Franco-Files

bzodonnell:

ENGLISH | SPANISH

Recently, a friend asked me why I support gay marriage. I gave a pretty standard and completely true answer (“I do not think anyone should be denied the right to marry someone they love due to their sexual orientation”). While this reason is true, it does not do justice to…

Le bois de boulogne: a review.

When they say Paris has everything, they mean it.

When most people think of Paris, they think of it’s monuments, its museums, it’s restaurants, maybe even it’s apartment buildings. Not of its forests. Around it’s periphery, Paris has two forests, and I happen to live by one of them, the Bois de Boulogne. I went there today and spent a good amount of time wondering around, seeing what it had to offer. Turns out, a lot.

The Bois de Boulogne, which is 2.5 times the size of Central Park, has 2 “lakes” (I’d call them large ponds) plus lots of trails for running, biking, picnicking, etc. (I even saw a few people riding horses there today. Wonder where they keep their horses the rest of the time…) It’s very pretty, especially on a nice day, and it is kind of surreal to feel like you’ve escaped a city without ever leaving it.

It’s not exactly the dense woods that you’d find outside of a city; it’s nearly impossible to jog for 10 minutes without catching a peek of cars driving by. Still, it’s a very pleasant place to visit, with lots of winding trails and open, grassy areas. In true Paris style, there’s even a café tucked away by one of the lakes.

Qu’est-ce que voter à gauche? C’est se dire, en dépit de l’individualisme des sociétés contemporaines, qu’un “nous” exist. Que des idées comme la justice, l’égalité, le partage et la solidarité peuvent et doivent organiser la vie publique.
Translation: What does it mean to vote for the left? It means declaring, in despite of the individualism of contemporary societies, that a “we” exists. That things like justice, equality, sharing and solidarity can and should organize public life.
Nicolas Demorand, Libération newspaper, 7 May 2012.
Photo taken at the Musée d’Art Moderne (which by the way is an awesome museum!)

Photo taken at the Musée d’Art Moderne (which by the way is an awesome museum!)

After finding out about François Hollande, socialist candidate for president’s win, my friend Amy and I went to Place de la Bastille, the traditional hot-spot for the left. What we encountered was madness. Warning: video not for the claustrophobic.

What happens when you bring anti-socialists to a hipster bar…

For my birthday, my host parents wanted to go with me out to a bar of my choosing. They instructed me to choose a bar that I genuinely like, not one I thought they would like.

My first reaction: Panic. When I go to bars with friends, they’re usually packed places with loud music and are filled with people around my age. I just imagined myself awkwardly standing in the corner of some ultra-hip bar where my host parents were the only ones over the age of 25, yelling over the electronic music. In an effort to avoid that discomfort, I thought hard and remembered a bar that I had been to with some friends a while back that wasn’t too crowded and wasn’t entirely 20-somes, but one with a great vibe that I remembered liking a lot. Nervously, I gave the address to my host parents, who plugged it into their GPS, and we were off.

On the drive there, my conservative, well-off host parents ranted the entire time about “the sort of people” who like Hollande, the socialist candidate for president of France. (It’s been a hot-button topic lately because the secondary elections are today.) When we got to the bar, I could not help but chuckle when we were surrounded by that very “sort of people”. Hipsters, or as the French would say, des bobos. My host parents kindly kept the hopeful smiles on their faces as we bellied up to the bar.

Most people at the bar were young, around my age, but there was one couple just next to us, very clearly hipsters, that looked to be in the forties like my host parents. The conversation started with my host father asking if they were socialists…but after that they all seemed to really hit it off. My host mother talked to the woman, my host father to the man, and they all found a good deal of common interests. At the end of the night, everyone exchanged business cards and agreed it was an enjoyable evening. My host mother summarized her interaction by saying, “They were socialists, but they were very nice.”

What most struck me about Berlin is that unlike most of the cities I’ve visited, the history is so recent. Most of the architecture is very modern compared to Paris for instance, because most of the old buildings were destroyed during WWII. And most people in the city today were there when the wall fell in ‘89. It isn’t just an event in history books like the storming of Bastille; it’s living, evolving history.

The most helpful word in all of Europe.

Ciao (Italian for hi/bye). They use it in every country I’ve visited.

Walk into a store. “Ciao!” Meet a friend. “Ciao.” Leave a café. “Ciao ciao!”

One word for an entire continent of all different languages. Makes life simple.

I love Italians.

I’ve been in Italy for about a week now and I’ve been so struck by how friendly the Italians have been. They’re incredibly generous, and not just when you’re paying them. Here are just a few instances my mother and I experienced:

-On a commuter rail trail from Naples to Sorrento, my mom asked a group of teenage boys for directions. They gave them to her as best as they could with what limited English they spoke. Then they help the both of us with our luggage and chatted with us for about half an hour on the train, doing everything they could to understand us and answer all of our questions. When their English didn’t quite cut it, a middle-aged guy standing nearby who spoke great English translated for them.

-When my mom and I were shopping in Sorrento, it started pouring buckets. We ran inside a bar, and ordered soup. My mother mentioned to the waiter that she was cold from the rain. He went to a closet, took out his own jacket, and lent it to her.

-Besides calling cabs, helping us with our luggage, researching train times, and just being an all-around great guy, the man who worked the desk at the hotel in Sorrento helped us book a DIFFERENT hotel in Naples, knowing we were leaving our reservation at his hotel a night early to go there.

-At a restaurant in Sorrento, my mother and I were served a delicious meal that came with pepper oil to pour on top. The oil was so great and it was clearly made at the restaurant. My mother casually asked if they sold it. The waiter said not usually. About five minutes later, the manager of the restaurant came to our table with a full bottle and gave it to us, refusing to accept payment.

-This morning at a market, I went up to a produce stand to buy an orange. It was advertised as costing 1,20 Euro per orange. I handed the vendor 2 Euros and asked for one orange. He smiled and said, “just one?” (in Italian.) He handed me back 1 of the Euros, plus 80 cents, and he handed another orange to my mother, refusing more payment.

And these are really just a few examples. Any time we’ve asked locals for directions or anything, they’ve been so warm and friendly. The one time this kindness worked against us was when we were at a café in Naples. We only ordered drinks because we had just eaten an entire (delicious) pizza, but the waiter came over with a full plate of complementary appetizers, PLUS a plate of pasta salad, all on the house. He looked so happy to be able to surprise us with them, and neither my mother nor I knows nearly enough Italian to explain that we simply could not eat a bite. We didn’t want to rudely leave the food on the table, so finally, I went across the street, bought a bottle of wine, put it in my backpack, and subtly put the food in the plastic bag the wine came in. We left with the bag.

Spending all this time in Italy is making me realize how much less friendly many French people are in comparison. Then again, I can’t say most Americans come close to this level of friendliness either.

BARCELONA!

The city is absolutely stunning, especially the Park Guell, where you can see lots of Gaudí architecture and get the most amazing view of the city. Barcelona is very lively, and the locals seem to know how to have a good time. Such a fun weekend, and one I will definitely remember. :)

L’étrangère

Trébucher. Word of the day. Ne me trébuche pas, s’il te plait.

Car la vie à Paris isn’t what I thought it would be.

Impossible d’ouvrir ma bouche sans dévoiler, sans éclater

Au grand jour, ouais, c’est vrai, maintenant tu sais,

Même quand je dis que c’est chez moi, Paris,

You know as well as me,

J’ne suis pas d’ici.

Mais si seulement tu savais aussi,

J’aime pas Mitt Romney, je déteste sa politique,

I’m not just les Etats-Unis,

Not the pays you know. Avec ses grands entreprises,

Ses super stars riches.

Ses MacDos. Son Coca. That stuff’s not me.

Je suis fière, je dirai en plein air,

De ma famille, mes amis, même de ma ville,

Mais pas de mon pays.

Il a fait du bien, c’est incontestable.

Mais c’est sa greed, l’exportation honorable,

Qui me rend honteuse et confuse comme un corbeau

That makes me want to vomir my MacDos.

Donc, s’il te plait, be kind to me.

Parle lentement, please.

Don’t make me say, Répétez ?

Ne parle pas à moi en anglais,

Comme si tu me rendais service, okay ?

Comme si je portais un panneau,

« L’Américaine » en orange et rose. Si je pouvais, je parlerais

Perfect français.

Mais j’ne peux pas. Not today anyway.

Donc sois gentil ! Essaye de remarquer pas mon accent, pas mes fautes petits,

Pas ce que je représente. Cherche qui je suis. Find the real me.

 

Parfois, on cherche le bonheur comme on cherche ses lunettes quand on les a sur le nez.

Translation: Sometimes, we search for happiness like we search for the glasses on our nose.

André Maurois
Picnic next to the Eiffel Tower. Nothing beats springtime in Paris.

Picnic next to the Eiffel Tower. Nothing beats springtime in Paris.

Elections in France

The primary presidential election in France is just 2 weeks and change away. As an American in France, I’m often made to listen to French people boast about how “égal” (equal) their democracy is compared to that of the United States. And it’s hard to argue once you hear the facts. In order to get your name on the ballot (in the entire nation) in France, you need to get signatures from 500 mayors of any cities or towns, which is easier for some candidates than others.

But every candidate that successfully attains all 500 signatures theoretically has every advantage that the others have.

Whereas in the United States, richer candidates have a clear advantage, in France having big bucks isn’t necessary. All candidates that raise the 500 signatures are given the same amount of money (a modest amount compared to American candidates) by the state.That’s right, no Super PACs.

Even though typically, the slight-left and slight-right candidates are the ones that reach the secondary election (although not always!), France is by no means a two-party nation. In this election, for instance, there are 10 candidates on the ballot whose views range from straight-up communist to straight-up proto-nationalist, and each candidate is given the exact same amount of press coverage on the news, the radio and in the papers. It’s a law.

And unlike in the United States, where many people consider it a waste of a vote to select anyone other than a candidate who can win, in France there’s a real motivation to vote for the little guy. On the left, for example, the victor in the primary must adopt some of the ideas of any other left-wing candidates who earned a significant portion of the votes. By voting for the candidate you truly want, you’re not just sending a message; you could actually help move forward that candidate’s agenda even if he or she is unelectable.

But perhaps my favorite law concerning elections in France is the one forbidding candidates from running political ads on television. Because of it, there’s a lot more old-school fliers and pamphlets around Paris, which I personally would take any day over the nasty ads that are all over t.v. come election time in the U.S.

The French are obedient.

Left: “Please keep off the grass.”

Right: Meanwhile, not 10 feet away…