Monthly Archives: February 2018
poop ‘n scoop, French style
Do you poop ‘n scoop? Or rather, does your dog poop and you scoop? Because only a minority of the French do, and I wonder why that is. Do they consider it beneath them to stoop?
Here in my building we’re in the midst of a battle with a teenage boy and his dog. It used to be an adorable puppy, but now it’s a full-blown shitter. Does he have any parents? (the boy, not the dog.) Does he have any sense of civic responsibility? (again, the boy, not the dog.) And who’s to blame? The boy, the dog, or the parents? (if he has any). Or maybe the government is to blame. The French blame their government for everything, it absolves them from personal responsibility.
Last week I came home from work – in the rain and the dark – at about 7 pm. On the walkway in front of the door of my building was a massive pile of excrement. Because of the rain, it had started to liquify and was spreading like diarrhea all over the tiled walkway. It stank to high heaven. People were coming in and out of the building and slipping and sliding (in the dark) on this stinking mess. I was so disgusted, I stormed up to my apartment, wrote on a sheet of paper: CECI EST ABSOLUMENT DEGOUTANT, LE PROPRIETAIRE AUSSI, went back downstairs and stuck it on the inside of the glass lobby door. (This is absolutely disgusting, the owner too.)
The next day I ran into the kid and the dog in front of the building. “Was that you, or rather your dog, that shit in front of the building last night?” I asked him accusingly. (Est-ce que c’était toi, ou plutôt ton chien, qui a chié devant l’immeuble hier soir ?) Of course he denied it. That was last week. Tonight, I came home from work at 6 pm, ran upstairs to get my shopping caddy and my winter coat (a cold front is moving in from Siberia), went back outside and who do I run into on the opposite sidewalk? The kid again. With his dog caught in the act of flagrant délit in the middle of the sidewalk. In a rare and remarkable display of self-restraint, I walked past them both with my caddy and didn’t say a word. The kid, however, saw me coming and pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. Good for him, I said to myself as I headed up the street, he’s becoming toilet trained.
But, no! An hour later I walked down that same sidewalk, my caddy filled with groceries, and there was a big pile of merde in that same spot. Fresh. From that dog. The kid never picked it up.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one example of the recalcitrant attitude of many French people, all ages. When they think no-one’s looking, they perform all sorts of uncivic acts.
And it’s not just dogs who do their business in the street. Two Sundays ago, I was standing in front of my window talking to a friend on the phone when a municipal street-cleaner, directly across the road from my apartment and standing on the sidewalk, looked both ways, didn’t see anyone, unzipped his fly and urinated into the street.
“You’ll never guess what I’m looking at,” I said to my friend on the phone.
I’ve just looked at a website for the City of Paris and burst out laughing. Under DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS, it says – Dogs have natural needs and it’s up to their owners to ensure that sidewalks don’t become public dog toilets (I’m translating). Pour cela il y a une seule solution : ramasser les déjections ! For this, there is only one solution: pick up their droppings! It is not very complicated. You only need a pair of rubber gloves and some paper towels.
Rubber gloves? You mean, like, my bright pink dish gloves?? I’ve just had a mental image of men and women alike, strolling with their dogs down Parisian streets wearing brightly-colored dish gloves. It could become a fashion trend!
Here in France you see motorcycles with vacuum cleaners attached to them, they’re called motocrottes. (the polite term for dog doo is crotte de chien.) Three motocrottes cost around 36.000 euros. Brigades of them drive around cities, sucking up dog dirt. No wonder taxes are so high in this country. The French would rather pay high taxes for a motocrotte than stoop behind the derrière of their poodle and do the dirty work themselves. That’s the truth of it. Why they believe they are superior to the rest of us is a mystery I’ve been pondering for over two decades.
Next blog post: as a pedestrian, do you stop at red lights? Of course you do. I only ask because the French don’t. They truly believe that a red light does not concern them. (French pedestrians see green light, even when it’s red: study)
In July 2011, I was in Calgary, Alberta. I haphazardly crossed a city street and was immediately stopped by two policeman who issued me a ticket for jaywalking. When they asked me why I did what I did, I was completely stumped for an answer. I wasn’t used to people asking me (especially policemen) why I did certain things … especially things like crossing a street. “Because I live in France,” I blurted out. They just stared at me. I felt foolish. But it was the truth.
Claude Dozorme (mystery photo)
Last week I posted this mystery photo and asked what you thought the men (and their dogs) were doing. Well, the answer is below.
They’re sharpening knives!
From the Claude Dozorme website – Built along the banks of the River Durolle, in what is now known as the « Vallée des Usines » (Factory Valley), the knife-making workshops took full advantage of the river’s hydraulic power to produce and supply massive numbers of knives to wholesaler ironmongers in France. Local memory still remembers the « yellow bellies », the hundreds of grinders who sharpened blades lying on their stomachs above the millstones, a position specific to the French cutlery industry, with a dog lying on their legs to keep them warm.
Take a look at the interesting English-language link below which describes the Puy de Dôme region in the center of France (the Auvergne) and the medieval town of Thiers whose cutlery industry spans six centuries. For those familiar with the famous Laguiole knives, they’re also made in Thiers.
I bet you’ll never guess what these men are doing. Talk about lying down on the job! And why do they have dogs snuggled on their backs?
Here’s a hint: the workshop is situated directly above a river in the town of Thiers in the department of Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne region of central France.
Stay tuned for the answer (unless someone can provide the answer to this mystery photo …)
cooking classes and culinary schools in Paris
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a saucier.
“A what?” people would say.
“A saucier,” I’d reply (saucily), “Someone who makes sauces.”
But in fact, it’s not only sauces. A saucier also prepares stocks, soups and stews and hot hors d’oeuvres such as grilled scallops, baked puff pastry, stuffed mushrooms or miniature beef wellingtons, to name a few.
In the end I never did become a saucier, at least not a professional one, but it’s never too late to learn. Just sign up for a course or two at a culinary school (or enroll in a longer-term certificate course.) What’s fun for a tourist to Paris is to attend a morning or afternoon workshop in a famous cooking school – like the Cordon Bleu or Alain Ducasse – to make macarons, your own baguette, meat and fish dishes, or participate in wine tastings. In most schools, classes are in English. There are even classes for children.
Here’s the link to the Alain Ducasse Cooking School in English. Other links are below.
bon appétit !
Part Two, wintry Brussels
The next day was warmer: minus five instead of minus eight. But the sun had disappeared behind thick cloud and the resulting gloom did not compel me to rush outdoors. So I lingered over a second cappuccino in the breakfast room while listening to classical music and and poring over the stash of design books, maps, and travel brochures made available to guests. Sofie and another woman came in and we chatted about the flea market and antique stalls in the nearby Marolles district.
The above photograph, for those who don’t recognize Tintin, was taken in the window of a comic book shop. Comic books are big in Belgium. The Adventures of Tintin sells more than a million copies a year worldwide and is translated into more than 50 languages. Tintin is a Belgian reporter aided in his adventures by faithful dog Snowy (called Milou in the French edition.) Every year Brussels hosts a Comic Book Festival where enormous balloon characters parade down the main streets.
On my last day in this lovely city I decided to wander further afield and visit the new Magritte museum and the adjoining Musée des Beaux Arts. There was also a lamp I wanted to buy. I spotted it, late yesterday afternoon, in the window of an interior design shop. It spoke to me. I’m a bit of a lamp fetishist, I’m afraid. I don’t really need another lamp, but this one, in the form of a shell, will be perfect on my credenza.
Heading outside, I walked the 15 minutes in a straight line to the Grand Place and veered right towards the Place Albertine. Trudging through snow and over the still ice-encrusted sidewalks (it appears that the city’s snow removal services don’t do sidewalks), I eventually reached this park: a pristine, public park designed in a neoclassicist, geometric style. As if frozen in time, its petrified sculptures lay under a mantle of snow:
It was a pleasant experience walking through that silent, unpeopled park, the distant sounds of the city muffled by the snow. I finally reached the Magritte museum and spent the next hour wandering contentedly through its galleries, looking at and learning about the work of this Belgian surrealist artist (1898-1967):
“Rene Magritte’s work has both philosophical and poetic content which corresponds to certain social and intellectual trends, particularly of the second half of the twentieth century. His work was not easy to approach at the outset, however, and makes a constant call on us to relinquish, at least temporarily, our usual expectations of art. Magritte never responds to our demands and expectations. He offers us something else instead.”
And then, sadly, it was time to return to Paris. I reluctantly made my way back to the B&B. I didn’t have time to visit the Musée des Beaux Arts, nor a dozen other places of interest on my list. Collecting my belongings from the B&B, I walked the short distance to the train station only to learn that the train was delayed again due to weather conditions. I bought a hot chocolate and a waffle in the food court. I think I gained a few kilos which isn’t surprising considering I subsisted primarily on chocolate, fries, waffles and beer for two days. The trip back to Paris was comfortable and relaxing. Service on that route is operated by Thalys, the high-speed train operator jointly owned by French, German and Belgian national railways. I’ll definitely return to Brussels.
So what took me so long to discover the place? I guess I was busy discovering other places. What I particularly like about this city is its eclecticism – the blend of different styles and vibes ranging from Baroque to Art Nouveau, old-world to avant-garde, rebellious to conformist, flamboyant to austere, all with an underlying quirkiness.