Cannes film festival, the ludicrous François Ozon, and DSK


I logged on to Elle magazine yesterday, hyped and ready to fire off a feisty email to the editor complaining about the offensive remarks made by French film director, François Ozon, at the Cannes film festival, when – to my surprise and delight – I saw that an uproar had already begun and the e-mails were pouring in from irate women. Hooray! French women have finally woken up! This is indeed good news. Up until now, it was always someone of a different nationality (usually me) who had to complain about the sexist attitudes in this country. Why? Because French women had a tendency to keep quiet over such matters. (I’m convinced that it’s because of a system of patriarchal Catholic rule which indoctrinates docility and lies at the foundation of French schooling here.)

I don’t do docile.

So what exactly were the offensive remarks of François Ozon, Parisian film director? While in Cannes promoting his new film entitled Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful), a story about a 17-year girl from an affluent Parisian family who decides to prostitute herself “for fun“, Ozon said to reporters: “It’s a fantasy of many women to do prostitution.”

Oh, really? And whose fantasy might this be? Yours or women’s?

I don’t recall fantasizing about being a prostitute when I was 17. I was too busy going to high school, working part-time at Woolco, and having fun like any normal, balanced 17-year old. Recreational marijuana-smoking was about as far as I went, not recreational prostitution.

The feminist group FEMEN tweeted that it would like to present Ozon with the “2013 Golden Asshole Award”.

What’s most insulting, aside from the obvious, is Ozon’s apparent frivolity as he trivializes prostitution. Tragically, men, women and children the world over must resort to prostitution in order to survive. Drive a car one night through the notorious Bois de Boulogne, situated 20 minutes from my apartment, and you’ll see prostitutes who, I’m guessing, would be baffled by Mr. Ozon’s film. Had Ozon taken the subject matter seriously, he could have done a different kind of film that addresses the reality of prostitution: at least it would be credible. But he doesn’t have the honesty to do such a project. His empty film depicting a minor as a whore because she wants to “feel alive” is nothing more than voyeurism and male fantasy. Lay claim to your own fantasies, Monsieur Ozon; don’t foist them onto women and say they are ours.

Two events brusquely jolted the French out of their reverie vis-a-vis their archaic attitudes towards women: the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York in May 2011 and the arrival onto French soil of the feminist Ukrainian group, FEMEN, at about the same time (see my March 7 post re these brave topless warriors.) On a Sunday morning, over croissants and steaming bowls of café au lait, the entire nation stared with collective incredulity at their TV screens. What were they looking at? Surreal images played over and over for all the world to see of their well-known countryman and respected economist – who was not only the head of the IMF in Washington, but candidate to be the next president of France! – handcuffed, unshaven and flanked on either side by burly New York policemen before being shoved into the back of a car and driven off to prison on charges of alleged criminal sexual assault. This was reality TV at its most horrific. It was, as the French press called it, an electroshock.  

There’s nothing like a pair of handcuffs and the clang of a Rikers Island prison gate to shrivel a sex offender’s dick.

Flash-forward two years: it took half a year for the French to come out of denial. During that time we had to endure endless TV talk shows (what, again?) and long, tortuous, psycho-babble written in weekly magazines dissecting what was so obvious to us, the outsiders, and seemingly oblivious to them. Two-thirds of the country believed it was a Sarkozy-orchestrated plot; that – in collusion with the French-owned Sofitel hotel where the assault took place – Sarkozy had planned the whole thing in an attempt to sabotage DSK’s presidency bid. And then, after denial comes derision. Now an Abel Ferrara film called Welcome to New York portraying Strauss-Kahn and his sex-crazed antics has been made starring Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset. No-one knows the release date of this film, but when and if it finally comes out, you can be sure that movie theatres will be packed in France.

Had the Strauss-Kahn / Nafissatou Diallo calamity occurred in Paris it would’ve been swiftly silenced, just like Strauss-Kahn’s prior transgressions had been silenced by the practice of a mafia-like code of honour here called omerta. For decades (we later learned) DSK had been groping and harassing women. Either none of the victims had come forward to complain, or they had come forward but were jeered at and dismissed by the macho men’s club that runs the Gallic corridors of power. The wake-up call that France sorely needed to shake itself out of its dusty, last-century torpor were those TV images of DSK in handcuffs played over and over with the eyes of the outside world looking on: judging and criticizing unacceptable French behaviour that had carried on, unchallenged, for centuries; unchallenged by both men and women. Better late than never, I suppose.

A weekend in Brussels

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I went to Brussels for two days in January and liked it so much I went back for more last weekend. The reason for going in January was not tourism-related, it was for a job interview. An international agency linked with the European Commission had an opening. I applied, they sent me train tickets, I went for an interview. I then stayed on for two days. In the end I didn’t get the job, but a few weeks later I secured myself a pretty good job in Paris, so all’s well that ends well.

But I felt that I could easily live in Brussels. As I walked the streets, the words that popped into my head to describe the city’s vibe were “relaxed and loose” as opposed to “tense and high strung” that is Paris. There’s an appealing quirkiness to the place, it’s cheaper than France, and Belgian beer is awesome (I like brown, malty ales.)

I returned to the same B&B that I had stayed in in January because I love the 19th-century building, the location, the soundproofed rooms with incredibly high ceilings, and Sofie and her husband who are such gracious hosts. I’m also crazy about their Jura espresso/latte/cappuccino machine that sits gleaming on the counter in the breakfast room. It’s Swiss-made and expensive. During this trip I chatted with four lovely Australians over breakfast. Australians are extremely laid-back and easygoing people which might explain why so few of them live in France.

To learn more about this charming B&B, see the links below.  Here’s my room, the bathroom and the building’s exterior:

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I wandered over to the nearby Marolles district to check out the flea market and the vintage furniture shops on the rue Blaes:

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The weather forecast predicted rain all weekend. It was the exact opposite.

The best Belgian fries!

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Belgian fries are awesome. Crisp, non-greasy and piping hot for 2 euros. I bought these from a food truck, called a fritkot, located on the Place de la Chapelle at the foot of a white cathedral. Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise which doesn’t appeal to me. I asked for vinegar (it’s a British/Canadian thing, malt vinegar is best) but they didn’t have any, so I ate them as is sprinkled with salt. Wash ’em down with a bottle of Belgian beer for 2 euros and life is good!

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From the Place de la Chapelle I walked straight down the boulevard de l’Empereur to the Place Albertine where I went in January.  There’s a small, beautiful park that I wanted to see again. Look at the contrast between the photos I took in the dead of winter and in late spring:

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As the day drew to a close, I headed back to the B&B. A few doors up is an authentic Moroccan pastry shop that makes superb pastilla – a small phyllo-pastry pie generously filled with shredded chicken, ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar – as well as Moroccan breads and pastries. I bought some tiny, fragrant cakes (flavored with sesame, anise and orange flower water) before retiring to my beautiful quiet room to sip herbal tea and watch a DVD.

Here are the January links introducing my first visit to Brussels and to this hotel. It should be known that the neighborhood, right near the train station, is a bit gritty. But the advantage is that it’s within walking distance to everywhere.

Day two in Brussels (May 2013)

Brussels May 2013 085Herring Street.  Why do brick walls fascinate me so?Brussels May 2013 084These brick façades remind me of certain buildings in Lower Manhattan.

Here’s La Grande Place, the most beautiful square in Europe, according to UNESCO.Brussels May 2013 092I returned to this 19th-century shopping arcade that I liked so much. (For a larger selection of photos of this gorgeous gallery and the above square, please see my Brussels January 2013 post):Brussels May 2013 068Love these Camper sandals. 160 euros:Brussels May 2013 060Brussels May 2013 078Stopped to fuel up with my 4th espresso of the day:Brussels May 2013 073Waffles at the table next to me, another specialty of Belgium; they’re called gaufres.Brussels May 2013 075Brussels May 2013 076

As I said, on my January post there are much better photos.  I didn’t have enough time to thoroughly explore the city and, like last time, left with the feeling that there was lots more to see: the striking Art Nouveau buildings, for example; the museums, the area called Ixelles, etc. Here are a few recommended addresses for anyone planning to visit Brussels: (Belgian chocolates!) (one of the better Belgian brasseries located on the street where Audrey Hepburn was born)

I’ve just learned that the “white cathedral” I referred to in the preceding post is named Notre Dame de la Chapelle and is the burial place of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Had I not been so busy stuffing my face with fries and guzzling beer, I might have noticed this relevant piece of information and gone inside.  Because I love the work of this important 16th-century Flemish painter.Brussels May 2013 042

La Défense

DSCF1398I’m guessing that the majority of tourists who visit Paris never venture out to the business district called La Défense located on the city’s west side.  If you do happen to go there (I recommend it), you’ll find yourself in a large, modernistic, automobile-free, open space amidst a forest of high-rise towers interspersed with low-rise apartment buildings.  At the very end of the long Esplanade are two shopping centers – the CNIT and Les Quatre Temps – containing a myriad of stores, restaurants, a massive supermarket called Auchan and a multiplex cinema.

La Défense is my backyard.  I live on the other side of the river and often walk to Auchan on Saturdays to do my grocery shopping.  I then walk back home with a very full knapsack on my back.  It’s a pleasant walk.  Walking is part of my exercise regime.  I don’t own a car.DSCF1399DSCF1400DSCF1405Now I know many people who say they loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity.  They say the place is devoid of charm or soul.  I happen to disagree.  I find a poetic expression in the design of the urban space here.  I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc.  A few years ago the Christmas decorations were sensational, but I’ve noticed in the last few years (since France has entered into recession) the municipality has cut back on such extravagances.DSCF1417The best part is the absence of cars and lack of crowds; the entire space is dedicated to pedestrians.  I suggest that you get on the metro (the number one central line) and get off at metro stop Esplanade de la Défense, which is only 5 stops from Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station on the Champs-Elysées.  Then stroll the entire length of the Esplanade. You’ll be rewarded with a stunning symmetrical view of Paris behind you and the vista of La Défense with its cube-shaped, Danish-designed La Grande Arche in front of you (below.)  You can take an outdoor elevator up to the roof for a fantastic view.  If you walk around to the back of the Grande Arche, you’ll find an unexpected long, narrow, wooden footpath, similar to a jetty, that juts over a graveyard and the suburb of Courbevoie.DSCF1424Here below is the CNIT building full of shops (Habitat, Decathlon, FNAC, a very good organic food and cosmetic shop on the lower level, Monoprix, etc.)  The CNIT is also a conference center.DSCF1421DSCF1411DSCF1414DSCF1412DSCF1408USEFUL INFORMATION – there are several hotels on the Esplanade: the IBIS, NOVOTEL, SOFITEL, HILTON and FRASER SUITES HARMONIE that sometimes offer special rates (depending on the season) lower than central Paris rates.  From La Défense, it takes 10 minutes to reach the Champs-Elysées on the metro.

FINAL WORD – I would advise against walking around this area at night.

Small design hotels in Paris

People are always asking me for names and addresses of Parisian hotels.  Because I live here, I‘m often stumped for an answer. I either put friends up at my place, which can be challenging because I live in a micro-apartment, or I recommend the moderately-priced IBIS, of which there are several dotted around the city.  There’s also the more expensive, and excellently-located Hotel Duminy where my Californian cousin stays.  It’s located on a quiet backstreet with the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre museum on one side and the glitzy shopping street, the rue Saint-Honoré, on the other.  Here’s the link:

Here’s a stylish haven of calm in the heart of the bustling 9th arrondissement called the Residence Nell.  It’s an establishment that rents out beautiful small apartments and studios for a single night, a week or a month.  When I first moved to Paris, I lived near  this address in the lower 9th arrondissement. It’s fantastically central; you’re close to everything.

Below is an exclusive list of small, trendy hotels published last month in one of the glossy French magazines.  These boutique hotels are relatively new, design-based, and surprisingly affordable.  The titles are the ones used in the magazine:

Le Plus Audacieux (the boldest)

I’d stay here in a heartbeat because I love the décor and the location which is mixed, very central and close to absolutely everything:

Le Plus Délire (the wildest)

Chantal Thomass is France’s eccentric lingerie designer. The location of her new hotel is off the beaten track in the lower part of the 15th arrondissement (south-west corner of Paris), however the efficient metro system will swiftly carry you into the center, or anywhere else you want to go in the city:

Le Plus Urbain (the most urbane)

Excellently located in the Marais, right near Saint Paul metro station.  It’s reasonably-priced and breakfast is included.  I’m guessing the rooms are small:

Le plus Sophistiqué (the most sophisticated)

This is more expensive and also centrally located just east of the place de l’Opéra and not far from Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps department stores:

Le plus Elégant

For the location, this Left Bank hotel looks surprisingly affordable. The very chic rue Verneuil runs parallel to the Seine River and the boulevard Saint Germain with its famous cafés, the Café Flore and the Café aux Deux Magots (tip: go to the Flore, it’s where Parisians go in order to avoid the tourists at the Deux Magots.)  The musée d’Orsay and all the fabulous, small shopping streets are here too. Cross the Pont du Carrousel bridge and you’re at the Louvre museum on the Right Bank. It’s all there – the best parts of Paris in the chic 6th arrondissement:

Le plus Précis (the most precise)

I would be inclined to stay here because Le Grey professes to be a quiet hotel that focuses on its inner environment. The 33 “soundproofed” rooms are dedicated to comfort and sleeping well.  The location in the upper 9th arrondissement is quite central, however as you approach the Place de Clichy north of the hotel and the Place Pigalle further east, the district becomes somewhat rough and tumble. Don’t be put off; it’s a perfectly OK area; just head southwards where everything you’ll want to visit is located (except for Montmartre which is due east):

Le plus Roots (I’m not sure what they mean by this term….earthy?)

This new, inexpensive hotel is getting a lot of buzz in the press. Industrial design with New York and Scandinavian influences. Near the Gare du Nord, it’s practical for those coming in on the Eurostar. I hear the elevator is miniscule and I suspect the rooms are pretty small.  But how much time do you spend in your room?  This is not a chic location. The district is densely populated and gets gritty as you go east, but it’s central, perfectly decent and interesting:

Welcome to Lille

Lille, France’s fourth-largest city located near the Belgian border, is one hour from Paris on the TGV (train à grande vitesse.)  Citizens from Lille are called Lillois and they’re far friendlier than Parisians.LILLE 1 May 2013 197Strategically located at the centre of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels, Lille has its own Eurostar train terminal that links the four cities.  Lille was elected European Capital of Culture in 2004.LILLE 1 May 2013 007There’s a lot of brick in Lille that you don’t see elsewhere in France. I think this building is a refurbished textile factory.LILLE 1 May 2013 009

Here’s the gorgeous L’Hermitage hotel where I spent New Year’s Eve. The building used to be a medieval hospice.LILLE 1 May 2013 034Attached to the end of the hotel is an excellent, reasonably-priced restaurant called L’Estaminet.LILLE 1 May 2013 044I took the kids there for lunch. It was so warm and sunny we sat on the terrace. They’re not my kids, incidentally.  They are the children of my best friend who lives in Lille.LILLE 1 May 2013 084The fruit salad was delicious.LILLE 1 May 2013 091

Afterwards we walked to the park. Lille is a socialist city run by the efficient mayor, Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delors, an esteemed economist and politician who was 8th president of the European Commission. Lille is pro-family and has a wide range of programs and facilities for kids.LILLE 1 May 2013 054LILLE 1 May 2013 058LILLE 1 May 2013 069LILLE 1 May 2013 021The kids call this “le parc rouge” on account of the red gates, but it’s really called the Jean-Baptiste Lebas park.  After I read the biography of this fervent politician turned resistance leader during World War II who was captured by the Germans in 1941, sent from camp to camp and eventually died from exhaustion after years of forced labour, I agree that this man deserves a beautiful park named after him.LILLE 1 May 2013 033LILLE 1 May 2013 042Unfortunately our favourite place was closed that day.  Located directly across the road is a refurbished train station called La Gare Saint Sauveur.  We go there all the time.  It’s now a recreational space for kids and adults. There’s a cinema, a restaurant, a hall with changing exhibitions, science fairs and occasional free sports activities for kids.LILLE 1 May 2013 004LILLE 1 May 2013 001Later in the afternoon I dumped the kids (sorry, kids) and headed over to the main square to get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Old Town.  This is where the best shopping is.LILLE 1 May 2013 163LILLE 1 May 2013 098On this May Day, the 1st of May, everything is closed in France except for a few boulangeries and cafés. It’s a national holiday.  A perfect day to loaf.  Europeans love loafing. In France we have four bank holidays just in the month of May alone!LILLE 1 May 2013 100LILLE 1 May 2013 105LILLE 1 May 2013 126The deeper you penetrate the Old Town, the narrower the streets.LILLE 1 May 2013 134LILLE 1 May 2013 144I got totally lost, but that’s the fun of wandering. When lost you can stumble upon unexpected treasures which you might not discover otherwise.LILLE 1 May 2013 151Like this amazing pastry shop called Aux Merveilles de Fred on the rue de la Monnaie. They sell a Flemish specialty of Lille called cramique which is a sort of dense, yellow-coloured brioche studded with raisins. Delicious with coffee in the morning.  The queue of customers waiting to buy spilled out into the street.LILLE 1 May 2013 152I love the brick; it reminds me of England.LILLE 1 May 2013 159High-end and also funky boutiques line the streets of the Old Town.LILLE 1 May 2013 107LILLE 1 May 2013 112LILLE 1 May 2013 119There are also several chocolate shops and a Nespresso boutique.  Throw in a bottle of wine and what more do you need?LILLE 1 May 2013 111And that was my day in Lille. Within one hour and 45 minutes I was back in my flat in Paris. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Brussels.  Monday May 20 is another holiday here and I’m off to Brussels for three days. For those who missed it, I posted two Brussels blogs in January.  I had such a great time there (despite the freezing cold), I’m going back for more.