A emporter

It is true that doggie bags are not part of French culture. That said, takeout is common. Many people buy baguette sandwiches, Chinese food by the kilogram, and Greek gyros to go. If an eatery offers takeout, then it follows that they have ways to wrap up your meal for the commute.

Even at these places, however, you may ask for a container of ketchup to go with your fries and receive this.


I appreciate that they didn’t blink an eye when I asked. I didn’t either when I received ketchup in a ball of foil.

Let Me Introduce You to Belfort

How I came to spend one and a half days by myself in the small city of Belfort, France is a story in itself, but perhaps one best told if we have coffee one day. Belfort is in the eastern part of the country and about a two-hour ride from Paris if you take the TGV (high-speed train) or four hours if you take Intercités (a slower train that makes more stops along the way).

At the small train station, I picked up a booklet of lodging listings from an employee. I asked another one, a young woman, how to get to the city center and whether I should get a single bus ticket or a daily pass. There isn’t much to do in Belfort, she said, Once you arrive at the center you can reach everything on foot.

The board the bus, you simply texted a code to a phone number when the bus arrived and showed the subsequent text you received to the driver. The cost of the ticket would be automatically added to your next phone bill. I was surprised that a small city would have such an advanced system, but now that I think about it, a simple transportation network must make it all the more easy to enact any changes. I would later also be wowed by the fact that merchants often just scanned the chip on my debit card to deduct the amount, without need for me to enter my PIN. To date I have only seen this in Paris once.

It was hot, and I rolled my duffel bag behind me. After walking for a little while and looking at a few restaurant menus, I chose a hotel restaurant terrasse off the main plaza that was flanked by a cathedral and city hall. Usually, avoiding such a main area seemed wise, but this place was perfect. It offered an array of huge salads for the right price. My three-duck salad with figs hit the spot.


I flipped through the lodging options—it was the first time I had ever shown up in a city without a place to stay—and chose a hotel close to the train station. A former colleague of mine told me that when he travels, upon arriving he asks his taxi driver where he recommends staying. That is certainly not my modus operandi; lodging is the minimum item I book when traveling.

I told the hotel receptionist, a young woman, that it was my first time in Belfort. There isn’t much to do here, she said. This seemed to be a theme. I was amused, as shouldn’t at least a hotel employee sell the city? She was, after all, in the tourism industry.

I could sell the city. Not as your first stop in France and perhaps only for a day or two, but it had its charm and the residents were nice.

As you may surmise from the “fort” in its name, Belfort is surrounded by a large, impressive wall.

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It is also known for its lion carved into stone. Its sculptor is none other than Frédéric Bartholdi, whom we have to thank for the Statue of Liberty.


I wandered up steps alongside a hill and came upon a vantage point of the city where there was also a huge truck parked. I asked the man inside it what was going on, and he said that that night the fireworks would be shot from there. It was July 13th, the day before Fête de la Bastille, a major holiday in France.


Flag waving is not a part of French culture, so I enjoyed seeing the rare displays all over town for what anglophones call Bastille Day. They flitted in the breeze, and you could not mistake where you were.

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In the early evening, I stopped at a café terrasse for a spot of tea to soothe my sore throat.


I made my way back to the main square for the Bastille Day Eve festivities. A deejay had already set up, and two men, one with a feather in his hat and the other donning a baseball cap, were dancing un-self-consciously. For the most part, no one else in the plaza was dancing, but we enjoyed their enthusiasm. At one point, a boy joined their dancing while his parents looked on. You know that he’s going to have fun in life.

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The square was full but not overcrowded for the fireworks. I would later hear from friends that the fireworks in Paris were spectacular, but the Belfort firework experience was relaxed and a spectacle nonetheless. There was no mad rush to the metro after. There is no metro to rush to.


I walked back to the hotel. The poor night shift receptionist was running around because the room card system was down, so each time guests entered, he had to accompany them to their room to open the door for them. You can imagine that this led to guests arriving to an empty hotel lobby and waiting until the receptionist came down so he could go up again. I was sympathetic to him. He was the only employee working that night and had to also prepare the tables for breakfast. During the elevator ride up, he asked me where I was from. His French was Italian-accented. Oh, I know New Jersey, he replied, I have family there. Doesn’t everyone. No wonder it’s the densest state in the United States.

The next day, I unwittingly came upon a parade for Bastille Day. A variety of fire trucks and police cars slowly rolled by as people clapped. The mayor of Belfort shook hands with members of the military.


The festivities culminated in the city square, as all the town events seemed to.

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I sat on a bench contentedly and watched couples, mostly middle-aged and older, dance to the music and switch partners. They obviously all danced together regularly.

A man in his sixties sat down next to me and said, “Quelle ambiance.” I looked at him. The tips of his gray moustache reached down to his chin. He wore sunglasses and a white baseball cap, and a small cellphone hung on a string around his neck.

Yes, it’s great, I agreed. We chatted. He was a native Belfortian who had lived there all his life.

I told him that it was my first time to visit and that I liked the city. You are a grande voyageuse, he said.

He asked me if he could take my picture as a souvenir. I pondered for a moment. A very strange request, yes. But what the heck, I was leaving on a train to Paris in an hour, and this whole trip was pretty random, so why not. I then took a selfie of us for my own souvenir and a laugh later.


A Sunday Stroll in Parc de Bercy

After a crepe lunch in Montparnasse with a friend and her partner, I called another friend to meet up. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes about where to go, I apologized for not having thought beforehand. I hung up, and after a quick look my Paris map, called right back. Often a quick reflection alone is all it takes.

What about Parc de Bercy? I asked. I hadn’t been there in a long time, and it would be convenient for him to get to.

We met by the Bercy Arena, where I used to ice skate with a friend who would speed skate around the rink ahead of me. We would go on weekend nights, when the rink turned into a sort of club, with loud music, darkness, and buckets of teens on ice skates, plus us.

My friend and I spent a moment at the ledge overlooking the adjacent outdoor skate park, where skateboarders, bikers, and rollerbladers attempted tricks on the ramps. They’re just okay, huh? my friend said.

Continuing on, we reminisced about our previous rendez-vous in the area. Passing the quaint shopping strip Bercy Village, I remembered one of our outings early on in our friendship.

Crossing a bridge above the park, we stopped and looked on both sides; one showed the Seine and a shopping mall, and the other was this road of zigzags and a green city bus and bikers and still-summer trees.

125.parcdebercy.2015aMy friend vowed to show me the best place to draguer (hit on) someone.


I am still not sure why the pedestrian bridge Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir would be appropriate to bring one’s would-be beau, but I was delighted to walk on it for the first time. Somehow, in all my park and river wanderings, I had never ascended and descended the wooden waves of this bridge bearing the name of my beloved Simone.

On a related note, I once crossed the bridge Pont des Arts with someone who told me that it was known as being a place where men draguent women. I had never heard that before and was skeptical. Where do French guys get their information on bridge drague-ing? And here I am, perpetuating what is probably a myth.

We made our way back through the park to meet a friend who was joining us. On the way, I stopped to giggle at this large bunny that bounded next to the smaller carousel horses.

125.parcdebercy.2015cThe three of us were out of place at Parc de Bercy, as many of the young people walking around seemed to have just come from an anime convention.


We strolled in a garden within the park that housed a brick structure that made me feel we were far from the city of Paris.


Our afternoon in the park ended with us around a checkerboard table with stone seats and grass underfoot.

The Pizza Pilgrimage

The pizza is excellent, he said. The owners are from Naples. The place is really small, though, and you can’t make reservations.

That’s okay, I said, we can also take it to go. Oui, he responded, we’ll sit along the river and eat if there are no tables available.

We met up around 9pm and walked to the street, which was quiet. I hope it’s open, he said. We approached the clearly shuttered storefront. A sign on the door indicated that the owners were on vacation for the majority of August. They’re probably in Naples right now! I said.

We walked away, my friend lamenting that it was closed. It’s okay, I said, I wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t my first time in Paris in August.

My friend suggested another good pizza place nearby, located in an inconspicuous passage that was nevertheless full of life and people spilling out of bars and restaurants. We walked to the end without seeing a pizzeria. He checked the address on his phone. Apparently it was at the beginning of the street, so we must have missed it. We made our way back.

It was closed. The façade was dark, which is why we hadn’t seen it the first time. In fact, it was the last day of the owners’ vacation; the restaurant would reopen tomorrow.

My friend ran though his mental index of restaurants in the area. We decided to stay on the pizza path that we had started. He pulled out two more pizzerias, one of which he knew was open because he had passed it earlier. We headed to that one, because how much do you want to bet the other would have been closed? We were done gambling.

We snagged a table for two on the sidewalk terrasse. The menu was plentiful in choice, and the service was good. The street was quiet but for the busy pizzeria and the restaurant next door.

He asked if I had enjoyed my long-awaited pizza, topped with halved cherry tomatoes. Yes indeedy.

I still like August in Paris.

People are People

When you spend a day out and interact with enough people, some are bound to be pleasant and others unpleasant. There are those special days when everyone seems to be especially nice. Otherwise, if I have a negative encounter and then a positive, I consider it to be all in a normal day.

I recently stopped by FNAC, a bookstore chain that also sells electronics and other items, to look for picture frames. I approached two employees who told me the photo area was closed due to construction. When I asked them if they knew of anywhere in the neighborhood that might have cadres, they said no without giving it any thought or suggesting another FNAC location. They then looked over and past me even though there were no customers waiting for their attention. Conversation over, case dismissed. They clearly didn’t give a flying fig. It’s the second time I’ve gone to a FNAC and encountered a set of two or three employees who were utterly unhelpful and went back to chatting among themselves. It’s unfortunate, as in general I love bookstores and they are a pleasure when an employee knows what’s in stock and exactly where to find it. And if they don’t… isn’t that why they have access to a database?

That same afternoon, I chose an internet café at random to laminate two documents, fully expecting the same kind of non-service. I imagine that many people who work at that sort of shop aren’t necessarily passionate about their job.

After I showed what I had brought and asked for the price, highway robbery at almost three euros for a half-page, the employee plugged in the laminating machine and explained to me that it had to heat up. I wasn’t rushed, but in any case it really didn’t take that long. He passed one of my sheets through the machine and told me that he would send it through a second time to reinforce it. He asked me if I wanted to cut off the extra plastic border before he inserted it again; the laminated edge would be stronger if I trimmed it before instead of after. Careful, it’s kind of hot, he said, handing it over to me. As the scissor cut close to my hand, he asked me to be cautious because he was afraid I would snip myself.

As we waited for the sheet to roll through, I mentioned several chains that sell picture frames and asked him if he knew of any locations in the area. He thought about it and told me there was one in the Chatelet neighborhood.

He pressed the toasty laminations on the table and said he would let them cool for a few seconds so that they would stay flat. He said that the lamination is guaranteed to last ten years. You just made up that number, didn’t you? I asked. No, he said, he had read it on the paperwork with the machine.

Some scraps of plastic lay on the table from my refining snips earlier. I’ll clean that up, he said, you have to get going to Chatelet. Tired, I said, “Je ne sais pas si j’ai la force” (I don’t know if I have the energy). “Vous avez la force,” he responded. Besides, it’s a good day to go, as it’s raining, he went on to say.

He was a salesman when he didn’t need to be and explained when he didn’t have to. After all, what were we doing? Pressing plastic over a piece of paper. But the details, the details, in fact every act and every gesture holds details.

It was a reminder: Any job—and really, any action one does in day-to-day life—can be done with care and attention. Secondly, encouragement can be received in the unlikeliest of places. Especially for an English-speaker, being told that I have the “force” was quite wonderful and unexpected. Although he meant force in the French sense, I of course thought of the stronger meaning in English.

Later, I sat on a staircase outside in the same neighborhood, and a young man discreetly told me I might want to change the way I was sitting because my culotte was showing and it was très jolie, but well. In the balance sheet of the day’s encounters, I suppose I would count that as neutral.

Easy Breezy

A nighttime scooter ride around Paris with someone you hardly even know? Why not!

Well, there are many reasons why not—if it’s someone you just met randomly on the street or you don’t know the city, your gut should tell you that public transportation with your own money and your hand firmly on your sac à main will do.

In my case, I had just had a drink with the other volunteers I work with once a week. I left at the same time as a volunteer who usually participates at another site but came to ours for the first time as a one-off au cas où there wouldn’t be enough people to help out. I told him I was going to go home on foot. He offered to drop me off on his scooter. I had to pause and think for only a second before answering, “Oui !”

On the walk to his scooter, he asked if I wanted a little ride around Paris before going home. I was not going to say no to that. He said it was un cadeau for himself too, as it would be more enjoyable than heading straight to his apartment.

I undid my bun so the casque (helmet) would slide more easily over my head. We put my bag in his top case and my bike helmet under his seat. I climbed on after him, and we were off.

We passed Bastille, the Tour Saint-Jacques, rue de Rivoli, the Louvre, and the Pont des Arts. Everything was lit up in the City of Lights. As we scooted at a leisurely pace through Concorde, the Eiffel Tower started sparkling. It was eleven o’clock.

As I held onto the side handles of the scooter, I began to relax. I’ve had a tense few days. I recognized this moment for what it was: a gift. One of the first times I rode on the back of a scooter, I held on for dear life and felt my heart beating out of my chest. This night, I leaned back and loosened my grip on the handles, my light sweater fluttering as I watched the buildings and lights and river go by.

No contact information exchanged, no promises, just a summer ride around the city and a “bonne soirée.” Life can be complicated, but sometimes it is wonderfully simple.

Close to Earth

Paris residents say the Tour Montparnasse is a monstrosity, but it’s not so bad when you’re looking up at it while sprawled out on the grass on a hot day. The grass next to the gare may be dry and yellow, but it is there for the public, as is the blue, blue sky. 100_8677100_8678

Grass sprawling was always latent in me, though I never did it. I attended a university with a lovely campus full of greens. At some point I created an idyllic mental image of lounging on them with friends, but by the time the weather was nice enough, we were usually in the thick of studying for finals and writing papers. The last week of senior year, my friend and I finally did lie on the grass for a few minutes outside one of the academic buildings, and we have a nice picture to remember it.

In my subsequent years in the States, I frequented parks but somehow never lay on the grass.

Since then, I’ve daydreamed and night-dreamed on grass all over parks in Paris and a few in Italy and England. I have to catch up and try out the grass in the States.

Do you think grass sprawling is blissful or boring?

Haute Couture at Sotheby’s

A friend and I recently checked out the haute couture exhibit at Sotheby’s, one of the major international auction houses. One hundred fifty items were on display, mostly dresses but also some hats and shoes and other accessories. All belong to Didier Ludot’s collection and will be auctioned off on July 8 in the first high fashion auction at Sotheby’s Paris location.

To my surprise, there was no line to enter the free exhibit. We had space to roam around the two floors and no competition to view the several catalogues available for reference.

The clothing ranged from the 1920s up to today and were arranged by color. Many of them have been worn by actresses and models.

My friend was the perfect companion, which is why I invited her—how can you go wrong taking a French woman who enjoys shopping to a fashion exhibit?


My favorite dress was this pale pink John Galliano. The diagonal lines, the lace, the satin, the color… The lace-up made it sexy but not overly so, as the skirt was long and only slit up to the knee. Upon closer examination, I saw where a zipper began on the side but couldn’t find the end, the execution was so seamless. It was really beautiful.

sothebys.2015a 100_8641100_8640From Sotheby’s web site:
John Galliano, 2000
Robe longue en dentelle et satin duchesse rose pâle
A pink satin and lace sheath with asymmetric ‘corset’ bodice and diagonal lacing

Estimation: 1,000-1,500 euros


On the Sotheby’s web site you can view the estimated buying price in 20 different currencies. The paper catalogue included it in euros and dollars.

My other favorite was this elaborately pretty dress by Yves Saint Laurent.sothebys.2015bYves Saint Laurent Haute Couture, printemps-été 1963
Robe du soir courte en tulle tilleul brodé de perles et larmes de rhodoïd en nacre par la maison Lesage
Yves Saint Laurent haute couture, s/s 1963
A lavishly embroidered, beaded and sequined cocktail dress

Estimation: 2,500-3,500 euros


My friend’s pick in “Which one would you buy?” was this simple, chic dress, which appealed to me as well.sothebys.2015cCourrèges Haute Couture, 1967
Mini-robe en lainage rose buvard
A pink double-faced wool mini-dress with top-stitched detailing

Estimation: 2,000-3,000 euros


Her other favorite was this long printed dress. sothebys.2015eSchiaparelli Haute Couture, printemps-été 1938
Collection “cirque” ensemble du soir en crêpe de soie imprimé d’après un dessin de Marcel Vertès
‘Circus collection’, s/s 1938 a rare silk crepe gown printed with designs after Marcel Vertès

Estimation: 2,000-3,000 euros


There were more costume-y dresses as well—polka dots, a jumpsuit that resembled a space suit, a one-piece that was laced up from sneakers to pants to top.

A ball gown with full skirt prompted me to explain what an American prom is to my friend. When I think about it, it is a funny tradition that a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds dress up in gowns and tuxes and ride in limos to dance. But really, unless you move in certain circles, how many times do you get to do that?

I wonder if I can find an opportunity to wear my prom dress. Assuming I can still fit in it, that is.

Vroom Vroom

He drove up in his little Fiat and leaned over the passenger seat so I could see him. I rose from the steps where I was sitting and descended to meet him.

I don’t know why, but I find something so romantic about having a car pull up and getting in to commence a date. Every motion is enjoyable to me—the movement and stopping of the car in front of the curb, opening the door, slipping in and setting down my purse, closing the door, and zooming off.

Maybe it comes from scenes from the 50s-set TV show “Happy Days.” I do not recall specific episodes, but I have a vague impression that Fonzie picked up his dates in his car. Or maybe it comes from any number of movies I watched as a teen.

Maybe it’s because I’ve mostly dated in cities and so am accustomed to meeting at metro stops (which can have its own charm but is very different).

Maybe it’s because I like the feeling of trusting someone to take me wherever it is we will go.

Although he and I weren’t meant for each other, I have good memories of zipping around Paris as he worked the stick shift and I soaked in the city from the middle of the avenue.