Paris Journal 2014 – Barbara Joy Cooley      Home:

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The avenue de la Motte-Picquet never felt so good to me.  From the boulevard de Grenelle to the avenue Suffren, the broad sidewalks of la Motte-Picquet were lined with market stalls yesterday.  At 11AM, shoppers were there, but the market did not seem as crowded as it did in its traditional location, under the tracks of the elevated line 6 Metro in the middle of the boulevard de Grenelle. 


Did it seem less crowded because the market is now spread out into a larger area, using both sides of the street?  Or are there really fewer people shopping there?


I’m not sure.  I did notice more cheap clothing, shoes, and costume jewelry vendors than ever.  There were fewer produce vendors, but the same number of fish mongers, I’d say.  The cheese mongers were there, but seemed to have few if any customers.  The cheapest of the cheap clothing vendors had the most customers.


One middle-eastern-looking vendor of dried fruits and nuts had some tempting wares, but no customers, at least not at the time I passed by.


I did not buy anything at the market because what I needed (coffee, mayonnaise, chocolate powder, and V8 juice) was not available in the outdoor market.  For these things, I stopped in at Monoprix again, after my marketplace exploration.


Monoprix, even at 11:30AM on a weekday, was busy as can be.  In particular, I noticed men who were just barely at retirement age.  They were shopping for great quantities of things. 


Another person I noticed was a elderly lady who could barely move.  Bigger, younger people were impatiently trying to get around her and her grocery cart, which she leaned upon for direly needed support.  Poor thing, I thought, as I waited patiently for her to advance so that I could go on to the next aisle.


So many shoppers in Monoprix, so few at the outdoor market!  Was it because they all, like me, needed things that could not be purchased in the market?  I looked around.  To some extent, that was true, but not entirely.


I thought about the article that my mother had sent to me in email. Normally I’d never miss a Roger Cohen column in the New York Times, but with the overseas flight, jet lag, and demands of settling in and getting organized, I had not seen this one.  Thanks, Mom, for bringing it to my attention.


Roger’s topic was the grumpy mood that the French are in these days.  “Unemployment in France is at about double the German level. Growth is at zero. Investment is at new lows. If the European economy is stirring, the French has shown an exceptional capacity to resist signs of life.”  That’s what Roger wrote.


Prices at the outdoor market stalls, for things like cheese and produce, are not competitive with prices at the grocery stores like Monoprix.  And they aren’t even close to the prices at the discount groceries like Dia.


But it is too easy to use the economy to explain everything away.  I think Roger hit the nail on the head when he also addressed technological change.  He quotes a French philosopher, Michel Serres, as saying, “Boeing shortens distances; new technologies annul them.”  This, Roger says, is particularly disturbing to the French because they, more than other peoples, value their bonds with place, with terroir.


Yes, I get it.  Globalization, and oddities like the Tour de France starting in England and then popping up in Belgium must really grate on French nerves.  Email addresses are displacing physical addresses.  One can be here, and still be there.


Yet those things about modernity that are bothering the French do, I admit, make life easier for us.  Tom is able to work away on his next book for W. W. Norton & Co., a publisher in New York, even though we’re here, in Paris.  The internet makes it possible.


We can tend to our development permit application process back in Florida, even though we’re here, in France.  I can quickly respond to friends or colleagues who write to ask me what I think of this or that – things that are happening back in the U.S. – and I can respond with some acuity since I can keep up with matters back there, thanks to the internet.


The doctor’s office calls our Florida number, and I can call them back so easily, without even getting up from my computer in Paris.  We’re here, but we’re also there.  It can make us happy, but it can make the French miserable, according to Roger.


Serres would say that Tom and I have been decapitated, because our heads are on the table in the form of our computers, but that’s not how we feel.  Sorry, Michel.


We know terroir is important.  The French are right about that. 


There was some wonderful cheese (a brebis) in the refrigerator when we arrived here the other day.  From the wrapper, we could tell that it was purchased at the fromagerie down the street.  Now that we’ve consumed that cheese, we want more.


I could have bought cheese at Monoprix, but I did not.  I’m going to buy that cheese at the fromagerie, because I care.  I want that fromagerie to be there next year, and the next, and the next.


The fromagers who run that place know the cheeses and the terroirs.  Maybe on a really good day, the clerk at the fromage counter in Monoprix could do a good job of explaining the cheeses and their terroirs.  But I have no doubt about the capabilities of the fromagers at the fromagerie.


There are French people who have their heads elsewhere, for good reason.  On my way back from the market and Monoprix, I was stopped again by a young adult who was soliciting for charity.  This time, it was the familiar Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).


I decided to take some time to have a real conversation with this young woman.  The reason?  She’s my kind of people; she’s volunteering.  I volunteer – a lot.  So why shouldn’t I hang for a bit with her?


I told her about the world maps that I receive from Doctors Without Borders every time I make a donation, it seems.  I save them up, I told her, and when my friend Gini goes to Guatemala, I give her the world maps to include with the other school supplies she takes there for kids.  “Anyway, I think those world maps are cool,” I said to her.  And I thanked her for what she’s doing.


I’ll tell you, she’s French and she seemed happy.  Not morose at all!


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Thursday, July 10, 2014


As we walked down the avenue Felix Faure the other night after dinner, we caught this glimpse of the sunset sky.


We ventured out into the rain to go to a nearby, brand new Indian resto last night.  The food was mediocre, but the beverages were just fine!


If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice this symbol here and there in Paris.  This one is on the elevated train bridge at the Motte-Picquet metro station.  It is the coat of arms for Paris, established by King Charles I in 1111.  The sailing vessel represents the powerful marchands de l’eau, and the motto usually displayed with the coat of arms (but not in this one) is Fluctuat nek Mergitur, which means “she is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.”  Baron Haussmann made the motto official, by decree, in 1853.


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