Last year on May 9, I wrote about the origins of my passion for Europe. I originated it in the story of my family, partly through that of my grandfather -born during World War I- who fought during World War II. In his last speech to the European Parliament in 1995, François Mitterrand said: “A twist of fate had me born during World War I and fight for World War II.”
A twist of fate had it that today is Europe Day and tomorrow the thirtieth anniversary of François Mitterrand‘s election to the Presidency of the French Republic. This man has always reminded me of my grandfather. Although there was little physical resemblance, they shared a certain intellectual elegance. They both were educated men, close to the rural roots of France, and both witnessed the worst atrocities.
A twist of fate had me born during the first European elections by universal suffrage. Two years later, François Mitterrand became “le Président”. He was still President when I was 15. I grew up with him. So much that it was unconceivable for me that another man could be President. Today I’m more interested in European politics than French politics. Still there’s something I’m missing on both scenes. National discourses and European discourses alike lack vision. Where are the charismatic figures à la Mitterrand? Where are the visionaries able to rouse the masses enthusiasm? Who is able today to shift mindsets with a mere speech?
A twist of fate also had the last WWI veteran die a few days ago. The rejection of war, the quest for peace built the European integration. My generation hasn’t lived during wartime. Reminding that we owe the longest period of peace our continent has known to the European construction is not enough to rouse young adults’ enthusiasm for the European project. We need a new vision and visionaries to lift and carry it along. What will be the European project of the 21st century? Blog out!
I was born and raised in Paris. I speak Paris slang called “verlan”, which consists of putting word syllables upside down. I have a Parisian accent. I swear and grumble a lot. I am an intellectual; I can talk about politics and films all night long. I could find my way in the underground blindfolded. Yet I have trouble doing so outside. I am a feminine feminist. I’ve never really gotten rid of my bad smoking habit. In short, I am a true Parisian, genuine produce of the city of lights.
As any Parisian, I have a love and hate relationship with my city. I left when I was 22 because I couldn’t take it anymore. Paris was too much for me. Now every time I come back I feel like a tourist in my own city. The beauty of it amazes me.
I live in Brussels in the expat community. When you meet someone there, the first question you are asked is always: “Where do you come from?” I used to respond: “from France.” But as this answer is always followed by “Where in France?” now I’m taking a short cut and respond directly to the first question: “From Paris.” The mention of Paris always has the same effect on the person I’m talking to. Shiny stars appear in their eyes and they ask me filled with wonder: “Don’t you miss it? Paris is such a great city!” With a typical “been there, done that” Parisian look on my face I usually say: “No. Actually I’m not really fond of Paris”. And each time, it makes me feel as if I was telling a child that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
But I’ve evolved over the years. There are things I love about Paris and things I dislike. So I thought I would make a list.
Things I love about Paris:
- Shops that open late
- Butcher’s shops, bakeries and cheese sellers at every street corner
- The old Parisians known as “titis parisiens”
- The markets you find every 5 minute-walk
- Food is a religion
- Asian restaurants that are both good and cheap
- Waiters. I know they have a bad reputation. But they don’t behave the same with tourists as they do with Parisians. Being a waiter in Paris is more than a job; it’s a career. Their professionalism always astounds me. Besides they always make funny jokes. I love them.
- Parisian waiters calling me Mademoiselle
- Politico-philosophical discussions until the end of the night
- The city’s harmony, the beauty of its architecture, illuminations
- Cultural diversity
- Department stores’ windows at Christmas time (see video below)
- Public bikes
- The Eiffel tower by day
- The Eiffel tower by night
Things I dislike about Paris:
- The snobbery of some Parisians who think Paris is the best city in the world although they have never lived in another city
- How very French every conversation is, the ignorance of anything that takes place outside of Paris, be it in the rest of France or in the rest of the world
- Sky-high housing costs
- The underground. I don’t know why but it seems it’s always pick hour in the Parisian underground.
- Hours lost commuting
- Cars and their constant traffic
- The underlying violence in the air. As soon as I get out of the Thalys at Gare du Nord I can feel it. It’s ineffable. Something is in the air. People are frustrated and unhappy. As a woman I don’t feel safe walking around on my own at night in Paris.
- Going out is expensive. I remember a night out in a trendy club a few years ago. Entrance was 12 Euros. Nothing outrageous. Then I ordered two bottles of Heineken: 14 Euros. Ouch. In these conditions, what do young Parisians do to have fun? They throw dinners and parties in their own apartments. As a result, they only meet people like them and Parisians function in tribes.
- The noise, the shops at every building, the crowd, the lights everywhere. Too much of it all.
But I like Paris. I even like the Parisians. Yet sometimes I dislike Paris… and especially the Parisians. A friend sent me a test on Facebook: “Test your relationship with Paris. Paris and you, where do you stand? According to the test, it’s perfect love between Paris and me. Who would have thought?
Here’s a piece of Paris wonders, the animated Christmas windows of the most emblematic Parisian department stores:Tags: Brussels
What’s that like? Well, it’s pretty much about eating as many delicacies as you can, which on second thought is probably Christmas purpose in any country. We started our Christmas lunch at around 3 pm (my father’s Spanish influence) and ended at 6 pm. Three hours – eight dishes.
It could have been worse. We skipped the apéritif, this social moment that takes place before the meal and is real cult in France. We usually have one or two drinks and lots of snacks. Needless to say, kids are already stuffed by then and adults are… well, slightly intoxicated already. But that’s just the beginning of the gourmet marathon.
Traditional French Christmas starters include sea food platters –oysters, shrimps, crabs and all kinds of seashells, smoked salmon on buttered toasts, and of course foie gras! We couldn’t set our mind on one starter only so we decided not to choose and in the end we had four: shrimps with some garlic mayonnaise from the South called aïoli, smoked salmon with toasts spread with butter, foie gras with toasted brioche bread, and… snails, cooked in the oven in their shells filled with butter, garlic and parsley.
Le plat principal
Then comes the main dish.
Turkey is not very traditional in France for Christmas. We usually prefer more rustic birds such as goose, guinea fowl or capon, a castrated rooster that gets very fat.
Gourmet as we are, we opted for a capon guinea fowl served with chestnuts, cooked in the beast’s juice with wild mushrooms known as chanterelle.
Fromage et salade
A real French meal never comes without a tray of various stinky cheeses. We had Sainte-Maure, very savoury goat cheese from Touraine, my mother’s region –actually my grandmother used to do it herself back in the day- creamy Reblochon from Savoie, and Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne. Originally there should have been my all times favourite the Morbier but the fromager forgot to put it in my bag (I didn’t pay for it though).
These wonderful cheeses were of course served with a simple green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. That’s supposed to help you digest all you’ve ingested so far, and allow you to make room for the dessert.
Traditionally a French Christmas meal ends with a log-shaped cake called bûche, which is French for “log”. It’s a spongy cake with butter cream. It’s heavy and no one likes it but we still keep on having it at Christmas.
But it’s true it looks pretty and very Christmassy.
In my family we prefer to have a log-shaped ice cream, much lighter at the end of such a heavy meal. Of course the dessert is served with Champagne.
Café et digestifs
Coffee is served.
That’s also a last opportunity to eat more for the bravest.
There are usually chocolates, marrons glacés – chestnuts cooked in sugar – and fruits confits – fruits cooked in sugar – circulating around. Cognac and Armagnac are offered “to help you digest”.
Of course each meal has already been served with a different wine.
This is what our Christmas tree looked like this year. In case you wonder, the paintings are my grandfather’s. And the golden star at the top of the tree? Yes I made it myself when I was a kid…Tags: Christmas, Food
I’m a mosquito magnet. As a child, while I was spending holidays in Camargue, in the South East of France, I once counted the mosquito bites on my body. I had 56 of them. Yes, 56… and in spite of my extensive use of all kinds of anti-mosquito products. This summer on the French Riviera, I got devoured as usual. But this time, I discovered a far worse nuisance.
I had been dreaming for months of putting on my bathing suit, diving mask and snorkel and going to observe the magnificent fish of the azure-blue water. First day, first beach, first swim. One breast stroke, two breast strokes, and then Ouch! Electrical choc on my arm, a nasty little jellyfish had bitten me. The jellyfish is a tiny defenceless looking creature, almost transparent, that likes to squat the warm waters of sea shores… I later learned.
The burn is not very painful but the problem is what comes later on. Itching that keeps you awake at night and a persisting burn mark two weeks later. A burn mark that’s probably going to stay on my skin for a much longer time.
Advice if one day you get stroke by this sea scum:
- First, don’t listen to the lifeguard’s advice. He knows nothing about it, I later found out.
- Scrape off the wound with a plastic card in order to remove the invisible particles of jellyfish that are still stuck on your skin.
- Rinse off your skin with sea water, no soft water.
- Against the itching that starts a week later, apply lavender essential oil every 5 minutes until the itching calms down. Twice or three times a day after that.
A few days later, as I was scanning my whole submarine environment through my mask before every breast stroke, I got electroshocked again. Right on my forehead. It was the only place where I didn’t have visibility. Fortunately, this burn is not visible anymore. It seems I had just head-butted the nasty little creature without touching its tentacles. Damn it.Tags: Holiday, Jellyfish, Mosquitos
Thanks to the European blog search engine Wikio, there is now no need anymore to speak 5 languages to discover the best European blogs. Each day on e-blogs, blogposts from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are selected and translated into 5 languages. What a fantastic initiative! Bravo Wikio!
As far as translation is concerned, there is a novelty on this blog too. As a matter of principle, this blog is already bilingual. Almost all articles are available in English here and in French there. I took that decision right from the beginning in order to present a French view on European affairs to English speakers on one hand, and to build bridges between the Euroblogosphere and the French blogosphere on the other hand. However the fact that Spanish Eurobloggers such as Encarna of Más Europa, Emilio of europe@s and Jorge Juan of Cuidadano Morante have recently started to comment in Spanish on this blog pushed me to do more for multilinguism. This is why below the language button you can now see a Google translate button for all the people who are not comfortable with either English or French. This button can also be used to translate comments you don’t understand the language of, and even to reply in a language you can’t speak! Amazing, isn’t it?Tags: Bloggers, Google, Spain, Translation, Wikio