Friday, February 5, 2010

Lifting the veil

A week back or so, a French parlimentary panel issued a scathing report calling for a ban of the Burqua, the head-to-toe garb worn by many Muslim women. This came on the heels of a ban of headscarves in schools (actually all religious clothing, but most thought it was aimed at the headscarf), which most people outside of France deemed an attack on Muslim values by the French government.

Interestingly, France is known around Europe for having one of the more open immigration policies in the EU, and in fact, it has more immigrants than your average EU member. This is especially true of Muslim immigrants. There is somewhere on the order of 4-5 million Muslims in France, largely from North African origins, the majority of whom are black.

Now this is just one foreigner's opinion, but I think you could say that France is also known for being one of the more racist countries in the EU, as the riots of 2005 attest to.

Coming from a country with an atrocious racial history of its own, and being a white male, I've always been pretty cognizant of how issues of race can make some topics at best awkward (like race and how it relates to sports) and some topics downright doused in fuel (affirmative action).

In the States, everyone generally tiptoes around this stuff.

In France, for better or worse, they don't. Racial tensions are handled with a far less delicate touch here.

To play this diplomatically, I will say that I'm not entirely sure where I fall on all this headscarf/burqua broohaha. The French argument is twofold - First, they say that in order to immigrate to France and gain French citizenship you need to embrace French values. In other words you can come, but leave your culture at home. This seems at least reasonable to me, but vastly different from the States, where we tell immigrants to come as you are and we'll just blend it all together. We are the "melting pot" after all. Secondly, the French argue that the burqua lends itself to the oppression of women, and that, they claim is also not in sync with French values. I also can get behind this.

On the other hand, freedom of religion strikes me as an imperative in any society.

But what has been most fascinating to me as a foreigner, is not so much the issue itself, but the different manner in how it's handled here. The French are so brusque in their assessment of Muslim culture, and their objections to the burqua are loud and impassioned.

In America, where we tend to be loathe to offend, I just think it would be so much more delicately handled. More awkwardly also. I'm not saying one approach is better or worse, but boy is it different.

So the next time your in Paris and your French waiter gives you the silent treatment for some unintended and unknown assault on his culture, just be happy you weren't wearing a burqua and know that brusqueness is their way - they can't help it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pendaison de crémaillère

We are such slackers! Sorry, sorry, sorries all around. We we're partying! We had our housewarming soirée last weekend, and lo and behold found out that we apparently know a ton more people in Paris then we realized. At one point we had probably twenty people over! Which confirms that our new apartment is significantly larger than our old apartment as twenty people would never have fit into the old place. Best of all, we had my buddies Larry and Natasha in visiting from the U.S. to boot.

For those who want a little language lesson, a housewarming in France is called a crémaillère which is actually a notched hook of sorts that used to go up in the chimney. The cooking cauldron would be hung from it, and depending upon which notch it was hanging from you could adjust the amount of heat hitting the cauldron. Because you couldn't cook before the crémaillère was hung, you would usually have your friends and family over to cook a little something when you finally got it up, and thus, Pendaison de crémaillère (hanging of the crémaillère)became the French equivalent of having a housewarming party. Hilariously, our neighbors, who it turns out also just moved in, had their crémaillère the same night, so we had a bunch of temporary, highly-confused French guests who walked in for a second before realizing they were in a den of expats and quickly high-tailing it to the correct party à côté de notre appartement.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Am Jelly Donut!!

I admit I stole the post title from my friend Eileeno's blog, but I figured I'd give you the hilarious English translation of J.F.K.'s oft-disputed but nonetheless famous gaffe from his speech in Berlin for the starter to my Berlin blogpost.

It only took us three months, but we finally managed to make it out of France and stumble on over to nearby Berlin to meet up with my buddies Buddah, Molly, Eileeno and Eileen's friend Lawrence.

Save from the shock that Berlin had about two feet of snow and we had packed for Parisian drizzle, Berlin was terrific. I thought it was interesting that most of the happening stuff is in what used to be East Berlin. I guess after the wall fell, they took the run-down East Berlin and used it as a blank canvas to remake the city. So now it is peppered with hip little hofbräuhauses, restaurants, and cafes and it's where everyone flocks to.

Speaking of the wall, we found an old stretch about a mile long that is still standing. Nowadays it has been turned into compilation of murals, of which my favorite was the two old guys getting hot and heavy. I did a little digging and it turns out it's L. Brezhnev, in a lip lock with the former head of East Germany, E. Honecker.

The other highlight of this whirlwind tour of Berlin was a visit to the Pergamon Museum. I would never have thought to go here, but Eileeno who is a bit more of a planner had luckily put this "can't-miss" item on our itinerary. Turns out Berlin has one of the most incredible museums of Greek history in the world. An entire ancient Greek temple from the city of Pergamon (in present-day Turkey) has been reconstructed in the museum along with a host of relics from other parts of the ancient world like the Ishtar Gate from the city of Babylon. Aside from being completely unexpected it was also just really impressive. All these amazing Greek artifacts landed in Germany as the result of some long forgotten treaty between Turkey and Germany, but I can only imagine Turkey got the raw end of this "treaty" (I think the Native Americans know what I'm saying).

We're back in Paris now for the time being but we're getting a little more into our international traveler mode these days. We just booked tickets for a quick weekend trip to Bruges in February followed in short order by a four day trip to see Budapest. After that we're not sure where to head, but we're thinking Lisbon, or maybe Malaga or Greece. Somewhere warm to escape the winter, so if you have any ideas leave em in the comments. À bientôt.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Digs!!

Out with the old (the 18th arrondisement) and in with the new (the 10th arrondisment). We finally left our lovely temporary apartment (tears) which we had been lucky enough to find through a grad school connection, and moved to a place with a little more space and a hefty trek up five flights of stairs.

But for that effort we get rewarded with an incredible balcony (score!). At three feet wide and running the length of the apartment. I told my mom it was HUGE, and then she asked how huge, and when I said "about 3 feet wide," it suddenly seemed less huge, but trust me it is expansive by Paris standards. I see many a morning cafe out there and plans are in the works for an herb garden (a la the rooftop garden in Boston).

Our two closest metro stops are Poissionere (fish store) and Gare de l'Est (Train station to the East) which is essentially as good as an address in Paris. This is actually how you tell people where you live. And we're right next to where you arrive from Charles de Gaulle airport by train (Gare du Nord) which will make it super easy for our visitors to get to us... hint hint hint.

Just down the street we found an immense covered market filled with little fromagerie shops, wine vendors, butcheries... you name it, and the quartier is filled with a slew of little restaurants and shops.

Whereas our old hood was more of an immigrant neihgborhood with its own itinerant (definition check anyone?) influences, this feels more like the traditional Paris you see in the pictures.

We've been doing a little fixing up and organizing and whatnot which is why we've been so silent, but we're basically settled now. Settled enough that we decided to jump over to Berlin for the weekend and meet up with some friends, so I'm off À bientôt!

P.S. If you look close, you can see me waving to you in one of the pics :-)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Where's Waldo?

This has become my favorite toy on the blog. I wish each little dot had a nametag.

Like who exactly is that person in the middle of the US who has logged in at least a couple of times earning a bigger dot? And why doesn't this dang map have borders so I can see exactly where that dot lies?

If we were handing out awards, our visitor from southern Australia (I'm guessing it was a Nicol family member in Sydney) get's the "Furthest south" award. And I believe the visitor from nearby Hudson Bay gets the "Furthest north" award... although someone in Sweden might need to correct my geography as I just eyeballed it.

Boston and the Bay Area continue to constitute the bulk of our readers, but it's cool to know we have a few friends following us around the more remote parts of the world like Liberia, and Rio de Janeiro and Macau (Thanks Justin, Brooke and Olivier).

It also makes me chuckle that I can call out my less blog inclined friends whose location gives them away. Sorry Harry, but judging from that tiny dot in Eugene, OR, it's fairly obvious you never visit this blog, no matter what you say.

Mostly I just like to look at this map and think about what a small world it is. When you live on a different continent from most of your friends and family, it's a nice reminder that they're only a mouseclick or a phonecall away.

So from our side of the pond to yours, have a great weekend.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bonne Année!

There is a beaucoup of updating to be done! Le Noel was terrifically fun. Having everyone uber-cramped into the apartment turned out to be a blast. Along with ourselves, we packed in my best friend Buddah, his wife Molly, my sister Hennessy, and Jessica's brother Gene and proceeded to do it up in style.

I for one was a little surprised and impressed with all the presents and the cheer. We even had a little Christmas tree. The French don't put their trees in water (link, compliments of my buddy Jeff), but rather nail it to a stump, and it got so dried out that the day after Christmas, I decided to drop it out of the window rather than drag it through the apartment to the curb. I kid you not... EVERY needle on the tree exploded off it when it hit the pavement. All that was left was a completely barren collection of sticks. I guess that doesn't sound that impressive, but it was. My favorite present was the stuffed Monkey from Buddah and Molly, appropriately named "Monkey."

The rest of the week between Christmas and the New Year was spent sightseeing. Among other things, we headed out to Versailles for a little touristing. Versailles is pretty interesting trip back in time, and basically represents the best of France's glory days under the Sun King Louie XIV. You get the smallest sense that the French feel a little wistful for the heydey of the Louis years.

And then it was off to the Champs Elysee for the Nouvelle Annee. I won't tell you who, but one person in our group had a little too much to drink and left a "projectile deposit" on the Paris metro. Maybe you can figure it out from the pictures and I'll let you guess in the comments section. The Champs is a pretty cool party, and if you're ever in Paris for New Years I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Noel!

Christmas in gay Pareeeee! The lights are up everywhere and Paris is looky mighty fine these days. We recieved our first snowfall which I have to say was breathtaking although nothing like the blizzard we've been watching our East Coast friends get buried in. They tell me the snow doesn't stick in Paris because of the heat generated by the extensive metro system underground and I sort of believe this (am I gullible idiot?) but I couldn't find any confirmation online which makes me suspect. Everything true should have at least one wikipedia entry, no?

Our exciting news is that our torrent of holiday visitors has started. My sister, Hennessy arrived last week, and Jessica's brother Gene along with my best friend Buddah and his wife Molly come in on Christmas eve. I feel like we're recreating one of those spring break How-many-people-can-you-fit-in-a-Volkswagon-Beetle contests. We have exactly 323 square feet of space in our apartment and that includes the shower and the stovetop, so I'm not quite sure where we going to put everyone. But I'm sort giggling in anticipation of the summercamp bunkhousesque quality our house is going to have for the next week.

We're also currently in the midst of the apartment hunting blitz as we have to leave our current apt at the end of January. My poor sister has been getting dragged along on a number of visits with us which is probably not how she planned on spending her Paris vacation (surprise!). But if anyone has some incredible Paris apartment connection they want to hook us up with, that would be the best Christmas present ever! Otherwise Happy Noel everyone!