The whole world has now heard of Calais, an otherwise monotonous, pigeon-skied patch of northern France afflicted with the geographical misfortune of being the closest point along the coastline to the white cliffs of Dover across the English Channel. Calais has become France’s shame. We have watched with mounting consternation television news reports showing crowded and fetid campments — the “Calais jungle” — where migrants are so desperate to reach the UK that many have committed reckless and violent acts, from storming the Eurotunnel and occupying ferry boats to violently clashing with French police. To some observers, the migrants are dangerous hordes whose motives are uncertain; to others, they are refugees fleeing distant wars and crying out for help. Critics of France’s treatment of the refugees lament that the great French republic, once the cradle of the Enlightenment, has turned its back on

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  Below is my column for CNN.com in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris (for link click here).   One week after the terrorist attacks, the world is crying for Paris. The City of Light, which evokes romance and inspires dreams, has been darkened by a terrifying nightmare. The night after the attacks, the lights on the Eiffel Tower went black in mourning. Yet Parisians, refusing to succumb to despair, are showing the strength of their resilience. Yes, nervous tourists are canceling travel plans to the French capital. And those who are already here are staying clear of monuments like Notre Dame, fearing they might be terrorist targets. But Parisians themselves are defiantly flooding back into their local bistrots and onto café terraces, savoring the movable feast that is Paris. Precisely what the jihadists loathe and fear. As a

Thursday, 26 February 2015 by

Hector and Hugo on their own street in Paris, 7th arrondissement, this sign just next to the Assemblée Nationale.

Christmas Eve 2014 in Paris

Thursday, 25 December 2014 by

Hugo & Hector, born in Los Angeles, spend their first Christmas in Paris. Photo taken Christmas Eve on the Alexandre III bridge.

It is frequently observed, including by many Parisians, that the Pont Alexandre III is the most beautiful bridge in Paris. Adorned with exquisite Art Nouveau-style lamp posts and embellished with nymphs and cherubs, the bridge elegantly arches over the Seine as a vast avenue connecting the Grand Palais and Les Invalides. It has become legendary in the popular imagination, made famous in films from James Bond’s A View to Kill to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris; recognised as the glamorous backdrop in chic fashion shoots; and recently used as the setting in Adèle’s video for her song, “Someone Like You”. I live about two hundred yards from the Alexandre III bridge. From my windows I can see its gold-tipped columns. I cross the bridge on walks with Hugo and Hector almost every evening, stopping mid-way to take in the magnificent

La Fontaine de Mars

Tuesday, 25 February 2014 by

Three images of the Fontaine de Mars, which features in my memoir Home Again in Paris. Above a photo taken circa 1900. Below a photo that I took with my iPhone this afternoon standing across the road in rue Saint-Dominique. The Fontaine de Mars restaurant is on the left. And finally a photo taken last year of Oscar at the base of the fountain.   

Epilogue: City of Light

Sunday, 23 February 2014 by

  I cried for Leo for three months. There was no summer holiday for me. There was no summer. I retreated into a heart-broken depression that anyone who has lost a beloved pet can understand. The vet told me that Leo had died of an intestinal haemorrhage provoked by the toxicity of the cortisone treatment over the years. It was one of the known risks. I had been so optimistic. I believed that Leo had many more happy years ahead. But in the end the drug that kept him alive killed him. I felt defeated. I hated myself for not taking more precautions with Leo’s medication. The vet reassured me that I’d done everything possible, especially as I’d always kept Leo’s dosages low. “You did the right thing,” said the vet. “Leo lived a longer and happier life thanks to

Chapter 10: Leo Ascending

Saturday, 22 February 2014 by

There’s a saying in French that un malheur n’arrive jamais seul. It means bad news is always followed by more bad news. When you are down, expect another cruel blow. My own instinct, perhaps due to my Scottish upbringing, is to regard good fortune as suspect. I’m not sure that my personal philosophy helped much as the weeks turned into months, as a new calendar year was upon us, as the Easter holidays were approaching. True, there was no reason to feel miserable. In fact, life in Paris was splendid. My favourite month, April, was arriving soon. I like to say that April may be the cruellest month – except in Paris. Still, there was no reason to feel reassured either. I was still a convicted criminal in France with a tarnished casier judiciaire. After my judicial setbacks I couldn’t

Fontainebleau

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 by

The day began like most mornings in Fontainebleau. Leo was licking my knuckles. I was at the wheel of my battered silver Peugeot driving down the boulevard lined with plane trees at the edge of town, the municipal hospital on one side and local cemetery on the other. In small French towns the two are often morbidly convenient neighbours. I reached back and dangled my free right hand on the back seat, gently squeezing Leo’s little white paw. He returned my affection by licking my dry knuckles with his soft pink tongue. Oscar was directly behind me on his hind legs, peering out the window as we turned up the narrow road leading into the woods. I was glad to be back in Fontainebleau for the weekend. After the move into Paris, I’d decided to keep my apartment here for

Chapter 9: A Nation of Shoplifters

Saturday, 15 February 2014 by

  My court date was a long way off, but I couldn’t escape a nauseous cocktail of guilt and self-loathing. I felt like a condemned man living under house arrest at my Poodleland flat. When I ventured outside to walk Oscar and Leo, the familiar sound of droning two-tone Parisian police sirens made me panic – I wondered if they were coming for me. When I spotted a police car, I feared they would stop and handcuff me for some undisclosed crime. When standing in front of my students in lecture halls, I suspected they all knew I was up on criminal charges and facing serious porridge. When I came across the French homeless man with his aged black poodle Boulie, I almost envied his uncomplicated existence. I couldn’t shake the shame. Oscar and Leo were the main beneficiaries of

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