A Month in Paris

 

February 2013

My Stories

Granner

Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

February 3rd


The pink light of a quiet and dry Parisian Sunday morning settles into something more yellow through the glass French doors before me.  Outside a church bell clangs; inside Bach plays on our CD player.  Jim just left for a morning photo session.  “I think I’ll get some shots of the Eiffel Tower,” he said.  

“Could you pick up a baguette for me on your way back?” I ask.

“No, too scary.  They might ask me a question.”  

I’ve decided to hang out in our Left Bank apartment this morning in anticipation of a few degrees rise in temperature.  When we returned from our walk last night, Google informed me of the 34*F. temperature outside.  I sit in my flannels enjoying a morning of warmth and comfort after our long journey; it seems appropriate.  

Our trip began two days ago with our friend Jeff acting as consummate chauffeur.  He picked us up, grabbed our bags, checked flight status and destination weather during our drive up, dropped us at the gate, and pulled our luggage from his car to the sidewalk.  Jim laughed and offered a dollar tip, but he wouldn’t take it.  Jeff parked, joined us for breakfast (insisting on treating as part of the package deal) then directed us to our gate.

The fight from Portland to Amsterdam was good.  Our dour Dutch customs official turned folks away ahead of us (including an innocent-looking young couple, escorted by a uniformed agent to locations unknown) then studied Jim’s passport stamps for a too-long time before finally waving us through.  We’d made it into the European Union.

Hail blew sideways as we taxied the Paris runway.  Our apartment owner, Robert, had arranged for Newman from Sri Lanka to drive us in.  His sign read:  “Jim--Jean--Southwood.”  

I asked Newman how he knew Robert and then explained our own Salem connection with him.  I told how Robert had lived down the street from us growing up and how he was my sister Melanie’s best young buddy in the neighborhood and friends throughout high school. 

 

Right on clue, Robert called Newman on his cell phone, which got handed to me.  Robert was gracious and apologetic.  He was delayed at a funeral at the American Church for a friend lost to cancer.  There were lots of crying testimonials, he said.  I imagine the ex-pat community here is tight.  Robert would be late, but his friend Stephan would be at the apartment to let us in.

We settled in while waiting for Robert’s return.  Let me describe this apartment for you.  The humble foyer leads up a windy scuffed circular stairway to our 4th floor.  You enter the dining room, which contains no fewer than six doors:  terrace, closet, front door, bedroom, toilet room, and kitchen.  It’s like Alice in Wonderland in here.  

The kitchen has a small galley of appliances on one side and a wall of windows on the other.  Through the kitchen you encounter the sink and shower room.   

There is quite a bit of space and light everywhere with tons of windows--light abounds for us in this City of Light.  A shallow terrace wraps about the entire apartment.  The place is scrupulously clean.  Jim says it reminds him of the Ester Lee Motel in Lincoln City--it’s warm, cozy, friendly, tidy, atmospheric, in a great location, light-filled, quirky and a good value.  Both places have a story and sense of history.  We feel immediately at home here.  

Peter knocks on the door.  He is gregarious and friendly.  “Are you Robert’s friends?” he asks.  Peter explains usage of the washer/dryer (one single unit), water heater (good for two showers only unless you flip a re-heat switch), heat, TV (random English channels), fireplaces (two--very atmospheric, he adds), maps, and contact numbers for Robert. 

Robert should be coming soon, Peter says.  We ask if we can meet him later; we need to get moving before jet-lag sleep overwhelms us.  Plus, you know, Paris awaits!  No problem, Peter says.

We bundle for the cold and decide we look more Parisian for it.  The absence of our baseball caps (Jim), enormous cameras (Jim) and open guide books (me) don’t hurt.  We see no tourists around and get addressed in French ourselves until they hear our accents.  

The streets and buildings glisten in the twilight of rain.  We pass places we’d visited two years prior during an unseasonable warm and sunny March week, and Jim doesn’t recognize them in their sparkling wet brilliance.  This is a whole different Paris, but it works for us.  We’re Oregonians, after all.  

We approach Notre Dame and notice giant scaffolding for overflow outdoor seating.  A huge screen telecasts the Mass happening inside for the shivering worshipers outside.  They’re celebrating the 850th anniversary of the church.  Lines of the faithful begin streaming indoors, not for a seat, but to receive communion. 

The famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore offers a retreat for warming icy hands amongst a hive of English-speakers.  We are freezing.  Back at our Sorbonne neighborhood, we step inside a restaurant recommended by Peter.  I translate the specials on the chalkboard.  ‘No’ to the one with the word ‘rabbit’ in it.  Go with veggie and French onion soups and tiramisu instead, I decide.  Jim is always more than happy to let me take the reigns at any foreign restaurant, even Mexican food back home, and I do well for us this time; I can’t remember enjoying hot soup more.  

Out on the covered but unheated sidewalk terrace, female students from the Sorbonne sit and chat and smoke in the freezing temperatures.  Jim comments on the power of addiction.  We observe one gal on the other side of the glass meticulously rolling her own cigarette.  Eventually some young women finish their smokes and sneak inside for warmth. 

Next stop, the market.  Peter had directed us to a neighborhood grocery where real people shop.  I send Jim off to assess the yogurt situation while I peruse the “fresh” milk (versus the usual European room-temperature boxed variety.)  This humble grocery offers every kind of gourmet cheese, and we grab some Brie and mozzarella.  Fruits look the same in every language, so that’s easy.  We buy enough produce for Caprese salad, breakfasts, snacks and bottled water to last a few days, the total costing less than two normal hotel continental breakfasts here.

Stepping in our warm apartment, we pull the curtains, luxuriate in hot showers, and sink into the perfect bed.  We both wake a couple of times in jet-lagged confusion, but it’s easy to coax our bodies back to slumber in this warm and peaceful cocoon of an apartment.  We are welcomed to Paris.  

February 4th

SCAMS.  Rick Steves warned me about this in his guidebooks, so I had my antenna up.  

Here’s what happened:  Jim and I stroll through the Tuileries Gardens after spending time with Monet at his Orangerie Museum.  Nobody’s around until a slender middle-aged guy in denim veers toward us.  He reaches down a couple of feet in front of our feet, and grabs an overly-shiny gold ring.  

His eyes locked with ours, his mouth widens into an ‘O’ of amazement, like “Wow, look what I just found here!”  He prepares to speak.  

I eyeball him squarely and answer before he can talk.  “NO!”  He backs off like a scolded puppy.  

“What was that?” Jim asks, turning back for a glance at our guy who has suddenly disappeared.  Jim is impressed that I, one known to fall for internet scams, nipped this character so efficiently.  

“A scammer,” I say, proudly.  I describe what I’d read in the guidebook.  

Here’s the scene:  The scammer watches you coming and plants a ring in your likely path.  He picks up the ring just as you reach it and ask if it’s yours.  You say no.  Scammer examines the ring and points out a marking indicating a high gold content and great value.  He offers to sell it to you at a generous price!  (Several times more than he paid for it himself.)  

We continue walking across the Seine on a pedestrian bridge.  A woman finds an amazing golden ring at our feet!  Wow, such luck in the span of five minutes!  “No!” I bark.  She shuffles off while a third scammer plants a ring for an approaching couple.  They just laugh.  

I think the gig’s up.  

February 5th

Five years ago, after Annie wrapped up her summer study abroad in Segovia, Spain, I flew over to visit her and travel some more of the country together.

During this trip, we observed men wearing red pants, something we found slightly disturbing.  Little did we know that we’d just experienced the inception of brightly colored jeans the world-over. 

Three years ago in Italy, Jim noticed women wearing leather boots.  He urged me to get a pair when we got home, so I did.  At the time, these were rather uncommon and elicited frequent comment.  Now boots are almost standard-issue wear for women.
  
Clearly, Europe shows us the future hand of U.S. fashion.  Look at what’s odd there, and in a couple of years, nearly every American woman will have it in their closet. 

With this in mind, Jim suggested we keep our eyes open for curious Parisian attire.  It took us one day to figure it out.  Here is your fashion forecast, according to Jim and Jean:

TIGHTS.  Instead of leggings, why not scale back further?  How about tights?  Would-be models grab the boldest versions--think thicker, textured, purple.  More timid trenders go for opaque black or grey, untextured ones.  The insane go for thin black nylons.  (Remember, it’s 34 degrees outside here.)

  1. MINI-SKIRTS.  WIth your tights, you gotta wear a mini, an ultra short straight one.  Go red for extra credit.  You won’t look trashy; remember, you’re wearing tights!  (Warning--not to be attempted if you’re over 40 or you risk the sin of ‘trying too hard.’)
  2. SHORTS.  Don’t want to wear a mini with your tights?  You’re in luck!  Shorts are an acceptable alternative, but keep them dark, flat-fronted and well, short!
  3.  FLARED ANKLE BOOTS.  Wear shorty boots that barely can be called boots over your tights.  Pick ones that flare out a little at the top.  Higher heels garner extra points.       
  4. LONG MEN’S COATS.  Don’t forget your man!  Have him wear a straight-and-narrow wool coat that reaches mid-thigh.  Pick a boring color, like black or grey.  Extra points for large cylindrical buttons that fasten with loops.  


Now go get shopping.  You want to be ready for 2015. 

February 7th

We are doing much better today following yesterday’s pick-pocketing experience.  Merci beaucoup to the many of you dear ones who wrote such encouraging words to us.  Your messages definitely helped perk up our spirits.  Something about knowing that you have people back at home that love and care for you when stuff like this happens...

Something funny I learned from Jim about his Starbucks card:  Turns out it was one of those cards that you load with pre-paid money.  But Jim says that it was down to a zero balance.  So if the thief tries to get a free latte’ from his evil-doing, he’s out out of luck.  Between that and a denied credit card and an old torn wallet, Mr. Pick-pocket actually came up short after paying his Orsay Museum admission to do his dark business inside.  

And yes, the lemon macarron did wonders, too.  I’m already thinking of this incident as less of a trauma and more of a story opportunity.  We’re good. 

So here’s back other Parisian tales:

Two days ago, I wrote how Europeans influence American fashion.  Today I want to write about how Americans influence French food.  Sounds ridiculous, no?  Stick with me here.  

COFFEE CULTURE.  

We can all picture Francois and Nicolette sipping their coffees on the sidewalk terrace of a chic French bistro, oui?  What you don’t know is that their coffee tastes not so chic.  They don’t know any better.  They’ve defined coffee culture without having good coffee.  They’re all about the experience of hanging out at their neighborhood cafe.  Who cares what’s in the cup?

At home, the French make instant coffee (shudder), some nasty Nescafe stuff.  It resembles the big jar of cinnamon I have at home in my spice cabinet, except the cinnamon probably tastes better.   

How could this be, you wonder?  What about espresso drinks and lattes?  They sound so very...French!  

Oh, but you are confusing the French with the Italians, who DO know how to do good coffee.  They practically invented it.  Think about it:  lait is French for milk, latte is Italian.  Somehow the Italian java talent never crossed the border.  

So who is teaching the French about coffee these days?  STARBUCKS, of course.  You’ll find Starbucks popping up throughout Paris, and they are packed full of young adults sipping on coffee, coffee better than they ever knew existed. 

But even Starbucks has a learning curve in Paris.  That’s why you’ll find signs outside, at the entry and above the ordering station instructing “how to make the drink your own.”  We’re talking the basics:  type of drink, size, number of shots, flavors.  Such things must be taught. 

Two years ago, we’d ordered the simplest lattes offered on the board at Starbucks so as to not overwhelm the Parisian baristas.  Today I told Jim that I was going big; I was going to try to order exactly what we’d get at home.  He looked at me in horror.  “I’m going to look for a table,” he said.  What he really meant was, “That sounds like potential conflict, and I’m out of here!”  (He admitted as much later.)  I was on my own.   

They list decaf (“décaféinés”) and non-fat milk (“écrémé”) options now, which I count as progress.  The baristas are learning.  But I crossed the line with my request for ‘skinny’ or ‘sugar-free.”  I attempted it in three languages:  French, English and Starbucks.  All I got was a blank stare.   

They asked my name to write on the cup.  ‘Jeanne’ I answered.  ‘Jean’ makes me a dude here.  I’m learning, too.  

“AMERICAN BREAD.”  

That’s what they call it, and you’ll find it prominently displayed on shelves of big and little grocery stores everywhere.  The photos on the packaging remind me of the Wonder Bread we used to eat as kids.    

They also call it “toast,” even when it’s not toasted.  

I can’t quite figure it out.  Maybe Parisians have discovered that they like toasted bread, but it’s tough to cut a baguette to fit toaster slots.  

Starbucks also offers piles of pancakes in their glass case next to the scones and muffins.  Customers were snatching them up, eating them cold.  

McDONALDS. 

Perhaps the greatest food mystery of all.  The French have embraced McDonalds in a huge way.  They consider it gourmet and a fantastic value.  

They order Chicken McNuggets as an appetizer, a hamburger as their main course, a salad to follow, and a sundae for dessert.  They get this all wrapped up to take to a park near their offices for a leisurely lunch, never minding that the sundae will be thoroughly melted by the time they arrived at their dessert course.  

Personal application: We’ve steered clear of both the American Bread and the McDonalds, but will likely return to Starbucks, just not for cold pancakes. 

February 8th

Jim has been working at Kaiser long enough that he could retire.  He decided that taking one overseas trip a year would provide good incentive to keep working a little while longer.  I am happy to oblige.

When he suggested we stay in Paris for an extended period for this trip, I was happy to go along with this, too.  As plan-it-yourself-ers, we normally travel for about half the cost of going with a comparable tour group.  Renting an apartment would cut     the price even more.  But perhaps more importantly, it could bring a fantasy to life:  

PRETENDING TO BE A PARISIAN!

Here’s how it’s going so far:

1.  Grocery shopping.  We enter our neighborhood store where I instantly set off an alarm by attempting to shut the one-way entry gate behind us.  Next I react enthusiastically over successfully locating plastic garbage liners.  We struggle to use our non-chip credit cards and bag our groceries.  We are like ‘I Love Lucy’ in the grocery store.  The clerks and other customers are gracious to us, but I imagine when they see us coming, they think, “Oh, no, not the Americans again!”

2.  Language.  I reviewed my paltry college French for months before coming here.   I call out “Bonjour!” upon entering a restaurant for lunch today.  Our young handsome waiter responds, “Hello!” and hands us an English menu.  Later I get the nerve to ask him how he knew we spoke English without even hearing us speak it.  

“Your accent,” he said.  “I just heard you say one word and recognized it as English.”  Sadly, I realize, that at age 51, there is no hope for me ever overcoming that.  

3.  Style.  Jim goes out for another evening photo reconnaissance.  My idea of a hot evening is a warm shower and a good book.  I hear a knock at the door.  It can only be Robert, owner of these apartments, stopping by to see us in person for the first time since our arrival.  “Let me grab my robe first,” I call through the door.  

I open the door to an elegantly-dressed man, ready to step out onto the glamorous streets of Paris for the evening.  I am wearing pink and purple polka dot flannel pajamas.  It is 7 PM.

Robert greets me with joy and a quick kiss on each cheek, French-style.  (Robert has lived here many years and has adapted to local customs in ways I can only fantasize about.)  He sees my robe and smiles; it belongs to the apartment.

I tell him how much we are enjoying the place and are having a lovely time.  But as a good tenant, I feel the need to let him know that the toilet handle has fallen off.  Fortunately, the toilet is still usable, I assure him.  I go grab the handle to show him.
  
Picture me, dressed in seersucker robe over flannel jammies, grasping a toilet handle, discussing toilet flushings.  I am hardly the picture of French chic.  

Conclusion:  I can’t never truly live like a French woman, not even close, but I am having a blast trying.  

February 9th

ART HISTORY

This morning I’m taking a vacation from our vacation, a luxury afforded me given our nearly-one month Parisian stay.  We logged in a few too many walking miles yesterday, capped with a bone-chilling wait in line atop a windy tower.  (Okay, it was the Eiffel Tower.  I’m trying not to sound too whiny--doesn’t seem appropriate when mentioning a visit to the Eiffel Tower.)  

After all that Jim went for an evening run in the dark.  Seriously.  

Anyway, for a few hours I get to extend my living-like-a-Parisian fantasy to the home-making domain.  How about getting some housekeeping done around this apartment?  I even deciphered the French combination washer/dryer, no small feat.  

And Jim’s off to spend another morning in the Orsay Museum.  (He doesn’t seem at all deterred by his pick-pocketing experience there; he says he doesn’t have to worry about losing his wallet anymore since he no longer has one.)  We’ve already spent over a full day in both the Louvre and the Orsay, but there are always more paintings for Artist James to discover.  

I did my art history research in years past, but Jim put in his study hours more recently.  On many evenings at home, I’d discover Jim passed out on the couch while reading his Orsay books and listening to audio guides.  He’s put in the time.  

I thought I knew my art history pretty well, but see that my husband has taken it to another level.  “Oh, look at that!” he’ll cry, spotting another painting he’s studied.  Often I’d never heard of the artist, let alone the painting.

 

My own artist is having a ball here amongst his creative inspirations.  I anticipate more great works of his own to emerge from this.  

Now for some photographic examples of our fashion forecasting.  Several of you have requested ideas for the over-50 crowd; scroll to the end to see what smart Parisian woman ‘over a certain age’ are wearing.  

February 10th, Paris

POMPIDOU PLAY-TIME

Today is mainly a James pictorial of our visit to Paris' huge modern art museum, the Pompidou.  Modern art is more fun when you find ways to interact with it, so that's what we do.   

We got busted for only one of the shots:  the one where my head pokes through the red circle.  (Seems I was standing on a forbidden platform.)  

My only complaint--I need to make Jim assume more of his share as modern art model.  Next time.  (And by the way, I give him mostly free reign to select the photos we send, sometimes to my detriment.)  

This evening we pack for a two-night sojourn to the northern countryside.  Stay tuned.  

February 11, Mont Saint Michel, France

SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A CAMERA

You’ve seen it, you just didn’t know what it was called.  That enormous abbey island jutting off the coast of northern France?  Welcome to Mont Saint Michel!  

During our trip planning stages, I’d shown Jim an image of this place.  “Yep, let’s go there,” he agreed.  The thousand-year-old abbey is a photographer’s dream.  It opened to the public back in 2001 when the last three Benedictine monks rolled up shop.
  
Jim is out snapping photos of the island and abbey in the twilight, his camera’s favorite time of day.  I predict that at least one Artist James masterpiece emerges from our overnight detour here.
  
Our journey today to Mont Saint MIchel reminded me of another important lesson in French culture:  the need to speak softly.  At most public places in France--restaurants, museums, trains--voices rarely rise above a soft roar.  Here’s my faux pas for the day:

Picture us on the train from Paris, peacefully lumbering through the countryside of Normandy.  Our train car is quieter than a red-eye flight to Honduras.  Jim dozes next to me while I privately rock on my headphones to Don’t Stop Believin.’  I spot something spectacular on a far-off hillside.  

I nudge Jim and announce, way too loudly, “Look!  A chateau!” 

Jim instantly awakens and pounces me into silence.  “You’re YELLING!” he whispers--a freaked-out, frantic, right in my ear, catastrophic whisper.  He glances about, ready to be stormed by Normans. 

My people-pleaser husband never wants to rock anybody’s boat.  Or anybody’s train.  He’s more distressed by my conduct than when he discovered he’d been pick-pocketed.  I do not exaggerate.  

He just should be grateful that I hadn’t broken into song.  It would’ve been  so very easy...

But here on Mont Saint Michel, I didn’t have to be so well-behaved.  Usually the island crawls with day-trippers, but on this off-season Monday, it’s just us and several bus-loads of Japanese tourists.  I hear them laughing and hollering and having a fabulous time outside our window as I type.  Another advantage to their presence here is that Jim rarely has difficulty spotting me in a crowd.

We’ve not seen a single American in Mont Saint Michel.  One vendor addressed us in German.  Our waitress, clueing into our nationality, kindly steered Jim away from the innocent-sounding “Normandy Stew.’” She repeatedly pointed to her belly while shaking her head.  Turns out that the key ingredient of Normandy Stew is tripe, also known as cow intestine lining. 

The lessons never end for us here in France. 

February 12, Laval, France

FINDING MY ANCESTRAL CASTLE

I want to tell you the story of my French great-grandfather, Mareen Duvall (1625-1699)  Through him, I am related to Barack Obama, Harry S. Truman, President John Tyler, Dick Cheney, Wallis Simpson, Robert Duvall and Warren Buffett.  Strange bedfellows, for sure.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mareen_Duvall

Grandpa Mareen was a Huguenot--a group of Protestant converts in France.  The Huguenots, highly skilled aristocrats, were a threat to the Catholic monarchy’s power.  Eventually the throne began persecuting the Huguenots, Spanish Inquisition-style.  

Mareen fled to England and then to Maryland.  He married another French immigrant and flourished in family and finances.  One of his daughters, Susannah, married Robert Tyler, the son of English immigrants.  

The Tyler tribe eventually moved to Kentucky, where they established a large tobacco plantation.  The farm remains intact today with the U.S. National Park as the “Tyler Settlement Rural Historic District.”  

http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/departments/environmentaled/blackacrehistory/histtylersettle.html

My grandfather Presley Tyler (1821-1866) later pioneered west to Corvallis, Oregon.  (He was one of several grandparents of mine to settle in the area.)  

So why share the story of my French grandfather Mareen Duvall?  Because today we visited his family castle in Laval, France.  His grandparents lived and died there and listed their occupations as ‘knight.’   

The castle didn’t disappoint. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laval,_Mayenne

Fun Fact:  In 1889, France issued a decree that descendants of Huguenots (that would be me...) who had fled the country could return for full citizenship.  This law remained in effect until 1945, when France worried that Huguenots who had intermarried with Germans might return.  Understandably, the French couldn’t stomach the possibility of any Nazis claiming citizenship immediately following German occupation during World War II. 

February 14th, Paris

TIME SHIFTING

Jet-lag has released its grip, but we still experience some odd time shifting here in France.

1.  Time to wake up.  Jim and I have switched waking cycles.  Throughout our thirty year marriage, he’s been the early bird and I’ve been the night owl.  We have flipped these roles in France.  I don’t know why, and it feels weird to eat my breakfast pain au chocolat before him. 

2.  Time for entertainment.  American TV and movies run delayed here.  In Laval, I watched an episode of ‘Bewitched’ dubbed in French--a surreal experience.  ‘Les Miserables’ opened yesterday in Paris, which we saw about a month ago in Salem.  We attempted to buy tickets, but ran into crowd, cultural and credit card complications.  (Our credit cards don’t have the necessary chip for the automated machines, and we had no idea what Madame Usher was yelling about line formation.)  We’ll try again soon.  We’re pretty sure that with the non-stop singing, the movie will be in English, which should help.  Plus we just saw the actual site of the Bastille.  

3.  Time for romance.  We considered visiting the Eiffel Tower today, Valentine’s Day, but decided that it would be redundant.  We’re already in Paris on Valentine’s Day--isn’t that enough?  Besides, Jim has no problem finding romance on any given day.  Consider our overnight stay in Laval:    

We didn’t have to check out of our room until noon.  Jim left for a short walk at 9:30 AM.  He told me there was some leftover red wine on the dresser if I wanted it, which I found odd because he knows I hate wine.  Plus it was, you know, 9:30 in the morning.  Soon after, I realized that Jim had taken our only key and dead-bolted me inside, leaving me with no way out from our second floor room.  (Fire codes aren’t the same in France!)  I had no clue how to call the front desk.  My husband had trapped me in a hotel room in France with a half bottle of Merlot and some peanut M &Ms.  Later Jim claimed he was making me a ‘kept’ French woman.  

I suspect that Jim has become more of a French man than I a French woman.  

Below Artist James got all artist-y with some of our photos, including one of our apartment's living room, plus some of the foods we make and eat 'at home.'  I'll include more of such photos soon.    

February 15th, Paris

WISING UP

This morning, at the base of Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre, we discovered creepers in full force.  We had our first encounter with the “friendship bracelet” scam.  Here’s how this one works--a guy approaches, asking if you’ll help with a demonstration.  He makes a friendship bracelet snug on your arm.  When he’s done, he asks you to pay for the bracelet.  Since you can’t easily remove it, you feel obliged to pay.  

When the scammer approached with yarn in hand and “Excuse me, excuse me...,” I had his number.  It took two firm ‘NO’s‘ to shoo him away.  Jim had no idea what was happening.  

He was too distracted by the nearby band of thugs.  These swarthy dudes pestered passing females, making remarks and rubbing hands up and down the women’s arms.  We left as quickly as possible.  

We just returned from Les Miserables.  Having done our reconnaissance work yesterday, we smugly sailed through the ticket process (we cheer ourselves over every small foreign victory), sitting down just as Jean Valjean yanked in the ship.  As suspected, the movie played in English with French subtitles.  I found myself following the written words. “Get down” translated as “To the dirt!”  “I’ll have your hide” became “You will die!”  The words chagrin, communion and confession work in both languages.

Here are some photos from our little Left Bank apartment.  I got a request to show what we eat ‘at home‘ so here are some shots of that, too. We generally eat out once per day for a big late lunch--usually chicken (me), beef (Jim) or salmon (either of us) with salad and veggies, and of course, bread.  This is France, after all.  See if you can figure out the control buttons on the French combination washer/dryer at the bottom.

   

February 16th, Paris

STRANGER STRATEGIES

After our scam and pick-pocket artist experiences, it might be tempting to become jaded with strangers here in Paris.  We try to stay smart but not paranoid, careful but open.  It’s a balancing act.  Here’s how we interact with the following types of people:

  1. SUBWAY MUSICIANS:  We love these musicians in the Paris metro.  For the most part, they’re quite talented.  They hop from car to car, which can be amusing if they haul a large bass.  Between songs, they solicit tips for their efforts.  The key is make no eye contact, otherwise you’re sure to be hit up for a tip.  Our strategy is to listen, enjoy, but not look--unless you’re willing to tip
  2. BEGGARS:  On our first day on the metro, I heard a loud plaintiff cry at the end of our car.  I didn’t understand the words to the woman’s call.  I glanced and caught the eye of a gypsy woman carrying a baby.  Moments later, while digging in my bag for a map, I sensed a glaring presence inches away.  I looked up; it was her.  She sorta freaked me out.  I think she assumed I was extracting money in response to her wail.  Fortunately Jim sat between us, and my ‘No’ sent her scurrying.  Normally the beggars aren’t so confrontational and I have much less issue with them than scam artists and thieves.  Usually I’ll offer them my change on the last day of a trip so I don’t have to carry a bunch of heavy coinage home, and they are more than happy to relieve me of it.  
  3. STORE CLERKS:  Always call out ‘Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur!’ upon entering any establishment.  And don’t touch any clothing or specialty food merchandise without permission.  In many ways, vendors consider their businesses as personal spaces.  Barging in without offering a greeting and poking the goods without license would be like a guest entering our homes without saying ‘hello’ and then foraging through our refrigerators.  (Flashback to countless teenagers taking up residence at our house in years past--but I adored them.)  Remember to say goodbye upon leaving, too.  
  4. WAITERS:  Start in French and stick with that unless they have mercy on you and switch the conversation to English.  Know words for delicacies (a.k.a., scary dishes) like raw hamburger, rabbit and tripe.  Remember that you have to ask for the bill or you’ll be there all night.  (They consider it rude to ‘hurry’ a customer like that.)  Don’t tip--your tip is already automatically included in the bill, and most Parisians never tip.  (This one was hard for me as a former waitress.)
  5. THE BEWILDERED:  Back at home, the lost and confused regularly ask Jim for directions, usually when he’s with me.  Either he appears safe as a married middle-aged man, or people sense his kind and helpful nature.  Whatever it is, the phenomena follows us in Paris.  We’re careful to stop for benign-looking people and maintain a secure physical distance from them.  “How do I get to the Moulon Rouge? they ask. “Is there a time limit for how long you can stay up here on the Eiffel Tower?”  Usually Jim doesn’t know the answer, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying to help.  I’ve seen him offer his only map.  Japanese women regularly solicit me for directions; they speak English better than French, and I’m even less intimidating as a fellow female.
  6. PHOTOGRAPHERS:  Couples often ask us to take their photos.  We look old enough to be non-threatening, but young enough to know how to operate the average camera.  I usually ask for a photo in return.  Today’s photo-seeking couples hailed from Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and ‘Dali.’  I asked where Dali was, but their English proved insufficient for such advanced conversation.  

 

February 17th, Paris

HOUSEGUEST

Most evening while I journal, Artist James organizes his photos or roams Parisian streets with a camera in search of inspiration.  Our ‘Colors of Italy’ gallery show paid for an Italian journey a couple of years ago.  We hope for a repeat with an eventual ‘Colors of France’ show.

Tonight, however, we prepare for the arrival of Annie, who joins us this final week in France.  We feather our Left Bank nest with pain au chocolat, hot showers, warm beds and Diet Coke in anticipation of our girl.  We can’t wait to get her here. 

February 18th, Paris

It’s 4 PM, Annie’s here, all is well.  She naps in our bedroom now; her fog of jet-lag had drifted in during our lunch out together.  (Sitting invites jet-leg, so I was hardly surprised.)  Jim naps on Annie’s single bed in our little living room.  I think that the stress of worrying about getting his baby girl here wore this daddy out.  

This morning, Jim stood in front of our apartment waiting for Annie’s airport cab to arrive.  Annie’s driver spoke no English but he understood when she pointed out Jim on the sidewalk and cried, “Mi Papa!”  From our balcony, I snapped a photo of Jim and Annie in the street as the cab drove away.  

I’m thrilled for Jim to have another human subject for his photos besides me.  And I now get to translate menus and order meals for three people instead of two.  

I do love having more than one person around who speaks English fluently.  No longer will Jim and I have whispered English conversations in restaurants.  (When we kept our maps and guidebooks out of sight, the French weren’t certain of our nationality.)  

Now we’re a fully-outed American trio.  We’re capable of so much trouble together.

February 19th, Paris

HOW JIM AND ANNIE SHUT DOWN THE PARIS METRO 

Annie and Jim left for the Orangerie Museum a couple of hours ago.  I’m enjoying a quiet domestic morning on my own.  Before Annie arrived, we spent a considerable amount of time at the Orangerie and other art museums, but there can never be too much for Artist James.  Our roles as museum slugs have morphed into tour guide/host with the addition of our daughter.  

How fun it is to have (relative) confidence in the workings of Paris’ metro and sites to escort Annie around with ease.  Her time here will be well-spent.  And we are happy to do this since we had sufficient opportunity to cover what we wanted in depth during our first two weeks in France. 

Later...

This afternoon we took Annie to the Eiffel Tower.  As we transferred metro lines, we encountered a woman struggling to pull a baby stroller up some stairs (metros are hardly stroller or handicap-friendly).  Annie and Jim rushed to assist the woman, eliciting several grateful ‘mercis.’

Down a tunnel and ‘round a bend, we hopped on a metro car just before its doors shut.  We heard a scream, and looked around to see our stroller woman.  My first response was surprise that she’d made it in time.  Then to my horror, I saw that her stroller was caught halfway through the metro car door.  Her baby was in that stroller with Mom stuck out on the platform.  Our metro car doors wouldn’t unleash their grip from the baby carriage. 

I pictured the metro starting again with baby and stroller still squeezed in the door.  I looked down our car in hopes of flagging a conductor.  Annie searched for an emergency pull.  Several men in the car jumped up, pried open the car doors, and pulled the woman and stroller inside to safety.  Vive la France.  

The woman was visibly shaken but okay.  Riders buzzed over a tragedy barely averted.

The train resumed rolling.  We exited our metro car at the Trocadero stop, as did stroller lady and baby.  Suddenly stroller lady bolted down the platform where she grabbed a woman in green pants.  She began screaming at and shoving green-pants woman.  A man tried placing himself between the two women, but a cat-fight ensued nonetheless.    

The altercation occurred within sight of the conductor, and he kept the train at a stand-still, perhaps fearing that one of the women might push the other in front of the train.  

Soon security guards stormed past us to the battling women.  We don’t know exactly why stroller lady had it in for green-pants lady, but our guess is that she somehow cut off stroller lady at the subway door, causing the entrapment. 

Several minutes passed with the train remaining at a halt.  Normally metro stops last no longer than 30 seconds, but now the entire #6 subway line was getting backed up throughout Paris.  Riders exited the train cars in puzzlement over the delay, watching in fascination at the continuing French-lady wrestling match down the platform.  

We’d walked a few yards upstream to a safe distance from the action, but still close enough to observe.  Annie and I doubted these women had any weapons beyond their fighting words and fists (we are in Paris, not New York.)  Fellow English-speakers heard us and asked what had happened.  Annie was happy to offer a report.  

Jim, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to get away.  Eventually, he dragged us from the drama out onto Trocadero Plaza.  (This is the viewpoint where Hitler surveyed the Eiffel Tower in a newly conquered Paris.)  Jim then ventured off to take photos. 

Annie and I hung back as two policemen sprinted towards the metro.  I yelled for Jim, but my call caused one of the policemen to turn and stare at me for a second.  (Remember that ‘Jim’ sounds like ‘I love you’ in French; a confusing response in this situation.  Or he might have stopped at Annie’s call of ‘Dad, Dad!’ which I suppose sounds like ‘dead, dead!’  Also unsettling.)

Annie and I waited a little longer to see if stroller mom or green-pants lady might emerge from the metro in handcuffs, but no such luck.  The police came out alone.  Annie and I went off to find Jim, but he had disappeared.  

Annie hunted for Jim while I held sentry in the middle of Trocadero Plaza with a multitude of scammers milling about.  I put on my best ‘Don’t mess with me’ face, but one guy still approached with the ‘friendship bracelet’ scheme.  I was hardly in the mood for this.  I said ‘no’ twice, but this didn’t stop my scammer, who continued moving towards me.  As he closed within a yard, I snapped a loud ‘NO!’ to which he replied in unaccented English, “Oh, my gosh!”  He was quite irritated with me.  

Seriously.  Really, Dude?

Eventually we located Jim down the hill, across the Seine and under the Eiffel Tower.  We caught our ticket-entry time, just barely, and the elevators whisked us to the summit. 

Annie and Jim decided that had it not been for their help up the stairs, stroller woman would never have reached our train in time to get snagged in the door.  Because of this, they take credit for indirectly bringing a major Parisian metro line to a halt for over twenty minutes today. 

Feel free to make your own judgements here.

Tonight we pack for the Normandy beaches.  It's time to witness a whole different sort of conflict on French soil. 

February 20th, Bayeux, France 

Tonight we bunk in the Normandy town of Bayeux.  Our train ride proved uneventful; we experienced no fights or fires on board, anyway.

Bayeux sits just six miles from the World War II beach landings.  On June 7th, 1944 (D-Day plus one) the people of Bayeux rejoiced as the Allies liberated the town.  Theirs was the first French city to see freedom return. 

A local chaplain had contacted authorities in London to assure them that Bayeux contained no significant German forces.  The Allies canceled their planned bombing raid, sparing the town and its ancient treasures.   

We just visited Bayeux’s thousand-year-old tapestry, one of those musty artifacts you feel obligated to see, but end up loving.  Picture a 70-yard long embroidered cloth cartoon, vibrant in color and maintained in remarkable condition.  It illustrates the story of William the Conquerer’s Battle of Hastings with a sense of humor (unintended or not) and we giggled more than once.  Jim said that the tapestry reminded him of Calvin and Hobbes.  

Afterward we toured Bayeux’s 11th-century cathedral--older, bigger and arguably better than Notre Dame.  We had it nearly to ourselves.  

Besides the sites, the town is just plain adorable.  The aged architecture looks almost too cute to be real.  Cars stop for pedestrians.  They accommodate the elderly and disabled here, and I’ve yet to spot a scammer.  

Annie commented that the people of Bayeux are more “American-sized” (i.e., bigger), wear brighter colors, and speak more animatedly over meals than those in Paris  They're eager to practice their English chit-chat skills and proudly hang American flags.  In general, they seem like they’re having lots of fun, Annie decided.  

We feel more relaxed in this quiet, safe and small town.  I love Paris, but faced with a choice, I think I’d rather live here.

This morning:

Last night Annie napped at 7 PM.  When she awoke at 8:15 PM, she thought it was the next day and was puzzled why we weren't more rushed for today's D-Day tour.  Such is jet-lag.  

  

February 21st, D-Day beaches, France

As with many aspects of this trip, we did our homework.  Preparation for this part of the journey included watching “Band of Brothers” (again) and “The Longest Day” and reading some World War II autobiographies.  We were ready for the invasion.  

We booked a full-day guided tour, a splurge which paid for itself in terms of time and content.  Bridgette, a kind middle-aged French lady, showed us places we’d never have seen on our own, including several obscure Band of Brothers locations.  We had a meaningful jam-packed day of history.  

http://www.overlordtour.com/overlordtour-tour-3.html

Omaha Beach reminded us of Oregon.  I tried visualizing the bloody carnage of 1944 in the wide coastline before me.  I hunched down and felt the sand, running my fingers through some consecrated grains.  We hesitated on this hallowed ground, temporarily forgetting the freezing February winds.  

Our van pulled into the empty parking lot of the American Cemetery.  We out-numbered the security team at the museum entrance.  The cemetery itself resembles Arlington National in Washington, D.C., which makes sense when you realize that the same staff operates both places.  France granted the cemetery land to the United States, and it’s now officially American soil, “in perpetuity.”  Our country had already paid the price, you could say.

We walked the rows of white marble headstones and read the inscriptions:  name, date of death, state origin, rank and division.  We were struck by the number of crosses with dates following D-Day.  Despite the many losses on June 6th, the vast majority of deaths occurred in the days after.  

Following morning:

We’re back in Paris at our apartment.  Annie and Jim re-visit the Orsay and Louvre without me.  I rest here quietly and happily with the family laundry and dishes and my books and writing.  I also need some recovery time to process and absorb yesterday’s tour.  Mostly I feel awe and gratitude.  And proudly American.  

February 22nd, Paris

Funny how our roles have translated from home to France.  They’re not so very different:

Jim--protector, provider and interpersonal stress avoider.  Jim constantly frets over the safety and well-being of his women.  He delivers every euro.  Yesterday, he returned traumatized and empty-handed from a mission to purchase a tomato from the mini-mart across the street. 

Jean--planner, spokesperson and domestic.  Neither Jim nor Annie know (or care to know) the day’s plan beforehand.  They assume tickets will be purchased, reservations made and routes mapped.  I cover the stranger-talk and apartment management.  We’ve been here so long that I have to care for the plants.

Annie--youthful energy, positive force and free-spirit.  Annie overpowered jet-lag in a single day.  Last night, after long museum visits, Annie met up with an old French friend who’d attended Oregon State with her years ago; they hung out for hours.  Annie worries over nothing and rolls with Parisian punches.  She’s up for nearly anything.  

February 23rd, Paris

Our day started with snow flurries and 28*F, an e-mail indicating cell phone over-charges (possible accidental Parisian roaming?) and bewilderment over suburban train tickets.  

I wondered if we dare leave the apartment.  

We toured Versailles, a site that Annie unsuccessfully attempted to see a few years ago with some Segovia, Spain school-mates.  (This being the infamous trip where four cash-strapped girls slept on a double bed together--sideways.)

Versailles didn’t disappoint.  We got merrily lost in Marie Antoinette’s grounds and maze of houses.  Annie describes Marie’s “domain” as a cross between a doll-house and Disneyland.  Jim says he better understands how poverty-stricken revolutionaries might have grown resentful at the opulence. 

Crowds were sparse.  Instead of massive Japanese tour groups led by women with head-sets, we encountered adorable school children on field trips.

Our official Versailles map had keys for locations like bathrooms, tickets, wheel-chair ramps, and macaroons.  This is France.

The new Starbucks across from Versailles’ train station has high fluency in American coffee customs:  They are the first to understand “skinny.”  I ordered in French and gave the barista my name.  He responded in French, “Enchanted to meet you, Jeanne!  MY name is Pierre!”

We adapt here, too.  Last night I scanned a book about Medieval tapestry as bedtime reading.  I’ve figured out the correct pronunciation for important terms like ‘raspberry tart.’  Jim has bonded with the Tunisian clerk at the produce market down the street.  Our neighborhood baker says “See you tomorrow!” when we leave.

Tonight Annie sent us on a romantic dinner alone.  I ordered scallops with fois gras (goose liver) infusion and Jim ordered squab, better known as pigeon.  Normally Jim won’t eat chicken on the bone.  This evening he gnawed off bits of meat from tiny pigeon legs.  Annie had requested we bring her back some leftovers from dinner (nobody does that here) and I briefly considered smuggling a pigeon drumstick in a piece of French bread.  

As we exited the restaurant, the owner handed me a long-stemmed rose.  “For you,” he said.  As Jim passed, he said, “Nothing for you!”  We all laughed.  And then Jim and I strolled the two blocks back to our little apartment while scattered snow flakes floated down upon us. 

February 24th, Paris

We’ve witnessed our last sunset in Paris.  Time to pack.

Au revoir, France!  See you soon, Salem!