Monday, November 26, 2007

Appalled at the Mall


When we began planning this sojourn some years ago we were fortunate to have an invaluable resource to turn to as we wallowed in our ignorance: a French friend of our neighbors who lives in this part of the country and whom Lois met when she visited the States. She is opinionated and forthright and we had a lively e-mail correspondence wherein she gave us vital basic information and kept us from getting too hysterical and answered some of the thousands of questions we had. We soon learned to submit to her scrutiny any potential apartment rentals communicated to us by our realtor (another angel in human form whom we were lucky to meet on the internet) or, indeed, anything for which we needed an independent assessment. Whenever we sent her a copy of a letter from our realtor describing a place for rent, she would reply with a full and frank appraisal of the apartment, its location, the local schools, approximate driving times, mood of the locals, etc. One of her most important criteria for habitability was proximity to "the malls", as she called them. "Oh, you'll be just 5 minutes from the malls!", or "It's pretty there but it's too far from the malls." Of course we just looked at each other and thought, "WE"RE never going the malls! The whole reason for spending a year in France is to get AWAY from the damn things! WE"LL go to the local markets every day, the cremerie, the boucherie, the patisserie, the tabac, just like the natives do, etc., etc., etc."

So, guess what, we go to the mall every Monday, just like the natives do. By "we" I mean whichever of us is driving Mike to school that week. We do a big grocery shop for things that aren't readily available in the local village shops, like, uh, like potato chips, and, let's see, frozen pizzas, and, um, well, you know, stuff like that. This is my week to drive so I walked into the Geant Casino mall bright and early this morning and was stopped in my tracks by the over-the-top Christmas decorations. It looked like a miniaturized version of the Macy's Christmas parade was parked in the main concourse - all these float-like displays with animated giant plush beany-baby looking figures, angels, Santas, reindeer, oxen, the holy family, three kings, etc., nodding, ringing bells, mooing, looking from side to side. Hanging from the ceiling above them from one end of the vast hangar-like emporium to the other are giant swaths of fake pine boughs with ornaments, ribbons, blinking lights, candy canes, etc. I thought I was back home! This is the famous French taste? Gallic sophistication? I keep forgetting, and then keep being reminded, that these people consider Jerry Lewis a genius. Joyeux Noel!

Celebrating Thanksgiving here was a little different. Lois made a magnificent traditional meal, except that instead of stuffing a turkey she stuffed a chicken. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, fresh baguette, it was great, but subtly French. The piece de resistance was a pie made, from scratch, from some variety of gourd or squash that LOOKS kinda like a pumpkin, although it's more deeply lobed, and which was fantastic - way better than a regular pumpkin pie, which is not my favorite anyway. Served with a soupcon of creme fraiche, it was the perfect end to a perfect meal. We called our families, which is always a delight, and pretty much took it easy (except for Lois, of course, who was slaving away in the kitchen!) I kept reflexively reaching for the remote, only to be brutally disappointed that there was no football on the tube.

Although I miss people and places in a sort of abstract way all the time, I always know that we'll be going home in July so the feelings usually remain comfortably theoretical. But this weekend I felt, for the first time, pangs of homesickness, and it reminded me of being a child. It's always disconcerting to bump into that kid again after 20 or 30 or 50 years and realize that he's still very much alive.

Mike is suffering through what are called his trimestrial exams - two solid days of tests, in all his subjects, on everything they've studied from the beginning of the year. We spent the weekend studying but needed to take a break before we all started throwing things, so yesterday afternoon we walked around the woods and fields surrounding the house for a couple of hours. Good humor restored, we renewed the struggle with the French language - present indicative, past indicative, participles, negatives, etc.

And there's a picture of a local bakery window, too.

Lois' younger brother and his wife, Al and Val, are Deadheads who, if the family legend is true, actually met at a Grateful Dead concert in Hollywood. Years later they were showing old photos to their daughter Aja, who was maybe 3 or 4 at the time and asking her if she recognized any of the people pictured. "Who's this, honey?" "Uncle Henry?" "That's right, dear! And how about this one?" "Oh, that's Uncle Ernie." "Right again! What a clever little girl. Now - " pointing to one of me when I had a beard - "who's this?" Pause. Furrowed brow. "Uh, Jerry Garcia's brother?" True story. Art Linkletter was right. They do say the darndest things. Well, Aja's grown up now and will be visiting us shortly after Christmas, so we're beginning to make arrangements for all of us to spend a few days in the Loire valley, which is where Louis XIV's toadying court aristocrats built their opulent chateaus. They wanted to be close enough to rush back to Paris to defend themselves and their prerogatives from attack by rival toadying aristocrats. The region is also one of the most important agricultural areas in France and the combination sounds intriguing. We'll be staying in and around Amboise. I always find this stage of a trip, figuring out train schedules, making reservations, etc., very exciting.

The strikes, walkouts and demonstrations have stopped now, at least for a while, and negotiations have begun between the government and the unions, but all is not well, as the photo below attests. This is the demonstration, which occurred last week, by the anti-non-smoking lobby, the tobacco retailers who want the law which comes into force on January 1 and prohibits smoking in public places to be "modified", or cancelled. I assume most of the people in the picture are Tabac owners and employees but none of them seem to be smoking. Maybe it was raining. One can't help but admire the professional-quality production values of the placard (no dripping spray-paint on torn cardboard here!) and the sentiment it expresses, a particularly daring one considering the current tense relations between the French president and Iran. He looks good in a beard, though.

Sarko was laying low for a while during the strikes, and we were all worried, but, thank goodness, he's back, he's bad and he's everywhere! The photo below was in today's London Times. This kind of thing probably wouldn't appear in a French paper because the Fourth Estate (I think it's the fourth estate. Journalism, anyway.) here still clings to vestiges of the old-fashioned belief that organs of information have a duty to protect the privacy of public figures. (Oh, I think there may be some strict laws or something involved, too.) The Brits, of course,
howl with laughter at this idea from the back seats of their motorcycles as they chase celebrities
into churches, hospitals and morgues, and no one howls louder than Rupert Murdoch and his minions, who produce the Times. The woman on the left of Le President is Tinka (really!) Milinovic, a Bosnian "television presenter and singer", and she below is Laurence Ferrari, a "glamorous, newly divorced television presenter" (is there a pattern here?) with both of whom he's recently been romantically linked.

There IS a pattern here. According to the article, Sarkozy's girlfriend during his previous separation from Cecilia was a journalist, the current foreign minister and ecology minister are married to television journalists, the Socialist party leader and longtime companion of presidential candidate Segolene Royal was dumped by her because he had an affair with a journalist, and the former finance minister (and current president of the IMF) is married to "another media figure." And among other interesting presidential items in the article are the following:
Francois Mitterand would sometimes visit three (3) mistresses in an evening; he called them his "starter, main course and pudding" (I hope that sounds more romantic in French!); and Jacques Chirac's nickname when he was Mayor of Paris was "Three minutes, shower included." Yes, little Jean-Pierre, you too can grow up to be President of France.

Speaking of the Times, I think I mentioned that they were running a contest to find a slogan for England in 5 words or less and that my favorites were "At least we're not French!" and "At least we're not American." The winner was announced this week and I must admit it's pretty good: "No motto, please. We're British."

Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. And to my friends at Powell's: Don't worry, it'll simmer down a little by, oh, say 10:30 on Christmas Eve! And when it does, you'll be stronger.
As will we all.

C'est comme ca!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hey! What's that white stuff?

Well, another sunny day in Provence. Ho-hum. I think I'll just take a lazy look out the dining room window and - What the...!? That looks like...No, it can't be... Let me just clean my glasses and...Mon Dieu! It IS! A blizzard! These pictures were taken from our apartment last Thursday afternoon, shortly before I had to drive the 12 miles to pick Mike up from school. (Despite the date indicated at the heading of this post, I'm writing this on Monday the 19th.) Fortunately the snow wasn't sticking very much on the roads but my fellow drivers were quite traumatized and driving VERY slowly (which is a welcome change from their usual habits!). After all, some of them (the younger ones, anyway) may never have encountered snow before - this doesn't happen every year. (Forgive me. I sound just like one of those people from Wisconsin or Saskatchewan or similar arctic wilderness [among them some dear friends] who, although practically perfect in every other way, have the unfortunate habit of sneering in a superior manner at the winter driving skills of us Oregonians every time it snows.)

(This picture downloaded (or is it 'uploaded') mysteriously. It is of one of the fields I jog through and was taken the day after the snowfall, and it has nothing whatever to do with the narrative above. Or below.)

Yesterday we went hiking on Mt. St. Victoire, the famous fault-block mountain (like Steens in Oregon) which dominates the horizon and supplies the water for Aix-en-Provence. We went expecting to find peace, quiet and solitude but it turns out to be a very popular place. Our hike was a circular route encompassing two reservoirs which was supposed to be about 6 miles long, but we made a couple wrong turns (what else is new?) and ended up walking
at least 7. There are some BIG hills on the route, so our calves are letting us know about it today. ("Oh, really, Tom? What, are they mooing?")

(Hydrological and Literary Note: The lake in the picture below was created by the installation of a dam which was built by Emile Zola's father!)

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It's interesting to write things for all y'all in the States without knowing what kind of coverage French current events are receiving over there and what you already know about. I assume you're aware of the symphony of strikes which began last week and is building to a crescendo by the end of this one. It's hard to judge the sentiment of the majority. The Right (this is actually how the French media refer to the political poles - Le Droit and Le Gauche, like Whig and Tory or Democrat and Neanderthal. Oh, sorry. It just slipped out.) claims that the majority oppose the strikes, believing the unions to represent spoiled minorities like the railroad workers whose early retirements and generous pensions are elitist and detrimental to other workers and to the French economy in general. In fact, there was a demonstration in Paris yesterday against the strikes. Some of the unions want to negotiate, some have already agreed to work longer before retirement, but the hard core is as militant as ever. I'd say they trust Sarkozy about as far as they could throw him, but he's pretty small and some of these railroad guys are big, so I'll just say they don't trust him.

The chart below appeared in La Provence last week. It's a public-spirited attempt to present the many confusing, intertwined issues in a clear, graphic reader-friendly format, telling us who's protesting, how and when. Among its many notable features are the bold characterizations of various occupational groups, from train drivers (cheminots) to bureaucrats (fonctionnaires) and including (just look at that drawing!) opera singers. Also, one can't help but notice that the judges are walking out on the 29th, which offers the interesting possibility of hundreds of picketers being arrested and held for trial, but no one behind the bench to hear the cases because they're all out picketing. Meanwhile the students at universities nationwide are striking to protest a new law which is seen as a step on the road to privatization of higher education.

So, as you see, there's plenty going on to engage the attention of the French public. But the issue that is REALLY agitating the citizenry, which appeared on the front page of La Provence yesterday, and which was referred to in a revised version of the chart which appeared today, is the fact that on January 1 all smoking in public places will be banned! This includes the Tabac, that unique smoke-filled French institution which strives to be, and largely succeeds in being, all things to all people: community center, bar, coffee shop, lottery vendor and source for magazines, newspapers and, of course, tobacco. (I went into our local tabac to buy the papers Sunday morning, I was inside for maybe 2 minutes, and when I reentered the car Mike said, "Eew, Dad, you stink!" I think, and hope, that he was referring to the miasma of cigarette smoke which clung to me.) Appearing in the revised version of the chart, among new notices of walkouts by the Bank of France, postal workers and the meteorologists' union (which reminds me, there are some very interesting weather "presenters" on the tube over here), is a notification of "une manifestation nationale" by the "debitants (retailers) de tabac" to protest (denoncer) the prohibition of smoking in public places. It'll probably be one of the shortest protest marches in history. "Liberte, Egali - hack - te, Frat - cough -erni - splutter-gasp." I speak as a former addict whose most satisfying smoke was always the one right after a 4-mile run. Is that sick, or what?

We attended our first parent-teacher conferences at Mike's school on Saturday morning. It was bitterly cold and painfully early, like 8:00, but at least it wasn't snowing. There were no unpleasant surprises. He's popular, well-behaved (!) in class, attentive and his work is improving. Whew! What a relief. The consensus is that these first years of middle school are a challenging time for most kids, even his peers at Sellwood, without the additional burden of a new worldview, culture and language, so we're delighted with his performance. (Performance? Sounds like a trained seal or something.) He likes it there and has a bunch of good friends from many different backgrounds. But 12-year old boys are remarkably similar whatever their origin. They're ALL crazy! The week after next is midterms, or their French equivalent, so we'll be doing a lot of studying.

On a final, completely irrevelant note, the Times of London, a Rupert Murdoch production which we're stuck with sometimes if the other english-language papers are sold out (but which, in fairness, has a great sports section and crossword puzzle) is running a contest to find a slogan for England of 5 words or less which will help the beleaguered PM, Gordon Brown, define his vision of a New, Bold and Progressive England. The response has been overwhelming and the suggestions run the gamut from the treacly nationalistic to the insanely irreverent. My favorite so far is, "At least we're not French!" Ah, that droll British humor, so refreshingly sane, so perceptive. (There has been another submission on the same theme, but which, somehow, isn't as funny, in fact is downright maladjusted: "At least we're not American!" Poor, pathetic Brits, still suffering from collapse-of-empire malaise and bitter xenophobia.)

Until next time, Pip-Pip!


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Flustered Flamingos and Omnivorous Outhouses

Bonjour Messieurs et Mesdames,

We're back to our normal routine today after a busy two weeks. First we went to Paris, as I described in the last blog post, and then we had the pleasure of welcoming visitors: our niece Heidi, a pastry chef (patissiere), formerly of Parsippany NJ, now working at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida, and Bob and Donna Cynkar from Portland. Donna and Lois shared a classroom many years ago when Lois reentered the teaching profession after a hiatus of several years. Each taught a half-day kindergarten class and the bond which was forged then in the fires of elementary education has never been broken. We enjoyed their visits immensely and had many adventures, some planned and others unexpected, some which brought a smile to the lips of all concerned and others which caused those same lips to tighten in fear and trepidation, some which produced a warm glow, others which precipitated cold sweat. Read on, if you dare!

Bob and Donna were a little late arriving by car, and we were beginning to worry a bit as the hours rolled by (actually, ONE hour), and it got dark, but in the end they were just demonstrating that it doesn't take special talent or experience, ANYONE can get lost on the roads around here. And all this time we thought it was just us. They were at the end of a 4 or 5-week sojourn during which they visited family in Pittburgh and Buffalo and their son who is studying in Madrid, which must have been a letdown after their first two destinations, but they were very tactful about it. Heidi is on a whirlwind vacation of about 10 days. She started in Switzerland to see the same relatives (Kurt and Heidi) who so graciously hosted us when we visited (see blogpost #1), then she was here and now she's in Paris staying with an old friend who's studying there. The joint was jumpin' while they were all here but now we've returned to the usual routine. Mike's 2-week vacation is over so he's back at school, which means, among other things, that I can now get to the computer to work on this blog, pay the bills, reply to e-mails, burn CDs, check football scores, etc.

The weather while our guests were here was autumn-perfect! Crystal clear, chilly, invigorating. We all agreed that we'd like to see the Camargue, so on Sunday we formed a small convoy and drove down. This is a low-lying sparsely-inhabited region a little southwest of here famous for its black bulls, white horses, salt and birds, especially flamingos. We visited the Parc Ornithologique thinking we'd see a lot of migratory birds on their way to Africa but there weren't many. For one thing, the mistral had sprung up and the winds were gale force, so the prudent ones had remained on the ground. The few we saw aloft were being blown across the sky like dry leaves. Fortunately, the flamingos were out in force, wading around on their stilt-like legs, squawking and squabbling.

When we had become sufficiently cold, windblown and hungry we drove a few kilometers south to Stes. Marie de La Mer, whose attitude toward tourism is perfectly expressed, I feel, by this statue, which stands (contrary to the photo, it really does stand) prominently in the town square, overlooking the petanque players. Or maybe she'd bet the maison on the favorite and he (almost all the boules players are men) had blown it. The town is on the southern tip of the Camargue, bordering the Mediterranean, and is a VERY popular tourist destination. It seems to have a continuous schedule of bullfights and festivals, all of which draw big crowds. The whole area is home on the range for the French cowboys, or gardians, who have every bit as great a mystique as the American variety. I'm sure they're just as contemptuous of soft city folk as Texas cowpokes are but I venture to assert that none of them has endured the blood-chilling trauma that your humble correspondent experienced when
trapped by a carnivorous french self-cleaning pay toilette like a bug in a venus flytrap! (See below. Looks innocent enough, doesn't it? And check out those blissfully ignorant turistas standing around yukking it up. Oh, wait a minute, never mind. That's Donna, Lois and Heidi.) Anyway, the whole unfortunate incident is directly related to the plunge of the dollar in relation to the euro so cunningly engineered by the present administration. In short, it's Bush's fault. I was just trying to save a few pennies by slipping into the toilette without paying as Mike emerged. That thrifty common sense championed by Ben Franklin. But apparently the toilette has a mind of its own and uses the intervals when it thinks it's uninhabited to perform this weird automated self-purifying ritual, which involves clouds of steam, floods of water and the withdrawal of the toilet bowl itself into the wall for sterilization, and its reemergence, THREE (3) separate times! So just as I was getting all comfortable and meditative, my small self-contained world suddenly burst into frenzied activity. One can't help but admire the ingenuity of the French engineering mind, of course, which has given us the Eiffel Tower, the TGV and the Maginot Line, but I would have preferred to admire from a safer distance. In the midst of the hissing and spraying (sounds like a male cat, doesn't it?), headlines flashed through my mind: "TOILETTE CLAIMS TOURIST", "PEEING PORTLANDER POACHED", "SARKOZY FLIES TO CAMARGUE TO DEDICATE MONUMENT TO MEMORY OF OREGONIAN - CALLS FOR FRANCO-AMERICAN UNDERSTANDING - "AFTER ALL, WE'RE A NATION AND URINATION!" I'm sure I needn't go into too much detail - you have vigorous imaginations - other than to note that (1) I was at a distinct disadvantage, being as it were a captive audience of sorts, (2) Horses aren't the only thing you can't change in midstream, and (3) I'm glad my needs weren't such that I was SITTING on that toilet when it disappeared into the wall behind it. Talk about having the rug pulled out from under you! In the end I emerged uninjured, just a little damp from the steam, with wet shoes, slightly hysterical, laughing edgily. The passers-by gave me that look and pulled their children away, but they're always doing that.

(Note: I recently received an ill-considered request to write less about sports and politics and more up-close-and-personal, touchy-feely stuff. The foregoing should put an end to THAT type of request!)

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, on the way home the tailpipe of our car became detached from the muffler and began dragging on the autoroute -speed 120 kph, about 80mph -creating a dazzling cascade of sparks in the evening gloaming for the edification of our fellow travelers. Bob, Donna and Lois were following in the Cynkars' rented Peugeot and got to see the whole spectacular thing. We were able, finally, to find a parking area and reattach things with the aid of, I'm not kidding, a rock which Mike and I used both to reshape the end of the tailpipe and to hammer it back into the muffler.

The next day (Monday) we divided our forces. Bob and I drove to Figueres, Spain, a distance of close to 300 miles, to return the Peugeot, thereby saving a transfer fee of 500 something, euros or dollars. We returned home along the Mediterranean coast via 3 trains and a bus. The pictures below were taken on this trip, including the interesting old husk of a hotel by the tracks. Or is it, as Bob suggested, something left over from the set of Blade Runner? It reminds me of one of the starships from Star Wars - or even more, the one from Spaceballs. We had a 1 1/2 hour layover between trains in Cerbere, just inside France, so we strolled around the village, much of which consisted of hotels and restaurants closed for the winter. As a former waiter, I couldn't help but admire the regal bearing of the serveur who stood (again, it is only my stone-age technical incompetence which makes it appear as if he's lying down on the job) at our side ("Bonjour, je m'appelle Woody and I'll be your waiter today.") and his ingenious method of communicating the day's specials. Chic chapeau, too!

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew dropped our car off at the local Renault garage for repair and took a bus into Aix, where Lois rented a car for our use. Heidi had a ball going into at least 8 patissieries, taking photos, talking to her fellow culinary artists, sampling and buying desserts and other confections. Mike bumped into two of his friends out on their own and joined them for a couple of hours. I don't know what they did and I don't wanna know, but I think it involved candy, crepes, video games and fireworks. I'm sure I'll look back fondly on these innocent pursuits in years to come when they're teenagers out prowling the streets. Hmm. Maybe it's not too late for military school.

On Tuesday Heidi left via TGV for Paris. The rest of us went into Aix to go to the library, run some other errands and have lunch. Bob hadn't been there yet, so we walked around and in the process discovered some parts of town we hadn't yet seen, including the cathedral and part of the university quarter. Speaking of which, the students voted yesterday to go on strike and blockade the faculty offices to protest the new law which reduces financial aid or something (I don't understand the intricacies, given that I read the paper with one hand and clutch a dictionary with the other). (Or rather, I read the paper with one eye and clutch a dictionary with the other. Oh, well, you know what I mean.) They're already being shamelessly gouged by landlords in and around Aix and I guess they've reached the breaking point. The pictures in La Provence remind me of the '60s. Right On, Etudiants!

These pictures are of Aix. It's a beautiful town in every season.

I took Bob and Donna to the Marseilles airport at the crack of dawn yesterday and we've received an e-mail from them to the effect that they made it back to Portland safe and sound.
Heidi's living the high life in Paris, and we're readjusting to being just the three of us again. What a relief! All that forced politeness was driving us CRAZY!! It's just not us.

Actually, it's unnervingly quiet around here now.
But it's almost Saturday and the hunters will start blasting away at first light, so we'll enjoy the tranquility while we can. And we hope you do too.

Au revoir.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Americans in Paris - Page 4

Your humble technophobic correspondent had to assemble this dispatch in four parts because after all this time he still can't make the googleblog monster obey his commands. Or even his tearful sniveling pleas, for that matter. And now that they're posted, he finds, to his dismay, that they've come out in a confused non-sequential order!! So, to find even that minuscule structural logic which is usually inherent in these productions, it is recommended that you begin with Page 1, second from the bottom, and proceed in a sequential manner, hopping forward, backward or even sideways, when necessary, through Pages 2 and 3 to Page 4, which appears before Pages 3, 2 and 1. Or, to be perfectly accurate for a change, before Pages 3,1 and 2. (Let's see - I think I've got that right!) Thank you.

There are lots of spectacular churches in Paris. These were taken in Ste. Chapelle, which was built in just 6 years for King Louis the IXth, otherwise known as St. Louis for his devotion to the crusades, his bigotry and his perpetration of genocide, but all in a good cause; the Conciergerie (Okay, not really a church, but it feels like one) which was the court, prison and last stop on the way to the guillotine during the Revolution; and St. Germain l'Auxerrois, about which I know absolutely nothing except that it's across the street from the Louvre. Ah, the Louvre, the Louvre! One of those simple looking french words that's impossible to pronounce.
Loov? Lurv? Loov-ruh? Who knows? We visited it twice and barely scratched the surface. But we did see IT! You know, IT! HER!! The Mona Lisa. We clawed our way through massed ranks of Japanese tourists, gazed upon her enigmatic features and came away changed. I had a nasty welt over my right eye and Mike was missing a shoe. Oh, yeah, we saw some other stuff, too.

Here's a beautiful artistic shot taken from the Pont Alexandre (the II, I think, czar of Russia, 19th century predecessor of the present incumbent, Vladimir I). We had rain, we had sun, we had pain, we had fun, we had life, love and laughter, we had Paree! It was fun to be tourists. We were reminded that, although this whole thing of living in France for a year sounds thrilling and exciting and adventurous, much of it is just routine humdrum daily living. When we're at home in Provence we have car trouble, arguments over homework, dishes to do, bills to pay, etc. It's just like being at home in Portland. I don't know if I find that comforting or disturbing or both, but that's how it is. C'est comme ca!

I was woefully out of touch with current events during our sojourn, so I fear I don't have any insightful political commentary to offer today. But maybe next time. There's always something!

Like the Red Sox winning the Series. Man, that was quick!

Au revoir! Tom

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Americans in Paris - Page 3

Since we (they) couldn't climb the tower we walked over to the Musee d'Orsay, which I like but which Adam Gopnick accuses of pandering to dilettantes. He's one of the more recent of the long string of exceptional writer/reporters the New Yorker has had working in Paris since its inception way back when, starting with Janet Flanner and including Mavis Gallant (Paris Stories). Gopnick wrote "Paris to the Moon", which I believe panders to New Yorker readers. The museum is in a gorgeously refurbished train station from the golden age of steam. It's only been around since the '80s (remember them?) and is a temple of Impressionism.

This is the southern end of the Rue Mouffetard market, which we were fortunate enough to stumble upon (those cobblestones can get pretty slippery!) right down the block from our hotel. It extends up the pedestrian-only street to the Place Contrescarpe at the top of the hill and includes a wide variety of shops and many restaurants, so we didn't have to go far to find decent food at a reasonable price. Which was just as well because by dinner time we had had enough walking for the day and were quite happy to ooze on down the hill to our beds. So we had a chance to sample four different places. Oh, and lest I forget, there is, if I can bring myself to mention it, a Starbucks in the neighborhood. And, I blush to admit it but, yes, we did go there, but only once, and only because the little dining room at the hotel was full to capacity for breakfast one morning. Mike chose what he thought was a pre-made bagel with cream cheese but, to his surprise, it turned out to be a bagel with smoked salmon and tzatziki. C'est la vie, mon ami!

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Americans in Paris - Page 1


We returned yesterday from a three day visit to Paris. We had a wonderful time being tourists, i.e., walked miles and miles, got museum passes - a great deal which gets you into about 30 museums and monuments for one price and enables you to avoid the long lines by using the
group entrances - rode the metro, ate at cafes, etc. We stayed at a nice little 2-star hotel near Rue Mouffetard in what's called the Contrescarpe district (at least it's called that by Rick Steves, whose hotel recommendations we've had good luck with) called Hotel L'Esperance.

Luxembourg Palace Luxembourg Garden

These photos are among the HUNDREDS we took during our visit (4 overnights). We're succumbing more and more to the "fire at will, if it moves shoot it, you can always delete it" mentality engendered by the digital camera. We took the laptop and downloaded the pix each evening, then recharged the battery overnight and voila!, didn't miss a single photo op.

This installment of the blog is in 4 parts because I'm a helpless victim of technology and can't for the life of me figure out how to make it do what I want it to. It (the technology) has decided in its infinite wisdom that it will only load a few pictures onto each page, and who am I to argue?

So just consider this a 4-page letter.


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Americans in Paris - Page 2

Here's Notre Dame, which we made the mistake of visiting during Sunday Mass. The place was packed with every practicing Catholic in Paris (there aren't all that many - France is a catholic country where nobody actually goes to church) as well as the usual swarm of tourists, whose numbers were swollen by French families enjoying the fall school vacation. But the choir was singing and the organ was resonating and it was very impressive, almost, like, spiritual or something. Lois is standing by the fountain in the small square nearest to our hotel, where Rue Mouffetard meets a couple other streets. It's a great neighborhood, a working-class residential area filled with the majestic 6-story apartment buildings from the era of Napoleon III (a curious personage who probably wasn't actually related to the Emperor, but was the fruit of one of the Emperor's brothers' wife's amorous liaisons). During his reign he directed his minister of urban affairs, Baron Hausmann, to raze vast areas of the city and build wide straight streets to facilitate the efficient dispatch of the forces of law and order to whatever quarter to quell any public manifestations of urban discontent that might arise. The width of the streets also made it difficult, if not impossible, for the alleged perpetrators of said discontent to indulge in the time-honored Parisian custom of building barricades. Pretty clever, no? Hausmann also designed these wonderful apartment buildings and filled the city with them. They are responsible, in large part, for the elegant and unique appearance of the city.

We visited the Eiffel Tower but the crowds were so gigantic that Lois and Mike couldn't even get near a ticket booth. They wanted to take the elevator to the top (I'm afraid of heights so I was going to find a cafe, drink coffee and read the papers), but since that was impossible we went and had lunch instead, which is always a viable alternative, no matter where one is.

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