Napoleon famously remarked that England is a “nation of shopkeepers”. It was, of course, not meant as a compliment. After nearly three decades in the Fifth Republic, I have formulated a rejoinder to that Napoleonic put-down: France is a “nation of shoplifters”. By shoplifters I don’t mean the French are compulsive kleptomaniacs who pilfer and thieve in their local shops. I mean that in France there is general acceptance of rule-breaking – from petty incivilities to calculated crimes – that is perpetrated cynically, guiltlessly, and frequently with impunity. I like to say that the French have good manners and bad behaviour. Crime prevention in France can best be summed up as “penny wise, pound foolish”. There are thousands of micro rules to interdict just about every impulse in French society, but the most shocking crimes like bank heists and

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One scene in my book Home Again in Paris takes place over dinner at the Fontaine de Mars, a well-known restaurant in my 7th arrondissement neighbourhood that became famous when Barack Obama decided to dine privately there with his wife on an official visit to Paris. Besides its cuisine from southwestern France, the restaurant is known for the enormous Roman-style fountain facing the terrace (see photo above). It was built in 1806 to celebrate Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. The restaurant, in fact, is named after the fountain whose name, fittingly, refers to the Roman god of war. I don’t mention in the book something that has long intrigued me about that fountain. It’s the tiny, discreet sign etched into the stone on the lower right of the fountain facing the street: “CRUE JANVIER 1910″. Tourists casually passing by

It’s extraordinarily gratifying to announce, finally, the release of my new book, Home Again in Paris: Oscar, Leo and Me. I won’t go on at length in this blog post about the book itself as this new website provides all the information you will need. I will only say here that, as a personal memoir, this book is about real people and events — essentially, what happened in my life after moving back to France in 2006. I would like to stress though that this book, to employ a familiar phrase in French, is “ma verité” — my truth, how I observed people and the world around me. It is not an essay about French society; it is a personal memoir about my experiences in France. I assert that caveat perhaps needlesssly, for the subjective nature of the narrative should

Bar du Central, rue Saint-Dominique

Sunday, 21 April 2013 by

Bar du Central, rue Saint-Dominique: Last night my old friend Adam Ostry came round for a drink. At the end of the night, past midnight, we walked up the road and had a glass of wine at the Bar du Central. Oscar came along and we sat outside (at far left of terrace in the photo above). I took the picture with my iPhone after crossing the road on my way home. It was about one o’clock in the morning.

An old photo of the Gare d’Orsay, built as a train station in 1898 and today famous as a museum for Impressionist art. Nothing much has changed in the past century, except the transformation of the old train station, built in 1898 as a train terminus for the Exposition Universelle that opened in 1900. Just above the station are the two towers of the Sainte-Clothilde basilica, to the left is the Invalides dome, and on the right stands the Eiffel Tower. The one object that gives away the date of the photo is the “Grande Roue” (Ferris wheel) just to the right of the Invalides dome. It stood at one end of the Champ de Mars during the Exposition Universelle and was demolished in 1920. We can therefore date the photo to circa 1900. The photo was probably taken from

My Parisian friends frequently tell me that my neighbourhood in the stuffy 7th arrondissement is, well, boring. It’s an observation that, at first blush, is difficult to dispute. I once read the 7th arrondissement described as “Poodleland” – a bourgeois enclave where rich ladies walk their little dogs along wide prosperous avenues. True, Poodleland is quiet, self-assured, and inward looking. Old aristocratic habits – and bylaws — keep trade to a strict minimum. There are no cinemas, no retail chains, no food concourses, no McDonald’s, no public swimming pools, and no sports gyms. When a Starbucks showed up in the rue Saint-Dominique some time ago, there was a mild flutter of incomprehension throughout the neighbourhood. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Poodleland was once the centre of bohemian nightlife in Paris. It even had a name: Magic City. Magic

On the banks of the Seine

Sunday, 10 February 2013 by

Took this photo yesterday afternoon while walking along the Seine with Oscar on our way to the Tuileries. The Seine’s banks are overflowing at the moment. You can see the high water level under the Concorde bridge. The Louvre is on the left beyond the bridge, and Notre Dame is visible in the distance.

The Pont Alexandre III: Past and Present

Tuesday, 05 February 2013 by

Yesterday I took the photo (top) of the Pont Alexandre III near my place. The second photo (below) was taken from roughly the same spot in 1900 — more than a century ago. In both photos the Grand Palais is in the background on the other side of the Seine. In 1900 the Grand Palais had just been built for the Exposition Universelle that year.

Me on the top floor of an empty Musée d’Orsay today looking through the big clock towards the Seine. The musée was closed to the public today, as it is every Monday, so I had it all to myself. 

New Year’s Day, esplanade des Invalides, on a walk with Oscar.