3 days in Lille

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It’s nice to have a place to escape to on the weekend, only an hour from Paris on the fast train.  I escape the noise, congestion and pollution of Paris for a provincial city in the north where the pace is slower and the people (called Lillois) are friendlier. Here’s a friendly little boy, for example.  He looks shy, but in reality he dominates the household.  Don’t let that blue and white pacifier fool you….he was born to rule!  We are all at his beck and call.

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I sleep like a log in Lille. The air is colder and cleaner, the neighbourhood quieter and calmer.  Listening to the grievances of the children is a great leveller. Their grievances are so very different from mine (thank goodness for that).  Example – Daddy won’t buy me a new PlayStation…my brother is mean to me….why didn’t you bring us any bonbons?….

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We walk through the park, go bowling, make Welsh rarebit and oatmeal-raisin cookies.

The eldest boy never fails to remind me – Tata Juliet, don’t forget you promised to take me to New York when I turn 16.  To which I answer – Did I say that??

IMG_4173The Welsh rarebit above doesn’t look very appetizing, but it is delicious. Buy strong cheddar cheese, melt it in a saucepan over a low flame on the stove, add 1 teaspoon of sharp mustard and a small amount of beer.  Pour over toast.  When I was a child in Canada, I made rarebit using Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup.IMG_4242IMG_4240

Waiting for the train back to Paris on Monday afternoon.

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National Front guns in Béziers / machine guns on my street

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What is this country coming to?  Here is the mayor of Béziers, a town of roughly 80,000 souls in southern France known for its high immigration and high unemployment. His name is Robert Ménard and he’s a member of the far right-wing National Front party. This is his new controversial poster campaign advertising the police’s use of new handguns. The posters have drawn severe criticism from the government and widespread mockery on social media.  They read “From now on the municipal police has a new friend“.  Underneath the image it is written “Armed 24/24 and 7/7“.  The “new friend” is a 7.65-calibre handgun.  Municipal police in France are already allowed to carry arms, but Ménard’s campaign has been criticized for promoting gun culture. 

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I despise guns. Growing up in Canada, gun violence was nearly non-existant (sadly, that is no longer.)

Speaking of guns in France, I’ve changed my route to work because of them. Before the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket killings of January, I used to walk straight down my road and up another road to the office building where I work. It’s a 4-minute jaunt and it involved walking past a private Jewish school. But now I circumvent the Jewish school by taking another route. Why? To avoid walking past the soldiers who are stationed in front of the school.  Because you see, I don’t like walking past machine guns on a twice-daily basis (or 4 times a day if I go home for lunch). Especially when they are pointed at me as I walk past.

French soldiers secure the access to a Jewish school in Paris as part of the highest level of "Vigipirate" security plan

What world do I now live in where the presence of machine guns are part of the urban landscape?  My urban landscape.  Consequentially, the fallout from the Israeli-Gaza conflict has ended up on my street.  And that really pisses me off. 

Yes, that’s right.  There is a direct causal link between last summer’s Gaza killings, the continued building of homes by Israeli settlers on Palestinian land, Israel’s policy toward Gaza, and the need for French soldiers to be positioned in front of every Jewish school in France.  This is what journalist Michel Gurfinkiel calls an “importation of the Palestinian conflict into France.”  I call it backlash.

And if I learn that the funding of those soldiers is coming out of my hard-earned tax euros, I’ll be doubly pissed off.

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On September 12, 2014 – following the Israeli-Gaza conflict in which 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 500 children - the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) published a report confirming that deployment of Israel’s offensive called “Operation Protective Edge” led to significant spikes in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.

Britain experienced a 400 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents during July 2014.  There was a direct link between those acts and events in the Gaza Strip.

Below is a detailed and impartial report, prepared by the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) entitled How do illegal settlements perpetuate inequality, discrimination, and violence in the occupied Palestinian territory?

If you wish to contribute, in a small way, to the advancement of peace and social justice, you can donate or volunteer with the AFSC.  Please read this informative report.

http://www.afsc.org/resource/israel%E2%80%99s-settlement-policy-occupied-palestinian-territory

my mayor (the mayor of Paris)

I am proud of my mayor.  Which is more than I could say had I been living in my home town of Toronto under the mayorship of Rob Ford.

It doesn’t matter if Anne Hidalgo’s legal action against FOX “News” for defamation does not achieve a final outcome.  What’s important is to respond to the lies and the incitement to hysteria that that right-wing racist TV station delivers.

Below is a profile of Anne Hidalgo in yesterday’s New York Times and below that, how FOX “News” was publicly mocked and satirized by French TV show, Le Petit Journal.

Let’s hope that FOX will think twice the next time it plans to propagate lies and right-wing messages of hate and disinformation over the air waves. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/world/europe/mayor-of-paris-grows-into-her-new-role-as-comforter-in-chief.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/world/europe/fox-news-becomes-unwilling-star-of-french-tv-show.html?action=click&contentCollection=Europe&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

Millefeuille and sparkling wine

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Here’s a photo of a millefeuille. Millefeuille means a thousand leaves, as in the multiple layers of delicate puff pastry interspersed with layers of pastry cream, which is really a delicious custard. The top layer is always glazed with icing in alternating colours. Despite the green-coloured icing, this one is not pistachio-flavoured. I’m beginning to wonder if pistachio millefeuille ever existed in the bakery at the end of my street.  Every time I go in and ask for one, the woman says there are none left.  Was it a flaky figment of my imagination?

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Drinking chilled crémant is an alternative to drinking tea with French pastry. From only 5 to 7 euros a bottle, as opposed to 33 euros for a good bottle of champagne, I pick up a bottle of crémant at the supermarket like I pick up a bottle of wine. It makes a delicious apéritif with a splash of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) thrown in.  For purists, however, it’s nice on its own.

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The best example of sparkling wine is champagne from the Champagne wine region of France but, as you know, under AOC regulations (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), all sparkling wines using the champagne method but produced outside of the Champagne region, are forbidden to use the appellation “champagne.”  Yes, the French are highly protective of their regions.

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Sparkling wines called crémant are so named because their lower carbon dioxide levels give them a creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel.  In France, there are seven appellations for crémant (an appellation is a protected geographical region):

  • Crémant d’Alsace
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Crémant de Die
  • Crémant du Jura
  • Crémant de Limoux
  • Crémant de Loire

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Joan Didion

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Author, screenwriter, essayist, journalist Joan Didion….the high priestess of literature.  I have devoured all of her books.

Now 80 years old, Didion is the égérie of French fashion house, Céline, in their Spring 2015 ad campaign.  How cool is that?  In the same way, Saint Laurent (they’ve dropped the “Yves”) invited Joni Mitchell, 71 years old, to be in theirs.

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Didion’s nephew is Griffin Dunne, actor, film-maker and son of Dominick Dunne. For those who haven’t already seen the short documentary film he made on his famous aunt, here it is below.  It is sad….very sad….and beautiful.

For those who don’t know, Didion published a magnificent memoir with an equally magnificent title – The Year of Magical Thinking – following the sudden death of her husband (as they were sitting down to dinner in their Manhattan apartment) in December 2003. Tragically, her only child, Quintana Roo, aged only 39 and a recent bride, died in 2005.  In Didion’s book, Blue Nights, she has pieced together literary snapshots, and retrieved memories about her daughter’s life and death.

film noir

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There’s a flu virus circulating around Paris and many people from my office – including me – are at home in bed because of it.  So between naps, mugs of hot tea-honey-lemon and aspirin-paracetamol tablets every 6 hours, I’m snuggled up in bed – just me and my laptop – watching one of my favourite movie genres, “film noir”.  (below are links to three of them plus recommendations.)  And quite frankly, I can’t think of anything nicer to do on a gray, cold, dismal January day.

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Where did the term “film noir” come from?

In general, the genre’s hallmarks are a cynical private detective as the protagonist, a femme fatale, multiple flashbacks with voiceover narration, dramatically shadowed photography, and a fatalistic mood leavened with provocative banter.

The term film noir, French for “dark film” is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s.

Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black and white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography

Many of the stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.

In the opening scenes there’s often a car careening down a city street (or a desert road) and it’s usually raining and at night.

Yesterday I watched Crime of Passion (1957) featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden and Raymond Burr.

And Phone Call from a Stranger (1952) with Shelley Winters, Bette Davis and Gary Merrill.  Winters was superb.

Today I watched Gilda (1946).  Wow.  The sexual tension between bombshell Rita Hayworth and pretty boy Glenn Ford is so thick you could cut it with a knife. “I couldn’t get her out of my mind for a minute.  She was in the air I breathed, in the food I ate.”

I also recommend Mildred Pierce (1945) with Joan Crawford

Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney

Double Indemnity (1944) with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck

In a Lonely Place (1950) with Humphrey Bogart

Out of the Past (1947) with Robert Mitchum

The Big Sleep (1946) with Bogart and Bacall

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews