food trucks

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For years I had been (enviously) reading about the success of food trucks in Los Angeles, Seattle and Sydney while lamenting the fact that none existed in Paris. And then one day a taco truck called The Cantine California rolled into town, right on the heels of a burger truck called Le Camion Qui Fume, owned by a California native. As to be expected, these mobile kitchens were eyed with haughty sniffs of suspicion and disapproval by the natives here. After all, France is a world leader in la gastronomie française. Buy lunch from a truck and eat on the street with one’s hands?? Que le ciel nous en préserve !  (Heaven forbid!) But it’s surprising how quickly people adapt. Now there are long lines for a grilled cheese sandwich, a burger, fish and chips, Mexican, Lebanese and Vietnamese food … everything but French!

These photos were taken during my lunch hour at La Défense, Europe’s largest business district on Paris’s west side. This is where I work. The Esplanade de la Défense is a long walkway lined on either side with trees, apartments, restaurants and skyscrapers. It’s dedicated entirely to pedestrians, which is why I like wandering around here.

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Walking from my office on this summery breezy day to the far end of La Défense, it was nice to stop at the many shaded squares along the way and watch office colleagues playing boules (pétanque) on their lunch hour, as if they were in a provençal village rather than this major business district that houses the headquarters of multinational giants such as TOTAL, EDF, Areva, Axa, GDF Suez and Société Générale, to name a few. La Défense is the largest purposely-built business district in Europe.

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The further you walk towards La Grande Arche at the end of the Esplanade, the thicker and higher the buildings. But there’s still lots of open space. And lots going on.

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Here’s what I wrote in another blog post on the same topic – some people loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity. They say the place is devoid of charm or soul. I happen to disagree. I find a poetic expression in the design of this urban space. I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc. And again, the best part is: no cars! Come on out for a visit!

How to get there – It’s real easy. Just jump onto the westbound line 1 metro, direction La Défense, to the Esplanade de la Défense stop. At the far end, there’s a massive shopping mall called Les Quatre Temps complete with restaurants, boutiques and a multiplex movie theater called the UGC Ciné Cité with 16 screens. Opposite, there are more restaurants and stores in the CNIT building. You can also take an elevator to the roof of La Grande Arche, the Danish-designed white cube, and look out at the stunning view of Paris.

Word of caution – I’d avoid walking around this area late at night.

summer fruit, heatwave gone

It rained all night and the temperature plunged dramatically from 42°C to 22°C, can you believe it? Bliss! How wonderful it was to throw a blanket onto the bed and curl up under the covers. Fingers crossed that that’s the last we’ll see of that horrible heatwave.

July and August are my favorite months in Paris. Why? Because the city, and my neighborhood in particular, empties of Parisians. Suddenly a quiet descends and it’s wonderful. Families head to the mountains, the seaside, the countryside and those left behind can breathe and reclaim the city.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to walk to my local Sunday market to stock up on fresh fruit. Melons are in abundance this summer, Monoprix was selling them for a euro apiece last week. Here are some photos from my last visit to my local Sunday morning market –

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Mountains of Cavaillon melons from the Vaucluse region side by side with peaches, cherries and heaps of fragrant basil. I plan to make a batch of pesto as well as tomato sauce from scratch.

IMG_4837IMG_4855IMG_4853IMG_4839We’re spoiled for choice in this land of abundance. Here’s a trio of fresh-caught rouget, bass and shrimp (prawns). IMG_4860IMG_4852IMG_4859

I can’t get enough of these cherry tomatoes, they are “extra“!

I came across this stall where the most beautiful hand-woven baskets were being sold. The saleswoman told me they were made from plastic. Which means not only durable, but waterproof (great for the beach). I also loved her rings and bracelets.

IMG_4871These ones you could slip your laptop into. Or papers and magazines.IMG_4879She works with a Mexican associate, she told me, hence the bright colors.IMG_4875IMG_4869

I loved them. Unfortunately I had no cash left. Even though I have a surplus of carry-all bags, I’ll return next Sunday to buy one.

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Here’s the smoothie I made when I got home: melon, papaya, apple, coconut milk, orange juice and ginger-root. As usual, I forgot the mint. Why do I always forget to buy fresh mint?

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42°C (107.6°F) in Paris

Soso in his garden yesterday

All day long I sat in my deliciously air-conditioned office, even wearing a cardigan it was so cool. And then at 6 pm I stepped outside, and – BAM! – it was like walking into a blast furnace. Concrete and pollution makes the heat particularly fierce in any metropolis. For ten minutes I walked along a concrete pathway to get to the metro station. It was like taking a ten-minute trek through the Sahara Desert. A scorching wind, called a sirocco, was blowing in from the south. Government alerts warned us to stay home, not take public transportation, cancel unecessary outings, etc. It’s hotter today in Paris than it is in Madrid and Rome.

And then I stepped into a subway car and it was like stepping into a steambath (a smelly one.) I think it’s scandalous that a world-class city, one of the most tourist-visited in the world, doesn’t have A/C on its public transport system.

But the good news is that the insufferable heatwave breaks tonight. Spectacularly. In the middle of the night the temperature will plunge ten degrees. And on Saturday, amidst a thunderstorm, it’ll plunge another ten degrees down to 21°C. And the French will complain how cool it is for July.

Here’s Soso in the backyard of his house yesterday:

heatwave alert

Another heatwave is on the horizon. Temperatures are forecast to go as high as 40°C (104°F) this week. Thank gawd my office is air-conditioned. But no air-conditioning at home (rarely do you find A/C in French apartments.) I have a Rowenta air purifier and two oscillating fans (one obtained by nearly getting into a fist-fight with a woman during the last heatwave, it was the last one on the shelf.) There was, literally, a rupture de stock of electric fans throughout the entire country.

We know the drill: lower the shutters and keep the windows closed, opening them only at night; don’t use the oven or any electrical appliance that produces heat; drink lots of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, meat, fried foods and greasy stuff. Eat lots of cold salads, protein and fruit (and eat lightly.) Splash water on your face and body several times a day. Avoid exercise and physical effort. Wear light, ample cotton clothing. Sit or even sleep on the floor because heat rises. Think of elderly neighbors who might be living alone and check up on them.


These are instructions we receive from the government who issue TV and radio “heatwave alerts.” Since the deadly Heatwave of 2003 in which 14,802 heat-related deaths (mostly among the elderly) occurred, a safety and awareness initiative was launched by the Public Health Agency. Now, bulletins warn of upcoming heatwaves while reminding citizens what to do. My personal practice at home is to put crisp, white Percale sheets on the bed and keep my flat clean and uncluttered. I also fill a glass jug with water, cut-up lemons, limes and ginger root and keep it in the fridge.

During the summer of 2003, the intensity and duration of the heat wrought havoc on the unprepared European population. Because it was August, the entire government was on vacation. President Chirac, holidaying in Quebec, refused to give up his vacation and return home. It was a disaster all round, a national disgrace really, and those who lived through it won’t forget. Unfortunately close to 15,000 people, mostly abandoned senior citizens, died. 15,000!! No solidarity whatsoever, no organization, no responsibility. As I said, a national disgrace.

Many bodies were not claimed for weeks because relatives were on vacation. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers as they did not have enough space in their own facilities. On 3 September 2003, 57 bodies were still left unclaimed in the Paris area, and were buried.

I lived through The Heatwave of 2003, and I can tell you it was brutal. All the wax candles in my apartment melted. Nights, I slept naked on the floor covered with a wet towel. I was working two jobs at the time: during the day in a French law firm that didn’t have A/C. The elevator broke down because of the heat and we had to climb five flights of stairs. Then I’d leave the day job at 5:30 to sprint up the Champs-Elysées – gasping in the heat – to my night job in a British law firm (thankfully with A/C.) It was early August 2003 and for eight consecutive days temperatures hovered between 38°C to 40°C (104°F), dropping only to around 35°C at night.

The Lemon Tree writing retreat (that I never went to) in Italy

A few years ago I entered a writing contest. Weeks later a person contacted me to say that I had ‘won’ a coveted spot in a writing retreat nestled on a Tuscan hillside (I hate the word ‘nestled’ and never use it, but it seems appropriate here.)

Of course I was over the moon, but it turns out there was a misunderstanding. I thought they were going to pay me to go, but it wasn’t so. In the end I didn’t go because it was too expensive. But anyway, here’s the place if anyone’s interested, it’s pretty gorgeous.

THE LEMON TREE HOUSE RESIDENCY FOR WRITERS AND ARTISTS

Deep in the countryside on the border of southern Tuscany and Umbria, the retreat includes all meals, wine and cocktail hours, yoga, beautiful-looking private rooms, and day trips to Florence and Siena.  In total there are around fifteen writers, all working on their own projects.

The next residency dates are Sept-Oct 2019 and May 2020.

http://www.thelemontreehouse.org/

Avignon summer festival

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The Avignon Festival is held every July in the courtyard of the Popes’ Palace, as well as in other locations around the city of Avignon. Founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, it is the oldest theatre and performing arts festivals in France…and one of the world’s greatest.

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THE DAMNED

This was the play from the summer of 2016. Direction was by Ivo Van Hove, artistic director of one of Europe’s most inventive theatre companies, the Toneelgroep in Amsterdam. Actors were from the prestigious Comédie Française troupe.

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damn twodamn three

Here’s the story – To protect their interests as Nazism triumphs in Germany, the steel tycoons of the fabulously wealthy Essenbeck family see no other solution but to ally themselves with the new regime and murder the patriarch, old Baron Joachim. Intrigue and machinations, betrayals and murders: the appointment of the new head of their steel empire will turn into a ritual of Evil in which the corruption of the relationships between individuals echoes the cruelty and brutality of the political context.

In this struggle for survival and against all odds, it is Martin – the incestuous and paedophiliac progeny of powerful Baroness Sophie – who will manage to eliminate all his opponents and become a zealous servant of the regime, ready to reign on the empire he inherited. He will, however, have to pay a high price, living a cold life irremediably devoid of love, goodness, and beauty.

http://www.festival-avignon.com/en/

If you click on this link below, you’ll find a good and comprehensive list of hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the region as well as restaurants, markets, etc.

http://www.provenceguide.co.uk/festivals-and-events/avignon/avignon-festival/provence-FMAPAC084CDT0000174-1.html

a fun-filled weekend

Last night we went to the amusement park in the Tuileries Gardens. It was fun.

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Earlier, we had spent the afternoon at my local swimming pool. The day before, Saturday, after I had picked the kids up at the train station (S. who is 7 and his big sister, M, who is 15), we went to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne. An odd name for an amusement park, it literally means the Acclimatization Garden. It was a broiling hot day. The sprinkler section of the children’s playground was packed with screaming kids.

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Today, Monday, I’ve taken the day off work; the weather’s a perfect 25°C / 77°F. I think we’ll go to one of my favorite Parisian parks, the Parc de Bercy (see link below).

“Tata?” asked my 7-year old friend at one point, “Have you heard of a group called The Beatles?”

“Errrr … yes, I have,” I replied, “Why do you ask?” And he began singing the lyrics of Hello, Goodbye. “You say yes, I say no, you say stop, and I say go, go, go …”

At school they sing this song for their English lesson.

https://julietinparis.net/2018/08/21/a-perfect-summers-day/