Paris Delights

Paris Delights

Now here’s what I love about Paris and why it has a reputation as a romantic city: there are so many pleasurable surprises – even when you’ve lived here as long as I have and that’s a good long time. I knew that master chocolate maker and 9-star chef Alain Ducasse had a chocolate “manufacture” place built on the site of a Renault garage near the Bastille but today I literally stumbled upon it as I took my almost daily walk. This is a place where high quality chocolate is sold but also where it is made. Fascinating! The chocolate, being of extremely high quality, is expensive but you can buy a bar at a reasonable price. I abstained – today. I continued my walk and was amused to see, in front of the top pastry shop Le Nôtre, four giant macaroons. People – including me – were practically pasted to the display windows oohing and aahing over the exquisite desserts and hors d’oeuvres. They say that pastry is an art form and nowhere is that more true than in France where top chefs create desserts that are both wonderful to look at and wonderful to eat, light AND tasty. After an eyeful of chocolate and desserts, I sat down in a café and did what I always do: drink a tiny espresso and watch the people. That’s the delight of Paris.

 

Un Joyeux Noël chez les Rocheforts

Pictures top row: Tiny but pretty Peruvian crèche, our dinner menu, one for each guest with place card.

Pictures bottom row, The Christmas table and Harriet and Philippe posing in front of it.

Christmas Eve chez les Rocheforts. I was in charge of the turkey, wild rice, sweet potatoes, cheese plate etc. Philippe took care of the aperitif, drinks, foie gras, accompanying wines and everything else including making the place cards and the menu. I forgot to suggest that we name the cheeses on the menu but here they are:  a Mont d’Or from the mountainous Jura region, a Soumaintrain (from Burgundy), a Montbrison (a mild blue from Auvergne), a chèvre, a Swiss Emmenthal and for variety, a Shropshire (bleu cheese with a startling yellow colour, from the U.K. ). In case you didn’t know, I have a real passion for cheese and always try to introduce ones that even my French family aren’t acquainted with.

My brother-in-law brought and opened the delicious oysters, the Marseilles family offered us beautiful roses in a rare colour (pale coral-pale pink and the grandchildren pitched in to help me set the table and serve. Santa did not appear this year because the youngest grandchildren – the believers – were elsewhere. We regretted their absence – it’s always such fun to watch my oyster-toting brother-in-law sneak out of the room and return in his Santa suit.  (He’s a man of many talents).  

Right before Christmas, I realised my last year’s Peruvian crèche was on the missing list so I hurriedly crossed town on the metro in search of new figurines which I found at the Boutique d’Amérique Latine. My daughter-in-law brought me some moss to set them in.  A lovely Christmas!

Photo:  A London street with its Christmas decorations.

A Little Pre-Christmas  Jaunt to London 

A recent trip to London with a friend:   I hadn’t been in way too long and had forgotten how easy it is via EuroStar. The weather was cold and snowy, then cold and rainy but that didn’t dampen (literally) our enthusiasm. We feasted on tea and scones (with, of COURSE, clotted cream) at Whittard’s in Covent Garden, checked out the fabulous display of food and drink at Fortnum and Mason (horrendously expensive but you can still find a few reasonably priced gifts), paid our respects to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I sought refuge from the cold at Westminster Abbey which never ceases to enthrall me. Christmas is a wonderful time to be in London, with all the tastefully decorated Christmas trees and lighted streets. 

For some reason I feel quite English when in England – maybe because my ancestry is more than 80 per cent English. One thing I love when in England is…speaking English!  I don’t have to make the extra effort to speak French and no one asks me “where are you from?” or remarks on my “lovely accent”.  Let me see: what else do I like? I love tea time, I adore English parks, I admire the courtesy of the English and most of all, since I live in Paris, I love the streets of the city which are used ONLY by pedestrians. I am so used to dodging bikes, motorcycles, scooters, Sedgways and other motorised vehicles on Paris sidewalks that ambling without fear and trepidation came as a shock!

As I walked around London, I couldn’t help but wonder how Brexit happened and what will happen now. But that’s another story….

Photo above:  Window display at Fortnum and Mason’s in London

Hackers

To my readers: I am sorry I have not posted since the month of May.  Writing a book, which is what I am engaged in, requires an enormous amount of concentration. (The picture shows me and my manuscript in my favourite café.) I hope to finish my opus soon and start blogging again.  You will automatically receive my posts as usual.

My Joie de Vivre website wages a continuing battle with hackers and spammers. I’ve put up safeguards and hope they’ll continue to work.  If you try to log in to the site and are refused, it’s because from time to time I select certain hours of the day to deny access. Let’s hope this will be a temporary situation.

In the meantime, if you’re on Facebook, you can read my prose and see my photos simply by typing in my name.

Best regards from Paris and hope to be back on the site before long.

 

Harriet

 

Apology!

In my most recent post below on the “invisible French”, I added a link which some of my readers have told me doesn’t work.  As it’s quite complicated to rectify this on the post, I would suggest those who are interested in finding the article to google it with the following information: “Abandoned and voting for Le Pen” by Edouard Louis, International New York Times, May 5,  2017.  My apologies, and hope you’ll enjoy my article in spite of this technical glitch.

Link

The French “invisibles” vote for Le Pen

In case you are, legitimately, wondering who is voting for French extreme right leader Marine Le Pen,  take the time to read the following article https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/opinion/sunday/why-my-father-votes-for-marine-le-pen.html?_r=0    by Edouard Louis, a brilliant young man who grew up in a very poor household 100 kilometres north of Paris.  In his village, there are no historical monuments, no fancy cafés with terraces filled with tourists and svelte Parisians, no theaters or movie houses showing foreign films.  Oh, there had been a flurry of activity 40 years ago or so “when everyone worked for the same factory” but by the 1990s it had shut down and most people were on welfare. Feeling deserted by the French Left,  voters flocked to the other side, the extreme right National Front led by a self-appointed champion of “the little people”,  Marine Le Pen.

Does the story sound familiar?  Big people or entire parties in power ignoring, or worse, debasing the little people, the invisible ones?   Remember Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” remark?  That was the end of her for two reasons: l) that she said it but 2) that she THOUGHT it. The invisibles pick up on things like that, you see.  They may be down, they may be low, they may be poor but they have feelings like every one else and like everyone else, they seek their place in the world.

Enter Marine.  She’s had a make over, distancing herself from her violent, openly anti-Semitic father.  She now promotes herself as a smiling, blond, smart, feminist mother and politician who is interested in all these people no one else talks to or about.  She’s the only politician who offers solutions.   Simple ones like: close the borders so all those foreigners can’t come in and the jobs will be for you!  Get rid of the euro and you’ll have more buying power.  France for the French!

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is.  The Democrats cried bitter tears when Hillary lost. I’ve had young women tell me that it’s because people are misogynists.  Perhaps. But maybe it’s  because a big hunk of the people who might have voted Democrat were insulted by her remark about “deplorables” which reinforced their perception of her as a too-smart graduate of an elite East Coast women’s college, someone who’s “above” them and to whom they do not relate in any way – especially since she didn’t spend a lot of time with them.   Same thing in France where the Socialist Party spent more time on in-fighting (who’s most to the Left? who’s betrayed the Party by moving toward the Right?) than on getting down to the nitty gritty and helping the people who need it most.

Edouard Louis doesn’t see or talk to his father much these days.  He was the first in his family to leave home.  He studied philosophy at one of France’s most prestigious universities and has published a novel. (The publisher turned down his first novel in which he described the poverty and exclusion he had grown up in by saying that poverty like that hadn’t existed in France for more than a century!).  He is a homosexual and this is the cause of much of the tension and unhappiness between him and his father. Edouard says that his father looked forward to the day he could boot out the Arabs and the Jews and liked to say that “gay people deserved the death penalty-looking sternly at me, who already in primary school was attracted to other boys on the playground.”

But Edouard also writes that beyond this,  he now realises  his father had understood long before he had that “our existence didn’t count and wasn’t real.” The elections gave him a chance to “fight his sense of invisibility”,   Terrible words, when you think about them.

We can thank Edouard for giving us a glimpse into a French life that most of us will never see. For it’s not one life, it’s the life of many.

We should be kind enough to feel compassion for the downtrodden and our leaders should be astute enough to include, instead of reject, them if not for reasons of the heart, for practical ones.  The day there are enough of them -and that day may come sooner than anyone would wish – they’ll elect a Marine Le Pen or someone like her who is filled with false promises and will lead us all down a road we don’t want to be on.

Go, Macron!

Just posted this on Facebook today and got a huge and positive response so am re-posting here for the readers of my blog.

No sooner had Emmanuel Macron won the first round in the French presidential elections than he was criticized for inviting friends and followers to celebrate at La Rotonde, a well-known brasserie in Montparnasse. Some ill-wishers compared the outing to Sarkozy’s victory dinner at Le Fouquets on the Champs Elysées. Difference number one: Le Fouquets smacks of nouveau riche and La Rotonde does not. Difference number two: Macron invited his secretaries, bodyguards, chauffeurs and staff. And while we’re on the subject, many, especially on the left, cannot swallow the fact that Macron worked at the Banque Rothschild. I say “YAY” and (gasp) isn’t it unusual and wonderful that a French (or almost any) politician actually worked in the real world? (But then, I’m unusual – I don’t have an automatic hatred of bankers since my husband was one and is a perfectly normal decent person). And while I’m on this rant, I am sick and tired of people who are jealous of other people who WORK for MONEY and sometimes even make a lot of it. In France, money, not sex, is the big problem and if Macron wins, which I hope he will, we’ll be getting this Rothschild Bank stuff poured down our throats for five years. But I’m not worried about Macron who is at his best when attacked. He told the reporter who brought up the Fouquets comparison that he had no lessons to receive from “le petit milieu” (the Parisian microcosm) and if he didn’t understand that the evening was a moment of joy to share with family and friends and helpers, he “didn’t understand anything about life”. Go, Macron!

French elections: voters reject the mainstream political parties

After months of suspense, the French flocked to the polls yesterday to vote in the first round of the French presidential elections.

The result was surprising, even  “revolutionary”.   Neither of the winners came from the two major political parties, Les Républicains on the Right, and the Socialist Party on the Left.

Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the Socialist government who resigned to found his own party “En Marche”  (“Forward”) has never held an elective office. He was barely known yet only a year after founding his movement, he won the first round with 23.86%, garnering the support of voters from both sides of the political spectrum.

Marine Le Pen,        the leader of the nationalistic and xenophobic far right National Front who scored 21.43%, is an old hand at politics. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, also came in second place in the first round of voting in the 2002 elections.

The surprise of the election was the fate of the candidates representing the major traditional parties.    Former Prime Minister François Fillon, the candidate for Les Républicains, came in third with 19.94%,  largely due to a financial scandal that brought him down.  The Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, who led a rebellion within his own Party which he felt was abandoning its leftist principles, took a beating with only 6.35 %, the lowest score that the Socialist Party has had since 1969.

Macron is young (39), intelligent and dynamic. He is pro-European. He wants to do complicated things like retaining France’s social protection while making it easier for people to start (or keep) businesses.  Many criticise him because he worked for the Banque Rothschild but in my opinion that’s an advantage. At least, unlike the great majority of French politicians who have never held a job outside politics, he has a knowledge of the real world.  A disadvantage is that no one knows how or with whom he will govern at this point.   Imagine an American election in which both the Democrats and Republicans are defeated!

Party leaders on both the right and left have called for supporters of losing candidates to bar the far right victory of Marine Le Pen by voting Macron.  Polls show Macron leading for the moment.  However, as Brexit and Trump have showed us, nothing is certain.

We are of course hoping the polls are right and are getting out the champagne to celebrate Macron’s victory and the greatly needed breath of fresh air and optimism he’ll bring to a dispirited France.

Vive la République, vive la France!

 

 

 

 

Changing France

 

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by visiting tourists and student groups is:  “Has France changed?” and if so, “how?”

Since France is people by the French, it’s fairly obvious that you can’t address the question of whether France is changing without addressing the question of whether the French are changing. The late writer-diplomat Alain Peyrefitte in his book C’était de Gaulle quoted the general as saying that the French “have not changed since Julius Caesar described them.  Their strengths are bravery, generosity, unselfishness, impetuosity, curiosity, creativity, the gift they have to adjust to extreme situations. Their weaknesses are a clannic spirit, mutual intolerance, brusque anger, internecine quarrels, the jealousy they feel for the advantages that the others have.”

General de Gaulle is no longer here but I would venture to say that his description of the French character still holds true.  Yet, since his time, the world has become truly globalized – and many of the French have as well.

Many young French people now flock to London or the Silicon Valley or Sweden or Japan to pursue their studies and some even end up making their lives outside of France.  Others return to France. All speak very good English.  That was certainly not the case in de Gaulle’s time.

The American influence is all over Paris. Who ever would have thought the French would see food trucks on their streets? But they are there and everyone loves them.  In traditional boulangeries,  brownies comfortably nestle among the éclairs and millefeuilles.  In French restaurants you’ll have no problem ordering a hamburger (pronounced hahm bourg air) or cheeseburger (see picture above).

Some of the changes are welcome.   The French are no longer universally rude, although the stereotype of that famous trait continues relentlessly.  Just the other day, Pamela Druckerman wrote a column in The New York Times about taking French nationality. She remarked that a friend asked her “if she felt herself getting more and more rude.”  I think it’s a great laugh line but am a bit worried about her friend and all those people who remain convinced that the French are, above all other things, rude.  If you turned that comment around, it would be a bit like asking someone who had taken U.S. citizenship “if she felt herself getting fatter and fatter or louder and louder.”, Ouch.

So, obviously, for some people, the French are still rude, while others find them friendlier and friendlier.  It’s true, as I tell my students, that the French are sticklers for form and resent those who omit the proper ones. For example,  if you walk up to a Frenchman while in Paris and ask him directions in English and without even saying “Bonjour“, you can bet he’ll be rude.  In France, you preface requests and conversations with a “”Bonjour, Monsieur” or “Bonjour, Madame“.  It simply means that the person is worthy of of respect and a human being  (kind of our equivalent of “have a nice day”).

To continue the list of changes, the French brush their teeth more, wear deodorant more, are less rude, speak more English.  That’s the good side.  They also are packing on the pounds due to the change in their diet which comes from our American influence.  (Sorry).   French kids used to eat bread for breakfast, now they consumer sugary cereals.  Go to a grocery store and you’ll see a tremendous variety of snack foods and fizzy sugary soft drinks you never would have seen before.  You also see people eating sandwiches in the metro.

At the same time, and you might call this the French paradox, the interest in “bio” or organic foods has progressed by leaps and bounds and people are focusing more on vegetables and light food than heavy meat-based stews.  Still, when I see ads for industrial sugar products on the tube with the warning message under it admonishing us all  to “eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day” I see that the French have bought into the same mixed message we have in the States.  (But that, I fear, is  a worldwide phenomenon).

What remains that is really, really French?  Several times during the week, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes at mid-day,  I see groups of children, sometimes as young as 3 years old, walking, two by two, in an orderly line, accompanied by adults.  They are being taken to some activity, maybe the pool, maybe a film, maybe a museum.  When they get to that museum, they don’t move or talk while the guide explains a work of art to them.  That behavior has always fascinated me, as has the French childrens’ attitude to food.  They eat – or try – everything.  My grandchildren, from the time they could eat solids, have dug into (and dug) everything from smelly camembert and Roquefort to mussels.  Why? There’s no concept of “food for children” and “food for adults”.  It’s food for everyone! That’s one thing that I hope will NOT change in changing France.

I’ve some  photos to illustrate my various points.  One is of an urinoir or “pissoir”, which still, unbelievably, exists in some cafés.  They are going the way of the dodo – but not yet.  To me, it’s so macho because you have to make your way past the guy who’s peeing to get to the toilet for women.  Beurkh.  The other photo is of a sign in a café telling clients they are expected to renew their drinks order every two hours. This is aimed at all the people who remain in a café all day long sipping on one cup of coffee. Well, up until now that’s what people do in cafés!  Seems to be changing and that would be too bad for the number of cafés has already plummeted drastically and a lot of people like this writer depend on cafés not just for the drinks but for the conviviality.

But as I said, the French paradox reigns.  Some of the French may be snacking while others stick to the traditional two main meal a day scheme.  Some may feast on cheeseburgers and sandwiches while others prefer a good boeuf bourguignon.  When I mentioned to a traditional French grandmother that her grandchildren could, from time to time, eat a sandwich without it killing them, she looked at me with horreur:    “Mais ce n’est pas de la nourriture!” (But a sandwich isn’t food!”) she exclaimed.

So there you have it. France is changing but not for everyone and not all the time and not everywhere.  A complicated answer, perhaps, but the French are complicated.
And that, I assure you, will never change.

 

An historic American home – mine

 

In today’s Joie de Vivre post, I’ll be talking not about France, but about America, and the joie de vivre  I experienced growing up in an historic home n Shenandoah, Iowa.   Built in 1895, it was and is beautiful and spacious, elegant on the outside with a wraparound enclosed porch and a turret, and on the inside with thick oak doors, a highly polished wooden staircase with newel post, stained glass windows and two living rooms, one upstairs, one downstairs, both with fireplaces.

I associate the house with my “roots”:  I am the sixth generation of the Welty family in Shenandoah which began with Samuel Welty in 1855.  Most of our family lived on farms outside Shenandoah and my father was the first to buy a home “in town”.  When he bought it in 1948 from the original owner, I was 3.  I thought it was a family myth but my sister recently confirmed that the place was so big that on moving day I got lost!

The house was the center of my universe.  In fact, as I started thinking about our home on Center Street, I realised that I lived in the center of the country on Center Street, attended Central School (now unfortunately torn down), married a Frenchman who attended “Ecole Centrale” (also Central School) and whose family hailed from the Massif Central in the center of France.  Plus,  the house was central to my love of architecture and old homes and support of preservation efforts everywhere in the world.

Recently  “our” home, which I lived in until the age of  23, was  featured in our local newspaper,  and I was thrilled to see that the present owners have kept it up beautifully.  You’ll find a written description of the house’s amenities in the well-written account of it in the Valley News.  http://www.valleynewstoday.com/news/historic-homes-ron-and-kris-larock/article_b259a6e4-faad-11e6-ad7e-b73969b064fb.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

I have visited Shenandoah several times and have always gone to see the house – from the outside.  Sometimes friends are surprised when I say that I never wish to go inside and that even if I were invited, I would not.  Why?  A house like that has a spirit of its own.  It warmly wraps a family inside it.  I will leave it to the present owners to enjoy their turn as custodians of this very special place.

Even today, even after having lived in France for more years than I lived in the States, I can and often do take a mental tour of it, traveling from room to room.  I remember the wallpaper in many of the rooms, the smell of the cedar closet off the upstairs living room,  my cozy  bedroom under the eaves, our family’s sit down dinners around the table in the dining room (where there was even a bell for servants in the floor under the table – no servants, though), the creepy basement and scary attic, the gatherings of friends around the grand piano, nights chatting lazily with friends on the front porch.

The house is no longer “mine” but I carry its beauty and  warmth wherever I go.