lundi 20 octobre 2014

Medieval Morocco now on at the Louvre

Saturday morning I was up early in order to head to the Louvre to see the Maroc Médiéval exhibit that had just opened the previous day.  Normally I don't like to see a "big" show near opening day as it usually means tons o' people, but I just couldn't wait to see this show.  I love Morocco and was willing to endure the other people stampeding to the Louvre to see this much-awaited collection. 

Paris is experiencing a freaky heat wave right now.  It's like a greenhouse under that pyramid!

What a surprise!  Hardly any people lined up at the entrance for this exhibit.  Am I the only Moroccophile in the City of Light? 

 Oh well, more room for me to soak up all the wonderful treasures that I can't show you because the guards refused to let me take photos.  That's stupid.  I'm not using a flash for heaven's sake!  I'm not going to damage your Coran/ancient dinar/13th century bowl fragment.

I managed to sneak in ONE shot before they caught me.
 This is just a mere suggestion of how lovely the installation was.  The rooms are dark rich purple with hints of latticework and Moorish arches.  Oh, it was all so beautiful and I can't even show you a speck of it.

Here are two things I learned from this exhibit:  1)  The Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) was named by the Arab conquerors who came here in the 7th century.  It was originally called "Maghreb al-Aqsa" which means The most Western Point on Earth.  (Or maybe it is the Westernmost point on Earth.  I can't even read my own notes!)  2)  What I thought was called a "Minibar" is actually called a Minbar.  It's that step rampy thing the Iman preaches from in the mosque.  There were several minbars on display and I kept reading "Minibar" on the little sign.  I thought "How clever!  Even in 980 they had places to put  all those little bottles of Schweppes and tiny bags of nuts!"

Afterwards I really wanted some tajine.  I had to settle for some dates for my snack.  Really, there should be some kind of Exhibit-Museum Cafeteria clause that states the whatever they are showing in the museum, they have to serve a representative menu related to the show in the museum cafeteria.  Couscous for all!

mercredi 20 août 2014

Enchanted Water

I saw liquid water flavorings on my recent trip to the USA and in fact brought a couple bottles back with me in my suitcase:  ice tea with lemonade and fruit punch flavor.  Much easier to transport compared with Crystal Light.

What a surprise to see these today in my supermarket.  The French have always loved adding syrups to their water---menthe a l'eau is a traditional refreshing drink one can order at any café--but these low-calorie, transportable little bottles are brand new.  I love how they say the product "enchants water" and the flavors are well-chosen to correspond to what the French like:  grapefruit, mint, apple and lemon-lime.

Once I finish with my U.S. imports, I'll have to try these.

lundi 7 juillet 2014

This is a rare sighting.  These light up panels, installed in the Paris métro stations back in the 1930s were known as PILIs, or plans indicateurs lumineux d’itinéraires.  Users would push two buttons, one indicating the starting point of their journey, and a second one indicating their ultimate destination.  A pathway would light up, showing the trip.  If a change was involved, the lightpaths would be in different colors.

Now a relic, there are a few of these vintage displays present in a handful of métro stations (this one is at Ecole Militaire in the 7th arrondissement) but they are no longer functional.  I guess they were hard to maintain, and, as such, fell into disrepair.

Still, I'm glad that they can be spotted from time to time, even if it they are merely decorative.

lundi 23 décembre 2013

No more geese except on my plate

I knew the foie gras was coming 'round when there were no more geese padding about on his land.

All year long I watch these fowl friends, moving herdlike from the water to the mud to the shelter on Laurent Callebaut's property.    Monsieur Callebaut is a master goose-raiser who oversees a gaggle of 1,000 oies, taking them from egg to table.  His farm is right across the Route Nationale 12, and we pass it each weekend as we enter and exit Verneuil.  Christmas is a busy time for him, selling his wares out of a little cabana right next to his house.  Inside are shelves of foie gras cuit, goose rillettes, goose pâtés and other wonderful derivatives of all things geese.

This year he had a refrigerator that held the crown jewels of his production:  the foie gras mi-cuit (more flavorful than the cuit) and my Christmas dinner:  guinea fowl stuffed with foie gras and fig, infused with armagnac, vacuum-sealed and ready for a slow roast.

The for-and-against controversy surrounding the production and the consumption of foie gras notwithstanding (and I can soundly defend either side of the coin); it comes down to this:  Foie gras is a cultural artifact on France's Christmas table.  Whether you buy it at Aldi (low-cost) or Fauchon (pricey), this addition to the traditional menu is an expected component, opening the meal and setting the stage for the second act (smoked salmon and blinis).  There are those Master Chefs who will trick it out-- recent embellishments include a lightly-fried slice 0f gingerbread upon which will rest the gloriously unctuous sliver of liver.  Others might layer a spoonful of spicy Christmas chutney on top of the fatty spread, with a sprinkle of fleur de sel to set off that splendid savory-sweet note.  But there are always the Traditionalists, those who keep the toaster right at the table so they can catch the plain baguette as it pops out, ready to be the warm bed upon which the foie gras will rest (and melt).

The absence of those fat and happy geese running around like crazy toddlers did make me a little sad when I passed by Monsieur Callebaut's farm earlier this month.  But the promise of his delicate foie gras adorning my holiday table helped me override my moment of emotion. Joyeuses fêtes, tout le monde.

dimanche 29 septembre 2013

Les Berges

Paris Mayor Betrand Delanoë has been a trailblazer for several grand-scale urban projects during his mandate, but none annoyed me more than Les Berges, inaugurated earlier this year.  To bring his 35 million euro folie green space dream to fruition, he closed off 2.3 kilometers of the voie rapide, a Left Bank expressway used by automobilistes to rapidly cross Paris from east to west.  The voie rapide dips down from the main surface streets to run parallel to the Seine.  There are no traffic lights, few entrances and exits, and was--until January 1st of this year,--a key part of my daily commute.

Delanoë has always been quite vocal of his dislike of cars in the capital.  Other projects he spearheaded include the conversion of car lanes into bus and bike lanes, as well as the Velib', Paris' bike-scheme.  His dream is to have a car-free Paris, a dream that irritates France's automotive industry for obvious reasons.  While he would never say there is a connection, PSA (Peugeot- Citroën) is at this time forced to close down their plant in Aulnay, putting 3,000 workers on the unemployment rolls.  So while it's good fun to rent a bike, or stroll along Les Berges during the 50 (and that's optimistic) rainfree days we have each year, those who backed Delanoë's projects should not now be crying that their payroll contributions to the unemployment coffers are increasing. 

It isn't just that my formerly-speedy commute has been compromised by this urban promenade space.  What irritates me is that Les Berges is yet another of those big, shiny, show-offy projects that has been rolled out with masses of fanfare, but that will undoubtedly fall into shambles in a few years.  Look at what happened when they launced Velib in 2007:   loads of press about how Paris will be the new Amsterdam, people will leave their cars at home and take up biking, and we will all be one big happy family of Lance Armstrongs.  Six years later, 40% of the bikes have been either stolen or vandalized, and little funds are allocated to maintain the bikes that still have a seat on them.  It is well-known that Paris has a habit of striking a budget line for any project created by a former government.  I have no doubt that Les Berges will one day be a mess of splinters and grafitti-ed furnishings, so I urge you to go and see it now while this project enjoys its glory days.

This is where I used to exit the expressway at the Pont de l'Alma.  Now a pedestrian path.

facing west
facing east


This is cool.  A series of floating gardens/lounging areas that were floated down the Seine from Le Havre (where they were constructed) and tethered.  They move gently with the current of the river, which is kind of a surprise when you assume you are stepping out onto a fixed platform.

There are these little squares of greenery bobbing up and down next to the five platforms.

Just one of the lounging areas (note no sun) moving back and forth with the water.  The guy in the tie is a security agent.  And working on a Sunday!!!!  Call the labor union!!!!

Here's another lounging area.  You can't see it in the photo, but the blocks become greener in tint as they descend towards the river, to become "one with the water."  Only France can wax philosophical about concrete seating.

Hooray!  Something is handicapped-accessible here! 

They reused the wood from the containers that carried the stuff down from Le Havre for seating (or stretching) all along the promenade.

This zone, le verger (orchard), was awesome.  It was funded not by my taxes but in partnership with a seed company, Truffaut.  You can pick leaves and flowers and then make yourself a hot herbal tea using a solar device.

All the pots are tagged so you don't inadvertantly pick marijuana or something like that.  Here we have some giant rhubarb and some prehistoric plant that I also saw at The Grove Shopping Center in LA last summer.

I loved the tags

You can do yoga class here, too.  Who would do yoga with a scarf draped so gracefully around the neck?  A Parisian!

There are two mind-blowing elements in this photo, elements that go against the cultural grain.  The first is the free water.  The second is the restrooms.

Not only are there restrooms, but there is a handicapped restroom.  Unbelievable.

Here's a dining option along the promenade.  The French are just getting into food trucks (although the government is working hard to block the enterpreneurs' selling permits) and they really like Airstream trailers.  For some reason this eatery is called "The Faust."  Maybe eating there requires one to make a Faustian bargain.

Faust certainly doesn't offer a lot of choices.

There's a board game area .  And this one has a Sunday worker, too!  This gives me an idea:  perhaps all the salespeople who lost their jobs when the union forced Castorama and Leroy Merlin (France's Home Depots) to close on Sundays could be reconverted to cleaning people for the Berges, because for some suspicious reason, the workers here are allowed to hold jobs on Sunday.  I suspect Delanoë paid off the CGT labor union.

jeudi 26 septembre 2013

Sephora and Chain Gang labor

The labor unions have once again managed to irritate an entire spectrum of people, from workers to consumers, with their latest target : forcing the gorgeous and always-packed Sephora on the Champs-Elysées to close each night at 9pm, rather than midnight as it had been doing enjoyably for years.

The reason?  Working "late" is bad for employees' health.

It's not as if working at Sephora is like mining (hazardous) or working a double shift at the cannery (tiresome).  It's a department store, for goodness sake!   The employees, many of whom are students, were thrilled to earn the extra 50% over their base salary as well as double vacation time.  Sephora employees working this particular shift were not coerced; they had all specifically asked for these lucrative hours, and many had held this shift for years.

This anachronistic situation reminds me of another odd, labor union-related holdover that exists in France: the special compensation for SNCF (train) workers, called the "prime de charbon" literally a "coal bonus hazard pay" even though the trains haven't used coal since 1974.  Still on the books, however, because once a union wins a benefit for a workers' group, it is impossible to rescind it.   Look what happened when the government tried to update the retirement age--a legitimate crusade now that we all don't die at age 55.   What do you mean I can't retire at 52?  The French are still taking to the streets on that one.

This Sephora thing is but one example of the shortview here.   30% of under-25 year olds in France are unemployed and would be happy to find themselves filling in the extra-hours gap that nine to fivers don't want....if those extra hours were available.  On the other hand, you have Eric Scherrer, the union leader who led the fight against Sephora's long day, saying how those poor workers will end up in the hospital and OMG....letting people work late might morph into something equally ghastly....shops opening on Sunday!!!! 

Don't get me started on the 35-hour work week, legislated to provide more jobs.  Right.  We all know what happened with that:  no new jobs were created.  They just worked the existing workforce more to do in 35 hours what they had done in 37.5 hours/week previously. 

And if you were a civil servant, that meant nothing changed.  You just screwed off for 35 hours/week rather than 37.5.

 There are plenty of businesses on the Champs-Elysées that work past midnight.  The cinemas' last screenings are at 23h00; the Lido's final show begins then as well.  Restaurants serve late into the evening, bars are open until 2am and the nightclubs don't get hopping until the wee hours of the morning.  The Champs-Elysées is a beehive of beautiful people during these late hours, consumers willing and able to drop in and spend some money on perfume.  Indeed, 20% of that store's revenue was made at night.
It's just crazy to target Sephora.

Maybe Scherrer has some kind of lipstick phobia.  Because "protecting workers" just doesn't make sense here.