Wednesday, 5 November 2008
No, it's not all about race. As a candidate Obama is exciting, inspiring, fresh, confident, smart. Yet, the race card is half the thrill. As a counterpart to Obama's triumphant "Yes we can", here is part of the evocative poem Angelou recited this morning, "I rise":
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
SO happy I made it to sweet home town Chicago for this victory, although it would have been delirious to have been downtown at Grant Park, despite the lack of a helicopter to get me there and back. Instead, I got to watch the hilarious Jon Stewart/Colbert show and lots of coverage on the tube with my family - and a bottle of champagne, of course. This election has been all about breaking records - including the number of voters, the early voting possibility, the outside rally, even the weather!!!
Yes, it's splashy autumn weather, fresh, warm, sunny, and the trees are still glowing, showing off their brilliant reds, golds, oranges. Took a walk in the wood with my sis, who thought there is no way Obama couldn't win. And yet not so convinced - it wasn't until McCain conceded that we popped the cork, and how sweet it was!
Sunday, 26 October 2008
If you like Molly's review, see more at www.paris-theater.blogspot.com.
Sunday, 19 October 2008
So what next? Why not more training - who doesn't love learning new things, new skills? Will polish skills on Photoshop, watch some free training videos from the IDEA fitness conference last summer, learn how to spiff up my fitness website, try to understand the mysterious process of publishing at OECD, and why not spend some time in Rome or Pisa or Naples, and strengthen my Italian.
Nice saying came up the other day: if you rest, you rust! Get out the oil...
Friday, 26 September 2008
Meanwhile, it was sometime in 2006 that I was here last and oh my, there are changes. At the Roman forum, where I used to be able to just ramble through on my way from the Colosseum side of town to the Pantheon area, there is now an entrance fee - and a queue to get in! This morning at the cafe the man behind the counter asked if I wanted a cappucino con choccolati or normale - even though I asked for normale, my accent gave me away and he sprinkled chocolate powder on it anyway. But what ecstasy that coffee was, so much that when I climbed up to the Campidoglio bar/terrasse, I ordered another one. Changes there, too, now the city has installed a couple of glass elevators, at a staggering 7 euro fee. Tant mieux, it means I got the climb up the stairs to myself.
Oh, and at Piazza Navona they're renovating the Bernini fountain AGAIN. Via Nazionale is ripped up and hard to cross, there are a lot more vendors on the via that leads from the Jewish quarter to Piazza di Fiore, and what an amazing coincidence of American accents. In the end, it's the same chaotic, busy magnificent place. And hey, I finally achieved my ambition of buying something at MaxMara - walked in, confessed I needed some elegant pants that would NOT need hemming for a lunch date in 20 minutes, and walked out with a big smile in a beautiful pantalone that got me a few masculine smiles and murmured compliments along the way.
The sunshine, the people, the food and the wine, none of the best things in Rome have changed, and la vita e bella - buona compleanna a me!
Sunday, 14 September 2008
Great news, but keep it hush-hush: Yves Riquet is sneaking his speakeasy into the revered, if recently sullied, sanctum of the Slow Club this fall! Live swing music every Monday and Tuesday night, with vintage 1920s cocktails and high-calibre rye whisky. Best, Yves has got saxophonist Marc Laferrière and friends to reprise their 15-year gig (1957-1972) as the Slow Club's house band. For a preview, check out the excellent disk, "Marc Laferrière au Slow Club" or, better yet, "Jubilé", featuring his favourites, including Sidney Bechet's classic Petite Fleur, to a jazzed up Disney theme, Heigh Ho Heigh Ho.
Crossroads for me, too - how much time should I commit to this jazz adventure? Shall I cut back to a half-time bureaucrat and expand on life's fun: write articles for cash, teach more fitness, do some personal training, organise events, become a speakeasy groupie? Or shall I rather retreat into the OECD sludge of bureaucratic security with the blessings of retirement pension and paid sick leave, sign a contract for full-time handcuffs?
Ditto on the romantic scene: am I just not made for a full-time long-term commitment? Why does putting up with a man's idiosyncracies seem just as sludgy? Would the smart woman simply bite the bullet and settle with Meetic Man?
Double-digit birthday coming up, and I still identify as a Libran looking for balance and meaning. Guess this calls for a weekend of serious reflection on the beach at Cap d'Agde. Heigh ho!
Sunday, 13 July 2008
We stayed with a Moroccan family in Rabat for two nights, participated in a musical therapy rite, got my fortune told, and have bargained in the souks in Meknes and Fes. We have visited the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non Muslims, and toured royal palaces and roman ruins. Fantastic stuff, and we still have two more weeks!
Photos to come...
Monday, 16 June 2008
Tonight after the preliminary NGO forum, I'm all sore feet, sleepy eyes, sore back from standing all day, but it is all worth it. What a blast chatting with people about IT and development, politics and culture, with everyone who stopped by the OECD booth. Wild, a woman who organises a yearly World Women's Forum here who reads Adrian Leed's Paris newsletter; the Pakistani guy who co-founded the project to get cheap computers to developing countries; a rep from AT&T talking about the American strategy of getting kids into computers instead of to war.
Working with a sharp volunteer student, Yeon-su Kim, who is guiding me through the intricacies of dealing with the locals, and keeping me from any more faux pas - apparently Koreans do not say "excuse me", they just indicate it with a smile, she says. When they want to excuse themselves they say "I'm sorry". Too bad, I was getting pretty good at that phrase, easy to remember: "silly amida". Now I understand the grins.
And tonight the Seoul mayor, the OECD sec gen, and a number of ministers, including the Australian minister of communications - no, of broadband - who showed up at the conference earlier in a t-shirt and shorts, hosted a huge dinner for everyone. The drinks were Korean - rice wine, plum liqueur, a sake-type drink and a lovely rice-and-hawthorn-berry wine (a bottle of which I carried away with me), but the meal was western. The entertainment was just as yin/yang - started with a quintet of young Korean girls playing a traditional harp-like instrument, seguing into a couple of Beatles' tunes (Let it be and Obladi-Oblada), and then backing up the B-beat boys, a rap/hip-hop dance team. The suits found it hard to jam, but a few of us were having a GREAT time.
What else? Tomorrow is an early day, have to be downstairs by 7:30am for a 9:30am gala opening because the riot police are screening the guests. Korea's prez is supposed to attend and the same protestors who've been upset about American beef are expected to come and beef at the head of state. It may be exciting! Unlike this early evening - I'm off to my lovely bath and bed, hope I make it. Carol and Sabrina, y'all take care of Fred Hoffman who's teaching body-sculpt tonight, will ya?
Sunday, 16 March 2008
Didn’t make it to rue Cler this rainy Sunday, got held up at the ACP working the Palm Sunday crowd, and checking out my Meetic contact actually attending church!!! How did that happen? I suspect a conspiracy.
The date with George on Thursday night at Tribeca was, after a nervous start, really fun. Partially because it was with someone from my g-g-generation for a change, no need to feel embarrassed referring to culture from the 70s. Partially because George is actually quite attractive, intelligent, friendly, fun, curious, lively, and HAS A MOTORCYCLE.
So here’s the way it works. You make a date for an early drink so that if it doesn’t work out you excuse yourself and escape. If it is worth spending more time, you agree to dine together. I was very pleased when George suggested we stay for dinner at Tribeca, and at 22h30, I wondered aloud, “So what happens next?” He laughed and said Meetic doesn’t provide an etiquette guide, and he didn’t know either since the other two dates he’d been on didn’t have a what-next (2 points for my side!). So we improvised and I climbed on to his motorcycle for a spin through the city lights, YES, can it get any better?
It did. Saturday night we feted the Ides of March and dined at the Italian restaurant on rue Grenelle, chatting until we got kicked out at closing time. And the next morning there he was in church. The thing is, Meetic is generally known as the Meet Market, as in everyone goes there for casual bonking. Yet my female co-explorer in this Internet romance scene has received a sincere email from someone wanting to shoot up some serious religion together.
You know what I think? It's a conspiracy of Meetic missionaries. Fundamentalist males are delving into the devil’s shopping cart and sneaking away a few souls to personally deliver to the promised land – not the PL the women are expecting. In a way it would be like a fisherman dropping a hook into a pet shop aquarium, gotcha!Well, if it is a plot, I like the bait, will let the contradictions work themselves out while my new friend and I plan a two-wheel getaway. Vroom.
Sunday, 9 March 2008
Happy to see that both the young bookstore guy and the news vendor are back in their usual places, she’s crying “N’oubliez pas votre journal, l’Express et là!” Two infants in strollers pull up to a front-row table, and the itinerant Peruvian pipes band shows up, except with only one flautiste and a CD, takes him a bit of screeching and scratching to get warmed up before the harmonies turn breathy and smooth. Tough way to make a living.
Next to me a young guy in a beret offers Laura the waitress a packet of photos as he leaves. She shows them to me, turns out he is an adventure photographer, they are all breathtaking mountain shots – Everest, Ararat, Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc – from the “International Year of Mountains”, 2002. Never thought much about how that kind of remote wilderness shot gets taken, to need both artistic and athletic skills. Oh, and courage.
Meanwhile, it’s a bit nervous thinking about calling a Meetic contact this afternoon – note of advice for singles: Match.com is aridesque and Meetic thankfully doesn’t seem to be the sex-driven site it’s known for, although it’s early days yet. But of the three people I’ve exchanged emails with, two are exceptionally interesting and sympa guys, not a bad ratio!
So with a nod to those who live a little on the edge, wherever that personal edge may be, I buy some luminous yellow jonquils from the young guy standing out in the rain next to Tribeca, and come home with both colour and a bit of borrowed courage, to make that phone call. A suivre...
Sunday, 2 March 2008
Instead, I get distracted when the Tribeca blackboard-menu topples BOOMing onto the street, a pigeon flies out from somewhere under the canvas overhang, a lanky resident of the market street at rue Daguerre walks past, an ACP-er shows up to chat about the fitness workshop last week. Meanwhile, a couple of French women greet me as they sit down at the neighbouring table and a friendly dad orders hot chocolates for his two young boys seated next to them.
Murmurs are overheard that Rachida Dati will also be making an appearance today, as signs are placed across the street, “La greffe DATI ne prend pas dans le 7ème” – grafting Dati onto the 7th arrondissement won’t take. Brochures add the phrase “le 7ème LIBRE”, whose pitch seems a bit over-stated coming as it does while I’ve been reading up on the Roman republic and Julius Caesar’s assassination.
Ah, and down the street I can see a small crowd in black, must be the justice minister herself, as a couple of unmistakeable security guards have posted themselves in front of the Café du Mars next door. Suddenly there is loud chanting, “Panafieu au boulot, un toit pour les séropos” and “Panafieu – elle s’en fou!” and a handful of young guys in political t-shirts, notably “ActUp”, push by, almost too quickly to read their signs calling for AIDS funding.
As Dati’s group sloooowly approaches and the street gets increasingly crowded, a shrill trilling of bicycle bells announces another political campaign as five velibs manage to roll through, each attached to a gaggle of bright pink balloons that broadcast “Laurence Girard and Bertrand Delanoë”.
And now amid cameras flashing and popping arrives the glamorous Rachida Dati and her entourage, again evoking images of Roman politicians and their obligatory following of clients. Tribeca’s owner comes out to greet her, and – it can’t be accidental! - she spots the two adorable boys at the next table and hey-presto it’s an instant photo op. She holds back from actually kissing them, but they delightedly get hugs as the customers all smile, and the press eats it up. Then she drifts inside, a blonde also holding a bouquet follows, first greeting my neighbour, shaking hands with us all. I shake back, everything quiets down as the journalists hover and wait for her exit, and I find out that I’ve just shaken the hand of Francoise de Panafieu.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Got to rue Cler late today, had to stay and hear the sermon twice this morning at the ACP - the pastor actually addressed out loud the issue that’s been silently eating away at the congregation, the question of homosexuality and Christianity. Without getting into details, despite confessing that he is one of those who consider homosexuality biblically forbidden, he was able to preach unity, love and tolerance. And he accomplished it with grace, dignity, humour and intelligence, and more - I wasn’t the only one who had to dig for tissues. Hats off to pastor Alex Aronis.
But the kicker for me was that afterward I looked for cheer in the faces of my fellow supporters of gays in church matters, and found instead glum looks of “he didn’t go far enough”! They sounded as stubbornly suspicious and intolerant as the homophobic members of the congregation!
So at noon, walking in the blinding sunshine away from the church, I met and spoke with my 3rd floor neighbour, discussed the upcoming elections – is Rachida Dati really being parachuted in by Sarko? – and the diversity topic came up again. How the 7th arrondissement risks losing its community feel because no one but the rich can afford living here anymore. She said there is discreet government housing in the 7th – one apartment building right on St. Dominique - but everyone knows that it goes to people who know the right people, who hardly need cheap rent.
There are still surprises here, though. As a bike races past me, I look up and the cyclist is not a flashy guy in tights, but an elegant businessman in an impeccable black suit, pedaling fast. Heading down rue Cler, where gypies are selling jonquils and street entrepreneurs are hawking sunglasses, I find the usual diverse Sunday strollers along with politicos and their cameras, and even more circus than usual despite the vacances scolaires starting this weekend.
Eating lunch at Tribeca with next-door neighbour Vincent, we wonder, how far does diversity go on a personal level? Cheap rent would be great but do we want to live next to those who can only afford it with financial support? We’ve all had neighbours from different cultural backgrounds whose mode de vie clashes with ours – late-night partiers, smelly food-lovers, early risers who blithely turn up the radio at 6am. Love thy loud, smelly, obnoxious neighbour? That’s a challenge – and we’re talking on a trivial level, let’s not even try to figure out places like Kosovo and Israel.
Then a big American thrusts his way into the conversation of the French trio dining next to us: “You gotta great dog, your Pekinese, does he bark at people he meets like mine does?” Speaking too quickly, he repeats himself, “does he bark at people?” Smiling, the dog-owners are trying to compute the word “bark”, I translate, everyone is happy – they thought he said “bite!”
And monsieur tells a great story about going through airport customs coming off a Paris/NYC flight, jetlagged, tired, and the agent asks his reason for the visit. His brain is sluggish, so turning to his companion in line behind him, he asks loudly, “C’est quoi le mot pour vacances?” And 100 waiting Parisians yell out, “holidays!” Big laugh from the douane, as he waves him through.
Diversity – culture, language, wealth, sexuality – despite the hiccups, in the end it’s half the fun of being here, isn’t it?
Sunday, 17 February 2008
Ageing is such a habit-driven process. Comfort, expectations, the illusions of security, all encourage our bodies and minds to fall into patterns that eventually refuse to accommodate change, whether it is a work shift, an emotional jolt or even a bumpy ride on a bus.
Take Sunday on rue Cler. My timing was off this morning, arrived too early, while the delivery vans were still lingering, empty dollies clattering past, stacks of canned goods on pallets waiting to be liberated. At Tribeca, the heat was only just warming the terrace, and I sit trapped among the smokers who’ve arrived for their morning caffeine and nicotine fix. The guy waiting tables is inept and slow, my croissant is cold, and I see the regular serveuses just now drifting in, along with the manager rolling up supplies for the kitchen.
Ah well, the sun is out, the coffee is hot, and I have some time to spend. But what’s this – there are women running the bookshop across the street, a teenager at the cash register, her mom at the shelves, and the third generation talking to customers. What happened to the young guy who is faithfully there each week? And – gasp – the fish van drives past with one of the vendors from La Sablaise at the wheel, and the van says Poissonnerie du Bac! I thought my fish market was one of a kind!
Then Tribeca’s owner comes over to shake hands with the lovely dark-eyed man on my right and I listen in while they discuss the food biz. Afterward, I politely ask him about Café Vergnano, closed a few months ago, and he confirms that it has been bought by someone new, not a chain. We start talking about the US, and the live-ability of different cities. He is a native Parisian, been travelling around the world all his life, and he thinks that European cities – especially Paris and Rome - stand out for comfort, culture and beauty. Seoul, Tokyo, LA, even New York – where else can you have access to the cultural treasures of the whole city without a car? He confessed that he is now one of those Parisians who start feeling uncomfortable as soon as they get past the périphérique.
So much for change. I gather my things to head out, and then learn one more thing about early Sunday mornings on rue Cler: the accordionist starts playing at exactly 10h15. La vie en rose…
Monday, 11 February 2008
Thought I’d have something to say about prepping for Valentine’s Day today, but no inspiration despite the parade in front of me. I did get some useful information, including the precious name of a super bricoleur: SOS Alan, he does everything and at a good price. Let me know if you want his contact details!
A friendly American guy named Fred is sitting at the table next to me, he’s in from Washington for the annual antique car show and he informs us that – GASP – there is a French restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, called Rue Cler! And it’s true, I found the website: www.ruecler-durham.com/, it is part of a renewal project for downtown Durham. Ouf. I suppose it’s just as well that it has little to do with anything found on MY rue Cler, offering as it does: “truffled potato soup” and “sautéed pumpkin slices” - and the wine is way expensive. Sniff. Imagine a Tribeca in the Chicago suburbs, where dining-out dogs wouldn't get to sniff in your handbag for chocolates, and toddlers would have to stay in their seats.
Meanwhile, one side of my face has gone tan, time to turn the other cheek!
Sunday, 3 February 2008
Rue Cler on a crisp, cold, sunny morning, and tout le monde is abuzz with – what else? - the marriage of Sarko and Carla, who quickly tied the knot yesterday morning at 11am at the Elysées. Rumor has it that the bride wore white, although the grapevine is also whispering about pregnancy tests and visits to the American Hospital.
Caught up with an acquaintance who works high-level at Societé Génerale, says the weakened bank is facing a bitter takeover, perhaps from BNP who didn’t get hit as hard from the sub-prime scandal. That would make it doubly harsh given that the players degenerated to name-calling a few years ago; “pauvre con” was one insult exchanged.
Suddenly the space in front of the café is crowded, and the chat level rises a bit as French justice minister Rachida Dati passes through. Shaking hands, flashing her brilliant smile, greeting friends at the next table, she leaves brochures describing what she’ll do for the 7th arrondissement if she is elected mayor next month.
And what is happening in Italy? How did Prodi lose his grasp, and why oh why is Berlusconi being given a chance to lead again?
Meanwhile my ex from down south, who was running for councillor in the Agde area, calls to say the fisc has caught up with him and he is likely to become a clochard in the next few days. Sigh.
So here I sit at a café terrace with my chocolat chaud, while he and others struggle to stay warm; disgusted with my job, but grateful for it nonetheless; wishing I could afford to buy a nice apartment, but able to rent a decent one. “Live for today” is the slogan I grew up with, but “watch out for tomorrow” is what I’m hearing from my peers today. Without being foolish, should I concentrate on quality of life or quantity of security? History teaches us cynicism, religion preaches hope, in the end the only thing that is sure is change. I guess I’ll just do the usual Libran balancing act, put off life-changing decisions until politics and prices turn to my advantage!
Sunday, 27 January 2008
Crisp winter sunshine today brought out the sunglasses on rue Cler, and gaggles of flaneurs, Sunday sauntering in groups. Part of it is because of the municipal elections coming up, so sincere young men and women have converged to hawk their parties’ brochures, the Front National leaflet warning about clandestine immigrants, another promising cheaper lodging for young families and better handicap access in the 7th arrondissement. Yet another suggests a Velib service for cars, an Autolib, with 2,000 cars available for short-term uses, I like it! Can it work? Berlin tried it at one point, but that was back in the alternative 80s.
More municipal talk with Brendan, Pat and Damen, about capital gains taxes – the difference between handing 33% of profit vs 50% of profit to the state depends on whether you look like a speculator or not, doesn’t matter whether you are French or an EU resident. US stateside, Obama has won South Carolina, looks like the next US president will be either an idealist/Obama, an insider/Clinton or a hawk/McCain.
Meanwhile, a group in the street facing Tribeca has started arguing politics but I can’t understand the dialogue because there is a bilingual group at the table next to me, with a very LOUD American. Makes me feel like a Front Nationaliste…
Sunday, 6 January 2008
But guess what? The smokers are claiming the terraces! Guess it should have been expected. Instead of the smoke evaders sitting out in the fresh air for morning coffee, we are now better off inside, while the smokers are claiming the sidewalk.
So this morning Tribeca's terrace was almost full by 10:30. Although perhaps that is because of the New Year rentree. Everyone has returned from the holidays and shopping to refill the fridge. So rue Cler was lively again, with crisp sunshine, the music buskers and shouting vendors, strollers and shoppers, dogs and babies, brand new scooters, a few shiny fur coats. What will 2008 bring? At least it won't bring a Starbuck's to rue Cler!