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/

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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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.

 

Paris opera house

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One year ago my employer treated us to an evening outing. We had such a good time, I’m reposting my account a year later.

Last night, my office colleagues and I were treated to an outing (by our employer): a guided tour of the Paris opera house (Opera Garnier, not Opera Bastille) with cocktail party and dinner to follow.

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.

As I sat in the plush red velvet seat, my head craned upwards to gaze at the ceiling, I  thought to myself, I cannot imagine 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 touring 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 all trooped down the avenue de l’Opéra in the cold clear night to Drouant where flutes of champagne, hors d’oeuvres and a sit-down meal 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? Drouant. The champagne, wine and food that I consumed was of the highest quality.

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

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So, guess what our employer has in store for us this year? A seminar on optimism. Huh? Whose idea was that?

a woman should have …

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Here’s me blogging in a cold apartment (photo taken by K.)

Remember when someone said, a long time ago, that we were heading towards a paperless society? A society in which paper communication (written documents, mail, letters, etc.) would be replaced by electronic communication and storage?

Paperless, my foot. I’m inundated by the stuff, and have spent an entire afternoon sorting through drawers, cupboards and boxes … all overflowing with paper. Actually, I’m searching for one specific document: a family tree that my uncle, now sadly deceased, sent me 15 years ago. I need it for my memoir and cannot find it. But I’ve found dozens of other things. Here’s one of them. I’ve always liked this text. I thought I’d share it with you.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE…..

….one old love she can imagine going back to….
…and one who reminds her how far she has come….
….enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own even if she never wants to or needs to….
….something perfect to wear if the employer or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour….
….a youth she’s content to leave behind….
….a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to retelling it in her old age….
….a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra….
….one friend who always makes her laugh….and one who lets her cry….
…..a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family….
….eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honoured….
….a feeling of control over her destiny.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW….

….how to fall in love without losing herself…..
…..how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship….
….when to try harder…..and when to walk away….
…..that she can’t change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents….
….that her childhood may not have been perfect….but its over….
….what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more….
….how to live alone….even if she doesn’t like it…..
…..whom she can trust, whom she can’t, and why she shouldn’t take it personally…..
…..where to go….be it to her best friend’s kitchen table….or a charming inn in the woods….when her soul needs soothing….
….what she can and can’t accomplish in a day….a month….a year.

I wish the best for you and your life.

Best wishes for a terrific New Year.