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Bonjour from deep in the heart of Paris
September 2005 - La rentrée begins…

Sunset on the Seine
ON BOTH HOMEFRONTS: Our thoughts are with the people devastated and displaced in Louisiana and Mississippi by Hurricane Katrina. A formal fundraising campaign has been launched in Paris, and signs are up on storefronts asking for financial contributions. The continuing stories out of New Orleans and all of the affected areas are almost unbelievable. I remember my days as public service and information director for Pinellas County (FL) government and our hurricane and tropical storm scares and evacuations. Just weeks after Hurricane Andrew, tornadoes destroyed complete neighborhoods in Pinellas County. Ronnie Goodstein, emergency communications publication information Officer at the time, and I flew on a Sheriff’s department helicopter to scan devastated mobile home parks, then the next day walked destroyed neighborhoods with then Gov. Lawton Chiles and scores of news media. It’s surreal to see people sitting on the wreckage of their ruined homes, all of their possessions lost, and then drive a few miles to a safe home, clean shower and plenty of water to drink.
Now Hurricane Katrina, and Ophelia and Rita - approaching as I write this, have offered Pinellas and other local, state, and federal government agencies an in-the-face wakeup call.

CNN International keeps us informed here in Paris, a cable link back to the U.S. Longtime Paris-resident Adrian Leeds of Parler Paris, www.parlerparis.com, hails from New Orleans. She reports that American and French friends across Paris called and e-mailed their concerns about her family members. Adrian writes on her site that her family members did evacuate and are safe. She received word that their restaurant, Tujaque’s, the second oldest in the city located on Decatur Street near Jackson Square, is intact without flooding and they plan to reopen. A friend from Womenspirit retreats in Highlands, N.C., Alice Abel Kemp—university professor, great writer, steel magnolia—rode out the storm on the second level of her French Quarter home with her family and pets.

Meanwhile, Paris deals with its own issues. Friends in the U.S. have e-mailed me to ask if we live near the several tragic fires that have recently taken lives in Paris, women, men and many of them children—the majority poor immigrants from Africa. Paris is a big city, so while we don’t live close, we have heard sirens through the night, and we see horrific pictures on television. Thousands marched early this month in Paris to demand government accountability and answers to this fire hazard situation.

France did not experience serious heat waves this summer, unlike the scorching heat that lead to thousands of deaths in Paris and across the region in 2003. All levels of government took international heat during that crisis.

SO LIFE’S A BEACH: Paris Plage came to life July 21 through August 21. The city closed streets bordering the Seine and covered the riverbank with tons of white sand, real palm trees, beach chairs, hammocks and beach bars serving Brazilian drinks. Paris celebrates a Brazilian theme this year. There was a giant swimming pool for water aerobics and pool fun for the kids. A favorite of many were nightly drumming circles where professionals and locals drummed and drummed and drummed. While scorching hot days were few this summer, Paris Plage attracted thousands and thousands of locals and tourists. We walked over many times to enjoy the music, views and picnickers along the Seine.

Tour de France, Lance in the lead peloton
MORE SUMMER MEMORIES: We were there when Lance Armstrong made his triumphant entrance into Paris on July 24. Jim and I stood and waited for 6 hours, sometimes in drizzling rain, surrounded by American and Texas flags, for Lance and the rest of the Tour de France pack (called a peloton) to enter the city. The huge, international crowds roared as Lance, surrounded by his Discovery Channel teammates, rode up through a tunnel on the Rue Rivoli, and then they rode the Paris circuit, around the Louvre and Concorde, for 8 more loops. We enjoyed Tour de France Sunday with some people we met that day from England. They took the Eurostar Chunnel over the night before for the event and we watched from the same viewing spot. Now, Lance has faced performance drug questions again from a French sports newspaper (remember most of the French cheered him across the tour route and in Paris) and he continues to say drug abuse isn’t so. And in the latest installment to this paybacks can be hell saga, Lance said he was considering a comeback out of retirement, but now he says he’s not. Whatever, we look forward already to next year’s Tour de France and another six-hour wait for our first exciting view of the leaders of the peloton.

Harry Potter night in July found us searching for “The Half-Blood Prince,” muggles and wizards at Brentano’s and W.H. Smith (both English-French) bookstores in Paris. There were big crowds and a to-live-for dessert buffet--lots of chocolate-- at Brentano’s brought in by employees and customers. Rules enforced by health department police in the U.S. that require any food to be served to the public has to be prepared commercially or in government-inspected kitchens (have you seen the cooking facilities of some of these places??) apparently haven’t made it across the pond to these Paris’ establishments. However, Paris police and military personnel were outside at the Brentano’s event, decked out in combat gear and carrying nasty looking assault weapons. The Harry Potter launch was a few days after the London bombings so I guess somebody saw the “Half-Blood Prince” event as a high-profile happening. Except for the celebrants, the evening was quiet and the smiling security forces zoomed off before the book went on sale.

Next we took a midnight ride on the giant Ferris wheel in the Jardin des Tuileries next to the Louvre, oohing and ahhing as we saw all of Paris sparkling at night. International life is sooooo good!

Lunch at our favorite Florence osteria
Florence..a Tea With Mussolini scene
LA DOLCE VITA: The French celebrate Bon Vacance every summer and we did too. We took a Rick Steves: Best of Venice, Florence & Rome trip from July 29 to August 7, spending three days in each city. Venice lived up to its magical status with gondolas, little canals, no cars or buses, St. Mark’s Square, Harry’s Bar, great Venetian food. Then it was on to Florence with Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery-home to Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (my personal trip favorite). The finale took place in Rome where we toured the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, the Catacombs, and splashed, tossed coins and kissed at the Trivi Fountain. Needless to say we overdosed on Italian food. Beware, pasta in all of its ravioli, butternut squash, fresh tomato forms was the best we have ever tasted, and it’s served as the first course in a huge meal. Our favorite restaurant was the tiny La Congrega in Florence, an off-the beaten track local osteria.

Our interesting tour mates came from all over the U.S. Colleen Schaffer, our main guide, is a Rick Steves veteran and expert. She was assisted by Karin Kirby who lives in Sienna and speaks fluent Italian. Visit www.ricksteves.com for news on all the trips and comments on our specific tour.

NOW…la rentrée BEGINS:
La rentree, which officially began Sept. 1, is the time of year following bon vacances when academic, political, social and commercial activity begins again in earnest. That definition comes courtesy of Larousse Grand Dictionnaire via Barbara Arkedis, coffee coordinator for the American Women’s Group in Paris, www.awgparis.org. Children are riding scooters to school on the sidewalks again and flower shops, boulangeries, and popular restaurants that closed during August are now open.

Pamela, Chablis and Maggie
picnicking across from Notre Dame
Edith Piaf's grave
We marked la rentrée by picnicking and visiting graves at Père Lachaise Cemetary, notorious as the resting place of doomed rock star and writer Jim Morrison. Others buried there include Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, and Yves Montand and Simone Signoret.

The American Women’s Group Paris www.awgparis.org, celebrates la rentrée with a full slate of activities. Jim and I went on a private AWG DaVinci Code tour at the Louvre with guide Jean-Manuel Traimond. Soon we go on the Parisian Pilgrim’s Progress tour of our own neighborhood, the lower Latin Quarter, a look at the earliest days of this ancient city reveals traces of its beginnings in the Early Middle Ages and the colony of caves and huts settled by Early Christian hermits. Then we are off to Belgium on a “Beyond Paris” Battlefields of Waterloo tou,r where retired Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Nesbitt, conductor of professional development tours for Canadian and NATO forces, will present an overview of history surrounding Napoleon’s rise to power and the last days of his military reign.

KEY WEST CONNECTION: We met Nijole Ladd in June at our French classes. A teacher and healer, she spends part of every year in Paris. She spends much of the rest of her time in Key West. Nijole is a teacher at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, and a certified workshop leader for Brennan Healing Science workshops. She spoke at Patricia Laplante-Collin’s Paris salon, parissoirees@noos.fr, recently about Brennan Healing Science, a hands-on energy healing modality. Says Nijole, “We read the "field" or aura, and help people work holistically with any blocks in the flow of energy (which is what results in disease, or issues and challenges in life)." To contact Nijole Ladd, or possibly feature her at a workshop in Florida, write: nijolel@hotmail.com.

BOOKENDS: We are now off to the American Library in Paris to hear David Sedaris, called the “closest thing the literary world has to a rock star.” Sedaris is the author of “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”, and American Stage fans in St. Petersburg have witnessed his “SantaLand Diaries” holiday show.

Jim after a Jardin des Plantes picnic
Women of the American Church Paris, www.woac.com, hosts its 35th annual Bloom Where You Are Planted seminar on Oct. 4 and 11, a program on how to live in Paris and across France. A featured speaker is Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. She’s also on the program at the St. Petersburg Times Festival Reading in November.

Our friends Marian Coe and Paul Zipperlin of Sugar Mountain, N.C. and Clearwater/Largo/St. Petersburg, Fla., are visiting France. Marian, longtime journalist with the St. Petersburg Times and award-winning writer of five novels, will read from her latest book “Rachel's Story: A Southern Girl in Pre-Civil War Boston” at Shakespeare & Company Books, www.shakespeareco.com, on September 26. Marian joins a long line of writers in the “Monday Night at Shakespeare” tradition.

See you soon with another Bonjour from Paris featuring some down to business and life input from Paris veterans.

Till then,


Copyright (c) 2005-7 Pamela Griner Leavy, unless otherwise noted. Pgl_paris@yahoo.com
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