THE FRENCH: porcupines or hedgehogs?

Don’t tell me the French are rude, it’s starting to make me grouchy. The French, mostly, are not porcupines, but hedgehogs curled in on themselves until they feel it’s safe to uncurl.

This leads Americans, mostly, to feel that waiters and shopkeepers are condescending, arrogant, and snooty – just the sort of the thing that rubs out-going Americans, especially those worried they don’t know the secret codes of style and élan, the wrong way.

Yes, I am exempting the occasional long term waiter who feels a Gallic duty to live up to tourists’ expectations of him, but they can usually be surprised into friendliness by a warm smile and gentle inquiry about fruit tarts.

On my recent stay, I LOOKED for rudeness, I searched for it, but I kept stumbling into warmth, and sly humor, and sensitive politely-done care. A street musician playing Bach on the flute was bashfully apologetic that the playing wasn’t perfect. (It was.) An elderly man told me in French I was “so gracious” because I’d moved over to make room for him as we passed. The list is long and graced every moment.

And once the French have checked you out and uncurl, you are cherished for a long time.
I stopped by the restaurant FISH to make reservations for dinner. When I arrived that evening, the table reserved was where I used to sit, in the window with my standard poodle Max. The chalkboard reserving it said, “KING POODLE.” If Max were still living, he would be 18 years old. He hadn’t been to Paris in seven years. Yes, he was an elegant dog who loved window shopping and art galleries, but it was seven years ago.

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At YVELINE Antiquities, Niloufar said, “The last time you were here you looked tired, like it was a hard time. We were worried.” Well, it was a hard time, it was a disastrous time, but it also more than two years ago and I’d been in the shop then thirty minutes max.

At Juliette OZOUF, a boutique of luscious clothes in dusty pastels, Vladimir virtually danced at seeing me. Any woman would love his unbridled joy: “Oh, how long are you here? Oh, it is good to see you. How is your dog, your beautiful dog?”

So, let’s say you are going to Paris. Where are a few choice places in my old neighborhood, the 6th arrondissement, that you should visit?

More information on the above:

FISH La Boissonerie (69, rue de Seine) for a delicious, not expensive meal inside a Roman interior, with a fine selection of regional wines. Cozy ambiance, a place to make memories. My favorite neighborhood restaurant. Owned by Drew Harre, as is the wine shop “La Derniere Goutte” nearby.


Juliette OZOUF (20, rue de l’Echaude) for a focused selection of elegantly “loose,” draped clothing in knits, cottons, silks, and linens. The dusty pastels are seductive and perfect for every women looking to up her style creds. In the photo I’m wearing the silk scarf I bought the first day of my return to Paris and that I have worn every day in the five weeks since.

Juliette's shop

YVELYNE Antiquities (4, rue de Furstemberg) on Place de Furstemberg, perhaps the most photographed small court in all of Paris. The owner Anne’s exquisite selection of antique furniture, paintings, lamps, wooden artist’s models and curios is a treasure. But please don’t treat her shop only as an amusement shop for browsing. Enter with your eyes open for possibilities of what “objet” can bring joy to your life.


Also, and equally delightful:

GAGGIO (16, rue Jacob) for a stunning selection of Venetian velvet scarves (I own 8!), purses (own 3), slippers (3 pair), jewelry, jackets, vests, and pillows, and glassware. Pure luxury! Tell Pierre-Michel I sent you.


LADUREE (corner of rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte) for tea, lunch, or brunch inside the prettiest of the tea shoppes of this famous luxury macaron Mecca, with two other tea shops in Paris, plus London. Buy boxes of macarons to take home as reminders and gifts.

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Ultimately describing the French is an elusive task, perhaps better given up from the start. What I know is they make me smile even when a tad abrupt at first, and they make me uncurl, safe to be eccentric, to dance, and be beautiful. Yes, safe to uncurl.

Merci, mes amies.

PARIS NOTES #7: It’s time to leave Paris

dog on Paris streetIt is time to leave Paris. I was ill and confined for three days, but now recovered enough to function but not play. My timing is off. My photos of dogs consist only of their tails and hind sides as they trundle or scamper away. My photos of kisses are taken after the fact. My photos of children are uninspired. (The earlier photos will soon be posted in my blog in the Photos section.)

So, I am packing, and making runs to buy books and macaroons (chocolate mainly), and children’s hats as gifts.

man in scarf at cafeLosing my edge as a photographer, I look not for the exact moment that epitomizes something but at the full array of people and faces in front of me, and discover that men are looking at me. Men alone, men with other men, men with women. It may be the wan ethereal paleness of three days of coughing, or my younger Jeanne Moreau slightly baggy eyes. I look in mirrors and window reflection man lookingand see nothing different even as I feel different. Have I become unaggressive without the camera or vulnerable, and so tap into male care-taking energies? It’s slightly unnerving.

photo copy 6Two nights ago my friend Ruth and I went to the National Opera House (Palais Garnier) to see Ballet de l’Opera. She had gotten tickets for one of the red velvet (or were those walls carpeted?) loges that emits the smell of every longing and conquest and devastation and brilliance that ever occurred inside it or on that magnificent stage in 140 years. I saw photo copy 11modern dance that seared my eyes and brain with brilliance and passion: choreographers Saburo Teshigawara, Jiri Kylian and Trisha Brown. The color and sound, and silence, and integration of Gregorian chanters and photographs and videos enhanced that dancers were moving in ways that people cannot move, and expressing the undecipherable secrets of life and death, their bodies calligraphy. And I only had one photo copy 12coughing fit the entire time. Yeah, I was that person others wished would have stayed home under the covers.

So it was a good ending, except that it is not where I am going to end. I am going to end with this photo of a young man at the restaurant where I had lunch yesterday. Art is alive here if you combine looking with seeing.

This was the one really good photo of the day. Tell me, is he Raphaelite or Durer-esque?

Au revoir.

man with teapot

PARIS NOTES #6: Playing Chess with Yourself: empathy training

chess board indoorsThe good thing about playing chess with yourself is the two sides are evenly matched.  The bad thing is you know what the other side is thinking. It becomes an ultimate game of one-upmanship, to outthink the person who is outthinking you as you outthink them. This can go on like mirrors opposite each other where images go into infinity.

It also means you cannot ambush the other side, there are no calculated surprise attacks, and that winning is, more than usual, the result of making few, essentially no, mistakes.

It also means that every time you win, you lose; and every time you lose, you win. This is superior empathy training.

Nonetheless you do – or I do – sometimes choose sides. When black mauled white a couple games back, I found the game distasteful. A bully was on the move and not about to stop until all royalty of its so-called enemy were dead on the field. There was no finesse, only slaughter. It took me a couple days to return to the board.

And I couldn’t help but rejoice when black was clearly winning an earlier game. Check. Check. Check. Check. But when black couldn’t achieve checkmate, he confidently used a turn not to check again but to bring another piece in for the kill. In the space of one free move, the white queen zoomed the length of the board, put the black king in check, and sealed the deal on the next move with the aid of a lone white knight. For 15 minutes black had controlled everything. In 15 seconds white won the game. I knew from the beginning that the white queen was intrepid, and I liked that.

My maternal grandfather played chess 80 years ago by mail with people he didn’t know. My paternal grandfather was the checker champion of Cerro Gordo county, Iowa. It runs in the family. Conniving, pouncing, strategizing, foiling. I own up. It has nothing to do with building peace or inclusive dialogue. It’s not a win-win, but I feel the tickles in my brain, and adversaries who demand respect from each other thrill me.

And I like that the queen is so powerful while the king can hardly move and tends to cower.

I also like when an overlooked pawn steps forth to upend an entire game. “I can take you, queen.” “I can checkmate you, king.” “You didn’t see me coming, did you? Well, here I am.”

I’m not actually that good, and I play only when I’m in Paris, which may be once a year for a couple weeks. There is a chessboard set up in the apartment where I stay and that I used to own. It is a chessboard I bought, and as this apartment has a convoluted story of joy and beauty and love and grief, betrayal, and loss, so do chess games have stories. Some leave me breathless as a queen fights to hang on or a bishop risks his life or a castle frets to break from the corner.

Each piece has a personality. Call it projection, or call it observation, I don’t care:

Kings – lazy, pompous, scared

Queens – determined, capable, calculating

Bishops – graceful in their oblique ways, a little sneaky coming in from the side

Knights – awkward in their armor, wanting to be valiant, often treading too far out

Castles – like all walls and parapets, less powerful than they look

Pawns – secure in their little selves, knowing they may be sacrificed, but up for the game.

Knowing the intelligence of a chess piece and being inside the game, especially when you play against yourself, builds empathy. It is a holistic exercise that resonates with the stories of your life, and the stories of others. It gets you past that only your reality is real. It forces you to be human by having to drink from the winners’ and the losers’ cup at the same time. It makes us want to be good to others.

A game a short while back ended with both kings forced out of hiding, facing each other mid-field with no protection. They hardly knew what to do. They were two King Lear’s who believed they were all-powerful now stumbling to their ends with no one to hear their whimpering. It was a tragedy of hubris. I could not take sides in this. I could only witness, and remember the story of why the apartment was no longer mine, nor even of my own King Lear.

When you don’t have empathy, you are cut off from the rest of humanity. If you do not feel what others experience, you are alone inside your version of your story. It becomes your reality and can stale quickly. You lose the richness of life, its flavors and gifts. You’re in a fairytale with no feedback or changes of scenery. “And lived happily ever after” becomes a jail.

Empathy is epic. Furthermore, it is non-fiction.

. . .

Chess games in the Luxembourg Gardens, where timers are used, and audiences second-guess you. Perhaps here it is more a blood sport than empathy.

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PARIS NOTES #5 – “The Hare with Amber Eyes” or Anti-Semitism in the Neighborhood


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It is not the first thing you see when standing across from 81 rue Monceau, but you see it soon enough – the two faces of the Theater of Life, the tragic and the happy, in stone, mid-way up the elegant 5-story façade. Look more closely and you’ll see that Happiness is younger, innocent perhaps, while Tragedy is older, watchful, wary.

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The house was the mansion of the Ephrussi family. Like the Rothschilds and other fabulously wealthy Jewish families, they had equally wealthy powerful brothers, cousins, uncles, and aunts, in Vienna and London from the end of the 1800’s up to World War II.

Rue Monceau was central to the neighborhood of the newly wealthy Parisian Jews. Well, newly wealthy in European capitals anyway. The Ephrussi were doing very well indeed in St. Petersburg and Odessa from where they had a virtual monopoly on Russian grain trade.

The Camondo family, in an even larger mansion at 63 rue Monceau, arrived massively rich as bankers from outside of Istanbul since the Ottoman Empire. Yesterday I visited this mansion, now the Musee Nissim de Camondo. (More below on that, with photos.)

And the Rothschilds had everything needed for the five sons to branch across Europe with funds from the patriarch Mayer, banker to the royal court of Free Frankfurt. The Ephrussi followed suit, establishing their own banks. Each family collected art. Charles Ephrussi, the youngest son of Leon, the first Ephrussi to come to Paris (1871), was exempt from working in banking or anywhere else that made money. It was always clear he was the arty one.

It was Charles who bought the 264 Japanese netsuke central to “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” written by Edmund De Waal, grandson of Elizabeth Ephrussi of the Vienna branch and inheritor of this exquisite collection that bizarrely survived the ravages of war and anti-Semitism. Charles was primary source-material for Charles Swann in the novels of Marcel Proust.

Charles, an eminent art historian and critic, also collected vast numbers of paintings and supported Degas, Monet, Renoir, and other Impressionists. The family benefitted from this mode of assimilation in a culture where anti-Semitism, like a virus, was biding its time. Even our favorite Impressionists could turn. Renoir, who painted Charles into “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (the man in the back in the top hat), said, given a slight grudge, that Charles collected “only Jew art,” meaning it had gold highlights in it. So much for his soft edges and round women.

The book left me emotionally bruised by anti-Semitism in a way I have not experienced in some time. I am not Jewish, but I have married and loved Jews consistently, and my daughter and grandchildren are Jewish.

What has more formed my current feelings, however, are my connections of the past 12 years in Israel and in Palestine as the founder of Peace X Peace and editor-photographer of the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian women,” which has gone to every UN ambassador, every US Congressperson, and thousands more people working for healthy peaceful cultures.

Over time my frustration with the Israeli government and policies has grown into anger.

It is difficult not to be angry if you check your facts and believe in truth. But this book brought me back viscerally to how it feels when no matter what good you do or how wealthy or powerful you are, or how long you have been in a place, and how assimilated you feel you are that some people will continue to think of you and condemn you as a scourge, as dirty, as vile, as rapacious.

And it showed me, with the blow-by-blow devastation of the Ephrussi family in Vienna, how monsters can evade your house almost overnight and leave you only with the clothes on your back. How your treasures can be inventoried and carried away, how the only fight you have left is figuring out how to get out of your chosen nation before you, like the treasures, are shipped away.

The book is exquisite, it is terrifying. I recommend it.

Yesterday I saw the faces of Tragedy and Happiness on the face of a mansion. I think, despite the family’s assimilation, wealth, and titles, they knew their history well.

For now I will spare you my thoughts on the current effects and wounds of that history.

Just to acknowledge its truth and burden is enough for one day.

. . .

Yesterday I also spent hours inside the Musee Nissim de Camondo. This sumptuous mansion was built by Moise Camondo in 1911. When his only son Nissim died in 1917 as an aviator on World War I, Moise decided to bequest the mansion and magnificent art, furniture, silver, and china to Les Arts Decoratifs of Paris.

The photos do not show the mansion in its full magnificence as the Impressionist paintings, most well known, are in the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and elsewhere.

Moise died in 1935. His daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren died in concentration camps.

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