Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jane Eyre and the cultural divide between the English and the French

Jane Eyre is not funny. During most of the movie, I was fraught with emotion as I watched the tormented love story between the poor governess and the brooding Mr. Rochester unfold. Yet there were a couple of scenes that provided moments of pure comedic relief for the French audience in Paris last night. The first was when Mr. Rochester's coquettish charge sings a French tune for Jane and Mrs. Fairfax, played by the indomitable Judi Dench. When Adele innocently mimics her mother's gestures, which were far more appropriate for a dance hall performer than a young girl with curls, Mrs. Fairfax dryly proclaims, "How very French". This one sentence, uttered in true Judi Dench style, exemplifies the vast distance that separates the cultures of the two countries. And the French audience loved it!

The second scene occurred shortly thereafter when Adele again mimics her French mother's feminine wiles as she thanks Mr. Rochester for a frock bedecked with ribbons and bows. When Adele asks if she has correctly expressed her gratitude, Rochester assures her that she acted just like all of the grown-up French women who charm English money out of Englishmen's pockets. Was the Parisian audience insulted by this slight on their national character? Apparently, not in the least because they all laughed appreciatively.

On Thursday morning, I'm going to cross the great divide and travel to the land of afternoon tea, the Queen and self discipline. Judi Dench's comment in Jane Eyre made me realize that I should probably leave my bright tangerine blazer in Paris and pack clothes that are more appropriate for the cold and windy moors of Derbyshire. If I owned a period dress, I would be tempted to wear it when we visit Haddon Hall, the old English manor house that played the part of Thornfield Hall in the movie. After I was able to book their special "Jane Eyre - Behind the Scenes" tour for Saturday, Stéphane and I decided to make an impromptu trip to the cinema last night to prepare for our visit.

We'll be staying in Buxton on Thursday and Friday and the village of Alstonefield in the Peak District National Park on Saturday and Sunday. Our accommodations and some of our dinners are booked. Now, I just need to find a place for afternoon tea in Buxton. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lunch Cruise on the Seine: Tourists Get to Have all the Fun!

Dinner at Le Dôme, shopping at Galeries Lafayette, riding around the gardens of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in a golf cart - sometimes it seems that tourists get to have all of the fun. Fortunately, my father-in-law's visit gave Stephane and me a very good reason to momentarily forget about the long list of things that we still need to do before we travel to the U.K. on Thursday and savor the beauty of Paris.

If you haven't already done a Bateaux Parisian lunch or dinner cruise on the Seine, I hope that this photo report will give you a good idea of what to expect: panoramic views of many of the most important monuments, live musical entertainment and a better-than-expected meal. The black line on the above map indicates the route that we traveled during the two hour "Paris Irrésistible" cruise. 

My four-course lunch included Nicoise salad Paris fashion, lamb stew made with shoulder of French lamb, a selection of cheeses, strawberries in red fruit juice, rhubarb compote and almond slice, a glass of champagne, white wine, red wine and mineral water. If you're extremely observant, you'll notice that I forgot to take a photo of the cheese course and that someone already took a couple of bites of the almond slice. Lack of restraint is one of the many reasons that I'm not a food blogger!

To keep distracting public announcements to a minimum, all of the guests are given maps with brief descriptions of the monuments. Thanks to my father-in-law's impressive knowledge of the city, we didn't even need the bilingual instructions to look starboard to see la Conciergerie or port to see Notre Dame because he could easily identify the buildings lining the river. Not only has Werner been making regular trips to Paris since 1948, but he also knows about the latest exhibitions, trendy restaurants and current events. This always comes as a surprise until I remember that France is one of the major sources of news and entertainment for the French speaking part of Switzerland.

A sentimental man, Werner became nostalgic while listening to the live performance  of La Vie en Rose. With a far away look in his eyes, he told Stephane and me that we should make the most of our time together. Cruising along the river, that's exactly what we were doing!

Cheers! While admiring the cityscape, we appreciated the friendly gestures of the people relaxing on the banks of the Seine.

Bateaux Parisians two-hour lunch cruises start at €55. We decided to go with the €80 premier option so that we would have a prime position in the bow of the boat. While a lunch cruise is the perfect way for someone with limited mobility to enjoy the sights of the city, I would not recommend it for a serious photographer who wants to take pictures of the monuments because there is a lot of glare from the panoramic windows during the day. In any case, it's better to relax, appreciate your meal and watch the sights of the city unfold in front of you.  

When the entertainer started singing "New York, New York" rather than songs about Paris, I was momentarily confused until the boat turned around and revealed Lady Liberty in all of her glory.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Besame Mucho

"Why is that song such a favorite with metro musicians?" is what Anne (Just Another American in Paris) asked after I tweeted, "Saturday morning in Paris. 'Besame Mucho' on the metro." along with a snapshot of the singer/saxophone player.

Lucho Gatica's version of "Besame Mucho" made the song famous.

Even though I'm fairly sure that Anne intended it to be a rhetorical question, I nonetheless pondered the answer and came up with a possible explanation when my Swiss father-in-law told me that he has always preferred Josephine Baker's rendition of "Besame Mucho". Is the American born French singer, dancer and actress responsible for the connection between the metro musicians and the famous Mexican boléro? I don't know, but please click here if you would like to listen to her version on YouTube. Unfortunately, I couldn't embed it in the post because of licensing issues.

The following photos don't have anything to do with kissing or the song. They're just what caught my eye while the refrain was playing over and over again in my mind yesterday afternoon.

Christian Dior is offering free engraving to personalize bottles of perfume from their new collection at Galeries Lafayette.
"Games are in London, but Fashion is in Paris". The French capital didn't win the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, but Galeries Lafayette still found a colorful way to celebrate the major international sporting event.
Exuberant patch of wildflowers in the formal French garden at Château Vaux le Vicomte
"Control your vehicle in the curves" and "Slow down". Warning signs written only in French. Even though it's Stephane's mother tongue, you would have thought that he didn't understand the words because I was forced to to some back seat driving as we raced around the grounds of Château Vaux le Vicomte with his father in a golf cart yesterday evening.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ma Vie Francaise "Soirée in Paris"

After spending most of the afternoon vacuuming, scrubbing toilets and ironing pillowcases (I draw the line at sheets!) in preparation for my Swiss father-in-law's visit, I felt like Cinderella freed from her chores when I donned my clothes for the "Soirée in Paris" organized by Ma Vie Francaise yesterday evening. Since I've still got quite a bit of work to do before Werner's train rolls into Gare de Lyon around 7:00 pm, I thought that I would introduce you to some of the interesting people I talked with last night and invite you to take a look at their websites. I'm sure that you'll like what you see!

Ma Vie Francaise - an online magazine and global community of Francophones and Francophiles that hosts events in Melbourne and Paris. Their website is full of articles on French culture, escapades, gastronomy, mode and design, and the art de vivre.

Paris Cheapskate - Want to know where to find cheap eats, cheap drinks and cheap thrills in Paris without spending a lot of money? Take a look at Jenna's blog. You'll be hearing more about this talented writer in a future post because we had a lot of fun recently at a By Terry make-up workshop that reminded me of a girls' sleepover.

Peter's Paris - Meeting Peter was a real thrill because I started reading his blog before I moved to Paris. Not only is he a blogger, but Peter also volunteers for Paris Greeters, one of my favorite organizations. Last night, I seized the opportunity to ask if I could join him on a future walk. Imagine my delight when he agreed!

Time Traveler Tours - Bringing history to life through stories and games, Time Traveler Tours are interactive mobile iTineraries that transport time-travelers to a seminal moment in the past with a narrator/tour guide whose actions help shape that time. 

The Best Places in Paris - If you're studying French, be sure to check out  this bilingual blog written by a delightful French woman who reveals all of her favorite places in Paris. I already found one secret place where I want to go for lunch - La Maison de la Culture Arménienne.

Aussie in France - You may remember Fraussie from when she hosted the bloggers' breakfast in her lovely apartment overlooking the Jardin du Palais-Royal. As a longtime resident of Paris, her blog provides informative and fascinating insights into the French way of life. I guess that it helps that she's married to a French instead of a Swiss man!

Paris Weekends - This is another name that you'll probably recognize from the bloggers' breakfast. Not only does Abby's blog provide a wealth of information for visitors to Paris, it's also a great resource for expats who are looking for day trip ideas, weekend itineraries and more. Plus, Abby always has spot-on restaurant recommendations.

Caroline Nin - Even though I didn't have the chance to talk with this engaging Parisian cabaret performer, her beautiful voice provided the entertainment for the evening. I had one of those "pinch me, I can't believe I'm really here" moments when she sang Edith Piaf's "Padam". She's currently performing at the Lido in Paris.

I don't know if it was the wine or the excitement of leaving my chores behind, but none of my photos turned out very well. Thank goodness that professional photographer Steve Wells was on hand to take pictures of the very enjoyable soirée. Perhaps you'll see some of them soon on the Ma Vie Francaise website.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boors without manners on the metro. Or why white jeans aren't practical in Paris!

He who dirties 1 seat on the way out, risks a stain on the way back. Stay civil along the entire line.

I've got a major pet peeve at the moment - tourists and Parisian residents who put their feet on the seat opposite them while riding the metro. Yes, it's hot and they're probably exhausted after a long day of sightseeing or work, but I really wish that they would show some respect for the other people who are also using public transportation.

On Tuesday, I boarded a train carrying a young man who closely resembled the animal in the first photo. Glancing around the crowded car, I debated if I should stand for the entire duration of the 30 minute journey to Gare d'Austerlitz or sit across from him. When I approached the sole empty seat in the car, Mr. Warthog sighed and grudgingly withdrew his soiled shoes. Now I understand why Parisians often wear dark colors because my white jeans were filthy by the time I returned home at the end of the day. While the stains could have come from the chair at the outdoor café where I had lunch, I'm holding the boorish man with the bad manners responsible.

Drag your feet during rush hour and you risk getting 2 or 3 complaints. Stay civil along the entire line.

In an effort to raise passengers' awareness, the RATP launched a campaign in 2011 to address the top issues that annoy travelers, including people who share their private lives with everyone else by talking too loudly on their cell phones, passengers who block the doors as others are trying to get off the train and insensitive people who don't offer their seats to the elderly, infirm or pregnant women.

According to a recent study by French polling institute Ipsos, "lack of manners" was quoted as the number one cause of stress for 60% of French people. But please don't make the mistake of thinking that it's only the Parisians who are rude. While traveling about the city, I frequently play a game with myself and observe travelers to see if I can correctly guess their nationalities. Quite frequently, it's the tourists who aren't considerate of other passengers, something that is more noticeable now that so many of the Parisians have left the city for their annual vacations.

Feeling exasperated by an annoying experience on the metro or bus? Thanks to a new website created by the RATP, you can channel that anger into creativity by producing a caption for situational photos, like the one below. Some of the captions are worthy of the weekly competition in The New Yorker!

If you would like to see the type of passenger who frustrates me the most, please visit my facebook page.  [Edit: After reading Joseph's comment, I would like to clarify that I don't have a vendetta against tourists. My least favorite passenger could also be a resident of Paris. Stéphane frequently wears a backpack while we're exploring the city]. While you're there, please "like it" (the page not the photo). Yes, this is a shameless attempt to get more likes! Evidently, something magical happens after I hit 30.

Relaxed tourist...stressed Parisian.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Visiting Cécile & Jeanne's workshop with Meeting the French and learning about the dove of peace pin worn by Madeleine Albright

What do Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Cécilia Sarkozy, Bernadette Chirac and Leah Rabin have in common? They all own or owned a piece of Cécile & Jeanne dove jewelry symbolizing unity, love and peace. Until Jeanne told us about the background of her company during a "Meeting the French" tour, I didn't know that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used pins to communicate a message or a mood during her diplomatic tenure. But that's what makes these encounters so fascinating. Not only did I learn something about my country's history, but I was also moved to hear how Jeanne felt compelled to send a dove of peace to Leah Rabin shortly after her husband, the Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated in 1995.

As Jeanne explained, the dove started to fly solo when Leah Rabin wore the pin to Yitzack Rabin's funeral. It soared even higher when Mrs. Rabin gave a similar brooch to Secretary Albright, who wore it as a diplomatic tool whenever she gave a speech related to the Middle East. From there, it became a symbol of solidarity for women working together to bring peace to the world.

Jeanne holding the design of a dove necklace.

While many of Jeanne's designs include the company's signature dove, Jeanne said that she also draws her inspiration from the sights and sounds of Paris, a city that she obviously adores. In keeping with her philosophy that a piece of jewelry should transport a woman to another place and be more than just an ornament, Jeanne's necklaces, earrings, bracelets and pins are also sensual. When she found that one of the necklaces in her fall line was "trop sage" (too well-behaved) she added just the right touch - an offset pearl that somehow brought everything together as a harmonious whole.

While many of the pieces are handcut, others are created using a mold.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, one of the aspects that I like the most about the "Meeting the Parisians at Work" tours is that they introduce me to highly skilled artisans who are passionate about what they do and want to share their knowledge. Jeanne's enthusiasm for her craft is contagious. I found myself looking more carefully at her designs and appreciating the craftsmanship of each piece. So much so that I now own a couple of Cécile & Jeanne pieces, including a necklace with two of the smaller doves.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

Starting in September 2012, Meeting the French plans to launch tours of Cécile & Jeanne's workshop located in their flagship boutique at the Viaduc des Arts. In the meantime, their creations are available in Cécile & Jeanne boutiques located throughout Paris and in the major department stores. Jeanne assured me that all of the salespeople speak English.

Shortly before the tour started, I introduced myself to an Australian couple when the woman tried on a necklace and a bracelet that I admired. As they were leaving the boutique, they said that I should be sure to mention how much they enjoyed their time shopping at Cécile & Jeanne and that their purchases will always remind them of their trip to Paris. And most amazingly, it was the man and not the woman who made this claim!

If you're interested in learning more about Madeleine Albright's pins, please click here to read about the 2009-10 exhibition featuring more than 200 of them at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Mrs. Albright has also written a book, Read my Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewelry Box, recounting how she used brooches as a diplomatic tool during her years with the Clinton administration.

Cécile & Jeanne
49 Avenue Daumesnil
75012 Paris

A photo of one of my purchases, the shorter necklace on the left. I couldn't resist when I saw how good it looked with the orange shirt that I was wearing yesterday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's that noise? Watching the 2012 Tour de France from Pont Mirabeau!

Beep-beep! Beeeeep-beeeeeep! Bonjour Paris! Beep-Beep! Shaken out of my revery by the cacophony of horns tooting outside my living room window, I flung open the balcony door and gazed downward just in time to see four giant marshmallows on a huge skewer passing below me. What was going on? Was Paris being invaded by sugary sweets? Noticing my neighbor craning her neck to get a better view of the Voie George Pompidou, I asked if the noisy parade had anything to do with the Tour de France. When she replied that it did, I felt as if I had won the lottery. Rather than watching the cyclists ride down the Champs-Élysées with hordes of other people later that afternoon, I could welcome them to Paris from Pont Mirabeau.

Grabbing my camera, cell phone and keys, I rushed down five flights of stairs as fast as my feet could carry me to join the crowd already assembled on the bridge. As one promotional vehicle after another whizzed past, a Dutch lady pointed at our building to ask if it had an elevator. Incorrectly assuming that she was looking for an apartment to buy or rent, I assured her that it did at the same time that the woman on my right responded to the tourist's question. And that's how I learned that congregating on the bridge is an excellent way to meet your Canadian neighbors. It's just a pity that we didn't do it any earlier because they're moving home at the end of the month after an all-too-short (according to them) one year stint in Paris.

As the minutes ticked by and turned into a couple of hours, our Canadian neighbor kept us posted on the proximity of the cyclists by tracking their progress online. "They're going downhill", "Now they're on a flat stretch", "For some reason they're cycling at 18 km an hour". What? Wondering why they were going so slow, I started following the Tour de France on Twitter and saw that it was at about this time that Bradley Wiggins drank his celebratory champagne.

Photo credit: official photo tweeted by the Tour de France

After showing the picture of the British champion to our neighbors and tweeting that the cyclists should pick up the pace, the crowd on Pont Mirabeau was ecstatic when we finally saw the cluster of athletes round the bend in the distance.

Within seconds they pedaled closer and closer...

until they passed directly under the bridge on their way to their historic ride on the Champs-Élysées.

Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins, the first British champion of the Tour de France, and Mark Cavendish, the winner of the final sprint. There were a lot of happy fans from the United Kingdom in Paris yesterday afternoon!

Here's a somewhat shaky video of the cyclists' approach to the bridge that Stéphane filmed with his phone. Sorry for the woman's clapping hands but at least it gives a good idea of the enthusiastic welcome that the riders received as they passed under Pont Mirabeau.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Celebrating the start of Ramadan at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris

Dates are traditionally served because the prophet Muhammed is said to have broken his fast by eating three of them.

Bread, cheese, boeuf bourguignon, onion soup, confit de canard, steak frites, macarons. The exquisite array of food is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Paris. But imagine if your religion forbade you to eat or drink from before the start of dawn until sunset. That's a long time, especially on July 21 when the sun rises around 6:11 a.m. and sets at approximately 9:43 p.m. Following the dictates of their religion, not a morsel of food or a drop of liquid passed the lips of most Muslims yesterday because it was the beginning of Ramadan, a period of 29 or 30 days during which Islamic belief instructs adherents to turn their hearts away from worldly activities to cleanse the soul and free it from harmful impurities. Only the elderly, the chronically ill and the mentally insane are exempt from fasting, as are pregnant women and those nursing babies or menstruating. All other Muslims must refrain from eating to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Notice all the glasses - liquid refreshment is very important when you haven't had anything to drink all day.

After experiencing five Ramadans in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, I decided to request a couple of invitations for the annual soirée hosted by Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, at the Hôtel de Ville and join the Muslim community as they broke their first fast.

Seeing all of the people listening to the concert in the magnificent Salle des Fêtes and patiently waiting for the moment when they could eat reminded me of when we made the mistake of moving from one house to another in Indonesia during Ramadan. Imagine the movers, who were carrying heavy furniture and working in the tropical heat, adamantly refusing to drink or eat because it was against their religion. In between worrying that one of them would succumb to exhaustion or that they would drop our heavy teak furniture, I admired their conviction.

Just as in Indonesia, there was a great sense of elation with the setting of the sun and the breaking of the fast last night.

As if by magic, everyone suddenly descended on the buffet tables just after the sun set.
As soon as their bodies were fortified, everyone returned to the Salle des Fêtes to dance to the tunes of Fanfaraï, a brass band with a profusion of trumpets, saxophones, a trombone and a tuba. With eleven musicians of various cultural backgrounds, they play energetic North African music by skillfully blending brass, traditional percussion, arabo-berber, afro-cuban, latin and jazz sounds.

Happy Ramadan! And best wishes to the hundreds of Muslim athletes who have decided to fast while competing at the Olympic Games in London.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song - Paris Plages on a Saturday

Vamos a la Playa! After weeks of grey skies and rainy weather, Parisians put on their flip flops and swimsuits and headed to the beach this morning. They didn't have to travel far because the city of Paris has been creating an artificial beach along the Seine for its residents and guests since 2002. With deck chairs, ice cream vendors, bands, street performers and the smell of suntan lotion in the air, Stéphane and I felt as if we had been magically transported to a seaside locale.

To enhance the illusion, here's the song that used to blast from the speakers of our little Fiat Uno as we whizzed along the highway from Switzerland to the beaches of Italy, Monaco or France. Listening to it now, I realize that it's not a great song. But in those days, it was synonymous with freedom. No work, no worries...just long luxurious hours spent relaxing on the beach. 

Please click here for additional information about Paris Plages in English. Both the beach along the Seine and at the Bassin de la Villette offer free activities, such as Tai-chi classes, ballroom dancing in the evenings, pedal boots, boules and more. Paris Plages runs from July 20 - August 19, 2012.

Playing in the mist.