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.

Welcome to the future

Okay, I have to interrupt my usual broadcasting for a minute to comment on something totally crazy I just read.

Milk from cloned cows will be at the supermarket soon. What? Cloned cows!? Yes, and the FDA has approved milk from cloned cows, and it doesn't have to be labeled as such. This will appear at a supermarket near you unless an amendment is added to the 2007-2012 Farm Bill (which benefits factory farms, not small family farms). The amendment would call for a moratorium on cloned cows' milk until the effects of drinking such milk is studied. Sounds prudent to me. (Check out for more information on this topic).

Here's where I tie it back in to France. Even France's President Nicholas Sarkozy has put a moratorium on genetically modified foods, erring on the side of safety until further research is done. Tres bien fait, Sarkozy!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Strike day

Another strike has been called. No transportation. The kids' school is closed again. It's not really exciting like a "snow day" back home. No bundling up, heading for a big hill filled with people, and careening down it on a sled or innertube with a big mug of hot cocoa to follow.

No, here in Paris on strike day, we called up some of M and Q's friends who live close, and we marched off to see a movie on the Champs-Elysees. I had wanted to see "A Day on Earth", but a parent warned that her friend's family went, and they all came out crying- adult, 12 year old and younger children. Thanks for the warning.

We opted to see "Surf's Up" instead. Yeah, the little animated penguins that surf. The "polar" opposite of "A Day on Earth". I wanted something light and mindless and that's what I got. It was fun hearing the little surfer dude penguin speaking in French, complete with "ouai" and "touche pas mon pote", as one might expect from an adolescent bird.

The friends then came over and had a fun time sliding around the apartment after each other- our floors are very slippery! We ended with a treat- pain au chocolat and pain au raisin.

We have a couple of strike sympathizers on our hands now, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Vous or Tu?!

This vouvoyer and tutoyer business is serious.

Sr. Joan Marie in French class taught us well, that in polite society, you always use the "vous" form of "you". That means if you meet someone you don't know, you automatically use the "vous" form out of respect. The "tu" form is used only for close acquaintances, family, or people that are hierarchically down a notch from you. For example, an employer may tutoyer an employee, but it would be unacceptable for the employee to tutoyer the employer (unless the employer encourages it). So much for "égalité and fraternité".

As we set off on our trip to the South of France, there was a sudden outbreak of violence just down the aisle from us as the train took off. One man was yelling at another man with his hands around his neck.

This is part of the shouting I heard: "Vous ne me tutoyez pas. Vous me vouvoyez!"

Translated: "Don't use the "tu" form with me mister, you had better start using the "vous" form, or else.

Another passenger jumped up to separate them. Finally, they returned to their seats. Wow!

Thank you, Sr. Joan Marie, or "Merci beacoup, Ma Soeur", for keeping me out of scrapes by teaching me correct French.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Armistice Day

There was quite a hullaballoo today at the Arc de Triomphe for Armistice Day, to honor those who fought in WWI and WWII. A huge French flag flew from the inside of the Arc, and several hundred people in uniform were under and around it playing instruments or saluting.

It was our first public sighting of French President Sarkozy, albeit we could only see him on the big screen.

The kids had a lot of questions about wars going on now. I tried the best I could to explain what I don't understand to them. It's a crazy world kids.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Whod've thought

I've sunk to a new personal low. In a fit of desperation to find my girl some additional friends, I have signed my daughter up for the Girl Scouts. (It turns out her first friend at school is quite a bit devious- she "translates" what the teacher is saying for Maggie, but often times it is made up and perhaps just a bit mean. At least that's the story I'm being fed). As a result, she is now officially a Daisy. That's not the bad part.

Because they needed a co-leader for the troop, and I really enjoy the mom who has volunteered to organize us, I volunteered to help out. So, after 42 years of never having been a daisy, brownie or Girl Scout of any appelation, I am now an official Girl Scout Adult Leader. Kind of makes my skin crawl. Next thing you know, I'll be making jello molds in the form of daisies for the troop (no offense Mary Pat). It's just not the image I have of myself.

You may or may not be aware that in my former life I was a "motorcycle riding French teacher from hell" according to a verse that my inlaws sang at our wedding. It's a far cry from leading the sing along "the more we get together, the happier we'll be."

So, how did it come to this? It's not really that I had anything against the Girl Scouts as a child. At school, I would see other kids in their girl scout uniforms which was in itself a treat because they didn't have to wear their school uniform. I thought the girl scouts was like some sleepover I never got invited to. An invitation went out to some, and not to others, I figured. Oh well.

I did go on some excusions with the Boy Scouts, however. My dad was a scout master, and a couple of times I had ridden to camp outs where there was talk of "snype hunting". Still don't know what that means. Somehow there was a disconnect between the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at my house.

Some years ago, my dad gave me his old scout master pants. Swear. And the belt too. I actually wore them. It went with my artsy alternative look. It's just funny with 5 other sons in the family, I ended up with the scout master trousers. And a whole set of ties that my dad no longer wanted. I turned them into a curtain for my apartment.

So today was our first get together as a troop. We met for a few minutes before an event involving Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scout Juniors. We celebrated the founder's birthday. How queer, I thought. We are celebrating someone's birthday who has been long dead. How do I explain this to my little Daisy?

It was actually a fun outing for Troop #8. The older troops had organized activities for the day using mainly recycled items. There were games and crafts.

I look over and at one point two men and one woman have assembled around an accoustic guitar and they are singing songs. If my friend Shannon were in the room, we would have said "how gay". A modern day Peter, Paul and Mary. And then it happened. Suddenly I am hearing the lyrics of Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain" and I am bursing forth with song. Later, as the "birthday" cake is being passed out, I am only too eager to join in "This Land is Your Land.."

I'm a middle aged, queer, Girl Scout Leader. There it is.

Kids night at the Louvre

Did you know that there is dried food on display that the Egyptians packed away 4000 years ago for the afterlife? People after my own heart. Not only thinking about the next meal, but the meals into eternity. The usual items- dates, wheat berries, nuts, and they didn't look much different than if they sat out on our kitchen table for a week, which is quite possible. This is just one of the things we learned on a guided family outing to the Louvre.

Last night, we overcame (or tried to) our fatigue after a long week, and went to the Louvre outing I signed us up for some weeks ago. Our guide was a woman who co-authored a book about exploring the Louvre with your kids. She was quite good at drawing the kids into the art and history. The book is packed with information and activities. It breaks down visits to the Louvre into 9 one hour segments that can easily be followed by reading the book or adventure cards. So, you families that have threatened to visit, I might just whip this out while you are here.

Look at our little Miss Mod Squad.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Bus #84

Part of the reason I love living in the 17th is that we're on a couple of good bus routes. There's the quick and efficient 92 that takes you to the Arc de Triomphe in just a few minutes, and across the river to the American Church and American Library in just a few more minutes. Actually, the American Catherdral is also on this line. It's the all American line.

But, I have to say, my favorite remains the 84. It is etched in my memory from 20 years ago. Back then, passengers could go to the back of the bus and through a little door which enabled one to ride in the open air. I thought this was the greatest ever. I loved riding past the rows of pruned trees while smelling the fresh air of autumn or the rain of Spring.

Number 84 travels past the beautiful Parc Monceau, down the grand boulevards with major shopping. I'm not a big haute couture shopper, but it is exciting passing all the fancy shops and boutiques. Number 84 continues past the Madeleine and the Concorde and over the river Seine, with stunning views all around. It ends up at the Sorbonne after it passes the Jardin de Luxembourg, a huge scenic and peopled public green space. The whole route is an incredible sight. And just steps from our apartment!

Back home to Paris

We arrived back in Paris yesterday where it was actually warmer than in the South. The mistral wind had come into Provence on our last evening there, and it was chilly, windy and slightly disturbing.

As we got out of the subway at Etoile, la Tour Eiffel greeted us with its little sparkly display. It's great to be back.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


After our morning feast which is as pleasant as can be, we drive South to Cassis. Sean wants to see the Mediterranean Sea and Cassis is a nice small town in which to do so.
The drive is totally scenic as we drive along the coast through Marseille, a very large port on the Sea. Along the way, we are following behind a little trailer that is carrying this little fellow and a friend. This might be its farewell tour- it’s tagged and ready to be sold for wool or meat.

As we get closer to Cassis, memories of my last trip there about 20 years ago, start flooding in. I recall that my two Irish friends, Denise and Maria, and I took a train and then a bus to Cassis from Paris. We arrived with huge pieces of luggage, and were deposited at the bus station wondering where the youth hostel was, and more importantly, how we were going to get there with our pounds of luggage.
Denise and Maria had done their homework. This youth hostel was nicely nestled in the mountains over looking the Mediterranean. The only problem was we had to hike for about an hour in order to get there. The hiking was no problem, but I tell you, Denise had the hugest bag. I don’t even remember my luggage, just her huge canvas yellow bag. Denise and Maria were headed back to Ireland after their year abroad as soon as our trip to Cassis was over. So it had a year’s accumulation in it. I remember we carried, then dragged that bag.

Now that I’m remembering, I recall as we got to the top of the switchback road, a man passed by in a small car and felt sorry for us. I want to say he was a member of the French Foreign Legion which always has had a strange appeal to me. He escorted a couple or all of us, and most importantly, that huge yellow bag. We still had to hike a bit off the road to arrive at the hostel, but he saved us some heartache.

The little yellow ochre building that was our future home for the next couple of weeks was a sight for sore eyes. It had a front porch with a big table in the front. Inside was the communal kitchen with various hot plates for cooking meals. We all shared a room, and there was a communal women’s restroom and shower area. Finally, there was a medium sized living area where we met people from all over the world.

I still remember many of the people I met during those couple of weeks. First of all, I’m still friends with Denise who is back in Ireland after about 10 years in Denver, Colorado. There was Ian, the British fellow from Kent with whom I ended up hitchhiking to Venice, Italy and back. He was a really nice guy and clever. While we were at the youth hostel, he would earn some extra money by volunteering to buy your provisions for you in town for a fee. We took him up on this offer a few times, which saved us a couple of hours each time. There were the two guys from the Netherlands who would put a declicious meal together if you paid them 10 or 15 francs per person. I can still taste a wonderful Ratatouille they cooked for us all. I can see us gathered around the big table on the porch eating from the big pot. There were the two Protestant girls from Northern Ireland who had a very heavy accent, unlike the light and airy accent of my current Southern Catholic Irish friends. I wondered if there was going to be any bloodshed at the youth hostel. I myself felt inclined to join the IRA after reading Trinity by Leon Uris, but Denise felt that the IRA needed to stop what they were doing. It was interesting to hear the Northern girls talk about going to a party or a dance. They said that people didn’t ask your last name, because then you would know straight away if they were Catholic or Protestant, and you just wanted them to be people first, not part of a religious or political group. Then there was the girl from I don’t remember where, but she had a cool scarf that she had just gotten from Venice. Oh, Venice, I thought, how cool. So, when my buddy Ian suggested that we hitchhike to Venice, my rational thoughts were cast aside in favor of a pretty scarf. But that’s another long story.

Aside from the great cultural experience of the Cassis youth hostel, it was also a beautiful location. It was on the cliffs that overlooked the Sea. There was no view from the hostel, but within a few minutes of hiking down a path, and you could see the Mediterranean. A few more minutes of hiking and you were at the bottom of an inlet, called a calanque. The only way to get to this calanque was by hiking, so it was very secluded even though it was mid-Summer and high tourist season. The inlets were surrounded by high white cliffs that really made it a gorgeous setting. Occasionally a tour boat would come by, or sometimes we would watch climbers mount the big white cliffs. Mostly we would just enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company.

As I approach Cassis 21 years later with my family, I am very nostalgic. It seems the village is bigger. The store that was called “Arold and Maude” was no longer there. It seems that the marina is a lot bigger. I ask about the youth hostel, and am told it is still up there, high on the hill (mountain?).

We take a short walk to one of the rounded rock beaches, and enjoy the afternoon sun. The kids skip stones, find cool rocks, and then---- spot an OCTOPUS! Quinn swears its an octopus. Fortunately, we got a picture of it, and it does look like a mini octopus. Can anyone verify this for us by looking at the picture below?

The kids and I then board a boat that takes you on a tour of three of the calanques. It is very beautiful. I can picture my friends and I lying on the white rocks soaking in the sun. Driving by in a boat, and staying there for a week with friends from the youth hostel are quite different. But it has been nice to share on of my favorite places with my family. Quinn seemed to really enjoy the region’s beauty as he was enthusiastically snapping up the pictures.