Walking around a very cold and grey Paris Saturday, Dec. 10.
Put cursor on photo to find out location. Thanks
musings by Sara Somers
They say a picture says a thousand words. So today, I’m going to rely on photos to show Paris and environs dressing up for the holidays.
Since the attacks in Nov. 2015, the decorations have been sparser. Notre Dame no longer has a tree on the parvis. Whereas once anywhere you turned, there would be a festive feeling, now it’s mostly the Champs Elysees and the Haute Couture streets. Is it related? I don’t know but it can’t be coincidence.
Thanks for enjoying my photographic tour. More to come.
Netflix, in it’s great wisdom, suggested Binge Watching some shows over the Thanksgiving weekend. I saw posters in both California and here in Paris for The Crown. Since I don’t like football and couldn’t find anything else better on Netflix, I decided to watch it. And I ended up binge watching it just as suggested!!!
I have no memory of Queen Elizabeth II being anything other that what she is today, an elderly women, who waves funny and rarely speaks. The series starts in 1947 when she is a young girl, her father is still King, she is in love and about to marry Phillip and she and her sister Margaret are good friends. Claire Foy plays Elizabeth. The last I saw of Ms. Foy, she was getting her head chopped off as a result of being Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. From cunning, manipulative Ms Boleyn to the intelligent, correct Ms Windsor in one season is quite a feat!!
When Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, dies five years later, she becomes Queen at twenty-five years of age. What struck me more than anything as Elizabeth learns The Rules of Monarchy, is what a lonely, lonely position it is. She can’t pick her own last name, where she lives or who will be her secretary.
The great John Lithgow plays Winston Churchill. I’ve seen many actors play Churchill. Lithgow’s Churchill is terrific. He is curmudgeonly, manipulative, brilliant and old. Too old to still be Prime Minister. He and Elizabeth lean on each other, she to learn about her job and he to stay needed so that he can keep his.
There are many wonderful performances in the Crown but I’ve vowed to keep my blogs short. I will say that after Colin Firth won the Oscar for playing King George in The King’s Speech, it had to take a brilliant actor to make me forget Mr. Firth. Jared Harris is that brilliant actor. He plays the King with a compassion and wisdom that one hopes leaders of all nations might have. There are lovely scenes of him teaching his eldest daughter about the Constitution and about the relationship between the Monarchy and Parliament.
I think it is a terrific series. I heard or read that the creators are hoping to have 60 episodes, at least 6 years, of The Crown. If it stays this good, I’ll be watching it all six years.
November 24th was just another Thursday for Parisians. Life went on as normal–weather getting colder, Christmas decorations going up and traffic trying to figure out how to avoid traffic jams now that Mayor Hidalgo has closed two main thoroughfares to everything except pedestrians and bicyclists.
For me, it was Thanksgiving. My 4th Thanksgiving in Paris. My first Thanksgiving in 2013, My friend, Barbara and I went to the Hippopatomus for dinner then to see Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks. For Thanksgivings 2014 and 2015, I invited fourteen people to my apartment on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful meal and went around the room each saying our special gratitudes.
This year, I am moving apartments. I couldn’t possibly entertain and also be closing up the apartment. A month ago, two good friends, American and French, invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them ON THANKSGIVING! That invite made my whole day seem different. Every time I looked out the window, I expected to see little or no traffic. I kept having to remind myself that stores were open. Only the thousands of e-mails I received informing (as if I was a Martian) me about Black Friday and Cyber Monday reminded me that this weekend is bigger than an American day of gratitude. It has been surpassed by a world celebration of Greed! of More!
The two years that I hosted Thanksgiving, I would go to the Thanksgiving store in the Marais and put in my order for a turkey. That turkey costs 4 or 5 times the price of a Butterball and the first year I justified it by telling myself I was the hostess and therefore brought the Poultry of Honor. After eating said turkey, I had no need to justify anything. Without exception, French turkeys are the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m told they are raised in the South of France, under very humane conditions.
Bill, our cook and host, preparing the turkey.
At the Thanksgiving Store, one can also buy Libby’s Pumpkin, stuffing makings, aluminum to cook the turkey in, all sorts of nuts, evaporated milk and most anything else that screams Thanksgiving but is all but impossible to find in Paris and certainly the rest of France.
You would have to have a subscription to SkyTV in order to see a football game and who knows if you could find something on at the same time. And because we have Thanksgiving dinner literally and not a mid-afternoon meal, there is not the usual constitutional before dessert and coffee.
There is something about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because it’s still Autumn and in many parts of the States, it is still Indian Summer. The leaves of many colors have floated to the ground, the weather hovers somewhere between crisp and delicious, my last 25 Thanksgivings in California have always had blue skies. It is a quiet day and usually a quiet celebration. Football fans are shooed to the TV room to cheer on their teams and the rest of us sit around the table in a relaxed fashion that just isn’t possible for most of the year.
As you can guess, it’s my favorite holiday. It reminds me to be enormously grateful for the abundance in my life, for so many friends in both the US and in France.
Are you an ex-Pat? How did you spend your Thanksgiving?
After Donald Trump’s surprise win on November 9th, Marine Le Pen, of the Nationalist Front party here in France, called him to congratulate him. She is hoping that the wind that has blown so far right in the UK and the USA will blow her into the Presidency of France next Spring.
François Hollande of the Socialist party and the present President, is extremely unpopular. The right (which in America would actually be the left) and the Centrist parties had a primary this past Sunday. The French; and exPats with French citizenship; stood in line for at least an hour, paid 2euros and made their choices. Alain Juppé, the Mayor of Bordeaux and a past Prime Minister-with a checkered past, was favored to win. Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the seven in the Primary and people were as much voting against him as they were for someone else. François Fillon, who surprisingly ‘won’ the Primary, got 44% of the vote. Juppé got 28% of the vote and Sarkozy got 20% of the vote. Juppé and Fillon will have a run-off this Sunday, Nov. 27. Sarkozy is out and Juppé and Fillon will be battling for Sarkozy’s followers. “They” are saying whoever wins the vote on Sunday will probably be the next President of France. That person will be running against Marine Le Pen and she will give them a run for their money.
Alain Juppé (courtesy of Reuters)
OF the two, Fillon is the more conservative. He was Sarkozy’s Prime Minister in 2007 and although the two didn’t get along very well, Sarkozy is throwing his support and his votes to Fillon. Juppé is more right (left) but has a very checkered past. It is unclear to me whether he did wrong or whether he took the blame for his President, Jacques Chirac. Either way, he has been a great Mayor for Bordeaux and, until Sunday, was the overwhelming favorite to win the Primary.
François Fillon—Sunday, after Primary (courtesy of Reuters)
As in the US, themes of economy, immigration and French identity, themes that Ms. Le Pen takes credit for bringing to the forefront, will be the dominating issues. Fillon also is advocating a nicer, gentler relationship with Putin’s Russia.
Ms. Le Pen and her followers are feeling more confident than ever that she will prevail. Those in the know say whoever runs against her will win the Presidency. They also said Brexit would never win and Trump didn’t have a chance.
Marine Le Pen, president of the Nationalist Front party (courtesy of Getty Images)
More to come,
She looked ancient. She sat on the sidewalk on Blvd St Germain des Pres in front of the Cluny museum. She had a small cat carrier to her side and a cardboard box covered with a cloth in front of her. When she smiled at me, I saw she had only two front teeth. Her face looked like a well-loved baseball glove. She wore a babushka on her head with a grey hairs straggling out all over.
I had stopped to look at her because she was holding a leash at the end of which, sitting on the cloth covered box, was a lean white cat. On the lap of this crone-like person were two very small kittens. Another two were in the cat carrier. Only one of the kittens was white like, what I presumed was the mother. One was an orange tabby, the third was a calico and the last little kitten was a tortoise shell known as a ‘trois couleur‘ in French. I had lost my Tortie, Samantha, the day before I left California to come to Paris. It was unexpected and had broken my heart. I still hadn’t recovered eight months later. When I see cats and kittens, I get a funny tummy. I want to grab them all up, hug them and take them home with me.
I turned to my friend, Joy, and said “I want her”. I was pointing to the little Tortie.
I asked the old woman, she must have been an SDF (san domicile fixe or homeless person), how much?
I pretended to misunderstand her and responded “thirty euros?”
She nodded yes. Then she gave me a big smile. Her face transformed from being crone-like to grandmotherly. I hadn’t known any of my grandmothers but I pictured them as smiling, warm and inviting.
There was absolutely no reason for me to negotiate with her. I had friends who had paid far more for kittens on the street. It’s a knee jerk reaction—bargain.
I stood in a moment of suspended time. ‘What am I doing?’ was the only clear thought that went through my head. I grabbed my friend’s hand, told the SDF that I was going to the distributeur to get some euros and off we went. I needed to buy some reflection time.
We went to Monoprix and I grabbed up kitty litter, food for kittens and whatever else I could remember that kittens needed. It had been a long time since I’d had one. As we left, I turned to Joy asking “Am I crazy?” I fully expected her to say yes. She didn’t.
“You’ve been talking about getting another cat ever since Samantha died. Maybe this is the right time”
What neither of us mentioned was that I had come to Paris for one year. That year had only four more months left. I had been intimating to everyone that I wanted to stay but had done nothing to set that in motion. It didn’t even occur to me then.
We went back to where the old woman was sitting. I was afraid she might have gone. I gave her thirty euros. She gave me a little seven week old kitten that flopped over like it was dead. I wrapped her up in my scarf and we walked to Starbucks. Joy went and got us coffees and I looked at this little being.
The next day, she and I went to the Vet which just happened to be around the corner from my apartment. The Vet checked her thoroughly. She was very clean, not one flea, ears and eyes perfect–in fact the Vet was surprised she came off the street! I was so relieved.
She asked me her name. A name? Usually a name comes right to me and that’s it but this time it took a week. The little kitten became Bijou. Which means jewel in French. The further adventures of Bijou, who was anything but for the first year of her life, will be in later installments of this blog
It was at least a month later that I realized that I had decided to stay in Paris at that moment.
They call themselves brocanteuses. There is no real translation for the word, the closest being seller of bric a brac. But they aren’t and they don’t.
I’m talking about Mary and Jo who work the Foire de Chatou which I just got home from. It is a huge ‘fair’ of hundreds of dealers in everything imaginable. This particular Fair takes place every March and September for ten days.
In Paris, there is no such thing as a garage sale or a boot sale. In fact, it is illegal to sell anything in front of your building. The closest equivalent would be ten or so families getting together and renting a square from the city and having a Vide-grenier – a flea market.
The Fair I just returned from is a Brocante with antiquity dealers there. Jo explained that they have to sign a certificate verifying that they do sell antiques. She and Mary call them selves Brocanteuse antiquaire meaning most of their stuff is less than 50 years old but they may have older things.
Mary is British, lives in Antibes, speaks fluent French and makes her living selling beautiful dishes, cutlery and silver plate that she buys in England and her many buying trips. She brings them back to France. Over the thirty-four years that she has been doing this, she has learned what the French like. Today, however, I watched as a group of about six American women from Atlanta, huge smiles on their faces, swooped into her space and bought almost all the silver plate that Mary had. She chatted with them and you can be sure they will receive e-mail invites to all her future Brocantes. I asked her how she started this business which is known as Tinker, Tailor. She worked for Yves St. Laurent as an accountant and hated it. So, with an assistant, she parted ways with the company and voila, Tinker Tailor was born.
Jo is slightly older than Mary. She can no longer do the heavy lifting that is required to move all the around from Brocante to Brocante. She has cut back on the amount of time she devotes to Brocantes. I also asked her how she got started in the business. As a child, her father would take her to auctions in the UK which he frequented. He loved to buy frames. She developed the bug. After she finished her studies and married a frenchman, she worked for an antique dealer in Tours doing all the buying in the UK and the shipping around the world. Some years later, she struck out on her own. That was forty-six years ago. She loves pine. She bought only large pieces and the French bought everything. What she noticed, however, was that she liked sober pieces with straight lines whereas the French have a more sophisticated taste. Perhaps a little twirl here and there. She pointed at a mirror that she wouldn’t have in her house because of the columns. The French love it.
Both women had retail stores at one point in their lives but have given them up for the freedom of traveling or taking time off if need be. Twelve years ago, Jo asked Mary if she would join her in her stall at Chatou. They watch out for each other and get along fine.
And just for the record, I bought the Afghan rug that is hanging on the wall. I adore Brocantes as do most Americans. I told Jo that I’d never have been attracted to Bric a Brac sales. But,…well who knows. I’m always looking for a good bargain.
Out my window, it’s dark. The Quai is mostly clear. The Seine is quiet, all the young people who sit on the concrete sidings until 1 or 2 in the morning have gone home. The spotlights on Notre Dame have been turned off. It’s that time of night when the only people awake are those that are tossing and turning because they can’t sleep.
I’m not looking out the window. I was deep into sleep and had set my alarm to wake up before 3am. Hillary Clinton is ‘debating’ Donald Trump. She actually looks lovely in a red suit and he looks exactly the same. His hair is combed forward and looks at bit like a small mop. Both are standing in front of a huge blown up photo of the Constitution. When she talks, he stares at her with a huge frown on his face.
Here in Paris, the news doesn’t show either of these two at campaign rallies 24/7. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw the Donald on France24, Al Jazeera or BBC news. I’m very familiar with Hillary’s voice but I’m surprised that I recognize Trump’s voice. He seems to be doing exactly what he has done for a year and a half–criticizing “Secretary Clinton”, criticizing government, criticizing everyone that isn’t him. As I’m writing he is bragging about how he forced President Obama to produce his birth certificate. I’m stunned. What is it with him? He can’t produce his income taxes but because President Obama is black, he engaged in this birther theory year after year after year.
I, and many of my friends that don’t live in the United States, are frightened. The slight possibility that Donald Trump could be President of the United States is so appalling that it is barely imaginable. Whatever one thinks of Hillary, I happen to be a fan, she is prepared to be president. She is probably more prepared than any other candidate in history. She’s been in the White House, she’s been Secretary of State and Senator from New York. She was shown to work well with Republicans in New York. If she were a man, there wouldn’t even be a competition.
I’m surprised I actually woke up and got out of bed for this. I could have read a transcript in the paper in the morning. I could have read the critics’ observations and declarations of who the winner is. I needed to see for myself the narcissism, the outright lying, the incredible immaturity of the man who wants to be Commander-in-Chief. I give her huge points that she is standing there and still has a smile on her face. She must be seething inside. No matter the question, he has to have the last word. Lester Holt, the moderator, is not doing a good job of managing his outsized ego. One of the critics is saying that this is a debate for the fact checkers.
The debate is winding down. It’s time to go back to bed. I don’t know if I can sleep. This is as serious an issue as any I’ve known in my lifetime. I will finish by quoting Hillary: “I hope you get out there and vote as if your future depends on it. Because it does.”
Last night, Saturday night, the weather was delicious. At 9pm, the warm breeze caressed sleeveless arms and everyone, Parisian and tourist alike, was smiling. The streets were full of walkers, the bistros and restaurants spilled out onto the sidewalks and streets. It was one of those nights when I didn’t want to go home. I just wanted to walk this gorgeous city and feel the warmth, hear the happy chatter and soak in what I think of as the essence of Paris: the sidewalk culture.
Today is Sunday and oh how things change. It is rainy, cool and grey. Soggy joggers are running along the Quai des Grands Augustins looking a bit like soaked puppy dogs. Bikers are riding by with yellow, blue and white rain jackets unfolding like sails behind them. There are no cars, only taxis and buses. Today is Car Free day in Paris! Anne Hidalgo, our mayor, has been trying to bring attention to the pollution. She hopes to have part of the central city completely car free by 2018. Fortunately, Paris has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. So today, only taxis, public transport and electric vehicles will be allowed to run. Normally, it would be a wonderful day to roam the city, walk in the roads and enjoy everything that Paris has to offer. We will see who braves the rain.
One group of people out and about enjoying the streets are the skateboarders. Hoards of them in groups of thirties and forties are passing under my window. They are singing to the skies as loudly as they can so happy are they to have the roads to themselves, well practically. Some are dressed as if it is already Halloween. A bride zooms by, then King Kong followed by two characters from Toy Story with huge smiles on their faces and arms up in the air. Who cares about the rain they seem to be saying. Look Ma, no cars!!!!
There is a different light in Paris when summer turns to Autumn. Today is officially the first day of Autumn but, unofficially, it arrived last Saturday. From a week of hot days, sun dresses and sandals, we got rain and grey. Some say that grey is the official color of Paris.
Out my window, I see people walking with sweaters and coats. Most importantly, the scarf is back. It’s too hot to wear a scarf in summer. Now we can pull all our wonderful scarves out of drawers and closets and put them in whatever familiar place they reside in homes. Mine is on my coat rack at the entrance to my apartment. I never wore a scarf before I came to Paris. Well, maybe in the dead of winter if I was really, really cold and had handy a warm woolen scarf. But not the signature French piece of clothing. True Parisians don’t wear a lot of color: black, grey, navy blue, sometimes brown. Then they add the scarf. Something thoughtfully chosen, that has a lot of color and distinguishes one person from the next.
The sun is out today but looks washed out. It has lost its summer intensity. Often I can tell the temperature by just looking at the sun on the water, in the sky. Not today. I just checked the temperature on my iPhone and I wasn’t far off. It’s a nice day, good for walking. It’s Fall. It’s dark when I get up at 7:30am and it’s almost dark when I’m walking home at 7:30 at night. I’ve always loved Autumn but losing the light really makes me sad. I love Paris in the summer with its endlessly long days, hot weather and slow pace of life.
La rentrée, when children go back to school, families return from vacation and work starts up again in Paris, is coming to an end. No more holidays until the school holiday in mid-October. In the US, we have Halloween to look forward to. And believe it or not, the Parisians, especially the younger Parisians, love Halloween. I don’t see many pumpkins but there are lots of parties and dress-up and fun that last through the night.
And so the days move on. It is still Paris!