Paris notions

Paris notions

What do a gas station and a notions shop, both in Paris, have in common? There are hardly any of them left! On a recent stroll, I saw, and snapped a picture of, a gas station, thinking it would be nice to have a trace of this part of the Parisian scene which is fast becoming a relic. Why?  There are only one hundred or so gas stations in Paris now! On a different walk on a different day, while accompanying a friend who sews and knits (I do neither, unfortunately) to a “mercerie” (French word for notions shop)I took pictures of another fast disappearing “service”.  This particular notions shop was  located inside a charming courtyard on the Francs-Bourgeois in the trendy Marais.  There used to be hundreds of these little stores all over France. In small villages, they were often tended by a lone woman with a cat to keep her company. In them, you find needles and thread, buttons and ribbons and zippers and bolts of material.  The upscale store in the Marais, my friend told me, is one of the few that remain in Paris. You can still find them though.   Should you find yourself in need of pretty French ribbons or bows, here’s a link to the 84 notions shops  in Paris, classified by neighbourhood:  https://www.yelp.fr/search…

Un hamburger, s’il vous plaît and no phone – pas de téléphone!

The other day I was in a Parisian restaurant with a longtime friend. We were having a good time and laughing, notably over the fact that we were eating hamburgers. They’re all the rage now in Paris, but we old-timers who have lived here for more than four decades remember when the French didn’t even know what a hamburger was, let alone make or eat them.

In my first book, French Toast, I describe making a hamburger for my traditional French father-in-law back in the 70s. It was a fun idea, but difficult.  In those olden days, there were no hamburger buns so the village baker consented to make a batch especially for me (after I had shown him a picture).   Neither of my in-laws had ever eaten a hamburger.  My belle-mère was intrigued – and my beau-père was horrified, mainly at the idea that you would eat that huge concoction with all its overlapping layers and sauces with your HANDS.  (As a matter of fact, still today, you see French people daintily eating those monsters with knives and forks).

Well, times have certainly changed in France. And not just hamburgers.  In the past, French people looked at each other while they ate. They had animated conversations – or romantic ones. They looked into each other’s eyes.  Now they are more likely to search their iPhone for their mail. They even (but less than Americans, I would say) take pictures of their food to post on Facebook or one of the other social media sites to show to their “followers”.

Mon Dieu !

We did indeed ask the waiter to take a couple of pictures of us with our hamburgers but I didn’t post them on Facebook on purpose. Why?  After watching people (of all nationalities)  in restaurants who superbly ignore their companion (s) while engaging with their phones, I made the firm decision not to follow their (bad) example.

I have decided to be more “in the moment”.  When I’m dining, in a restaurant, whether with a friend or family member, I want to concentrate on our conversation, on looking around me, on savoring the food, the ambiance.  On being where I am.  I want to de-connect my gadgets and re-connect with the food I’m relishing and the person who is with me.  No phone calls while I dine, no looking at email, no searching on Google.

Et voilà!  Un hamburger sans teléphone!

 

Sunday lunch – le déjeuner de dimanche

Le déjeuner de dimanche

Sunday lunch,  January 7 chez nous –  or “are we really eating all this holiday food again?”. Answer: yes. David, our writer son, and his family couldn’t make it for Christmas so we made up for it  with a late celebration and a sighting of Santa Claus (who made a special trip from the North Pole bearing loads of gifts.)

The picture above is of the  table with no one at it and before it became a total mess. On the menu: foie gras accompanied by Loupiac (sweet white wine, delicious), a tender pork fillet (filet mignon de port) and gratin dauphinois accompanied by a nice bottle of Julienas, a cheese plate with Munster and Reblochon and a galette des Rois.

The fellow in the background is a (formerly painted) wooden 16th century statue of Saint Anthony of Egypt. I remember the first time I saw this saint at my in-law’s apartment in Paris.To say I was intrigued is an understatement.  I don’t know much about saints and didn’t know which St. Anthony it was, and the first thing I learned about him was who he was not.

“Our” saint is not  St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost items.  He was born in Egypt in about 213 A.D., spent his entire life engaged in a struggle with the Devil and was the founder of Christian monasticism. His popularity reached its height in the Middle Ages; the black-robed Order of Hospitallers in Grenoble (France)  were a familiar sight as they went around collecting alms and were known by their bells and their pigs, which were given a special privilege to run free in the streets. You can’t see it in the photo but there is indeed a bell – and a pig at St. Anthony’s feet.

After Philippe’s parents died, we inherited the saint and he has been in our place ever since. I can’t even imagine what it was like when he wasn’t here. One day, though, I decided he looked sad. Then it occurred to me that when he was hanging on the walls of a church people looked at him from below. So I got down on my knees to see what they saw. His expression was totally different – contemplative but certainly not so sad!

Christian Dior, un talent extraordinaire

Christian Dior, un talent extraordinaire

On the windy, sunny last day of 2017 a friend and I attended the Dior retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

It was without a doubt one of the best museum displays I have seen in a long time: informative, complete, well-explained and….magical!

Dior was more than a designer: he was a visionary, an architect, a lover of nature.  His creations,  in the words of Yves Saint Laurent, captured ” post-war insouciance, discreet luxury and stunning beauty.”

As I traveled through the well-appointed exhibition, I found myself gasping at the attention to the cut, the detail, the colour and the combination of conservatism and frivolity.  The creations vary, depending on the designer – first Dior, then Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and currently, Maria Grazia Chiuri.  They imprint their own originality but all adhere to the love of and strict standards of haute couture.

Perhaps they had Dior’s words in mind while designing:    “Respect tradition and dare insolence: you cannot have one without the other.”

The show, which ends January 7 and has attracted more than 6000 visitors a day,  is an appropriate and  stunning tribute to one man’s genius and talent and seven decades of the House of Dior.

A beautiful way to end the year!

The photos show Dior’s “New Look” which scandalized traditionalists after the War, an exuberant red gown I’d kill to have,  a collection of flowered motifs (Dior loved gardens and flowers – as a boy, he compulsively consulted garden catalogues), accessories and details in white, and a bottle of Miss Dior, his first perfume which he launched the same year as his fashion house in 1947. 

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.