Archives for March 2013

Paris Chocolate Tour!

DSCF1667Paris is the capital of dark chocolate! Recently we were lucky enough to go on a Paris chocolate tour. In order for the stuff to be labeled chocolate in France it has to have 70% or more cocao content. (Hershey kisses only have 7%!) I love milk chocolate,( only 30% cocao plus milk solids) especially when studded with noisettes (hazelnuts) but hey, who is tuning down chocolate of any kind? The Chocolate Tour, sponsored by Paris Walks, a wonderful tour company owned by Peter and Oriel Crane (also have London Walks) began at the Louvre Rivoli Metro Station. The station sign is one of the oldest Metro Signs in Paris-note the beautiful calligraphy.

Our lovely English and French speaking guide, Mary Ellen Manny, while relating the fascinating history of the production of chocolate, led us to 4 famous Parisian chocolate shops, each of which welcomed our group and provided samples. Cost of this tour was €27 (Euros.) Côte de France was my favorite shop because they had these adorable miniature chocolate sheep, pigs, rabbits, ducks and eggs filled with praline that you could mix and match to create the perfect Easter candy gift box. But oh, wait, the Gosselin Boulangerie’s specialty was chocolate genoise (sponge cake) filled with coffee crème and dusted with Baker’s Gold (96% pure gold mixed with silver and edible.) was pretty good too. Petite Cluizel’s single origin (all the cacao beans are from one plantation) non blended Madagascar chocolate was pure heaven and then the 3 orange ganache at Jean Paul Hévin was divine. I guess I really didn’t have a favorite chocolate shop. The tour lasted over 2 and a half hours and was a delightful way to see more of Paris, including the famous Garden Palais Royale, learn about chocolate making, and of course indulge! J’adore le chocolat!

Here’s a slide show with some of what we saw.

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Some Comments about the French Economy

We are here struggling to learn the language and understand French on the TV. We have no close contacts who keep us in tune with the pulse of the French economy. Everything seems OK to us living inside this bubble of foreignness. The French people have personally been wonderful to us. Still we are aware that the economy is struggling. This editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Romain Hatchuel, a French citizen working for a New York asset management firm, pushes hard on some of the economic anomalies confronting the French government. Among them:

  • unemployment at 10.6%, a 13 year high
  • public debt at 90% of economic output
  • failure to meet current year deficit reduction targets
  • government expenditures are 56% of GDP, more than 15% higher than in the US
  • consumer spending, the main economic driver, fell last year and continues to fall for the first time since 1984.
  • real compensation for public employees has grown the most of any euro zone country since 2009

The article notes that the electorate hoped that a coalition backing the Socialist candidate would have more success negotiating economic concessions than the center right administration of Nicolas Sarkozy. So far they have raised taxes on the wealthy and… not much else. Sounds a bit like the political impasse in the US, except without the strength of the US economic recovery. Last night President François Hollande was on national television asking that austerity programs be put on hold and promising not to raise taxes. As in the US, politics drives politicians to support programs that seem contrary to good economic principles. From our perspective, we are wishing for the French (and for the US) a speedy economic recovery.

Romain Hatchuel: Whats French for Economic Nonsense? –

Holocaust in Paris

Wall of Names

Wall of Names

Holocaust in Paris

Monday started the Jewish celebration of Passover, the religious holidays that commemorate the portion of Exodus where God spares (passes over) the Israelite first born sons and kills the first born sons of Egypt as what you might call a last straw to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from from slavery in Egypt. This event followed a long period of having tried through Moses lesser measures to obtain their release (the last of 10 plagues). It is the beginning of the long, 40 year exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. During Passover the Jewish followers consume unleavened bread and a Passover meal, as well as observing other religious traditions commemorating the release and hasty flight of the Israelites from Egypt.

With Passover as the backdrop, look now at our neighborhood. Just across the Seine is the Marais, a traditional Jewish neighborhood in Old Paris. Even when the nobility had occupied the Marais in the 1600’s, Jewish merchants had settled in the area as clothing makers and participants in the City’s financial and banking business. After most nobility had left the area, numerous Eastern European Jews immigrated to Paris and the Marais in the 1800’s.

You may never have heard about the devastation of the Holocaust in Paris. In 1940 there were about 175,000 Jewish residents of Paris. Many fled when the Germans invaded in May of 1940, and by September there were about 150,000 remaining, including about 64,000 foreigners. In 1942 the Germans with the assistance of French police began a systematic deportation of foreign and stateless Jews. In June 1942, Jews in Paris were ordered to wear yellow Star of David badges for easy identification. In July French police concentrated 13,000 Jews in a sports area in south central Paris, and by year’s end nearly 30,000 had been deported. Many more went into hiding, so that by mid 1943 only about 60,000 Jews remained in the city. In early 1944, the Germans began to deport Jewish citizens of France as well. By the time Paris was liberated, at least 50,000 Parisian Jews, most of them foreign-born, had been deported and murdered. You can find more information from the US Holocaust Museum.

Only a few blocks from our house is the Mémorial de la Shoah (Memorial to the Holocaust). It has numerous exibits, including a Wall of Names (shown above), honoring the 76,000 French Jews (according to the description in Fodors) deported from France to Nazi concentration camps, of whom only 2,500 survived. We saw a local grade school in the Marais that listed the names of the children deported from that school (never to return) during the holocaust. These chilling events happened only a few years before I was born, and the hatreds and struggles played out in these stories of the past continue unsettled in our world today.

New Bells Chime With Modern Pitch At Notre Dame Cathedral

Palm Sunday was to be the first ringing of the new church bells at Notre Dame, and I awoke about 8 am to a magnificent new sound. I hurriedly dressed and went outside to try to capture the music, but the bells quit tolling for me, so to speak. I caught the tail end of a less magnificent ringing later in the morning, which I’ll post as a video below. I made several other tries to get the full effect, but always turned up a day late and a dollar short when I tried to record them. Guess I need to get the schedule. NPR did a story on the bells, a link to which appears below.

New Bells Chime With Modern Pitch At Notre Dame Cathedral : NPR.

Also here’s a link to a Utube video from February playing the old bells.

Knock yourself out at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop

Brenda in her corner at Shakespeare and Company

Brenda in her corner at Shakespeare and Company

Only a few blocks from our apartment is an enchanting place called the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop. It’s a wonderful spot to spend a rainy cold afternoon browsing three floors of books, most in English, stacked floor to high ceiling. One is literally encased by books! There I am in my nice soft chair tucked under a stairwell engrossed in an art book, “Paris Line By Line” by Robinson. All is well until I realize too much time has passed. Quickly I stand up forgetting that I am sitting so far back under the stairs. Yep, knock yourself out at Shakespeare and Company! “Les Etoiles” is French for ” the stars” I see after hitting the top of my hard head on the stair tread.

Although Shakespeare and Company is a long standing venture, it’s actually the reincarnation of an even more famous bookstore by the same name. In the 1920s a free thinking American named Sylvia Beach started Shakespeare and Company on Rue de l’Odéon, also in the Latin Quarter, as a haven for American writers who flocked to Paris after World War I. Earnest Hemingway, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound were all known to have frequented Sylvia’s original store.

Below is a link (sorry we could not embed it) to Shakespeare and Company’s short video that details some of the fascinating history of the store. George Whitman, who started this bookstore died in 2011 but his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman carries on the tradition of encouraging young writers.

Our neighborhood

I can’t get you much closer to our Paris apartment than this. Here’s the Google street view right outside. No we don’t own a motorcycle.

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What’s in a Name?

Brenda and I were having our French lesson, and I asked our tutor Anna for help creating a telephone answering message for our home phone. She suggested, “Vous êtes bien chez Brenda et Hugh. S’il vous plaît laissez votre message après the bip.” Knowing that in French the h is silent, I asked about how to pronounce my name.  Anna told me it would be pronounced [EWG], that in French my name is usually spelled Hugues, which would ensure that the G was a hard G rather than a J sound. She noted that Hugh after all is a French name that came from the Huguenots. I didn’t know that. Wikipedia says Hugh is a common English name, but if you look at the list in their article, the majority of people listed come from France. Who were the Huguenots?

The Huguenots were a Protestant religious group that sprang up in France in about 1530 after Martin Luther started the Protestant movement. They followed the teachings of the French theologian John Calvin of Geneva, Switzerland. They rejected the excesses and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the French Monarchy, which sponsored the Catholic Church as the state religion. There were many steps in the decline of the Huguenots, but suffice it to say they were in conflict with both the Catholic Church and the state. At first there were isolated incidents of attacks on communities. Later the opposition received the support of the King of France, Charles IX, who ordered the death of all the Protestants of France. Though there was a period of relative stability for the Huguenots in the late 1500s, this changed with the ascension of Louis XIII in 1610. His regent, Cardinal Richelieu, wanted to eliminate all the Huguenot communities. We’ve seen where Richelieu lived in the Marais, and the King then lived just down the road at a palace near the Louvre. History lives!

In the mid 1600s, Huguenot men and women were imprisoned, their children sent to be raised as Roman Catholic, and a period of forced religious conversion was begun. Many Huguenots were killed. The Protestant churches were destroyed. Of about 800 thousand Huguenots at the start of the period of oppression, approximately 550,000 of them recanted their faith (under pressure). About 250,000 left the country for Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and parts of Belgium. Others escaped to England, where they embarked for the West Indies and North America. The refugees were generally merchants, craftsmen, and weavers or skilled tradesman, including many well educated. Their flight was also France’s loss. The French King succeeded in ridding the country of the Huguenots, but the forces of unrest with the alliance between the King and the Catholic Church would continue, and within a hundred years both King and Church would fall in the French Revolution.

Though I’m not aware of having French blood, part of my family could have once lived as Huguenots in France and later escaped to elsewhere in Europe. Branches of my family, all Protestant, eventually came to America from England, Ireland, Germany, and Sweden. I’m hoping to do more with tracing the family roots in Europe while we are here.

Paris welcomes a new Pope

Wednesday night’s selection of the new Pope Francis was momentous here in Paris. At about 7 pm the single large bourden bell at Notre Dame started ringing with a low and unmistakable gong. We had heard it only once before, the night Pope Benedict stepped down. I turned on the TV and saw the white smoke at the Vatican. The church bells tell a lot.

We haven’t yet started to tour the most visited sites in Paris – haven’t been up in the Eiffel Tower, haven’t been inside the Louvre, the Musée de Orsay, or any of the other museums. We’ve been on a couple Paris walks and toured Notre Dame de Paris after stepping inside almost by accident one afternoon. The Catholic Churches are the thing we’ve seen most of in living here thus far. In addition to Notre Dame, we’ve been inside St Paul-St Louis (which was built by the Jesuits), St Gervais et St Protais, St Séverin, St Étienne du Mont, and the Abbey of St Germaine du Pres. All, not just Notre Dame, are spectacular Gothic works of art.

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France is predominantly a Catholic country (Wikipedia said between 51 and 88% – don’t know why such a large uncertainty). Nevertheless, its huge ancient gothic cathedrals were irreparably damaged during the French Revolution. King Louis XVI inherited a financial crisis as a result of years of war, including the French support of the American Revolution. In an effort to restore a bankrupt treasury, the Revolution of 1789 stripped the Churches of most of their valuables. Thus relics (such as remains of the saints) were discarded and their gold containers melted down, the bells were taken from church towers, etc, and over the ensuing centuries with the French government no longer supporting the church to maintain its enormous infrastructure, much has fallen into disrepair. For instance, only the stained glass in the east and west roses of Notre Dame is original. The stained glass replacements for much of the rest did not in any way duplicate the originals. Unlike Italy, the French cathedrals have an asterisk beside the feeling that they are ancient treasures. Still the faithful of the Church turn out to visit – thousands and thousands come to Notre Dame, rain or shine or snow. We saw a wedding couple posing in the snow and cold last weekend, just so they could have a photo with the cathedral as the backdrop.

Our guide at Notre Dame spent perhaps an hour and a half explaining in great detail the symbolism of the sculptures, art works, and carvings in the cathedral. She conveyed clearly the biblical significance of all that we saw, and how that message was conveyed through the ages to give meaning to life, and does even so today for the faithful. In addition to honoring the common symbols of Christianity, the art works and carvings document in a most personal way those individuals important to establishing the church in Paris. To me, our guide seemed to be telling us that the church had much to provide, but not as a service to the tourists but in service to the faithful. The Church is committed to finding more members who are committed to the Church. This was a young woman who sacrificed a lot to come from outside the city to give a tour in English to whomever may have stumbled into her fold that day. She represents a tiny portion of the energy of the Church, all over the world, that glides beneath the surface while much of what we see and hear focuses on more sensational problems, such as the criminal acts of a tiny minority whom the church leadership may have failed to ensure were brought to justice. Over the years, British author and former nun Karen Armstong has published work after work showing how religions have changed over the ages to adapt to changes in society, thus enabling them to remain relevant in the lives of their believers. Such may be happening now with the Catholic Church, and perhaps to other world religions.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. With more than 1.2 billion members, it constitutes about 20% of the earth’s population. What happens with the Catholics affects us all. Now the Church has selected a new Pope, clearly with the idea of pushing out in a new direction that emphasizes to the faithful the good that the church is doing in our world and the role of its membership in continuing that good. It will be interesting to see what impact that may have for Catholic France.


Snowing in Paris tonight

It’s snowing here tonight, and it’s beautiful. I took some photos of Notre Dame de Paris and of the streets near our apartment. There isn’t very much snow, but it also appears that Paris has no snow removal equipment. Police lights are flashing everywhere. It’s slick out there. On the other hand, the metro is running on time.

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The paperless way of life

In many ways we’ve tried to “go paperless” on our sojourn to France. We don’t have a printer but do have a scanner; we’ve learned how to sign documents and send them back without printing. We’re storing almost all of our bookkeeping information electronically. Still, as demonstrated in this video I received courtesy of my friend Terry Mahony, there are limits to what one can do.

Le papier ne sera jamais mort / Paper is not dead ! from INfluencia on Vimeo.