About julesparis2013

Originally from Toronto, Canada, I moved to Paris about 20 years ago.

Alexandra Tolstoy

I never made it to Spain because I got the flu. Not Covid, but a mild case of influenza, so I cancelled everything and rebooked for the end of May. Now I’m spending my week’s vacation at home and the weather is terrible, cold and damp. I’m cooking (roasted vegetable lasagna tonight), watching DVDs (Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh; I really like Swedish dramas and want to go to Stockholm); reading the world news (not good), watching documentaries and stuff on YouTube, and drinking one rum cocktail every evening.

I recently learned there’s a whole new genre of movies and series called Nordic Noir or Scandi crime dramas. I look forward to exploring that.

I found this YouTube video below particularly interesting. Alexandra Tolstoy, distant relative to Leo Tolstoy, acclaimed to be one of the greatest Russian novelists of all time, shows us around her posh pad in Chelsea, London. But she got evicted because her billionaire partner, Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev: former member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and father of her 3 children, has been on the lam for years, pursued by multi-governments for a variety of crimes. His properties were confiscated (including this one) and his assets and bank accounts frozen.

Today, Alexandra still lives in London, in a rental, and considerably downsized, house. Have your own money, women! Don’t be financially dependent on a man … especially a Russian oligarch.

Will Smith at the Oscars, a different perspective

Here in France, the reactions to the slap are quite different from those in the States.

Discussing the incident over lunch with my colleagues, they all said – men and women alike – that Will Smith was right to do what he did.

“Words are violent,” someone said, “the words of Chris Rock were hurtful not only towards Jada Pinkett Smith, but all those who suffer from that illness.”

“Who knows what could’ve transpired afterwards had Smith not reacted – he might’ve been ridiculed for not reacting, for not defending his wife.”

“But the feebleness and stupidity of the joke didn’t merit such a response,” I retorted. “If Will Smith had something to say to Chris Rock, he should’ve said it afterwards in private. Not in public.”

“But the joke was told in public, and therefore deserved a public response.”

The topic then turned to violence in general. My colleagues said that in any case the whole brouhaha was a giant hypocrisy: the USA is the biggest purveyor of violence in the world, they said: Vietnam, Iraq, etc., not to mention their gun culture and school shootings.

“And they get upset over a simple slap?” said Thanh. Thanh was a child in Vietnam during the 1970s and a refugee to France. “They should get off their high horses and stop with the lectures on moral superiority. What other country in the world sells AK-47 assault rifles over the internet?”

“Also,” someone else said, “crowds of adoring people were clapping, cheering and congratulating Smith afterwards when he won his award. How hypocritical is that?”

Taking the topic further, what better venue to slug a wife-dissing man than at the altar of the very place where sluggers, scrappers, bruisers, gunslingers and ruffians are made and glorified? The American film industry churns out a regular diet of alpha male, testosterone-filled movies while glamorizing crime, guns and violence; it’s entrenched in American culture.

Many of the actors sitting in that very audience, Will Smith included, have earned millions from playing shoot ‘em up, gun-slinging characters in Hollywood movies.

Hollywood manufactures violence and violent behavior. It’s called the entertainment industry.

“I found Will Smith’s act to be very symbolic,” said a Lebanese colleague who escaped civil war in that country decades ago to seek refuge in France.

Art imitating Life or Life imitating Art? In a blurring-the-lines moment between fiction and reality, Will Smith believed himself to be a superhero.

All this to say that the view from across the Atlantic is quite different from the general viewpoint in the States.

 

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

delacrois

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.

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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.

welcoming Ukrainians to France and sending aid to Ukraine

Since February 24, five thousand Ukrainian refugees have arrived in France. That number will rapidly grow. They are, for the most part, women and children. I’d love to be able to invite a family to my abode but, alas, I live in a very small space. Others have been generous by opening up their homes or secondary homes – to date, 5,978 people.

The Ministry of the Interior estimates that reception capacities will be around 20,000 people, “even more” in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, and in coordination with the Red Cross, the Order of Malta, Civil Protection and Catholic parishes, donations are being called for to send to Ukraine, in particular –

– Portable generators
– Headlamps + adequate batteries
– Sleeping bags (compatible with temperatures of -10/-20°C)
– Thermal socks
– Warm shoes (snow type)

EUROPEAN PROTECTION

In the European Union, Ukrainian refugees will benefit from “temporary protection” which exempts them from requesting asylum status. The protection is valid for six months and renewable up to three years. It offers Ukrainians immediate access to health care (universal health protection) and to the labor market.

As for the United Kingdom, no longer part of the European Union, their response to welcoming Ukrainians on to British soil has been lamentable. I’m actually considering renouncing my British citizenship. Fed up with their Brexit vision (narrow and shrivelled), fed up with that dreadful Conservative government – Bojo and the evil Priti Patel (herself the child of immigrants) and others, and super fed up with the overall misogyny, sexism and ineptitude within the Metropolitan Police Service of Greater London before, during and after that unspeakably horrific murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer last year, I feel that English values are not my values. To be blunt, I don’t feel particularly proud to own a British passport these days.

I’m no doubt being too harsh. My favorite newspaper is The Guardian (I read it every day), and I love London, Marks & Spencer, licorice allsorts and Marmite. Toasted crumpets, Hovis bread and Iris Murdoch novels, in fact most English literature. Citizenship is a complex thing, wrapped up in childhood memories, parents, happy holidays and other things. But I’m digressing …

For those wishing to volunteer, contribute and show solidarity with Ukraine and its people, here’s the official French government website (I’ve checked it) :

https://parrainage.refugies.info/

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.

the Paris High Line

Perfect weather this weekend: 10°C with abundant sunshine, and even though I’m finalizing the formatting of my book (you have to do everything yourself these days; the author is also the layout artist, designer, proofreader, promoter and lots of other things), I will take time out, later in the day, to walk at least a portion of the High Line.

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It’s not really called the Paris High Line, it’s called la Promenade plantée or la Coulée verte, but New York City’s High Line project was inspired by the Parisian Promenade plantée (tree-lined walkway), completed in 1993.

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Contrary to the NYC promenade which is 1.45 miles long (2.33 km), the Paris promenade is 3 miles long (4.8-kilometer). The diversity of plants as well as architectural styles, mostly dwellings, that you pass by is interesting. A slice of Paris.  The photo below is a bamboo grove.

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(This post was written a few years ago) – I can’t tell you how relaxing and enjoyable it was to stroll along at your own pace, feeling the sun on your face and hearing the birds chirping.No cars, no noisy scooters…just joggers, pedestrians, space and nature. Because I went fairly early this morning, there weren’t many people. But I hear it gets quite crowded on Sunday afternoons. Too bad I live on the other side of the city, otherwise I’d be here all the time.

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Picknicking Parisians and below that, a happy walker (me, a few years ago.)

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When you reach the end, you turn right at some point and come out onto the avenue Daumesnil. Here’s the original “Viaduc de Bastille” constructed in 1859 and which carried the railways of the Paris-Bastille-Vincennes train line. Now they are design shops and artist workshops. The promenade runs along the top of the viaduc.

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the Eiffel Tower lights up with colors of Ukraine

For 3 nights, starting tonight, and in solidarity with the Ukranian people, the Eiffel Tower lights up blue and yellow.

Here in Europe, we’re all glued to our screens watching the news, aghast. Putin sounds demented. And Macron … what was that 5-hour long-table session all about? A complete waste of everybody’s time.

I have Ukranian roots, as it turns out. While researching my family history, late in life, I learned that my maternal great-grandfather, Myer Cohen, came from the Russian town of Bielaia Tserkov, now in Ukraine. With his Belarusian wife, Annie, they settled in England towards the end of the nineteenth century. My middle name, Ann, comes from my Belarusian great-grandmother.

Just some trivia I thought I’d throw in.

Anyway, the 8 pm news is coming on and I’m going to watch it. Have a pleasant weekend.