Paris opera house

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We had such a good time last night! My office colleagues and I were treated to an outing (by our employer): a guided tour of the Paris opera house and a cocktail party afterwards.

We were over one hundred, but broken up into small groups. While recounting stories and legends along the way, Delphine, our tour guide, shepherded my small group around the building. For tourists, this service is available to everyone and I highly recommend it. Above is the magnificient ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. (For those who don’t know, there’s a stunning museum, the MUSÉE NATIONAL MARC CHAGALLin Nice, France. A must-see.)

As I sat in the plush red velvet seat, my head craned upwards to gaze at the ceiling, the thought that ran through my head was this: I cannot imagine my life without art and beauty in it.

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If anyone has watched the movie, The Phantom of the Opera (I don’t know which version, there were many), this is the box that was in the film.

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Here we are backstage (this was the most exciting part). We were surprised to learn that the floor slopes downwards.

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In this photo below you can see the vista of the avenue de l’Opéra from the window, Delphine telling us a story, and the bust of Charles Garnier, the architect who built “Le Palais Garnier” in 1874.

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After the two-hour tour, we trooped down the avenue de l’Opéra in the cold night to Drouant restaurant where flutes of champagne and hors d’oeuvres awaited us. Every year the famous literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, takes place in this Michelin 3-star dining establishment.

Restaurant recommendation: looking for a superlative meal in an elegant restaurant in the center of Paris? The Drouant. The champagne, wine and food that I consumed was of the highest quality.

Below are just a few of my lovely colleagues. Only one of them is French. I really like working in an international context and environment.

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PenelopeGate and other French scandals

It’s almost as if they can’t help themselves.

Here in France, we watch – in the beginning stupefied, now utterly cynical – as one politician after the next either lies, cheats, steals, has sex with someone, assaults a chambermaid in a New York hotel, runs a prostitution ring, or stashes millions in a Swiss bank account. You name it, they’ve done it. Whatever they do, it runs against the Ten Commandments. And I only mention the Ten Commandments because these people present themselves as upright, moral, irreproachable model citizens.

It’s all a lie.

Before I mention yesterday’s scandal, here’s the political scandal that broke today:

François FILLON, ex-prime minister to President Sarkozy and running on the Christian (Catholic) platform to be the next president of France, allegedly paid his British wife, Penelope, an extremely generous salary from public funds (€500,000 over a period of 8 years!) Until now, no-one had ever heard of her. Today, media everywhere is blaring WHO IS PENELOPE???

She must be cowering in the cowshed of their country manor.

What work did she do to earn a salary of around €7,000 a month between the late 1990s and early 2010?

Here they are, looking like irreproachable model citizens.

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Here’s what today’s The Guardian says –

France’s financial prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into the possible misuse of public funds by the rightwing presidential candidate François Fillon and his British wife. A newspaper alleges that she has been paid about €500,000 in eight years from parliamentary funds for what it claims could be a fake job.

The issue is potentially deeply damaging for Fillon, who has not only styled himself as squeaky clean and immune to the sleaze allegations of French politics, but who has also campaigned on an austerity platform to cut wasteful public spending and axe 500,000 civil servant jobs.

Despite 35 years in politics, including five years as prime minister, Fillon has presented himself in the presidential race as an anti-system candidate and an honest, austere and “irreproachable” antidote to years of corruption scandals on the French right.

Until now, Penelope Fillon has been regarded as never having played a key role in her husband’s political life and has described her main occupation as raising their five children. After her husband became prime minister in 2007, she told The Sunday Telegraph that she preferred being at the couple’s 12th-century chateau near Le Mans, western France, with her five children and five horses than in Paris. She said of the city: “I’m just a country peasant, this is not my natural habitat.”

Yesterday’s scandal was this – Claude Guéant, former Chief of Staff to Nicolas Sarkozy and also Minister of the Interior was sentenced to one year in prison for awarding himself envelopes of cash from police funds; in other words, misappropriation of public funds. Guéant later rose to become interior minister from 2011 to 2012, in charge of France’s policing and security. The judges found that Guéant was the instigator of the scheme and that his actions contravened “republican values”. The court said he had obtained the funds with the sole aim of “personal enrichment”.

Here he is, looking like a morally upright (somewhat constipated) model citizen.

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And last month’s scandal was Christine Lagarde, managing director of the Washington-based IMF (International Monetary Fund), who took over from disgraced DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Lagarde is accused of criminal negligence while failing to prevent a massive government payout (a €403 million arbitration deal) to a corruption-tainted business tycoon, Bernard Tapie. At the time she was France’s finance minister.

Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde started her career as an anti-trust and labor lawyer at the international law firm, Baker & McKenzie. Here she is, looking like a morally upright (very stylish) model citizen.

Looks can be deceiving, can’t they?

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Kamel Daoud

“L’islamisme est le nouveau totalitarisme de notre siècle donc il pèse par la peur, par l’oppression, par la violence, par le meurtre.”

“Islamism is the new totalitarianism of our century. It weighs by fear, by oppression, by violence, by murder.”

When Daoud speaks, people listen. He is a courageous man. Why? Because from his home in Oran, Algeria, this outspoken intellectual, journalist and novelist dares to openly criticize Islam.

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Born in 1970 in Mostaganem, Algeria, Daoud won the French literary Goncourt prize for his first novel as well as a raft of other prestigious (French) prizes. In November 2015, The New York Times featured an op-ed opinion piece by Daoud titled “Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It” in both English and French.

But the most compelling op-ed piece, published again by The New York Times in February 2016 and following the sexual attacks on European women by Arab men on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, is his article entitled “The Sexual Misery of the Arab World“. It was published simultaneously with Le Monde newspaper in three languages: English, French, and Arabic.

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According to writer Kamel Daoud, the welcome of refugees forces us to admit that giving them papers does not suffice in curing them of the profound sexism that rages in the arabo-Muslim world.

In August 2016 another important article came out: Paradise, the new Muslim utopia.

All this makes for highly educative and informative reading. Thank the universe for original and free thinkers like Kamel Daoud!! (I say “universe” because I am a pantheist who does not believe in a distinct personal god. Although the term pantheism was not coined until after his death, Spinoza is regarded as its most celebrated advocate. His work, Ethics, was the major source from which Western pantheism spread. Food for thought as a future blog post!)

crème de cassis, France’s favorite liqueur

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6 pm is officially apéritif hour here in France. In anticipation, and as a reward for my weekend labor, I purchased a bottle of crème de cassis yesterday. Crème de cassis is a sweet, red liqueur made from blackcurrents. Nearly 16 million litres of the stuff is produced annually in the Burgundy region of France. Traditionally, you pour a small amount into a glass of white wine to make a favorite cocktail called kir. The first time I did this, decades ago, I was unaware of the high alcohol content of crème de cassis (18%). With a friend, I poured, giggled and guzzled my way through an entire bottle of wine, copiously fueled with cassis. Then I promptly passed out. 

I like to pour cassis into a glass of chilled crémant. From only 5 to 7 euros a bottle, as opposed to 33 euros for a good bottle of champagne, it makes a delicious apéritif with a splash of that blackcurrant (or raspberry) liqueur thrown in. When the wine is sparkling, or if it’s champagne, then the cocktail is called a kir royale.

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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.”

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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