Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A quick Bonjour and a Giveaway...

Bonjour les amis, 

I have missed you, faithful readers. Thank goodness, many of you are now following French Girl in Seattle on Facebook, where I steal a few minutes each day to post news, photos and observations about la Belle France. I must say I have a lot of fun there, with 820+ francophile friends. Please join us when you can.

This week, we covered French president Hollande's trip to Washington DC. There were a few [unintended] comical moments...

Tall American woman meets short French guy, with tall American guy *supervising*

It was difficult to know what serious topics, if any, the American and the French presidents covered during their meetings. It seems they spent a lot of time exchanging jokes; or pretending they can speak each other's language (they can't.) That is, at least,  what the presidents (the tall one, the short one,) and the media decided to show us.

It does not matter anyway, because it seems that everyone was mostly interested in answering two questions: 

1. What was Michelle Obama going to wear during the event (She passed with flying colors, thanks to designer Caroline Herrera.)  

2. Who was going to sit next to President Hollande who - the horror! - was traveling solo, during the official state dinner. 

Talk show host John Stewart is not in American History books yet, but he should be. He offered an excellent take on the media circus surrounding the French prez' visit to Washington D.C. -- John, you crack me up. You are everything that is good, smart and sane, in today's media. 

Watch the clip here. You won't regret it! (and yes, it is worth putting up with that obnoxious commercial at the beginning.)

But I digress.

The reason I came back here for a short visit has nothing to do with Washington D.C., President Hollande, or Michelle's wardrobe. 

I received a special invitation this week, you see. You may remember I acted as a critic during the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival... As a result of the movie reviews I wrote last spring, and the constant cinematic references in my blog posts, the word is out:  French Girl in Seattle loves movies!

A few days ago, I was contacted by the Seattle Jewish Film Festival

They offered me free tickets to see two new French movies! I would love to watch and review them on the blog, but I have another commitment on March 2. Hint: This has to do with the 86th Academy Awards (movies, always movies...) 

My loss. Your gain. 

We are having a Giveaway chez French Girl in Seattle this week. If you live in the Seattle area, and are interested in seeing one of these shows, leave a comment here, or on the blog's Facebook page. Bonne chance!

Here is our selection:

  • The Jewish Cardinal (Le Métis de Dieu,) by Duran Cohen; the real-life story of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. The movie has raked multiple Awards at independent film festivals over the world. Read an excellent review and watch the trailer here.
Sunday March 2, 2014
AMC Pacific Place, Seattle, WA.
Time: 5:00pm
Two free tickets.

  • Friends from France (Les Interdits,) by Anne Weil and Philippe Kotlarski; two French cousins cross the Iron Curtain and travel to Russia in the 1980s to support Jewish dissidents. Road movie? Love story? Political film? See it to find out. Read a review here

Sunday March 2, 2014
AMC Pacific Place, Seattle, WA.
Time: 8:30pm
Two free tickets.

Send a message if you are interested. Until next time, thank you for reading. 

A bientôt.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

We miss you, l'Abbé Pierre...


I had a fun little story to tell today... It involved the French, the Americans, and swear words. 

As I was about to start writing it, I bumped into a photo taken by blogger Eric Tenin. Eric had decided to honor one of the most popular men who ever lived in France. That man was not a monarch; a president; or even a celebrity; quite the opposite in fact. He was a priest, and a sickly man, who doggedly led a lifelong struggle to help others. Seven years after his death, he remains one of my countrymen's favorite public figures. His is an incredible story. A story of courage, determination, controversy and deep humanity. It is the story of l'Abbé Pierre

Sixty years ago, on February 1, 1954, l'Abbé Pierre famously called for solidarity on Radio Luxembourg, as poor, homeless French people were dying in the streets during a particularly harsh winter. Sixty years later, homelessness and a shortage of safe, affordable housing, are still concerns in France, and in many industrialized nations.

This week, I have decided to publish again the tribute I wrote in December 2011. I hope you enjoy it. 

L'Abbé Pierre: the Reluctant French Icon
December 2011

Today, I would like to tell you the story of a man who embodied Giving. France knows him as "l'Abbé Pierre." His face (the grey hair and beard, the big glasses, the béret,) and silhouette (the long, black cape, the heavy shoes, the cane,) are so familiar to my countrymen that a picture of l'Abbé Pierre hardly needs a caption. During his long life, he remained one of France's most unlikely, and yet most beloved public figures, topping popularity polls year after year, until his death, in January 2007.

La Fresque des Lyonnais (the famous Lyonnais fresco)
 Lyon,  France

L'Abbé Pierre (1912-2007) was born Henri Marie Joseph Grouès, in Lyon, to a well-heeled bourgeois family of eight children. His father had a strong social conscience and introduced Henri to charity work at a very young age. A devout catholic, Henri was determined to become a missionary. He attended a Jesuit school, and later renounced his inheritance to join a Franciscan monastery. He was ordained priest in 1938. Strict monastic life did not agree with him (he was plagued with health issues,) and he eventually left the monastery.

World War II broke out in 1939. He was mobilized as an N.C.O. (Non Commissioned Officer) but contracted pleurisy while training in Alsace. When France fell in 1940, he became vicar of the Grenoble cathedral. Throughout the war, he would take enormous risks to help others; enabling Jews and other politically persecuted to escape to Switzerland; joining the French Résistance where he operated under several code names including the now-famous "Abbé Pierre;" founding a clandestine newspaper; stealing clothing from warehouses for the poor and the Résistance. He was arrested in 1944 but managed to escape and joined General de Gaulle and the Free French Forces in Algiers. He continued fighting and received top French military honors at the end of the war.

A young Abbé Pierre listens to a speech by General de Gaulle in 1946

The war experience would mark him for life: From then on, he engaged himself to protect fundamental human rights and to fight for the causes he believed in. If legal means were not an option, then civil disobedience was all right too. 

He also knew how to use his reputation and growing fame, and his connections to politicians to further his cause, lecturing the formidable General de Gaulle, in January 1945 on the need for milk to feed babies.

Impatient, stubborn, unruly and outspoken, l'Abbé Pierre was soon to become a major influence in French society, an indefatigable fighter who led a life-long crusade against poverty and homelessness. His tactical weapons: Prayer, provocation, charity work and political action. 

After the war, L'Abbé Pierre was convinced to join the French Parliament where he worked as a député (representative,) from 1945 to 1951, but he quickly understood that he would be most efficient fighting misery in the street.

In 1949, using his lawmaker's indemnities after he had left the Parliament, he started a community outside of Paris to help the neediest members of society. He named the center "Emmaus," a town mentioned in the Gospel. His early companions were a motley crew of down-on-their-luck individuals. With them, he came up with the idea of a working community; organizing rag-picking and recycling of household goods to finance the construction of shelters for the homeless, often without construction permits. This was a far cry from traditional charity, as it encouraged the poor to fend for themselves. To those who had nothing, he brought not merely relief, but also purpose and hope. When money ran out, l'Abbé Pierre did not hesitate to take part in a TV game show to raise funds. Celebrities like Charlie Chaplin started supporting the movement as Emmaus grew steadily, first in France (where it is today one the largest NGOs,) then internationally after 1971 with the creation of Emmaus International.

"People are needed to take up the challenge, strong people, who proclaim the truth, throw it in people's faces, 
and do what they can with their own two hands."
-- L'Abbé Pierre.

1954: Laying the first stone of a new Emmaus-sponsored shelter
L'Abbé Pierre and the first Emmaus companions

But it is during the exceptionally cold winter of 1954 that L'Abbé Pierre became a living legend. An indignant Abbé issued a radio appeal on behalf of 5 million homeless people after a baby froze to death, and after a woman died on a Paris boulevard clutching her eviction notice in her frozen hand. In his famous speech, he challenged the French to heed their moral duty. The opening words caught everyone's attention: "My friends, come help... A woman froze to death tonight at 3:00am..." The French - no doubt remembering the privations endured during the war - listened, and donations poured in: Money, blankets, clothing, even jewelry and fur coats! My mother-in-law, a young girl at the time, remembers listening to the radio address with her family and walking down to the nearest temporary shelter with clothing and blankets. 

Throughout his life, l'Abbé Pierre used the power of the media
 to further his cause

The following morning, the press wrote of an "uprising of kindness" (insurrection de la bonté.) Over the next few weeks, donations were sorted out and distributed all over France, often through the emerging network of Emmaus communities where the homeless were given food and shelter. Emmaus volunteers were former homeless people who had learned to depend for survival on their own efforts, reselling refurbished furniture, books and scraps. L'Abbé Pierre was everywhere, delivering rousing speeches; visiting politicians to push for new legislation to forbid landlords from evicting tenants during winter months; holding the hands of women and children while visiting shelters. As a result of his tireless campaigning, the French government finally undertook a large program of housing reconstruction. 

Leaving the Elysée Palace after meeting with the French President (1954)

Years went by. L'Abbé Pierre did not slow down, always prompt to denounce injustice, not only in France but in the rest of the world where he was often seen with international leaders. Even when he turned down the Legion of Honor and other prestigious awards to protest the lack of official efforts towards the poor, he also understood the need to rub shoulders with politicians to get results. 

Always frank and often controversial, he wrote books about various topics, publicly disagreeing with Pope John Paul II on the issues of priest celibacy, the union of gay couples, the use of contraception, or the ordination of women as priests. 

There was controversy. There was media lynching when l'Abbé made unpopular choices, but the French public [a notoriously tough crowd] remained faithful to him. Then came old age, and failing health, and l'Abbé progressively retired out of the public eye. But there was always one more injustice, one more cause worth fighting for. So he would call the media; meet with officials; show up at the French Parliament, where the frail man would speak up from his wheelchair, his voice weak, but his commitment undiminished. At the end of his life, he accepted a few honors -reluctantly- and respectful crowds came to see him.

Finally accepting the prestigious Legion of Honor
awarded by President Chirac in 2001
L'Abbé Pierre meets l'Abbé Pierre in 2005

It was finally time for the man President Chirac called: "A great figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness," to take his final bow. He died after a long illness, at the age of 94. Statesmen, celebrities, companions of Emmaus and the French public attended his funeral celebrated at Notre-Dame cathedral, on January 26, 2007. L'Abbé's companions were placed at the front of the congregation, according to his last wishes. His iconic béret, cape and cane lay on top of the coffin during the funeral service.

A big funeral for a man who aspired to a simple, monastic life

Henri Grouès - l'Abbé Pierre - rests in a small cemetery in Esteville, a small village north of Rouen, in Normandy. At peace at last, (one would hope,) he is in good company, surrounded by several of his early companions and friends. At his request, his grave is anonymous, but it is easy to find, thanks to all the flowers left by visitors. 

L'Abbé Pierre (1912-2007): French patriot, human being. Led a life of action and service and knew a thing or two about giving.  

Adieu, l'Abbé. On t'aimait bien.
So long, l'Abbé. We liked you.
A bientôt.


To learn more about l'Abbé Pierre's inspiring life, watch this excellent documentary (2 video clips, about 18 minutes.) It is utterly frustrating, however, as the second part stops around 1949 when Emmaus, the organization founded by l'Abbe Pierre, was taking off. Still, a great look at his early years and his rise to fame.

You may also rent the 1989 movie "Hiver 1954: L'Abbé Pierre" ["Winter 1954: L'Abbé Pierre"] with Lambert Wilson. 

Finally, a full English translation of the 1954 speech can be found here  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

23 Things that scare Parisians to death

This week, a funny list has been making the rounds online, and as luck would have it, it was in French. Dommage

I wanted my readers to be able to enjoy it too, so I have prepared a free translation. You're welcome!

The article is titled: "23 Things that Scare Parisians.Do not miss the original story, here: The illustrations are excellent.

Several remarks come to mind when I look at the list. 

  • Things have not changed that much in Paris since I left, in 1996. 

  • Le Parisien, (the Parisian,) is defined as a person living in "Paris intra-muros," i.e. in downtown Paris, within the border created by le périphérique, (the beltway.) You may live right outside le périphérique. If you do, you are not a true Parisian. You have become un banlieusard, (a commuter, living in suburbia,) and that, to a true Parisian, is only slightly better, than being un provincial (someone living outside the French capital.) 

Paris Intra-Muros (in dark blue on the map,) includes
two parks: Le Bois de Boulogne, and le Bois de Vincennes

  • A large part of Parisian life revolves around the [excellent] public transportation system and le Métro (the subway.) 

... but les Abbesses métro station is nowhere near le Châtelet stop!

Are you ready? Here is my best attempt at a translation... 

23 Things that Scare Parisians
(In Paris, you risk your life every day)

French article with h.i.l.a.r.i.o.u.s. illustrations

1. Falling down the Metro stairs and dying.

2. Cell phone theft.

3. A strike in the Paris transportation system.

4. Having to act as a tour guide for tourist friends and splitting your day between the Eiffel Tower and Mona Lisa.

5. Getting stuck in a street demonstration.

6. La Bastille square, after a street demonstration (Ed.: Most mass demonstrations end up there, a lively yet horrendous sight.) 

7. Les Grands Boulevards, on a Saturday before Christmas, or during the bi-annual sale season (Ed.: Major Parisian department stores are located near les Grands Boulevards, in the Opéra Garnier neighborhood.) 

8. La rue de Lappe, every evening (Ed.: A small, cobbled street in la Bastille neighborhood, well-known for its nightlife.) 

9. Getting stuck in the subway between two stops for over two minutes with no explanation, and imagining your own painful and inevitable demise. 

10. Walking alone at night in a deserted subway corridor... and disappearing.

11. To be reduced to using one of these one day (Ed.: Photo of a Sanisette, a self-contained, self-cleaning, unisex public toilet in a Paris street.) 

12. Transferring from les Halles métro station to le Châtelet RER stop (Ed.: A logistical nightmare, as these are two of Paris' busiest stations, with mile-long corridors.) 

13. Having the irrepressible urge to use the bathroom while being in the subway.

14. Pigeons inside train stations.

15. Actually, any contact with a pigeon.

16. Having to go to a party on the other bank. 

17. Missing the last subway.

18. ... and having to ride the Noctilien (Ed.: Night bus service for Paris and the suburbs.) 

19. Rats and other disgusting creatures living inside the subway system.

20. Having to ride the RER train (Ed.: Faster, but more intimidating than the Métro, with mile-long corridors.) 

21. Crossing the beltway and heading for the unknown... (Ed.: See my introductory comment about "true Parisians.") 

22. Being pushed on the subway tracks by a lunatic.

23. Paris real estate prices! (Ed.: Photo of a 97 square-foot studio, with a $600 rent.) 

What did you think? Did you like it? I bet New Yorkers could relate to some of these, don't you?

It is time to wrap up, but before I go, I just want to appeal to your better nature. You see, living in Paris involves a lot more than sitting at a café terrace and watching the world go by; nibbling Pierre Hermé macarons; getting Americanized chez McDo or at trendy food trucks. Living in Paris can be stressful. Danger lurks, whether real or imagined. There is no time to smile; or smell the Sanisette... uh... the roses. Living in Paris is serious business, and only true Parisians can put up with that much pressure. The rest of us... amateurs. We can only hope to watch and learn.

A bientôt.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hollywood… You make me smile!

Emma Thompson, Golden Globes 2014
The "Louboutin-Martini" speech

The Hollywood award season is underway, and it will culminate on Sunday March 2, with the 86th Academy Awards. For us movie fans, it is a fun time of year. 

Some of us get excited about favorite movies; actors and actresses. Others tune in, so they can gawk at designer-clad celebrities, walking down the Red Carpet. 

We watch - and occasionally cringe -  as TV hosts greet famous guests, pouring out of black limousines. 

During the show (it never seems to end on time,) we all yawn at overdrawn speeches; the endless list of "Thank you's;" or the disingenuous declarations: "I did not expect this. I did not prepare a speech…" (You have been nominated. Isn't it part of your job to prepare a speech?)

We watch the prestigious audience laugh nervously at the host's jokes. Some good; some awkward; some plain mean. 

We endure commercial breaks. And long musical numbers. 

We reminisce about Old Hollywood glamour. Grace, and Audrey. Rita. Katharine. Liz. Never mind that we are too young to actually remember the good old days. The well-oiled Hollywood machine has conditioned us for years. These glamorous stars are part of our lives; almost part of the family.

Grace and Audrey, presenters at the 1956 Academy Awards...

But the good old days are gone. Welcome to the time of hyperactive social media and unbridled paparazzi power! Glamour has faded, replaced by gossip; unflattering photos of celebrities on their coffee runs (Can you picture Grace Kelly toting around her tall, non-fat latte in a Starbucks paper cup?) -- There are so many celebrities (famous for being famous,) and so few artists, it seems. So be it. Times change. 

Still, as a long-time movie fan, I am grateful for movie stars, and the stories they tell. I see talent, and on rare occasions, I see grace. I still dream; laugh and cry with them. 

This week, as I browsed online, I spotted a few shots of my favorite actors and actresses. And they made me smile. I hope you enjoy them, as much as I did. 

Long live le cinéma. Long live Hollywood. This French Girl, for one, will keep watching.

Les complices. Accomplices. Meryl Streep. Julia Roberts. And you thought your family was dysfunctional. If you have not seen them (and the rest of the stellar cast) in August: Osage County, you are missing something. Good friends or consummate professionals promoting a movie? Does it matter? 

The Blues Brothers had nothing on these two sisters!

And talking about friends…

Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson

Emma is one talented lady, (Saving Mr Banks, anyone?) and from what I hear, a fun broad. A good mom too.

Emma and "Mini-Me" daughter Gaia

All right. I admit it. Most of my favorite ladies are over 40. or 50. Et alors? So what? 

Sandra, so happy to see you laugh.
Please don't do anything to your beautiful face!

Of course, I do not forget les Boys. How could I ever forget les Boys?

Look at these two handsome fellows. Real men take their moms to Award shows.

I like them just fine too when their moms are not around…

Ben, Ben, Ben… Bradley, Bradley, Bradley...

You clean up nice, Colin F.

Yes, thank you, movie stars. You can walk around holding a Starbucks paper cup; or look sweaty when you leave the gym; wear no make up as you get their groceries. We like to think you are just like us, professionals; friends; lovers; mothers and fathers…

Cate Blanchett and her two leading men
Critics Choice Awards, January 2014

… but the truth is, you are not . You have that little extra something; the ability to inspire and captivate; the power to make us dream. And that is a good thing.

A bientôt. 

I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, 'There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of being a movie star.' But I am not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest.

-- Marilyn Monroe

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Yorkers and Parisians: So different, yet so alike...

So different, yet so alike

Paris. New York. Two of the world's most visited, most exciting cities. 
Paris. New York. Everyone has an opinion about them, even if they have never been.
Parisians. New Yorkers. Everyone has an opinion about them, even if they have never met them.

This week, I saw a funny little video online, "Johnny T's New York City Tourist Tips." 

As a longtime fan of the City that Never Sleeps, I smiled often while watching it. Then I realized that many of Johnny T's travel tips could also apply to Paris, (and to other big cities around the world.) After reading the comments left by readers on where the video was released last December, I was sure of it.

I can explain, but first, let's watch the 4-minute clip together, shall we? Meet Johnny T, New Yorker. This hilarious puppet will teach you how to be the perfect New York City tourist...

See what I mean? Johnny T, it is obvious, loves his city. And he claims he loves tourists too, hence the travel tips, so everyone gets along. Video (and article) highlights:

1. Johnny T. is a frog, dressed in a red track suit. 

Johnny T.'s Parisian cousin would be a green frog named Jean, and he would wear an Agnès B. grey suit, accessorized with a Pierre Cardin man bag.

2. Johnny T. is passionate about pizza.

He knows all the best pizza joints in New York city, past and present.

Jean knows the best boulangeries in Paris. He would not consider buying his daily baguette and croissants anywhere else.

New York vs. Paris (Vahram Muratyan)

3. Are New Yorkers rude to tourists?

Johnny T. does not think so. He claims they are nice and helpful to out of town visitors. 

In the Comment section, a reader, Bocheball adds that New Yorkers get a bad rap, and that visitors are to blame:

"Tourists ask for directions but rarely say thank you." 

Johnny T's French cousin, Jean, would concur. How many tourists approach Parisians, in the street, or in shops, without bothering to say the magical words first, "Bonjour" and later, "Merci." It is so bad sometimes, that some café owners have posted this price list outside, in an attempt to educate their customers. 

"Price list. Being polite pays off"
(old enamel sign spotted on

4. Johnny T. is a nice frog, but you can see there is an air of arrogance about him. After all, he lives in the best city in the world. He does not even consider the rest of the country might not agree with him. 

In the Comment section, an argument breaks out between New Yorkers and Floridians, as they try to determine who the slowest drivers are. Later, another heated exchange happens between New Yorkers and Texans about New Yorkers exhibiting poor manners when they meet people.

Jean, the French frog, could relate. When Jean leaves the Seine river or his favorite pond in the Tuileries Gardens and heads to Southern France for his hard-earned 3-week summer vacation, he gets criticized - a lot - by other French frogs he meets outside the capital. "Parisians are the worst drivers!" "Poor Parisians, so stressed out!" "Look, that guy had to place his beach towel right next to ours when the beach is almost empty. 'Used to crowds. Must be a Parisian!

Summertime: Parisians head South!

5. Johnny T's favorite mantra: "When in New York city, move fast or get out of the way!"

New Yorkers live life in the fast lane. They walk with a purpose. You are a tourist, and you have time. They don't. In fact, Johnny T. adds: "Stay in your hotel between the hours of 4:00 to 6:00pm." -- This way, locals can handle the commute home undisturbed. 

In the Comment section, Lars E. agrees: 

"Don't stop to look around at the top of the subway stairs. 
There are 100 people coming up behind you." 

Jean, the French frog, would add that nothing is worse than being cramped in the Paris Metro by gigantic tourist backpacks (still on their owners' backs,) or by travelers who ignore the cardinal rule: Do not block the doors when they open, or you will be pushed out on the platform without mercy, even if this isn't your stop. 

Parisians trying to get home at rush hour
Tourists and flip-flops do le Metro

6. Johnny T. advises tourists to check out areas outside Manhattan. Forget the classics.  Expand your horizons. There are so many different facets to a great city like New York!

But in the Comment section, Bocheball adds: 

"I'd rather tourists stay penned in Times Square where most of you idiots go and residents avoid like the plague. The smart tourists, the few there are, are mostly European, go to the cool places, and generally act far cooler!"

Uh... Thank you for European tourists... I guess.

Jean the Parisian frog would concur. He, too, would love for tourists to venture out of downtown Paris. After all, this is a compact city, and only 2 million people live in the center. Still, Paris welcomes over 15 million visitors a year! Allez, tourists, step away from la Tour Eiffel, le Louvre, Notre Dame, or les Champs-Elysées...

The Parisian Times Square?
Crowds on the Champs-Elysées

7. I like to end a story on a happy note.

In the Comment section, Sam the Cat writes: 

"Despite the stereotypes, we are actually very fond of tourists
 and are proud to show off our city."

Jean the Parisian frog would agree. Parisians may seem rushed, and aloof, but if you get lost and ask for directions politely (don't forget to say "Bonjour" first,) you will be surprised to see how much time they take to get you back on the right track. They love their city, and want you to love it too.

It's not unusual either to see two Parisians, in full display of Gallic pride, arguing about the best way to help a stranded tourist, which is always very entertaining... 

"Where is the Eiffel Tower?"
"Behind you, ma chère !" 

So whether you visit New York or Paris, keep in mind Johnny T. and his French cousin Jean la Grenouille will be happy to help, should you get in trouble. And if you have the irrepressible urge to drag one of those heavy backpacks around, remember: "Move it, or lose it!," - oh, and stay in your hotel room from 4:00pm to 6:00pm!

Bonne visite ! A bientôt !

Special thanks to talented illustrator Vahram Muratyan who knows, and loves, Paris and New York. Do get his wonderful Paris vs. New York book if you haven't already.
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