Preparation, Weather and Apartments.

It’s a Monoprix delivery day.  Stocking up for visitors.  And while I wait for the delivery man, I am cleaning.  Actually, this is the most efficient cleaning I have done since moving here.  Although, yes, I am using my blog as an excuse for a break before vacuuming.

Why the activity?  A good friend arrives tomorrow.  Some Paris and France sightseeing and then off to London via Calais, Brighton and Bath.  She flies home from London and my niece arrives in London.  She comes back to France with me and leaves October 1.

Mon Dieu!  For an introvert who has been away from US friends for a long while, this is both exciting and wonderful… and fatiguing and overwhelming.  I must admit to liking my quiet time.  But once she arrives tomorrow and the adventure starts, it will be great.  Just have to remember to manage my energy.

It’s raining today.  Wish I could sent it to California…. Weather in Paris reminds me of the Sierras – wait 10 minutes and it changes.  The forecasters are pretty accurate.  Even if it looks ominous, if they say no rain, I leave the parapluie (umbrella) at home.  And they are right.

Paris apartments.  I have visited 7 so far.  All quite nicer than my 400 sq ft in Neuilly.  Shrug.  (Gaelic shrug!) (bof!)  They live here.  They have their own furniture.  I live here and have claimed my space as my own, but it’s not my stuff.  It’s more a base for my adventures.  My heritage – daughter of an architect and interior designer – enjoys seeing the way they use space.  And it varies so, of course.  Some very modern, some classical, and some  50s comfort, French style.

Bread Laws!

In the 1790s – I have read – the French feared a shortage of bread – a famine, in fact.  So they passed a law that said the bakeries had to stay open.  Fast forward to the twenty-first century.  When most businesses just close for August, bakeries had to declare either July or august as their vacation time.  And somehow the government managed it so that there was always a bakery open in a neighborhood.  In fact, the closed bakery had to tell the city hall of their vacation and also had to post their notice of closing where the closest open bakery could be found.

The baguette is a staple of a Frenchman’s diet.  But that has been changing.

Stats from 2013:

97.6% of French people eat bread but consumption in France has dropped to half a baguette per person per day, down from three baguettes per day in the early 1900s and one baguette in the 1970s.

THREE baguettes a day?  Mon Dieu!!!  I have been cutting down on bread consumption myself.  It’s so deliciously tempting.  When you stop at the Boulangerie and you discover that they have just put out warm bread – sacre bleu!   How can you be expected to get home without nibbling on the end… and when you get home, what?  Where did that bread go?  You just have an empty bag!  Merde!

My French friend Veronica, who insists that the laws about the Soldes (sales only twice a year) make total sense, seems more lackadaisical about the bread laws.  She said to me,
But you wanted progress?!”  Well, sure, but drop the Soldes law and keep the bakery laws!

The posting notice has gone away.  The decision to drop the rules was made in 2014 so this is the first year.  News articles are saying that disgruntled Parisians are searching in vain for their baguettes.  And two weeks ago, a Parisian stopped me in the street and asked when I had purchased the baguette in my hand.  I may be lucky she didn’t wrestle it away from me.

These changes are all done in the spirit of removing bureaucracy.  But why why why start with bread?

About Town… Massages and Straps.

Don’t get too excited about the title.   They are two separate subjects.

I am trying to catch up with my various pearls of wisdom…. Well, merely observations…   And I have rearranged the order of posts – the Thalys event was most important.   Just now I hit the POST button for Thalys and leaned back in the chair, wondering, what will I do now – 6 hours before I meet someone for dinner.

Oh yeah.  I have to plan the trip to Croatia and to Ireland – to give me time outside Schengen and extend my time in France.  I can’t believe it, but after making 6 hotel and 8 train and 1 ferry arrangements, I am planned out!  So a short break for lunch and back at it.

Back to the title… Straps.

I bought two more purses but the straps were too long.  So I needed additional holes.  Sound familiar?  I think I mentioned this before- I liked the first bag so much I bought two more.  The neighborhood guy took care of it – the transaction was entirely in French but it was costly – 7.50 per hole.  New bags needed the same investment.  Yet… it’s August.  And of course, he was closed.  So I found another cordonierre over by Notre Dame.  Again, in French!  But he charged me only 5 euros for both bags.  Yup, Neuilly-sur-Seine is a bit pricey.

Massage.  I am a regular massage customer – started having massages in Visalia more than 15 years ago.  When I moved to Sacramento, it took visits to probably 8 massage therapists until I found the marvelous Kim Bidwell.  So here in Paris, I have hesitated.  It’s been 5 months since I have had a massage.  Finally, I searched.  Trip Advisor is a great resource.  Found Michel the stylist there.  And found Leah the massage therapist.  Well, I found Massage Concepts.  And I was assigned Leah.  Of course, she’s French.  But she lived in Santa Barbara for several years and….. yes…..  she received her massage training in Ojai.

It was a great massage.  I will be going back in late September (too much going on to work in another appointment before then).  After the massage, I had a dinner with a CE.  We spoke English the entire time.  I was way too tired to handle French.  But it was a great tired – super relaxed.

House cleaning.  I hired a cleaner to come in and do a deep cleaning and wash the floors.  It was worth every penny.  Sometimes you just have to get help.

And now I am working on stocking up for my next visitor.  The Marche is much smaller in August – even the vendors take the month off.   LB comes from Oakland on the 28.  Lots of plans, including London by way of Calais, Dover (white cliffs anyone?), Brighton and Bath.  Then as soon as she returns to California, my niece arrives for a week in London and then we return to Paris on the Eurostar.

It’s going to be a very busy September!

And a couple interesting signs….
I2015-08-21 10.14.47n Maintenon I actually walked the Santiago de Compostela trail for a short distance.

2015-08-21 16.47.45And near me, there’s a nice building with a little plaque that says Water on All Floors.  Wow.
Really?  I guess there was a time that was special.

Last week we had a great dinner at the Drug Store Steak House on the Champs Elysees.  Ya. Really.  Strange name. But the store reminds me of the famous drug store in Beverly Hills… Schwabs!  It was an incredible meal.
2015-08-18 21.25.21The building is quite modern and they decorate with lights.  A friend told me there used to be a beautiful classic building there but it burned down in an intense conflagration (some folks died) several years ago and was replaced with this.

Favorite Chateau

I love this place!  Chateau Maintenon.  It’s on the way to Chartres, just past Versailles.  It was the home of Madame de Maintenon – the secret but legal wife of Louis XIV for those of you who are history buffs.  Why did this one capture me?  Partly the size.  It’s so incredibly beautiful but manageable.  Versailles just overwhelms you.  Also the fact that the family actually worked on the restoration themselves and created a foundation and eventually turned it over to the French government.  That’s love for their home.

2015-08-21 11.05.12 The gardens were designed by La Notre – the famous gardener who also set out the Versailles gardens.  Did you see A Little Chaos?  In France it was called Le Jardins de Roi.  With Kate Winslett?  Historically inaccurate and accurate.  I am sure the story of the gardens themselves was true; I seriously doubt there was a female gardener at that time.  But it’s a gorgeous testament to the gardens.  So the gardens at Maintenon were originally designed by La Notre, but the current gardens are in the style of.  When your chateau is your ancestral home, you think more about your own comfort rather than preserving what granddad did.  2015-08-21 11.04.31Or grandmere, or actually, grand tante in this case.  (Madame de Maintenon left her chateau to a niece.)

It’s an easy trip from Montparnasse Gare and then less than a mile walk through the town to get to the Chateau.

In the far distance, you can see the aquaduct that Louis XIV started to bring water to Versailles.  Never finished…

Of Trains, Terrorists, and Travel

By now you have heard all about the terrorist attempt on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris.  The man got on the train in Brussels, I believe.  I have been on that train twice – returning from visits to the Netherlands.  Thalys is a high speed train company that is jointly owned by the rail companies of France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.  It’s a nice train and gets you places in a flash.

But it’s also like all the other trains in Europe.  You walk into the station and get on the train (except in France where you had best ‘composter’ your ticket – time stamp it in the yellow machine before boarding).  Find your seat and sit down for the ride.  You are told to watch your bags – there is nowhere to check them.  Most fit on the overhead bin and if not, there are usually a couple shelves for luggage near the doors.

That system works.  Yup.  Certainly there is risk and now maybe this act will increase the risk as others may decide to be copycats.  But what can they do?  Right now you routinely see the army walking through the major train stations in groups of 4 or more, carrying their machine guns – but not keeping folks off the trains.  Yet really there is no reason to secure the major stations – in 20 minutes or less, that train will start stopping at small local stations.  To secure every train station in Europe would be a massive undertaking.  Maybe train marshals, like the air marshals, will be the answer.

At a soiree last night, we expats toasted the three Americans! We are all so proud to share their nationality.  On FB  Marcos Breton from the Sacramento Bee posted: Two of the Americans hailed for preventing a “blood bath” on a Paris-bound train were from Sacramento – Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler. Sadler is a Sacramento State student. Along with another friend, they overpowered a heavily armed terrorist and held him until authorities arrived. The French government lauded their bravery in preventing a massacre. Well done, lads

A FB reader commented on his post: I find it funny how no one would care about this story if these two guys were any other nationality. Because it’s only important when it happens to Americans, apparently.

Another reader commented on her comment: Untrue! Actually, it’s usually the opposite stance. But thanks for being the hater! I like how the French would probably have stood around and gotten shot or run. What they’re good at usually! Great job guys!

On another FB post, a French friend posted an article in French about the attack.  A French guy made this comment:  Et pendant ce temps lá, les psychologues français essaient d’expliquer avec compassion pourquoi personne ne bouge quand une personne se fait agresser dans le train…. Lafayette tu es bien loin…chapeau bas pour ces hommes

Which basically says…  And since then, the French psychologists have tried  to explain, with compassion, why no one else moved when the attacker started to act.  Lafayette, you are so far away. Or Lafayette, you are missed!  Hats off to those guys.

All this raises so many questions about the various cultural approaches of all European nationalities.  I may have posted before a quote from A Best Little Chocolate Shop in Paris, a fun novel: … but she couldn’t have looked more French had she been wearing a beret, a small twirled mustache, and a Breton shirt and been carrying a chain of onions around her neck while riding a bicycle and surrendering a war.

Such a confusing country – pretty much giving in without a fight, establishing the Vichy government but then with many brave men and women stepping up to the challenges with the Resistance movement – without which the Allies probably could not have invaded.

On the Thalys, there were two others that assisted – a Brit in his 70s I believe, who helped truss up the attacker.  And a French man who is mentioned in a few articles as having done something at the very beginning to stop the guy.  The Frenchman has not been named.  The other 4 have all received medals already!

I like to believe that had there been 3 Frenchman from any of their military branches, they would have done the same thing.

My expat friends and I are all proud to share our Amercian nationality with them. I am happy that Americans foiled the attempt.  But really, living here in Paris, I would have been delighted if it was a Martian.  That people acted so quickly and were successful at stopping the potential carnage is a blessing.  Anyone who did so would be a hero in my book.  It’s just a little icing on the cake that I can say they were Americans. They lived up to the image of John Wayne and took matters into their own hands.

I have been warmly received by the French during my stay here – but at the back of my mind there remains that little stereotype about ugly Americans.

And then there’s the Donald.   Paul Thomas from the New Zealand Herald wrote recently: “Donald Trump is everything the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandizement, vulgarity on an epic scale.  The fact that so many Republicans are comfortable with the thought of this monumentally unqualified man in the Oval Office shows how warped the Party has become.”

Enough US politics.

I will be taking the Eurostar back from London on September 20 and they do have security and have had for a while.  The biggest issue for Eurostar is the immigrants who have been either blocking the Chunnel or trying to get through it to England. The migrant camps are supposed to be quite large around Calais. There was a bit of violence at the beginning of August but it seems to have quieted down. Since I am traveling by train to Calais to take the ferry to Dover in a week or two, I will let you know first hand. We take the train from Paris to the TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse – Very High Speed train) station which is near the Chunnel and then must taxi, Uber, or walk to the Ferry port.  In early August, some disgruntled ex-Ferry workers had set fire to tires to block the port.  That seemed to be a separate issue from the immigrants.

On y va!  (Let’s go!)  All this because LB wants to see the White Cliffs of Dover!

Still so proud of those young men.

New Perspective

My friends’ visit.  Seeing Paris through the eyes of a 5 year old is challenging.  It requires you to start noticing every carousel.  Every bounce house or trampoline.  Anything that looks like a kids’ playground.

Certainly things I had not noticed before.   And the one experience I had that seemed perfect for a kid – France Miniature – ended up a sight unseen.  Maybe next time.  I am impressed with the parenting skills.  I remember my mom and dad just taking me on the tours at age 9.  I had 4 years on this little miss.  But this mom started the tours of the Louvre and the d’Orsay by going to the bookstore and letting her pick 3 postcards of art work that she wanted to see in person.  And then it became a bit of a treasure hunt.  Imagine, picking the Venus de Milo or the Winged Victory at 5?  And at the d’Orsay, she picked two Van Goghs – The Room and Starry Night.  Of course, Starry Night is still in Russia. (I do hope it comes back!)

A very precocious young lady.  I can’t wait to meet up with her again.

Of course, it was a blast to see her mom, a friend.  We found time for a few brief chats.  I recall how one of my close friends, mother to two children, has told me that our friendship stayed alive because I kept in contact with her as her kids grew up.  In Paris, with my mom friend, even short conversations were interrupted with the mom duties.  But precious time indeed.

With my friend, husband, daughter and mother, we went to the Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.  It’s the famous 5 star Alan Ducasse restaurant.   As close friends know well and as I have said before, I am not a chef.  Nor a gourmet.  The food was beautifully presented.  The ambiance – besides the incredible view – was marvelous – quiet, refined.  And there were interesting flavors and some real hits.  I’d go back again for the ambiance and experience, but maybe not the food.   Oh Sacre Bleu!  Is that sacrilegious??? But it’s a memory I shall cherish.  Thanks my friend and reader!

My friend had a slight illness and we were searching for cranberry juice and other liquids for her.  She expected to pick up some at Monoprix about 6 on Sunday night.  I smiled – oh how I have become a native.  Nothing is open on Sunday afternoon.  Especially in August!  But now I know the secret places – like Galleries Gourmand at the Porte Maillot Palais de Congress center.  She Uberred over and I helped her shop.

The family headed home last Wednesday.  I will miss them.  But then, more time for French!

French Mid terms

Well, not really.  But from time to time you do want to check in and see if there is language improvement.  I am so fortunate with my CE friends.  Oscar is a professor of history at a law school.  Everyone is just so interesting.  And in a texting exchange where I was apologizing for my French, he said:  “I would not stay in CE with you if your level of French was so weak.  You possess a very large vocabulary and a good understanding of French wines.  So that means you are French.  And in addition, you like cheeses that I don’t like.  You are more French than me!”  Woo Hoo Moi!

Add that to Albert’s comment about my future in French… very nice day indeed.

Did I tell you that two French folk did not know what a Gaelic shrug was?  I was almost embarrassed at first – thinking I was using a bad stereotype – til an online search revealed the fact that the French have used it themselves to draw British tourist.

“To draw the Brits back to the French capital, the Paris region launched a massive communications campaign, based on a Web site called C’est so Paris, which makes fun of French gestures and attitudes. …  Here are the instructions: “1. Stick out your lower lip. 2. Raise your eyebrows and shoulders simultaneously.”  The Gallic shrug may be accompanied with a vocal “Bof,” says the Web site.”  from ABC

They laughed.

And I finished a French novel!!!2015-08-11 22.40.03


Really. Yikes!   

Well.  Just what does yikes mean?

This conversation exchange keeps teaching me English!   I used Yikes in an email to a French friend.  As in Yikes I will be driving the rental car in Paris.  Yikes indeed. 

I explained as best I could.  An expression of surprise or fear.  And realized again why the French expressions throw me off too!  Like Donc.  They use it like crazy.  It’s sort of Then…  But I haven’t felt comfortable using it yet.  

Mais.  Donc.  A time will come!

Empty…. Where have all the Parisians gone? (and travels and the Beach Boys)

Out of Paris, certainly!  The tourists arrive; the Parisians leave.  On August 1, when I walked off to the marche, I noticed more than 50% of the stores on my route (three blocks) were closed!  Some for 2 weeks, many for all four weeks.  See ya August 31.

2015-08-04 12.27.59 2015-08-04 12.28.17   I wrote to a CE friend Albert who is off in Normandy for 2 weeks.  I told him next year in August I plan to be out of town too.  He said, “There are too many tourists in Paris, especially in August.  Generally those kinds of thoughts (that I would leave too) are expressed by Parisians.  So I feel confident for your future in France.”

Turning into a Parisian.  That’s a very good thing.

I did get out on three day trips.  2015-07-28 12.31.25One on the train for 2 hours to Brittany to Nantes to visit the Dukes’ of Brittany chateau. (Not as exciting as I hoped.)

2015-08-03 13.22.13Another to Rambouilett – a chateau much closer to Paris.  This is the summer home for the Prime Minister or Premier of France – no, that’s not Hollande.  It’s Valls.  But he wasn’t there.  It was beautiful.  But it was a stinking hot day and instead of 8 rooms, we only saw 2. Renovation time.

2015-08-10 10.00.30And lastly to Chateau Ecouen.  This is now the Museum of the Renaissance.  They took all the Renaissance stuff sitting around the Cluny museum – which is the musee of the moyen age (middle ages) and put it in a proper setting.

2015-08-10 09.04.47It’snot too difficult to get to – a suburban line train and then a bus.  And if you followed the pedestrian signs and not the signs for the cars, you’d get to the chateau very quickly.  Obviously, I know the way to the parking lot now.   2015-08-10 10.44.23This may be my favorite chateau.  Because you get to walk everywhere.  It feels like the whole thing is open to the visitor – no off limits.  And that gives you a sense of the building and how folks lived.  I liked it.

It is under a flight path to CDG, however, so there was a plane overhead (low and noisy) every 3-4 minutes.  It made me think of Berlin and the airlift – how a plane landed every 3 minutes.

Obviously, I am not moving to Ecouen any time soon.

lascauxI’ll add a comment about Lascaux.  It was in Paris (although at the exposition center at Porte de Versailles which is on the border of Paris).  It’s the traveling exhibit of the prehistoric cave drawings from the Lascaux caves in southern France.  Pretty amazing story that I will let you look up.  Discovered in 1943.  But drawn in 30,000 BC.  Closed to the public in 1963 due to mold and algae brought in by people.  Now there is a facsimile near it you can visit and this traveling one and a new one to open next year based on computer measurements.  I was disappointed that they didn’t have the most beautiful sketches on anything at the gift shop.

Interesting exhibit too – they had interviews with about 15 scientists about Lascaux and their role or interpretation.  One paleontologist said a physicist suggested to him that someday it may be possible to measure the vibrations that happened when the artists carved into the stone.  And maybe turn it into sound and hear what they were saying at the time.  Wow.  Now that would indeed be Good Vibrations.

And a quick closing comment on the Beach Boys – I saw Love and Mercy last week. (English with French subtitles)  Did that bring back memories!  Surfers in their madras. beach boys(You had to leave the back button unbuttoned on a collared shirt!) (And I was in Minnesota at the time!  A surfer in Minnesota!) But I had moved to LA soon after and some of the party scenes from the movies were right out of my memories.  Wild.

Language Barriers

Friends are arriving this week with a 5 yr old. I was on the bus today and saw a cute little girl.  I wondered how old she was… 4? 5?  I am not good at kids’ ages. I was trying to compare her to the little girl flying over. 

My French is improving. And shop workers are complimenting me often. So I was brave enough to ask.  Politely I said excuse me Madame. I have a question. How old is your little child?

OMG. I guess she was German not French. And she took total offense. I have no idea what she thought I had said.  I spoke quietly.  Politely.  Even smiled.  

She glared at me the rest of the trip.  Even called me something that I think meant stupid Swede.  One time I caught her eye and I looked away and slightly shook my head.  Wondering what the heck was going on?  How and why was I misunderstood? And she told me off.  I just shrugged my shoulders.  Finally we got to her stop and she got off with the little girl and turned and made a parting crack.

It was sad.  I wished I spoke German. I didn’t mean to ruin her day.  But she allowed it to happen.  

Guess I will make sure the person speaks French before I ask anything in the future.