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

Changing comforts

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

Sunshine silliness

The sunglasses are out in force today, even a cool 5-year-old boy poses in his shades, leaning casually on his trottinette. Also dozens of small, perky dogs who talk and sniff at each other, leashes straining, nobody hurrying. Except the sunshine has clients discreetly fighting for the sunlit tables on the terrace, so the serveuse was a little out of temper, "ils courent, ils crient..." I got there early, snagged a few seats for Pat and Damon, while Brendan’s sympa family hung out with the kids behind us.

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:, 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

Sunday politics

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!