the French Riviera


One year ago, before the word ‘Coronavirus’ became part of our daily vocabulary, I was sunbathing on the beach in Nice. I had just completed an 11-day train trip around Italy, and the French Riviera, or the Côte d’Azur as it’s called here, was the last stop on my journey. The entire trip, from beginning to end, was heavenly.

If, while lying on one of those lounge chairs with the Mediterranean Sea lapping gently at my feet, someone had said to me – “Within less than a year, the world will be ravaged by a life-threatening virus and hundreds of thousands will die”, I would have set down my glass of Prosecco, stared disbelievingly at that person and said “What?

The beach in Nice is pebble, not sand. There are public and private beaches. One of my favorites is the Neptune private beach. You can rent a lounge chair (called a transat) for the day or half a day. 22 euros for the loungers in the first row (closest to the water), 18 euros for the other rows. The private beaches have restaurants, showers and lockers. If you wish, the plagiste (beach boy) will bring your food and drink directly to your lounge chair, or you can eat in the restaurant area (grilled fish, salads, pasta, grilled meats and chilled wines).

A truly hedonistic experience.


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The atmospheric Old Town in Nice

This is a speciality of Nice called pissaladière, a pizza pie topped with caramelized onions, anchovies and olives. Yummy! Served warm, it’s delicious. Even yummier washed down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.

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Another specialty is socca, a flatbread made from chick pea flour. Super easy to make. Non gluten, it has only 3 ingredients: water, chick pea flour and olive oil.

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The Old Town of Nice is a feel-good kind of place. A district to wander in, eat street food, sit in the sun and have a meal accompanied with the local pink wine. In the large square, markets are held daily. There’s bustle, restaurants and shops here.





The last time I was in Nice was around fifteen years ago. Back then, there was a wonderful candy store, called a confiserie, located on the avenue Jean Médecin, the main boulevard running down the center of town. It was an old-fashioned candy store that sold regional specialties, and I remember a kindly, elderly lady served me. All my favorite sweets were in that shop: nougat, calissons, marzipan, all kinds of chocolates and candied fruits. The lady put my purchases into a gorgeous pink paper bag with the name Mimosa printed on it in gold letters. It all seemed like a dream. On this trip, a decade and a half later, I was 99% certain that the shop no longer existed. Nice has been completely modernized by its ambitious, “forward-thinking” mayor, and the consequence is that many of the small speciality shops have been replaced by chain stores like Zara, H&M, Starfucks, I mean, Starbucks, etc. It’s very sad.

So I was strolling down the avenue Jean Médecin imagining where that shop used to be when – lo and behold – there it was, right in front of me, completely unchanged. I stopped dead in my tracks, blinked, then ran into the place. I chatted excitedly to the saleswoman inside (almost greeting her like a long, lost friend); she said it was a family business and they were one of the last specialty sweet shops standing in the region.

These are candied fruits. Delicious.

I purchased my favorite candied mandarin oranges, calissons, and egg-shaped praline chocolates (dyed blue to look like robin’s eggs).

It’s a small shop wedged in between larger stores on either side, with the original marble floor and glass and marble shelves. If you go to Nice, please visit this shop and buy their delicious products. The candied mandarins are divine, and if you haven’t tasted calissons, you’re missing out on a treat.

Calissons are a traditional French candy consisting of a pale yellow paste of candied melons, oranges and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of hard white icing. They have a texture similar to marzipan, but with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavour. Calissons are almond-shaped and typically about two inches in length. Calissons are traditionally associated with the town of Aix-en-Provence; consequently, most of the world supply of calissons is still made in the Provence region.

CONFISERIE MIMOSA – 27 avenue Jean Médecin, NICE

Another institution in Nice is Le Grand Café de Lyon, a beautiful Belle Epoque restaurant-café located at 33 avenue Jean Médecin.

I stayed in an excellent, modestly-priced hotel called Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare located at 3 avenue Durante. Request a room overlooking the inner courtyard. A full buffet breakfast is included in the price of the room, one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had.

People in the south of France love pizzerias. I ate in two excellent pizza-pasta joints: Pizza Cresci on the bustling pedestrian street, rue Massena, at number 34 and further along at number 37 rue de France, La Trattoria. Both have outside terraces. The pizza is excellent as is the service.

For those of you who haven’t seen my photos and blog posts of my excellent trip to Italy last June (Rome, Lecce and Polignano a Mare in the Puglia region, and Bologna), here’s the link here:

https://julietinparis.net/category/italy/

it rained in Lille

“Take off your flip-flops and climb up barefoot,” I said to my 8-year old godson as he began his ascent up the “arraignée” (the spider). I do not know what it’s called in English.

Mais non,” he protested mildly, “J’aime bien mes claquettes.”

No, I like my claquettes, he replied, which is what flip-flops are called here.

“Well, you’re not wearing your claquettes on the streets of Paris, that’s for sure.” I said. “Why not?”
“Because Parisian boys wear proper shoes,” I said. “Or sturdy sandals.”

He and his big sister are coming for 4 or 5 days during the third week of July. Like last summer, their father will put them on the train in Lille and I’ll pick them up at the other end in Paris. It’s an hour’s trip. Just up the road from where I live there’s a lovely Aquatic Center complete with sundeck, several pools, slides and stuff. I imagine we’ll spend a lot of time there. Like everyone else, they’ve been in lockdown for months, poor things. Kids shouldn’t have to be deprived of fun, movement and the freedom to run and play outside, is my opinion.

Neither he nor his sister are big walkers. Last summer we walked a very short distance from the grocery store back to my apartment. “Are we there yet?” So, I guess bus and metro travel will prevail. I don’t own a car.

It rained all day Saturday in Lille. Life is quasi-normal with the exception of facemasks: EVERYONE WEARS THEM, no one complains that its a violation of our civil liberties. Au contraire, it’s a significant protective measure for everyone. Social distancing is practiced: only a certain number of people allowed in a shop. I have two white cotton masks that I actually like (provided by the mayor). Every night I handwash one of them then hang it up to dry over the bathtub. Oddly, I like this ritual, don’t ask me why.

The park re-opened on June 2nd after its Covid closure. I missed its lawn and magnificent chestnut trees.

And that’s about it, really. The weather is beautifully cool here; hope it lasts.

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thank gawd someone has finally written a book on this subject

Unfortunately, it wasn’t me.

Sitting at my office desk this morning drinking strong black espresso, eating a highly-calorific chocolate brioche and reading The Guardian online, I yelped then choked on a chocolate chip while reading this excellent article entitled “The thin white lie: challenging the French women stereotype”.

Finally! Boy, this has been a long time coming. There’s only one problem: the book is written by an American and it’s in English. It needs to be translated into French. Don’t tell us the problem, tell them.

Who is “them”, anyway? It’s all explained in the book.

The seductive Parisienne has become a symbol of national identity and inspired countless books – but some writers are speaking out against a harmful, exclusive myth.

 

Written by Lindsey Tramuta who lives in Paris and hails from Philadelphia, the book in question is titled “The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris”.

It counterpoints numerous books that have perpetrated the ridiculous ‘perfect Parisienne’ myth, specifically Mireille Giuliano’s best-selling ‘French women don’t get fat‘ and ‘French women don’t get facelifts‘. Way back in January 2014, while stuffing my face with a caramel chocolate bar, I wrote a blog post challenging Giuliano.

https://julietinparis.net/2014/01/21/french-women-do-get-fat/

Here are someone’s eloquent words on the topic of Mireille Guiliano –

She has become a very wealthy woman by peddling a whole series of these dubious, aspirational books, which promote the myth of the ultra-chic, ultra-slim French woman, and the general superiority of all-things-Gallic. The members’ forum of her French Women Don’t Get Fat website is very revealing. It’s peopled by a brigade of (largely) North American women who imagine that all their emotional problems will be solved if only they can save up for the longed-for trip to Paris!! It’s all rather pathetic, and shame on Ms Guiliano for exploiting this.

 

Here’s The Guardian article. On the heels of the #MeToo movement, it and Tramuta’s book is totally zeitgeist.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jul/02/myth-white-parisienne-is-being-challenged-lindsey-tramuta-alice-pfeiffer-and-aissa-maiga

the Molitor swimming pool, a Paris institution

Piscine d'Eté

This is the Molitor. In the upper left background you can see the glittering Eiffel Tower.

What is the Molitor, you might well ask. Why, it’s the city’s most fashionable swimming pool, darling, and it has quite a history. Constructed in 1929 in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, it was intended to resemble an ocean liner with different levels, white railings and circular windows. It’s a marvellous example of the Art Déco style of its time.

Future Tarzan actor, Johnny Weissmuller, was a lifeguard there. He spent a season giving swimming lessons and rescuing damsel bathers in distress.

In the winter, the Molitor converted into a skating rink. “I remember a confined, very crowded place”, reminisces Corinne, a Parisian schoolgirl in 1958. “We used to turn endlessly, bothering each other.”

“It was a place where rich kids from the 16th arrondissement and Boulogne-Billancourt picked each other up. All the girls wore crew neck cardigans buttoned on the back and Hermes scarves crossed in the front and tied up on their backs.”  Chic !

molitor skating rink

By 1989, though, the 60-year-old pool fell into ruin. The city of Paris didn’t have the funds to renovate, so it closed down. It became a venue for raves and a canvas for graffiti artists.

molitor graffitti

But all’s well that ends well, my darlings. Today the Molitor is swank – restored back to its former glory, but with a modern twist. It’s part of a luxury hotel. For many Parisians, though, it’s an unaffordable luxury. People can use the pool if they stay at the hotel (from 215 euros per night), join the Molitor club (3,000 euros per year) or pay for a one day membership (150-180 euros).

Here’s a beautifully-done video of the pool’s history and its sparkling new life today.  Click on the link below and scroll down a little bit. Watch how the Molitor re-invents itself over the decades. Chic !

https://www.mltr.fr/en/molitor/

remember this? Unfinished Sympathy

While rummaging through my old internet favorites on another computer this morning, I came across this music video.

“Unfinished Sympathy” became a top-twenty hit on the charts. The single is accompanied by a memorable music video featuring a single continuous shot of Shara Nelson (British singer and songwriter) walking through a Los Angeles neighborhood.

 

hooray! M&S is open

Well, that really made my day. Today, or rather this evening, as I was trudging through the mall from the office carrying shopping bags, one in each hand, on my way to the metro station to go home, I saw the storefront of M&S in the distance – all lit up and OPEN FOR BUSINESS – and a huge grin broke out on my face. No one saw the grin because I was wearing a mask. But I guess my eyes were smiling too.

I love Marks & Spencer’s food store, and it reopened today. It’s fairly large, this store, and conveniently located next to the metro station. I have spent much money there (too much!) Their bacon is the best, as are their chicken breasts. Great cheese department: halloumi which is hard to find, really good mozza and parmesan from Italy, and of course all the English cheeses. Crumpets and muffins, crackers and crisps, and so much more. But it shuttered in March, and there were rumors that M&S was going to close all its stores in France. We waited and waited, impatient. Just yesterday my colleague asked if the rumors were true. I spent fifteen minutes googling and didn’t find anything. All the other stores in the mall have been open for ten days or more now, but not M&S. And then today: the reopening. I’ll pop in tomorrow after work and stock up on my favorite things for the weekend. I’ve been craving halloumi, melted, for months now.

So life is pretty much back to normal now; well, the new normal. Face masks are definitely de rigueur and we still wash our hands ten times a day. No one kisses anymore, which is fine by me as I’ve never been a kissy person. The schools, all of them, from kindergarten to college, re-opened on Monday June 22nd. And the shops and stores, cafés and restaurants, and movie theaters are open. I won’t say that COVID is a distant memory, because it’s not; it still lingers, if not physically then in our minds. We were traumatized, and it was a collective trauma.

I’ll never forget the fear of doing something so mundane as going grocery shopping at my local supermarket. Having to queue outside, two meters apart, and waiting up to 15 or 20 minutes before being allowed in. Then the terror in the aisles: masked shoppers, all of us, veering right and left to avoid one another. Heaven forbid if someone should sneeze or cough! It was, and still is, a modern-day plague. And the empty shelves: staples like flour, oil and rice the first to go. Back home, washing our groceries in hot water and soap. And then every night on the 8 o’clock news: the daily tally of Corona deaths flashed along the bottom of the screen. All of it, truly awful.

I’m off to Lille next Friday for a long weekend, my first trip in months. Masks are obligatory on the trains and in the stations.

nuthin much to say

I have absolutely nothing to write about, so I’m reaching into my bag of tricks (archives) to pull out favorites from past JUNE posts. The one below is a divine trip I took to the region of Puglia, way down in the heel of Italy. I was so enchanted by the place I returned last year in June.

Why do I have nothing to write about? I dunno. I’m totally lacking in inspiration right now. Reading the online newspapers is so depressing that I stopped reading the world news: full of toxic people, violence and noxious events. This past weekend I disconnected entirely from the internet. I call this a “cleansing”. And I plan to do more cleansing this summer; it’s like rinsing off all the pollutants and contaminants that vile people send out into the ether. They make our world worse, not better. Be gone!

I crave the simple life: sitting in a garden reading a book. Walking through a field with a dog. Cycling down a country lane. Shucking corn and preparing for an outdoor corn roast. When my parents were alive, we had a hundred acre farm. Dad named it Fern Hill Farm after the poem written by his favorite poet, Dylan Thomas. We’d spend weekends and summers there, it was a quick hour and a half drive due east of Toronto. I miss our farm.

Summer was walks along country roads with our dog, Mia, and plucking wildflowers from the hedgerows (yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, Lady’s Slipper). Idle hours spent lying in a hammock reading a book or lost in reverie while watching fluffy clouds drift across a benign blue sky. Listening to insect sounds: the incessant chirping, whirring and trill of grasshoppers, crickets and katydids, and the drone of bumblebees careening through the flower-scented air. Swimming in the neighbor’s pond or in the Trent River. Cycling the three miles into town to fetch cheese curds at the Warkworth Cheese Factory. Summer at the farm was the smell of sugar-beet juice, sprayed onto the gravel roads from a township truck to keep the dust down.

There. I said I had nothing to write about. Thinking about our farm inspired me.

Here’s Puglia:

https://julietinparis.net/2014/06/

a look back to June 2017

Exactly three years ago on this day, I took the Eurostar to London and stayed in a lovely retreat hotel in east London called The Royal Foundation of St. Katharine. After two nights there, I returned to the center of the city and stayed in the perfectly located Goodenough College which I highly recommend. There’s also the more expensive and upmarket Goodenough Club, but that’s out of my price range.

I’m sad to be not going to London this summer. Oh well, I’ll do some armchair travelling via my blog posts. This link below – June 2017 – starts with the death of Simone Veil then segues into my London posts. Happy travels!

https://julietinparis.net/2017/06/

back to work. but for how long? exceptional aid from the French government.

I went back to work on Monday of this week. For two months and twenty days – since March 18th – I stayed at home while receiving full pay. I am immensely grateful for that; grateful to the French government and to my employer. The office tower was near-empty when I returned. The cafeterias, coffee shop and gym closed, the reception desks empty, only four people allowed in each elevator at a time. Signs everywhere reminding us to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid touching surfaces and wash our hands frequently. Antiseptic gel stations scattered around the lobby and on all floors. Extraction fans installed in the elevators to remove airborne contaminants.

Normally, there are 5,000 employees in my office tower, this week there were only a thousand. It was quiet and, dare I say, pleasant. I was busy all week doing one aspect of my job: carrying out the legal formalities required following our annual general shareholders’ meeting. For the first time ever, and in lieu of our stakeholders and representatives flying in from Africa, Asia and the Arab world, the meeting was held by audio conference.

Next Monday will be a lot brisker. The cafeterias and gym will re-open and many more will return to work. I’ve heard, though, that those telecommuting/teleworking from home will be encouraged to continue working at home until September. Why? To avoid overcrowding on public transport and possible outbreaks of COVID-19. As it stands, employees who have returned to the office are working staggered hours or on rotation –  again, to lessen crowding on public transport. It’s mandatory to wear a mask on all public transport, if not one risks a fine of 135 euros.

The French government’s exceptional scheme, called “partial employment” or “paid furlough”, cost the State a staggering 31 billion euros. Over one million companies applied for this exceptional aid and more than 13.3 million employees, including myself, were the recipients. Merci, President Macron!

It worked like this: a company files a request with the Ministry of Labor, and the ministry pays the company 84% of each employee’s net salary. The company can or can not, there’s no obligation, complete the remaining 16% for the employee. My employer paid that remaining 16%. Merci, mon employeur!

The idea of this exceptional scheme is to avoid mass layoffs and unemployment. Better to keep workers employed and pay the companies to pay their salaries, rather than pay out unemployment benefits to millions.

HOWEVER, this will soon change. President Macron is scheduled to speak to the nation tomorrow night at 8 pm on TV. As of July 1st, the government wants to follow the German model wherein a ‘partially unemployed’ or ‘furloughed’ employee will only be paid 60% of his net salary by the government instead of 84%. Other European countries have been saying that France is too generous.

For some companies, this reduction in aid/compensation by the State will force them to proceed with lay-offs. In the end, the ‘partially unemployed’ will find themselves simply unemployed, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of the state intervention to save jobs.

But the worst is yet to come: for months now, all I’ve been hearing and reading in the media is that a gargantuan economic recession – as bad as or worse than in the 1930s – is on its way and will hit the country like a tsunami in September. France is already in recession. “800,000 jobs will disappear,” warns the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. And yet the government wants us to spend money to revive the economy. If I think that I might lose my job in the third or fourth quarter of this year, why would I want to spend money? One’s instinct is to hunker down and save.

The economic outlook is bad. The Bank of France estimates that the unemployment rate will exceed 10% by the end of 2020 and climb to a peak above 11.5% in mid-2021. And it won’t be until 2022 that it will descend to 9.7%, against 8.1% which was the rate before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m going nowhere this summer, except Lille. Portugal was cancelled (I should be there right now) because of grounded planes, and I won’t go to London in August because of that government’s disastrous handling of the crisis there (over 41,000 deaths to date and rising! As of June 16, 42,054 deaths in the UK.)

Below is the link to OECD Economic Outlook. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization of countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the severest recession in nearly a century. Given the highly uncertain path to recovery, the OECD presents two possible scenarios: one in which the current virus surge is brought under control, and another one in which a second global wave hits before the end of 2020.

http://www.oecd.org/

global solidarity with Black Lives Matter

George Floyd died over twenty dollars. And NOT ONE SINGLE VILLAIN OF THE 2008 SUBPRIME MORTGAGE CRISIS went to jail !

Where’s the justice in that? There is none. Is it any wonder Americans are mad?

But the whole world is with you! See these amazing photographs of protesters all over the globe marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/06/images-worldwide-protest-movement/612811/