a belated birthday dinner (in Paris) and New Year’s greetings

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We’re both Capricorns on the cusp of Sagittarius. We’ve both been living and working in Paris for a long time. Saturday night we went out for dinner to celebrate our respective birthdays (we were born on the same day, not the same year.) I had been to this restaurant once before. It’s called Le 6 Paul Bert, sister restaurant to the Bistrot Paul Bert up the road. I recommend them both.

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But first a glass of Krug at A’s apartment, then a quick walk to the restaurant with A’s friend who joined us.

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I had smoked eel with kale as a starter. 14 euros.

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Followed by venison and celeriac purée with an apple slice. 32 euros.

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A’s friend ordered the pithiviers de pigeon below. Pithiviers is a town in the Loire region whose specialty is savory (meat) or sweet (almond paste) wrapped in puff pastry and baked.

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For dessert I had a bergamot-flavored lemon tart with meringue. 9 euros.

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Portions are small in this restaurant, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Perusing the extensive wine list (below). This restaurant has an excellent wine cellar. When I last ate there, on December 31st a few years ago, I drank a stellar Saint-Joseph 2012 (Côtes-du-Rhône). This time we drank a young wine from the Loire.

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Tonight is New Year’s Eve and, by choice, I’m spending it quietly at home. I hope to be in bed and asleep before midnight. I have no desire to mingle with the gilets jaunes and the 300,000 tourists and revellers expected on the Champs Élysées tonight. I left the office today at 4:30 pm, picked up some food and drink at Marks & Spencer – a slim bottle of pink port, blinis and tarama, wholemeal bread and Devon coffee cream for my breakfast tomorrow morning. In another store I purchased three DVDs, one of which I’ll watch tonight: Phantom Thread with Daniel Day Lewis; The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) with Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas and Gloria Grahame; and the original Mildred Pierce (1945) with Joan Crawford.

Thank you for reading my blog. My biggest readership audience is in the U.S.A., followed by France, Canada and Great Britain, other European countries, and Australia.

I wish you all happiness, good fortune and good health in the year to come.

a friendly reunion of old friends, Soho, and my favorite bookshop

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So my two childhood friends, Kathy and Claire, came to meet me at my hotel. We hugged, kissed and chortled in the foyer. And then we stepped back and had a good look at one another. It’s a strange sensation re-uniting with friends after an absence of nearly three decades. Despite the fact that I’m not as slim as I was and we had all – ahem – aged, we were all recognizable to one another. I gave them a quick tour of the hotel then we trudged up the flight of stairs to my room. We sat down, started talking, and a funny thing happened: it was as if those three decades melted away. Oh, sure, each of us had lots of news and events to recount (sadly, the deaths of all of our parents); but the ease and familiarity and feel-good sensation was definitely present. It was a nice feeling.

I was very spoiled that day (and the next day.) It happened to be my birthday. Kathy and Claire showered me with gifts then took me to the theater (The Barbican) to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, a Shakespearian ‘bawdy’ comedy set in a modern-day setting. It was lively and spirited and silly at times, and thoroughly enjoyable. I love going to the theater … why don’t I go more often?

The next day Kathy and her husband took me to lunch to a fab restaurant called The Lighterman (link below.) Their daughter joined us and we were four. It was a British menu, so it seemed fitting to order a large platter of fish and chips. Christmas Day was spent at Kathy’s house. Her husband cooked the entire meal. Bravo, M! The turkey was succulent.

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On another day, I wandered round Soho looking for The Photographers’ Gallery. I wanted to view a photo exhibition entitled Roman Vishniac Rediscovered. As I studied the black and white street photos of Berlin, Vienna and other European cities during the mid to late-1930s, the two words that came to mind were “disturbing” and “important.” Russian-born Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. His photographs chronicle the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. There’s a sense of menace and foreboding in the photos. I always think that photographs and other testimonies from that era are a marvellous history lesson. Schoolkids should be taken to these exhibitions.

Later on, I visited one of my favorite bookshops located in Bloomsbury. There’s a tea salon on the premises. I had a slice of boozy fruitcake served with brandy cream sauce and tea. Other cakes were called lemon myrtle sponge with bourbon-soaked kumquats and chamomile cream, and gluten-free pomegranate almond cake with citrus frosting.

Do you want to know something?

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I eat better in London than I do in Paris. Food in London is international and inventive, whereas in Paris it’s either same-old, same-old trad (yawn) or burgers. (A burger-fries trend hit the country about six years ago.) What’s the most popular eating establishment on the Champs-Elysées right now? Five Guys. Oh, and now a Mexican tacos trend is hitting the country, especially among young people. London is a world-class, innovative and cosmopolitan city. Which is why Brexit perplexes me. It runs counter to an outward-looking global perspective. (By an overwhelming majority, Londoners voted to stay in Europe.) Why does this nation want to turn inwards and cut itself off from the EU? What’s so awful about being European?

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Books! Books! Books!

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The British Museum is at the foot of this street. While in Soho, I stumbled across another great restaurant located at 135 Wardour Street. I recommend it. It’s called Princi (Eat, drink and live Italian). You walk in, select your meal from the counter, then carry it to a table. There are Princi locations in the States too. Link below.

https://thelighterman.co.uk/

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/

https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/

http://www.princi.com

fabulous London, Christmas 2018

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I stayed in a fab hotel in the Marylebone district (link below). Here’s the very capable Ingrid who runs the place. She’s originally from Vilnius, Lithuania.

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Every morning at the communal table, she’d serve me hot coffee and toasted crumpets for my breakfast.

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In the winter, it gets dark at 4 pm. Near the hotel is a fabulous Turkish restaurant called Ishtar. I highly recommend it.

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I wandered over to two fab shopping streets near the hotel, Chiltern Street first and then Marylebone High Street.

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Strolling city streets on cold, clear nights has always been a great pleasure of mine. Below is the link to the hotel. More to come.

Tip: As long as you don’t take a room higher than the second floor, I recommend this hotel (as in most old houses, there’s no lift (elevator.)) The second floor is actually the third floor. 

http://22yorkstreet.co.uk/

off to London for a gathering of old friends

I’m off to London for a special reason: to re-unite and spend Christmas with my childhood friends, Kathy and Claire. Claire and Kathy. We haven’t seen one another in close to thirty years. I’m still trying to figure out how we lost touch with each other.

They’re sisters. As children, they were best friends with me and my sister. They were also our next door neighbours. For the first decade of our lives, we four grew up together, playing on the lawns and in the backyards of our pleasant Toronto suburb. My parents were friends with their parents, all four of them English. Then they moved back to England. But we stayed in touch and continued to see them. And then, sometime in the early 1990s, we sort of lost the thread, all of us caught up in our separate life paths and pursuits.

But we found each other again, in August of this year. (The truth is, I had been searching for them for quite a few years.) And I was thinking: there’s something deeper and richer about old friends. Oh sure, we make new friends all the time. But the friends I’ve made here in France know nothing about my past life, my life in Canada. They only know the “French” Juliet. But Kathy and Claire know my childhood years because they shared it. They knew my family. I don’t have to show them my childhood home on Google Map, the house I lived in for the first twenty years of my life, because they were there, right next door.

Below is a photo of me celebrating my seventh birthday. You can see the heaps of snow and the Xmas tree in the background. You can also see the top of Claire’s head at the bottom front of the photo.

Happy Christmas, everyone! May your holidays be merry and bright.Loolie 7th birthday

’tis the season to be jolly…


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Well, I’m feeling jolly because I’m on paid vacation until December 27th, because my left knee is better, because a bottle of crémant is chilling in the fridge (crémant is a delicious sparkling wine, similar to champagne but a lot cheaper), because I’m about to open a box of 12 macaroons to eat with my tilleul tea (no, I’m not going to eat all 12 in one sitting), and because I’m off to London on Friday on the Eurostar. There’s a specific reason why I’m off to London, but I’m not going to tell you until Thursday night when I put up a new blog post (how’s that for a teaser?)

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“And may the New Year bring an end to all this craziness – wishing us all peace and joy.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s what my friend Lori wrote in her Christmas card to me (she still sends greeting cards through the mail, the old-fashioned way, and I’m happy to be a recipient.) Lori lives in Sonoma County, California and experienced first-hand the terrible fires there.

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Christmas is a festival of lights and song. In Lille, Soso and I sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together, him in French, me in English. Rudolph le petit renne au nez rouge.

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Christmas vacation is also good food and having time to listen to the radio while you work in the kitchen. I listen to BBC Radio Four on my computer. There’s a thrilling new drama podcast called The Haunting of M.R. James. There’s also an interview with Meg Wolitzer, author of that great book, The Wife, now made into a movie. (That’s on BBC Radio 4 Bookclub)

Yesterday I made spicy Moroccan meatballs in a tomato-onion sauce served with couscous. Yummy. More tonight with a slender glass or two of crémant.

It was my intention to take photographs of the department store windows here in Paris, but what with the protest marches and all – me in Lille or working, and then my banged-up knee – I never got around to it. But here’s some photos from a few years ago –


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Christmas vacation is also lying around watching old movies. You’ll never guess what I’m watching tonight on DVD, a rare find: From the Terrace with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Myrna Loy (drama/romance 1960). When I was a teenager I idolized Paul Newman. I thought he was the most beautiful man on earth. My bedroom was a shrine celebrating his talent and beauty, the walls papered with photos and movie posters. Below is a clip  –

from the terrace

 

For those who don’t know, he was married to Joanne Woodward in real life. They were an incredibly glamorous couple. She too was a talented beauty and award-winning actress. When Paul Newman died a decade ago, I was deeply saddened.

 

it was freezing cold in Lille…

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Leaving Paris on Saturday morning was fraught with complications. The metro lines were closed and the center of Paris was blocked off … in anticipation of more protest marches and riots. So I ended up taking a taxi along the “périphérique“, the outlying highway, to get to the Gare du Nord train station. Once in Lille, the temperature plunged dramatically. It was freezing cold and damp, with an icy wind. Not very propitious for strolling around town.

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Soso and I went out for lunch, but it was so cold that he wanted to be taken home afterwards. We scurried through the streets of Lille, taking refuge from the cold in two shops.

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First, a herbalist shop, called a herboristerie.

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I purchased 200 grams of tilleul leaves above. Known as the ‘nectar of kings’, linden/lime flower and leaf infusions are known for their health benefits and calming effects. Lime flower herbal tea makes a fragrant, honeyish-tasting infusion with no bitterness.

Back outside, we had to wait for a procession of gilets jaunes to pass (who I support, by the way; at least the non-violent ones.)

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Then we ducked into another shop for warmth.

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After purchasing a box of colored pencils for my amiable six-year old companion, I took him home. Then I went out again to quickly walk through the Old Town. I thought my camera would freeze up.

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Today (Sunday) I went alone to the Lille Arts Museum. Walking back to the apartment I slipped on the icy sidewalk and landed on my left knee. My right knee has been giving me pain for a week now. Now the left knee is keeping the right knee company. Perfect timing. On Friday I’ll limp off to London.

Have a great week.

don’t come to Paris (more riots planned for Saturday December 8)

In an effort to quell the violence and anger of last weekend’s riots, President Macron’s government announced its decision yesterday to suspend, for six months only, the proposed increase in fuel and gasoline taxes. It also announced the suspension, for six months only, of an increase in electricity rates.

Not good enough. Too little and too late, the people say. They’re not asking for a suspension, but rather a cancellation of those taxes and rates. They’re also asking for a lot of other things. And so, more protests are planned for this Saturday December 8th (hopefully less violent, but there’s no guarantee.) I have a train to catch on Saturday morning. I hope I can make it across town, unimpeded.

Here’s my takeaway from the recent riots –

The young President Macron is only 40, but we see him as old. He has old ideas. During the election campaign he presented himself as an anti-Establishment progressive, but he’s not. He is the embodiment of Establishment. France has known far older presidents in the past, presidents like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, for example, who presented the nation with young and progressive ideas. Even Mitterrand had his modern moments. But there’s nothing fresh or innovative about Emmanuel Macron.

“Mr. President”, said a naysayer in the Senate, “You are not reforming the country, you are brutalizing it.” During his campaign speeches Macron promised reforms. We haven’t seen any reforms, only tax hikes.

As for climate change and the environment, Macron’s government has done nothing. A highly respected Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, resigned for that very reason in August.

The people are turning against Macron, in particular those with lower incomes. They are the losers, they feel, in a country run by elitists; a country where the gap between rich and poor just gets bigger; in a country where the rich get tax breaks and those with tiny pensions are subject to increased taxes on their sole and meagre incomes. They say they feel abandoned. Abandonnés.

One wonders how a small group of ivory tower elitists can qualify as representatives of the people.

During a whirlwind visit to a region of France earlier this year, President Macron actually scolded a group of elderly pensioners who complained to him about his recent tax increase to their fixed retirement incomes. On another occasion, he told a young job-hunting horticulturist that all he had to do was “cross the road” to find a job (as a dishwasher in a café or restaurant.)

The people call Macron “president of the rich” or “King Louis XIV.” What he really is is a rather unimaginative civil servant turned banker. Before becoming President he worked for the investment bank, Rothschild, where he earned €2.9m and learned about debt restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. (The French have a deep anti-bank sentiment.) After graduating from the elite school, ENA (École nationale d’administration), Macron went on to become a finance inspector at the Ministry of Economy.

The only reason Macron won the presidency was because the man tipped to win – François Fillon, who served as Prime Minister under President Sarkozy – got caught up in embezzlement allegations. After Fillon was eliminated during the first round of presidential elections in April 2017, the center-right electorate clamored for heavyweight Alain Juppé to run (mayor of Bordeaux, former Prime Minister under President Chirac, Minister of Foreign Affairs). But Juppé declined. He had had enough of Paris and was happy at his job in Bordeaux. Meanwhile, no-one had heard of this young upstart called Emmanuel Macron who had formed a new political party based on his own initials. EM – En Marche!

The two remainers then in the run-up to the presidential elections were Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party. Macron became President almost by default.

People are sick of paying taxes. I’m sick of paying high taxes. What’s more, they want to know where their tax money is going. They want transparency. They also want to put an end to the upper-class and blinkered political world of Paris “that only works for itself.” 

Les casseurs sont vous, le gouvernement !!” This is probably the most powerful phrase I’ve heard yet coming from the protestors. (The hooligans are you, the government!)

Update – Thursday evening and I’m watching the TV news. Shops are shuttering all along the Champs-Elysées and on other high-end shopping streets. The Eiffel Tower and many museums will be closed this weekend. A major soccer game has been cancelled. Monuments will be protected by army tanks. All this in anticipation of another violent Saturday. I’m wondering if I should cancel my trip to Lille. To get to the Gare du Nord from my apartment on Saturday morning, I have to cross central Paris …

Friday update – here’s a really good article in today’s The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/macrons-arrogance-unites-us-on-the-barricades-with-frances-gilets-jaunes

Friday night, 6:30 pm: Arriving at my local supermarket this evening to do some food shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before my eyes. A dozen men were hammering huge wooden panels onto the windows of the store. I wanted to run home and get my camera. Other stores were doing the same thing, all in fear of “casseurs” (hooligans) storming the streets tomorrow, smashing windows and looting. Two weeks before Christmas, the big department stores will be closed tomorrow … unheard of! They’re also closing over 30 metro stations. And I’ve changed the dates of my trip to Lille. I’ll go the following weekend.

 

 

Paris is burning

I’m interrupting my Christmas idyll to post news about the urban warfare that took place all day yesterday not only in Paris, but around the country. As I write this, France is considering imposing a state of emergency on it citizens. Last night I watched, stupefied, the images on television. Burning cars, tear gas, masked protestors, hordes of police, buildings in flames … the images resembled those from the May 1968 protests.

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Saturday December 1st. Central Paris.

I had planned, yesterday, to head over to Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, the two side-by-side department stores on the boulevard Haussmann, to take photos of their Christmas windows. Luckily I didn’t go because of light rain. Those two stores were evacuated, neighboring stores were pillaged, and flames and violence erupted all around in that area.

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It appears there are two distinct groups: peaceful gilets jaunes (yellow vests) and hooligan ultra-rightwing and ultra-leftwing ‘casseurs‘ (violent anarchists who break things). ACAB graffiti tags (All Cops Are Bastards) used by rightwing extremist groups were seen around the city. And who has to clean this mess up? The city cleaners. Late last night, TV images showed the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her colleagues walking the streets, shaking hands with the cleaners and thanking them for their efforts. I hope they get paid double-time and receive a big Christmas bonus.

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Here are some comments (translated) from ordinary French citizens that I have selected from this morning’s comments section of Le Figaro newspaper –

It is high time to reform France in a framework more in line with the aspirations of ordinary French people. The technocrats who from their ministries “administer” France by reneging on the people, their wishes, their daily difficulties, their aspirations, will have to change before the current ‘peasants’ revolt’ turns to revolution!

***

France: is this not the country in which 90% of the world population would like to live? With a system of benefits and handouts unique in the world where health care is provided for everyone, where various and varied allowances are available (APL, RSA, EDF tariffs, single parents’ benefits, etc. etc.), where education is free, where the right to protest is recognized, and where the press is free? When one reads about our rebellious climate, what must the people of countless countries that do not have a quarter of the rights and living conditions enjoyed by the French think?

***

Macron is paying for his blusters. He cannot escape with impunity the people’s revenge following his arrogant manner and remarks. The French have come to get him and hold him accountable. Without agreeing to all the vandalism, I can understand their anger that has turned into hatred. By continuing to not listen, to utter empty words, to prevaricate and speak a double language has today become unbearable. A political answer is urgent and indispensable NOW, its content will have to exceed by far what they should have said two weeks ago. But I fear they will remain in their technocratic postures, with the risk that this mutinous climate will turn into a revolution.

***

It is not only the increase in fuel prices that has triggered these riots…!
But also the injustices of which the “socialists”, are largely co-responsible, all the taxes, paid for by those who work honestly …!
– the real workers (workers, peasants, artisans, …), no gifts, minimum wage, many unpaid hours, and a “justice” hard and unyielding!
– the parasites (thugs, idlers, spongers of the system, …), lots of gifts, winners (with allowances and state benefits) who often fare better than those who work, and a “justice” soft & lax!
How to accept that we pay footballers hundreds of millions of Euros?
The recent Marseillais scandal in which decrepit apartment buildings collapse (with the inhabitants inside), while only blocks away are magnificent new and expensive football stadiums?
How to accept corruption and money laundering by world-name big banks?
How to accept that Renault’s rogue CEO, currently in prison in Japan, can receive five million euros for each day of his life?
Or that bosses receive 80 million euros a year while the workers earn minimum wage on temporary contracts? Or that Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron spend 300,000 Euros to change the carpet of the presidential residence?

***

On this Sunday morning I can still hear police sirens in the distance. All night long – and all day yesterday – they were wailing.

President Macron abolished taxes on the controversial “wealth tax”, otherwise known as the ISF. The solidarity tax on wealth (Impôt de solidarité sur la fortune or ISF) was a direct annual wealth tax imposed on those living in France having assets in excess of €1,300,000. The amount of these taxes brought in over 5 billion euros per year to the state. Its idea was to be “redistributive,” helping narrow the gap between rich and poor, hence the name – “solidarity tax.” The majority of French people demand that this tax be reinstated and that the proposed increase of gasoline tax and all other tax hikes be cancelled. (Personally, I’m not in favor of the ISF. I don’t see why wealthy people should be penalized for being wealthy. Surely there are other tax sources…like imposing income tax on those behemoth companies that, up until now, are exempt!)

Here are two articles and analysis on the subject in the London-based The Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/03/paris-streets-riots-violence

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/02/paris-riots-worst-unrest-decade-with-shops-and-cars-set-alight-gilets-jaunes

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/02/france-is-deeply-fractured-gilets-jeunes-just-a-symptom