off to Spain

Everyone’s buying these Spanish strawberries at the moment. Plump and tasty, they evoke summer and sunshine.

Speaking of Spain, I’m going next week. I bought myself some summer sandals for the occasion before realizing that I could probably buy them in Spain for a lot cheaper. Spain enjoys the same quality of life as France – higher even, some people say – for half the price. Throw in abundant sunshine, beaches galore, magnificent fruits and vegetables, fish, wine and everything else (art and culture), it seems like a good place to visit (or live.) When I return, I’ll post some photos.

New sandals, not worn yet. They were actually quite reasonably priced – 49 euros for the orange pair and 59 euros for the black pair.

I’m flying Easyjet, an airline that I really like. I need books, I said to myself. I’m old fashioned, I guess, and take actual books with me when I travel. So I purchased two that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time: Fingersmith, a historical crime novel set in Victorian-era Britain by Sarah Waters, and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell:

As relevant now as when it was first published (1854), Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South skilfully weaves a compelling love story into a clash between the pursuit of profit and humanitarian ideals. When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature. (from Penguin)

Do I ever read French novels, in French? The answer, sadly, is no.

Parcelles bistro in the Marais district

Above is the rue Chapon at 7 pm on a Saturday evening, a 15-minute walk along the rue du Temple from the Hotel de Ville metro station. Below is the warm and welcoming interior of Parcelles bistro at number 13 rue Chapon in the 3rd arrondissement.

We started with a terrine slice (pork and foie gras) studded with pistachios. It was good.

Then my friend had a dish of gnocchi (26 euros) and I had roast pintade (33 euros). Pintade is guinea fowl. Honestly? The portion was small and the meat was not tender. It was served on a bed of wheat berries with tapenade on the side. I think wheat berries are boring and would’ve preferred a really good vegetable purée and/or some inventive roast vegetables. I also thought my friend’s portion of gnocchi was way too small.

The wine was disappointing. That was probably my fault because my friend chose a wine from the Languedoc region, the waiter suggested a wine from the Cahors region, and I said that I preferred the Loire region. So the Loire region it was, the waiter uncorked a bottle and I found it “flabby.” What does that mean? A flabby wine lacks structure and complexity. Halfway through the meal, I asked the waiter for a single glass of wine because I wasn’t enjoying the other stuff. He sort of huffed and puffed, which I didn’t find very professional.

On second thought, why would it be my fault because I said I preferred the Loire region? The above sentence I wrote doesn’t make sense. I retract that silly comment.

This wouldn’t happen at Paul Bert bistro. Paul Bert bistro serves wine that sing and you can always count on the advice from their knowledgeable waitstaff (and superb wine cellar.) The waiter returned and poured me a glass of Beaujolais Villages which was quaffable. For dessert I had a slice of tasteless Saint-Nectaire cheese (13 euros), and my friend had a clafoutis for 11 euros. He didn’t grumble once, I’m the complainer.

And that was it, basically. Overpriced and mediocre food. People have been raving about this place, I don’t know why. I’ll be returning to my favorite Parisian bistro: Paul Bert. For those new to this blog, just type that name into the Search box above to see multiple reviews on that great restaurant.

trendy new bistro in the Marais

That’ll be my next blog post. I haven’t been yet, but I’m going. To dine there, you must book weeks in advance. I’ve read nothing but positive reviews. Stay tuned!

Changing the subject, saw this photo in The Guardian. The suave and stylish Macron tolerating the lunkhead Bojo. See Macron’s arms crossed defensively across his chest. He loathes him. They loathe each other. I can just imagine what Macron’s thinking. Espèce de gros navet (big turnip head.) (Navet always means a flop, something without value.) Go back to your small Brexit island and let us Europeans get on with things.


the extraordinary courage of Inna Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Femen group in Paris

Ukrainian activist Inna Shevchenko, from the topless women's rights group Femen, poses in Paris

Inna Shevchenko, warrior.

Way back in 2013, on March 7th, 2013, to be exact (9 years ago), I posted this blog entry below on the Ukrainian feminist group, Femen, based in Paris. Femen still exists today in Paris, but without its leader, Inna Shevchenko. Today, at 31, Ms. Shevchenko is still very active in her cause(s). Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we see her often on French television. France granted her political refugee status in April 2013.

In December 2011, while participating in a demonstration against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus), she and two other Femen members were kidnapped in Minsk, its capital, and interrogated, stripped naked and beaten by Belarussian agents who also poured gasoline on them and threatened to set them on fire. They were finally released in the middle of a forest.

Very active and followed on social networks, the feminist activist took a stand against the Russian invasion of her native country. In a magazine column, she describes Vladimir Putin as a “serial aggressor”, “a little man with gigantic ambitions, thirsty for abuse”.

She also denounces the cowardly West which “allowed Putin to implement his diabolical plan”. She recalls that the European Union “treated Russia as a trading partner until the very last day”.

While her relatives are still in Ukraine, she regularly salutes the courage of her compatriots. “We will teach our daughters and sons that courageously opposing evil and standing up for what is right, despite the high cost, is the only way to secure peace. After all, if men make war, it is also up to women to win it.” she concludes in her op-ed.

Here’s my blog post from March 2013 (still relevant today) –

It is in Paris where the training center of this extraordinary activist group that calls itself Femen is located.

Last week on this blog I posted the news of Stéphane Hessel’s death, a dissident who encouraged citizens to stand up and express outrage over all forms of injustice. I wonder what he would’ve thought of this all-female militant group who do exactly that.


The Femen movement was created in the Ukraine in 2008 to protest against sex tourism, prostitution and the exploitation of women in the former Soviet state. Inna Shevchenko is the feminist crusader in charge of the Paris boot camp.  Daughter of an army officer, she took off her top and joined the Kiev protests. Ukraine is not a Brothel was their slogan.  As a consequence, she lost her job as a press officer. She then fled her country after a well-publicized stunt in which she wielded a chainsaw and chopped down a large wooden Orthodox cross in support of the jailed Russian feminists, Pussy Riot.

Femen has set up camp in Paris’s poor and ethnically mixed Goutte d’Or district.

“The decision to bring the fight to France and open a training centre was a French initiative, an invitation from French feminists who sent us a message saying they needed us,” said Inna.  “Before then we thought of France as a first world and already feminist country that didn’t really need us. Since arriving, I have met many Frenchwomen and they say they need to start the fight again. We are bringing a new face, new blood, a new fight to feminism.”


Inna Shevchenko, topless warrior.

Is it not contradictory, a journalist asked her, that the new feminists are using nakedness to rail against female exploitation?

“Ah, but we have a different idea; we are talking about peaceful war, peaceful terrorism,” Inna said. “We are taking off our clothes so people can see that we have no weapons except our bodies. It’s a powerful way to fight in a man’s world. We live with men’s domination and this is the only way to provoke them, the only way to get attention.”

Activists from the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN

“We don’t hide our bodies, we don’t hide our faces, we confront our enemies face to face. We look them in the eyes and we have to be well prepared physically for that.”

There was, she explained patiently, no contradiction in going topless or naked to protest against what they view as the three main evils of a global “patriarchal society”: sexual exploitation, dictatorship and religion. Protesting naked, as Femen’s slogans insist, is liberté, a reappropriation of their own bodies as opposed to pornography or snatched photographs which are exploitation.


On a less intellectual level, taking their clothes off ensures a lot of publicity.

She added: “Believe me, it is really difficult for me to take my clothes off and stand in a public place. But this is the fight, and the fight is never easy.”


Oh, look…an early Femen painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1830.  It’s called Liberty Leading the People. A woman personifying Liberty holds the flag of the French Revolution in one hand while brandishing a bayonette with the other.


On a personal note, I’m blown away by the courageous audacity of these young women. I admire them. But I’m also saddened because as a child during the Women’s Liberation Movement in North America, I have to ask: What happened? Or rather, what didn’t happen? Why, four decades later, are we still engaged in battle? I thought we had abolished sexism, inequality and the rest. It’s all too clear that women the world over must keep affirming, keep defining and keep defending the cause in the face of subjugating forces that try to beat us down.  We must be ever-vigilant.

Today Femen protests against all forms of injustice.  Their slogans are concise:

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:  Gangster party in Davos. Poor because of you.

Better bare than burka.

Fashion fascism (against anorexia)

Pope Benedict XVI:  Game over.

My body, my rules.

FEMEN members demonstrate at the congress centrum

Women of the world, unite.

a weekend away

me and my “chouchou”

As I sat in my comfortable train seat Saturday morning on my way to Lille, I thought about the Ukrainian women and children also travelling on trains … as they flee for their lives and to safety in neighboring countries. May they soon find peace and be able to return to their homes.

I slept like a log last night. I always do when I leave Paris. The air in Lille is cleaner and colder; and it’s a lot quieter. The people are friendlier too. Went to a Japanese restaurant last night with not one 9-year-old boy, but two (my godson’s friend.)

Earlier, we had been in a crowded park where he met up with some friends.

Today – cold and sunny, it’s been cold and sunny all weekend – we went into the country where his father has a small weekend house on a small plot of land.

Here’s a funny story, well, sort of funny; a bit shocking actually:

Last summer, I was sitting in my friend’s car (in the countryside) looking at the graffiti on the brick wall in front of me. My godson, then 8, was sitting in the backseat with his friend. “Gee,” I said aloud (I’m translating), “I wonder what FDP means.” The two boys started giggling.

“Is it an acronym for a political party?” All over France, you used to see FN (Front National), PS (Parti socialiste), LO (Lutte ouvrière), etc. scrawled on walls and billboards. The giggling grew louder. I turned around and said to them – Do you know what FDP means?

“Oui, Tata,” said my godson, “but we can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a gros mot.” A ‘gros mot‘ means a swear word.

Later, I found out that FDP stands for “Fils De Pute” (son of a whore, or son of a bitch). The graffiti has been on that wall for nearly a year.