Thursday, March 31, 2011

Traces of the Temple

This plaque, bolted to the exterior wall of the mairie of the 3rd arrondissement, is all that's left of the building where Louis XVI and his family were held prisoner during the French Revolution.  The prison was part of a larger fortress built by the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages.  By the end of the 18th century, their power had long been broken and much of the old fortress destroyed.  It was from here that the king was sent to the guilllotine in January 1793; Marie Antoinette was subsequently sent to the Conciergerie before she met the same fate.  The prison was finally torn down for good in 1808 to prevent it from becoming a pilgrimage site for Royalists.   

If you have a bit of imagination, go to the corner of rue Gabriel Vicaire and rue Dupetit-Thouars where this map will give you a sense of how the Temple's grounds relate to today's street map.

Special thanks to Jacques LeRoux who has taught me so much about Parisian history, art, architecture, and culture.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I was going to call this post "Variations on a Theme" or maybe "Knock, Knock," and then it occurred to me -- hadn't I already used these titles?  The answer is yes, and the hard truth is that I am repeating myself.  Oh the tribulations of advancing age.  So we'll just leave this one untitled, and let the index sort it out.

I spotted these two mail slots within minutes of each other in the amazingly varied 17th arrondissement.  I quite like them both.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bottling Sounds

For all the fun I've had taking photos of Paris, there are sound and scent memories I want for my scrapbook as well.  Eh voila.  Thanks to the Freesound Project, I've been able to find sound files of some of those little things that will always conjure up Paris for me. (Regrettably after much surfing, I cannot find the perfect recording of French ladies talking.)  So put on your headphones and listen to:

the SNCF jingle which precedes all announcements in French train stations (and yes, I know that this wasn't recorded in Paris.)

The sounds of riding on the metro including the clunk of the doors and the woosh as the train gathers speed.

And then over on YouTube, I found this silly clip with the often heard metro announcement, "Attention à la marche en descendant du train."

What's your favorite Paris sound?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Seeing Double

I'd love to get an explanation of why so many Parisian street corners sport duplicate street signs.  Here the old sign appears up top, the newer one, which includes information about the person for whom the street was named, appears below.  Was a new law passing requiring the new signs to be posted lower?  Is it impossible to remove the old one without damaging the building?  Inquring minds want to know.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bottle of Red, Bottle of White

You can get a bottle of wine in Paris for less than the price of a bottle of Coke.  I'm not saying that's the wine you should buy, but it is one small indicator of how the drink itself transcends social class.  (Although to be honest, beer seems to be the drink of choice of the clochards who hang out on my corner.  Perhaps they are Belgian.)

And that leads to some pretty typical sights when you are out and about.

May your weekend be marked by adventure, good humor, and a full glass. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

We've been having an incredible stretch of perfect weather here in Paris -- blue skies with daytime highs in the mid 60s  -- a welcome respite after the gray chill of a Parisian winter.  Yesterday, my travels took me through the Jardin du Luxembourg, where it seemed that everyone and his brother had pulled up a chair to catch some rays.  So shoot me if I passed on the garden's lovely water features and floral displays.  The people -- some who had clearly dug deep into their closets for short skirts, strappy sandals, and sunglasses -- were much more interesting.  With the glare of the sun, my camera screen was illegible.  Happily, I have a few fun snaps to share.  Regrettably, I did not get a shot of the three twentysomething women sitting next to me.  They had pastries from the bakery, a thermos full of coffee with extra tiny cups, and cigarettes.  It was as if they had relocated their favorite cafe to a vantage point overlooking the grand bassin.

This young lady is mid yawn here. Moments later, she closed her eyes and gave up on whatever she'd been reading.

This gentleman remained surprisingly focused given all the distractions.

The mother in me wanted to tell the girl in white to put that damn phone down.
Madame is elegant even in her jeans.  But then there's that cigarette.
The moment doesn't exist unless you document it.

There is a McDonald's right across the Boulevard St. Michel entrance to the gardens. Don't ever let a French person tell you that McDonald's is just for Americans. They eat it up. (Of course, I don't know whether these dudes were French or not.)

The one patch of grass available to picnickers was jam-packed.  Kind of reminded me of the Mall in Washington on the Fourth of July.

And of course, there were two beautiful stretches of grass flanking the picnic area.  When they say stay off the grass here, they mean it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Going the Distance

Some months back, I shared with you the story of Roxana, an acquaintance who has embarked upon a mission of walking every street in Paris before her husband's work assignment ends two years from now.  It got to me to wondering how many streets I'd walked myself.  So I got out my trusty laminated folding Streetwise Paris map, photocopied it, and set to work with a highlighter.  I easily marked in the routes I walk frequently and mentally retraced the steps I've taken on walking tours and jaunts around town.    And what I found was this:

So maybe I'm not in Roxana's league, but honestly, I haven't done half bad for someone who never had a particular goal in mind.  Now the Streetwise map doesn't cover all of Paris, particularly the far reaches north and south.  But let's not split hairs, folks.  You've got to admit that I've made some tracks.

Then again half bad means there's definitely room for improvement.  Fortunately, a couple of factors seem to be conspiring to get me moving -- the weather's fine, my gym membership expired and the rates they're charging for a partial year membership are exorbitant, and I've got some errands to do that will take me to uncharted territory.  More than that, it's amazing how carrying my map and highlighter in my bag motivates me to find new routes to familiar destinations.  What can I say, I'm all dork when it comes to Paris.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scam Alert

It's spring break somewhere and Paris is once again flush with tourists. The bazaar that is the base of the Eiffel Tower is in full swing: lines of visitors waiting their turn to ascend, trinket sellers, ice cream vendors, families with small children who are falling apart, the Roma ladies in long skirts asking "do you speak English." And then there's a new addition to the scene: teenagers armed with paperwork, indicating to you by their gestures that they are deaf-mute and just want you to sign their paper and give a donation. DO NOT BE FOOLED. Yesterday, after waving these girls away and stopping to take a few photos, I noticed that the two deaf-mute girls had sat down on a bench. They were talking to each other, and what's more they weren't even looking at each other.  So by all means, folks, do your part to help the disabled.  But I'd recommend making your donation to a reputable charity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Have Wheels, Will Travel

Scootering is a very popular and eminently practical way to get around Paris.  And it's not just for kids; I often see adults in business attire on their trottinettes but it's rare that I have my camera out at the right moment.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to catch this threesome -- a dad and his two kids -- on their way to school and office.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jour du Macaron

Yesterday was the annual Jour du Macaron, another excuse for those crazy for the little almond-based sandwich cookies to go whole hog.  A number of the top macaron makers in Paris were offering a taste of their wares for free, and I'm willing to bet that there were lines out the door at Pierre Hermé's various locations.  (For the record, Laduree was not an official participant in this global celebration.)  For my part, I took a long walk up to the 18th with one of my kids to the shop of Arnaud Larher where we were treated to a strawberry yogurt flavored confection.

And you know what?  That pretty much satisifed my craving for macarons for this year. Which brings me to this confession:  I'm not really all that wild about a lot of the pastries in Paris.  Now don't get me wrong. I love the boulangerie -- the yeasty smell of baking, the crunch of a still warm baguette, the sinfulness of a still warm flaky pain au chocolat or croissant, and even the occasional tarte citron or one piled high with fresh strawberries or raspberries.  But the rest?
The thing is I'm not a huge chocolate person (which is something of a sacrilege in these parts) and those mounds of gooey cream that you'll find in an eclair, millefeuille, or Paris Brest don't really do it for me either.  And while I freely admit that the cakes in the window often look spectactular, the visual artistry usually outweighs the actual taste.   If you don't agree with me, that's fine.  Look at it this way -- that's one more pastry for you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And the Winner Is......

Drum roll please.  The winner of the photo book of some of my favorite Just Another American in Paris images is:

Cherie Vintage!

Congratulations, Cherie.  Please send me an e-mail to with your mailing address and I will get it off to you post haste.

As for the rest of you:  thanks for your comments and support.  And here, for all to enjoy, are some of the images that appear in the book.  Back Monday with more tales from Just Another American in Paris.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's the World Coming To?

I'm thinking that we could all use a little good news right about now.

The deadline has passed for my blog giveaway.  I'll announce the lucky winner tomorrow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Museum about Hunting? You Bet.

There was a time when I would no sooner take a guided tour of a cultural site than put ketchup on roast beef.  Guided tours, in my view, were only for the insulated or terrified tourist.  I wanted to be the person who did all the research myself and viewed whatever it was with my own eyes.

My how things change.  I still can't quite fathom taking a cruise or a bus tour of Europe with 5 cities in 10 days.  But I've changed my mind about guides.  A really good guide, one who is informed and has a talent for storytelling, can make a huge difference in your experience of places unknown. 

All this is a lead up to saying that I was surprised to find that I very much enjoyed my visit to the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in the upper Marais.  I'm not into hunting and I can't say I'm really into animals either, but thanks to a terrific guide, I learned quite a bit about the place of the hunt in French cultural history.  Although the building dates back to the 18th century, the museum itself is fairly new and well designed.  In addition to the cabinet of curiousities and all manner of stuffed heads, the collection includes works of art by many luminaries including Brueghel, Chardin, Corot, Cranach, and Rubens.  But it was thanks to my guide that I learned about the works of Desportes who documented the favorite hunting dogs of Louis XIV.  The dog depicted by Carle Vernet is much more than an image of a beloved pet; it's also a political commentary on the ruthless murder of the duc d'Enghien by Napoleon in 1804.

So go crazy and get a guide to help you experience the museum.  And rest assured that there's not one picture of dogs playing poker.

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

62, rue des Archives, 75003 Paris
Open daily (except Monday and holidays) from 11 am to 6 pm

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Your Paris Pied à Terre

If you've got a couple million euros burning a hole in your pocket, does the French state have a deal for you!  Go online to this site and you will find listings for government buildings in Paris that can be yours for .....well I won't say a song but they could be yours all the same.  Among the most controversial of these is the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde, the current headquarters of the French navy and twin to the Hôtel de Coislin, best known as home to the luxurious five star Hôtel de Crillon and the Automobile Club de France.  After 220 years in residence, the navy is moving out, headed for what's being dubbed the French Pentagon near metro Balard in the 15th, and they hope to finance the move by selling the current building.  But what to do with an 18th century architectural jewel with 215,000 square feet and over 500 rooms?  It's certainly not clear.  When Le Figaro posed this question to 14 luminaries recently, the answers ranged from "make it into a museum" to "make into anything but a museum."  If you don't want to enter the fray, there's also a nice little hotel particulier in the 16th, a spot under the arcades in rue des Pyramides in the 1st, and a chateau or two in the provinces.

You can read more about the history of the Hôtel de la Marine and the contoversy in The New York Times

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vehicles of Paris: No. 26

My grandfather, who I'm told was the first pediatrician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin back when having a doctor just for kids was a novelty, used to make house calls.  My dad, who was also a physician (albeit a specialist), never did.  But the house call is very much alive in many communities in France, thanks to SOS Médecins who will come out to your place, day or night, seven days a week.  Fortunately for me, I have no personal experience with them (knock on wood) but everyone I know who has called upon them has been happy with the service and the fees are quite reasonable.  So if you're up with a child with a high fever, or your visiting parent starts to experience chest pain, or you have a nasty accident in the kitchen, keep this number by the phone:  3624.  

Monday, March 14, 2011


I don't want this blog to become a constant drone about our impending departure from Paris.  And yet, while it's still some three plus months in the future, my mind is already going at warpspeed.  There's a ton of stuff I want to do in Paris -- people to see, places to visit, restaurants to try, neighborhoods to explore.  Plus I'm already making a lot of mental notes about things I need to do to get out of here and to make sure that everything is lined up on the other end.  So if there's something I can take care of now (like taking a large bag of wrapping paper tubes, styrofoam, egg cartons, and cardboard that I've been collecting to the art teacher at my kids' school), I'm going to do it.  

And in that vein, while it's not yet time to say good-bye, I've got a good-bye present to share with one lucky reader.  It's a photo book (8 in x 8 in), 20 pages of my favorite photos from the blog, made with a lot of help from Shutterfly.   If you want it, all you have to do is leave a comment between now and 8:00 am Paris time on Friday, March 18.  No quiz, no theme, no pressure to be creative, nothing like that.  Just let me know you're out there and  I'll choose the name of one commenter at random.  Have at it people.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Are the French Really Rude?

In my view, no.  Yes, they maintain a certain distance when relating to strangers, a coolness that an outgoing American can find off putting.  And yes, they are insistent on adhering to a set of formalized manners.  And true, they have a concept of personal space that can make you feel uncomfortable if you are used to a world in which the 15 inches surrounding your body are inviolable. 

But rude in the sense that they lack consideration for others? Not at all.  On the other hand, it seems to me that maintaining a certain level of decorum in interpersonal relationships requires a pretty much constant stream of reminders about what's proper.  This notice, with its tut tut tut instructions to treat the bus driver with respect, is part of a campaign to keep bus riders in line.  Other notices in the series admonish riders not to ask the driver to stop between stops, to give up their seats to persons who are older or infirm, to fold up their strollers,  and to keep their voices down.  There's even a series of borderline ridiculous YouTube videos to reinforce the messages.

Has this campaign made any difference?  As you might guess, I'm skeptical.  But I don't mind the intent.  And I'll try to model the proper behavior the next time I'm on the bus.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ta Da!

No one is going to give Les femmes du 6ème étage an award for pushing the boundaries of cinema or for the daring performances of its cast.  But this film is doing big business at the box office and I'm giving it a huge gold star too.  Why?  Because I understood it -- lock, stock, and barrel, no subtitles, no French friend whispering in my ear.  I laughed at the jokes (well, most of them) and got a little tear in my eye at the tender moments.  

I am still a long way from fully mastering the French language.  Even so, I'm feeling good about the progress I've made.  It was particularly apparent after our visit to Budapest last month where I couldn't read a sign, ask a simple direction, or make heads or tails of the Hungarian language.  I kept looking at my sheet of phrases to remember how to say please, thank you,  hello, and the words kept flying out of my head.   Frankly, it was a relief to come back to Paris where I understand the announcements made over the PA in the subway, can read the newspaper, listen to the radio, and order from the menu without having to ask for the English version.   I may not have conquered the subjunctive but honestly, I'm doing fine and pleased to see that the time I've put in has really paid off.

And if you have a chance to see the film, whether in the cinema in Paris or eventually on video in the privacy of your home,  I hope you will enjoy it.  It's a sweet, thoroughly fanciful tale, set in the 1960s, about a Parisian gentleman whose world and heart is opened up by a group of Spanish domestics who live on the 6th floor of his apartment building in the 16th arrondissement. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Changed for Good

People being people, I'm sure someone got their panties in a twist over the change in the name of this tiny street in the Marais.  Abutting the Memorial de la Shoah, the renaming goes hand in hand with the creation of a set of plaques commemorating the bravery of Parisians who risked all to protect their Jewish neighbors during the occupation of World War II.  The courtyard of the Memorial is lined with the names of those who perished in the camps; thanks to the justes (the righteous as we would call them in English), the list is thankfully not any longer.  We'd all like to imagine that we would be similarly brave but it's impossible to know how any of us might act under the circumstances.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a...

It's a gas balloon, permanently tethered at Parc Andre Citroen in the 15th arrondissement.  And what's more, you can actually take a ride in it up 150 meters, although it won't take you wafting across the city.  And if that's not reason enough to check it out, the balloon itself changes color in relation to the city's air quality.  Green is good, pink is bad, and everything in between is just par for the course.

You don't have to be anyone special to take a ride in this balloon. Just fork over your admission (10 euros for adults during the week or 12 on holidays or weekends with reduced rates for kids).  In fact, if you're a vrai Parisien under the age of 12, your ride is free if mom or dad pays.  And it's open for business every day from 9 am until the park closes.  For all the details, go to the Web site:  Ballon Air de Paris.  Since I'm the kind of person who gets motion sick in an elevator, I cannot vouch for it personally.  But I still think it's cool.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Politics (As Usual?)

One good thing about being 3,000 miles from home is that the scary and insane aspects of American politics are somewhat muted.  Well sure, I can get all the news I want through my computer but it's not quite the same as being assaulted by the headlines everywhere you go.  The funny thing is that, while I am a long way from fully understanding French politics, I've come to realize that the French sometimes have as much too be embarrrassed about as we Americans.  Take for example, the latest poll by Harris Interactive for the 2012 French presidential race in which Marine Le Pen, head of the far right Front National, came out on top ahead of Sarkozy and the Socialist party leader Martine Aubry.  These results are debatable given that the election is still more than a year away and the Socialist party hasn't determined yet who its candidate will be (and all bets are on current International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn).  But still the specter of the xenophobic Islam-baiting Front National coming out on top is enough to scare even the center silly.

Then you've got former president Jacques Chirac up to his hips in trouble for allegedly paying city salaries to employees of his political party (the UMP) back when he was mayor of Paris in 1992-1995.  The law couldn't touch him when he was president of the country (imagine that, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton).  But now that he's a private citizen again, the judicial process has re-engaged.

Over at the Elysée, things seemed to have calmed down a bit since last week when the President had to send his minister of foreign affairs packing because she took some free flights and helped her parents get a preferential real estate deal in Tunisa -- at a time when the country was simmering with protests against now deposed leader Ben Ali.  Technically what she was doing was not against the law but the public relations fall out was pretty bad.  Sarkozy called in the reinforcements, reorganizing his cabinet with a bunch of old friends who will stand firm with him as he tries to rehabilitate his sorry poll numbers.  That cabinet, which once looked like a picture of racial, gender, and even political diversity, now looks pretty much like a club of middle aged white men.  Yeah, and all those photos of Moammar Qaddafi's official visit to France back in 2007 (complete with a tent pitched on the grounds of the Hotel Marigny, where official visitors stay)?  They're no longer anywhere to be found on the official Web site.   At least Mike Huckabee can't accuse President Obama of letting Qaddafi camp out on the White House lawn.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Accessible or Not?

The French passed a law back in 1975 to improve public accommodations for persons with disabilities.  Among other reforms, there's dedicated parking for the disabled and crossing signals for the blind.   That being said, Paris is still a pretty tough town to get around in if you're in a wheelchair or for that matter pushing little ones in a stroller or lugging a big suitcase.  Curb cuts are intermittent and charming cobblestoned roads can make for a bumpy ride.   All buses are now equipped with ramps but the Metro?  With the exception of the mostly new line 14, the subway system is a nightmare of steps, steps, and more steps. Museums vary in their accessibility and the best advice I've heard is to always do a dry run to discover the best routes and entrances if you'll be having a visitor who uses a wheelchair.

Whether the problem is lax enforcement, limited resources, or simple apathy, I can't say.  A modest sized centre commercial near us was recently renovated, a process that took the better part of two years, with apparently only limited attention to these issues.  There's still a significant step between the sidewalk and the building.  Once inside, there's a flight of about six stairs to reach the main corridor.  Where there was once a rather steep ramp (probably more useful for folks rolling shopping caddies than those using wheelchairs), there is now a small elevator which most of the time seems to be sporting this sign:

Sigh. Twas ever thus.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Which I Am Considered an Expert of Sorts

Expat life has its glamorous and mindblowing moments.  And then there are days like yesterday when I went to the gym, did two loads of laundry, made a trip to the supermarket and the post office, baked brownies and made a lasagna, changed sheets, and had a parent teacher conference.  Not exactly the kind of life that gets you on the best seller list.  Fortunately, I will spare you additional boring details about my life and instead send you over  which yesterday posted an interview of...... me!  If you've been reading along here for awhile, you might find some of this repetitive.  ( But like I said, expat life has its dull moments.)  Thanks to Jessica Voigts of Wandering Educators for the opportunity.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

You never know what's waiting for you when you head out the front door in the morning.  Yesterday, I saw:

A cherry tree in full bloom inside the courtyard of the Petit Palais.  No, spring has not progressed this far citywide.  My guess is that it's a good 10 degrees warmer inside the courtyard than elsewhere.  And if you haven't visited the Petit Palais, put it on your list.  The collection is a bit of mish mash but there are some amazing pieces.  Plus it's free.

Poulet de Bresse for sale at the butcher shop.  For 24 euros a kilo, you get to pay for the feet too.  But that is some fine chicken.

A fine equestrian show along the quai des Célestins by la Garde républicaine, I'm assuming as part of the ceremonies related to South African President Jacob Zuma's state visit.

All in all, not a bad day.
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