Tag Archives: Paris

It’s a small world – Omaha Beach to Florida to Paris

19 Aug

From http://www.dday-overlord.com/img/dday/ob/omaha_beach_barge_approche.jpgMy landlady told me this beautiful story and I had to share it.

Around 20 years ago while on holiday, my landlady and her husband befriended a couple from Florida. The two couples stayed in touch and have even been on vacation together several times.

A few years ago, the couple from Florida contacted my landlady to let her know they were taking a cruise that would stop at several points along the Northern coast of France. My landlady and her husband traveled to Normandy to meet their friends off of the ship.

The first day they met up they went to visit Omaha Beach, the sight of one of the deadliest D-Day battles. The father of the man from Florida had been a survivor of this battle and his son wanted to see the site where it had all happened.

While visiting the beach the two couples were told by another tourist that a veteran, a man who had participated in the landings, was down the path and was sharing his experiences and answering questions.  The other tourist explained that they had better hurry as the veteran looked like he might be getting ready to go.

They found the veteran and the man from Florida was able to confirm quite a lot of the details his father told him about the battle.  So many details were similar that the veteran asked about the man’s father’s name and his division. The veteran and the man’s father had been in the same boat and knew each other quite well. The veteran was able to tell him details of his father’s life in the army and specifically what his father did during the battle.

The veteran had answered some of the assembled tourists’ questions in French.  My landlady enquired where he had learned to speak French so well.  He had grown up in France, he said. Before the war, he left Paris to go to university in New York.  While he was gone, the Germans occupied Paris and he was unable to return home to Europe.  While in the US he received news that his Jewish family had been rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.  On hearing this news he asked if he could join the US Army and they agreed to let him serve.

My landlady asked, in which part of Paris did he grow up?  In the Marais. This is the area where my landlady and her husband  have lived all of their lives.  Further questions revealed, the veteran had known my landlady’s father.

French and American friends by chance meet a Omaha Beach veteran on Omaha Beach who knew both of their fathers and could bring history to life. Incredible.

[Photo credit: http://www.dday-overlord.com/img/dday/ob/omaha_beach_barge_approche.jpg]

Goodbye Champagne – 10 things to do in Paris for less than 4€

12 Aug

Winter in Paris Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerSome of you may already know this but recently I recently quite literally ‘quit my day job’ in Edinburgh so that I can stay in Paris and write a book.  While I am very excited about this decision and my writing is going well, it has put me in a position where I have to look at Paris in a very different way. 

Paris, like most large cities, can be very expensive. A used book in English can cost 20€ ($US29/£18). A soft drink at a small cafe, away from tourist areas, perfect for writing costs 6€50 ($9/£6). A pretty normal salad in a normal restaurant will set you back 15€-19€ ($22-27/£13-17).  My husband recently paid 116€ ($170/£100) for 7 drinks. Someone else, very kindly, paid for dinner.

So with my new, let’s call it ‘leaner’ situation, I decided I come up with a list of 10 things you can do in Paris that cost less than 4€ ($6/£3.50).

  1. Take a bus tour – I am not talking about the hop-on/hop off guided tour bus that will set you back 29€, I am talking the self-guided variety that will cost a mere 1€70.  My current favourite is the No. 69 city bus –You use the same tickets you use for the metro, but this is all above ground.  Arm yourself with a free map and your guidebook you bought at home and keep track of the sights along the way. One end the route starts at Père Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Colette, Oscar Wilde and many other famous people are buried. The route then heads past the Bastille, through the hip Marais area and past Hotel de Ville. It takes a dramatic turn; the bus has to slow down to literally squeeze under an archway through the Louvre building. You emerge to see, on one side, IM Pei’s amazing pyramid, and on the other, the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. After you cross the Seine to the left bank, you go past the Musee d’Orsay and then up along fashionable rue St Gremain, rue du Bac and rue de Grenelle. Then past the magnificent Hotel de Invalides and you end up at the feet of Eiffel Tower. That’s a lot of Paris for a 1€70!
  2. Buy a souvenir – What trip to Paris would be complete without one of these? You can get a Paris snow globe for 2€50 at the Galleries Lafayette (the cheapest I’ve seen in town) or an Eiffel Tower key chain (4 to 6 for 1€) available just about everywhere from street vendors.
  3. Buy lunch – You can get a bottle of wine (hey, you’re in Paris) for as little as 1€50 and a baguette for just less than a euro. For the gluten- and wine-allergic like me, a gluten-free crepe de Ble Noir or buckwheat flour crepe is 3€50 and a water .50€.
  4. Take a ride – If staying on a bus cramps your style, rent one of the bicycles on the city’s  Velib scheme. Velib stations are everywhere and you use bikes all day for 1€70.  Rent a bike, take it to where you want to go and park it in the station nearby. When you’re ready to move on, type in your rental code and take another bike. Easy!  My current favourite Velib trip is along Canal St Martin, a hip area with a lot of cute independent shops for window shopping and great stretches for a picnic. I’ve watched locals play petanque (boules or bacchii ball) on a sunny afternoon and I’ve danced to live DJs on a warm evening along this stretch – there is usually something fun going on.
  5. Eat cake – As long as you deny your Marie Antoinette 3euro yummies Photo by Jennifer Flueckigertendencies and steer clear of Le Notre, Laduree or Fauchon, you can get an éclair du chocolate or some other fancy cake at a neighbourhood patisserie for less than 4€.  For the gluten-challenged, a large macaron for 2€90 or a slice of polenta lemon cake from the Rose Bakery at 3€30 will do nicely, thank you.
  6. Get an eyeful of the Eiffel – Why pay to go up the Eiffel tower (13€40) when the tower itself is what you really want to see. The best views of the tower and Paris are free!  Once you get off of the No. 69 bus at the Champs de Mars, you are right there at the iron lady’s feet.  The roof top viewing area at the Galleries Lafayette gives you a wonderful free view.  Plus on your way up you can enjoy the stained-glass rotunda that covers the centre of the store and on level 3 (I think) there is a free rest area and water cooler.  The top of the Pompidou Centre is also an amazing place to take in the view. I like to go to the red lift, to the left of the main door, which is reserved for patrons of the fancy restaurant, George, at the top.  I have actually patronised this restaurant once in more affluent times and, who knows, may someday again, so I feel happy to consider myself a patron and use the lift.  The lift deposits you right at the top. That door opens and wow, Paris is in front of you. I like to walk along the top and then go back down to earth on the escalators. 
  7. Take in a show – As you descend on the Pompidou Centre escalators, shift your attention from the view of the rooftops to the entertainment in the square below. The public space in front of the Centre is always full of people and often street entertainers. We have seen acrobats, jugglers, clowns, and an amazing street dance troupe.  Remember they are artists trying to make a living, so if you enjoy the show leave a little something (2€ -4€).
  8. Decorate your house – Paris flea markets are legendary but some of the big ones can be expensive.  For a little something French and inexpensive for my house back home I would avoid the famous Puces de St Ouen and head to my little neighbourhood Puce d’Aligre.  It’s open every day but Mondays, also sells wonderful produce and, who knows, it might be the place you find a treasure for less than 4€.
  9. Take in some culture – While many of the famous museums in Paris are at least 10€ to enter, there are some really wonderful museums and exhibits that are free. My favourite at the moment is the Musée Carnavalet (see my post on the Musee Carnavalet here).  It features exhibits about the history of the city of Paris and is housed in an amazing Parisian mansion with a beautiful garden. It is almost like getting two museums in one.
  10. Seal your love in the city of love – Believe it or not, you can afford to be wildly romantic, even on this budget.  Buy a padlock at the Bastille Market (3€50).  Take it and your loved one to the Pont de l’Archeveche, the bridge that has the famous and beautiful view of the Seine and the back of Notre Dame.  Declare your love and seal the deal by fixing your padlock, along with those of a thousand other lovers, to the railing of the bridge. Your loved one may prefer a ring from Dior, but they’d have to be cold-hearted not to be charmed by this lovely (and inexpensive) gesture.Love Bridge Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

Locked in Love Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerIf you know of any other under 4€ treats please let me know.  I’ll see you there – when I’m not busy writing my book, of course.

The restorative quality of pastries – Ladurée

5 Aug

A little bit o' heaven Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe first time I was aware of it was when my sister caused a family argument.  She was in her junior year of high school and was getting ready to apply to college when she dropped the bomb – she wasn’t going to ‘normal’ college, she was going to train as a pastry chef.  Being a sceptical older sister, I suspected that this was a ploy to upset my mom and dad. If that had been the intention, the ploy worked and after many ‘family discussions’ she went with plan A, ‘normal’ college.

However when I look back over the years other clues fall into place.  First, my sister can almost always be counted on to order dessert. Second, she has a library-sized collection of cookbooks where all the titles, if not specifically about desserts, definitely cover some aspect of dessert making.  Next, several years ago she made batch after batch after batch of les macarons – the deceptively simple sandwich cookie made with almonds, eggs, sugar and water – hoping to replicate, exactly, the ones she tried on a trip to Paris.

Then I suppose the ‘icing on the cake’ (sorry couldn’t resist) was her weddingSweet couple last year. The wedding cake was more important than the dress. The right baker was essential and she interviewed several that did not make the cut. 

In addition to the wedding cake, she organised a cookie table.  A cookie table is a Pittsburgh, USA wedding tradition that involves guests contributing cookies, homemade or specially purchased, to the wedding reception. These contributions are laid out buffet-style for all guests to sample during the festivities or to take home in specially provided cookie-table carry-out boxes (look at this link to see a video about cookie tables). 

Despite the fact that we are not from Pittsburgh nor do we have any tradition of cookie tables in our family, she not only had a cookie table but also developed a cookie table cookie registry.  Its purpose, like the gift list or registry, was to guide potential cookie-providing guests towards the cookies that the bride and groom would especially like to see and cookies that had some particular meaning to them.  It was important that all the meaningful cookies in their lives were represented.

Finally, the groom, who has a lot of sugar in him anyway, makes chocolate. They are a sweet match.

So, when my sister said she was not having a good day during a recent trip to Paris, I knew immediately what had to be done.  A pastry intervention was necessary and there was only one place to go – Ladurée.

Ladurée is a Parisian institution that has baked sugary delights since 1861 and was one of the first salon de thé in Paris.  The original store is on the rue Royal, however we went to the newer, bigger Champs Élysée location.

Heaven Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe light sage green and gold embellished canopy over the door provided only the smallest hint of the pastel and sugar-coated dream that is inside.  Red marble table tops, rich wood panelling, thick drapes lined with gold fringe, Louis XVI style sofas upholstered in white and light blue striped fabric, large gilt mirrors and painted cherubs on the ceilings playing amongst fluffy, pink, sliver-lined clouds. While the decor was not as fresh as it once was, there was no mistaking its luxurious intention to seduce and pamper. We were in the right spot.

The encyclopaedia-sized menu arrived and we set to the serious work of decision-making. Being gluten and dairy free, I resigned myself to the fact that my experience was to be limited to tea and atmosphere.  Before going in, I had even agreed to my sister’s request that I order a pastry anyway so she could have two. However, les macarons are naturally gluten-free and, while most have a dairy filling, they can also be filled with jam. Ladurée had one macaron on the menu filled with jam, so my order was easy – strawberry macaron with strawberry and mint jam and a scoop of strawberry sorbet. 

My sister’s choice was significantly more complicated.  Which one to choose? We were seated in the upstairs dining room, too far from the pastry counter to have a look and choose by sight. She went over the multiple pages of pastry descriptions many times but finally came to a decision – Millefeuille Praline – multiple layers of praline pasty and cream.

Our order arrived and we savoured the first bites. Mission accomplished: my sister had a smile on her face. Everything was going to be all right. Or was it? I could sense that something was still a little wrong. The Millefeuille Praline was great, but what about the others?  Had she ordered the right one? And I, like the evil older sister I am, had promised salvation only to cruelly opt to order my own cake and not a second for her.

Dreamy Take-away Photo by Molly FlueckigerNever fear, Ladurée does take-away.  After we paid the bill we went downstairs and ordered more for later. Paradise was restored. Always remember, the restorative quality of pastries should never be underestimated.

The Tour de France – the ultimate endurance race

29 Jul

Tour by Tuileries Phto by Jennifer FlueckigerA fellow sufferer suggested the title for this post. We endured 3 hours of a terrible one-man-band busker, children crying, sore legs and bottoms, cringe-inducing over-loud pronouncements by fellow Americans, constant moaning by my husband, all with the knowledge that we could be on a cafe terrace somewhere with a glass of wine, for this:

I am quite convinced that cycle road racing is a terrible spectator sport.  And we were the lucky ones.  Most people along the 3430.5 km route of the tour only got to see the 5 second blur once.  We were positioned by the Seine on the tour’s final circuit around the Tuileries Gardens and up and down the Champs Elysees to the finish line.  We got to see the blur 5 times. 

The first pass by made me feel sick to my stomach.  Trying to make out individual riders in the mosh pit of the peloton made my head hurt.  Was that it? Shit! I’m glad that was it. Wait, was that it? What had just happened? The attention of the bewildered crowd moved from the road back to themselves. We all looked at each other searching for clues. 

“Dude, that was so, like, quick man. Shit,” the young American college guy standing in front of us was unlikely to provide answers.

We had 7 minutes to recover for the next lap. I needed it. I tried to prepare myself a bit better for the next flash. Focus. Try to actually see something, anything other than just a smudge. We could feel them coming. We first heard the hum of the TV helicopter over head.  Then the roar of three police motorcycles passing in formation. Then 6 yellow cars with yellow bikes gripping their tops – vroom vroom, vroom vroom. The ripple of cheers was getting closer. There they were! First sight above the crowd, helmeted heads bobbing up and down, a smear of brilliantly-coloured lycra, legs pumping, metal frame, razor-thin wheels, gone. 

Vroom Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThis time it was a bit different.  No mosh pit, but a leading group.  Several cars, followed the front-runners, vroom, vroom.  The peloton followed, then gone. Darn it! I’d still not made out a single rider. And, what was going on? Was someone making a move?

I spotted a couple several groups along from us looking intently at their iPhone.  When they arrived 2 hours earlier I’d noticed the high-tech pram/stroller with wire-spoke wheels, the man’s hairless legs, his over-developed calf muscles and his green t-shirt that said ‘work hard – bike home’.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

He screwed up his face. “Yes,”  he said in a British accent. Of course he did. French men over the age of 25 don’t wear t-shirts and tennis shoes/trainers.

“What’s going on?” I asked excitedly.

He looked at me for a minute judging if I could take it. I think he decided I couldn’t. “How about I give you the bullet points?” he asked.

I conceded that that was all I could handle since I’d yet to actually identify an individual cyclist in the blur, I didn’t know any of the cyclists by name and really had no idea how the race worked.

“We’re getting text messages from home,” he started. He then went on, “ Blah blah blah Cavendish, green jersey. Blah blah time trial winner. Blah blah HCI team train. Blah blah blah likely to catch break away blah glory lap for sponsors. Blah blah blah strategy blah blah cyclist’s name and team name, another cyclist’s name blah blah may be a threat  blah blah blah blah blah blah.” He continued in a similar vein for a while. It turned out he didn’t speak English and even the bullet points were too much.

“Thanks so much,” I said enthusiastically when I guessed he was done and went back to my group.

“What did he say?” my husband asked expectantly.

“Well, I’ll keep it simple for you,” I said. “He said they are likely to catch the breakaway group … I think. And something about a British guy and an Australian. Wait, here they come again.”

Whip of helicopter blades overhead, vroom, motorcycles past, vroom vroom, yellow cars with bikes, vroom break away group, vroom, cars. Then quiet.  My husband started to count out the lead. 30 seconds! Vroom. The rest of the peloton. I actually saw a green jersey that time!

The next round he set his watch to time the lead.  It was bigger!

Knowledgable Bike Man, affectionately named by my patient friend who also named this post, came running over. “They think the break-away group is too far ahead. They might not catch them.  They may have blown it!”

Tour fans at the Tuileries Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerI didn’t have any idea who he was talking about but it did all sound a bit exciting. Could they, whoever they were, do it? Could they catch up? We had around 6-7 minutes to wait for further clues and the anticipation of the crowd was building.

The tell-tale sounds started again. The helicopter, motorcycles, cars, cheers, this time really big cheers … yes! They’d caught up!  One big mass whizzed by. The peloton had pulled the glory riders back in.

Knowledgeable Bike Man ran over to us again, “Did you see it?  It looks like it’s on. The team is all lined up and Cavendish is tucked in.”

I, of course, hadn’t seen what he was talking about. I was still looking for the famous yellow jersey, to no avail.  It all sounded good though and the crowd was very excited.

That was the last pass before the inevitable sprint finish on the other side of  the park. Everyone clutched their phones anxious for the result, then cheers all around. Knowledgeable Bike Man’s wife grabbed their baby out of the pram/stroller, “We won sweetie! We won!” and kissed him on his fluffy blond head.

Cavendish, the British guy had won.  But he hadn’t won, the Australian guy had won. Wait, what? Knowledgeable Bike Man looked at me with pitying eyes and explained, “Cadel Evans from Australia won the tour, Cavendish won the stage.”

“Oh,” I said like it all made sense. And it kind of did, I guess. 

Was is all worth it? What do you think?  Just remember to bring your smart phone, good friends to laugh with and a picnic with a bottle of  fiz.

Patient friends at the tour Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

US fan in a foreign land – Women’s World Cup Final

22 Jul Watching Super Abby Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

Watching Super Abby Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

On Sunday night I watched the US women’s soccer team lose to Japan in a Scottish pub in France. At half time a large group of drunk/high Australians harassed the bar. With the exception of France, I have lived in each of the countries listed above for at least a year.  The bringing together of all of these nations – Scotland, Japan, Australia, USA, France – in one place, in such a random way was a bit surreal. It was at once familiar, foreign, comforting and confusing.

behind the bar at the Auld Alliance pub paris from http://theauldalliance.com/We watched the game at the Auld Alliance pub, the go-to spot for Scottish TV to show the Tartan Army (the collective name for travelling Scottish sports fans) after a big game in Paris.  The Auld Alliance has 8 screens to watch sport, friendly staff behind the bar, beer from the Caley Brewery on tap, and haggis on the menu. Like many Scottish pubs there was more room for standing than sitting, however there were still a few seats at the small number of tables when we arrived.  We chose a table. My back was to the bar but my husband, sitting on a rickety folding chair, could survey what was going on. 

“This is all very strange,” he said. “It’s like we’ve just stepped out of Paris and into Scotland.  This is just like a real Scottish pub.” He continued to look around searching for what exactly made it feel so un-Parisian. “It’s got an edginess to it …”

“Grittiness?” I volunteered.

“Yeah, gritty, that’s the word. It feels a bit unpredictable, like you just don’t know what might happen.”

I took another look around. It did have a ‘spit and sawdust’ feel that we hadn’t seen since we’d been in France.  You wouldn’t be surprised if the large floor space in front of the bar had been sticky with beer.  A polyester ‘Bonnie Scotland’ flag that still bore fold creases was hung unceremoniously with thumb tacks/push pins over the door.  The slightly rancid, heavy cooking oil smell of the 10 euro burger+chips+beer deal was thick in the air. 

bonnie scotland at the Auld Alliance pub paris from http://theauldalliance.com/However, it was a Sunday night, we were in to see a women’s soccer/football match and it wasn’t that crowded. I thought it was unlikely that there would be any trouble, but my husband seemed less comfortable. Two British guys propping up the bar with their bellies shouted, “When’s the real footy starting?” suggesting they’d rather see a men’s game. Maybe my husband was right.

The match started and I felt a bit sick to my stomach.  I don’t get to be an American fan very often and soccer/football is my game. In the first minute, the US forced the Japanese keeper to make a save.  Then wave after wave of good attacking play by the US resulted in a ball in the outside of the net, a bad miss, a shot off target, 3 more shots off target, an excellent save by the Japanese keeper, a shot that bounced off the goalpost, a corner, a shot that went off the crossbar, another off target shot, and another… but no goals.

Halftime and I was exhausted. We needed to score. One quick counter attack from Japan and all of that good US attacking play would be for nothing.

My husband went to the bar and I noticed the place was really filling up. It was then that the Aussie’s arrived. The fact that they were Australian was really incidental, as the cocktail of youth, alcohol/drugs and being abroad in a large group can reduce normally well-behaved people of any nationality to bad behaviour. In fact I am sure I have behaved badly in similar situations.  While they looked like they were probably nice little rich boys on a college trip when sober, the large size of the young men, their saucer-shaped pupils and their erratic movements made them feel a bit scary.

Being an American fan abroad always makes you a bit more likely to be a target.  While fairly indiscriminate about whom they harassed, several of the young men decided to pick on me.  My husband at the bar heard, “You’re from Ohio” in a loud, mocking American accent, and then turned to see two of these guy’s faces literally in my face. He quickly came over to my defence. It was first time in our 20-year relationship he had felt the need to do so – the gesture was unnecessary, but, I suppose, sweet.

Others in the group had taken over a table occupied in the first half by a US fan.  I told them that the table was taken and they pretended to only understand French.  The US fan came back, started yelling at them in French and the group looked at me and whined, “Do you understand what that lady is saying?”

My husband tried to talk these guys into leaving us all alone. The Scottish barman intervened, “I don’t want these drunken children in my bar.” He then asked my husband, “Are you their teacher?”

Shocked by the misunderstanding and wounded that someone could think he was old enough to be this group’s teacher my husband scowled, “No mate, I was trying to help get rid of them. I’m just sitting here watching the game with my wife.”

After being told they were not going to be served and after a few flares of drunken, pathetic bravado the large Aussie crowd started to leave.  As they left, it looked like a group member was stealing a women’s handbag. I grabbed it so he could not get away. It turned out to be a false alarm and I got a lot of abuse from the ‘non-thief’. The whole incident left us a bit riled up and feeling a bit old. I reflected that there was a time when I would have handled the whole thing with much more ‘charm’, and less like a narcy teacher. My husband decided he needed to go out and get new trendier glasses to make him look younger.

Thankfully the second half started and stopped us crying in our pints. It meant more of the same from the US: a shot that went off the post, 2 more off target, a corner, a good save by the Japanese keeper.  Frustration! The US kept knocking at the door with no luck.  Then finally it happened.  After a long ball from the back, substitute Alex Morgan shot from the top of the box, GOOOOOAAAALLLLL  USA!!!!

At last! The sense of relief rolled through me and made me feel a little faint. However, breaking the haze of my euphoria was the sound of the big bellied boys at the end of the bar cynically chanting, “USA! USA!” just so they could make fun of any fans who joined in. Whatever – we’d scored! We were ahead in the World Cup final! (USA 1 – Japan 0)

Before the game, I watched a series of Nike produced videos detailing the US team’s preparation for the World Cup entitled ‘Pressure Makes Us’. Several in the series featured the range of physical tests that the team goes through – agility, tread mill, yo-yo, squat, sprint.  None of them mentioned any mental training that might help a player and a team become a champion.  Yes, soccer/football is physical sport but you must have the mental strength to make good decisions and the concentration and determination to make goals and defend well.  Probably the hardest thing for people who have never played to understand is that you also need mental toughness to be able to hold on to a lead and win.

I wish the US team had done a bit more mental strength training. After they scored, you felt their relief but they lost focus.  It was all Japan. With only 10 minutes left to go, sloppy defending let Japan get a sloppy equaliser.  (USA 1 – Japan 1)

There was a huge cheer. A Canadian man excitedly shouted, “Game on!” At the start of the game, most of the Auld Alliance crowd was neutral or disinterested.  Now however, the large crowd was gripped by the drama and quality of play. Most had chosen to cheer for Japan.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

At the same time a very loud, high-pitched squeal cut through, and almost silenced, the other cheers.  Earlier in the game I’d enjoyed hearing the familiar sound of excited Japanese coming from the woman at the next table. Not so much at that moment.

“HEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” she continued.

I’d seen Japanese soccer fans when I lived there so I was not nearly as surprised as the rest of the bar by the sound that seemed much too big to come from such a small person.

 “We’ve got a squealer at table 18,” said the startled Scottish barman with a wink and a smile to the rest of the bemused spectators.

It quickly became clear that the game was headed for a draw and two 15-minute periods of overtime.  Overtime play started and the US looked focused and dangerous, but they needed a goal. A US corner, a shot, another shot and save, another shot, then Japan on the counter attack.  “EH!EH!” a few more squeals from the next table. Then, the US, the ball down the left, a beautiful cross into the middle – Yes! Yes! Yes! –  the amazing Abby Wambach powered the ball into the back of the net with her head! Yes!

“We’ve got another squealer at 17b, “ said the barman.  This time he was talking about me.  Damn strait I’m squealing! We were back in front! (USA 2 – Japan 1)

But could we hold on this time?

The second fifteen minutes of overtime was predictably all Japan. The US looked a bit more in control at the back than before. Maybe it was going to be the dream win.  Japan shot off target and then a battle in the midfield for possession of the ball.  US substitute.  Japan shoots and is denied by US goal keeper Hope Solo. 3 minutes to go.  Japan corner kick. The kicker takes a few steps back then looks to her teammates in front of the goal. She takes two steps forward, thud, the beautiful cross is in the air and then the ball is off Homare Sawa’s head like a bullet into the back of the net. (USA 2 – Japan 2)

‘EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’  No one in the Auld Alliance, indeed no one watching the game, could believe what was happening.  Japan, the team that had never once won a single game against a European or American team in its history before this tournament, was back in the game at the World Cup final against multiple world champions, the USA.

The US couldn’t believe they lost their lead … again.  They needed to score or it was a penalty shot out. They got the ball, shot. A Japanese player was given a red card and sent off for dangerous play. The US shoots again and again. The whistle blows and it is time for penalties. 

I leaned over and said, “Ganbatte ne!” or “Go for it/ Good luck!” to the Japanese woman at the next table just before the penalty kicks … and, I almost meant it. I understood why most of the pub was cheering for Japan.  Discounting the bellies propping up the bar and probably others who weren’t cheering for Japan, but against the US, this was an amazing underdog/come-from-nowhere kind of story that any sports fan would love.  In addition, everyone wishes nothing but good things to happen for Japan after the horrors of the last year.  However, as far as I was concerned, Japan coming in second place would have still been a great sporting story.

It was time for penalties. I didn’t fancy the US’s chances of holding it together for the penalties after seeing them fail to protect their lead twice.  But, I still had hope!

The hope didn’t last long. They fell apart even more than before. First US shot, saved by the goal keeper. Japan scores. Second US shot misses the net! Japan scores. Third US penalty, saved by the goal keeper, again! Japan scores. US player Abby Wambach put the ball in the net to keep the smallest hope alive. Japan scores. Game over. USA 2(1) – Japan 2(3)  Japan – World Champions.  Wow, what a game.

The loneliness of defeat was punctuated by being in a Scottish bar in Paris surrounded by people who enjoyed the game but largely didn’t really care. Even my husband, can’t just take up the American cause with the same passion. I had to phone an ex-teammate in the US for proper commiseration and a wee cry.

I have passionately supported Scotland, Japan, Australia and France in various sporting occasions, and even against US athletes, in some instances.  This is because I love sport generally and love hearing about athletes and team stories. I find these stories much more interesting than nationality.  This game told a great story that will be remembered for a long time for the historic nature of the win but also as a great advertisement for football.  However, no matter how good the story, when it comes to women’s football, for me it will always be USA! USA!  The team are amazing and should be very proud of what they achieved.  Thanks for the wonderful ride ladies!

To see highlights of the match and to get more information about the Women’s World Cup Finals, click here

[Photo credit: Photos of Auld Alliance Pub from http://theauldalliance.com/]

With a little help from my friends …

1 Jul

Basic French Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerIn response to my post last week To learn or not to learn, some friends on Facebook volunteered a few of their favourite French phrases. Please let me know your favourites in the list and suggest any you think I should add:

  • avoir besoin – to need
  • c’est la vie – such is life
  • pas trop cher – not too expensive
  • Pourquoi est-ce que votre singe mange mon dîner? – Why is your monkey eating my lunch?
  • jusqu’ici, tout va bien – so far so good
  • il est très beau aujourd’hui – it’s a great day
  • Il n’y a rien que je peux y faire. – There is nothing I can do about it.
  • comme il faut – as it should be  Comment that came with suggested phrase – “More often heard in the negative. Always thought it had a very hauteur/Anna Wintour air about it and then last year my 3 yr old niece used it meaning I was putting her shoes on wrong.”
  • Je suis espion. – I am a spy.
  • Il n’y a rien que je peux y faire. – There is nothing I can do about it.
  • Zut alors – Jings crivens help ma boab – sorry, no translation given :0)

My personal favourite and one I think I will use most often came from my Dad with this message:

“Dad’s favorite saying in French is ‘Je ne sais ce que vous dites’– I don’t understand you. This is after attempting 21 hours of French courses to get the 12 hours required to get my undergraduate degree! I hope you have some of my good points too!”

Special thanks to the following for submitting their faves: Sarah, Chris, Tom, Dave, Elizabeth, Niall, Eliott and my dear father, Robert, from whom I sadly inherited my foreign language skills.  All the translations and spellings are their own. :0)

For the love of Process – C’est comme ca

29 Jun

20th century chairs - Les Art Decortifs, Paris Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerWe wanted to visit the Museum of Advertising. The website made it clear that it was associated with the Museum of Decorative Arts. How it was associated was unclear.  From what we could tell, they were housed in the same building, a wing of the Louvre, on rue de Rivoli.

In the entrance hall of the Museum we got a map to see if we could find the Museum of Advertising.  The map – a meter (3 ft) long by 40 cm (8 in) wide, detailing all 9 floors from 2 different cross sections using 23 colours – was in English.  However, I struggled to hold it let alone find any special sections without serious study and a guide.

The usual French menu of ticket choices, failed to help either. Our options included:

  • General collection only
  • Temporary exhibit A only
  • Temporary exhibit B only
  • General collection + exhibit A only
  • General collection + exhibit B only
  • General collection + A and B
  • Temporary exhibits A and B only
  • General collection + ticket to sister museum across town
  • General collection + ticket to sister museum + sister museum’s temporary exhibit, and so on.

None of the choices included the Museum of Advertising.

We concluded that all of the decorative arts must be displayed together and, after opting for the ‘general collection only’ ticket, decided to head into the museum.

Our first hurdle was the fact that to get to the general collection you had to go through temporary exhibit A, or at least the start of it.  Men who looked like bouncers were checking tickets. With a look that made us understand that they were watching us, and that we were to not even think about looking at the temporary exhibit A for which we did not pay, they pointed us to the elevator which would give us access to the general collection.  

Safely in front of the elevator, I had room and time to take another look at the atlas of a map.  We decided that given the overwhelming size of the museum and the fact that we wanted lunch sometime in the next several hours that we would head to the 20th century collection on the 5th floor. We had a plan. I knew where we were on the map. I knew where we wanted to go on the map.  Unfortunately closer inspection revealed that the lift we were about to take only went to the 3rd floor, two floors short of the 20th century.

I was trying to figure out how to get to the 5th floor, fumbling with the map, as the lift arrived and we got on.  A gentleman inside the lift asked us in English what floor we wanted. I said I wasn’t sure but we wanted to see the 20th century exhibits.

“The visit starts on the 3rd floor,” he said. “It is best that you start your visit from here.” And he pushed 3 on the lift. 

We exited on 3 and were pleased to see an information booth.  The man behind the counter had a beard that clashed with his youthful pink cheeks and long eyelashes, but underlined his earnestness.  I asked again for directions to the 20th century exhibits and was again told, firmly but with a friendly smile that, “It is best to start your visit from here.”

I looked at the map again and then at my sister, and then realised we were up against something much bigger than us: the French love of procedure.  When the New York Times’s departing Paris bureau chief offered eight lessons for living in France, along with the need to understand that the customer is always wrong and the importance of getting to know your butcher, she noted, “Rules govern even the smallest activities.” While the details are often only clear to the initiated and rarely make total sense, there is a special procedure for everything in French life. 

I realised that the only way were going to enjoy our visit to the museum was to capitulate and start our visit where they wanted us to start our visit. We reasoned it would not kill us to see something new and eventually we would get to the 20th century. 

I folded the map so that I could focus on one floor and studied the route ahead.  I was not encouraged when I saw that the route drawn on the map through the first six rooms looked like a spaghetti junction. You were directed to cross paths with yourself 4 times and backtrack twice. I started to wonder if they would give us sat nav along with the audio tour included in the admission price.

At one point, I enquired of a museum guard if I was going the right direction. A loud “No, no, no” was accompanied by a wagging finger pointed at my face. The aforementioned finger then pointed back in the direction from where I had just come. 

I am delighted to report that from the start of the 17th century – until Art Nouveau at the start of the 19th, everything was more or less straight forward.  However, to make the transition to Art Deco and on to the 40s, you had to go down one floor and then up 6 to level 9.  The rest of the 20th century also went smoothly, however the visit ended on level 6, with no clear route to reception on level 3 where you needed to hand in the audio tour handset.

When we got back to the information desk on level 3, we felt a sense of accomplishment, but were disappointed.  Our original assumption that all of the decorative arts would be displayed together had been wrong. We’d been on a very interesting trip through furniture, ceramics and other decorative pieces through the ages but had seen nothing about advertising. 

The cute, earnest, beardy gentleman at the info booth asked us if we had enjoyed our visit. I said it had been very interesting but we had really come to see the Advertising collection.

He looked very serious, “Because of the delicate nature of the collection, we are only able to show parts of the collection at any one time.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “We’d like to see what’s on display at the moment. Can you point us in the right direction?”

He looked even more serious, “I am very sorry, the Museum of Advertising is closed.”