great art, great burgers

I’m occasionally given free tickets to the Louvre because the company I work for is a corporate sponsor. So last night after work I hopped onto the metro and zipped down the number one line to the Palais Royale-Louvre stop. I had an invitation to attend the preview of this –

Exhibition Masterpieces from the Leiden Collection, the Age of Rembrandt from February 22, 2017 to May 22, 2017

After climbing what seemed like 800 steps to get to level two of the Sully rooms (there’s one miniscule elevator in a distant corner), I did a quick tour of the collection. Aside from the many gems on view, the exhibition itself is small and appeared to me to be somewhat slapdash. I admit that after visiting the New York Met last April (a stunning, huge collection) and the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in 2014, when it comes to displays of the 17th century Dutch masters, I am spoiled. 

In a neighboring room I happily stumbled across two paintings of Venice which I thought were Canalettos, but were in fact painted by his nephew, Bernardo Bellotto. As it turns out, the Louvre curators themselves believed they were Canalettos until 2014! Here is Church of the Salute painted in 1730. It’s almost as if the painting is lit from within. Luminous!

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And then, again to my delight, I came across, in the same room, a favorite Monet of mine, Environs de Honfleur (Landscape around Honfleur). To stand in front of a larger-than-life favorite painting – the original – is, well, awesome. I’ve had posters and cards of this snowscape, but this is the first time I’ve actually gazed upon the original canvas. Look at those grays and blues and the abundance of snow in the foreground; the absence of direct sunlight and that heavy sky, pregnant with snow. There’s one single bird flying overhead. The tree branches (apple trees?) are loaded with snow, but what I like best is the muffled silence and restfulness that this painting evokes. Also, and surprisingly, it does not depict cold, but rather warmth.

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Here’s another magnificent Monet also hanging on the wall. Claude Monet, Ice floes on the Seine at BougivalPainted during the winter of 1867-1868, the spot is about 15 kilometres from Paris. The people are drawing water from the Seine with their buckets.

Leaving the Louvre at around 7:30 pm, famished, I jumped back on the metro and got off on the Champs-Elysées. The new FIVE GUYS had opened two months ago and I wanted to check it out. For those who don’t know, FIVE GUYS is this –

American burger chain Five Guys has now debuted its largest restaurant ever in Paris. The massive restaurant arrived on the Champs-Élysées, not far from what happens to be McDonald’s most lucrative location in the world. At 1,200-square-feet spanning five floors, this Five Guys features two kitchens and a terrace.

Being an ordinary Monday night in February, there wasn’t a crowd, thank god. This was my first Five Guys experience, and I was curious. I had read somewhere that Barack Obama’s favorite burgers are Five Guys. So I ordered a hamburger and small fries. Twelve euros, 50 cents. 9 euros for the burger, 3.50 euros for the fries. The milkshakes are 6.50 (I didn’t order one.) As I waited for my order while watching the assembly-line method of meal preparation, conducted entirely by happy-looking young men and women, I thought to myself – this burger better be good. (9 euros is USD 9.55)

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They called out my number, I took the grease-dappled paper bag that was handed to me and went outside to sit on the heated terrace. I ripped open the paper bag. Inside was a mountain of steaming hot fries, enough to … well, I was going to say ‘enough to feed an entire Syrian refugee family’ – but that sounds disrespectful. Let’s just say that for a small order of fries, the amount was HUGE. They were delicious. And the burger? I opened the foil wrapping. Inside was a double-burger with my selected toppings on it. It was also steaming hot. The squishy sesame bun was lovely and soft. And the meat? Succulent. A bit greasy, tasty and nicely seasoned. I’ll definitely return.

I finished eating, threw the wrappings into the garbage and walked off into the night, striding up the ‘Champs’ to catch the metro home at George V station.

do countries get the governments they deserve?

“Every country has the government it deserves.”

Is this true?

Does the USA really deserve Toxic Trump?

If it wasn’t for that stupid Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would be President today. Because she won the popular vote by 2.9 million. (More Americans voted for Hillary than any other losing presidential candidate in US history.) So no, the above adage is not true … at least not for the 48.2% of Americans who voted Hillary. They did not get the government they felt they deserved. 

During a visit to the northern city of Tourcoing this morning, François Fillon was welcomed by protesters and the clanging of pots and pans (see video below.) In any other modern, democratic country, a politician would resign after being caught out like Fillon has. But not in France. It’s true that a large proportion of the French electorate (62%) is so desperate to see the back of President Hollande and the Socialist Party, they will vote for Catholic Conservative Fillon and overlook his “financial irregularities.” And then there are others who will vote for him despite the corruption allegations.

When I asked my non-French office colleague how this could be, she replied, “It doesn’t bother them; the French don’t consider fraud or corruption a big deal. The general consensus here is that everybody does it. You’re just unlucky if you get caught.”

This deplorable attitude is changing now. I don’t believe that Fillon will win. The French are fed up with elitist thieving, privileges and the misappropriation of public funds.

Fillon was Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012, during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.  

In this video filmed this morning, you’ll see a Frenchman wearing glasses and a red sweatshirt. He’s standing inches away from a cop shouting “I’m a native from Tourcoing. This is my town hall. I pay my taxes. Stop pissing us off. Towards you, I’m polite. You piss me off!”

Notice how the cop does nothing. Had the man been black or Arab in a poor, disadvantaged neighborhood, the cops would have brutalized him. Sodomizing black and Arab men with a baton seems to be the latest police practice here. But that’s a whole other subject.

His pal then shouted “This town is not a town of crooks!” (Cette ville n’est pas une ville de truands!)

une soirée parisienne

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The above photo, taken last night around 6:20 pm, is the view from my Swedish friend’s kitchen. Andreas lives in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, a district I like very much. We had gone to see the movie, La La Land. I was bored from beginning to end.

Andreas had booked us a table at Unico, an Argentinian restaurant on the rue Paul Bert. We walked over. I like walking on cold, clear nights.

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This is what a Parisian restaurant looks like at 7:30 pm on a Saturday: empty. As a general rule, people eat late in France. But I like being the first to arrive.

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Here’s the smiling manager who isn’t Argentinian, but Spanish.

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We ordered beefsteaks … well, a chunk of beef, vegetables on the side, and a bottle of wine.

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Followed by dessert. The restaurant slowly filled up and by the time we left it was packed.

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I guess this is the reason why I don’t eat out much (although it’s lovely to go out and meet and eat with friends.)

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Who do you think you are?

Reading the world news has become so depressing that I find myself turning more and more to Youtube to watch documentaries, interviews and TV programs … far more interesting and enlightening. Do you know this one? It’s a genealogy documentary show that was aired on the BBC. In each episode, a celebrity traces his or her family tree. The show attracted an audience of over 6 million viewers.

If I were to trace my own family tree, I would first go to the Baltics – to Riga, Latvia – birthplace of my maternal grandfather. Of course, it wasn’t Latvia back then but Russia. And before that, Riga was under the rule of Sweden, remaining its largest city until 1710.

As for my father’s kin, my paternal grandfather (and my father) came from north-east England (Northumberland County). Dad always claimed that he was a descendent of the Danish Vikings.

My parents ended up in Toronto and I moved to Paris. So you see, most of us come from somewhere else. And the stories along the way are interesting, to say the least.

There’s a big list of Who Do You Think You Are participants, ranging from J.K. Rowlings to Sir Ian McKellen to Twiggy to Martin Sheen and Sarah Jessica Parker (the program was such a success, there’s an American version.) You’ll find them all on Youtube.

Enjoy!  Here’s one for starters that I found particularly interesting and entertaining. Boris Johnson is ex-mayor of London and now U.K. Foreign Secretary:

 

books, books, books …

The BBC Culture department recommends these Ten Books You Should Read in February – 

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170203-ten-books-you-should-read-in-february

“Readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment,” writes Paul Theroux.

Take a look at these striking photos of readers around the world –

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170116-striking-photos-of-readers-around-the-world

Natalie Portman, Jackie, and the Balzac movie theater

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I went here today, to the Balzac, to see the new movie, Jackie. 

What I liked about the film: first and foremost, Portman’s performance. In one word, outstanding. She carried the entire film from beginning to end. Through that beautiful face of hers, and her Jackie voice and body language, she conveyed to us the full range of Jackie emotions in the four days following her husband’s assassination. Secondly, I loved the cinematography: it was gorgeously filmed and soundtracked. Oh, and the interiors are exquisite, as are some of the clothes Portman wears.

But for a movie so big and visually beautiful, I came away not feeling much, don’t know why. Was it because the actor playing Robert F. Kennedy was disappointingly insipid? (in real life, he was so charismatic.) Was it because, it seemed to me, that Jackie was portrayed as sort of a nutcase after her husband was killed? Well, who wouldn’t be a nutcase after cradling your husband’s blown-off head in your lap in the back of a speeding convertible?? Or was it because, as a politiphile, I wanted more substance relating to the politics of that era – or even the gossip and scandals, there were enough of them – during Kennedy’s too-brief presidency? But all this is my opinion. See the movie for yourself, you’ll love it.

Located on a quiet sidestreet (rue Balzac) running off the Champs Elysees, the Balzac is one of the last independent movie houses in Paris. While other independent cinemas have been closing, one after the other, due to rising rents and dwindling attendance, Le Balzac seems to be keeping its head above water. I noticed today that it receives funding from the BNP Paribas bank.

“The whole ambiance — the deep red carpets, the comfortable seats, the clean curves of the room, the glimmer from the modern art-deco light fixtures — creates a special atmosphere of cozy sumptuousness. Even though the cinema is just steps off the beaten tourist track, there’s nothing of the commercial atmosphere that reigns over the other movie theaters on the Champs Elysees. It’s a space truly dedicated to the Seventh art.”

I like the retro feel and the espresso bar in the small lobby (no popcorn here.)

The driving force behind the success of this movie house is Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky, a passionate cinephile who took over the business from his father who, in turn, had taken over the business from his father. Sometimes Mr. Schpoliansky makes an appearance on the stage and introduces the film to the audience. How cool is that? His team also organizes jazz and classical music concerts every Saturday night before the first screening, monthly opera nights (glass of champagne included), puppet shows and storytelling hours for children, and other events that you can view on their website:  www.cinemabalzac.com/public/index/index.php

Fillon’s culture of corruption

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We were told to tighten our belts and make financial sacrifices.

Because of debt and overspending, he would slash 500,000 public servant jobs.

He would cut all forms of benefits and increase working time.

And all the while, from 1988 onwards, François Fillon had been helping himself to the public purse to pay his wife and children (close to one million euros)…for fictitious jobs.

Above is the front cover of yesterday’s Charlie Hebdo magazine. The text is “Win 500,000 euros for doing nothing…with the mask of Penelope Fillon.” It’s cruel, but not as cruel as Fillon’s contempt towards honest working people (like me) and to the French electorate in general.

OFF WITH HIS HEAD!  Where’s a guillotine when you need one?? There must be one stashed away somewhere (the last execution by guillotine in France was as recent as 1977.)

His political slogan is “The courage of truth.” He has shown neither.

Penelope Fillon allegedly received €831,000  from 1988 to 1990, from 1998 to 2007 and in 2013 as parliamentary assistant to her husband. But there’s no trace of her work or even her presence. Their two children, Marie and Charles, were also paid €84,000 as assistants while he was senator in 2005 and 2007. 

Journalists are calling this the Marie-Antoinette syndrome. Here’s a 2007 photo of Monsieur, Madame and Fifi at their château. Notice the jeans, as if to say – We’re just ordinary, casual folk.

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