big January sales, Shu Uemura, and Paris department stores

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When I heard that Shu Uemura was having a sale of 40% off on all of their products, I headed over to Galeries Lafayette department store after work. 

Twice a year, in January and in June, there are monster sales in this country. That’s when I buy most of my clothing, bed linens, cosmetics, and other things normally beyond my budget. For those who don’t know, Shu Uemura is a (fabulous) Japanese cosmetic and skincare products line. You should try their products at least once, some are iconic, like their cleansing oil. Described as “an extraordinary cleansing experience”, the newest Anti-Oxi oil removes micro impurities and stubborn make-up in one full swoop. It all comes off, eye makeup and lipstick included. And it’s not oily.

Their individual eye shadows come in a breathtaking range of hues and colors, as well as their lipsticks. All in all, it’s a great brand.

Later, while wandering around Heyraud shoe store in search of flat black ankle boots, I found these, also at 40% off. Made in Portugal. (Another reason to visit Portugal: gorgeous leather goods.)

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Paris’s two department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, have changed dramatically since I first started shopping there in the 1990s. Today, you will find Mandarin or Cantonese-speaking hostesses positioned at each entry point and standing on every floor at the top of each escalator. The entire shopping experience has been calibrated to serve the Chinese/Asian shopper.

Only three days ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled New Wave of Chinese Shoppers Splurges on Luxury Goods, by Matthew Dalton. Here’s an excerpt:

On a recent morning in the Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, Meng Xin from Beijing was at the Céline boutique to buy a €1,250 handbag. With demand reviving, Galeries Lafayette has opened a store across the street from its main location in central Paris to serve tour buses filled with Chinese shoppers. All signs are in Chinese and French. The new outlet is meant to free up Galeries Lafayette’s main store for more discerning Chinese customers.

“China has become extremely dynamic,” said Bernard Arnault, chief executive and controlling shareholder of LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

On Thursday, the luxury conglomerate and industry bellwether reported record annual revenue and profits, led by a surge in Chinese sales. Revenue for 2017 was €42.6 billion, up 13%, while profits rose 29%.

It’s true that sometimes the ordinary shopper feels a little bit pushed out. For those who haven’t read my 2015 post entitled Department stores, Chinese shoppers, and searching for a frying pan, here it is here –

https://julietinparis.net/2015/05/05/department-stores-in-paris-chinese-shoppers-and-searching-for-a-frying-pan/

riding the Lisbon tram

Hopefully, I’ll get to Portugal this year. I’ve been wanting to go for ages. For those who don’t know, Portugal has become wildly popular in a surprisingly short period of time. It was only yesterday that the country was plunged into a crippling economic recession (from 2010 to 2014). And then it made a stunning recovery. Now, tourists and retirees alike are flocking there to play golf, soak up the sun, drink wine, hike in the hills, visit art museums, and listen to “fado” music.

Madonna just bought a house there. John Malkovich goes regularly (from his home in southern France). And last year, Travel + Leisure named the country Destination of the Year.

Here’s an article in London’s The Telegraph titled 22 reasons why everyone’s going to Portugal right now, plus a Youtube video of the Tram 28.

So, what are you waiting for?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/portugal/articles/portugal-best-things-to-see-and-do/

French president Macron on the BBC

This is interesting to watch because most of us here in France have never heard Macron speaking English. Aside from pronouncing “co-operation” like “corporation”, his English is near-perfect.

Recently turned 40 (Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron was born on December 21st, 1977), he’s also nice to look at. Oh, sorry, I’m not supposed to say that, it’s sexist. Oh, heck, I’ll say what I want, it’s my blog.

Don’t be fooled by his angelic face, though. He’s tough and takes no prisoners.

Macron was just in the U.K. for a summit meeting with Theresa May. As for the Bayeux Tapestry which Macron has agreed to lend to the United Kingdom in 2022, he said the two countries were “making a new tapestry together”.

 

why do we travel? (plus three great hotel websites)

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for only 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I self-consciously ate two slices of pizza while eight pairs of eyes stared at me. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, maybe, and deportation. I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine). It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To have great conversations with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

 

To plan your next escape, take a look at these (terrific) hotel websites –

https://www.hiphotels.com/

https://secretplaces.com/

https://www.tablethotels.com/

And this website for the best hostels –

http://www.hostelworld.com

see Naples and die…

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Naples is a slap in the face, a hard slap. Within 5 minutes of my arrival – in plain daylight and in the middle of a street – I was attacked by a purse-snatcher and found myself tussling with him over my handbag. I won and he lost, but more on that in a minute.

My arrival into Naples was as inauspicious as my (shortened) stay there. As the Air France jet started its descent, we flew into thick black cloud which hovered menacingly over the city. An omen? I found the presence of the clouds odd because the two hour flight from Paris had been sunny and uneventful all the way down. Suddenly a rainstorm of biblical proportions broke out. Turbulence ensued and we landed, rather rockily.  The taxi ride to the hotel was worse. We descended a slippery slope (in the pouring rain) with such velocity that I found myself sliding across the back seat from one side of the car to the other. I groped for the seatbelt. It was broken. To worsen matters, every time we passed a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary – of which there were many and erected for each fatal road accident that had occurred there – my pious taxi driver made the sign of the cross, not once or twice, but three times. Kissing the side of his index finger, he then touched his fingers to his forehead, chest and two shoulders. Three times. All without lifting his foot from the gas pedal.

Not knowing how to say “Slow down!” in Italian, I invented a word. “Tranquillo!” I squeaked, now clutching a shred of leather strap that dangled from the ceiling. My taxi driver laughed uproariously. “Calmo! Calmo!” he said, then slowed a tad. The phrase “See Naples and die” ran through my head. Only I hadn’t seen Naples yet … just the airport, black cloud, rain, and a portion of shrine-studded road.

Then his cell phone rang and he launched into a lengthy and animated discussion with his mother. I know this because every sentence was punctuated with “Mamma”. “Oh dear God, if there is one,” I muttered to myself, “Must he speak with his mother now??”  With the phone clamped to his ear, he spoke and made gestures with his one free hand – all the while reaffirming the Holy Trinity every time another Virgin Mary appeared. We continued our descent into Dante’s inferno, or rather, the city.

Finally reaching the hotel, I staggered out of the car, checked in, dumped my bag in my room, went out again and was immediately attacked by a purse snatcher.

And it’s funny because just as I entered the road marked Via Alessandro, a mere four minutes from the hotel, I had a flash-like premonition. A small voice in my head said “What if something should befall you in this street?  Like a car running you over or a flower pot landing on your head from an above balcony?”  And it was while I was looking up that a motorcycle drove by, driven by a male whose face was covered like a jihadist. Slowing down, he grabbed the strap of my handbag which was wrapped around my torso, causing me to spin around. I remember standing there, visibly shaken, and staring at the back of this cowardly brute with disbelief and defiance as he drove away. The next day my torso would be black and blue.

But he had failed to snatch my bag, so he turned around and came back. By this time I was walking quickly back to the hotel. He reached out and grabbed the strap of my bag again. I was now holding the bag with all my might while he was pulling on the strap which broke. Babbling unintelligible words to me in Italian, I shrieked intelligible words to him in English.

There was NO WAY he was going to get his hands on that bag. Everything essential was in it – my passport, my bank cards, my phone, my brand new YSL fuschia lipstick…. My determination was greater than his and in the end he drove off, bagless.  Vigliacco!  That’s “coward” in Italian (I looked it up). It’s too bad I didn’t know this word at the time because when you say it with force accompanied by a flamboyant hand gesture, it comes out as a guttural rasping utterance which is very satisfying.

VI-LIA-KKO!

Marching into the hotel, me and my broken handbag, I recounted my street scuffle to the two men at reception. They were embarrassed because only ten minutes earlier they had greeted me with a hearty “Welcome to Naples!  We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in our fine city!” They apologized profusely. “We are very sorry, Signora,” they said. They instructed me to leave everything in my room safe and go out with nothing.  “Nothing?” I said.  “But I need to take some cash, at least. And a map.”  They told me to put a few things in zippered pockets or in a secure money belt hidden under my coat.

And so I went out again, unhappily, sans camera, sans handbag. But for someone like me who lives and breathes freedom, I found this restriction on my personal liberté very depressing.

Photos taken from my hotel balcony.  I only took two photos the whole time I was there. I left earlier than planned and took the train up to Rome.

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Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, dead at 46

I was crushed to learn that Dolores O’Riordan had died suddenly in London today. I loved The Cranberries, an Irish band that took off in the 1990s and sold over 40 million records. Dolores was the lead singer. The group was Ireland’s biggest musical export since U2.

Despite their monumental success, they stayed grounded and close to their roots. I loved their attachment to Ireland and its people. I loved their humanity. I loved Dolores’ voice.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, Ode To My Family; a truly beautiful song, both vocally and visually –

Oprah Winfrey and Catherine Deneuve

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Hermès flagship store located at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

In 2005, Oprah Winfrey was a complete unknown in France. So unknown, that while in Paris on a shopping spree she was refused entry into the luxury store, Hermès. That was unfortunate (for Hermès) because Madame Winfrey had some serious cash to splash.

“We are closing,” said a staff member. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” It was around 6:45 pm. (In all fairness, the Hermès shop closes at 6:30 pm.)

An article in The Washington Post reported that “Hermes staff members failed to recognize Winfrey, as she was not in full glamour makeup with her TV hair.” That, actually, is incorrect. Oprah’s TV show never existed in France. The French truly did not know who she was.

But that was then, and this is now!

After Winfrey’s rousing Golden Globes speech, Le Monde newspaper heralded her (almost) as the next Joan of Arc.

I like Whoopi Goldberg’s comment best (from The View): “There’s a conversation that’s happening in this country now that says it’s dangerous for men to sexually harass women. It is no longer the norm not to tell. Women are saying to other women “How ya doing? Do you need me to back you up? We will stand with you.” It’s on a small scale, but the point is that women now know that it’s OK to have each other’s back.”

I find this encouraging and heartening.

And wouldn’t you know that in the same Le Monde newspaper a day later, a defiant article signed by one hundred prominent French women – spearheaded by Catherine Deneuve – has denounced the Me Too movement.

These women claim to be defending sexual freedom, for which “the liberty to importune is essential”.  Importune? I had to look the word up in the dictionary. And then I looked at the original French version of the letter.

« Nous défendons une liberté d’importuner, indispensable à la liberté sexuelle »

“We defend the freedom to importune, which is essential to sexual freedom”

I struggled to understand.

Importune:

  1. To make an earnest request of (someone), especially insistently or repeat.
  2. To annoy; pester; bother.
  3. To plead or urge irksomely, often persistently.

 

“We believe that the freedom to say “no” to a sexual proposition cannot exist without the freedom to bother. And we consider that one must know how to respond to this freedom to bother in ways other than by closing ourselves off in the role of the prey.”

 

But why must men ‘bother’? Why must men pester? I find this paragraph absurd, as if men cannot control themselves and are genetically programmed to bother women. And why should the onus be on women to appropriately respond to the advances/urges/pestering of men? This absolves men of all responsibility. As another collective of (authentic) French feminists pointed out: “the authors of the Open Letter are conflating what they consider harmless flirtatious advances with molestation; they’re confusing seduction with sexual assault (a criminal offence.)” This idea, in 2018, is stupefying. Where do the Open Letter authors live? In a cave?

I interpret “freedom to bother” as men relinquishing responsibility for their desires/impulses, and doing whatever they feel like doing. Mais, non! This is all the difference between a civilized society and an uncivilized one.

The letter goes on:

“This accelerated justice already has its victims, men prevented from practicing their profession as punishment, forced to resign, etc., while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual,” they write.

Forced to resign. What the hundred Frenchwomen are defending are men who decide it’s open season on certain women in the workplace. (notice how they portray the offending male as the victim.) We go to our jobs to work and earn a salary, not to fight off the unwanted attentions from male colleagues and superiors. Oh, and another thing? Our bodies are not public property. We don’t want our knees touched, our faces kissed, or ‘intimate’ things of a sexual nature said or sent to us.

Pardon my puritanism.

Women who pay for the transgressions of men. And what about women who are forced to resign? Is this of lesser importance than a man losing his job? Deneuve and her privileged posse do not address this in their Open Letter. They do not mention that women must often pay for the transgressions of men.

Harassment impacts women economically. Women who have been harassed are far more likely to change jobs than those who didn’t. These shifts can upset a career trajectory. Researchers found that women, compared to men, experience far more serious effects from interruptions to their work path. One in three American women attests to sexual harassment on the job, in all sectors.

In a November 2017 blog post I wrote this:

Comment from Juliet in Paris – Harassment has impacted me economically (not to mention emotionally) and interrupted my career trajectory. Because of harassers, I have endured multiple stretches of unemployment during my working career. Here in France and over a period of twenty years, I have left five different companies due to harassment, bullying or “interference” from men. (Four of those companies were law firms, one was a renowned international news agency.)

Some women harassed or molested in the workplace have made this baffling comment: “I didn’t want to do or say anything that might lead to him losing his job.”

KNOW THIS: that man you’re talking about? He has no compunction about you losing your job. None whatsoever.

While I had to leave, lose all my benefits, and sign on to unemployment insurance, they continued to work, utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.

Deneuve and company, your open letter is the last gasp of a patriarchal, outmoded, archaic France – of which you are part – and thank god it’s being (slowly) swept away. Welcome to the 21st century.

“A new day is on the horizon.” said Oprah.

Hallelujah.