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. 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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tree

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.

random photos taken today – pollution, Christmas, and a donkey in the desert

This photo was taken today from the office tower where I work (16th floor.) I was so disgusted by the pollution, I took a picture. This is the view from my desk.

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Then I left the office at 6 pm and walked home. This is my route home. It’s pretty when the Christmas decorations are up. What I like best, though, is the absence of cars. It’s a pedestrian-only zone.

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Tomorrow night we have our office Christmas party, somewhere on the Champs-Elysées, don’t know where yet, it’s a surprise. The following night I’m going to make my way to the two big department stores – Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps – to take pictures of their Christmas windows.

And here, a completely random photo just sent to me this instant by my friend in Lille: me on a Jordanian horse in the 1990s (in Petra.) I was horrified by quite a few things when I was in Jordan.

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Their treatment of animals, for one thing. This horse initially had barbed wire in its mouth. Blood was trickling down its face. They were using barbed wire for a bit. I was so incensed by this barbaric treatment, I commanded them to use proper bits (or at least, rope.) If not, I’d lodge a major complaint with the Jordan Tourist Board, in Jordan and abroad. My Arabic-speaking friend translated for me. (I had my own horse when I was a teenager, a gelding quarter-horse called Sundance.)

Another oddity was the absence of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in Amman. You’d see entire families crossing 4-lane highways, risking their lives as cars honked and swerved to avoid hitting them. It was absurdly uncivilized.

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Then we took a long bus ride (5 hours) from Amman down to Aqaba. At some point, in the middle of the desert, a Bedouin waved down the bus. The bus stopped, the driver got out, there was some discussion, and all the passengers were watching through the windows. It turns out that the Bedouin’s donkey had collapsed in the heat. The Bedouin climbed onto the bus, took a seat, and the driver drove away, leaving the donkey behind. When I understood what had happened, I stood up and said loudly, “But what about the animal? Are you just going to let it die?”

The entire busload of people (my friend included) erupted into laughter. They found me and my reaction to be hilarious. And indeed that’s what happened. The bus drove off, leaving the poor donkey to die a terrible death, abandoned in the desert.

They found me hilarious, I found them primitive beyond words.

terrific photos of Saturday’s public demonstrations

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Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Since this morning, helicopters have been flying over my apartment building while police sirens wail. I’m trying to imagine the President of France barricaded in his Elysées Palace watching the TV screens, smug no longer. He’s scheduled to address the nation the beginning of next week. Up until now he’s been silent.

VIVE LA FRANCE !

VIVE LE PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

The most impressive TV images I saw today were of a dozen horses (ridden by cops) galloping down a narrow Marais street towards a group of protesters. Both the cops and the horses were wearing protective eye covering.

Here are some photos of today’s demonstrations –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/dec/08/gilets-jaunes-protesters-clash-with-police-in-paris-in-pictures

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.