• scissors
    December 28th, 2010EuropasionariaBrussels, France, Life

    ©John Brody

    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: ,
  • scissors
    December 26th, 2010EuropasionariaFrance, Life

    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.


    © rc!

    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

    © Guinea Fowl Flock

    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

    © Monica Arellano-Ongpin

    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.

    Le dessert

    © romkey

    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

    © Petitlouis

    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…

    © Europasionaria

    Tags: ,
  • scissors
    December 24th, 2010EuropasionariaGirl Power

    Three pieces of advice from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to working women:

    1. Sit at the table
    2. Make your partner a real partner
    3. Don’t leave before you leave

    Thanks to @Elena2020 for sharing this inspirational TED talk on Twitter.

    Tags: , , , ,
  • scissors
    December 21st, 2010EuropasionariaGirl Power, Life

    Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate.
    Without them, what would shape our lives?
    Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn’t fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are.
    After all, seasons change.
    So do cities.
    People come into your life and people go.
    But it’s comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart.
    And if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.

    I’ve found this quote on the Facebook page of the series Sex and the City. I thought about it yesterday when I wrote the post about E-blogs, where I argued that failure is alright as it paves the way to future successes.

    Tags: ,
  • scissors
    December 21st, 2010EuropasionariaEuroblogosphere

    E-blogs Wikio

    Earlier this year I enthusiastically welcomed the launch of e-blogs by Wikio. The project was to translate into 5 languages blogposts from different European countries. “Great initiative”, I thought, especially since it was a private venture whereas projects of this type are usually funded with public money. But here we are, it didn’t work. E-blogs didn’t generate enough revenue and now it’s closing down.

    It’s sad but at least they gave it a try! So congratulations to the e-blogs team for their bold initiative!

    I recently read an interview of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. He said that real entrepreneurs fail – a lot actually- and that it was a necessity for their succeeding in the future. It reminds me of what Caroline De Cock aka Lino The Rhino said in an interview to Butterfly Europe, a quote I published here a couple of days ago: “The day my kids will have understood that failing is not a bad thing as long as you learn from it and try again, I just know they will be the next generation of innovators.”

    It’s simple. Those who fail have dared to try. If you never take a risk and try to do something, even though you might fail, then you will never succeed. So praise your failures, as that’s what your successes are made of!

    Tags: , , , , , ,
  • scissors
    December 19th, 2010EuropasionariaQuote of the week

    The day my kids will have understood that failing is not a bad thing as long as you learn from it and try again, I just know they will be the next generation of innovators.

    Found on the website of Butterfly Europe

    Tags: ,
  • scissors
    December 13th, 2010EuropasionariaEuroblogosphere

    This weekend I had the pleasure to be invited by the great folks of the office of the European Parliament in Spain to a roundtable on how to communicate Europe online along with about 50 bloggers, journalists, EU officials, and MEPs. I was asked to make a presentation on the topic of “How to communicate Europe through social media” on behalf of the Blogging Portal. My grandparents fled Spain in 1939 because of the civil war. So for the French woman of Spanish origin that I am, being invited in Cordoba to talk about Europe, which is above all a project of peace, was very symbolic and also quite emotional.

    Although I am following closely what’s happening in the French and English-speaking Euroblogospheres, I am not too aware of what’s going on in the Spanish one. This meeting was a true crash course. It’s always good to get out of the EU bubble. In Brussels we live and breathe Europe. Having regular meetings with national actors is not only beneficial but also essential. In the end, the Cordoba meeting was exactly the breath of fresh air I needed after 3 hard-working months. And I’m back to Brussels overwhelmed with ideas. Talking about them all would probably take about 10 posts. But here are my general impressions of the meeting.

    Spain is different

    You wouldn’t believe this. The meeting started with an “ola” performed by the 50 participants around the table. The “ola” is the human wave you see supporters do at football games. This reflected the general atmosphere of the gathering: friendly, laid-back, and above all, cooperative. I’ve previously written that I would like to see more public figures talk about Europe with passion. Not surprisingly I found passion in Spain this weekend. Cultural difference? Probably.

    Communicating Europe vs communicating between Europeans

    The main point I wanted to make during my presentation was that in today’s networked world, European institutions should stop trying to “communicate Europe”, as if Europe was a message to broadcast to the masses, and start interacting i.e. talking about Europe between Europeans. As Pau Solanilla from Europeando.eu pointed out: “Either we understand that hierarchy is not the organising principle anymore or we haven’t understood anything”. In social media, communication is personal. You will not be successful communicating online if you speak as an institution. Therefore, European institutions should give away a bit of control and allow its representatives to speak, not as institutions, but as people working in institutions. Bárbara Quílez, who is in charge of the European Parliament’s web page in Spanish, made a very subtle remark on this point: “We [European civil servants] can humanise Europe, not personalise it”. Indeed, it’s about giving Europe a face, not about being the face of Europe.

    In the end it’s all about relationships

    According to Pau Solannilla, networked communication is about content, channels, and relationships. The success of the meeting in Cordoba demonstrated something online activists know very well. Building relationships online leads to strong relationships offline. Although I have been interacting for months with all the Spanish Eurobloggers who attended the meeting, I had never met them in real life. My experience has showed me that online activities are always strengthened after bloggers meet in person. That’s why meetings such as the Cordoba one are essential.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.[1]

    On Saturday #PEredes, the hashtag used at our meeting in Cordoba managed to get into the Twitter trending topics in Spain, and talking about Europe at that! For Europe to be in the public debate, it just takes a full room of EU geeks and good wifi.

    At our meeting, Susana Del Río, a sociologist specialising in European communication said: “Debate between Europeans creates political creativity”. I couldn’t agree more, Europe is the future of politics. Nowadays throughout the Western world, democracy is in disarray: low election turnouts, falling numbers of party memberships, lack of trust in politicians… we are all politically disenchanted. In such a situation, speaking about politics between Europeans can lead to new solutions and regained interest in politics. The European Union is a UPO, an unidentified political object. It is up to us, European citizens, to shape it the way we would like it to be. As Francisco Luis Benítez put it: “Europe is worth it”.

    Eventually I would say that the initiative of Ignacio Samper’s team of the European Parliament’s office in Spain has led the way. We need similar meetings held in other European countries. I would like to see this happening in France, for example, where the blogosphere is one of the most dynamic in Europe. On top of it, I would like to see a general Euroblogger meeting organised in Brussels. European Parliament, do you read me?

    [1] Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

    Tags: , , , , , , ,