Out Takes

So this is  Paris and there are a lot of quirky moments when something amusing pops into view and  ends up on my camera roll.  But often they just  don’t fit into the themes I am writing about this time.  I  now have enough of these images  to make a little farewell post as Alan and I will be winging back to winter on Saturday. Turn  on the sound track to Amelie and read on.

photo  I love this turn of the century Sephardic girl (from the   Musee Juif) with her pointy hat, mono-brow and hopeful expression. Zoom in.

photo 2  Watch out Alan! Giant sculpture fragment fro the Musee des Arts Decoratifs is coming after you.

photo 4  This impossibly cute little chest of drawers  at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs looks like it is going to jump up and run into a Disney animation any minute. Lumiere where are you?

photo 6  In January, bakeries feature galette du roi, a delish almond and puff pastry dessert which honours the three kings of the Christmas story. A”bean” is tucked in and whoever gets the bean  wears the golden crown that comes with the cake. Pictured is the bean, a little ceramic baker. Very cute. If you’re me, you not only get to wear the crown, you also get to call your dentist when you get back, because after  biting down on the bean you require a crown of a different kind.

photo 5 Worth peering at this poor image to see the cavorting doggies on the lawn of the Tuilleries. Used to be NO ONE got on this grass, now they have a dog run. Dogs, sculpture, the Louvre…. heaven. Speaking of which.photo 10  Around the corner is Heaven. And Heaven is on the Allee des Justes, named for those who helped the Jews during World War II. Some things just make sense.

photo 8  Here is Bacchus at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Note the cleverly placed draperies. He is peering into his cup as if to say, “This stuff may have a future…”

photo 3 I couldn’t agree more.

photo 7 It’s chilly just hanging out on the side of the Louvre. Can you tell?

photo 9  Time to fade out. See you in Winter.

Breakfast in America

When we look out from our balcony we generally see this:

photo 11

Which is nice. But if we look down, we see this:

photo 9photo 20

Breakfast in America. They are lining up for an 11 Euro, American-style breakfast (about $17.00 for eggs and toast). Why would you do that when you could have this:

Medication for jetlag

Because it’s American, that’s why. The French love/hate relationship with the Americans is at least as strong as ours in Canada, but what makes it fun is that it manifests itself in different ways. And, it can take quite a long time for American trends to get here. For example, in all of the Marais, I was able to find only two of these:

photo 8 La Parisienne has yet to make the  weekly commitment required  to achieve a perfect professional manicure,  as  most New Yorkers, and many Montrealers have.  When I looked at the price list of this nail salon, I could see why.

photo 2photo 3

In fact, I haven’t seen nail polish on any of my friends here, or on their friends. Young women wear it, done at home I would imagine. But I bet that the trend is  coming.

Let’s move on to something else: our shoes and theirs. Men at home, look at your feet. Women, consider the feet of the men you know. Are these feet 7 or 8 times longer than they are wide? Would they, for example, fit into these shoes?

photo 5

 

These are typical French shoes for men and they are still very much present in the vitrines of Paris. I’m convinced that only the French can wear such long, stylish and elegant footwear and it must be an aspect of their genetics that they have such a narrow last. When we came to Paris in 2009, all the men were wearing them, even the young men. Adolescents and guys in their twenties were not wearing unlaced high tops and jeans so loose they were at risk of falling off altogether. And we liked that. Instead we were seeing young guys in tailored, ironed jeans, button down shirts with  foulards and  blazers or suit jackets on top. And they all sported expensive leather shoes.  But, a change was coming, and my daughter Charlotte tells me it was, in fact, starting back in 2009 with the rising French interest in hip-hop. Hip-hop guys do not wear pointy leather shoes. It was the beginning of running shoe culture – okay, sorry, the rise of the American sneaker.

photo 7photo 6

Now they are everywhere. Everyone is wearing what here are termed “baskets”. You seldom see a young man in the style that was de rigeur just six short years ago.

But I have a theory about what happens when the French adopt an American trend and we can see an example of what I mean in the way they do  graffiti. While it’s true that graffiti goes back to  ancient Rome, and earlier, if the youth-culture-tagging with-spray-paint-thing  has a homeland, it would be south of the 45th parallel. Here in Paris we do see a fair amount of deplorable tagging.

photo 12

But what we see even more is something like this:

photo 13 Now this little fox sitting down to dinner is kind of interesting. And in our local alleyways we see something that can only be called an art form.

photo 18

photo 14

 

This is street art and it’s really cool and it’s everywhere.  I sometimes see murals and such in Montreal, but usually someone was hired to do them. So, the French have taken the night-bandit spray painting trend and transformed it into something French. Bravo.

Let’s get back to the shoes. “Baskets” are the shoe of the moment in Paris. But take a look at these:

photo  Aren’t these shoes awfully slender and tidy-looking? Perhaps a French “take” on sneakers?

And what about these?  photo 17  Is something new and French happening in the American domain of sneakers? Finding out is one more reason to come back next year.

 

 

Small Wonders

This post about the royal palace of Fontainebleau and that extended wing of the Louvre called the Musee des Arts Decoratifs has, I would think, an unexpected title. It expresses a  strategy that I use when I am out and about: the larger the place, the more one should concentrate on the small stuff. I am  looking for the real spirit of the place, the times and the people, and it can often be found in those small things.

We have been visiting the past and especially the seventeenth century. We drove out to Fontainebleau on the weekend,  another field trip to the past,  and a stellar opportunity to   bone up on the history of French monarchy. Napoleon (there’s a joke here – Bone up, “Boney”, but I can’t think what it is) who had his pick of the French royal abodes, spent a lot of time there and called it, “The true home of kings.” Indeed French royals lived there continuously from the 12th c. to the end of the 19th.

photo 24 Here, at Fontainebleau, is Napoleon’s throne room. Grand, no? Does it speak to you of the time, the man? In a way. But what about this?

photo  In terms of materials, this hat and coat may be amongst the least precious objects at Fontainebleau. But they summon the man with a wrenching immediacy.  As does his campaign bed. He spent far too much time on it.

photo 13

Grand spaces abound at Fontainebleau.

photo 15

 

Francois I (same period as England’s Henry VIII) built this massive ballroom. For some reason, he believed that he had to reinforce the grand gesture with a series of small ones.

photo 1

Royal initials are everywhere, inside and out. Kingly graffiti. Massive egos? I think so.photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everywhere at Fontainebleau, small things draw the eye.

photo 6  Beautifully patinated balusters.

photo 5  Everything not carved is painted. Doesn’t she look like the Mona Lisa?

photo 2 Wonderful fabrics.

photo 18  A small fresco, so very lovely, so easy to overlook in the context of the space it is in, below, the Chapel of the Trinity, Fontainebleau.

photo 14

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside,  is a massive park with statuary.

 

photo 24photo 19  But the moss and lichen-covered railings speak of time’s passage even more eloquently.

On to more time travel and a first visit – to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs – housed in a wing of the Louvre. At first, it didn’t seem that different from the Louvre proper. Lots of Fine Art is there.

photo 22 For example, this Gauguin, presented absolutely without fuss. “Wow'” I thought. “That painter is a lot like Gauguin. Oh. That painter IS Gauguin.”

 

photo 23

Fabulous sculpture, isn’t it. Takes the gallic shrug to a new level.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look again for the small stuff.             photo 21

photo 8 Marquetry. Painting with wood. What mastery.

photo 9  My favourite gallery: 17th century chairs. Each a perfect, small sculpture.photo 11photo 7

photo 10  When Alan saw me kneeling on the floor to photograph this one, he said, “You really ARE a girl, aren’t you?” He noticed.

We often hear that the devil is in the details. But I would side with the  great Vladimir Nabokov who wrote,  “there is no delight without the detail” (thanks Tom).

 

 

A Visit to my Aunt

How I love discovering something new, and today’s discovery particularly gratifies me because it fits so well into our current themes of the seventeenth century and the Marais. While doing a small, self-guided tour of historic buildings in the Marais -which is pretty much every building – I stood shivering and reading from the guidebook about hotels particuliers on rue Francs-Bourgeois. I spied a building flying the tri-color and took a closer look.

Unknown Hmm. Looks like a bank or insurance company. I went to see what was posted up outside. What’s this? “Visite”? “Encheres”? An auction house of some kind? I’m in.

 

photo 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entering a lovely courtyard with fountain, I had a number of doors to chose from. The one marked “ventes” made sense, so I plunged right in.

photophoto 6

photo 2 Once inside, I found a bustling auction in progress. “Madame, vous etes en retard,” the auctioneer joked. I smiled and waved.

Wow. Was this ever better than the auction house, Drouot. COMFORTABLE SEATS.

images  PHOTO: CREDIT MUNICIPAL

It was a jewellery auction and the auctioneers were flying through the lots. Many of the lots were gold items, sold in bulk.Unknown-1

Let’s back up for a minute, history buffs. What was going on here and what exactly is the  Credit Municipal de Paris? Known locally as “Ma Tante”, and originally as the Mont de Pitie, it is where you can go for a loan when you are particularly hard up. A money-lender. A massive pawn shop. You hand over your valuables, a value is assigned, and you can borrow up to 50% of the value.

Ma Tante will take just about anything of value. It turns out that she even has a wine cellar.

louis-xiii-1 _var_www_creditmunicipal_upload_1_105x152_f_722  Louis and Richelieu

Established  by Louis XIII,  and, later, supported  by Cardinal Richelieu,  the idea was to offer a fair deal to those in need.   With a few time-outs for Revolution and such, the Credit has been in business  from its seventeenth century origins to this day.  In fact we saw a number of people going in the other door off the courtyard and thinking about it later, I realized that these people were going to drop stuff off and get their “pret sur gage”.  They didn’t seem so pitiable. No Cossettes,  nor little match girls. No wailing or shifting about shamefacedly.

photo 4

A poster outside the auction hall. Victor Hugo doesn’t think we should be ashamed to go to ma tante, either. Apparently 91% of those who take a loan pay it off. If, after a year, they fail to do so, their goods are sold at auction and the money is used to fill the cash coffers for more loans.

Back to the auction.  Jewellery was flying out the door and the prices were fou. Examples.

70369 Platinum ring with a half carat diamond. Went for 200 euros. Seriously.

Another one, also .50 carats  :70316   Went for 500 Euros. Still an amazing price. Here’s another objet d’interet:

70438 Cartier Tank watch (les Must de Cartier) went for 210 Euros.

I didn’t bid but wish I had on this last item. Never fear, there is one auction left in January, and guess who will be there?

Comedy Tonight

400px-Molière_Mignard_Chantilly

 

 

Moliere

La Grande Siecle – a century that begins and ends with the reigns of  two of the greatest of French kings –  fires the imagination with French achievements in art, architecture, letters and all things civilized. It is the 17th century and it  has become the object of our studies here in Paris.  We are  escaping into the past  in Paris, just as we are escaping the Canadian winter. Here in the past you can meet  a highly interesting set of people, from forementioned kings Henri IV and Louis XIV, to Mme Sevigne and  Moliere.  Alan and I passed the field where Moliere played Jeu de Pommes; it is just a block from our house. Now it is the playing field for young Lyceens, not one of whom was fooling around on a gameboy.

photo 2

 

Exterior of the Comedie Francaise

Just a stone’s throw from the Louvre, in the Palais Royale (which was also the home of Louis XIV’s brother “Monsieur”, arguably the most famous openly gay man in European history) is another place Moliere used to frequent. His troupe of actors, officially supported by the King, were housed there beginning in 1680. It is the Comedie Francaise, an establishment that continues as a state-supported theatre to this day. It showcases classic works by Racine and  Corneille as well as modern plays. How lucky for us that Tartuffe, considered Moliere’s masterpiece, is on the boards this winter.

IMG_0003_2 Climb the stairs to the Corbeille.

 

photo 3 Moliere

photo 5Gracious corridor with natural light.

photo 4 The lounge where one can drink a jeroboam of champagne before the performance. If only we had known.

photo 9 Gracious, grand. Most people are in jeans.

photo 7 A hush falls.

photo 6  Beautiful theatre.

FrontispieceTartuffe

Tartuffe (or The Imposter)

Tartuffe is a rollicking work that takes you inside the hearts and minds of 17th century Parisians as they deal with family conflict, the demands of love and passion, and the problem of duplicity and betrayal. Tartuffe is a religious beggar who has been taken into the home of Orgon, a man of great enthusiasms but little judgement. A scurrilous hypocrite,   Tartuffe manages to cheat and trick his host into giving him the hand of his daughter, the inheritance of his son and a clear pathway to the bed of his young wife. Tartuffe intends to completely ruin Orgon while outwardly displaying a saintly demeanour and condemning all those who want to enjoy life.

photo 9photo 7

photo 8

Scenes from the Comedie Francaise (2015)

Mais…. Plus ca change…. We may be trying to escape into the 17th century but we can’t stop thinking of recent events here in Paris. What is Tartuffe if not a religious extremist who wants to impose himself on all around him? The many speeches made by friends and family about him to Orgon touch on the importance of a balanced approach to religion; they speak of the true religionist as someone who quietly and modestly serves his God without hurting or violating others. Moliere suffered censure on account of the  frank depiction in Tartuffe of religious extremism and hypocrisy. Even though the King – and the public –  liked the play, it was attacked by the Church who did not want these ideas expressed. The Bishop of Paris threatened to excommunicate anyone who watched, performed in, or even read the play. Can we understand, in the light of this, why now  the French insist that theirs must be a secular society, and that even the most caustic of Charlie Hebdo cartoons must be tolerated without interference?

Well, I have used up my quota of rhetorical questions and so, like the play, will try to end on a positive note. Charlie Hebdo sold millions of copies this week and demand for a reprint continues.  The French are still celebrating a play that a few hundred years ago they were told would effect their damnation, if seen. Vive la liberte.

 

 

 

 

 

FrontispieceTartuffe IMG_0003_2 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5 photo 6 photo 7 photo 8 photo 9

 

Dames d’un Certain Age III

Faithful readers will know that I am working on a sure bet best-seller, Aging a la Parisienne.  This up-coming New York Times number- one -on -the -non-fiction list, will pay for all my future winters in Paris, especially once the movie deal is negotiated. It taps into the ever-present fascination we in North America have for the witty, stylish and beautiful Parisienne of a certain age. Last year we explored the secrets of staying slim and analyzed some particular individuals so that we could copy the look. This year I have offered myself up as a cochon d’inde in the war against age. Yes, dear readers there is little I will not do in the service of knowledge.

photo  There is a new beauty shop on rue des Francs Bourgeois, the  Marais main drag which already hosts Mac, Bobby Brown, and Diptyque. Sakare sounds Japanese but is actually from the UK. Our local shop is the first Paris boutique and their sweetly aggressive sales folk actually drag you in off the street for their sales pitch.

photo 6  This is Guido gearing up to make me beautiful. Yes, he’s Italian. He went to the Niccolo Machiavelli School of Beauty.

photo 5 This is me waiting to become a beautiful, radiant Dame d’Un Certain Age.

photo 4 Guido considers his batterie de cuisine.

photo 2 “I cannot work a miracle,” he said. He really did.

photo 3 He gets to work applying fortifying facial serum which will “freshen the most tired-looking complexions” (Sakare website).

photo He demonstrates his masque on my hand. It is a hydrating mineral complex made of …. minerals. This is clearly Guido’s favourite part of the pitch. “How do you remove metal???” he says. “Water?” “NO.” “UHHH, with a magnet?” “Precisely!”

photo 9  Here, he uses a magnet to lift off the metal- “Removing all impurities”, he says excitedly. The almond oil stays put and looks better on my hand than the black stuff.

photo  WOW. Some hand.

By now my face is ready as the serum has soaked in. Get ready to be shocked.

photo  Voila! COMPLETELY transformed. “You were wrong”, I said to Guido. “You have worked a miracle.”

There you have it. Parisiennes spend untold hours with black minerals and expensive oils on their faces because that City of Light radiance does not come without effort.

photo 7

Or without expense. Here are just a few of the advanced moisturizing products I will be bringing home. With so many miracles taking place in my morning routine, I expect to be nominated for sainthood . Perhaps Sakare will be willing to work closely with me and sponsor  the book. I see “model/spokesperson” in my future.

Finally, I have an update on how Parisiennes stay slim. Last year, you learned that this can be attributed to the appalling junk food on offer here in Paris. Vending machine waffles? Madeleines instead of Twinkies? This is not how you tempt a person to overeat. Unfortunately for the French, however, since last year the Lays potato chip company has put on a major push in the Paris market. Sure, the same old packages of jujubes are everywhere, but frankly, how many can you eat at one sitting? You don’t get fat on jujubes.

photo French candies.

No, it’s potato chips that pack on the pounds and it’s obvious that Lays has put a lot of research into convincing the French that they cannot eat just one. Their research geniuses have created a line of potato chips that are, well, unique.

photo Aren’t you dying to try  Olive/Tapas potato chips? Yummy.

photo  How about chips that taste like Spaghetti Bolognaise? I would love to meet the marketing guru that pitched that one.

Our next example should only be considered by those without an easy gag reflex. Otherwise, skip to the bottom for a contest update.

photo  That’s right. Roast chicken flavour. That is SO disgusting. Bet I can’t eat even one! And neither could any self-respecting Parisienne. So, once agin, saved from empty calories, the Parisienne can put her energies into resisting baguettes.

Contest update. Entries continue to come in for yesterday’s contest. Scroll down if you missed it. A clarification: the mud soap and shea butter sample is from Sakare so that you, too can have a morning miracle.

 

C’est Logique…. and a Contest

We think of the French as great chefs, glorious vintners and gifted with all things visual – art, architecture, la mode, je ne sais quoi. But when it comes to modern life, technology, engineering, we don’t usually think of the French. We don’t usually think, “Hmm, Blackberry could use some help getting back in the game. Better call some Frenchmen (or women).” But these limiting views of French savour faire deserve a rethink. There’s a lot of cleverness here . photo 2

Here is the apartment washer-dryer. Yep,  washer and dryer in one.

photo

See? It will dry, it will wash, it will take up very little room and be very, very quiet so that you can have a dinner party and sip champagne just feet from your laundry, something I don’t think you do normally at home.

At home, the vogue in laundry equipment is big, honkin’, brightly coloured front-loaders that are jacked up on platforms, perform tricks like steam clean and are just plain vulgar and unnecessary. In fact, a whole cultural analysis could be undertaken on this topic and it would reveal a lot about us and them. But I will spare you. Next example.

photo 4  Okay, this is not engineering, it is commerce, yet another field I avoided in university but that could have made me a lot richer. That’s another story. Anyway, in France, they post the prices of what is displayed in the store window, in the window. I like this. It confirms for me that even during Les Soldes I cannot afford “Sandro”, something which is nice to know before I set foot inside. Can you afford these things? Zoom to see. Next example.

photo 3   Here we see a converter. Important to come to France with many of these so that you do not spend hours searching for your ONLY ONE, and blaming your husband. Do not cheap out on these. We tried that and our daughter’s blow dryer turned into an instrument of doom with actual flames coming out. That’ll dry your hair quickly.  Have high-end converters  conveniently staged everywhere so that you do not fry your electricals. Why? Because French electricity is like Le Jazz Hot: 220, man. Fast, fast, fast. Boil water in seconds. Why don’t we have this? It’s just better.

As if I haven’t made my case, here is the final example, a favourite, since plumbing is always a potent measure of civilization and the French  learned from the ROMANS.

photo 5 Voila. Le petit et le grand. We know the difference between Number 1 and Number 2 and so does the toilet. These are starting to make their way to North America. About time.

Finally, I know you have been curious about the Contest. In this contest, Alan and I are the winners. Sorry. I do have a consolation prize for the person who makes the most amusing comment on the blog.  The thing is, Alan and I just learned we have won 1000$ for opening a bank account with La Capitale. Perhaps you can too by contacting Robert Nuss and opening your own account (you’re welcome Robert). So the contest has to do with you voting as to what we should do with the bucks. Should we:

1. Have lunch at a Michelin  Three Star Restaurant?

2. Go on a shopping spree in the Marais (Alan too)?

3. Buy art – maybe at the flea market?

4. Save it for our next trip? (Do you really want to be that boring?)

Vote and vote often (using the comment space on wordpress). Alternative suggestions not accepted (unless they are damned good). Family members are not excluded. Most amusing comment wins a mud soap bar and shea butter cream from a high end beauty shop in the Marais – more about that in tomorrow’s post.

Terror in Paris II

Unknown-2UnknownUnknown-1IMG_3607IMG_3608

 

Sunlight and blue skies this early Sunday morning in the Paris apartment. A great morning to head out explore the city. Recent events in the city were still very much on our mind and  were hardly dispelled by the sight of soldiers in their camouflage, carrying machine guns, trigger at the ready. But we have seen that before in Paris.

IMG_3614

As you stroll the city the idea of terror is always there, embedded in the very stones. Soaring above the Seine, on the Right Bank at Chatelet, is the Tour St Jacques. It is all that remains of a Church, torn down stone by stone, by Parisians, during the Revolution. A tremendous fury must have fuelled the destruction of a church that had been erected as an act of faith by their very ancestors.

IMG_3609  And what did I spy at the foot of our very own apartment building: “This was the entrance of the prison of the grand army (1782-1845). At this place 161 detainees, including the Princess de Lamballe, were put to death the 3rd, 4th, and 5th September, 1792”. Of course, I looked the Princess up.

Unknown-1UnknownUnknown-2

 

She was Marie Louise Therese de Savoie, the dear friend of Marie Antoinette. She was caught up in the Terror, or, a moment of terror before Robespierre and friends really got to work at Place de la Concorde, with their “humane” death machine, the guillotine. Beware, oh one percent.

IMG_0175IMG_0174  The most beautiful room of the Musee Cluny houses the decapitated statues of Kings, removed from the facade of Notre Dame during the Terror. Thought lost, they were rediscovered in a rubble pile and take their place together now, a commentary on power, loss, and the passage of time.

 

 

IMG_3604   Elsewhere in our neighbourhood, the Marais, the story of terror is present in more subtle ways. Hoping to confuse the mob, aristocrats at the time of the Terror had their coats of arms removed from the streetscape outside their  mansions. They present a blank face. Aristocrats? Us?

IMG_3605

But, despite this city’s  frequent and potent reminders that human history is a story of violence and terror, there are many moments that point the other way.

IMG_3625IMG_3623

 

IMG_3622 IMG_3624

 

We live four subway stops from Place de la Republique, but the crowds walking home from the “manif”, today’s unity rally that drew two and a half million  Parisians, were huge and continued past  our apartment for hours. Tired, happy, proud. They stood up to terror and said no to fear. They asserted their unity and their humanity.

Everyone who watches the news today will know about the huge success of today’s event. But I would like to share a small moment that I witnessed last year, on World Holocaust Day. Just down the street from our apartment was the Memorial de Shoah, which was behind barricades that day. Pedestrians were allowed to go past, and as you did, you could see a shelter and an event taking place. It was a ceremony, and it took us a moment to understand. “They are saying Kaddish.” Prayers for the dead. It went on all day.

Take a look at who provided security for this event, creating a sense of safety for the Jewish relatives of the dead.

IMG_1726_2  Yes, policemen. Of African origin. French citizens  aiding French citizens in the act of remembering and repudiating terror.

 

Terror in Paris

IMG_3598

By now most of my friends know that during the Charlie Hebdo shootings I was inside the Picasso museum which,  next to the Elysee Palace, must be  one of the most secure spots in the city. The lineups to get into the newly- renovated  museum had been fou through Christmas and New Year’s so we purchased our tickets on-line and hoped that by this week the crowds would have  gone back to their classrooms and offices. There were still substantial lineups, and in some of the galleries, overcrowding, but by the time we came out – no one. Hmm, we thought, should have come later. Would have had Picasso to ourselves. At the same time, my friend Genevieve was out for the first day of les soldes, the Paris Winter sales. Wandering the world’s most wonderful department store, the BHV, she was astonished at its emptiness  since on this day of the calendar, hepped-up Parisiennes vie for the orange-ticket items and run to the cash with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Interestingly, Genevieve and I both learned of the grim truth from our far-flung children, texting us to reassure themselves about their mothers’ safety.

IMG_3599

 

At dinner that night chez Genevieve, surrounded by her friends, fear, angst, and anger flowed along with the champagne. “I’m terrified,” said Francoise -the -beautiful -dentist. “These young men , many of them are French, Catholics even.” She envisaged an unstoppable fifth column of citizen terrorists destroying the French way of life. The other Francoise, a gravel-voiced banker’s wife, was imagining how the families of the dead were feeling, their friends too. “Just because they stand up to these….. Islamists!” She spat the word and looked around uneasily. I thought it unlikely that any of these extremely tasteful and  soignee bourgeoises had been faithful Charlie Hebdo readers. But that night in Paris we were all Charlie.

IMG_3603

Freedom of expression, of self determination, of religious affiliation (or none) are hard-won French values we Canadians inherit and hold dear. For us,  adoption of these ideals has been comparatively easy. But for the French, centuries of turmoil were needed to effect their ascendance. And now the French are coping with a post-colonial legacy they cannot control and that threatens the humanist freedoms their ancestors died to establish. This legacy takes the shape of disaffected, potentially violent  urban youth, often born in France, but with parents from former colonies, who are picked up by extreme movements offering them that sense of belonging the Fifth Republic cannot or does not provide. I mumbled something to my dinner companions  about trying to identify the lonely, the misfits, trying to lend support to those working with youth in the banlieues. I was thinking of my daughter Charlotte’s experience in a Paris high school. She was stunned that Ismail, 18 years of age in a grade where everyone else was 14, a giant lad with the ebony skin and pleasing manners of the Senegalese, was simply waiting out the year in order to drop out and go on the dole.

“Well, what does he do every day?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “He just sits at the back of the class.”

“Don’t the teachers yell at him?”  It was  a bit of a joke. The teachers were always yelling in a way we found shocking, until it became funny.

“No. They leave him alone.”

I was mystified. Perhaps you don’t yell at a young man who could so easily punch your lights out. Or maybe you don’t yell at him because you have no hope for him, less even than he has for himself. Maybe such a young man goes on to become the ideal target of “recruiters”; I cannot believe that it has to be so.

Gripped

THE BAD NEWS: I have had the worst flu ever, something I imported to France, however unwittingly. This flu is truly the worst. Many of my Canadian friends have come down with it, and some have had it twice, which seems particularly unfair. My friend’s brother-in-law spent his Christmas holidays lying on the living room floor groaning. No one wanted to move him.

This flu feels like death. Everything hurts. Your eyeballs hurt. You are exhausted and while at night you cannot sleep, in the day you can do little else. You are wracked with a tight cough that hurts and fever that goes on for days. You have a sour stomach and no appetite. You are in Paris and you have no appetite. This is a new category of hell. Oh did I say that that is the good news? I AM IN PARIS AGAIN, FRIENDS, and I have spent the first precious two weeks with the flu.

IMG_3489

This is me, languishing on the couch. Alan, reflected, is taking the picture from our balcony.

“Admit it,” my friend Alison said on the phone. “There’s something exotic and interesting about being sick over there.” Sort of. At first I tried ignoring it. No, that’s not the flu, that’s jet lag. Better to just power through. So I tried just getting up and going out until I experienced a kind of cerveau fouetter (whipped brain) – like someone had gone after my brain with a mixmaster causing me to briefly black out and trip on the cobblestones. This is not chic behaviour anywhere but particularly not out in the ultra-cool Marais. I went home and decided that I would spend all day in bed. This has been fail-safe in the past. One day in bed has always fixed me right up. But this evil Canadian flu just laughs at such feeble strategies. “Vraiment?”, it says (for some reason it has a French accent). “Want some more Cerveau fouetter?”

IMG_3550

Hours before the fever, I am sampling a macaron.

IMG_3584

Next day, at the Brancusi Museum, pretending not to be sick, but looking like hell. 

I have never been sick, really sick, while away and it changes everything. Passing cafe windows, I was sickened. “Why do they keep eating and eating?” I wondered. “Eleven in the morning, four in the afternoon, they eat and eat. What for? Go home. It’s enough!”

“What am I doing here, anyway?” I thought. “I’ve seen everything already.  I can’t think of anything I want to do. Why didn’t I realize this before?”

What do the French do when they are sick? Apparently, they take a lot of drugs. “Dolyprene”, a young houseguest assured me. “Avec Advill”. “BOTH?” I said. “Le molecule nest pas le meme” he explained. “Sounds scientific” I said, swallowing down my pills. Half an hour later, I was able to sit up and within an hour, I was out on the cobblestones again. A few days later, quite suddenly, it lifted. I was on my way to the iStore (upcoming post) and I stopped for a cafe creme. A couple of sips in, everything was suddenly normal. I felt, well, perky. The waiter’s jokes seemed kindly. The rain shone on the sidewalks with an Impressionist shimmer. It was going to be okay.

IMG_3564