Breakfast in America

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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On a Binge in Paris

You know what happens. After the first one, you’re feeling good. Loose, stimulated, happy.     But then you want another. Finding one is no problem, so you go ahead and indulge. The pleasure is intense. You can’t stop talking and thinking, your mind is darting everywhere, from what you know to what you wish you did. You tell yourself, no harm done.  Next thing you know you’re doing two a day. Exhaustion sets in but something is driving you. You just…have to…. keep going… to museums.

It’s true, we did two yesterday and one today. It’s too much but we can’t help it. It’s our last weekend in Paris and, il faut profiter. Yesterday we woke up to a morning that looked like this:

photo 4  Yes, that is greenery. Sunshine. Perfect day to journey across Paris and see this:

photo 14Eiffel Tower – seen from Trocadero (a plaza across the river)

At Trocadero, is another museum that we have not seen before: the Palais de Chaillot, a museum of architecture  and “patrimoine”. Like so much we have been to, it was blessedly empty (take a note, last two weeks of January are prime time for museum-going in Paris).

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photo 7  Impressive, no? Especially for fans of medieval art. I kept saying to Alan, “Why couldn’t these churches be saved?

photo 6 Dummy. These are moldings taken of the original works. I cannot imagine what it must be like to put the whole east facade Rheims cathedral in a mold. But these French are awfully clever.

photo 13  Isn’t he lovely?

And this?     photo

 

An enjoyable aspect of all this is that these architectural elements are often high up in gloomy cathedrals and here you could really see the beautiful carvings of so many anonymous master sculptors.photo 10

I got into depictions of Eve (I”m always into that).

photo 9photo 8photo 3 Upstairs at the Palais Chaillot an enormous room full of architectural models.

photo 27photo 20 But having traversed hundreds of meters of culture, Eve was ready to bite the apple. We went in search of food and found it down the hill at…. The Musee d’Art Moderne. After quiche and a salad…. are you thinking what I’m thinking?

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That’s Sonia Delauney on the left (the painting, I mean) and a gorgeous Dufy on the right. I won’t tire you with more, but it was lovely and not too much. Not really.

Today…. hmm what shall we do?

photo 17  If the army of the French Republic is going to spend so much time and money guarding the Jewish Museum, the least we can do is go, right? We waved to the two machine-gun -toting soldiers, cleared the airport-level security check, and entered this:

photo 29  Yes, a seventeenth century hotel particular, where else but in the Marais.

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photo 18 Just a taste of what we saw. Speaking of tasting, this museum-going is hungry work. What would be the right meal after getting in touch with our Jewish heritage?

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Fallafel! Another heritage item guarded by machine gun. I kid you not.

And what are we reading?

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The French are Smart (most of the time)

Paris, I will love you always, but you have a rival: Bordeaux. Capital of Aquitaine, a port city and Unesco heritage site, this rival for my affections has so much going for it. Where to begin? Bordeaux’s port offers a mile or more of riverfront mansions,that date to the 18th century. The beige stones of their facades are reflected in the  soft light that bounces off the  River Garonne . This thrilling run of  beautiful buildings is not interrupted by anything ugly.  This is the first smart French idea for today’s post: when you build something beautiful, don’t mess it up.

fd7528fc-1abd-44f8-a8ec-f1050e4d8988Photo thanks to http://www.voyajo.com.

The historic city centre resembles Paris, the Hausmannian part, with massive carved stone buildings and wide boulevards. It is all familiar to a Paris lover, in a very good way.

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There is also a beautiful medieval cathedral, to rival those in Paris and Chartes.

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But, while la vie Bordelaise has much in common with the good life in other French cities, they have implemented an idea that is really different and really smart. The entire city core is traffic-free. All pedestrian, no cars. It makes you feel like this.

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Silent electric trams offer pedestrians an alternative to walking.

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The air of Bordeaux is so clean and breathable. Without traffic,it is so much quieter than other cities. And so much more relaxing: you are strolling without having to be vigilant about cars. I have never experienced this in a city centre. Have you?

Another smart idea, this time one also adopted by Paris, the presence of public sculpture.

016d2a538c4c1dfa80aff73d4b78beaa86697ae83f_00001 This one looks much like La Bastille, no? But here’s something different:

01ee590dc595dcb73139079af0c258256373ccb08d_00001 Cool, isn’t it? If you go past on the right, you think it’s an abstract sculpture, still very nice. It’s only from this angle you see the face.

Why don’t we have public sculpture everywhere in our cities? It makes the city experience so much more vibrant and enjoyable. Here’s a modest proposal. How about we take 1% of every construction project that gets approval and put it into public art?

Okay, it’s time to stop fawning and admit that occasionally, the French go wrong. I feel that in the interest of balanced reporting I should bid Bordeaux adieu and point out a couple of things I have noticed in Paris that  don’t seem very smart to me. Here’s #1:

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PInk socks. For men. Not a good idea.

In my  first week over here I was at a dinner party of distinguished Parisians, and the 60-ish man introduced as an important art expert was wearing pink socks. Then I started seeing them in vitrines throughout the city. I personally am not ready for this. It is  not a gay thing. I can’t imagine my gay friends wearing pink socks. For example, my friend Jordan, who occasionally sports bright blue hair, would not be seen in pink socks. Neither would I. If you are older than ten years of age you should not wear pink socks.

Phew,  glad I got that off my chest. More seriously, here’s another idea that is not very good: sunbathing. No one seems to have explained to the Parisians about the dangers of sunbathing. There they are, everywhere, upturned faces, taking the rays. Sunbathing,_Paris_June_18,_2006

_40676816_paris_203longap This practice is not good and health authorities should take action to inform the public. As I’m sure these doctors will do, once they stop taking the sun.

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