Week 2 of ‘le deconfinement’

The weather in Paris is glorious. I LOVE summer. It’s hot enough to be summer and, at 6:30pm, when it’s starting to cool, it’s the kind of night one dreams of all year long. A night when the air just whispers on your skin, the light is just starting to mellow into a golden hue and, inspite of no bars or restaurants open, people are out on the street—some with masks, some without. There is that magic feelIng in the air—summer, the magic of summer.

Unfortunately, it’s probably a dangerous feeling, at least in Paris. It’s so easy to forget that very little has changed in the world. In many places, the curve has flattened but people are still getting sick and people are still dying. In France, 181,826 people have gotten the virus. 28,215 people have died. Summ63,858 people have recovered. As the restrictions have lifted, Parisians have hit the streets like dogs kept in a kennel for way too long. Last Thursday, I walked up to M&S to buy some food and go next door for my peonies. It seemed clear to me that people were acting as if the virus and pandemic had completely passed us by, and not just a few restrictions lifted. 200,000 people have been stopped driving away from Paris. The new restriction is that any of us can go 100 kilometres but not further unless for work or family. And then we must carry a new “passport” for travel. 9,500 fines had been given out before the long weekend started. (Yesterday was a bank holiday in France-Ascension Day. As in America, they often work in a four day holiday). The police were out in droves yesterday. I’m not clear whether they don’t want assymptomatic Parisians carrying the virus out of Paris or whether they fear Parisians picking it up and bringing it back in.

I personally didn’t venture out until last Thursday (except my daily excursion to Carrefour City on the corner to get daily produce etc). Walking up and back to M&S, one thing jumped out at me. THE NOISE. More buses were running. Many more cars were out. People were yelling into their mobile phones trying to hear themselves over the traffic. I had forgotten how awful the noise is. I will miss the quiet. Outside my building, off my terrace, work has started up on the outside of the only house in the area. There are hammers hammering, the dropping of huge steel girders, banging and banging from 8am until 6pm with a break for lunch. I’m trying to be very circumspect and telling myself to rise above the noise, don’t let it throw me off my day.

At the hair salon: not quite a hazmat suit but specially bought for clients!

Monday, I went to get my hair cut. I was too frightened by the prospect of crowds so I walked there and walked home-6 mile round trip. I was told to wear my mask, that the changing room would not be available so wear something light and be on time. I wouldn’t be let in before my scheduled time and maybe not after. Everyone wore gloves. I’m impressed that with these kinds of services where feel is very important, they are able to give just as lovely a haircut wearing gloves. Three inches later, I felt like the weight of the past ten weeks had been shorn off.

Pont Alexandre III et Le Seine

Tuesday, I met a friend at the American Library to go for a walk. She was the first friend I’d seen in person in 10 weeks. The Library had worked out “curbside lending”. Any member can request 20 books, make an appt with the Library and arrive at the scheduled time to pick up five of those books nicely wrapped like a Christmas present. My friend had made the appointment. I was just returning books—no appt needed, but the books would go into quaranteen. I saw two more friends who work at the Library behind the barriers and poof! the ten weeks evaporated. It was as if no time had passed. These friends also had relieved themselves of hair and beards and mustaches and looked just as I’d seen them ten weeks ago. Time is a strange and elusive thing. If I think of a specific incident on a specific day, pre-confinement, it seems eons ago—another age which, of course, it was. But seeing someone I know and care about, it feels like yesterday I just saw them (maybe seeing them on Zoom has something to do with it).

At the nail salon-masks and screens all around.

Wednesday, I took the next big social step and went to get a mani/pedi. My neighborhood nail salon is two blocks away. They were well prepared for us to keep us and them safe. See through screens had been installed on the bench for pedicures so if all three seats were taken, we couldn’t accidentally touch each other or sneeze or cough on anyone. The girls all wore gloves and, as at the hair salon, I was impressed with the job they did with gloves on. At the table for manicures, screens were up on the sides separating people and also in front between client and manicurist with a large hole to put one’s hands through. It was well thought out and very clean. I left wondering ‘is this the new normal? Similar to how TSA has been part of our lives since 9-11?’ Watching an old movie without TSA screening seems bizarre now. Ten, Twenty years from now will we be looking at photos of no gloves, no social distancing, no masks and say ‘Remember when’?

Following success with my hair and nails, I went after an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. My dentist has not opened up shop. There is no indication when he will. That must be a very tricky thing indeed to make both Doctor and patient feel completely safe. So I will wait.

I haven’t gone in any other stores. I see that many clothing stores are open. They have signs on the window saying only three people inside at a time and the wearing of masks is a must. Some of these little boutiques are just that—little! If three people tried to go inside the women’s clothing store on Av. Mozart, there would be no social distance between them. And what about trying on clothes? I’m sure they have worked something out in order to open and create a sense of safety for someone but……would I try something on if told I wasn’t the first person? I don’t think so. Even if time had passed.

I am still plucking away on my iPad. No one has been able to figure out a fix for my MacBook Air. Since Apple stores are not yet open, I ordered a refurbished laptop to tide me over. Then an American friend pointed out that if I bought a new laptop at an Apple store, it would have a french keyboard so I’d end up ordering one anyway. If I had ordered one two weeks ago, it would have been arriving this week! Which seemed so far away, too far away, two weeks ago. Today, I got a text saying they (Amazon) could not locate the refurbished one and if I wanted to “annuler” the order, I could. That one would have had a french keyboard also. So in a way, that is good news. Today, I’m doing what I should have done two weeks ago. Except…..I wanted to do research. So for someone who spends at least half her day, often more, in front of the computer, this has been a trying time. I will order my new computer today and pray that all is well in Apple land and in delivery land.

Summer blooming on my terrace

In the hopes that I’m keeping up with some consistency, I’m sending this blog to the Cloud. I’m learning more how to publish using an iPad but very grateful I don’t have to do long term.

Wherever you are, have a wonderful holiday weekend. In the US, it’s the celebration of Memorial Day. A day to honor military men and women going back as far as the Civil War. Different kinds of war than a pandemic. Ones that all passed but not without a great price. Here in France, it’s Ascension Day. For a country that is sometimes Catholic, and sometimes Socialist, this is a Catholic holiday that all are happy to celebrate and take long weekends.

A bientôt,

Sara

Bonjour de Paris vide

Last Friday, my computer and my Wi-Fi stopped talking to each other. I have reached out to savvy techy friends and to Apple support. A bit like taking two entities to a therapy session in hopes they will start to get along again. No dice. They refuse. As frustration built—I know nothing about how these things work internally, but am completely dependent on my computer for my work—I hit a wall and just had to laugh. It was one thing after another. By Tuesday evening, I was ready to impulsively buy a new laptop from Apple and have it delivered—even though it wouldn’t be delivered until the end of May. Meanwhile, through extensive searching through way too much stuff, I found an itty bitty keyboard that works with my mini-iPad. Wednesday morning, I woke up and thought “Just use your iPad Sara, make do. Take the time to do some research. Apple stores will probably open up by end of May.” So that’s what I’m doing. This is doing for me what the virus did not do: slowing me down. I can’t get to many of my files. Security for sites like Dropbox is so good, it is next to impossible to jump through the hoops to get to your own work when using a different device. Each time I say a Grrrrrrrr, this is so frustrating, I remind myself that I’m choosing the iPad. No one is doing this to me.

The Louvre and the pyramid. Photo: Brigid Blanco

Having most of my time taken up with problem solving, I haven’t written a blog. Now for the first time, I’m using my what seems to me to be giant finger tips, to type on this itty bitty keyboard. And I’m going to make it easier on myself by showing something no one in my life time has ever seen before two months ago. An empty Paris. A Paris with no tourists bustling around. A Paris without the busyness of cars frantic to get from one side to the other. A Paris where ducks and geese are swimming in the Seine, a river without boats and bateaux mouches.

Walking along the Quai, right bank, towards The Louvre photo: Brigid Blanco

Another gorgeous, sunny Spring day is unfolding in Paris. The irony to me is that this is the earliest Spring we’ve had in many years and most of us are respecting the Confinement guidelines by only being outside for short periods at a time. I read an article in the Guardian that said the change in ocean noise since the lockdown began, is so profound that whales are calling out to each other more. The Belin whale, who are always stressed by the ocean noise, are now destressing. Another reminder of the overwhelming impact, not just the virus is having on us, but our response is having on the planet.

Walking bridge over the Seine looking towards The Louvre, photo: Brigid Blanco

D-Day (J-Jour) is coming on Monday. I wonder if I will have a chance to get into the center of Paris before people hit the streets. I walked up to M&S yesterday and the sidewalks in the 16th were full of people, about 3/4s wearing the recommended face masks. The shoe store near the Passy Poste was open with no one inside. The e-cigarette store on Av Mozart was open. I couldn’t see inside. Two florists near M&S were open for the first time. I bought a bouquet of peonies. The florist made me wait outside while he wrapped the flowers for me to carry home.

Rue de Rivoli – May 5,2020 Photo: Brigid
Pont Alexandre III. Photo: Jeff Waters
side street looking towards Pantheon. Photo: Jeff Waters
Metro station at St. Michel/Notre Dame. Photo: Jeff Waters

Stay strong, stay safe and use your head when deciding whether or not to stay at home.

A bientôt,

Sara

Personal Update from Paris

A lot of you in the US are writing me and asking “How is it in our beloved Paris?” Somewhat different and somewhat the same as what you are reading in the papers. Last Thursday, President Macron spent 26 minutes on national tv outlining what has happened so far and what will happen. He was very serious and didn’t try to make this pandemic sound less than it is. At that point, only four days ago, he urged all people seventy and over to stay home unless absolutely necessary. He said transportation would stay the same but hoped that work and people would work from home. As of Monday, he closed all schools and universities. He said this was up to each and every one of us. The virus knew no borders and didn’t carry a passport. That was Thursday.

I’m discovering that the French are very stubborn and obstinent people. They proclaimed that nothing was going to stop them from living their lives. So they were out and about. The metros were a bit less crowded but not by much. So on Saturday, the French administration announced that as of Saturday at midnight, all public places that weren’t necessary for our survival were to be shut down, closed, fermé. That got some people’s attention. By Sunday noon, the markets caught up with the US and all the toilet paper and such were gone. However, the municipal elections were not postponed. On websites, times were posted when best to go vote. A friend went back and forth about whether she would vote or not. Finally she decided to. She went at the last moment, waited till everyone was gone then went in to vote. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping all the voting paraphenalia as antiseptically clean as possible. I went out for about forty-five minutes just to walk, and the streets in the 16th arrondissement were full of people walking with children, with dogs and, since it was a lovely day, filling up the parks and green spaces. That was yesterday.

This morning at 8:45am, I received a notice from the administration that since the French were not doing as asked, we had forty-eight hours to decide where we wanted to spend the next forty-five days. As of tomorrow, there will be a 6pm curfew and the police will be in the streets urging people to go home. I dropped everything and headed out. I was prepared to be homebound for two weeks but not for forty-five days. I first went to the grocery store. Still no toilet paper. Then I headed for Picard which only sells frozen food, absolutely delicious frozen food. They were almost out of food and not taking any loyalty cards for discounts. I then headed for Marks and Spencer who sells my favourite yogurt. They looked like they had plenty of food though the yogurt was in short supply. When I asked, I was told they would be staying open. Picard, on the other hand, said they had no idea. On the way to M&S, I passed a florist. It wasn’t really open but the door was open. I asked if I could buy. They gave me 3 beautiful bouquets for about a third of the normal price. That will be the last of my fresh flowers I’m afraid. Finally, I went to the pharmacy. Not my normal pharmacy on Av. Mozart which had a long line snaking out the door and winding to the corner. I stopped at the one near M&S. I was the third person in line. We’ve been told pharmacies will stay open but…. I had no trouble getting what I needed.

Forty-Eight hours to decide where I want to spend the next 45 days. I knew my friends in Normandy and in Brittany would probably love to have me and my crazy cat come join them. I would love to go to Le Gers where I think my heart resides. But…..I have here, in my small apartment in Paris, everything I need to survive the next 45 days if I never go out. I have Netflix, I have enough books to read for at least a year. I have the expanded tv that has HBO series, Showtime and Canal+. I have the wonderful Zoom. Which allows me to have video conversations one on one or in large groups. I have my work which I do at home anyway. I just learned yesterday that ten of the world’s best museum’s are totally on-line and I can tour it visually. I was even given a jig-saw puzzle with 1000 pieces. That would take some time!

Yesterday, I defrosted my freezer. Something I should have done months ago And thank goodness I did. After shopping at what was left in Picard, I was able to fit for more things in the freezer. I have plenty of ‘projects’ to do. So as long as I talk to friends at least three or four times a day, I think I can do this! And that’s whats happening in Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

PS As I was about to hit ‘publish’, I received an e-mail saying all non-essential travel to EU is to be banned for 30 days.

Remembering Rue Git-le-Coeur

Before Elodie, my downstairs neighbor, went on a rant to tell me I was once more doing something illegal, I tried to have a window garden in my apartment at Git-le-Coeur. My window was quite large and looked out over the Seine to Pont Neuf. I had an arm chair pulled close and would sit there for at least twenty minutes every morning filled with gratitude at living in this beautiful city I call home. I’m sure I didn’t need the garden but, as an adult, I have always had green things growing, something to care for. I certainly didn’t need Elodie as the Apartment Police pointing out the laws I was breaking. I want to be clear that I never set out to break the law! I didn’t know better and french administration being what it is…… It seems there truly is a law in Paris that no one can have a window garden that has the remotest chance of falling on the sidewalk and hurting someone. I can’t help but look up in my wanderings around Paris to see who is committing a window garden felony!

My apartment building on Git-le-Coeur sat on the corner of Quai des Grands Augustins. There is one apartment per floor. Elodie lives on the first floor, I lived on the second floor, the apartment on the third floor is rented by a family living in Brussels who visit Paris once every other month or so. The fourth and fifth floor is one apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. X. Everything that happens in the building has to be voted on by the owners. Elodie and the Xs hate each other so Elodie always loses as she has one vote to the Xs two votes.

Notre Dame at sunrise

My living room was huge for a Parisian apartment. Two windows looked north, over the Seine to 36 quai des Orfèvres where the infamous Paris Homicide Unit resided until a year ago. If I leaned out one of those windows and looked right, I had a full view of Catedrale de Notre Dame. I took dozens of photos of the sun rising behind the cathedral. Once I caught a full rainbow hanging over the spires gracing a dark grey sky. It was magical.

Le Seine and Pont Neuf from my window

Two windows looked out on Git-le-Coeur, the Canadian Pub and Pont Neuf. It was this view that became my North Star for the almost three years that I lived at Git-le-Coeur. Everyone knew how I loved that view. Artist friends would draw it and give the drawings to me as presents. After Elodie and I made our peace with each other, she presented me with a copy of a painting of our building and the Seine. She had seen the painting at an Expo at the Musee d’Art Moderne although it was painted in 1904. She went to great trouble to get it copied and then had it framed for me.

Elodie is truly the only person I know who speaks no English at all. Befriending her was a challenge. She is a very bobo frenchwoman. My friend, F, says she always has her nose just slightly in the air. I decided to kill her with kindness. After the tenth leak from my bathroom down to her apartment (three happened while I lived there), I wanted to help her confront the owner of my apartment. He lives in Madrid and is a lazy owner, only wanting money and ignores all pleas to fix the many things wrong. I bought her a small present at BHV and wrote her a note saying that we would figure this out together. She melted slowly even inviting me to coffee one day. Because my french is mediocre, I would find myself avoiding opportunities to talk with her. Now that I live in the 16eme, we have developed a schedule of meeting every other week for coffee so that I can practice my french. She still plays police only now she is the Academie Police. I wrote her an e-mail this winter beginning “Salut Elodie”. When I arrived at her apartment a couple of days later, she sat me down telling me one never ever uses Salut in writing. It just isn’t done. It is for waving and greeting a friend on the street. Of course, that evening, I saw it used in writing by someone of a much younger generation.

Av. Mozart, Paris 16eme

I miss Git-le-Coeur sometimes. I love my new neighbourhood but it took months to adjust. I will dream of that large living room and my window gazing out on the Pont Neuf. Elodie tells me the apartment is still empty. Little strings get tugged in my heart but then I remember my lazy landlord, my nasty, greedy agent and think how wonderful it was to live there and that I now live in a real Parisian neighborhood.

A bientôt,

Sara

Paris: Back Home

Anyone who has ever visited Paris in August immediately senses that something is out of whack.  Other than the Parvis in front of Notre-Dame or the Tour Eiffel, Paris is practically empty.  It is the Congée Annuelle otherwise known as August.  There are plenty of parking spots on the street, seats are empty on the metro.  At least half the retail stores are closed for the month with a sign thanking us for our understanding.

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I walked outside of my apartment building this morning at 10:45.  There wasn’t a person to be seen.  It was eerily quiet.  The Boulangerie on the corner is closed.  Two out of the three fruit and vegetable markets are closed.  The Greek deli is closed. The pizza and sandwich shop is closed.  The one and only Women’s clothing shop is closed.  The chocolate shop is open with an ice cream stand outside the door.

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Where Parisians live, it is silent.  Where tourists gather, there are more people than ever.  Trying to walk across the Parvis to meet a friend at a cafe was like negotiating one of the hardest obstacle slalom courses one could find.  Tourists don’t walk.  They amble—as they should.  How else is one to take in the beauty that is Paris?  However, if you live here, as I do, tourist places should be avoided at all costs.  Especially if you need to be somewhere.  It is a good reminder of the awe that most of us felt when we first arrived.  When rambling was the height of entertainment.

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Walking towards Cathedral Notre-Dame

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Line snaking around the Parvis–waiting to go inside Notre Dame.  Not nearly as crowded as the day I tried to cross it to get to a cafe.

Quinze Août (August 15th–The Assumption of Mary) is a holiday within the vacation month.  Then absolutely everything shuts down.  I asked Barbara, “Isn’t it a contradiction to have everyone celebrating a Catholic holiday in a Socialist Country?”                           She responded “no, not at all.  Unlike the US, we have total separation of church and state.”                                                                                                                                                    (Note: now that Macron is President, France is no longer a Socialist country).

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The stores that are open have tiny signs in their windows telling us that things are still at “very small prices.”  Les Soldes is over but they hope to get rid of all their stock before La Rentrée.  La Rentrée which literally means The Re-Entry.  When everyone comes back to Paris, back to work and back to school.

But we have one more week of August yet to go!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

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More thoughts on living in Paris

“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings.  The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”

Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray                                   

I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!).  I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013.  I walked everywhere.  I had time to walk everywhere.  I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.

It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings.  I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore.  I still love Paris but it is completely different.  I have also changed apartments.  I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins.  I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame.  I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day.  These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood.  Many days it would take my breath away.

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Now I live in the 16th.  I have a large terrace which I said I wanted.  In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.  I look out on another apartment building.  Below me is a lovely courtyard.  Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection.  That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris.  And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers.  Strictly interdit in Paris.  It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me.  Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts.  Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself.  But those days have gotten far and few between.

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There are no tourists here where I live.  I only hear French on the streets.  Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts.  Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate?  Good question.  One I ask myself every day.

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People ask me if I think I will stay here.  I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time.  Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris.  I like having to walk to the metro.  I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week.  I like that I never have to drive a car.  I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours.  And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours.  Marseilles is three plus hours away.  I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts.  I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week.  Does it really matter where I live in Paris?  The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS!  How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?

As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Two weeks after I moved into my new home here in the 16th, I had some friends visit.  We walked up to La Rotonde at La Muette for a cafe allonge (a long pull coffee as opposed to an expresso).  We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and street watching.  Across the street sat La Gare.  I knew there was a train station nearby that serviced the RER C but I didn’t think it was that close.  The next day, a friend came in from the suburbs and I asked her about it.  She told me about la Petite Ceinture–literally the little belt.  La ceinture was a rail line that serviced all the main stations in Paris and by the time it was finished construction made a loop around Paris.  It’s heyday was the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris.  It was also the beginning of the end for the Ceinture as the metro lines were being built and introduced.

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Sign as one enters the pathway near my street.

La Gare, which we had been admiring, was one of the little stations for the Ceinture.  It is now a terrace tea room on it’s main floor and a restaurant underneath where the trains would stop.  The architects of La Gare as restaurant saved the signs so one can see exactly where the quays were.  The mezzanine is marked Baggage and houses the toilets and coat service.

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Once a rail station for la Petite Ceinture now a restaurant and tea shop

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Photo of the menu showing the restaurant.  Sunday brunch is 39euros!

The 16th arrondissement has resurrected 1.2 kilometers of the rail line and turned it into a nature path.  It lies directly between my building and Porte de Passy.  At the end of rue de l’Assomption is one of the gates to enter into the path.  It is green, inviting, extremely quiet and shady for our hot summer days.  Along the way are signs inviting us to look at the trees, birds and other natural phenomena telling us what to look for.  You just get started and the walk is over.  I gather there is great and on-going debate about what to do with the 36 kilometers total of the old rail line.

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A waste container made from the wood along the path and a sign begging us not to throw our cigarette butts or any ‘crap’ on the path.

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At the end of the nature path, in the Jardin de Ranelagh, is this insect hotel! with an explanation of why they are so important.

If you want to know the fascinating history of the Chemin de Far de Petite Ceinture, go to:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemin_de_fer_de_Petite_Ceinture

In a 2004 episode of Poirot “The Mystery of the Blue Train”, Poirot and friends board the Blue Train in London to go to Nice.  On the way, he explains to his traveling companion that they are on La Petite Ceinture to get to the Gare de Lyon where they will turn south to go to Nice.

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Above: One of the last Petite Ceinture de Paris passenger trains in 1933 – its passenger service would close one year later. right: View of the Ouest Champ du Mars station during the 1900 exposition, with the Boulainvilliers bridge-viaduct for Batignolles trains in the background.

Some of my readers know the 16th quite well.  Perhaps this little sign with a map will bring back memories. The three metro stations are Ranelagh, Jasmin, Michel-Ange.

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A bientôt,

Sara