office party at The Pavillons of Bercy – Museum of Fairground Arts

We ended up taking the express train (the RER A) across the city to Bercy Village, a place I like very much and have chronicled many times on this blog. As previously mentioned, there was a strike that day but most workers stayed at home so the trains, running on reduced service, were not full.

Just beyond the village, there’s another place I didn’t know about. It’s called Les Pavillons de Bercy – Musée des Arts Forains. This is where our office party was held. Bercy has an interesting history. Once a collection of warehouses reserved for wine merchants, it is located along the river Seine on the outskirts of the 12th arrondissement. This area received, stored and redistributed wines and spirits from as early as 1800. Barrels from the country’s wine regions arrived by boat, were unloaded there and stored in cellars called chais.

Par éd. Gondry rue Roubo Paris — Scan old postcard 1908, Domaine public

It was very well organized. It was, after all, the French wine trade. When the railway line between Paris and Lyon opened in 1849, rail transport developed and Bercy station received wine from Provence, the South, the Rhone Valley and Burgundy in wooden barrels placed on flat wagons.

Between 1875 and 1914, the railway ensured almost all of the wine transport. Barrel wagons were pulled by horses and then by locotractors. Today you can still see the rails that were purposely kept on the ground.

When water transport developed, boats conveying wines from Algeria, Spain and Portugal were unloaded onto barges in Rouen then travelled up the Seine to the port of Bercy. It was the largest wine market in the world.

The Decline

In the mid-1960s, the City of Paris planned to develop this land and leases were not renewed. The largest and most dynamic wine merchants moved to the city’s periphery. (above source: Wikipedia)

Today, the old stone cellars have been tastefully converted into shops, restaurants and venues. Bercy Village looks like this:

The Pavillons of Bercy, also a converted space from the former warehouses, houses a collection of objects from funfairs and fairgrounds from the 19th century. Containing a variety of objects dating between 1850 and 1950 including amusement rides, fair stalls, merry-go-rounds and carousels, swings, hundred-year-old bicycles and more, the museum was created by Jean-Paul Favand, an actor and antiques dealer, from his private collection.

We played old-fashioned games like this one above, rode on the merry-go-round, ate finger food, drank champagne and socialized, then danced into the wee hours of the morning. Our employer paid for taxis home.

me on the right, one of my colleagues on the left.

AZNAVOUR – Emmenez-moi

This morning, while making coffee, I turned on the radio (France Culture) and heard this song. It’s just mind-blowing that this man struggled to make a singing career for himself in the early days. It was Edith Piaf who encouraged him. The title of this song means “Take me away”. After his death in 2018 at the age of 94, Aznavour was given a state funeral in Paris.

Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre, emmenez-moi au pays des merveilles
Il me semble que la misère serait moins pénible au soleil …

Take me to the ends of the earth, take me to wonderland
It seems to me that misery would be less painful in the sun …

President Macron lauded him as one of the most important “faces of France”. He praised Aznavour’s lyrics, which he said appealed to “our secret fragility” and said the singer’s words were “for millions of people a balm, a remedy, a comfort … For so many decades, he has made our life sweeter, our tears less bitter.”

Aznavour’s coffin was lifted away to the sounds of this song, “Emmenez-Moi”.

hot chocolate and crowds at the Café Flore

Where? The Café de Flore, 172 boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris’s oh-so-chic 6th arrondissement

When? Saturday, 4 pm.

Why? Because I’ve been going to this legendary café for decades (I took my parents there once) and their hot chocolate is good. I also wanted to show my visiting 18-year old god-daughter where the beau monde of Paris meet. Good for celebrity watching. Years ago, I saw Lauren Bacall there, Bette Midler and Tina Turner (not together). And BHL (Bernard-Henri Lévy). It’s his neighborhood hangout.

Tourists call it The Café de Flore, Parisians call it simply Le Flore.

It used to be a sedate, traditional, classy Parisian café; quiet and elegant.

But now, as a consequence of the Emily in Paris series on Netflix, it has turned into a circus. We had to stand in line for more than 30 minutes! Never before has there been a queue to get into the Café Flore … quelle horreur ! It has turned into a tourist attraction, like Disneyland or the Statue of Liberty.

We were finally let in and shown to a table that hadn’t been cleaned. When the waiter came (after a long wait) he addressed us in English. “Nous sommes françaises,” we told him. “Oh,” he replied in French, “We speak English here all day long.” We ordered three hot chocolates. Last year I paid 8 euros for this beverage. Now, it’s 10 euros.

We wondered how café regulars, like BHL, get in and decided they probably entered through a back door and climbed the stairs to a quiet upper floor. Three hours later we left and walked in the cold, clear night to rue du Bac metro station.

off to the Café Flore which apparently is ruined by Emily in Paris fans

I’m off to the Café Flore this afternoon (for their famous hot chocolate) with my 18-year old god-daughter and a friend/office colleague. No sooner had I sent an email to my friend/office colleague to confirm our 4 pm rendezvous, when I read this article in today’s The New York Times –

American Expatriates in Paris Wish Emily Cooper Would Go Home

Real-life Emilys in Paris complain that the show’s heroine, clad in over-the-top couture and barely able to speak French, is giving them a bad name.

Since its premiere in late 2020, the popular Netflix series about an American 20-something who moves to Paris for an unexpected job opportunity has spawned a backlash among the French, who complain that it portrays them as nasty, haughty and lazy while projecting Paris as an urban fantasyland filled with luridly-colored berets, serial philanderers and malevolent waiters.

When Season 3 was released in late December, Le Monde, the influential French newspaper, published a cri de coeur, sniping, “It is time to consider at least one season of Emily Away from Paris.” Writing last week in the left-leaning French newspaper Libération, David Belliard, the deputy mayor of Paris, railed against the show’s “Disneyland Paris, which is confined to the districts of the ultra-center and is inhabited only by the richest people.”

Like Emily Cooper, Rebecca Leffler moved to Paris in her 20s, and worked in a luxury division within Publicis Groupe, the French advertising company. While she recognized that Emily’s chronic bumbling was a necessary narrative conceit, Leffler said she was nevertheless irked by Season 3 because Emily always seemed to get what she wanted — haute couture, handsome men, business wins — while never seeming to encounter the harsh realities she had, like French bureaucracy, spiraling rents and gnawing homesickness.

But the worst was this –

Pritchard, a Virginia native, said her weekly pilgrimage to Café de Flore, where Simone de Beauvoir and Picasso once puffed and preached, had been ruined by the dozens of raucous “Emily in Paris” pilgrims who now swarmed the cafe, taking Instagram-ready selfies on one of the several 2-hour tours of Emily’s favorite Paris haunts, including her Fifth Arrondissement apartment. Some wear fire engine red berets, just like Emily.

Quelle horreur !  Juliet in Paris is off to investigate this.

Black Thursday. major strikes in Paris. pandemonium in the streets.

Oh boy. This is going to be a big one. You can feel it building up already, and we’re only Tuesday night.

WHY? To oppose the government’s recent pension reform.

WHERE? Nation-wide.

WHO? Everyone, it seems. But primarily the national trade unions who are calling on their adherents to stop work and strike –

The CFDT (Conféderation française démocratique du travail)

The CFE-CGC (Conféderation française de l’encadrement et la Conféderation génerale des cadres)

The CFTC (Conféderation française des travailleurs chrétiens)

The CGT (Conféderation générale du travail) – The General Confederation of Labor is a nation-wide trade union founded in 1895 in the city of Limoges, the first of the five major French confederations of trade unions, the largest in terms of votes, and second largest in terms of membership (around 720,000 members.)


The FO (Force ouvrière) – Founded in 1948 by former members of the CGT who denounced the dominance of the French Communist Party, the FO is a member of the European Trade Union Confederation.


The FSU (Féderation syndicale unitaire) – The Fédération syndicale unitaire is the main trade union in the education sector in France and the largest trade union in the public sector. It has 162,000 members, of whom 88% are teachers.

The UNSA, UNEF and others.


SO WHAT EXACTLY WERE PRESIDENT MACRON’S REFORMS? To raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. Before 2011, the minimum retirement age was 60. No matter that in all other industrialized nations the legal retirement age is higher and has been higher for decades (in Canada I have always known it to be 65), the French have always believed themselves to be an exception to the rule (and exceptional.)

So for that reason, strikers will oppose the new reforms and the country will come to a standstill on Thursday. But the big question is: what about our office party?? We still have to get across town during rush hour when the streets and metro lines will be pandemonium. The original idea of hiring private coaches has been scrapped. Now, it’s an “every man for himself” situation. There are only two metro lines that are automated (driverless): line 1 and line 14. These are the lines we need to take to get to Bercy Village. But with all the other lines shut down or running at half capacity, this means that over a million commuters will be shoving and pushing themselves into crammed trains on those two lines. I can see it now, this isn’t my first polka. The platforms will be packed solid. Chock-full trains will pull into the station and depart. Tempers will flare, fights will break out and it’ll take hours for tired people to get home.

I’m not against trade unions. Au contraire. I’m glad that France has them, and so many. But I don’t always agree with their demands.

To be continued.

offending women and meddling authoritarian figures

I’m reposting this because it was faintly amusing and outrageous at the same time. The incident occurred in September 2020.

Two days ago, a French woman named Jeanne was barred from entering the famous Musée d’Orsay art museum. Why? Because she was wearing a dress with a devilish décolletée and a portion of her boobs was showing. This in a world-class museum that hangs famous paintings of naked women and men on its walls (Degas, Renoir, Manet.) I was not aware that in France women’s bodies were regulated and condemned in this way. We are not in Saudi Arabia. This is a slippery slope that needs to be stopped in its tracks. Next thing you know, Jeanne will be needing a male guardian to accompany her while she wears an abaya (I exaggerate to make a point.)

When will authority figures leave women (and their bodies) alone?

To be fair, it was not the fault of the Musée d’Orsay, but rather one individual, a ticket agent, who happened to be a woman. Two other agents intervened, one of them a security guard, who defended their colleague. A security guard? Was this a terrorist situation? Were Jeanne’s breasts a potential security threat? The absurdity! The situation got out of hand, Jeanne stood her ground, and a compromise was made: if she put on her jacket to cover her offending bosoms, then she’d be let in. Needless to say, the incident went viral, the Musée d’Orsay became a laughingstock, and someone from the Communications Department pinned the following tweet on their official Twitter Page –

Nous avons pris connaissance d’un incident survenu avec une visiteuse lors de son accès au musée d’Orsay. Nous le regrettons profondément et présentons toutes nos excuses à la personne concernée que nous contactons.

We learned of an incident that occurred with a visitor when she entered the Musée d’Orsay. We deeply regret this and offer our apologies to the person concerned that we contact.

A museum official then telephoned Jeanne to give what she called “a very sincere apology.” Jeanne said she was satisfied with the phone call, but the museum’s brief tweet failed to recognise the “sexist and discriminatory” nature of what happened.

As for me, I’m thinking: (a) how did the museum official get Jeanne’s phone number? (b) for someone who works in the Communications Department of a world-class museum, he or she can’t write very well; (c) as a goodwill gesture for the trouble caused, Jeanne should have been offered a free pass for a year; and (d) I hope those agents are not only reprimanded but reminded that we do not live under a repressive authoritarian regime but in France whose national motto is Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Here’s Jeanne and her offending bosoms, hours before heading off to the Musée d’Orsay.

I later learned that the security guards claimed that Jeanne was in violation of Article 7 of the museum’s Rules and Regulations: visitors are prohibited from “wearing clothing likely to disturb public peace”.

Again, the absurdity!

two birthdays and galette des rois at the office

Two of my colleagues shared a birthday today, so last night I went to my local boulangerie-patisserie and bought a large apricot-pistachio tart. I lugged it home (it was heavy), then lugged it to work on the bus this morning.

We ate it during our morning staff meeting.

In the afternoon, we ate a galette with cider. Because it’s galette season.

The French have been serving up galette des rois since the 14th-century. Traditionally, it’s served on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany, a religious feast day commemorating the arrival of the Three Kings to the manger where Jesus was born. Today, it’s eaten throughout the month of January and is simply a festive way to celebrate the new year with family, friends and colleagues.

There are two basic styles of galette: in northern France, it’s made of pâte feuilleté, puff pastry, and stuffed with a dense, creamy almond paste called frangipane. In the south of France, it’s a brioche-style cake covered with candied fruit.

Hidden inside the cake is a small porcelain figure called a “fève” (lucky charm).
Whoever gets the slice with the fève in it (and hopefully doesn’t break their tooth on it), is named King or Queen and wears the golden paper crown that comes with the cake.

more random photos

Park Avenue, New York, 1981. Photographer Arthur Elgort.

Me in Santa Margherita, Italy in 1996. No, not Santa Margherita … Portofino, just across the bay.

My maternal grandfather, Abraham Ballin, who fled Riga, Latvia for Sheffield, England at the turn of the last century. Part of the exodus of Eastern European Jews taking flight from the Russian pogroms.

William Shakespeare’s Ophelia. From Hamlet.

Bubbly, on the occasion of Monique’s birthday.

A glove shop in Rome. Longing to return.

Italian gelato.

Tortellini in brodo.

An elegant meal for one in Bologna, Italy. Longing to return.

The beach in Nice.

Those loungers aren’t free!

My favorite sweets from Provence: candied clementines, praline “birds egg” chocolates and almond calissons. Longing for some right now.



some random photos …

The reason I started this blog was to showcase my three passions of writing, photography and travel takeaways. Yesterday, I spent a few hours going through my collection of photos, old and new. It’s a shame that they sit languishing in their digital file folders. I decided to bring some of them out into the light. Here are a few of my favorites, completely random, but each with their own personal meaning.

Kaïss on the beach at Dunkirk, France. The beaches of Dunkirk, as you know, are historic. So is Kaïss. LOL !

My favorite movie. GILDA, starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.

“My coffee machine is the most beautiful person in the world to me.” Good coffee? Je t’aime. (Monmouth Coffee Company, London.)

My mother commentating at a fashion show. Toronto, the 1950s. Look at that swank feathered hat!

Tilton House, East Sussex, England. Formerly the house of John Maynard Keynes turned into a writing-yoga retreat that I went to 7 years ago.

Another favorite movie of mine starring Joanne Woodward and (sigh) Paul Newman.

Leonard Cohen, RIP. Born and raised in Montreal, Canada.

Christmas market. Verona, Italy.

More to come.