Happy New Year 2018

Bonne Annee!  The Champs Elysees was full!  The street was literally person to person from one side to the other and from the Rond Point up to the Arc de Triomphe.  I know this not because I was there.  Heaven forbid for an introvert.  No, I watched on television, with my sponge cake from Marks and Spencer’s and my glass of champagne. (I am getting quite good at opening champagne!)  Paris did this last year too.  They project scenes on the Arc de Triomphe.  Gosh, the French are good at these light shows.  I have seen them on many cathedrals and it is simply spectacular.

Except.  This year on the Arc they had some dorky cartoony story with a cat and baguette and other Paris icons. But at midnight the fireworks exploded.  At that point, I looked out my window for the show.  Did I tell you how I realized that I can see the top of the Arc from my window?  So I had a nice view down the street for the festivities.

There was a party in the building.  The neighbor below me knocked on doors to warn everyone.  She should have invited us too, but hey…  In fact, even with the windows open, they were pretty quiet. Still, I didn’t’ get to bed until 130.

Numerology anyone?  I dabble in it.  My birth number is 11.  Aha!  You don’t reduce 11, 22, 33 etc.  They are considered Master numbers.  OK so I don’t know quite what that means, but it sounds impressive.  2018 is an 11 also.  So I am feeling good about this year coming up.

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Paris in December

Wow.  So many people out this Christmas season.  The tourists have certainly picked up. I met several Americans while in various lines.  Here in Paris from our Embassy in Niger to meet Sacramento parents, from Canada to California, New York.  They are all here.

But I had my quiet time at the Musee d’Orsay.  As a member of the museum and holder of the Carte Blanche, I can go in at 9.  The public enters at 9:30.  And what an experience that is.  To walk in and behold, it is empty.   Oh, occasionally I see a docent/guard, but usually not.  In fact, I scared two of them once who walked in to find me alone in a room of china.  I guess that was not a popular destination for the early hours visitors.  I waved my carte blanche and they smiled.

Immediately I went to the Van Gogh room to see all my old favorites.  Starry Night was there in its usual place.  Sometimes it goes traveling.  Earlier this year it moved across to the special exhibit area for an interesting Under the Star expo theme.  Other times it goes far away.  Once to Russia this year.  I recall years ago I went to London and the National Portrait Gallery to see Richard the Third.  He was GONE!  I found out he was on tour to Washington DC.  I learned to always call ahead if I plan a trip for a certain painting…

There were some Van Gogh that seemed new to me.  But the d’Orsay owns so many paintings it can do that – just walk through the attic and pick this one or that one.  Wouldn’t that be a spectacular tour?  Les Greniers d’Orsay.

Notre Dame has had long lines again.  But I went to an evening of Gregorian Chants there and it was wonderful. First, though the line was long to get in, in fact the church was not totally full.  It can accommodate so many people.  And unlike the concert at St Germain des Pres, this concert was awesome.  The acoustics amazing.  There were maybe 9 singers total and several musicians playing instruments from the time period including a bagpipe.  At one point four of the singers walked up the center aisle.  Only one man was singing and his voice filled the entire cathedral.  Goose bumps.

Speaking of lines… that will be a culture shock for me next week.  (OMG NEXT WEEK!)  The British are excellent at queuing.  The Americans too.  We stand in line pretty politely.  The French – not so much.  And I must admit that on the Metro, I am as French as you can get, slithering past people – turn your shoulders to slide between if you must – to get to the coveted seat in a crowded car.

On Sunday December 31 the town was a zoo.  I needed more duct tape (Scotch American) so I headed off to Leroy Merlin again.  It’s open on Sunday!  And apparently it is ALWAYS open on Sunday.  Sounds like any of our home improvement stores.  They realized people need hardware stuff on the weekends.

But all the boulangeries were open and open late!  Usually those that open on Sunday close by 2.  Nope.  7 on NYE.

And other small stores were open.  I discovered Flying Tiger, a Danish store much like the Dutch Hema.  Ah but it’s so sad.  Even if I wanted to, I can’t buy anything – duty or weight holds me back.  It’s a good thing.  I don’t need anything more at this point.

Today, Monday New Year’s Day may be the opposite of yesterday.  I think everyone is staying home recovering.  Besides, it’s raining.  I have more packing to do.  (Just realized I didn’t put my Tile tracker in the suitcase that will be shipped so I have to find a way to open it.  Did I say I repacked it yesterday?  Much better arranged and it looks thinner too which helps meet the required dimensions and saves me additional charges.  I am starting to pack all the things on the shelves…  this is a dreary task.  I try to visualize opening it in Sacramento.  Of course, I then try to ignore the time in between at the airport, changing flights, etc.

Moving

Lots of posts in the past hour or so!  Clearly, I am procrastinating.  Or, wait, give myself a bit of credit.  I am taking a break!

I hate packing to come here and packing to go back.  On one hand it’s a puzzle and I love puzzles.  But moving what you have accumulated over 3 years is not fun.

Last year I left far too much with two friends here.  This year I bought two small carryon bags – really small – for the European airlines.  One I used for several trips in France.  The other is new just for storing things. But both were only 10 euros each so sure why not?  Thus one bag for each friend to store in a garage for me.  That’s it.  I am also giving them some things I won’t need – like a duvet and a nice fan.  And cubes.  Cubes are always useful.  The two bags and the printer.  The one bag must be ready Jan 8, the other Jan 9.  I fly on Jan 10.

I came over with two bags.  I will be going back with only two.  But why then am I carping on bags?  Because I have three bags full of stuff.  Delta lets the first international bag on free.  The second is $100.  OK.  The third is $285.  WHAT????   My third bag is going home by way of Sendmybag.com  for 189$.  A friend gave me an old but huge soft sided case.  I can send 66lbs in it.  It was all packed and I started to wrap tape around it when I realized I should be using duct tape so now I will start again.

The complication with sendmybag or any of the shipping services is that I live on the 3rd floor (American 4th) without an intercom or gardien (that’s like a super).  And the drivers do not have cell phones and will not climb stairs.  The bags must be on the ground floor waiting.

Yikes.  What to do?  There’s a hotel close by, less than a block.  But I have been worried that they will be very unhelpful French and say too bad for me.  Can’t leave it there.  Au contraire!  I finally got my courage up to ask and the concierge Charles was delightful.  Of course, we are neighbors.  No worries.  Whew.  Then we chatted on for 15 minutes – his wife is from NYC.  The only outstanding issue is how I get a large suitcase weighing 66 lbs down stairs and out to the hotel.  Gravity will be my friend.

I discovered Leroy Merlin. (A French friend said he was going to Leeee rwaieh mare lan – which I finally figured out was Leroy Merlin.) Bricolage.  The hardware store.  I look up the names for items I want but if I am not sure, I find a picture on Google images and take that with me.  Duct tape here?  The guy took one look at the picture and said Scotch American.  OK.   Not Scotch Tape.  Just Scotch.  All tape is just Scotch here.

I leave on January 10.  It’s Dec. 30.  I have well enough time but what if I want to ship one more box?  So I am attempting a dry run this weekend.  That means everything needs to be put away and I shall live here in a pristine uncluttered as it was when I arrived state.  But I love clutter.  What if I need something? No No No.  Be strong.

Actually, I am not too worried as this is the third time I have done this and it worked twice before.  I just have to remember that after I go through border patrol and customs in SLC, I have to go through security again before getting on the plane to Sacramento.  I forget every time and have to pull all my electronics out and take my shoes off and pfhafff.  (I don’t think I spelled that sound right…. You get it.)  Even though I am TSA pre-check, the screening between flights doesn’t seem to recognize that.  Maybe because there is just one check point.

And now I have caught up on most blog ideas.  It’s back to packing… unless I decide it’s too dark now to do a good job sorting and arranging and then I get to read…

Transport , Russians, & Cookies

I totally get the RER and pretty much all the French transportation systems!  In Reims I even used their bus system.  Found the bus stop for the return to city center.  Happy.  Really, RER intimidated me three years ago.  It was the big scary underground TRAIN.  But now I jump on and off for shortcuts on the Metro.

The RER is the Paris and Ile de France regional transport.  Regional Express Reseau (network).  It’s funny because lines A, B, C, D, and E are all called RER.  Pronounced air euh air.  RER A, etc.  But then there are lines F through P (at least) that are just letters.  Same idea.  Trains to the suburbs.  I read SNCF (Societe Nationale de Chemin de Fer) (National Society for –literally- Roads of Iron) is planning on dropping the RER and just calling them all trains.  What? Make sense?

SNCF has also just changed their website and marketing.  It is now OUIGo.  Like We Go.  Which is fascinating for the French to make an English play on French words…  They also now have Oui Bus.  Nevertheless, I must say they have improved their services.  The bathrooms are less often out of service.  Their wifi in first class works well and is easy to join.  They send me both emails and texts about my train – if delayed (not) or change of cars (they say take any seat as long as it’s in your class of service). And they send out surveys.

Changing topics.

I kicked out the Russians.  I just went back to Norton for my computer security.  Best Buy Geeks got me on Kapersky.  Then I read this year that they are actually a real Russian company and that our government has dropped them as they were lacking confidence in them.  Made sense to me.  Not that I have much of global importance on my PCs… well, not much is really nothing.  Not even nothing of significance, I mean actually nothing.  However, my laptop seems to be working better since the change.  Everything moves faster.  I like.  (added a week later – yes, everything is running better with Norton!)

Marche de Noel sightings.

A sign for “Vertiable Cookies American”  Which means REAL AMERICAN COOKIES.  Had some interesting exchanges about that – a friend was surprised to see it.  And I thought well, we say French macarons all the time.  So we distinguish.  But then I thought more about it and realized that real cookies are nonexistent here.  They just don’t make cookies often and they are more likely to be called biscuits.  With all the buttery pastries they make, I can see them turning down cookies.

The Bonjour Effect

That’s a book written by a couple – he’s Quebecois and she perhaps English but they wrote this book looking at the differences between France and North America.

The Bonjour Effect is what I have told you before.  You simply MUST say Bonjour before interacting with a French person.  I know yet I still forget sometimes by starting with Excusez-moi.  Nope.  And I even heard a French person say Excusez-moi and once she had the attention of the other person, she then said Bonjour.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the French people think of the book so I lent my copy to one of my friends.  At our next meeting he said he now understands me!

I guess he hasn’t always approved of my interaction with waiters.  Hey.  I am NOT rude.  I smile.  I say please and thank you.  But apparently I am not deferential enough.  Say what?  And he said that – you think it is their job and they should wait on you and take your order and check back etc.   Ah? Duh?

I still don’t get quite what the French think about this – it’s almost like they have to convince the waiters that you are worthy of their attention.

Speaking of waiters – my friend and I were having a wonderful Italian meal at Fuix by the Luxembourg gardens.  We sat in the enclosed patio with the heaters because inside was suffocatingly hot.  The waitress was not attentive.  Pas du tout.  I think we asked for the water three times.  Oh well.  It’s Paris.  Then a group of students (the university is close by) came in – maybe 10?  They were loud and obnoxious and there, I thought, went our nice lunch experience.  They started to move tables together to be able to sit as one.  Loudly.

And then the mean waitress came out.  Oh my did she give them what for.   Who were they to come in and rearrange the tables?  They were disturbing her clients (us!  She was defending US!).  And they could just leave, thank you very much.  The students argued.  She held her ground.  And they left.  She rearranged the tables back to normal,  shrugged her shoulders, smiled at us and went inside to continue to ignore us.

My friend suggested that in fact the students would only have ordered a café and would have taken a lot of her time and energy for not much return.  So get out

Food

I have been thinking a lot about food. Turned down an offer to go to Hard Rock Café…  Even 5 guys or le camion qui fume don’t appeal much right now.  I will have burgers too readily available in 12 days.

I lived in Visalia for 21 years.  It has fabulous restaurants. My consultants loved to have lunch or dinner with me.  They had their favorites.  So then I move to what I think is cosmopolitan Sacramento- being the capital et al.   I was very disappointed and still don’t have a go to Italian restaurant.

So after three years in  Paris has something happened to my taste buds? Maybe. And my idea of a meal. I can eat a dinner at lunch.  And I understand  an entree. And dessert.  My mom always had  to have dessert to cleanse her palate.  I get it now.  Not quite ready for eating a full pizza by myself but I am getting closer.  (Although I do miss Round Table pizza!!!)

And now I enjoy rarer beef.  Not quite at the French level but leaning towards red.  And cheese. I shall never  get into the sweet breads etc. But sauces – oh yes.

I will miss Picard Surgeles the most perhaps.  That’s the frozen food store (across the street from me!).  They are all over Paris – and France.  And have been around for 20+ years.  I have no idea why an American company has not figured out their secrets.  The food is delicious.  And even easy to microwave sauces.  And to die for desserts.  I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Pretty amazing post for the self-declared Non-Foodie.  Scary….

 

Face cream and customs

Did I tell you about falling for the Sephora pitch for Dior eye bags fixer-upper?  I am sure I did.  Well, I fell for it.  And spent big bucks partly relying on their assurance that I could get my tax back at the airport as long as I was leaving within 30 days.  And in November I was going to Maroc.  Not like I was staying in the EU when I went to London (and left the Schengen) (complicated, I know!)

So I filled out all the paperwork and gave it to Sephora who gave me a receipt with a bar code on it.  Good to go.

Except it didn’t.

I tried three times on the easy machine at the airport but it wouldn’t read the bar code.  So I innocently went to the guy at the douane (customs) office.  Who didn’t speak English well or so he pretended.  He took my paper and my passport.  After much looking, he said it didn’t work.  I said Sephora told me to do this… we went back and forth til he said Sephora wasn’t customs.  And Yikes at that.  Because I wasn’t trying to say Sephora was right, I just wanted him to know that it wasn’t MY idea.  Then he explained to me that while I was here on a 6 months visa, I was considered a “resident” and so the Value Added Tax would not be refunded.  Okey Dokey.  I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.  I want to be under the radar at all times.  I took my passport and skedaddled.

And interesting, when I went through border control the next two times, the ladies took forever to stamp my passport.  One time she couldn’t make her reader read it.  I don’t know if they flagged my passport?  I hope not.  But I am totally legit.

Now I could legitimately apply for a VAT refund because I am leaving in less than 2 weeks and I am on a tourist stay, but you have to spend over 100 euros and I think it is more – at one store in one day.  Given my $800 limit for returning items in the US, I don’t need to add any new purchases.

So enjoy my taxes, France.

Marco – Update – Differences and Toilets

Do you ever forget your punchline ? Your point? Why you wrote a whole paragraph? You’re telling a great story within several great stories and suddenly the next story sounds more interesting so you just go there. Without realizing you skipped the point.

So in Maroc -Bartering and Toilets I told the story of the gentleman making me wait while he went and got me a roll of toilet paper which totally surprised me and then he led me to the stall and I unlocked it.  But I left out the kicker:  there is a white American Standard toilet!

Well I doubt it was American Standard but it looks like the same damn thing!  It was a very first world experience within a Third World experience. I was happy to be able to take advantage of it.

Maroc – Bartering and Differences

Bartering is an art.  And I must say I am pretty good at ti.  I have two friends in France whom I apparently embarrass when I suggest a lower price.  Well, not in the grocery store or Galleries Lafayette.  But from street vendors.  I am polite about it.  I suggest a price.  They can say yes, no or give me a higher price.  No big deal in my mind.  But in Morocco, I ended up shopping at the Artisan store.  The prices were fixed, the quality was good.  And it’s what I would have ended up negotiating with no language barrier or stress.

Third world country.  My high school friend kept emphasizing that to me and wanted to know my reaction.  I wasn’t sure what she expected me to see.  I wasn’t surprised.  Maybe there are too many northern Africans in Paris?  Maybe I go to too many Paris and banlieu marches and barter there?  Maybe I have seen too many National Geographic and its ilk programs?  I wasn’t too surprised.  Noise.  Donkeys.  Dirt.  And then places of silence and calm.  Mercedes.  Pristine.

What did surprise me was the toilets.  Now when I was 10 we visited France.  And I clearly recall the pit toilets.  The hole in the floor that you squatted over.  And my mom always carrying Kleenex.  I’ve still seen a few here and there since living here.  But on the morning of the leather workshop, I had a sudden need for a bathroom.  The Marrakech public toilets were directly across the street.  There are all these open stalls.  I have my Kleenex stuffed in my pockets.  The guy in charge comes over to me for my 50 cents which I give him but he signals me to wait.  He walks over to a storage area, gets a roll of toilet paper, hands it to me and walks me to a stall with a door on it which he unlocks and waves me in.

So Europeans get their own toilet.

Politics are interesting.  I recall that after/during the Arab Spring, the king here made some changes to mollify his population.  More involvement of the people.  But when you come down to it, after all the changes, the king seems to have the final say.  And I understand it is against the law to speak poorly of him.  That made conversations interesting.  One person seemed to be genuinely pleased with the king and what he was doing.  Another was more critical.  And didn’t seem to look over his shoulder to see who might be listening.  The complimentary one told me stories of secret police everywhere… Clearly, the king is massively wealthy.  And most of his subjects are not.  The future will be interesting. Especially because women seem to be speaking out and becoming more and more educated.