Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cartes Postale

Oh Paris. Some days you irritate me with your dirt, your smells, your poor excuses for customer service, your attitude of superiority.

And then, you throw me a bone: a scene so delightful that I just have to sigh and count my lucky stars.

Friday, July 30, 2010

When Two Ways Don't Make a Right

The city of Paris has gone and done it again. In the interest of making life easier for cyclists, whose numbers have grown astronomically since the introduction of the Velib program three years ago, it is now allowing cyclists to go both ways on streets that are otherwise one way for cars. While I understand the frustration of having to pedal in circles to get to one's destination, I'm in agreeement with the person who scribbled "tres dangereux" on this sign. The fact that no one wears a helmet already makes me cringe. (If you do see someone in a helmet, I bet you two bucks that it's an American or a Canadian.) What really needs to happen is finding a way for all drivers (cars, bikes, scooters, and motorcycles) to obey the rules of the road and treat each other with mutual respect. But I don't have a recipe for that.

Until then, as the sergeant on Hill Street Blues used to say, "let's be careful out there."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Americans in Paris: Anita Loos

So we came to the Ritz Hotel and the Ritz Hotel is devine. Because when a girl can sit in a delightful bar and have delicious champagne cocktails and look at all the important French people in Paris, I think it is devine. I mean when a girl can sit there and look at the Dolly sisters and Pearl White and Maybelle Gilman Corey, and Mrs. Nash, it is beyond worlds. Because when a girl looks at Mrs. Nash and realizes what Mrs. Nash has got out of gentlemen, it really makes a girl hold her breath.

And when a girl walks around and reads all of the signs with all of the famous historical names it really makes you hold your breath. Because when Dorothy and I went on a walk, we only walked a few blocks but in only a few blocks we read all of the famous historical names, like Coty and Cartier and I knew we were seeing something educational at last and our whole trip was not a failure.

From Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik, editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 295.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Americans in Paris: Edith Wharton

On the 30th of July, was sunset when we reached the gates of Paris. Under the heights of St. Cloud and Suresnes the reaches of the Seine trembled with the blue-pink lustre of an early Monet. The Blois lay about us in the stillness of a holiday evening and the lawns of Bagatelle were as fresh as June. Below the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees sloped downward in a sun-powdered haze to the mist of the fountains and the ethereal obelisk; and the currents of summer life ebbed and flowed with a normal beat under the trees of the radiating avenues. The great city, so made for peace and art and all humanest graces, seemed to lie by her river-side like a princess guarded by the watchful giant of the Eiffel Tower.

The next day the air was thundery with rumours. Nobody believed them, everyone repeated them. War? Of course, there couldn't be war!...

At the dressmaker's, the next morning, the tired fitters were preparing to leave for their usual holiday. They looked pale and anxious--decidely, there was a new weight of apprehension in the air. And in the rue Royale, at the corner of Place de la Concorde, a few people had stopped to look at a little strip of white paper against the wall of the Ministere de la Marine. "General mobilization," they read--and an armed nation knows what that means.

From The Look of Paris in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik, editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p.211-213.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Americans in Paris: Edward Steichen

In the spring of 1898, the Milwaukee papers had carried stories about a sensational art controversy raging in Paris. It seemed that, seven years before, the sculptor Auguste Rodin had been commissioneed by the Society of Men of Letters to make a statue of Balzac for the city of Paris. In the Salon of 1898, Rodin exhibited the plaster cast of the finished statue and in the opening hours of the exhibition, crowds gathered around the statue, and vehement discussions took place pro and con. When the Society of Men of Letters decided to refuse the statue, the newspapers enjoyed a heyday with the scandal, intensifying the feeling in Paris. The Balzac statue was called a monstrosity by some and by others a sack of flour with a head stuck on top.

When I saw it reproduced in the Milwaukee newspaper, it seemed the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was not just a statue of a man; it was the very embodiment of a tribute to genius. It looked like a mountain come to life. It stirred up my interest in going to Paris, where artists of Rodin's stature lived and worked.

From A Life in Photography in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik,editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 190.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vehicles of Paris: Part 23

Hard to believe but apparently there's more than one pink limo in Paris. This one was parked on the corner adjacent to Lanvin, Hermes, and Tod's. Plenty of room in this car for all the shopping bags one might accumulate on the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Americans in Paris: Isadora Duncan

Besides the Louvre, we visited the Cluny Museum, the Carnavalet Museum, and Notre Dame, and all the other museums of Paris. I was especially entranced by the Carpeau group before the Opera and the Rude on the Arc de Triomphe. There was not a monument before which we did not stand in adoration, our young American souls uplifted before this culture which we had striven so hard to find.

From My Life in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik,editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p.184.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bon Bons

The French are known for their designer chocolates, especially if it involves the dark stuff, and having a chocolatier nearby is pretty much a given, much like you'd expect to have a bank, a dry cleaners, and a bakery. But there's clearly also a clientele for the lower end sweets, these gummy treats in many flavors, which are hawked at stands like this one around the city. To be honest, this stuff does nothing for me, although my kids think I'm nuts.

Despite my urgings, this monsieur would not crack a smile. Perhaps he had a belly ache from all that sugar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Americans in Paris: Mark Twain

In a little while we were speeding through the streets of Paris, and delightfully recognizing certain names and places with which books had long ago made us familiar...When we passed by the Column of July we needed no one to tell us what it was, or to remind us that on its site once stood the grim Bastile, that grave of human hopes and happiness, that dismal prison house within whose dungeons so many young faces put on the wrinkles of age, so many proud spirits grew humble, so many brave hearts broke.

From The Innocents Abroad in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik,editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p.111.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Americans in Paris: Nathaniel Parker Willis

It is March and the weather has all the characteristics of New England May. The last two or three days have been deliciously spring-like, clear, sunny, and warm. The gardens of the Tuileries are crowded. The chairs beneath the terraces are filled by the old men reading gazettes, mothers and nurses watching children at play, and every few steps, circles of whole families sitting and sewing, or conversing, as unconcernedly as at home.

From Pencillings by the Way in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik, editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 64.

Friday, July 16, 2010

His and Hers

I'm jumping to conclusions here but I'm going to peg these two cosmopolitan types as Parisians. The two of them are certainly decked out to the nines, cell phones going full tilt, her bejeweled and him sporting the perfect Parisian fashion accessory: a cigarette. I noticed one in front of Le Bristol, the another by The Ritz, two places I don't normally frequent. I just couldn't resist.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Americans in Paris: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Paris. 20 June. My companions who have been in the belle ville before & wished it to strike me as it ought, are scarce content with my qualified admiration. Certainly the eye is satisfied on entering the city with the unquestionable tokens of a vast, rich, old capital.

We crossed the Seine by the Pont Neuf & I was glad to see my old acquaintance Henry IV very respectably mounted in bronze on his own bridge but the saucy faction of the day has thrust a tricolor flag into his bronze hand as into a doll's & in spite of the decency the stout old monarch is thus obliged to take his part in the whirligig politics of his city.

I live at pension with Professor Henri at the corner of Rue Neuve Vivienne directly over the entrance of the Passage aux Panoramas....This Passage aux Panoramas was the first Arcade built in Paris & was built by an American Mr. Thayer. There are now probably fifty of these passages in the city.

From Journal, 1833, in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik, editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 53, 57.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Americans in Paris: James Gallatin

James Gallatin was secretary to his father, American diplomat Albert Gallatin, and accompanied his father on his missions in Europe between 1813 and 1827.

July 30
21 rue de l'Universite

The house is really very fine entre cours et jardin. Furniture old but very good. We have to supply our own plate and linen. We have to make some alterations, so mamma and Frances have gone to the Lussacs at Versailles. I have my own valet, Lucien, aged twenty five -- a very important person he thinks himself, valet to a Secretary of the Embassy. He will call me "Excellence."

From The Diary of James Gallatin in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik,editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p.33.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Americans in Paris: With Apologies to Adam Gopnik

For many months now, I've slowly been working my way through Adam Gopnik's wonderful literary anthology, Americans in Paris. The book begins with extracts from the letters of Benjamin Franklin, written when the nation now known as the U.S.A. was only an idea, and continues up to the 1960s. Gopnik has included the work of many greats of American letters -- Mark Twain, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, for example -- as well as those of historical figures not known for their writing such as P.T. Barnum, Isadora Duncan, Charles Lindbergh, and Diana Vreeland. It's not the kind of book that you'll plow through in a week at the beach or in front of the fire when you're snowed in. Rather, it's one to be savored in bits and pieces, always with time for looping back and re-reading. And Gopnik's introduction itself is pitch perfect. He's captured the joy and optimism but also the regret and nostalgia. Somehow Paris is always both just as we imagined it and somehow a smaller shadow of its former self.

Over the next month, I'll be sharing with you some snippets from the anthology, paired with photos of the places in question. I've left out some of the choicest bits that simply don't lend themselves to this format. Think of it as a taste of what Gopnik's book has to offer. And then go out and get yourself a copy. This is a book that you'll want to own.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Willy Ronis

Call it an embarrassment of riches but I can't tell you the number of times I've planned to go to a concert, a show, or an art exhibition and by the time I got my act together, it was too late. That could have easily happened with the Willy Ronis exhibit at La Monnaie de Paris but fortunately it didn't. And there's still plenty of time for the rest of you. This incredible show of black and white photographs, mostly from the 1940s and '50s, is on until the 22nd of August. And unlike the Orsay and the Louvre, there are no crowds and the exhibit is the perfect size, enough to absorb without completely exhausting you.

If you don't know Ronis by name, you will certainly recognize some of his pictures. That iconic photo of the little boy running with his baguette? Ronis. That amazing shot looking down a flight of stairs near the Parc des Butte Chaumont? Ronis again. And even if you don't recognize each one like some old school chum, you know the atmosphere right to your bones. Ronis's subjects are prosaic, factory workers, shopkeepers, and ordinary people at work and play, but even so, these pictures show the Paris of your dreams. If you're in town, make sure you get there in the next six weeks. If not, you can get a glimpse of what you're missing on the Web site of the Hackel Bury Gallery which is still representing Ronis, even though he died last September, just shy of his 100th birthday. Even better, if you have $6,000 lying around, one of these can actually be yours.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I'm making an exception to my general rule of not blogging on Sunday because the final match in the World Cup is tonight. Despite not having a clear favorite in the game, I'm going to be watching anyway. And yes while it's been great seeing world class players at their best (what ball handling!), what I've enjoyed most about watching the matches is the crazy enthusiasm of the commentators. They don't yell "GOAL!" but they go nuts all the same. My favorite is when something goes wrong and then it's nothing but a string of "oh la la la la las."

So here's the best video clip I could find just to give you a flavor of the reportage. No comment on the performance of either team here.

But de Klose : Argentine 0 - 4 Allemagne, 89ème (03/07/2010)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Work in Progress

Last Sunday when I was flying solo, I took advantage of the fact that it was the first Sunday of the month (aka Free Museum Sunday) and got myself to the Musee Guimet. A world class museum of Asian art, the Guimet is one of those places I've always wanted to visit but somehow never seemed to get around to. Excuses no more.

But if you think I'm going to blog about the museum, you are wrong, so wrong. Instead, I want to share with you this photo which I snapped from the rotunda on the top floor. At the moment, it's a cafe/library for the special exhibit on manga. But, as you can see, special exhibit or no, there are some pretty fabulous views from there.

And what did I spy? A construction crew on Avenue d'Iena taking apart this large raised structure on steel girders which for many months as served both as construction office and worker housing for a major renovation of the mansion opposite. It's a big project that has been transforming what was once the home of Prince Roland Bonaparte (Napoleon's great nephew) into the Shangri La Hotel; the opening is set for December of this year. While I'm sure the hotel will be another fabulous five star experience for some, it's the construction structure that's more interesting to me. You see these elsewhere in Paris, wherever there's major work, creating facilities for the renovation without inconveniencing the rest of the neighborhood by commandeering a lane or two of the roadway. Win win, I say.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Glamour Don't

Dear Ladies of Paris,

When the temperatures hit the 30 degree Celsius mark (86 degrees F), it might be a good idea -- for your own comfort, that is -- if you didn't wear any of the following:

  • those pleather pants;
  • turtlenecks;
  • suede boots;
  • your winter coat (or even a trench for that matter);
  • tights (even if they are the kind that stop at your ankles); or
  • fuzzy gloves.

I'm just sayin'.


Just Another American in Paris

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Country Cute

I'm sure it's not politic to say so but in my opinion, some of the smaller villages around Paris can be dreary little places in mid-winter, all grey stone, gates and shutters closed tight, everything silent except on market day. But in spring and summer, when those flower boxes and rose bushes get going, they really are something else. Well maybe not enough to charm me into small-town life but awfully darn sweet all the same.

Yesterday, my hiking group headed south of town to the department of the Yvelines for a long walk through the fields and forest between Coignières and Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse. The loveliest stretch was along a small canal in the village of Chevreuse known as the promenade des petit ponts. In another age, the properties bordering the canal were all tanneries. But that's all a thing of the past and the only thing we encountered on this stretch was a group of elderly ladies sketching. They couldn't have picked a better spot.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Name That Warrior

There are lots of classical stone faces adorning buildings in Paris. It may be Zeus scowling down over the portico or perhaps a graceful muse. But this guy?

Perhaps he's a friend of Asterix.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Over the weekend, I packed my kids off to camp for a week and my husband is away on business for a few days so it's just me kicking around the house. I love them all but let me tell you. I'm kind of loving it. At least for the moment. I've got 72 hours on my own to do or not as I please, and I'm trying to find the right balance between getting things done and just enjoying myself.

So yesterday, with the company of a wonderful friend whose busy schedule has kept us from spending time together lately, I hit the road for a two hour drive to Gien, the town in the Loire Valley known primarily for its beautiful porcelain. These dishes are gorgeous but they're not cheap, and I've been wanting to check out the deals on seconds at the factory outlet for quite awhile.

Gien produces over 40 patterns so there was a lot to look at, although I quickly ruled out anything that wouldn't marry well with my blue and white Dansk. (A completely new set of china? Out of the question!) And then I just couldn't bring myself to pay 17 euros a piece for the dessert plates I'd been dreaming about. Still I didn't come away empty handed and there were definitely some bargains to be had. All seconds were priced at 35 percent below the regular retail price (and for the most part, the defects were not obvious to my eye) and there were additional markdowns of up to 50 percent on certain lines.

With lunch and a lot of time for girl talk coming and going, it was well worth the trip. If you're in Paris without a car, Point a la Ligne just off Place Victor Hugo in the 16th arrondissement is also offering second choice Gien at 30 percent off throughout this month (albeit with a much smaller selection). Gien also has boutiques at 18 rue de l'Arcade in the 8th and 13 rue Jacob in the 6th but I haven't been by to see whether they're offering any discounts right now.

Gien Earthenware Factory
Open Monday through Saturday (with the exception of holidays)
About 150 kilometers southeast of Paris

Monday, July 5, 2010

Vehicles of Paris: Part 22

Nicolas, the wine merchant with shops everywhere in Paris, has initiated a new line of wine gifts and they've contracted with La Petite Reine, a bicycle delivery service, for deliveries around town. According to the Web site, the bike and cart weigh about 100 kilos and can carry 180 kilos of merchandise. Bicycle messengers are usually exceptionally fit; the guys who peddle these babies must really be in good shape. Now if they would just put a water bottle cage on that bike....

Saturday, July 3, 2010

But It's A Dry Heat

Forgive me but when the weather goes to extremes, it's hard to think about anything else. Just like this time last year, it has been super hot in Paris this week with the highs topping out around 90. Air conditioning is more of an idea than a reality. The only real way to cope is to dress lightly, stay hydrated, and keep out of the sun. And pity the poor dusty tourists who must do all to get the most out of their Paris vacation, including these two who at least found shade and comfortable place to sit beneath the Arc de Triomphe. I feel as crumpled and sweaty. At least I don't have to run around to see all the sights. Right now, soaking my feet, a cold drink, and a spot on the couch by the open window sounds just about perfect.

Update: Dark skies and rain showers this am and the canicule already seems to be a thing of the past.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Okay, I'm a little bit behind on the news. So shoot me. Or just get in your time machine and travel back to earlier in the week. Here's the French take on President Obama's decision to give General Stanley McChrystal the boot. The headline for the article in Le Figaro read: Limogé, le général McChrystal en retraite.

If you're stumped by the term, "Limogé," let me enlighten you. It's the past participle of the verb, "se faire limoger" which means literally to send someone to Limoges. Figuratively, it means, "So long sucker! You are relieved of your duties and sent to the provinces." Supposedly, this dates from the World War I when French general Joffre had to relieve a group of insubordinate officers of their duties and sent them away from the front. Not all of them ended up in Limoges but somehow the name stuck.

I'm dreaming, though, of a corollary situation in American English where the headline in last week's New York Times might have read, "Paducah-ed, General McChrystal takes his leave." It's got a ring to it, doesn't it?

If you're from Kentucky and you find this offensive, come up with a snappy alternative to insult some other part of the country and leave it in the comments section.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To Tutoyer or Not?

My French teacher apologized the other day, stopping in the midst of the article we were reading about the implications of the recent elections in Belgium, to express her regret that she had slipped into using the familiar "tu" form of the word "you" with us, rather than the more formal "vous." Did she get a lecture from her superior? Or did she just wake up in the middle of night and cringe with shame at the realization that she had slipped into the territory of family and friends without asking permission to do so?

My classmates, thankfully, had the same reaction as me. No problem. After all, we've been with her for almost two years now. She's warm and friendly and does her best to decode the mysteries of French politics, culture, history, whatever, answering a million silly questions, always with good humor. So no offense taken.

My default position has always been to use "vous," as a safeguard against offending anyone with whom I might be talking. I always just figured that it's a better bet to be on the more formal side. But there's a trap. You should never "vous" a child, for example. And yes, I'm the idiot talking to the two year old like he's a professor or something. But even more importantly, once someone starts tutoying you, you really don't want to create the impression (by your continued use of "vous"), that you want to maintain a respectful distance. It can be kind of like saying, "I don't really want to be your friend." And that's certainly not a message I want to be sending.

Sigh. Some day, I'm hoping, this will all be second nature. Just not yet.
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