breakthrough article on the front page of Le Figaro newspaper

Because it is such a sensitive topic, I’ve kept my mouth shut. (Which isn’t to say that I don’t have an opinion.) Today, France’s major national newspaper, Le Figaro, has published an important article entitled “Against the new anti-Semitism: hundreds of personalities sign a manifesto” (see link below). Concurrently, in today’s The Guardian of London, England, the same topic has been published (see link below).

This is indeed a breakthrough. As for the silence on the truth of this subject up until now, the national media – in France and abroad – is largely to blame. Not wishing to stigmatize a portion of the population, the media kept quiet. But the brutal murder of 85-year old Mireille Knoll in Paris’s 11th arrondissement last month was the last straw.

A personal anecdote: about seven years ago I was walking around in a predominantly Jewish district of my home-town of Toronto. In the course of conversation with shop-owners and some residents, I heard the same refrain, over and over: France is anti-Semitic. This was uttered in response to my mentioning that I lived in France. (By the way, I’ve also read the same accusation in articles published in The New York Times and written by Jewish Americans.)

I clearly remember in one Toronto store, exasperated after hearing yet again the same refrain, this time by an older Jewish woman who said that French Jews were being attacked in broad daylight in the streets of France, I asked her point-blank – “But who specifically is attacking these Jews?”

She looked at me, an expression of blank bewilderment on her face, and cried “French people! French people are attacking them!”

Now it was my turn to be bewildered. Because the France we are referring to is not Vichy France of the 1940s. 

And the question I asked myself was – how can the France of today be anti-Semitic when the list of politicians, journalists, authors, actors, comedians, industrialists and entrepreneurs, etc. is so long? And many of them, especially the actors, singers and comedians, well-liked, some loved, by the French public?

Laurent Fabius – Prime Minister of France (1984-1986), Minister of Finance (2000-2002) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (2012-2016);

Simone Veil – Minister of Health (1974-1979) and just too many awards and other nominations to be mentioned here;

Pierre Moscovici – Minister of Finance (2012-2014), Minister for European Affairs (1997-2002), and currently serving as European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs;

Dominique Strauss-Kahn – Minister of Economy and Finance (1997-1999), slated to be the next President of France, Managing Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

Frankly, the list is too long to type, so I’ll move on. But just to note that there are more French Jewish politicians in France than in any other Western country, and that includes Jack Lang (half-Jewish), ex-Minister of Culture, and Nicolas Sarkozy (half-Jewish), ex-President of France.

The accusations of the North American Jews, of course, were not entirely wrong. But there was a murkiness, a lack of clarity in the definition. Today, on the front page of the Sunday Le Figaro, the root cause has been spelled out in black and white. Read the articles below.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/22/ethnic-purging-french-stars-and-dignitaries-condemn-antisemitism

http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2018/04/22/01016-20180422ARTFIG00027-contre-le-nouvel-antisemitisme-des-centaines-de-personnalites-signent-une-tribune.php#reagir

the lovely Loire

 

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Throughout the month of May we have four public holidays in France: May1st (Labor Day), May 8th (1945 Victory Day), May 10th (Day of Ascension) and May 21st (Pentecost). And every May the French combine those paid holidays with vacation days and take off in droves. Some of the destinations my work colleagues are heading to are Marrakech, Jakarta, Brittany, the Basque region, London and Copenhagen. If I wasn’t already booked for Lille on May 19th and Portugal in early June, I’d return to the Loire Valley because the magnificent formal gardens at the Château de Villandry are a must-see, again and again.

I’ve published this post before, but due to popular demand I’m posting it again –

A few years ago I spent a long and lovely weekend in the Loire Valley, home of chateaux, vineyards and fruit orchards. From Paris I took the train to Amboise where my friend Andrew, an Englishman who lives in the region, met me. Amboise is a pretty riverside town with its own chateau. Here’s how UNESCO describes the Loire region: “an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities, villages and great architectural monuments.” And it’s true. There’s a softness in the landscape: the rolling of its gentle hills, the meandering of its rivers and the richness of its fertile soil that all converges into one glorious package that’s called the garden of France. And home of Kings since the 10th century.

From Amboise we drove to the nearby village of Loches where Andrew knew the owners of a bed and breakfast establishment. It was an excellent recommendation.

I stayed in the Sforza room and had the whole upper floor to myself. There was a sloping roof and dormer window that opened onto the river and a park beyond. The clean air and nocturnal silence that pervades the village Loches was like manna from heaven. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh country air nor the gentle burbling sound of the stream that flowed beneath my window, stark contrast to the metallic whine of scooters and cars that flow beneath my window in Paris. Even though the nights were cold, I slept with the window wide open. Here’s the view from the Sforza room –

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The two gentlemen who run the B&B couldn’t have been more charming and hospitable. Jean-Claude is originally from Paris and his business associate, Moha, from Morocco. Every morning I’d come downstairs and a smiling Moha would greet me with “Bonjour Mademoiselle!  Avez-vous bien dormi?”

“Did I sleep well?” I replied, “I think I died and went to heaven!” A generous continental breakfast was laid out on the table: yoghurts and jams home-made by Moha; croissants, breads and lots of good coffee. We were only three guests that weekend, so Jean-Claude and Moha (and their little black dog) joined us at the large table. We engaged in lively conversation. It’s rare that innkeepers in France sit down and join their guests at table, so I appreciated their warmth and company.

As you probably already know, the Loire Valley is known for several gorgeous wine regions: Muscadet, Sancerre, Vouvray and Pouilly-Fumé to name a few.  Loire wines tend to have a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours.  My favourite red wine from the Loire is Chinon, so Andrew drove me to the town of Chinon, an unassuming place located on the banks of the Vienne river. What a treat! I was determined to unearth some exceptional (but reasonably-priced) bottles of wine to take back to Paris with me. In the center of town we found a caviste, an independant wine merchant, with a tasting room. Sitting at a long, hand-hewed wooden table, we proceeded to sample glass after glass of Cabernet Franc, a black grape variety for which Chinon wines are known.

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Because there are so many chateaux in this region, it’s a good idea to do your research before going so as to not waste time wondering which one to visit. The weather being beautiful, we wanted to stay outdoors so decided on the Château de Villandry, famous for its gardens that comprise an ornamental garden, a water garden, a medieval herb garden, a vegetable garden and a maze. For two hours we wandered in the sunshine, marvelling at the landscape design and the history of the place. We’re talking 16th-century and this is what I love about France (and Europe in general): the commingling of past and present, modern and ancient.  

Here’s what the brochure blurb says – The Chateau of Villandry is the last of the great chateaux built during the Renaissance in the Loire Valley. The sober elegance of its architecture combined with the charm of its outstanding gardens illustrate the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on western European thought and design.

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The next day we drove to Tours to lunch in a lively bistro named Le Chien Jaune (The Yellow Dog.) The food was decent, but nothing to rave about. This place is more for atmosphere and good wine. Tours, the principal city of the Loire Valley, makes a good base from which to visit the surrounding chateaux and vineyards. From Paris Montparnasse train station, the Loire region can be reached in only one hour and 12 minutes on the TGV fast train.

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All in all, a terrific weekend. I’m eager to return but, comme toujours, other regions and other countries beckon.

a stylish boutique hotel and three excellent Paris blogs

A truly superlative food, wine, restaurant, and food tours blog, I’m not quite sure who’s behind the operation but here’s what the blurb says about Paris by Mouth:

There’s a reason why our food tours have been celebrated by The New York Times (twice!) and knowledgeable foodies like David Lebovitz. We keep our group sizes tiny, we spend generously at the best shops in town, and we only work with expert guides who have devoted their lives to food and wine. 

https://parisbymouth.com/

Run by a consortium of contributing writers, Hip Paris Blog has everything covered (plus stunning photography):

http://hipparis.com/2016/04/01/coffee-with-a-french-twist-at-cuillier-cafe/

Here’s David Lebovitz’s food and restaurant blog which I’ve posted before. I see he’s just returned from a trip to Edinburgh, which is precisely where I want to go. One look at those Scottish flapjacks and I’m on the web checking airline prices.

His photos are mouthwateringly divine:

https://www.davidlebovitz.com/

And last but not least, here’s a tony little hotel located smack in the middle of central Paris. The rooms look small but cozy. For the location the prices are reasonable. I’d stay there if I were visiting Paris.

http://www.hoteltherese.com/

a new book and some new cosmetics

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Browsing in the English-language bookstore, W.H. Smith, on the rue de Rivoli last week, I came across this memoir and purchased it. New Yorker Nadja Spiegelman is the daughter of Pulitzer-prize winner, Art Spiegelman, cartoonist and author of the celebrated novel, Maus. Her equally creative mother is Paris-born Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker magazine. Having famous and talented parents does not automatically assure the same for the child. (Is talent hereditary?) Nadja writes beautifully and evocatively about her trips to Paris, about her grandmother who lived on a houseboat on the river Seine, and about her own growing-up years in a Soho loft. But it’s the storytelling of her mother’s life that’s most interesting, and the way she juxtaposes her own coming-of-age stories with her mother’s who moved, alone, to NYC in the 1970s. The talented 30 year old Nadja writes with candor, poetry and maturity.

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Leaving the bookstore and ambling along the backstreets leading to the Place de l’Opéra, a sudden rainstorm broke out. Sans parapluie, I ran into the nearest store for shelter. It was Marionnaud, a good cosmetic and perfume chainstore here in France. If you’re lucky enough to get a good salesperson (which I did), you’ll discover all sorts of new products and brands. Like Qiriness and Natura Siberica, both completely affordable. The Qiriness extreme moisture balm is divine. Only 40 euros, it’s gel-based. Here’s what the blurb says – A voluptuous and velvety gel-cream texture with an invigorating and tonic fragrance of melon and freshly cut white flowers: a real treat for the senses. You spread a thick layer on your face in the evening and don’t rinse until the next morning. I love it.

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As for Natura Siberica, it’s organic, Russian and claims to use wild herbs and flowers. If you’re into hand creams like I am, I recommend their beautiful fragrant hand cream which I discovered in London last year. Natura Siberica has won a lot of international awards for best face care, best organic, etc.

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From the cult but unexciting German brand, Dr. Hauschka, to just plain argan oil from Morocco, I’m always changing and experimenting with face creams and cosmetics in general. I love the ritual of face-cleansing at the end of the day, coming home and taking everything off – the make-up, the grime and pollutants – then rinsing and using toner on a cotton pad. Right now I’m using Clarins toning lotion, but when that’s finished I’ll try something else.

Here’s straight-talking Sali Hughes, British cosmetic guru, explaining how to use the hot cloth cleansing method –

 

my new passport

Yesterday, in the corner of my local post office, I did a very strange thing.

I had gone to the post office to fetch a registered letter. After handing the notification slip and some ID to the woman behind the counter, she handed me a medium-sized envelope in return. Written on the top left corner was Embassy of Canada, Consular Section, 35 avenue Montaigne, 75008 PARIS. Three weeks ago, because my passport is soon to expire, I had sent off my renewal application.

I took the envelope and, still inside the post office, went to a quiet corner where there’s a little shelf hidden behind a partition. Resting my handbag on the shelf, I opened the envelope and took out my brand-new Canadian passport, valid for ten years. It’s cooler and classier than my old passport, a tiny bit smaller with stiffer front and back navy blue covers. I turned it over, opened it up, riffled the crisp watermarked pages, looked approvingly (for once) at my new digital photo and checked that everything was in order: my full name, date and place of birth, etc. And then I did an utterly surprising and unexpected thing: I kissed it. I kissed the cover of my passport. (As I said, I was hidden behind a partition.) I then slid it back in the envelope, put the envelope in my handbag and walked home, deep in thought.

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Ultra-violet pages that burst into life under a black light.

‘Why did I do that?’ I asked myself. It was such a spontaneous, odd and intimate gesture. Because you’re grateful, was the reply. Grateful for what, exactly? For being alive. For being free. But more specifically, for being born in a big beautiful country called Canada, and having big beautiful memories of my growing-up years there. I do not take my luck for granted. And it is luck, when you think about it, because where you are born and the circumstances you are born into is a crapshoot.

Expatriates who live in host countries abroad have a heightened awareness of the significance of the words ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’. Those who do not possess a passport (roughly 40% of Canadians, the number is higher in the States) might wonder what all the fuss is about. But a passport is an all-important sense of identity.

No matter how many decades I have lived in France, my Canadian identity clings to me. ‘Do you not feel a little bit French now?’ people ask me. ‘No,’ is my unequivocal reply. Born and raised in a Toronto suburb, the first three decades of my life were lived in that country. I wrap my Canadian-ness around me like a blanket (my feminism, my fairness, my frankness.) When you go out into the world, you learn – to your surprise and dismay – that these qualities are not universal. The longer I live abroad, the more aware I am of my difference. And I embrace that difference. I like my values and ethical way of working and interacting with others (different from how the French work and interact.) I like my English language (spoken with a decidedly North American accent.) And I like the fact that out of an office staff of 220, I am the only native English speaker at my place of employment. All day long, I speak and work in French, but I love my English mother tongue. Language is a persona, a living thing. (It’s also a power tool which has enabled me to become a professional translator, among other things.)

Today, how can we be unaware of the stateless, the persecuted, refugees and asylum seekers who, for no fault of their own, are uprooted and forced to seek a life elsewhere. And what of their passports? Making my way to the Canadian Embassy three weeks ago to blithely drop off my passport application, how could I not notice the long line of hopeful visa applicants snaked around the corner under the watchful eye of security guards?

I imagine myself leaving France one day and moving back home to live on one of the Gulf Islands off the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. Lush (because of rain), mild climate, forests, beaches, birds and animals, I crave tall trees, fragrant cedar wood, quiet, and clean fresh air.

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Gabriola Island, Canada

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Does a little log cabin await me somewhere on the Pacific Coast? Who knows.

 

Gad Elmaleh, comedian

This guy is funny.

Stand-up comedian and actor, Gad, is one of France’s best exports right now. In 2015 he moved to New York City and began an American tour entitled “Oh My Gad”. He’s as funny in English as he is in French.

The 46-year old Gad has led a very interesting life. Born in Morocco to Jewish parents, he was raised in a culturally diverse environment, speaking Arabic, Hebrew, English and French. His father was a mime artist. He went to high school in Casablanca, then studied political science at the University of Montreal before moving on to Paris in 1992 to study drama.

He had a relationship (and a child) with Charlotte Casiraghi, granddaughter of Prince Rainier of Monaco and American actress Grace Kelly. Their son, Raphaël, was born in December 2013. As Raphaël’s parents were not married, Gad is not included in the line of succession to the Monegasque throne. The couple split in June 2015.

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Here she is here, Princess Charlotte, looking just like her mother, Princess Caroline, daughter of Grace Kelly

 

In the States, Gad has been dubbed “the French Jerry Seinfeld”. But I find him funnier, with a lot more finesse. He sees the world through a vastly larger lens than Seinfeld does. Here he is here: