4- Tasty brunch in a fantastic bookstore.
3- Mannekin pis dressed up like Saint Nick, and "taking care of business".

2- City Hall lit up at night with Christmas lights, and the nearby Christmas market. Truly spectacular.

1- Seeing Sean's family, including watching Jeremy's soccer game (he is FAST!), and much imaginative play among J, Q and M which involved building forts and marching. Not to forget, M senior, a teen,entertained us with various music videos and humorous episodes from Mad TV, along with a cool dance she performed live. There is a whole world out there about which I know nothing, and M helped shed some light there.

Friday, 30 November 2007

A Lonely Velib'

If you look closely, you can see the sentiments of the Velib' on its fender- "Long live the next strike!" The little fellow must be missing all the attention now that the strike is over (for now).

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Paris Riots

The riots in Paris seem to be calming down. They have been occurring in an area just north of Paris in Villiers-le-Bel. Two teenagers were struck and killed by a police car which is what most sources say set off the rioting. At first glance, it seems a strong reaction for an accident. But some don’t see it as an accident, some observers say there was intention, or at least carelessness on the part of police, and others present say it was an accident.

Villiers-le-Bel is a poor immigrant neighborhood. Back in 2005, there was massive rioting in Paris suburbs with hundreds of cars and several buildings burned. This followed the accidental electrocution of two youth who were hiding from police in a power substation. The youth were playing in a lot when they saw policeman running toward them. In order to avoid being dragged into the police station and questioned for several hours for doing nothing wrong, they decided to run and not deal with them (according to a youth who survived the shock).

Prior to this event, people in the poorer neighborhoods felt that they were being habitually harassed and brutalized by the police, and wanted some relief from high unemployment (25% for the general population in the area, and up to 50% for young men and teens), which the government seemed to not be doing enough about.

So there was already a level of discontentment and animosity toward police lingering from 2005. So, the death of the two youth upon collision with a police car brought about much of the same resentment and frustration which led to fire bombings and pelting police with rocks. Many, including President Sarkozy, feel that the riots are unacceptable and must be stopped. On the evening news, a man who appeared in his 40’s, said that he didn’t blame the youth for acting like they are (rioting). “The police are always on their backs”, he said.

In 2005, there was a 3 month state of emergency called. As such, civil liberties such as freedom of assembly could be waived, and a curfew could be instituted. It’s a little unsettling to think that freedoms can be taken away like this.

A curfew was imposed in 2001 in Cincinnati, where similar rioting for similar reasons was taking place. In Cincinnati, Police shot a man who they thought was going for a gun, but who was just pulling up his loose pants. In Cincinnati, there have been cases of excessive force and shooting a suspect prematurely. And as in Paris, this violence took place in a disenfranchised neighborhood with a minority population. There is ongoing tension. Of course, handguns are legal to own in Cincinnati, so the level of violence is high.

As a result of the Cincinnati rioting, the Mayor instituted a curfew. It was quiet and eerie, and disturbing to know there was no leaving the house. And yet, in the face of such destructive violence, it seemed that something had to be done.

I don’t know what the solution is. People in all communities need to have a voice that is heard, and need to be responsible for their actions.

* Top picture from Associated Press

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Big Red Bus

Despite what my calendar tells me, my friends and houseguests are still here. Because we have almost ruined our friend Mark's foot with relentless walking around day and night (partly due to strike, partly madness on Sean's part), we decide to do something easy today. Okay, it was probably Margaret's idea.

We board the big red bus (Cars Rouges) at the Arc de Triomphe. My last trip on such a bus was actually a few days long of trips on the bus in Southern California for my brother's 50th birthday. It was warm and sunny, and the bus was filled with fun people.

This trip is a bit of a contrast. No fun drivers, no snacks and beverages passed out mid ride, no taking turns on the loud speaker embarassing the birthday boy. Oh, the people on the bus were okay. But, it was freezing cold on the open upper deck, which for scenery and picture taking, is where we wanted to be. Usually people jump on and off at the different sites- Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc. Not us. We were there for the ride. Come to think of it, it may have been cheaper to rent a van to haul our carcasses around for a couple of hours. But not nearly the same effect. There is a certain thrill when freezing cold air is whipping at your tender cheeks, and taking a picture seems like a bold and daring move.

Indeed, there were some great sights, and no casualties, just a couple of close calls. At Notre Dame, where we didn't even consider getting off the bus to see this architectural gem, Mark, of the foot issues, decided 5 minutes after the driver stated he would leave in two minutes, that he would hop off the bus and buy a hat. He had a hat already. I warn him we are about to go. He is unfazed. He is in the shop right next to the bus, and I keep an eye on him as any controlling host would do. Just as the bus turns on his engine, I see Mark head to the back of the store. Dang! There are still people boarding the bus, so he has maybe a minute. No more boarders, and I shout "Mark!", because the store is totally open to the outside. (BRRR.) Long story long, Mark runs to the bus only to find that the doors have shut and the driver has begun to pull away. Mark whaps on the door, gives the driver a MOST serious look and points to the door as if he commands it to be opened. The driver stops and lets him in, but not before I lean over and yell "jack***!" It's great being my friend.

Actually, we are going to miss Mark and Margaret. They tell the kind of stories that kids don't usually get to hear, and they are great listeners to Quinn and Maggie's stories. And it has been fun to reconnect.

Here are some pictures that we all took.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Beginning of the end of the strike?

I could hear that it was the beginning of the end of the strike today. No, it wasn't cheering in the streets that I heard. At 7:00 this morning, I felt the familiar rumbling of the metro under our apartment. A sort of a return to normalcy for the transportation sector. Both sides have agreed on one of the points they were bickering about.

Our friends (and house guests) headed out with confidence to Gare St. Lazare to the Grandes Lignes in order to board a train for Bayeux, where they were looking forward to a tour of Normandy. They were very pleased with their savvy at finding the right place to catch the train. But alas, their train had been cancelled due to the strike. So, I guess not everyone got the message. The strike's off, people! Back to work everyone!


This was our last evening with Ron and Jatuania :(. Before leaving, they spent some quality time doing silly tricks with Quinn and Maggie and petting our dog, Pearl 2.

I was totally impressed with their transportation savvy and patience (they got kicked off of a few buses because of the strike). But mostly I was bowled over by Jataunia's use of French. She not only whipped out French whenever she could, she persisted even after people made her say the word "rue" over and over before they would give her directions. That's how she was thanked for trying so hard. I guess the people just wanted to be helpful, or ?.

See you next time, bro and sister-in-law!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Thanksgiving in Paris

We had a great time sharing Thanksgiving with some family and friends.

When Quinn and Maggie finally made it home from school at 6:00, they were busy cutting and gluing decorations for the dining table. (They don't have a school holiday like at home, so they had a full day of school and their afterschool activities of Chess and Singing Club. They had no quarrel with retiring for the night after dinner.)

We ordered a roast turkey from the Boucherie and Sean saw them take it down from the rotisserie and bag it. It was piping hot and tasty. We had curried pumpkin soup with all the vegetables and spices from our local market. Instead of mashed potatoes, we had pommes de terre gratin which we gobbled down. We rounded out the meal with green beans and a carrot souffle which was quite tasty. We had an assortment of beautiful desserts from the patisserie to finish the meal.

Maggie and Quinn were worn out afterwards. . I wish I were the same. Here it is, the wee hours of the night and I'm typing away. I'm thankful to have an outlet for what is in my brain.

But most of all, I'm thankful for the people in my life, especially these two angels, and their dad.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Crazy buses and Bateaux Mouches

As we were going out again tonight, we picked up the kids from school and had lunch together at our favorite restaurant, Millesimes. We stayed around the house with our guests and didn't do much, but it was good to have nowhere to be (for a while).

We decided to try and make it easier on our friend with the foot issues, and opted to wait for the bus #92 to take us to the Bateaux Mouches (one of my dad's favorite memories of Paris). We saw a lot of people at the bus stop, which was both good and bad. We figured that it was probably due to come by soon, but that it would be crowded. Sure enough, the bus was packed before it even came to our stop. We need to get on anyway to make it to our dinner boat ride. M and M decided to go in the back door which was smart because we were able to squeeze on earlier and easier. But it was packed, we were totally crunched in. And even more people would squeeze on at subsequent stops. As we got closer to the Bateaux Mouches, Sean could see that there was a big traffic jam, so we got off early and walked which was quicker.
We met my brother and sister-in-law who had tried to get on a bus, when a fight erupted, and they opted to walk. We all make it to the boat and had fun dining on the Seine while watching the beautiful monuments and bridges go by. Quite a nice evening.

It got a little hairy trying to get home. The taxi line was about 13 people deep with no taxi in sight, and the #92 said it was 32 minutes away. (At least the bus sign was back to numbers of minutes instead of words like termine, devie and perturbe.) But that was a long time to wait, so we decided to torture our friend, and hike home. Meanwhile Sean marched ahead, hopped on a Velib, and sent the babysitter home. It has definitely been interesting during the strike.

We finally made it home and Mark's leg was swollen. Maybe I'll let him have the scooter license plate we found on the way home. But probably not. We've seen a few scooter wrecks lately which is curbing my desire for a scooter.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

What a day!

After welcoming our friends from Cincinnati, I ran out to meet my brother and sister-in-law at the Musee d'Orsay. In a burst of fraternite, other government workers joined the strike, which due to low number of employees, the Musee d'Orsay was only open on the ground floor. We still found a lot to look at, and had a great lunch in a beautiful room.

Later in the evening, we and our newly arrived friends went to meet at the Lido on the Champs Elysees. This is something you do once in Paris, and probably not more. The show was called "bonheur", which, if said incorrectly made us all snigger. In french it means "happiness".

Kudos to our friends for hanging in there, when we all know they really wanted to fall into bed. And poor Mark, he recently had foot surgery and due to the strike we walked to and from the Lido. This was in addition to the tourist death march that Sean had them do just after arriving.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Perturbed? You bet! (Okay, not really that much)

As you can sort of see from this announcement of the then coming strike on October 18th, the two sides of the strike have been at it over a month now.

After a tasty dinner at the Bistro du 17eme across the street from us, and a nice visit at our apartment, my brother, sister-in-law and I head to good ole bus stop #92, so they can get some well earned sleep.

The bus schedule indicates that the bus will come in 8 minutes, but Ron points out that with the strike, it may be later. Oh yeah, I look at the sign that usually tells us how many minutes we have to wait. It's a nice little feature on the bus stop. Lately however, it merely states "service perturbe," which is a step better than the sign we just looked up and saw, "service termine". Merde. Luckily, we see the taxi stand and unlike the past few days, it has no line and a long line of taxis ready to go. And they were off.

More Strike

The crowd is waiting for the Metro at Charles de Gaule Etoile at about 9:30 this morning. Fewer trains are running, so at times, there is a mass of people waiting to get on when the metro does finally arrive. It's kind of tricky getting on, but everyone was calm, no pushing, no frantic words or anything. You should have heard the silence as we waited for the train. Not a peep out of anyone. Kind of eerie.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Strike Day 4- Velib' or not Velib'

We were out on the Quai d'Orsay and needed to go across town to the Passy neighborhood in the 16th arrondisement. We had a few things working against us:
1. Strike- limited transport if any in the direction we needed.
2. No taxi stands around, and once found, a long queue of people with no taxi in sight.
3. Don't have Velib' map, so we know where to get bike, but not where to drop it off.
4. Too far to hike without being dreadfully late.
5. Don't have proper Velib' attire. I have long coat, skirt, tights and patent leather shoes on. Not that a sassy outfit stops the French women from hopping on a bike, and beautifully pedaling down the road.

After considering and reconsidering our options, we decide against what my conscience was telling me, and hop on the Velib'.

Have I mentioned that it's hard for me to obey the traffic laws on a bike? I think there should be special laws for me, like the law of inertia- if my bike is in motion it should stay in motion until I alone feel the need to stop. As such, stopping for red lights and pedestrians would be totally optional. If it was convenient to stop, for example- heading down hill, needing to look at a map, needing a rest, then I will. But if not, I will pedal faster and hope for the best.

Sadly, this is just how I behaved last night on my Veib' (even after my mother warned of the 180 Euro fine for going through a red light). I just caught the end of a green light, and pedalled like hell through the huge intersetion at Pont d'Alma. The pedestrians started crossing in front of me, but I squeeked through very quickly with a few people shouting at me.

When confronted with a big intersection, such as the one at Alma Marceau that loomed ahead of me, I kind of panic. I think like a pedestrian and try to dart through the intersection when traffic is light. This is totally illegal and kind of dangerous. I totally was frightened of my own crossing of the intersection when I pulled over at the flame where Princess Diana was killed. Creepy.

I decide to calm down and return to safe riding methods. I looked for Sean who didn't make it through the initial light that I sped through. "How is he going to handle this big intersection?" I thought aloud. I finally see him and he is riding quite properly with traffic obeying all the rules. "He makes it look so easy," I muttered.

Don't get me wrong. You may recall my elated postings about the freedom of hopping on a Velib' and heading across town with the ease of taking steps. This is still true. I do love the freedom, practicality and quickness of the Velib'. But this time it was dark. We weren't exactly sure where we were going, and I had a crazy outfit on for bicycling.

We had to head up a hill, but it wasn't too bad, as we were able to mount the hill using the Velib's three gears. Finally, we were close.

Where to park the Velib'? I ask a fellow rider, and he indicates up a one way road that isn't the way we need to go. We take another street for a while, cut through another street and finally find a station where we can park our bikes.

In my mind, it was quite an ordeal just getting to the dinner. We told our hosts that we took the Velib' to get there, and they merely said, "Yes, they're quite practical, aren't they?" (They weren't aware of the life and death nature of our commute that evening).

Indeed they are. I intend to get some of those reflective arm bands for future rides. We were totally dressed in all dark clothes which also made me nervous. The Velib' does conveniently come equipped with a red tail light and a small white headlight, but the more seen the better. Maybe I could add a whole arch of balloons to my bike like my neighbor back home does.

In any event, I'm still grateful for the Velib' and for our safe arrival last night.

Visitors! (and the strike continues)

Today my brother and sister-in-law came to Paris! Even though there is a transit strike, I hopped on a bus and met them at the Hotel Muguet. It is a very artfully decorated chic hotel. However, the room is "tres petite". It seems the largest members of my family end up with these tiny little rooms. C'est la vie, euh?

They were trying hard to not succumb to the huge bed in their room at such an early hour (6:30 P.M.), so we hopped back on bus 92 and came to our apartment to see Sean and the kids. After a bowl of soup and some camembert, we headed back out. This is probably the worst weather Paris gets- it's VERY cold and rainy for the moment. My sister in law is not used to this, being from sunny, warm California. But nary a complaint from either one, quite the good sports.

We waited at the bus stop in the damp,cold night under a sign which indicated that bus 92 had "service perturbe". No kidding. But like a champ, bus 92 appeared and took my family back to their cosy hotel.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Maman (et papa) à Vélib'

Président Sarkozy must be reading my blog. There was an abundance of Vélib's today. One little glitch...

Sean came up to me after a meeting at the American Cathedral. He announces "You gotta go with me to move my Vélib'. What? I was looking forward to talking to some of the women I've been slowly getting to know. "Allright, a fellow Vélib'er in a plight," I thought.

We go outside and Sean explains that all the Vélib' stations nearby are full of bikes. Nowhere to park his, so it was locked up on the street. What to do? He suggests that I check out a bike so that there is then a slot for his bike. Not so fast there buddy. Then I'll be stuck with a bike with nowhere to park it. Not only was I looking forward to talking to women, I was hoping to eat soon.

We hatch a plan to check a bike out for me, check his current bike in, and then he can check out another bike. We'll then ride toward home, stopping and eating where we find a station to check our bikes in. Sound like madness. Well, that's right.

We take off on Avenue George V., and head North to the Champs-Élysées. I had to drive between two cars, and it was pretty narrow. I slowed down, which made me less balanced, and I knocked someone's rear mirror back. Zut alors!

Thankfully, my comrade riding behind me set the woman's mirror back in place. She had begun yelling after I passed, and in such matters, I ride faster. Sean's kind action settled her down, so she didn't run us over on the road ahead.

We head right off the Champs-Elysées and see a rack with spaces available to check bikes in. We treat ourselves to lunch at a café.

We made some purchases down the street and then it was time to pick up the kids. On Fridays, I like to pick up the kids because sometimes there is homework confusion, and I can ask the teachers about it.

I noticed it was later than we thought, so at Place Wagram I unleash a Vélib' in order to get to the kids' school on time. (I'm fairly confident I can lock it up in front of the park near their school).

I ride the few blocks to their school and slow down in front. I am greeted by applause and shouts of "Maman à Vélib'!" from the teachers. Though I feel totally cool and love the attention, Quinn is bright red. I am always embarrassing that poor young man. However, he does have a big smile on his face as if to say, "Yeah, that's my mom, she's kind of goofy, but also kind of neat." Maggie was all smiles ready to go home.
The days often aren’t what I’ve planned, but they are packed with adventure.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The strike- day 2

The transportation strike is still on today and evening rush hour was zany. I decided to walk, bike or bus to the meeting I was hoping to get to. (Some buses and trains continue to run during the strike).

I headed out from our house and looked for an available Vélib’ on rue de Courcelles, but none were available. On the way, I saw a bus 92 coming up the street. I ran around the corner to see if a 92 was going to be heading down toward Étoile. There were a couple of people waiting at the stop, but no bus in sight.

I decided to begin walking to the meeting, while keeping an eye out for available bikes at the Vélib’ stations, or a bus heading my way. No buses, no bikes.

As I get closer to Étoile, I see there is a bus 92 ahead. I wonder if I can catch up to it. I can because traffic isn't moving. I see another 92 ahead and think maybe I'll take that one. Again, I caught up to it because it was going nowhere. I ended up walking all the way to the Arc de Triomphe at Étoile and thought about taking a bus just to cross over all those dang streets. But not only was the street I was on jammed with traffic, all the way around the Arc de Triomphe, not a car was moving. There was no way I was getting on a bus. I had the freedom of movement with my feet on the pavement. I imagined being frantically trapped on the bus, and was relieved I didn't get on one.

I start crossing over all the streets to get to Avenue Marceau which is 5 "rays of the star" away. Along the way it became more and more difficult to walk. Cars were jamming the streets, and now the motor scooters were taking over the sidewalks. There were scooters snaking around cars and pedestrians. It was bedlam. I'm glad I was without the kids. It was quite unsafe, and I was surprised that all these scooters were getting away with this. They would take over the crosswalk and then enter the sidewalk to the next street, and take to the crosswalk again. It's as if they fancied themselves pedestrians.

Once I got to my street and headed away from Étoile, I heard the sound of police cars heading there. "Good, they need to do something", I said aloud.

As I returned from my meeting at about 9:00, traffic had died down considerably and this time there were some police in the streets directing traffic. Scooters had returned to the streets, and it was again safe to be a pedestrian.

I kept hoping all the way back that I'd find an available Vélib’, but no such luck. Every station was completely barren of bikes.

If President Sarkozy and the unions continue to dig in their heels, I have just one request. More Vélibs, s'il vout plaît.