I remember being a student in Paris and having to wash my hair after a night out because of the ever-present smell of cigarette smoke. I got used to the constant odor and began to associate the particular smell of French tobacco with my splendid time as a student abroad. That has changed, as France has reduced smoking and banned it from many public spaces.
There is something quintessentially French, however, about lighting up in a cafe, and even though I haven’t smoked in years, I have to admit I’m tempted the minute I land in the country. Part of the reason smoking is mildly appealing in Paris is also the fact that cigarettes are inexpensive compared to the U.S.
In Russia, another European country with a strong smoking tradition, nearly 40% of the population has a nicotine habit, fueled in part by the less than $2.00 a pack cost. President Putin, a fitness freak and cheerleader for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, has just signed a law that bans smoking in all public places beginning in June of this year. Continue reading »
Bastille Day is next week. This is a special day for me, not because I passionately studied French History or married a Frog, in a previous life, or even because I count being at the Bi-Centennial Celebration in Paris in 1989 as a peak life moment, but because my eldest son was ironically born on July 14th, 1999. I have so much baggage and history with France and French Culture. The love/ hate relationship still teeters more towards love but I can’t deny I get a bit gleeful when there is bad press, the French are exposed as hypocritical or in some way there is de-mythologization of some aspect of the coveted culture. I get a lot of mileage out of my stories of living in France; much like the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick, I always found humor in the little things. The hilarious scene at Disneyland Paris buffet where diners swarmed a waiter delivering a bowl of bread to the buffet before he could even reach it. The fact that my friend was served mussels and spicy merguez sausage as the first post-operative meal in the hospital or the fact that before my marriage I had to get a ‘Carte de Concubinage’; a card stating that I was his concubine… I could go on. So today I open up to the Yahoo Page with the lead story: “French Tourists Seen as World’s Worst: Survey”. So apparently, according to this survey, done by Expedia, the French, despite their rumored savoir faire, were declared the most arrogant, cheap and worst at foreign languages of all global travelers. Continue reading »
If you only have a few days in Paris and have never been there, why spend all your time with hordes of other tourists trying to get your moment in front of the Mona Lisa? There is so much to see and do in Paris, it is truly impossible to decide a “Must See” from a “Save for Next Time.”
I do understand why a first time visitor would want that photo in front of the Eiffel Tower or to say they had been to the Louvre. However, if you sprinkle in a few smaller, lesser known museums you will get a flavor of a neighborhood and a taste of Paris that you won’t find at the famous hotspots.
Without running a Google search or checking a current almanac, most of us probably wouldn’t know that our Earth contains 757 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. Certainly most of us wouldn’t consider it possible to visit them all. Most of us would be wowed if we made it to 100 countries. Even 50 is pretty darn good. But all of them?
My boys and their peers are soccer freaks. We recorded nearly every game possible for the 2006 World Cup and I would love to take the family to see the 2010 games in South Africa. I was recently pondering the possibility and checked out some ticket prices for the events. Interest in soccer is growing every year in the United States and is certainly strong in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A recent article in the New York Times chronicled the opening of a Soccer Museum, where else but in Sao Paulo, Brazil. An elite sport that has become a sport for the masses, it has great lessons to teach both on and off the field. Continue reading »
Cherries were twelve-Euros (about 18-dollars) a kilo, a coffee in an un-trendy, un-touristy area, six-dollars, and it seemed the only deal on food was, predictably, baguettes and wine. I was stuck, trying not to spend too much money on my unplanned trip to Paris this August. I was visiting to help a friend though surgery and had not budgeted for the trip. Luckily, cooking in her adorable apartment was pleasant and she was nice enough to treat me to a few lovely meals. The dollar, however, was so weak it was painful. I know Paris well, however, and know where to find deals, where to shop and how to live cheaply while still enjoying my stay. Here are a few simple things I did that saved me a lot, without compromising my visit too much.
1) Bring a reusable water bottle: it’s great for the plane (empty it before going through security and refill before boarding.) Water was outrageously expensive, and I really didn’t want to spend twenty dollars a day on mere hydration.
2) Pack food from home. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I packed a few simple, nourishing snacks like sunflower seeds and dried fruit. It may sound depressing on a trip to the culinary capital of Paris, but I made room in my baggage, just in case I needed it on the long flight or during my stay. I even brought a few Trader Joe’s items to the hospital and the nurses and doctors loved them. It was a peak moment for laughs when I offered them up in a very American, very un-French gesture of generosity!
3) Choose your cafés wisely. Nothing makes me happier than sitting in a French café sipping a café crème, but at six-dollars a pop, I couldn’t stop for a pick me up too often. In fact, a few days I actually waited till I got to the hospital, where a coffee machine sold a good cup of coffee for one Euro or about a buck fifty. If a coffee machine at a hospital is not up your alley make sure you find a cheaper café; prices do vary. You can also order a noisette, an espresso with a dash of creme in it. It is called “noisette,” French for hazelnut, because of the rich, dark color of the coffee. If you are pinching your pennies, or just want to save for a few strategic splurges, don’t go to a café on the Champs Elysee, rather, opt for a small cozy spot like this one pictured in the Marais District. However, if you do want to linger, write postcards, rest your weary feet or soak up the scenery, an exorbitant cup of coffee is worth the price in Paris. Continue reading »
On a scorching hot day in San Francisco I took my kids to the free Power to the Peaceful Concert in Golden Gate Park. My boys love Michael Franti’s music and my older son is good friends with his son. Last year we got back-stage passes. This year it was a blast, but hard work keeping the boys hydrated and tough trying to explain why so many people concerned with the health of our country and planet were smoking so much. We enjoyed the music and entire scene. We danced, sang, ate a picnic and took in the scene and message of the day. It was a huge crowd, primarily bikini-clad young women and shirtless young bucks. My boys wanted to take their shirts off. I let them for one song, but was so worried about heatstroke, I made them put them back on and keep their hats on. Although alcohol was not sold, I feared for many folks, who I’m sure would suffer from the heat that night. Continue reading »
Getting around Paris is fun. The metro is so easy to figure out, on time and goes nearly everywhere. In summer it can be hot and a bit stinky, but it’s almost a game using the maps or a Plan de Paris (a little book that has every neighborhood and metro stop, every street and bus line cross referenced and easy to find if you have your eye-glasses handy) to map out your trip. When I was a student in Paris I loved to jump on the metro, pick a random stop and then get out and explore. It’s pretty hard to get lost with a Plan de Paris, and I suggest all visitors buy one upon arrival.
Once you’ve traveled by metro it’s also great to get above ground. One of my favorite things to do is take the bus… any bus. Continue reading »
Post 9/11 America is so scared of the Muslim world. Many of us have no idea about the rich and diverse history, food and culture of the vast and varied swathe of Muslim nations. France is a great place to introduce yourself. The French have their own long and complicated relationship with Arab cultures. It is a relationship influenced by Colonialism, Racism and their own fears, but the French also take a keen interest in the fascinating world that includes countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In my experience, the French are also great at tooting their own ‘inclusive‘ horn and criticizing America as an insular, ignorant group of unsophisticated, often obese, materialist workaholics. All that said, and having witnessed numerous acts of racist behavior when I lived in France, the World Arab Institute is a formidable structure, institution and statement. Continue reading »
Have you ever see the French film The Red Balloon? It’s a classic from the 1950’s and well worth a viewing—it’s on Netflix. Anyway, it takes place in the 20th arrondissement of Ménilmontant. Montmartre, the 18th arrondissement, an area, quartier, in Paris, near where I am staying at my friend’s apartment, reminds me so of this film. I took a walk in the hilly district, heading towards the Musee de Montmartre, I was curious about the Absinthe and Music Hall culture of this infamous area. It’s a great walking district, full of ancient staircases, (like those featured in the film) stunning views and, alas, too many tourists. I stumbled across a small urban vineyard and OF COURSE some well known Cabaret/Music Hall spots made famous by the Bohemian crowd of the 19th and 20th century including Toulouse L’Autrec. The day was humid, with bursts of sunlight, Paris living up to it’s nickname as ‘The City of Light’. I stopped for a $5 coffee at the base of the majestic Sacre Coeur having negotiated the gauntlet of Africans selling Eiffel Tower key chains and trinkets. Oddly enough for the first time in my life I actually do want to buy one for my boys who are so entranced by the structure (I couldn’t bring myself to part with the nearly $10 they were asking for a 32-inch high rendition of the tower). I descended further and was asked by an old lady to help her open her door. It must be said French doors, locks, keys, entrances are quite challenging. She was a bit disoriented, but of course I would help her with her shopping and the door. It was a classic scene, sad really, trying to stay living independently as she always has. Continue reading »