What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most romantic of cities than with the author and photographer Alison Harris, whose most recent book is Paris in Love, and her husband David Downie, author of the forthcoming A Passion for Paris and many other Paris books.
Paris in Love, by Alison Harris
The English-language service of France24 interviewed both of them recently for its Encore! program, whose topic this week is the most romantic spots in Paris (there are many). The program has been running frequently yesterday and today. Alison’s interview by host Eve Jackson starts at 2:55 and runs about four minutes.
Alison and David have been working together for years on books about France
A Passion for Paris, coming April 28
and Paris and food in Italy, where the spend part of the year. My favorite remains Paris, Paris, a series of deeply reported essays on varied aspects of Paris life, from the families who drive cargo barges up and down the Seine to David’s on experiment of spending an entire day in Luxembourg Gardens, just watching. It’s not a guidebook, and he didn’t intend it to be one, but all the same it’s my favorite guide to Paris. Diane Johnson, author of the celebrated Le Divorce, a National Book Award finalist, liked it so much she wrote the introduction. David talks about his books at his main site.
I got to know them well in 2012, when Alison spent a morning making the pictures that would become my author photo for Treasure of Saint-Lazare and the forthcoming Last Stop: Paris. Her flattering portraits of me paled next to the outstanding she’s done of subjects both famous and obscure. My favorite is the one of Sophia Loren, but there are many others to see on her web site, AlisonHarris.com
The other side of their enterprise is tours. They lead a series of very sophisticated tours of Paris that show a very deep knowledge of the city and its history. When my sister visited us in Paris a couple of years ago she invited us along on their tour. I’m not a tour person, but I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. You can find out more about the tours at their own site.
Count on The Economist to bring complicated issues into sharp focus with a single well-constructed graphic, such as the one it published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. (See it here on the Graphic Detail blog. ($)) But first, run your own thought experiment by answering these questions:
What percentage of the population of your country is Muslim?
Has the number of terrorism arrests in Europe risen or fallen over the last seven years? How about religiously motivated terrorism?
In which European country do the most citizens think Islam is not compatible with the West? (Think carefully about this one.)
Compare your answers to The Economist’s chart below. Prepare to be surprised. (H/t Barry Ritholtz, whose economics blog I follow avidly.)
Chart by The Economist 1/7/15
This does not by any means make light of the risk – if you look at the chart of terrorism arrests in Europe you’ll see that overall arrests have declined by a third since 2007. The article doesn’t say exactly why, but it’s reasonable to assume the diminished activity of the Basque separatist movement in recent years plays a large role.
However, arrests for “religiously motivated terrorism” are at a new high, and if I read the chart correctly all of the increase has been in France. Based on the determination shown by François Hollande, the President of the Republic, and Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, I’d say that number is likely to rise further this year.
Valls Before the Assembly
Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke to the National Assembly today, and it was memorable — but not the most memorable happening.
At the end of the ritual minute of silence for the dead, the entire assembly sang La Marseillaise, apparently spontaneously. A lone Deputy began and the entire body followed. La Marseillaise is one of the most stirring national anthems in the world, and to see and hear it done this was was astounding. (More impressive yet is that it was the first time this has happened since 1918, at the end of World War I.) If you’d like to watch it the same place I did, look at the 8pm newscast of France2. (It starts at 1:08 into the newscast. I recommend staying with it to see the memorial service for the three police officers who died victims of the same terrorists.) (For more about La Marseillaise, see its Wikipedia entry.)
The most concrete proposal Valls made was to segregate violent jihadists in the prisons, a project he promised would be well under way by the end of the year. The France2 correspondent in Washington indicated that the plan is to pattern it after the U.S. federal “super max” prison in Colorado.
I WRITE ABOUT PARIS, but this story is true there and absolutely every other place in Europe: You go to the restaurant, and all around you the locals are paying with plastic. They push their card into the small wireless machine the waiter brings to the table, key in a PIN, get their receipt, and leave. No signature required, and it’s fast.
A typical European restaurant card reader
You, on the other hand, have to wait while the waiter looks quizzically at the card for its chip (puce in French), then slides its magnetic strip through the slot on the side of the machine just like you do at home. Then you sign the receipt.
The chip, or puce
Which is more secure? If recent history is any indication, the European restaurant or shop is far more secure. The New York Times’s Bits section said today that British counterfeit and stolen card fraud has dropped 60 per cent over the last decade, while the same figures on the American side of the Atlantic have jumped about 50% in the same period. (The total is now about $160 million in Britain and $3.2 billion here, but that doesn’t mean much because the economies are of very different sizes.)
The European chip won’t prevent the bad guys from stealing your information in all cases, but if they do steal it they won’t be able to copy the card or use it elsewhere.
The new cards are coming in the United States. Businesses have resisted because of the cost, but card fraud has increased 30 per cent in recent years, so that by itself if a major incentive to upgrade. (Check Home Depot the next time you’re there — new machines, with the ability to handle the new cards. Did its major hack have anything to do with that?)
Another big incentive is that as of October next year the financial cost of card fraud will shift from the issuers to the merchants, if those merchants have not upgraded their equipment.
(By the way, there’s no fuss about a tip because it’s included in the price. The servers receive a salary. They will appreciate it if you leave a little spare change on the table in recognition of a good job, but it makes very little difference to their income, which is one of the reasons people frequently spend their entire careers working in restaurants.)
There’s a neat new feature in Apple’s MAPS app under iOS – Flyover. It’s available for several major cities, but of course I think the Paris one is the neatest.
Open Maps on the iPhone or iPad and search for Paris. Under the city name you’ll see a line saying “3D Flyover Tour of Paris.” Press “Start” to the right and enjoy. The screenshots I’ve posted below will give you an idea of what to expect.
I enjoyed watching as the (virtual) overhead camera took me from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Seine islands, the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s virtual reality with the emphasis on real, other than the missing throngs around the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the chaotic traffic bustling around Place Charles de Gaulle.
For five years, lovers in Paris have demonstrated their eternal fealty by attaching padlocks to the Pont des Arts, an elegant old footbridge that connects the Louvre Museum to the Institut de France across the Seine, then throwing the key in the river — 700,000 of them so far.
Over time, they’ve multiplied like rats and spread to other bridges and sites. And they pose a structural threat to the bridge. Here’s what a full section of the fence looks like (it weighs a thousand pounds, and 15 sections have failed completely or had to be removed because of damage):
Photo by John Pearce
Don’t lean on it the next time you visit.
There’s been a publicity campaign against them, and in recent months the City of Paris has had to cover some of the panels with plywood to keep more from being added. The plywood, of course, has become the substitute for the locks — visiting lovers now autograph it and, Paris being Paris, the more assertive graffiti artists also visit. As a result, the bridge is much less welcoming to lovers or padlock vendors.
Here’s the view this afternoon. The crowd in the background is around the remaining locks.
Photo by John Pearce
The City of Paris announced on its web site a couple of days ago that it’s testing glass panels to replace the fencing that’s been there for years (and which provided somewhere to attach the locks). French architects do great things with glass, but this will be a challenge.
Adrian Leeds came to Paris twenty years ago with a husband and a baby and a plan to stay one year. The baby is now a grown daughter, the husband is no longer in the picture, and she’s become the undisputed queen of the American real estate market here. And a permanent resident.
She may be best known outside Paris as the main character in 19 of the popular “House Hunters International” TV shows on HGTV. (If you’ve missed it, the popular show follow buyers or renters as they kick the tires of three properties before choosing one. The French shows are set mainly in Paris and run the gamut from multi-million-euro pads with view of the Eiffel Tower to student housing that’s considerably less grand.)
Her business empire, now operating under the name Adrian Leeds Group, finds properties, handles rentals and promotes fractional ownership.
Her main vehicle for contacting customers and prospective customers is the written word. She publishes three newsletters – the original, Parler Paris; a more technical one called French Property Insider; and her newest, begun when she bought an apartment in Nice, Parler Nice.
She lives and works in a very trim and very white apartment in the “haut Marais,” on the Right Bank between the Archives Nationales and Place de la République. We had lunch at the busy Café Charlot, one of her favorite lunch places, then walked around the corner to the old-fashioned carriage entrance that leads to her building on a quiet courtyard. It’s a popular neighborhood for Americans, and you’re likely to hear as much English as French around the café.
Café Charlot, a busy bistro in the Marais
Everyone who’s watched her House Hunters International shows has seen the apartment, because a part of every episode is filmed there. The living room is dominated by her long desk under the windows, where she keeps two desktop computers and parks her ever-present Macbook Pro (plus, the day I was there, a copy of my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare).
The opposite wall is all books, and at the end there is a striking 1988 composition by the photographic artist Barbara Kasten. You’ll see it in the background of the video.
One of my favorite Paris blogs — no, make that My Favorite Paris blog — is the scrupulously researched and written Parisian Fields. It first caught my attention with its header picture of the outstanding bronze sculpture in the Tuileries Gardens, “L’Arbre des voyelles,” or the Tree of vowels, a 1999 sculpture by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone depicting an uprooted tree lying in the forest. You are very likely to take it for a real tree if you don’t look carefully.
“L’arbre de voyelles” — the tree of vowels — in the Tuileries Gardens
The most recent entry is one I’ve been thinking about doing — the wonderful variety of shutters on Paris buildings. I’ll shelve that idea now, because Parisian Fields has done it in a way that would be hard to match. Take a look:
Parisian Fields is written and photographed by Philippa Campsie and Norman Ball, two Canadians who spend much time in Paris on much the same terms Jan and I do. We/they ride the bus, ride the métro, look for budget deals, and try to mix as much as possible with the Parisians. I don’t know about them, but I consider it a successful day when only one Parisian has responded to my French in English. It happens.
Philippa and Norman
Here’s their bio page:
Take a look, and follow their blog. It’s worth the effort. They don’t post often, but when they do it’s worth reading.
Riders of the busy Paris métro Line 4, which runs north and south through the entire city, will recognize this unusual station at the old abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which traces its history back to Childebert I (ruled 511–558). It’s in the 6th arrondissement, which is pretty much the center of tourist life.
Métro Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Photo from Clicsouris, Wikipedia. Click for credit.
Unlike most métro stations, it is virtually free of advertising posters. Its pristine white-tile walls are decorated with light, and exhibit cases line the walls along both sides.
Last week one of the exhibits featured illustrated letters from famous artists. They are difficult to photograph because of the curved glass of the exhibit cases, but I was able to make acceptable pictures of letters from the painters Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns (click the links to see their Wikipedia pages, in English).
It started as a charming tourist phenomenon – Lovers, mostly tourists, engrave their name on a padlock and attach it to the fence along each side of the Pont des Arts, the old footbridge connecting the Institut de France and the Louvre, then throw the key into the Seine below. What could be more romantic?
Will they or won’t they? A couple surveys the locks, with the Louvre in the background
There is not yet a law against it. But the law that governs anything and everything — the Law of Unintended Consequences — is enforcing itself with a vengeance. There are so many locks on the bridge railings that some have collapsed. The market has attracted lock vendors, themselves a form of pollution, and the crowds are dense. And engraved names are a thing of the past. Now, think Sharpie. And there are so many locks you can no longer see through the fencing, or find places for new ones. So creative lovers have started expanding the lock frontier. The other day I found several of them on a trash can.
No room on the railing? Lock up the poubelle
The city is doing its best to discourage new locks. Most recently, it has covered several parts of the railing with plywood and encouraged lovers to sign and take a selfie, or maybe just take a selfie.
Seventy years ago, after a bloody week-long insurrection by the French Resistance and a nail-biting wait for General Eisenhower to decide to support the recapture of Paris, allied troops flowed into the city as German troops left.
Aug. 26, 1944, the day after the German surrender, Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division parades down the Champs-Elysées to the acclaim of thousands (U.S. Office of War Information photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The story was told memorably in the 1965 book by Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins, “Is Paris Burning?” It detailed the day-to-day struggle that began when the Resistance forced action by breaking a truce, which had been negotiated by Degaulle’s emissary and the Swedish consul, and launched a five-day battle for the city with the battle cry, “A chacun son boche,” or “To each his own kraut.” It is prominently featured in the newspapers of the day, which are available in many of the museums.
The greatest and most serious drama, of course, was the battle for the mind of General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, whom Hitler had ordered to destroy Paris before he withdrew. According to von Choltitz, Hitler’s question to him on the telephone as the end drew near was, “Brennt Paris?” He used the phrase in his own book a few years after the war and Lapierre and Collins adopted its translation for their book and the movie that followed (which was shown on French television last week, dubbed. It was still riveting.)
The film represented von Choltitz as rather more benign than he was in life. In fact, he was a tough, dedicated Nazi who ordered the deaths of many French men and women as late as a few days before he surrendered the city.
Paris is awash in museums. One of my favorites honors General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd French Armored Division, whose audacity had much to do with persuading Eisenhower to support the attack on Paris. You’ll find it atop the Montparnasse Railway Station in the 14th Arrondissement. (An adjacent museum honors Jean Moulin, a hero of the Resistance killed by the Nazis. His name appears on streets all over France.)
Place Denfert-Rochereau renamed Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (click for map)
There were two wars going on at the same time — the war of the Resistance against the Nazis, and the war of the Resistance against Degaulle. France could be an entirely different place today if Degaulle had not prevailed, because the core of the Resistance was communist. The Parisian leader, Henri Tanguy (who assumed the nom de guerre “Rol,” and is now known as Colonel Rol-Tanguy, was a lifelong communist, as was his wife, who is still living. (He took the name Rol from a comrade who fell in the Spanish Civil War, where he fought.) Just recently, the square at Denfert-Rochereau, where he set up his command post in an air-raid bunker built for the city’s waterworks staff, was renamed in his honor.
It was Degaulle’s quick action and personal bravery that headed off the risk that France would be forced into an American military government.
The city plans a huge celebration Monday, the 70th anniversary of the day the Germans surrendered. The entire city is invited to a gala on the huge plaza in front of the city hall, where dignitaries’ speeches (President François Holland and Mayor Ann Hidalgo, among others) will be followed by a bal populaire, a festive outdoor dance of the sort the city normally only sees on its main national holiday, Bastille Day, which commemorates the start of the French Revolution. It’s much like the American July 4.
Clip from Paris.fr
The City of Paris web site has a fascinating collection of documents illustrating daily life under the occupation. (If it opens in French, click the “English” icon on the right.)
This map, showing the routes the various Allied invasion forces took into Paris on Aug. 24-25, appeared in Le Monde (no link).
Wikipedia has interesting articles about many of the events and people involved in the Liberation: