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.

Long Days and Long Nights

Last Saturday I went out into the sunshine. If you live somewhere where periods of the year are rainy or cold, you understand how glorious it is when a beautiful day arrives.

Sometimes when I see a church, I stop in and walk around the inside and look at the stained glass windows and statues of saints. How utterly tranquil and filled with light this church was.

People who don’t live in France sometimes ask me if I shop at outdoor markets. The answer is: not often enough. Like many other city residents, I usually make a one-stop shop at the supermarket. But once in a while, I remember that there are markets open every day, in every arrondissement, and I

My fridge is now stocked with broccoli, carrots, turnips, garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

I picked up mozzarella from a small grocery and fondant au chocolat from the frozen food chain Picard before heading home to make lunch.

Next was a stroll on boulevard du Montparnasse for a little shopping.

This month I didn’t buy the 70 euro monthly metro pass, so I am walking and biking everywhere. According to the weekly vélib email that shows up in my inbox, last week I biked 3 hours and 45 minutes.

My purchases and purse fit neatly in the metal basket of the heavy gray bike.

Unbelievably, the sun was still warm and shining at 7 in the evening. I took the opportunity to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens and finish Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I had borrowed from my favorite library.

After a quick munch on the broccoli I had cooked earlier, I headed out for a group rendez-vous at Belleville. A sit on a terrasse was followed by dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and a night out.

Is it any wonder that this is my favorite time of year here? When the nice weather rolls around and the days grow longer, I struggle to think how I spent my free time during the winter season!

Gros Bijoux

This past weekend my friend invited me to a jewelry exhibit recommended by one of his clients, who is a jewelry designer. I met him in front of Eglise St-Germain-des-Près, which at ten centuries old, is the oldest church in Paris. After a walk around inside, we crossed the street to the Hôtel de l’Industrie for the première edition du salon Mes Créateurs Joailliers, a two-floor event consisting of fourteen jewelry companies presenting their jewels.

We admired the artistically presented jewelry and pointed out our favorite necklaces, earrings, and rings. A variety of stones, colors, and cuts were on display. All were for sale. Many were pièces uniques, or one-of-a-kind. Representatives encouraged us to let them know if we wanted to try anything on (well, I suppose their offer was directed to me since the only men’s jewelry available was cufflinks).

At the stand for Bermudes, a Parisian jeweler, the representative chose two rings for me to try on. He then pulled out from under the glass what appeared to be a wavy gold stone-studded earring. He asked me to push back my hair to libérer my ear. I made a motion to remove my left earring, but to my surprise he reached over and in one motion clipped it on the upper part of my ear. He held up a hand mirror to show me. I loved it.

After some internet research, I learned that it was an ear cuff, or une manchette d’oreille. I am now on a mission to find the perfect one to buy. I like that it adds a bit of edge, especially being asymmetrical—only being worn on one ear—without requiring a second pair of piercings.

Following the jewelry salon my friend suggested having hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots, the famous café next door known as the gathering place of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce. Considering its reputation and history, it was less uppity than I had thought. Cozy and bustling with staff than included a waiter with sideburns, it was a nice spot out of the rain to pour thick hot chocolate from a milky white pitcher into two matching round cups on saucers.

Sometimes I am amazed by how smart and interesting my friends are. We discussed the death penalty, prison rehabilitation in France versus the United States, what we were like in high school, where and with whom we would be for Christmas. Perhaps, almost a hundred years later, I had my little Simone de Beauvoir moment. An indulgent thought, as I adore her. I, however, do not search for a Sartre, as I can sing along with but not abide by Taylor Swift’s lyrics, “I love the players, and you love the game.” No tortured love for me, please.

Have You Seen My Mums?

Fall in Paris isn’t quite like fall where I’m from, so when I saw these red and yellow mums in the Luxembourg Gardens, I had to pop in.14.fall.2013aFor me, fall is red, orange, yellow, and purple leaves.  Pumpkins and hay bales.  Apple cider and cinnamon donuts.  Squash and gourds.  Scarecrows and witches.

Fall in Paris is rain.  Gray skies and glistening wet cement.  Hesitating when the café waiter asks, “Do you want to sit inside or outside?”  (I usually choose outside.)  A leisurely walk in the cool night air but maybe a hot chocolate after.  Some days it’s cold enough to wear a scarf, hat, and gloves, but the other night was sufficiently warm to sit outside with a friend and eat a sandwich from a Lebanese place off the Champs-Elysées.  Not just any Lebanese place, but the Lebanese place where a friend took me to lunch the day I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport over a year ago.

In any case, fall here isn’t crispy leaves and pumpkin patches.  Luxembourg, however, is decked out for the season.14.fall.2013b

Mums are the flower of November.14.fall.2013c14.fall.2013e

In the background is Luxembourg Palace, which houses the Senate.


Ducks floated on a lake of leaves.


Who knows what will bloom next?