France and les Greves

An edition concerning strikes, French law, being in a demonstration and trying to get to Rouen.

I am no stranger2016-05-26 15.04.38 to les greves – strikes.  When in Tours several years ago for an immersion program, I had to get a ride to school from my mere de la famille and I had to leave the school by a certain time to catch a bus because the bus drivers decided to hold a strike but only during the rush hour.  How INconvenient.

And, of course, last year I was here in the midst of the demonstrations against Uber.  Fortunately, I wasn’t flying at the time (getting taxi, shuttle or Uber to the airport was a mess!) and my travels about Paris kept me away from the places of burning tires.

This year les greves are hitting too close to home.  SNCF – the train company – will have reduced schedules because of striking workers.  And tomorrow I am off to Rouen – by train.  I read that there will be trains – 3 out of 5 of the intercities trains will run.  I am just back from a consultation (French and English) with the nice lady at La Boutique de SNCF.  She said I should be able to look up online if my train is impacted.  Leaving tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem as we have an early train.  Wednesday is different.  But she assured me there are other trains I can get on because – they have a duty to uphold.  OK.  Sure…

So we are off tomorrow as planned.

Why so many greves and manifestations?  SNCF is on its own with issues about its contracts and wages and working hours.  But many others are striking because of La Loi du Travail.  Also called Loi El Khomri.  (That’s the law of work also called the law of El Khomri, she’s the minister of Work in Hollande’s government.  Here they seem to name the laws after the minister who proposes them.)

The law seems to make sense.  But hey, I am an American and used to be in HR.  There is a very high unemployment rate here.  And the companies are hesitant to hire workers on more than a short term agreement because it’s very difficult and expensive to fire or lay off the long term contract employees.  So this law was supposed to change that.  With the intent that companies would then start hiring more people and the economy would start moving again.

It also made some changes to the work week, currently 35 hours.  But from my friends’ comments, I don’t know any French person who works less than 40 hours and sometimes 50 hours a week.  And the new law still had overtime in it.

And now after many changes, I read that the businesses feel it is too watered down.  So maybe a tempest in a teapot?  But the big union of CGT – Confédération générale du travail (I am told it is a Communist organization) – is opposed to this law.  And they are making a big stink and holding the demonstrations, manifestations, and blockages.  The police held their own demonstration because they feel unjustly caught in the middle.  Some of the demonstrators have turned violent – they wear hoods, throw Molotov cocktails, burn police cars.  I saw a clip on TV – hooded jerks were pushing on the gates of – I think – the muse de Armee.  One poor museum guard was trying to lock the gate – the jerks were starting to push it open.  Suddenly three army dudes appeared with their machine guns.  The jerks backed off right away.  HA!

Anyway back to the process of the law.  France is an interesting democracy.  Maybe there’s a better word, but I don’t know it.  There are two housesSénat and the Assemblée nationale.  I think that is about as far as the comparison goes to the US.  Yes, the members of the Assembly are voted in.  Deputies in the Assembly are voted for by the local people, however, Senators are chosen by “grands électeurs“, notably by mayors and other locally elected representatives.

Best website if you want to know more: and I am quoting them:

New bills (projets de loi), proposed by government, and new private members bills (propositions de loi) must be approved by both chambers, before becoming law.  However, by virtue of Article 49.3 of the French constitution, a government can override parliamentary opposition and pass a law without a parliamentary vote. This does not happen frequently, …

However, in 2015, Prime Minister Valls had to resort to using 49.3 in order to push the controversial economic reforms of the “Loi Macron” through parliament, in the face of a revolt by hard left members of his own Socialist party.

Do you remember le loi du Macron ? He’s another minister – of the economy.  He pushed through a law to allow stores to open on Sundays.  Fought against by many.  But when the employees of BHV – a big department store downtown – voted to decide for that store, it was a very close vote.  A no vote, but closer than the opposition to the law would have led you to believe.  Only stores in tourist zones are open now – down the Champs Elysees and in the big train stations.

And Hollande’s government has done the same for le loi du travail.  How can you be a democracy if the government can do what it wants?  Oh, wait!  The Assembly can have a no confidence vote and can overrule the government that way.  Yes, they did hold one.  No, it didn’t pass.  30 votes short I believe.

And now we have greves.  In the Paris area, so far it’s been the RER trains – they are the trains that connect Paris to outlying suburbs.  It’s supposed to get worse.  Fewer trains, longer waits.  The Transilien will be affected too.  That’s the line that also go to the suburbs.  RER is more like a train, the Transilien is more like a tram.  AND supposedly the metro and buses will also be included.  Now that will hurt.   And somethings going on at the airport too.

And CGT organized a greve at the refineries.  I am not quite sure if the refinery workers went on strike or if CGT just blocked the entrances so no gasoline could be delivered.  The result was that last week many gas stations ran out of fuel!  My friend with the car waited for two hours to find out the station had to close.  She did get gas the next day.  But it makes me hesitate to rent a car to get to Rouen…

The US State Department sends me emails to warn me about greves and manifestations in France.  (Not from Hillary or John Kerry…).  I do have several French news apps so I stay pretty up to date, and I like the State Department looking out for me.  Avoiding those hot spots is fine with me.

Then again sometimes nobody tells me nuttin’.  I went to the museum near the Bastille for 2016-05-26 12.05.23the second half of the CERAMIX exhibition (first half at the Sevres museum – where they continue to make Sevres ceramiques).  2016-05-26 12.55.41Grabbed lunch.  Oh no.  You never “grab lunch” in France.  We sat down for a full lunch and while eating spied demonstrators marching by the restaurant.  Didn’t seem to be too many so I wasn’t concerned.  And after lunch my friend went to the left for her metro stop and I to the right for mine.

Mine was the Bastille.  And at the same time I was heading for the metro, 2016-05-26 15.07.09-1CGT and other unions had claimed the Place de la Bastille for a massive demonstration and march.   The place itself was quite festive, with food stands all over.  Fun day in the sun.  Except for the strange guy waving a burning flare and someone else who would occasionally make a big banging sound that made you flinch and look for guns.  All for fun.  At least no burning tires.  They were lining up for a walk to Place de la Nation.  I read later there were 17,000 to 18,000 people.  Didn’t look that many to me.  But I must admit I headed straight for the metro and home.

Keeps your fingers crossed for my return train to Paris.  Merci.

Strange Animals


So who has seen a Dormouse?  Or a Hedgehog?

I guess I thought of them as extinct or fanciful creatures.  Turns out they both live in Europe but not the United States.

Remember Spiny Norman the giant hedgehog in Monty Python’s Flying Circus?  You would expect MPFC to use weird imaginary creatures.

But then a year ago a former French teacher of mine in Tours posted on FB something about a hedgehog in her back yard.  Huh?  Like did she see a Unicorn too?

As for dormice, I do remember the Jefferson Airplane….  Remember what the dormouse said, Feed your head.  But I am not quite sure the meaning of that lyric or even if it is true because the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland appeared to be mostly asleep.  At least from my online research.  It’s been years since I read it.

And for some reason, I equate dormouse with The Night Before Christmas.  But it was written by an American (which one seems to be in doubt) and how would he have seen a dormouse?  The line is actually Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouseClearly dormouse would have messed up the meter.

With thanks to Wikipedia:

hedgehogHEDGEHOG: A hedgehog is any of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the order Eulipotyphla. There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera, found through parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in New Zealand by introduction.

dormouseDORMOUSE: The dormouse is a rodent of the family Gliridae. Dormice are mostly found in Europe, although some live in Africa and Asia. They are particularly known for their long periods of hibernation.  And I guess they are said to resemble squirrels…

What brought this on?  I had tea in the Marais this afternoon.  I usually avoid this quartier of Paris.  It’s a favorite with American tourists.  You will find the Picasso Museum here and  Musee Carnavalet and Musee Cognac-Jay.  And numerous chic-chic boutiques.  Several very old buildings (half timber in fact). And a great tea shoppe.

Le Loir dans la Theiere.  The Dormouse in the Teacup.    Quite eclectic.  Reminds me of a place I used to frequent in Haight Asbury in the 80’s.  But much better food – typical awesome French tarte avec champignons, poultry et curry.  Followed by a delish carrot cake.  (Funny, you can tell it’s the Marais – they used the French word or the mushrooms and the chicken and curry were English).

I left the house without a jacket today.  Every day this week I wore a light jacket or a blazer.  And after an hour or two, I was carrying it on my arm.  Today the forecast was for showers but still temps of 71 – 73.

Today, when I am without outerwear, after two hours it started to rain and got very chilly.  Fortunately we were in the tea shop during the worst of it.  And fortunately we were in the Marais.   While in the restaurant we heard an INCREDIBLY LOUD thunderclap!  But across Paris at Parc Monceau, closer to where I live, the thunder was accompanied by (or the other way round…) lightning.  Which actually struck 10 kids and an adult who were having a party.  Some seriously.  Wow.

Tomorrow is La Fete De La Mere here.  So happy Mother’s Day to anyone who qualifies (even for animals!).

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit!  We all know those words – and if we don’t associate them with France, we associate them with Julia Child – who is French Cuisine to most Americans.

The French don’t know Julia Child.  And even film-mad French haven’t seen the movie Julie and Julia.

At this point in the blog, dear reader you ask, “Why would she write about Julia Child – she who continues to deny any interest in cooking?”  Great question.  I think I am being sucked into gourmet-land bit by bit.  Or bite by bite.  Truly, I have had the most amazing meals here in tiny places that don’t shriek haute cuisine.  As I pointed out to a friend last year whose taste runs to simple dives, French don’t have dives.  At least not in Paris.  Maybe Marseilles… but I don’t think I would feel too safe in those.

An intriguing conversation began around the simple term bon appetite!  I was told that the French don’t use that expression.  But in restaurants, I hear it all the time.  So I began an investigation and asked all the French I know.  And, mais oui, but of course, all the answers were different.  How can I get a handle on French culture when everyone is so dang independent!?!

Some said they say it at home when having people over for dinner.  Never said to the family… okay, well, rarely said.  One said it was a question of social level.  He tried to explain the nuances – they would have been hard enough to comprehend in English! But it was the French portion of the conversation so I got lost.  I gathered that the higher the class, the elite, the rarer it was said.  It might be said TO them by waiters or a chef- but they would never deign to say it to their guests.  It was mal-eleve….  Accents missing – not a French keyboard. But basically not well brought up.  One was telling me how it wasn’t used when the waiter brought our plats (yes, plat not plate – the main course) and said “Bon appetite!”  And she couldn’t use an argument that he thought we were American because clearly she is French and she did the ordering… and he didn’t hear my accent.  Others said it was just for Americans.  Shrug.  I give up.

However, at the soufflé place I had a great rapport with the waiter who wanted to speak English but let me speak French.  After he said, “Bon appetite,” he asked me – “what do you say in the States?”  I replied – “Bon Appetit!”  “No no ,” he said, “what do you say in the US?”  “Bon appetite!”  He finally believed me.  And thought it extremely strange.

And I mused on that for a while.  Why did we start Bon Appetit in the US?  My belief is it’s all because of Julia!  Mastering the Art of French Cooking!  Here’s where I draw the line with my leaning towards cooking…  I will not spend that much time on any recipe!

And maybe I don’t have to.  An American friend and I walked through Aligre Marche the other day and spotted fabulous artichokes!  She said she didn’t know how to get to the heart.  Well, I am a connoisseur of artichokes, living near Castroville, artichoke capitol of the world!  So I offered to show her.  Sunday I showed up with two great chokes.  She provided the boiling water.  And I proceeded to prepare and cut.  I guess she didn’t quite trust me, because she had read Julia on artichokes before I arrived.  “Julia said…”  “Julia does that…”  at my every move.  Apparently Julia also wanted cheesecloth to put over the cooking chokes to prevent discoloration.  Nope, not me.  I guess I am not bothered by discoloration – I just thought that’s the way cooked artichokes looked.


And I knew how to do it all without Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

So back to Bon Appetit!  Not one of my friends ever heard of Julia Child.  I have given a few a link to a video of her on Youtube.  I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.  She is greatly responsible for introducing us to French cooking.  She was an icon – Dan Akyrod on Saturday Night Live as Julia is priceless.

All news to the French.

So tonight at the table, raise your glass of wine and say, “Bon Appetit!”

Rest is a Good Thing.

A very good thing indeed.  My pace this past week has been quick… and long…  Averaging over 5 miles a day.  And by yesterday, my body was kaput.  I met a friend for lunch and after eating  we walked and walked.  Coming home I was not like the proverbial horse that goes faster when turned toward home.  Nope.  The last few blocks home were a stumbling and trudging mess. And I pretty much skipped dinner and fell into bed.

We had lunch in the Galerie Vivienne.  It’s one of the oldest of the passages in Paris.  These were the original shopping malls.  Little walk ways through buildings with shops on either side. In 2014 I visited many of them.  My list shows 22; I have been to 12, I believe.  My search for passages took me to Blvd. Saint Denis.  Not the best area.  One time I counted 20 prostitutes that I could easily recognize.  Chatting together in broad daylight and talking over prices with any number of men. This Saturday we were in a better neighborhood.  I just saw tourists!

In these more upscale passages I did find two great crystal and rock stores.  And two interesting shops I will return to for paper flowers and electric candles.  Ya.  These were the most realistic electric candles I have ever seen – with flames that moved.   I just have to retrace my steps.  By the end of the afternoon, my body was so fatigued I think my memory was affected.

But Friday night I had an excellent meal at Veget’Halles – a vegetarian restaurant that we happened upon by accident.  And it is The. Best. Ever!  Roti de champignons – mushroom loaf with blackberry and ginger sauce.  To die for.  I will be back.

Because I still was tired this morning, I passed up the visit to the marche and instead stayed horizontal on the couch.  And by the late afternoon when I had a rendez-vous with a new French friend, I actually felt good.  Yes, rest is a very good thing.

Tomorrow is another holiday.  Surprise.  I am off to a museum and then shopping at E.Leclerc – I think it’s the French Target.  To buy saline and contact solution…  the saline bottle that costs $2 at Target is 9 euros here – and it’s the cheapest place!

And then early to bed once again.

I know the difference 

I did reread that last blog before I hit publish! Really!

So I wrote:  Of course, both the Dutch and the French Rijksmuseum wanted them.

Yeah. The Dutch Rijksmuseum and the French Louvre wanted them.  


A Couple Steps Out…

First, let me say that I maligned the industrious workers across the street.  Indeed, they did NOT take Monday off as I posted in the morning.  But I think some must have slept in.  I saw the offices fill up by noon. And one poor guy was working by himself til after 9 last night.  Last year I did see a team of about 6 people work all through the night (I woke up and checked on them at 4 am – still there).

2016-05-11 12.03.02

Rembrandt’s Couple

Today after my Wednesday conversation in the area, I dropped by the Louvre.  A friend told me about these two full-length portraits done by Rembrandt at 28 years old.  They were privately owned for years. In 1877 Willem van Loon’s collection (descendent of the couple) was sold.  The Dutch tried to buy them but were outbid by the Rothschilds who brought them to France  and rarely exhibited them. (last time in 1956.)

This year the paintings came up for sale.  Don’t know why, but the Rothschilds decided to sell. Short of cash?  And they had to get permission from the French government to “export” them as the paintings are considered a national treasure – even if only the Rothschild family and friends got see them daily.

Of course, both the Dutch and the French Rijksmuseum wanted them.  In a very smart move, the two countries bought them together.  I understand the sale ended up at the level of a treaty between the two governments.  The Dutch own the husband, the French the wife.  But they will always be displayed together.  Romantic!  And expensive: $174 million for the couple!

The first exhibit is here in Paris until June.  Then in the Rijksmuseum for 3 months.  Then time for some conservation activities (if needed) in the Netherlands.  Then a rotating exhibit between Paris and Amsterdam for 5 years each, then 8 years each.  And they will never be separated and never exhibited anywhere else.  No traveling shows for this couple!

Read more about it here:

They really are magnificent portraits.

2016-05-11 12.10.49I value my membership in the Amis du Louvre which gets me in  free and through a side entrance with no waiting.  Even on a Wednesday in May it’s a crowded place.  I went by the Mona Lisa on my way to the Rembrandt.  Peeked in at the crowd – mostly a photo of people holding up their phones!  2016-05-11 12.21.32

Then  after I headed off for the Vermeer – only to find that area under travaux – work.  Closed until February.  Wait – February!?  I will miss it this trip, I guess.  But that part of the Louvre was not as popular.  I found a totally empty salle!  2016-05-11 12.11.57

Only one person was painting – copying the art work – today.  But there were many students who were all sketching the hall itself.  Very precise.  Very detailed.  You can see their sketch pads on their laps in this photo.

But maybe the Louvre needs to invest some money in upkeep.   2016-05-11 12.42.27

Towels were strewn over the floor in the reception area – leaks from the Pyramid?  Maybe.

And lastly, for Minnesota readers – you betcha! You should come visit me!

It’s a Long Bridge 

French friend complained about the lack of time off because two holidays in May fell on Sunday. But I see by the empty offices across from me, some people made it work. So: off on Thursday for Ascension day.  Le Pont on Friday and Sunday was the WW2 commemoration so that day is apparently ‘observed’ on Monday.  Today. 

Long long bridge.  

But no one told the two workers who are working on the roof.  I hear them pounding every now and again. 

Faire le pont…

It’s May again.  The most favorite month if you are a French worker.  Four, almost 5 holidays in May!  (I don’t count Mother’s Day because it’s a Sunday and everything is already closed). And if the calendar falls advantageously, you can Faire Le Pont several times.  That’s French for take a long weekend.

  • May 1 – Labor Day/ May Day
  • May 5 – Ascension Day
  • May 8 – End of WWII
  • May 15 – Whit Sunday making Monday May 16 Whit Monday
  • May 29 – Mother’s Day

Doesn’t it seem odd for a secular country – which the Republic is – to recognize Christian holidays?  I haven’t figured that out yet.  Except it’s time off – cynic that I am.

So my schedule was such that I had computer things to do – working on the Bloom Where You Are Planted day for the expats.  And prepping for a client.  And studying the Enneagram so I can get my case study out of the way.  And a sore ankle is appreciating the feet up on the coffee table for the day.  But I did have planned a quick trip out to Monoprix to pick up a couple things.

Good plan.  Until this afternoon the quietness of my street finally sunk in – with the realization that nothing, including Monoprix , would be open.  Guess I will make do with what I have.

Happy Holidays.   (BTW – when writing a blog, do remember to do your draft in Word where the text will be auto saved and not on Word Press where a misplaced fingertip will irreversibly delete your draft.)


State Fair Time!

2016-05-02 14.33.49Actually, it was the Foire de Paris time.  That’s Fair of Paris.  It’s held at a HUGE exposition park called Porte de Versailles.  Do not confuse this with the city or Palais of Versailles.  This is right inside Paris.2016-05-02 11.27.42

Do you know how you know if it’s inside Paris?  It’s within the Boulevard Peripherique.  That’s the freeway that circles about Paris.  I guess the only exceptions are the Bois de Boulogne – a huge park just to the west of the Peripherique and the Parc Vincennes – another huge park to the east.  Huge?  They are both more than 2.5 times the size of Central Park in NYC.   The road isn’t actually the location of the old Paris walls.  The city kept expanding and so boundaries were moved out over the years.  (Porte Saint Denis is in the 4th arrondisment – with the 10th arrondisment on the other side.)   So the word Porte means Door.  There are many such names around the Peripherique– indicating where entrances used to be to the City.  I live by Porte Maillot.  Porte de Versailles is between Porte de Sevres and Porte de la Plaine…  Enough geography.2016-05-02 11.26.48

Back to the Foire !

Ever been to a Home Show ?  A Garden show?  A Home AND Garden show?  To a State Fair?  Or just a street fair or bazaar?  That’s the Foire de Paris.  All of those things combined on a gigantic scale.

2016-05-02 11.54.05If I ever want to furnish an apartment or renovate a home or add a garden – I would wait until after this event.  I’d go here and spend hours with each of those specialists.  The range of furnishings – the couches, the décor, the bath fixings (I so prefer European showers to American ones),  the kitchens, the appliances.  Overwhelming.  And then there are the food trucks!  And wine trucks! (It is France, after all.)  (That’s a photo of an aquarium coffee table…)

I liked the Fetes Hall the most.  I didn’t know what to expect with the Party Hall.  But it was this incredible and, yup, huge, gathering of vendors – clothes, jewelry, scarves, knick-knacks, food.  From EVERYWHERE!

I think Americans are sometimes geographically limited in their thinking.  I recall when I went to New Zealand and was amazed by so many people talking about their trips to Fiji and Bali and Indonesia.  Until I remembered that all those places are a hop, skip and jump from them.  I was so North American-centric.

Here we had vendors from Syria, Tunisia, the Ukraine, Nepal, China, Senegal – Asia and Europe and Africa were all there.  AND amazingly, at least two vendors from Canada! 2016-05-02 12.56.44 I bought a ring from the Canadians who told me they come to this every year.  She wasn’t very fluent in her French (her co-worker was) and I heard her speaking English to another customer.  So I just spoke English.  They were from Toronto.  In the midst of our conversation, she complimented me – living in Paris and having such a good command of English.  I laughed and told her I better! I was from California.

8 scarves, one ring, one pendant and two crystals later, I took the Tram to the metro to home.  4 hours.  Over 5 miles.  It was a day.

But apparently I missed the best part!  The Salle Lepine.  Now that’s not a title to get excited about, so I can be forgiven.  But it’s the place where the inventors show their inventions!  I bet it was one of the most interesting places.  I am just not sure it is worth another 14 euro entrance fee.