Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving (?)

Thanksgiving isn't celebrated in France, which seems to come to a surprise to most Americans. But that's the way “foreign” countries are, you know: everything is different!

My mailbox contained a sort of Thanksgiving souvenir, namely, a summons. My landlord wants to evict me for being late on the rent. The eviction hearing is set for January 25. Proof that France does not observe Thanksgiving, I guess.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heat 'n Hu

A new all-time record for nighttime temperature in Paris was set a few days ago, with 15.4° C (59.7° F) recorded, beating the previous record set in 1924. The temperature itself wasn't uncomfortable, but it was accompanied by 80% relative humidity, which made the day miserable. I had to turn the air conditioning on to remove the humidity. The situation was complicated by the fact that the building heating system is now running at its usual fusing-platinum setting. Things haven't improved much: right now it's 15.5° C (7° above normal) with 76% humidity.

Anyway, with the weather report out of the way: The latest “excitement” has been the visit of Hu Jintao to Paris. Hu Jintao is the president of China, which I discovered after looking it up (I don't follow politics and about the only politicians I know are Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy). France and Paris have gone overboard to give HJ the royal treatment. A large chunk of the city has been blocked off during his stay, and the Champs was blocked for a time while he rode by, accompanied by the Garde Républicaine, a part of the Gendarmerie that is mainly devoted to pomp and circumstance, with fancy horses, shiny helmets, etc. I'm so jaded by such events these days that I didn't even have the energy to take a picture—sorry.

The security was comparable to that accorded to the POTUS when he afflicts France with a visit, only with the added pomp of the horses and stuff. Granted, Forbes magazine considers HJ to be the most powerful person in the world, but I don't think he has nearly as many enemies as Obama, so the heavy security was puzzling. So was the royal/deity treatment. But then I discovered that HJ had come with €20 billion in his pocket for desperate French companies, and I understood.

I actually saw the man driving down the Champs, as I happened to be there when he passed. There was a modest gathering of people behind the barricades on the avenue. The procession was quite over-the-top, though, with multiple motorcycle escorts, the aforementioned horses and shiny helmets, and so on. I saw the world's most powerful person in the car, but I didn't know it was him until I got home and saw a picture of him (of course, I suspected it was the Chinese head of state, what with the Chinese flags up and down the avenue and all, but I had no idea what he looked like).

I'm not sure whether all the theater was intended to convince HJ that France could be just as oppressive as the PRC, or whether it was just to flatter him so that he'd sign those billion-euro checks more quickly. The €20 billion or so he's leaving behind will help many French companies to fatten their profit margins and accelerate their outsourcing of jobs to Romania. Still, it's only a drop in the bucket compared to the zillions of dollars and euro sent to China by Western countries in exchange for cheap goods and in pursuit of short-term gains.

(I remember when my mommy used to tell me to clean my plate because there were millions of children starving in China. Nowadays, what appears on the average American child's plate may have actually come from China, at dirt-cheap prices, and complete with a sprinkling of cadmium, melanine, lead, or some other extra ingredients.)

Anyway … in a way it's refreshing to see France kowtow to someone other than the POTUS.

In other news: The American store in my neighborhood got a new shipment of delicious Welch's grape soda, so I bought a can ($3.50) against my better judgment. My diet tends to be dictated by whatever has the lowest price at the grocery store (pound cake, potato chips, etc.), but sometimes I weaken and buy a special treat. Starbucks sells some delicious raspberry and white-chocolate cheesecake, but it's even more expensive ($6.20 a slice), so it's an even rarer treat. Ditto for ice cream ($9 a cup).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Boo! (hoo?)

Well, Halloween has come and gone, and France seems to have ignored it. No surprise there. The store down the street, which normally sells pillowcases, towels, and other items that make it nearly impossible to turn a profit, still stocks up on Halloween stuff each year, and there was a lot of stuff in the window when I passed it a few days ago. I don't know if they're making as much money with the scary stuff as they used to. I was out to buy some food briefly on Halloween itself and I didn't see anyone dressed for it.

Today is All Saints Day (Toussaint, in French), and it's actually a public holiday. Technically, it's a two-day Catholic holiday (the next day is All Souls Day), but nobody cares about the second day. And they only care about the first day because it's a day off from work for many businesses. And it's the justification for a two-week school holiday, which is even more important. In theory, at least, the French visit their dead relatives in cemeteries on November 1, but I don't know how common that actually is (I don't visit people in cemeteries, as a general rule, be they relatives or not). I've had two aunts and two uncles die in the past year, but wherever they are, I'm sure it's not in a cemetery, and I doubt that they sit around waiting for visits from me … life (or afterlife) goes on, after all.

Vacation has stopped all the strikes. The French love to strike, but they love to go on vacation even more. So when a vacation period rolls around, they lose enthusiasm for striking. It's one thing to use a strike as an excuse for skipping work or school, but it's quite another to be expected to give up vacation time for a strike. So the strikes have fizzled. It helps that the French legislature finally passed the bill that increases the retirement age from 60 to 62, so it's pretty much a done deal now.

I like this time of year. The weather is extremely nice. These days I can't afford to go out and enjoy it, but it's still nice to know that it's there. Paris has actual seasons, whereas the region where I was born, in the Great American Southwest, does not (actually, winter was hot, and summer was hotter, but that hardly qualifies in my book). I'm 15 degrees further north here than in the town of my birth, so the seasons and the daytime periods are more variable. It provides variety—just when you get tired of a given time of year, you enter a new season.

Weather at this time of year does remind me of the Valley of the Sun in one way, though. When I was tiny, we used to go to the state fair every year at this time, and the city being within a desert, it actually got a little bit chilly at night in late October, which I loved. (Today, MegaPhoenix is so large that it never cools off, even at night.) Of course, the sights and sounds of the fair probably were part of it: corn dogs, Indian fry bread, turkey sandwiches cooked over mesquite with BBQ sauce, etc. All the junk food that the French don't eat.

Paris doesn't have state fairs, but it has many other attractions that compensate. At this time of year, the sun is already setting a lot sooner, and there's a very nice time around dusk during which it's getting quite dark, except for the deep blue twilight glow in the sky, and yet all the stores and shops are open. So you have this nice cozy light on the street, and the deep blue in the sky, and a chill in the air, and tons and tons of people on the streets, and it's very nice.

Poverty prevents me from going for the very long walks in Paris that I used to enjoy, but I did manage to walk for a while after buying some stuff at the Indian grocery I prefer, near the Gare du Nord. It's practically on the opposite side of town from where I live, and Métro tickets are outside my budget, so it's a long walk. But it's nice when the weather is nice.

Nobody ever walks on the street where I was born—it's too hot, and everything is miles apart, so you always drive around in a car. In Paris, everything is within walking distance, if you have some extra time, and if you don't, there's great public transportation. Everything is busy and bright and attractive, and you can walk for hours in the evening just watching the “flow of humanity,” so to speak (I hate corny expressions like that, but I can't think of anything better right now).

For example, coming home from the Indian grocery, I passed through some extremely busy areas east of the Opéra Garnier. For example, walking west on the boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle and then along the boulevard des Capucines, it's practically non-stop restaurants, and all of them are busy. There are lots of cinemas as well, and shops. In the evening, at dusk, there are just amazing numbers of people in these areas. Parisians have small apartments and prefer to go out to entertain, so when the weather is nice, they are out in force, and the weather when I came home from getting groceries was superb.

Anyway … all the Christmas lights are now installed on the Champs. I saw crews putting them up on the avenue Montaigne on Friday, too. I'm not sure when they are officially turned on. I wonder if they'll try to find another celebrity who might be recognized by Americans to participate in the ceremony, as they did last year (I think it was Marion Cotillard then). They don't realize that Americans just don't care.

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