Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Touche pas à mon taxi !

Wednesday morning hundreds of taxis blocked the streets in Place République as a stand against Sarkozy’s intention of introducing a few thousand more taxis in Paris. Through adding more taxis to the streets, Sarkozy hopes to add jobs and make it easier to catch a cab in Paris.

Laurent Lasne, author of “Taxis,Paris solidaires", which recounts the history of the taxi in Paris, stated several concerns with Sarkozy’s plan. It will introduce too many taxis into the area which will flood the market, and no one will be able to make enough to live on. One taxi driver agreed, “Yes, we’ll be doing crossword puzzles all day”. Another concern is the traffic. Taxis spend much of their time already in traffic and they say introducing yet more taxis will add to the aggravation. The drivers pointed out that the only time it is hard to catch a cab is at rush hour, and adding more traffic will not be a solution.

Another driver was upset that along with job security, he was outraged that Sarkozy was considering waiving the license fee for the new drivers which can cost tens of thousands of Euros. Current drivers will want to be reimbursed for the licenses they have paid for.

Alain Estival, the President of one of the taxi unions, Federation Nationale des Artisans du Taxi, stated some of his concerns as well as reassured the public that they are willing to come to the table to negotiate. He also stated that they are not leaving their clients in need. If people need to make it to their medical appointments, we will take them, and then return to the strike. He then pulled out the very first money he made as a cabbie years ago. It was a five dollar bill given to him by a Texan who told him to keep it for good luck. Monsieur Estival hopes that the bill will bring him luck during negotiations.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Trip to Nice

We snuck in a quick trip to Nice to check it out. The whole region "la Cote d'Azur" is very lovely.

Q and M are not supposed to miss school for such frivolous reasons. So to avoid outright lying, we strategically had Sean call in twice to P at the front dest, who doesn't speak much English, to report that the kids wouldn't be in school that day. No questions asked. Phew!, as the kids would say. The teachers didn't ask about their absences at all when we got back.

Here are some pictures:

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The "orbitron"

You may have thought the orgasmatron was only a fictional cylinder from Woody Allen's "Sleeper", but here it is in the South of France, residing at the Comfort Inn in Nice.

As I stepped into this bathroom, I erupted not in an orgasm, but in a spasm of laughter due to the silliness of its design. The entire circular bathroom, except for the steel bars, is made of plastic. Oh, the seventies! I took to calling it the "orbitron" because I didn't want the kids bragging at school, "we had an orgasmatron in our hotel!"

Friday, 25 January 2008

He's not ready for the streets yet, dad!

All manner and ages of people can be seen riding their velos in the streets of Paris. But this was taking things a bit too far. This father and son duo even entered the roundabout at Place Marechal Juin, complete with cars coming at them from every angle, and the dad was holding the young tike on his bike up so he wouldn't fall over. I hope they made it home all right.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Perils of language immersion education

My daughter came home from school today and showed me her backside. She had a flap of jeans barely covering her bottom. It seems she was leaning against a fence in the park at recess, and as she went to walk away, her pants caught on a piece of the fence. One of the older English speaking girls helped her out of the situation, but it cost her a big rip in her pants.

When I explained to her that she could have called and asked us to bring something else to wear, she said she didn't know how to do that. The poor thing doesn't know how to ask for help at school when she needs it. I further explained that she could have told the teachers about her pants and could ask to call her parents, but in an effort to force the kids to speak French, the teachers act like they don't know any English, and she believes them. And to try to tell the story in French was just unfathomable. She just toughed it out. I asked if any of the teachers knew about her pants, and she said "no, I just kept turning my bottom away from people so they wouldn't see." She was proud to report that only 4 people knew of her ripped pants, one of them being her brother. This happened in the morning, and she was at school until 5:20.

I'm glad that when Q was sick at school, it was obvious to everyone, and they had him lay down in the sick room, as they phoned me to come get him. Otherwise, the poor little creature would have toughed it out, too, because he certainly couldn't have explained how awful he was feeling in French.

I have tried to tell the kids that if there's a serious situation, the teachers really do understand English, that it's okay and important to speak up if they need to in English. But they don't believe me.

Until next time, Bobby

An old friend passed away today. Bobby was someone who insisted on enjoying life. Whether it was a Hispanic Festival in Carthage , a Reggae concert in Ault Park or a dance sampler at the Contemporary Arts Center, he could be found all over the city. We often found each other at the free snack table at events. His form of transportation was often amusing. I recall he had a big old white, kind of beat up station wagon for a while, as well as a Pacer that outlived its days. Often though, Bobby arrived at the varied destinations by taking the bus, or riding his bike, or combining the two, the bus would take him so far, and he would continue on with his journey on two wheels.

Often times, we’d connect in meetings. He liked the way I would sum up my thoughts by saying “I don’t know, I’m just glad to be here.” I think we both kind of lived by that philosophy. He would challenge the status quo at times. It bothered him that at some of the meetings people called on each other to speak next. When he spoke, he always asked if there was anyone who wanted to speak, who might not otherwise have the chance.

I never really knew what Bobby did outside of meetings and cultural events. I had a sense that he was a free spirit, working when he needed to, taking each day as it came. His demeanor was certainly laid back. His dress was casual, jeans and converse high tops. For his fancier outings, he topped off his outfit with a suit jacket. He had long black hair that had twisted naturally into dreadlocks over time.

He picked me up when I was down. After a particularly sad breakup years ago (weren’t they all devastating in your 20’s?), he told me things would be all right, and then he gave me one of my favorite nicknames, “top shelf”, which is the ultimate for a couple of ex-boozers.

When I’m out in the world, I’m going to miss Bobby. But hopefully, his way of embracing life and people will stay with me.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Most depressing day of the year

In keeping with the most depressing day of the year (today- it's been calculated that the 3rd Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year by a British psychiatrist a few years ago), I went to see a gut wrenching tale of courage and despair. The film was called "Survivre avec des Loups" and it tells the true story of a young girl from Brussels who heads east with a compass to find her parents who have been deported by the Nazis. The only information she knows is that they have been taken East in big trucks.

She literally spends years on her own in the wilderness. After one year of heading East she is in Germany. After two years, she is in Poland. Three years later she has reached the Ukraine. It is astonishing that she kept going East, not asking for help, but befriending some wolves. The things she must do and what she experiences, no person, especially not an eight year old, should ever experience. I won't tell the end, but it was, after all a girl looking for her parents in Nazi Europe. A very compelling and beautiful film.

I saw another Nazi related film on Saturday, this time a German film called "Vier Minuten" or four minutes. It was a dark drama about a female prisoner who was an exceptional piano player. The story involves her relationship to the piano teacher and to her past. It is an intriguing story which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the fact that it wasn't based on a true story (as far as I could find out).

So, I was primed for the most depressing day of the year. Actually, it caused me to hug my kids a little tighter when I got home and realize what a wonderful life we have. And it's good to continue to show the horrors of war on the big screen in the hope that people will work toward peace and acceptance of each other. I can dream can't I?

In all, I would have to say that this has been one of the least depressing days of the year for me. I would give it a 9 out of 10. It doesn't get much better than that!

Friday, 18 January 2008

This just in...

A suspicious letter arrived today in the mail, bearing the logo of the RATP and the SNCF, the local and national train companies. I immediately saw that word perturbé again which was a daily sighting at bus stops during the strike in October and November. I immediately thought "What now?" "They haven't cancelled our train to Aime/La Plagne for skiing in February I hope".

I read on cautiously. I was taken aback by the following phrase as well: "nos clients les plus fidèles". And they were talking about us. Hee Hee! After 5 months of taking public transit, we are now considered some of the train system's most faithful clients. Woo hoo! The tone of the letter is vastly improving and I'm calming down a bit.

The next part is simply astonishing, and I have to read it several times to make sure I got it right. Finally, the whole letter was making sense, and it was still unbelievable. It turns out that the RATP and SNCF are sorry for the service being disturbed (perturbé) during the strike. As we are such faithful (and pleasant I might add), clients, the train companies would like to reimburse us for our troubles. Donc, in the month of February we can expect either a bank transfer, or a check or a reduction in payment to make up for our losses. The amount will be in accordance with our subscription level and geographic zone. Wow!

I guess I should send some of the money to my brother and sister-in-law who were put off of the bus on a few occasions as a result of the strike. I should also send some to my friends who were here during the strike, especially Mark who was recovering from an operation on his leg, but who pressed on street after street to see the sights and keep up with our active program, despite his obvious pain.

Strikes were something I had come to expect while living in France. But to be reimbursed for services unrendered during the strike is almost comedic for me. But you better believe I'll be looking in the mail and my bank account in February. Will they somehow take into account that the dollar is even weaker now than in February? They might want to jack up our allotment.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Academie Francaise de la Musique

Nearly every bus in Paris finds its way near or around this gem. Today is the day I finally walked in the door and entered the beautiful interior of the Opera Garnier.

I arrived too late to take the Paris Walks tour, which my friends told me was excellent, so I toured the monument solo. Secretly, I was glad to be on my own because the building is truly breathtaking on the inside. I would have been a very distracted, and distracting, listener, wanting to dash here and there capturing every detail.

From the marble statuary and steps, the gold gild EVERYWHERE, the ornate paintings on the ceilings, the inlaid wooden floors in the grand hallway, which in itself is more glorious than Versaille's Hall of Mirrors, to the busts paying homage to Gluck and Beethoven, among others, to the opera costumes on display, there was something unbelievable to see in every direction. Oh, and of course, the Chagall painting on the ceiling of the theatre. I can't even image the thrill of actually seeing a performance here. There were even little reproductions from Opera sets from the 1920's and 30's. For visitors lacking funds or unable to get tickets, videorecordings from past performances are shown in the sous-sol, about 4 screenings per day.

So far, I'd say it's the loveliest building in Paris, but you judge for yourself.
This cries "Phantom of the Opera".
The Chagall au plafond.
Detail of the grand staircase.
What a great place to capture in a drawing.
The theatre in gold and red velvet.
The set of Le Coq d'Or in miniature.
From the Rhythme de Valse
Guess the opera- yes, it's from Carmen.
Viewing room in sous-sol.

The opulent great hall.
Detail of grand staircase.
Opera Garnier illuminated at night.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

To Bise or Not to Bise

It can be confusing returning to France after having been home in the U.S. for a while. Not because of language confusion or using public transportation again, but for another, rather bizarre and occasionally embarrassing reason.

Back home, upon greeting or departing from someone, we normally give a big hug- no kisses, except for my friend Janet who has always kisses EVERYONE on the lips (she's Greek in origin). Here in France, everyone gives kisses (2 in Paris, and up to 4 in more aggressive regions of France). It is not so much a kiss as it is the pressing of your cheek to someone else's cheek while making a kissing sound in the air. It feels as ridiculous as it sounds, until you get used to it, which may take up to a year. (For someone like me who was truly neither a hugger nor a kisser, I have entered the twilight zone). And for two kisses, your right cheek meets your friend's right cheek on the initial kiss, and the cheeks swap partners, giving the left cheeks a chance to say hello. As intimate as this sounds, there is absolutely no body contact aside from the touching of the cheeks.

Just having returned from hugging country, I attended a meeting in Paris with people from all over the world. I approached a friend I hadn't seen in a while. As he leaned his head forward to do the French "kiss" I "grabbed" him in for a hug. "Damn," I remembered, "I'm in "bise" territory." I quickly released him and continued with the bise. Now I'm afraid he suspects I'm a little amorous, when in fact I'm just culturally confused. Oh, the fun of it all!

*Picture from

Monday, 14 January 2008

Sarko says No to GMO

Tres bien fait, President Sarkozy! Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are no longer welcome in France. The U.S. may file a suit with the World Trade Organization or heavily tax French imports as a retaliative measure.

Some of France's farmers had been planting Monsanto's corn seed, MON810 to grow crops for animals. It had never been approved for human consumption. (It wasn't approved for consumption in the U.S. either, but made it's way into consumer's food, causing allergic reactions (Starlink crop traced to taco shells.)

The French scientists who studied the issue stated , according to the Wall Street Journal, "that pollen from MON810 is too easily transmittable to neighboring crops and can infect nearby butterflies and worms." That doesn't seem like an important issue until we take a closer look.

Percy Schmeiser of Canada can attest to his crops being affected by neighboring crops as his canola fields were contaminated by Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene which were planted in a nearby field. He was forced to pay Monsanto for their product which the wind blew into his field. Strange, but true. Check out for more information on this aspect.

With regard to the butterflies and worms, there was a science magazine that came out a few years ago that described how the monarch butterfly's insides would explode as a result of eating the pollen from Monsanto's genetically modified seed. I couldn't make this up.

Bravo Sarko for saying No to GMO!

* Map is from and shows how much GMO corn is grown in French departments.

Saturday, 12 January 2008


What are they really? And why on earth do we need them when we already have the tastiest, easiest to peel fruit around, the clementine?

On occasion, we've had to buy the Clemenvillas because there was a lack of clementines. I was leery of the slightly chubbier relation of the clementine, with its tighter skin. They were tasty however, and the little sections came easily apart.

After much asking around, we finally found out from Madame at Chez Rafik that it is a combination of an orange and a clementine. Well, I would say that it is a tasty little creature, but again, why? The clementine is equal in pleasure to the taste, and again, easier to peel. Does it have a longer growing season? Does it ship better? Is it packed with more Vitamin C?

In conclusion, I recommend the clemenvilla as a tasty fruit, but it takes a back crate to the clementine.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Montmartre Entertainment

For some reason, it really warms my heart to hear people playing music in front of Sacre Coeur with a crowd watching and joining in from the steps. Today's entertainment was an Eric Clapton song as well as R.E.M's "Bigger" among others. There was something cool about hearing "Life... is bigger.." while looking at the city laid out for miles below.

Twenty years ago, you could hear a group of Algerians singing CSNY's Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, and Bob Dylan's Hey Mister Tambourine Man. During their break, I tried to speak to them in English. I assumed they knew English because they sang the songs
perfectly. It turns out they knew the lyrics by heart, but not the language. I now get that if singing songs made one fluent, I would know Portuguese from singing the songs on the Brazilian Tropics CD (produced by David Byrne). The whole world would know English from the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Petula Clark. And my in-laws would all know French from singing the racy Jacques Brel songs. If only...

It seems like it's always a sunny day at the Sacre Coeur.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Quirky retail

Heading down from Sacre Coeur, I wondered if I that eclectic store with buttons, doll heads, wooden toys and old matchbooks could be found again. Sure enough, here it is again- Tombe d'un Camion (Fallen from a truck) at 17 rue Joseph de Maistre.

I challenge someone to just walk by without stopping in. Recent items tumbled from the truck:

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Big Sale Stupor

I'm going to break into my originally planned reporting about Montmartre for a minute to confess what an idiot of a shopper I am.

I have known for weeks that the Parisian sales begin today and continue through the 20th of January. My calendar was marked, I'd freed up some of my time (not too hard to do), and I read an article about how to approach the sales (preview items in advance, have a list of what you want/need, etc.)

As I sat in our apartment looking across at Cyrillus (a clothing store for the whole family) watching streams of people exiting loaded down with shopping bags, panic set in. I really wanted to go to Galeries Lafayette, but didn't have enough time. Today the kids get picked up a 11:45. Also, there was some mention in Metro that an Al-Quaida attack was on the horizon for Paris, with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and yes, Galleries Lafayette as possible targets. Of course I wondered if a crazed shopper just said this to get the store all to his (but more likely, her) self.

So, with all these constraints, I dashed across the street in the pouring rain to Cyrillus. A line of customers about 20 deep waiting to pay for their items greeted me upon entering. It was difficult moving in the store, but I managed a basketful of items before I got into the queue myself. I almost forgot to try on the pair of black boots that I eyed on my way in (which were actually on my list). I asked a clerk if she would please find a size 38 for me (so I didn't have to lose my place in line). She found them and they fit like a dream. I figured they were a good deal (30% off), and purchased them with my other items. I was pleased with the items and their prices.

Pleased at least for a few minutes, until I walked down rue de Courcelles on my way to pick up the kids. Along the way, I saw shoe stores with oodles of boots and shoes which were far more reduced than the ones I bought, and probably more fashionable. I have a habit of dressing older than I am (by about a generation), but I am trying. So, my recent happy shopping experience has turned into a lesson in impulsiveness. I totally choked at the first store I walked into. No will power, no "let's shop around and compare".

But I'm not going to fall into remorse and beat myself up. After all, I went shopping and bought some items for the kids and some black high-heeled boots for myself, what's there to be sad about. This was after all, my first time experiencing the Paris sales. Maybe I'll be better in July (August?) when the next sales hit.

Now back to the usual programming...

Abundance of artists

As always, at any time of the year, a collection of artists can be found at Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Now that it's January, the crowd isn't so big. There are the people who are selling their paintings, typically scenes of Montmartre with Sacre Coeur, as well as those who will do sketches or charicatures of people on the spot. Once when I refused to have my portrait done, a man called me Bugs Bunny because of my large front teeth. That was after having worn braces. Needless to say, his heckling didn't turn into a sale.

On the way down the hill from Sacre Coeur, at 102 rue Lepic, this man is painting in the warmth of his atelier/gallery. It's fun to watch someone in the act of painting.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Gettin' up that hill

As some of our future visitors would like to know, there is a way to get to Sacre Coeur without going up the usual 300 plus steps. A bus or metro can be taken to the foot of the basilica, either on the North or South side. Then, a cute little bus called the Monmartrobus can pick up passengers and take them directly to Sacre Coeur or Place du Tertre with all the artists. From the metro stop Anvers, there is also the cool option of taking the Funiculaire to the base of Sacre Coeur.

There are still some steps to mount, but the bus or funiculaire certainly lessen the work, and can be ridden for one ticket or is included in the monthly metro/bus pass.

Monday, 7 January 2008

It starts with the shoes

This week I'm going to feature Montmartre because there is so much packed into this hillside neighborhood.

There is a fun free exhibit of boots and shoes called La Botterie S'Expose at Raymond Massaro's- Maitre d'Art on rue Norvins. It's there until January 31st. On display is a collection of outrageous shoes that have been worn by celebrities and/or designed by famous designers.

My favorites are these shoes by Junko Shimada. So very feminine.

But I have to include a pair of boots worn in the Stade de France by the soon to be retiring Johnny Hallyday.

Do we have to?

These were the lines I was expecting the kids to say when it was time to go back to Paris as well as back to school with classes largely in French. Instead, the kids packed up their backpacks and were very good travelers. This morning, there were no complaints about going to school. Only complaints about being tired. We were all up until about 2:00 in the morning due to time differences.

Some of what we will miss while we're away: