La Marseillaise

It is as stirring an anthem as any ever written. Not that the French are inclined to sing ‘La Marseillaise’ that often – the last time I can remember was before the start of the final World Cup match. Which we won. Such memories of victory are important at the moment as we are going through a bit of a rough patch in France.

I first saw the Arc de Triomphe shortly after landing in Paris many years ago. It is an impressive way to enter the city, coming from Roissy and Charles de Gaulle airport to the northwest. Driving by it on the multi-pointed Etoile, it is even more monumental than one imagines from all those beauty shots taken from afar.

It was only later that I got close enough to admire the statuary, and learn of its history. Commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate all those who fought for France in the revolutionary wars, inscribed with the names of victories and generals and home to the tomb of the unknown soldier from the first world war. Its statuary, pictured above, includes the sculpture by François Rude of The Departure of 1792, also known as La Marseillaise. It depicts the symbolic winged Liberty and celebrates the cause of the first French republic.

I am no historian; all this comes from Wikipedia. While we’re at it, here’s the scoop from Wiki on the anthem:

The melody soon became the rallying call to the French Revolution and was adopted as “La Marseillaise” after (it) was first sung on the streets by volunteers (fédérés in French) from Marseille by the end of May. These fédérés were making their entrance into the city of Paris on 30 July 1792 after a young volunteer from Montpellier called François Mireur had sung it at a patriotic gathering in Marseille, and the troops adopted it as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille.[2]

The music, almost discordant at times, is a powerful battle cry. The lyrics are a call to arms. There is blood on the ground and fierce pride in the hearts of all who sing it.

This explains a lot about what is currently going on in France. Not that I agree with it, or condone the acts of violence and destruction. Quite the opposite. But I do recognize that it is true to the French. When there is a perceived injustice, one that goes too far, there will be protest. And it will not stop until something changes.

I just hope it will happen sooner rather than later. It breaks my heart to see the broken statues in the Arc de Triomphe, the graffiti inscribed on its walls.

And, after all, who will pay to fix it? We will. Who will suffer when the police refuse to do battle with angry mobs who throw bricks and kick them on the ground? When the shopkeepers close, when the tourists stay home. We all will. We the people, the taxpayers, the young and old, the rich and the poor.

France is known, even among the French, as being a country that is ‘irréformable’; that is, one that cannot be reformed. For as long as I have lived here, over 25 years, every government has tried and, mostly, failed to effect change. In fact, thanks again to Wikipedia, it seems that years ago during the government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, there was a move to change the bloody, revolutionary lyrics of the French national anthem to something rather more peaceful. It failed. La Marseillaise prevails.

Now Macron’s government is trying to bring what most agree is needed reform, with a carbon tax and other budgetary measures. Will they fail? I hope not. But if they do, I will be the first to stand up and march for an even bigger change, one that will allow us to make a sweeping reforms once and for all. A 6th republic. Not one led by extremes and Antifa movements, but one that would give this country a fresh start with a revised constitution and laws.

Revolutionary, you say? Mais oui. Just listen to la Marseillaise…

Où pisser?

I was going to be polite and title this post ‘Faire pipi.’ That is the more polite French expression for urinating. Non-French natives, take note: ‘pisser’ is only used for animals or among males.

But then I thought: why mince words? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m pissed (annoyed, not drunk) about how often the topic of where to go still comes up. And why, after all these years, so many stairwells and street corners in every French city still reek of urine?

My original post about the dreaded Sanisette is one of the all-time most viewed on this blog. And my ode to Madame Pipi was also highly appreciated. By now I would have thought we’d exhausted the subject. Mais non! Imagine my surprise when this video landed in my newsfeed.

Seems that comic Swann Périssée was commissioned by the city of Paris to make a point about the blight of public peeing. It certainly captures the essence of the problem in authentic French fashion. Someone apparently thinks that humour will work where fines and public outrage have failed. I’d say that rather than fancy campaigns they should invest in a few more pissoirs or public urinals.

Mais, I hear you say, they have! Et oui, that the was the scandal of the summer. The new ‘uritrottoirs’ – a scanty public urinal in a flower pot that has Parisians making rude mouth noises. And they decided to test it on the ultra-chic Île Saint Louis of all places!

Firstly, where is the female version? Surely we are not intended to sit on the thing?

Secondly, even for men, it provides almost no privacy. While the French are obviously far less concerned about modesty, the proximity of this urinal to passing tourists on the banks of the Seine leaves little to the imagination. I fear that in many cases the shy bladder will prefer a dark corner of the ‘trottoir’ or sidewalk rather than these highly public places.

This report from France3 emphasizes the ecological component but at a cost of 25,000 EUR to operate just a few on an ‘experimental’ basis, economic is not part of the equation. And I am not convinced they offer an improvement over the original vespasiennes.

Interested in knowing more about the history of the urinal in Paris? Check out this excellent post from Parisian Fields.

And, believe it or not, there is even a guide book on where to pee in Paris.

Do feel free to add your own wee comments!

Visite du Musée d’Orsay

horloge-gare-orsay-02While most people think of the Louvre as the must-see museum in Paris, for me it’s the Musée d’Orsay.

When we lived in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay was still under construction, being transformed from its former life as a turn-of-the-century railway station into a magnificent art museum. It finally opened just as we left, and since then we had never managed to return for a proper visit. We decided to put that right this time around.

The Orsay museum hosts a vast collection of paintings from 1848 to 1914. I had previously seen some of them in their former home at the Jeu de Paume museum, now dedicated to modern photography. I have a penchant for realism and who doesn’t love the Impressionists?

Orsay clockBut first: the building. To me, it is worth a visit just to see the clocks. The ornate gold clock inside the main hall and the amazing view from behind the big exterior clock through to Sacré Coeur atop Montmartre.

We signed up for a guided tour. I find that having a real, live guide who is able to bring the art works to life with stories makes all the difference. Our French guide was full of anecdotes and amusing details about the artworks and their masters.

Musée d'OrsayWe lingered awhile over this particular painting, by Edouard Manet: Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Our guide told us the story of how the painting had been initially rejected for exhibition, not so much for the nudity but for the way it was portrayed, the woman so shockingly naked amongst well-dressed men, implying that she was a prostitute. He added something about how this would never have been accepted in America, given that country’s notorious prudishness. We all nodded, except for one woman, who seemed surprised. He explained that les Américains were not too keen on portrayals of love – l’amour.

That was just wrong. Not love, I interrupted. Sex. L’érotisme. He acknowledged my point, a bit sheepish. He hadn’t wanted to use the word, he explained, given the presence of children. I thought that was rather odd: so now who was being the prude?

I could have spent the entire day just wandering around, and if I lived in Paris I would surely get an abonnement, or membership, so as to be able to come and be with these works on a regular basis.

Or perhaps just to sit in one of these amazing chairs.

Poulpe chair

La Parisienne à vélo

Vélo, bicycletteSee that girl? The blonde in the cute hat, blithely riding her bicycle on the streets of Paris? The one who smiles with an air of insouciance as she rides across the cobblestones, coolly skirting pedestrians and scooters as she crosses the Seine? That girl is not me. I’m not even sure she exists except on this bottle of beer. Which, by the way, I enjoyed down to the last drop. Right after my harrowing experience of riding a bicycle in Paris.

That is, getting hit by a car while riding a bike in Paris. Husband shook his head, amazed. “It could only happen to you,” he said, as if somehow it was my fault. Which we both agreed it was not. The driver didn’t think it was his fault either, although we begged to differ.

The light was green and I was in the bike lane, one of the rare ones that crops up from time to time at the busier intersections. The driver was turning right and assumed he had the right of way. He cut in front of me as I sailed forth, knocking me off my bicycle in what must have appeared like a moment of pure slapstick comedy. I hit the pavement in slow motion, getting up and dusting myself off a few seconds later, nothing worse than a few bruises and a scraped knee. Horns began to honk and the traffic flowed around us.

Husband rushed over and the driver got out of his car, checking it for damages. No one asked me how I was, apparently a moot point as I was already back on my feet. There followed an authentic French shouting match, replete with curses and insults. I tried to get a word in edgewise as husband threatened to call the police, to take a picture of the license plate. The driver, who seemed to believe the best defense was a firm offense, did not apologize but instead insisted he had the right of way, that he had done nothing wrong. He had stopped, as the law required. He was clean.

I finally managed to get their attention long enough to say that I was fine, merci for asking, that there was no serious harm done but that an apology would be nice. The driver mumbled something and husband backed off. We found a pharmacy and cleaned up my knee.

Then we went for a drink and they served me this. Irony?

In recent years Paris has been taken over by cycling madness. It’s called Vélib – a system of inexpensive bike rentals on every major street corner. It’s all very well for tourism. Who has not dreamed of riding around the city of light like a true Frenchman? Only true Frenchmen don’t ride bikes much – they prefer to drive cars. Along with motorcycles and scooters, buses and taxis. And you want to keep out of their way.

It takes nerves of steel to ride a bike in Paris. If you’re looking for a thrill, you could try bungee jumping instead.

 

Ami de trente ans

It’s been 30 years this month since I first came to Paris, where we lived for awhile before getting married. Since then we have been back only briefly, so we decided to take advantage of a trip to Normandy to spend some time again in la capitale.

Plus ça change, as the saying goes. The more things change…both the city and myself.

Paris in springThen, as now, the weather was not so much chestnuts in blossom as changeable skies with a lot of cold and damp. April in Paris has been romanticized in so many American movies that my expectations, and my clothes, were completely unrealistic – I remember shivering in my thin cotton jacket. This time, I came prepared for cold and was pleasantly surprised. We had quite a bit of sun in between the cloudy periods. I even saw blossoms on some of the trees!

In 1986, we lived in the 7th arrondissement, close to the lively Rue Cler market and the Champs de Mars park by the Eiffel Tower. This time we stayed in the upper Marais. It is an artsy area with a very old-world feel. Bustling with quirky boutiques, markets and restaurants, it retains that very Parisian feel of narrow streets and slightly crooked buildings.

IMG_4829Our rental accommodation, my first experience with Airbnb, was a fashionably decorated flat on three levels. We picked it for the location and the fact that, for what we would have paid to stay in a nice hotel, we could live like locals with all the comforts of home. It was beautiful, although the stairs were a bit tricky.

The streets of Paris are somewhat cleaner than they were the last time I was here. It is now obligatoire to pick up after your pet (although sidewalk art is still in evidence) and, according to ads we saw on the side of garbage trucks, you can even be fined for tossing your cigarette butt on the street (although what you’re supposed to do with it is not clear).

Paris trash binsThere are now recycling bins on all the street corners for glass (why not plastic?) and these new transparent trash bins in all the city parks.

The last time I was here they had removed all the garbage bins after terrorists hid bombs in them. This time the recent attacks were still on everyone’s minds. We remembered the victims of Charlie Hebdo, and stopped by the Bataclan, which is undergoing renovations. The makeshift shrine across the street was a moving reminder of the January attacks.

We found the food to be much more varied this time round. The international influence of les cuisines du monde has finally reached Paris, although my favorite French bistro food is still ubiquitous. I am not a huge fan of shellfish, but Z-Frenchman enjoyed a sumptuous platter of seafood along with his cousin.

Shellfish

I got lost. Back then with a map, now with a GPS. Everywhere I went the star-shaped street patterns confused me. The difference was that this time I knew I would my find my way. That it is, in fact, better to get a bit lost in Paris. That way you can enjoy some of its surprising sights and sounds.

Much about Paris felt new and different this time, yet so much was just the same. I guess that’s the thing about old friends, especially the ones you’ve known for thirty years. No matter how long it’s been, when you get together again it feels like yesterday.

Old friends: where were you 30 years ago?