Thursday, January 29, 2015

The real "No Go" zones...

We had to smile.  The Local posted an article about places Parisians really avoid.  The article was in response to Fox "News" story about supposed "No-Go" areas of Paris that are (in some weird American fantasy) completely given over to Muslim terrorists or terraces (choose one).

Satyr and Nymph

The real Paris "No-Go" areas (according to the Local) include -
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower on Saturday afternoons
  • Cafe terraces
  • The Metro
  • Gare du Nord after dark
  • Public toilets
  • Forum des Halles
  • Champs Elysees nightclubs
  • Les Grands Magasins over the winter holidays
  • Bois du Boulogne after dark
While not a bad list, as far as lists typically go, I'm not entirely in agreement with their findings.  Here's why -

My brother and father had come over for a visit and we were on a double-decker tour bus.  We like to do this with guests as it gives them a nice overview of the city.  As we made our way up to the traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe we watched a man walk up the very middle of the street.  He was a One Man Manifestation.  I'm not sure what issues he was protesting, but he held papers high in the air as he marched up the Champs.  He marched straight up the road and across the heavily trafficked circle.  Cars, busses, motorcycles and delivery trucks all stopped for him.  It was like witnessing a Parting of the Waters.  Once he reached the Eternal Flame he turned to face the Champs Elysee and shouted his grievances.  There was a Second Parting of the Waters as he marched back in our direction.  It was then that the police gently levered him to the ground and gently detained him.  He was completely naked.

Assyrian Treasures

OK.  So we were playing tourists and maybe normal Parisians never go there.  To the Arc, that is.  Nakedness is always optional in these parts.  Yet, where would we have witnessed a One Naked Man Manifestation had we observed the Local's "No-Go" zone rules?

I agree with the comment about the Eiffel Tower.  It's madness.  But... friends of ours were over on vacation and stayed near the tower.  On the 14th of July they joined a Mass Migration of Party-Goers.  Everyone headed for l'herbe (lawn) that runs from the tower down to l'ecole Militaire.  Our friends told us that a huge crowd of people sat peacefully as fireworks lit the Paris night sky.  They couldn't believe how so many people going to such a large event could be so well behaved.  It was one of the highlights of their trip.

I'm not sure how to apply the Local's "No-Go" zone rules to the Eiffel Tower.  Perhaps an astrologer could clear things up for us and let us know what would be the best time to avoid the place?

Cafe terraces.  Um.  Yes.  Except for... [bringing out a rather complex algorithm for calculating what's a "good" terrace and what's a "radicalized" terrace] ... er... it's too mind boggling.  Yes.  Some places should be avoided because of the massive-throngs-of-arrogant-gawking-loud-mouthed-tourists.  Other places can be just wonderful for spending a warm lazy sunny summer afternoon over a few beers.  Choosing Wisely can lead to one of those Magic Paris Experiences.  Such as on the night I ate dinner, talked to a rare book-buyer from the University of Chicago and his mistress, and watched the martins whirl and twirl high up in the twilight-lit sky.


The metro.  No.  I don't agree.  The smell of urine is part of the Paris Experience.  It simply has to be tolerated.  There's no avoiding it.  Besides, the city of Paris has cleaned things up a bit since the aristocracy dumped their sewage into open troughs down in the Marais where they lived before heading out west to follow the Sun [King] to Versailles.  Nothing could be as bad as that Marais smell, could it?  Well, except for the carnal grounds of the old cemetery of the innocents.  But that's another long story.  So suck it up and dive into the Metro like the rest of us do.

Dum-de-dum-dum... ah!  Public toilets.  Now there's a fine subject and one that I'm well versed in.  You see, I'm like a Big Old Dog.  I like to leave my mark everywhere I go.  Actually, I have little choice in the matter.  My bladder feels older than I am and it needs regular voiding.  So, I make normal use of the Public Facilities.  In fact, I hold a Mental Map of all the Public Pissoirs of Paris.  I'll agree that they're at times Horrid Hovels of Hell.  But... what was I just saying about the Old Marais and the filthy aristocracy?  Things have improved just a bit.  When you Have to Go, well, you Have to Go.

Scenes from the Louvre

Oh!  Which reminds me.  If you're a Connoisseur of Fine Urinals, head north to la bassine de la villette.  There sits one of the Finest Examples of Human Ingenuity.  It's a multi-stall (Multi-Stall!!! - no waiting - take your choice) urinal that stands proudly next to la bassine.  Its al fresco experience must not be missed (by men, at least)... and before I forget, for yet another Wonderful Al Fresco Experience, do try the urinals next to les bulles pits in les jardins de Luxemburg.  Smelly?  Yes.  But please do try and remember how the aristocrats lived before the city cleaned up the Marais, OK?

Forum des Halles... agreed.  Vile place.  Stay away.  Nothing to see there.  Move along, please... to hear the  tout les demanches 17h30 organ concert in Saint Eustache.  Now there's a Grand Experience and one worth passing through the Belly of Paris for.

Champs Elysees nightclubs... um... we have no experience.  Can't comment, really.

Les Grands Magasins over the winter holidays... er... well... actually... it's not all that bad.  If you don't mind feeling like you're being pushed into a train in Tokyo, that is.  Other than that, the lights can be all twinkly and pretty.  If you've had a little to drink or if you're very easily entertained it can be a nice experience.

The Bois du Boulogne after dark.  Huh.  We have no idea.  We hear stories about the gypsies driving vans into the Bois and setting up business.  What business? you might ask.  From what we gather it has to do with men and women and the aforementioned vans.  And we're not inclined to ask for further clarification.

There you have it.  Our response to the "real" Paris non-Fox-Snooze-approved "No-Go" zones.

Scenes from the Louvre

Monday, January 19, 2015

Has hell just frozen over?

The far-right US-based entertainment-news group, Fox News, has apologized for it's statements that Paris has "totally Muslim" zones.

Why would I mention this?  My experience in the US is that the "news" is not about reality.  It's about telling people what they want to hear and feeding the fires of perception.

I say this remembering the difference between the news deliveries that I witnessed shortly after the Charlie Hebdo murders.  CNN's delivery of the day's events was a breathless stream of fear-inducing sentences and culturally approved coded phrases.

Though it's been reported in Europe, I'll bet dollars to doughnuts the apology will go un-noticed in the US.

No, hell has not just frozen over.  Fox News hedged their apologies to the world for their lack of accurate reporting.  Some things seem to never change.  Including Fox News habits of wishing the world to be a certain way.

Update: The city of Paris is suing Fox News for their "reports" on Muslim "no-go" zones.  To my way of thinking, it's about time Fox paid a price for their tabloid style presentations.

15e Traversée de Paris hivernale

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Two Conversations...

I went to the Sunday marche to pick up a kilo of noix casse and deux coqulets avec pomme de terre de salardaise.

15e Traversée de Paris hivernale

As is our habit the noix vender and I shook hands and inquired after each others well being.  We talked about the cold and he asked if my beard keeps me warm.  I said "je pense qu'oui."

The conversation became serious when I asked him why he didn't grow one. It's dangerous, he said.  It's much more dangerous than in his home country of Algeria.  There are crazy people here.  Paris is supposedly a mix of people, but there are those who want to do harm.  I told him that things are not much different in the US these days.  There's enough hatred to go around, or so it seems.  He told me he could never wear a beard while living in France.  Never.

I left him with a warm hand-shake and a head-wag at the sad state of affairs.  It was hard to not feel incredibly sad.  I've thought a lot about what he told me.  How a very few people who do harm indict an entire society?

After our coqulet and duck fat doused pommes de terre de salardaise over lettuce lunch Jude and I headed out to see some things at the Louvre.

The Aftermath

Boarding the metro Jude found a place to sit across from me.  I wasn't paying much attention so I was pleasantly surprised to turn not too long later to see her in deep conversation with a man seated next to her.

The man was French born and Muslim by religion.  As with my earlier conversation, they too talked about the sad state of affairs.  He told Jude he didn't know why he still lived here.  There was too much hate directed toward him, he said.

They talked about how dangerous the world has become and how sad the Paris events are.  Who were the real terrorists and how could they really be contained.

He asked where we were from and Jude told him how embarrassed she was to say America.  They talked about the on-going fall-out of American foreign policies from the Bush era and how there was no longer any good solution.  Jude told him America had blood on it's hands.

As he prepared to get off the train at the next stop, he gave Jude two kisses on her cheeks and said it wasn't her fault.

I moved to the vacated seat and realized that she too had just had a deeply moving conversation.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Rememberances

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Yet more thoughts on the attack...

... and then there are the politics of the 7 January, 2015 murders of cartoonists...

Charlie Hebdo ~ Rememberances

There are two parts to this that caught my attention.  First, Netanyahu came when he was very specifically and clearly invited to stay way.  Second, the US failed to show strong support for France during the Sunday rally and march.

I hate to wade into the political arena, but I have some rather strong feelings about how this played out.  So, up onto the soapbox I go.
[Soapbox ON]-------------------

Why did Israel come when the French asked them to stay away?

"President Francois Hollande had wanted to "focus on solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the liberal Haaretz newspaper reported..."

Why did Netanyahu barge his way to the front of the line when France had placed him two rows back?  This wasn't a political rally, now was it?  Where was Israel's respect for anyone but itself?

In the face of this level of arrogance I feel the French politicians showed a lot of restraint in public.

"President Francois Hollande linked arms with world leaders, including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in an historic display of unity..."

It's interesting to watch the tit for tat that goes on at that level of politics.  The French had their say later in the day.  This took place out of direct public view.

"Haaretz said that the prime minister's actions had infuriated the French president, who had demonstrated his "anger" at a ceremony at Paris's main synagogue to commemorate four Jews who were among those killed.


"Hollande sat through most of the ceremony, but when Netanyahu's turn at the podium arrived, the French president got up from his seat and made an early exit."..."
It was noted in the local press that the French president wasn't the only one to get up and walk out early.  Leaders of the French Jewish community also got up and left.  They seemed to be saying that they did not support M. Netanyahu any more than the secular republican French politicians do.
I can't help but feel that Israel was completely out of line.  These terrible events happened on French soil, not Israel.  This is a secular republic French issue, not an AIPAC supported, US taxpayer money fueled Israeli issue.  Yet Netanyahu got the camel's nose into the tent and pushed his way through the proceedings.

... and where was the US in all of this?  Nowhere.  Missing in action.  Gone.  Failed to show.  That's where.

"The most conspicuous absence at Sunday's enormous anti-terror march in Paris, which drew some 40 world leaders and more than a million French citizens, was any high-ranking official from the United States. 

President Obama did not join the likes of François Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Mahmoud Abbas for what turned out to be a historic photo of solidarity. Nor did he send Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew (the nation's senior-most Jewish official), or anyone else more notable than the U.S. ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. Attorney General Eric Holder had been in Paris for meetings earlier in the day, but he did not attend the march..."

It seems fine that after the attacks of 9/11 that the world can say "We're American too!"  But when it's someone else who's in trouble or has taken the brunt of terror?  Phffffttt!

This smacks of yet more American "Freedom Fries."  Clueless indifference to what's really going on around the world.

There are stories circulating here in Europe about how the Obama administration urged the French to not publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that depicted Mohammed.  The same stories point out that this came on the heels of the Bush Administration providing a highly visible rallying point for radicalization by invading Iraq and torturing innocent people in Abu Ghaib.

I used to feel that the problem of American clueless-ness came only from the Republican party.  Afterall, isn't it the Democrats who project the image of wise statesmanship in defense of liberal ideals?  It saddens me to realize that the Democrats are really no better.  The hope that Obama would undo the wrongs of George W. Bush have been dashed years ago.

Which leads me back to something I feel needs to be talked about.  Religion.

Listening to the French political leaders has me believing they are walking a fine line between the secular and the religious.  Their words seem to strike the right notes.  They talk about this being a problem of terror and not with Muslims.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Rememberances

On the other hand, I've been disgusted by some of the American response.  In particular, I have been appalled by something published by that great American liberal bastion, the New Yorker Magazine.

"...A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents. Islam today includes a substantial minority of believers who countenance, if they don’t actually carry out, a degree of violence in the application of their convictions that is currently unique..."
How quickly some people forget that the attack in Oklahoma was carried out by a christian terrorist.  How quickly some people forget that jewish terrorists are, even now, killing Palestinians in the Middle East.  How quickly some people forget that there is enough ideologically fueled violence coming from all forms of faith and religion.

Why don't we don't talk about dealing with radicalized christians nor jews in the manner suggested by the article to deal with radicalized muslims?  Is it really "us vs them?"  Does Goerge Bush's call to Crusade still feel justified?
To me using religion as a framework to understand the murders of cartoonists, policemen, and French citizens does not help find a solution.  What would happen if we took religion out of the discussion?

What if we were to view the murders from a framework of law and social justice?   Wouldn't we very quickly arrive at an answer to how to treat these kinds of terrorists?  What happens if we reduce these people to nothing more than the criminals they are?  Wouldn't this go a long ways toward reducing the inflamed talk of jews, and muslims and christians, and who started what and when, and who will pay the price for this or that?

There is hope.  Just this morning on Telematin (France2) there was a discussion about how the French can avoid the trap of implementing their own version of America's "Patriot Act."  They noted what a disaster that's been for the US.  They talked about finding a way to strengthen protections for the people and society, while not reducing hard-won liberties.
Enough politics.  I've had my say.  I'm done for now.

--------------[Soapbox OFF]

There are a couple interesting articles about how France is once-again a nation and how people here in Paris marched peacefully and in solidarity around ideas and liberties.

After the tragic events of last week I've come to realize and remember a few things.  We're proud to live here.  We're happy to live amongst the French.  We hope the path they take forward from these terrible murders is very very French and borrows nothing from what America did after the events of 9/11.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Rememberances

Monday, January 12, 2015

A few more words about the attack...

It was a terrible 50 hours here in Paris.

As I walked up to the street to do a bit of shopping I couldn't help but notice how dirty, filthy, and "down" the city felt.  My attitude toward things had been altered.  I suspect many folks were feeling similarly.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Witnessing

Without fully realizing what was unfolding around l'isle de France I visited the street where the Charlie Hebdo staff, an economist, an office cleaner, and two policemen were murdered.  I knew I was getting close when I saw all the TV vans with their satellite dishes pointed skyward.

Things were happening at a dizzying pace.  The Charlie Hebdo murderers were surrounded and held a hostage in a small town north-east of Paris.  The Montrouge police murderer had taken hostages in a store on the eastern edge of Paris.  The Trocadero had been cleared in response to a perceived threat.  Rumors of other situations around l'isle de France flew like troubled birds scattered to the winds.  I couldn't help but feel that this small part of the world had come un-hinged. 

Here are a few things that I've noticed and have stuck with me since the events of 7 January, 2015.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Rememberances

People stood and looked at the place where it happened.  They were quiet.  They were solemn.  They were respectful.  It was impossible to not be deeply moved.  Several policemen were standing in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices just down the street.

1.6million people spilled onto the streets of Paris on Sunday.  To give you and idea of just how large this was, there are 2.2million residents within the city borders.  Jude and I tried to attend, but every single metro train was packed so full there was no way we could squeeze our way on.  So we returned home and watched the gathering on TV.

Nearly everyone who was interviewed at the rally and march stressed the importance of citizenship first, and personal beliefs (religion) second.  I was impressed by how clearly articulate the French are in this regard.  The cortege lead by the family members of those killed in the attack was very difficult to watch.  These were the faces of people in incredible, disbelieving, it's too much to bear kind of pain.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Witnessing

It was reported on Telematin this morning that several Italian (not French) newspapers printed articles stating that the reaction of the Bush Administration was to blame.  They underscored the on-going effects of Bush policies toward Iraq, Muslims, and what the Americans did at Abu Ghraib in radicalizing people.

While standing at the memorial near the Charlie Hebdo offices I was deeply saddened by something that I thought I'd left behind.  In one of the TV tents not 50 feet from the huge mound of flowers and dedications stood Anderson Cooper and a Talking Head I did not know.  The Talking Head was nearly breathless in his delivery of "news".  He was passionately, heatedly telling the world the events of the day.

This, then, is how Americans are fed news.  I'd forgotten.  The drilling rat-tat-tat of words felt like it could knock me over.  The shaping of ideas delivered rat-tat-tat was having it's intended, or un-intended effect.  9/11.  ISIS.  Al Qeida. Muslim hords. Death.  Destruction.  The targeting of Western Civilization.  The Great Unknown - when will they attack again?  All having come to visit upon us all.  Once more.  Some of these fear-inducing ideas were spoken and others very clearly implied.  I listened for as long as I could handle it and shook my head as I left. 

Charlie Hebdo ~ Witnessing

Meanwhile, in a French TV tent nearby stood a Talking Head.  His delivery of the news of the events as they unfolded was calm and as solemn as the people who'd come to watch and pay their respect.  I'm left to wonder how reporting of the same events were so vastly different.

My father said that in America someone tried to explain the impact of the Charlie Hebdo murders by saying it'd be like having every late-night talk-show host in the US killed.  That's certainly one way of looking at it.  It's impossible to under-state the impact of these murders.

Are cartoonists and comedians are the only people allowed to speak Absolute Truth?  I hope not.

Charlie Hebdo ~ Witnessing

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A few words about the attack...

By now the world has learned of the horrific attack in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper here in Paris.

I hate to see this kind of thing happen.  It's a very nasty business, this.

Twelve people died. 

All because of a cartoon. 

Think about that a moment.  People are dead because of a cartoon.

"Charlie Hebdo staffer Laurent Leger told BFM-TV in 2012, "The aim is to laugh.... We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.""

While I was at first loath to draw any link between these Paris events of January 7, 2015 to anything coming from the United States, Jude just read me something rather interesting.  It's from the Local.

"The New York Times first reported on Cherif in 2005. It was reported that he had become inspired to fight in jihad due to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses. Prior to the emergence of those abuses, the Liberation newspaper reported, Cherif was not a devout muslim. He had girlfriends, smoked and drank alcohol."

One of the shooters had been inspired to Islam in response to US torture of prisoners and the incredible (still un-punished) abuses at Abu Ghraib during the invasion of Iraq. 

Think about this, too, for a moment. 

Here are my questions -

Why is American press censoring itself?

Has America created the terrorism it vowed to fight? 

Has American policy started a war that will never end? 

Has America created serious problems for other countries, even for countries that refused to back the US invasion of Iraq?

Has America destroyed our chances of living peacefully overseas?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Gift...

Jude and I wanted to treat ourselves to something special for the Winter Holidays.  So we thought and thought, and talked and talked, and came to a decision.  We'd give ourselves an entire year of gifts.

Louvre ~ in B&W

Two years ago we'd purchased two Ami du Louvre cards.  One for her.  One for me.  We let the membership lapse when we were faced with the long, arduous task of organizing a return trip to the US to clear out the storage unit that contained Plan B.

After our three week stay in the US we returned to France to face an exchange of Official Letters and subsequent rejections by the French Health Insurance.  Even though French law grants us the right to buy state-sponsored health insurance, in the end we've been denied.

The Exchange of Official Letters and the wording there-in leads me to believe that France has used the fact we left the country as the basis for the rejection, even though we were away for only three weeks.  Under the surface we're left to wondering if perhaps we're too old (even though there is no mention of age in the laws I've carefully read), or if perhaps there is some kind of mandate that caps the number of new entrants into The System.

Louvre ~ in B&W

Whatever the real reasons, the Exchange of Official Letters had kept us busy.  Well, that and a short four day visit to Saint Malo, Dinan, and an Inspection Visit of Jude's ancestor's buildings (the Duke of Normandy's Mont Saint Michel).

Our Winter Holidays were quiet.  The weather turned cold and brutish nasty which put the kibosh on any visits to see the lights along the Champs Elysee.  So we spent time around the apartment eating and drinking our way through the Doldrums with the twice weekly visits with our French/English Conversation Group.  The people in the group helped us keep our sanity by simply being human and welcoming us to join in lively conversation on whatever topic arose.

Now that New Years Day has come and gone, Jude and I are feeling much better.  There's a lightness in our step and a smile on our faces.  There's the anticipation of Fun Things To Do in 2015.

Louvre ~ in B&W

First on our list of Fun Things To Do was to renew our annual Ami du Louvre membership.

Flashing our out of date Ami du Louvre at the Guards at the Gates (that lead to the security X-ray machine) helped us cut the long queue in True French Fashion.  We were soon into the membership office and talking with the nice man behind the counter.

We handed over our old cards.  He scanned them and asked for our Carte Bleu (credit card).  I entered the PIN on the touch-pad and waited, oh, three seconds.  Over the counter was passed a receipt and our new cards with our old photos on them.  We are once again "in."  We're Card Carrying Members of the Louvre.  Friends of the Louvre, in fact.

Louvre ~ in B&W

Jude and I spent a very nice afternoon wandering the Most Amazing Museum On Planet Earth.  We can do this any time the museum is open for the next 12 months.  We love art.  We like a warm place to visit during the winter.  Life is good.

As for the CMU French state-sponsored health-insurance, we figure we need to continue to research our options.  The first step will be to submit a brand new application with all the information we were asked for the first time we went through the process.  We'll then see what happens next.

Who knows?  Maybe we'll have our application reviewed by a different fonctionaire and win a different outcome?

Louvre ~ in B&W