Stephane Hessel is dead (1917 – 2013)

“To create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

hessel

Stéphane Hessel, German-born French diplomat, ambassador, writer, concentration camp survivor and former French Resistance fighter has died, aged 95.

Mr. Hessel was a huge inspiration and grandfatherly figure here in France. He was humanism personified. He was also a dissident and iconoclast. Two years ago he published a small manifesto entitled Indignez-vous!loosely translated as Time for Outrage. We all bought a copy. It sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide and inspired global protest and the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the age of 93, Hessel became a celebrity. We saw him frequently on television.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1917, he was the son of a journalist and a writer. The family moved to France when Hessel was eight and he took French nationality. Refusing to adhere to the Vichy collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain, Hessel fled to London and became a member of the French resistance during World War II. After returning to France he was captured by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps. At war’s end in 1948, Hessel was involved with Eleanor Roosevelt in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hessel “leaves us with the invaluable heritage of fighting for universal human values and his inalienable sense of liberty.” said the mayor of Paris today.

A proud Socialist, Hessel said the aim of his political pamphlet, “Time for Outrage“, was to convince adrift or discouraged young people that they can change society for the better – even if they feel the world is controlled by entrenched and financially powerful interests. “The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times,” he said, “But look around and you will find them.” Among the causes for outrage he enumerated throughout his life and in his work were growing economic disparity, France’s treatment of illegal immigrants and the destruction of the natural environment.

hessel bis

In a world of seemingly fewer heros, Stephane Hessel was the spirit of resistance incarnate. For every generation, but especially for young people, he was a source of inspiration and also a reference.  Tributes are pouring in for this man called an “éveilleur de consciences“, a conscience awakener.

Adieu, Monsieur Hessel. Et merci. The world is a poorer place without you.

4 p.m. on a wintry Sunday afternoon

pastry religieuse feb 24, 2013 062

I usually resist the temptation to run down the street to the boulangerie at the end of my road to buy a French pastry.  Because I’m exercising something that’s called willpower. Juliet, you don’t need a pastry, my voice of conscience gently admonishes.  But I know that the boulangerie-patisserie at the end of my road is open on Sunday afternoons.  And this knowledge weakens my resolve.  And besides, this isn’t a question of need.  I want a French pastry at 4 p.m. on a dull, gray Sunday afternoon.  And why shouldn’t I have one?I’m a good girl.  I deserve it.

So out I ran, amidst gently falling snowflakes, clad in sweatpants and an old sweater, hair unkempt and no makeup (oh, the shame! Quelle honte !)  No time for lipstick.  OK, I made up for my negligence by throwing on at the last minute the woolly bonnet I bought last month in Brussels and my Montreal mink.  (Yes, all you fur haters, I unapologetically bought a long raincoat lined with mink ten years ago in Montreal when it was minus 30 degrees celsius outside.)  It has a mink-lined hood, called a capuche in French, that I particularly like.

I knew exactly what I wanted: a pistachio-flavoured mille-feuille.  I’d had one before from this place and it was divine.

“Bonjour, Madame”, I said, running into the shop as if on an urgent mission.  “Je voudrais une mille-feuille pistache, s’il vous plaît.”

“Il n’en reste plus !” she replied.

Huh?  None left?  I stood in my mink, my fluorescent pink and green running shoes, and my Tibetan hat feeling bereft.  Don’t you hate it when you’ve got your mind fixed on one thing and then you learn that it’s unavailable?? I gazed wildly at the other pastries in the display case. “Errrrr…..well, OK, I guess I’ll have a religieuse then. One chocolate and one coffee. Please.”  I was obsessed with these eclair-like cakes when studying French in Montpellier a hundred years ago.  The name means “nun” and is supposed to represent a tubby nun in a habit.

pastry religieuse feb 24, 2013 065

The best accompaniment to French pastry, in my opinion, is jasmine or rose petal tea.

pastry religieuse feb 24, 2013 072pastry religieuse feb 24, 2013 076

Next week I’ll post a photo of a pistachio mille-feuille.

Eating horsemeat in France

I think what shocks the French more than the actual ingesting of horse is the defrauding of consumers through false and inaccurate labeling on frozen food boxes.  I mean, they eat snails, frogs’ legs, veal brains, blood pudding and pigs trotters, for heaven’s sake. Why would eating horsemeat set them aquiver?

When I first came to France in the 1980s to study French in the sunwashed city of Montpellier, I ate horsemeat.  Once.  I didn’t buy the stuff from a horsemeat butcher, called a boucherie chevaline, of which there were several scattered around the city.  No, it was served to me one night in the guise of a hamburger.  At the end of the meal the hostess asked me how I liked the meat.  I said that it was good, but it had an odd sweetish flavour.  Everyone at the table laughed and I was told that I had just eaten horsemeat.  I was not amused.  In my teen years I owned a horse named Sundance, a beautiful chestnut quarter horse with a white blaze on his face.  Realizing that I had dined on an equine-burger was akin to learning that I had just eaten my pet dog.  I decided to not knowingly eat horsemeat again.

And that’s what this current food fraud scandal is all about: we’ve been unwittingly eating it, thinking it was certified beef. When you go to the supermarket to buy a box of frozen lasagna or spaghetti bolognese and it’s written clearly on the box “100% French beef“, that’s what you expect to be eating.  You might imagine, if you imagine at all, contented cattle placidly grazing on grass and loafing in a sun-dappled Limousin valley. What a rude shock to discover that in reality what you’re eating is bits of carcass from a sorry old horse that was slaughtered in an abattoir in Romania!

That’s it, I’m becoming a full-fledged vegetarian.

I did some investigating and was surprised at the popularity of horsemeat consumption around the world and shocked at the thriving horsemeat business that that generates.

In 2005 a survey was conducted to determine the five biggest horsemeat-consuming countries: they are China, Mexico, Russia, Italy, and Kazakhstan. Italy! Home of my beloved cioccolata calda??  I was in Bologna over Christmas a few years ago.  I wonder if those numerous plates of spaghetti bolognese that I scarfed down was full of horse?  The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, reports that every year 100,000 live horses are transported into and around the European Union for human consumption, mainly to Italy but also to France and Belgium.

And before my fellow Canadians get too smug in thinking that this happens in other countries, here’s a shocker:  it appears that horse-eating countries of the world covet Canadian horseflesh.  One Canadian horse is worth nearly $20,000 and every week approximately one hundred are loaded onto a plane at Calgary International Airport and flown to Japan to be slaughtered, sliced thin and served in Japanese restaurants.  It’s a delicacy called basashi and it’s eaten raw.

In spite of the seriousness of the scandal that’s gripping France and Great Britain this month, newspapers have come up with some humourous headlines:

European horsemeat scandal gallops on.  Horsemeat scandal set to spur tougher food tests. Restaurateurs respond to horsemeat neighsayers.  Not sure I’d want to be saddled with horsemeat as a mane meal. And – Quit horsing around!

And I just thought of this now:  It behooves us to reflect on this matter.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 142

View from the top of London

The view from the top of the Shard: London panorama of sights and sounds

To mark the opening of the Shard, The Guardian newspaper has produced a 360-degree, augmented-reality panorama of London’s newest view, from the building’s public observation deck.

This is fantastic. (see link below). I particularly like the Day and Dusk features (upper right-hand corner). Use the arrows at bottom of screen.

I have lived and worked in London at different times of my life;  it’s truly a phenomenal city. Nowadays I visit London several times a year on the Eurostar, a high-speed train service connecting Paris with London (under the English Channel) in just over 2 hours.

Paris should do the same thing with a panoramic view from atop the Eiffel Tower.  Or New York from atop the Empire State Building…..the sky’s the limit!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/interactive/2013/feb/01/view-from-top-shard-london-interactive

Another great day in the Marais: photo exhibition, Italian hot chocolate, Portuguese pasteis de nata…

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 036

It was only an afternoon but a full one.  And very enjoyable.  It’s still cold and gray here in Paris on Friday February the 8th.  There’s a photography exhibition currently showing at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, so I jumped on the metro and got off at Saint Paul.

Here’s what’s great about France: the majority of museums and art galleries offer two admission fees – regular and reduced. The regular fee at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is 8 euros and the reduced fee is 4 euros. The French government believes that while you’re unemployed, you might as well get out and look at art. Reduced admission fees also apply to those over 60, students, large families, teachers, artists and welfare recipients. Free admission is offered to children under 8, journalists, civil servants and PWDs (Persons With Disabilities.)

There are also free days. The first Sunday of every month, for example, entry to all national museums is free. This is to encourage people to enjoy art and to cultivate their minds. The same policy applies in Great Britain. This is a marvellous example of what’s called the “democratization of culture” – to make it populist and not elitist.  But who pays in the end?  We do. Those who live, work and pay taxes in France. We all contribute to the financing of French museums (among other things) through taxes.

Joel Meyerowitz – A Retrospective 

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 047
Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 056
Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 055

I love street photography. Especially from the 1960s and 70s, my two most favourite decades. I really enjoyed looking at these captivating, nostalgic images. Frozen in time. I look at the people in the photos and wonder “Where are they now?”

Here’s a brief bio of the artist: Born in 1938 in the Bronx, Joel Meyerowitz is the archetypal New Yorker, embracing the 21st-century with curiosity and empathy. It was in 1962, following his first meeting with Robert Frank, that he began to roam the streets of New York with his 35 mm camera and black and white film. A long trip to Europe marked a turning point in his career. Meyerowitz permanently adopted color in 1972. He also switched to large format photography, often using an 8×10 camera to produce photographs of places and people. This retrospective exhibition presents, for the first time, his earliest black and white photographs alongside a larger body of work in color.

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 041
Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 054Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 060

If you find yourself in this part of the Marais (the lower part), here are a few places that I can recommend, all near the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Saint Paul metro station.  La Perla is a good Mexican restaurant located on the rue du Pont Louis Philippe in the 4th arrondissement. A tad expensive, it offers a good selection of Mexican beers and a relaxed ambiance. (You’ll never get the quality and range of Mexican dishes in Europe that you do in the States.) This whole road is lined on either side with small, interesting boutiques.  It leads down to the Seine River and the bridges that cross over to the Left Bank.

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 066

At the end of the rue du Pont Louis Philippe is this picturesque bistro called Chez Julien.  I cannot recommend it, though, because I’ve never eaten there.

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 073

Once I got to the end of the road, I retraced my steps and headed back up to the rue de Rivoli.  It was bitterly cold and I was in need of hot chocolate.  I had heard about a place called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile that serves divine gelato and hot chocolate. I found it and went inside. It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm.  I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 081Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 083Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 084

Oh, sweet mother of the roasted cacao bean; this is what I had been missing all these years … this was the real deal: Italian cioccolata calda. Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous. I sat there savouring each mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction and then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop. I swear, if the woman hadn’t been looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido”, I said to the woman who was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will definitely return to that place. Not just for the chocolate, but because it’s unpretentious. Sometimes you get tired of chichi places and prices. Back outside I discovered an adorable vintage clothing shop two doors up from Pozzetto.  And beside the clothing shop, at n° 37, is an equally adorable Portuguese pastry shop called Comme A Lisbonne. It’s tiny, immaculate and serves excellent espresso and freshly-made pasteis de nata, those irresistible custard tarts made with a crispy, flaky pastry.  I had one.

Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 092Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 091Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 093

Hopper

People In the Sun 1960

People In the Sun 1960

From Williamsburg Bridge 1928

From Williamsburg Bridge 1928

So I hopped a ride with a friend (sorry, couldn’t resist that) to go to the Grand Palais to see the art exhibition that’s impossible to get into: Edward Hopper.  Like the rest of the population of Paris, I waited until the last days to view this outstanding retrospective.  Yes, we’re all out standing in the gravel-lined grounds of this magnificently restored museum waiting to get in.  There’s a 3-hour waiting period.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 007

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 008

The French have far more patience than my non-French friend and I, so we left with the intention to return during the last three days (February 1st to 3rd) when the exhibition hall will be open for 24 hours.  Imagine that.  I might just view Hopper’s paintings at three in the morning.  Et pourquoi pas?  For the sake of exceptional art, it’s worth it.

Edward Hopper, the American artist who lived from 1882 to 1967, was known as a romantic, realist, symbolist and formalist.  He first came to Paris in 1906 (and then again in 1909 and 1910) and was greatly influenced by the Impressionist school, the 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists, namely Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir.  Radicals in their time, they violated the rules of academic painting.  Impressionist features include open composition, emphasis on light in its changing qualities, common, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement, and unusual visual angles.

Degas inspired Hopper to take original angles and apply the poetic principle of dramatisation.

Gas 1940

Gas 1940

This is one of my favourites.  The light in this painting—both natural and artificial—gives the scene of a gas station and its lone attendant at dusk an underlying sense of drama.

It is fitting that Hopper’s work has now come to Paris for the first time.

Here are some random street shots that I took as we made our way along the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, the strange weather at times stormy and then sunny.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 030

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 031

Above is the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens from the Place de la Concorde.  Notice the formality and neatly-trimmed treetops.  No wayward wisteria or defiant dogwood here.  The French like symmetry and control in their gardens. The theory of the 17th-century French garden was the subordination of nature to reason and order.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 035

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 036

They also like long vistas and perspective.  Above is one of the tree-lined garden paths with a glimpse of the Louvre museum in the background.  You half expect to see Madeline and the eleven schoolgirls walking here in two straight lines (from The Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans.)

Tuileries is the French word for tilemakers.  A medieval warren of tilemakers occupied the site in the latter part of the 16th-century.  The location became the residence of King Louis XIV, who was awaiting completion of the palace of Versailles, and when the king and his family moved out during the 17th-century, the Tuileries garden was converted into the most fashionable public park in Paris.  And still is today.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 041

Running parallel to the gardens is the rue de Rivoli.  Among the many shops that line it is the English bookshop, W.H. Smith.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 045

This is where the anglophone community congregates and hobnobs.  Monthly bookreadings and author evenings are organized as well as kids’ club events.  I usually go for the international magazine section at the back and the English sweet shop upstairs.  The next author event is March 21st at 7 pm where Jenny Colgan will present and sign her book THE LOVELIEST CHOCOLATE SHOP IN PARIS.  Hmmmmm…..I think I’ll make a point of being there.

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 055

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 057

Paris Hopper janvier 2013 061