Snow in Paris

Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l'Armée

Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l’Armée

It doesn’t snow in Paris very often, and when it does, we see the flakes falling but nothing accumulates on the ground. Paris, although it is at the same latitude as the northern-most parts of the US, has a mild, temperate climate similar to Seattle. The relatively mild winter weather is both because of its position in the European land mass and due to the influence of the Gulf Stream on the weather of northern Europe. The Paris urban area is always a couple degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding areas. This often spares the city from effects of cold weather even when it produces snow in the suburbs. Typically, the temperature here in winter is in the 40-45 °F range. Freezing weather is rare.

Thus it was significant when 12-15 cm (5 or 6 inches) of snow fell in Paris Tuesday night, turning the streets, the parks, and the building tops white. It was the biggest snowfall in Paris since 1987. No one from a snowy winter climate would be impressed with the magnitude of the storm, yet for Paris, the snow creates two effects: it renders the city quiet and magical and it turns city services into chaos.

No shoveling on rue Cler

le Malabar

Not much doing at Le Malabar

About a year ago I purchased an Apple Watch, which has a couple of fitness programs I use, Nike Run Club and the Activity App. These drive me nuts because I have goals every day to stand up often enough, burn enough calories through movement, and to get enough minutes of exercise. It’s relatively easy every day to stand up enough and to get 30 minutes of walking or running, but on days when I don’t run it’s difficult to get the 550 calories of activity. It usually takes about 90 minutes of walking to get there. Oh – and the watch can’t detect when you are doing pushups or squat thrusts, so you can’t achieve the goal by going to the gym. It bugs me not to reach my goals, so every day there is this reckoning.

Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars

Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars

rue de Belgrade

All is quiet along rue de Belgrade

Tuesday night at 10 pm I still needed about 125 calories, so out I went into the snow storm. I stuffed my 35mm camera into my coat, put up my hood, and walked around. Every once in awhile I stopped to take a photo in the swirling snow. Hopefully I’ve captured some of the calm, the quiet, and the mess. If you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.

Underfoot in the snow, Paris becomes magical. The snow gives a different look to every familiar scene, and the weather keeps most people away, so especially at night the streets and public spaces are lightly trafficked and sometimes deserted. The normal noise and bustle becomes quiet and serene. No one moves quickly. Traffic slows down. Everyone proceeds carefully, looking for solid footing, except the kids who revel in the sudden chance to have a snowball fight.

slushy rue Saint Dominique

Not much activity on slushy rue Saint Dominique

Garden out our apartment window after the snow

Garden out our apartment window after the snow

All this calm belies the inability of the city to cope with even a minor snowstorm. No one has even a shovel. In walking extensively through the city streets, I saw one small green city truck with a snow blade, pushing a narrow path up a busy street. Most streets were eventually cleared by the grinding of the slushy snow under wheel and gradual melting. Curbside there were slush and deep puddles everywhere. Merchants and the City spread salt and sand to improve traction along the sidewalks of the main streets, but other than a narrow path near the doors to the storefronts, the slush and snow remained as a hazard out to the curb. Flights were cancelled. Metro trains and the bus service stopped running. The Eiffel Tower was closed. The city forbid large trucks from using the highways and encouraged people to stay home. Hundreds spent the night in the airport or in a train station. I stopped short of trying to achieve my calorie goal.

By Thursday there was sun but still freezing temperatures. I could sense the extra strain on our apartment’s heating system in the colder weather. Some sidewalks became passable, some almost clear. Others remained slushy and slippery.

The flood waters are subsiding

Snow and ice on Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche

Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche still packed with snow and ice

Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket

Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket

Down by the river the walkways were thick with ice and treacherous. At Place Saint André des Arts I nearly fell several times walking across the slippery brick surface. The flooding that surged into Paris a couple weeks ago seemed to be subsiding, though the roads and walkways beside the Seine are still covered in water. The Crimean War statue called Le Zouave, the city’s unofficial flood gauge under Pont de l’Alma, was outfitted with a life vest. Though the water level looks about 2 feet lower than it was at its peak, perhaps the citizenry still fears for Le Zoave’s safety as this new storm moves through.

Champs de Mars in the snow

Champs de Mars shows no willingness to give up the snow after 3 days.

The days are getting longer. Soon all this will pass and spring will be here.


Happy New Year 2018!

Hugh Nelson and Brenda Prowse at Vaux le Vicomte

Apologies to our readers. We have fixed the security device that was blocking comments to our post.

We did a lot in 2017, but one thing we didn’t do was post to this blog. Our experiment of living in France is now almost five years old, and 2017 was no less active than any of the other years. To start the new year out right, here is a small effort, neither too long nor too inclusive, to convey something about the past year.

We traveled a number of places, the most impressive being a trip to Cuba in May. In sum, Cuba is both a country with a totalitarian government and beautiful place with ingenious people who manage as best they can, have happiness where they can find it, and hope for a better outcome in the future. Around every corner of Cuba there was surprise and fascination. It was our privilege to visit with and learn from some of its citizens. We also vacationed on the Greek island of Corfu, which was beautiful, historic, educational, and fun. We went to Barcelona, one of the greatest tourist attractions in Europe, to meet friends from Australia for the second year in a row. We flew back to the US to visit family. The natural beauty of Washington is as good as any other place on earth. We spent time last August in Nice, France, our first experience on the wonderful Mediterranean beaches and towns of France.

We finally moved our furniture from Washington into a Paris apartment. It was a saga and an ordeal, but at least it is done. Apartment hunting, financial contract arrangements, and moving our furniture all took much longer and were much more difficult than we could have imagined, but we’re happy with the result. One conclusion, despite getting rid of as much as we possibly could before leaving Washington, we still shipped too many things that we didn’t need – our bed for instance, which the movers thought was a piano.

We were robbed a couple times. Once I was pickpocketed on the Metro. And one of the movers made off with a few thousand in gold jewelry. None of this was recoverable (except for my French ID card), but it impressed upon us that though France is relatively safe, there isn’t much trust between people.

We stopped taking French lessons. We are still not very fluent, yet our French is many times better than when we arrived. I liken it to failing 3rd grade. Try as hard as you can and come up short every time with no hope that proficiency will ever be attained – yet things seem to be getting better. There is no switch that flips so that suddenly you know French, yet every effort to learn and speak in French makes the experience here better. French self study is still a daily activity.

We have lost some dear friends this year, people who have influenced our lives in the past and continue to do so today. I keep in mind that this life does not go on forever and that every new day presents opportunities to honor the past and to make something of the gifts we have received. On the other hand, we love hearing about the new members of our families, and we’re proud of the efforts of the next generation and want for them every success in raising a new group of children.

The good fortune of our time in France is that we have been befriended by a French family and have been invited into their world. We see them every week and often go on vacation together. This has been a cultural exchange that has enriched our lives immeasurably and has made every inconvenience of living here worth the pain.

So another year begins. We wish you and your family a safe, prosperous, and happy new year!

What did you do in 2016?

Pianist Emil Reinert with two friends

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Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

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French Labor protest being organized at École Militaire near our apartment

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Site of Nobel’s former Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré

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Hugh standing in front of the Prefecture de Police, Paris

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6th Avenue Poulsbo home and garden

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Terrorist Attacks in Paris

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Happy New Year!

I‘ve been thinking that there would be time to post an end of the year letter like the very nice ones I’ve been receiving in the mail - but no, the clock has almost run out. We started 2014 in Paris, celebrating with our American friends Martha … [Continue reading]