After more than twenty-five years there are few things about life in Paris that surprise me. Except one. I still am totally astounded by the fact there are no stop signs in the city. That’s right, no stop signs in Paris. One day I asked a policeman just to check. He confirmed the fact. There is not a single stop sign in the capital of France. Paris is a city of crazy drivers – and no stop signs. I’ve actually heard that there may be one stop sign somewhere in a discreet corner of the posh 16th arrondissement. If this rumour is true, I may make a special pilgrimage to the location in tribute to the unique sign of pragmatism in a city otherwise governed by the perilous rules of moral chaos. Every intersection in Paris is a mad free-for-all
American women in Paris sometimes confide to me that they won’t go outside even to buy a baguette without putting on make-up. Encountering so many stunning Parisian women in the streets is so dispiriting, they feel obliged to make at least some effort to compete. British women are similarly meant to feel naturally inferior to their Gallic rivals. That’s implied in the familiar question: “What is the difference between a French and British woman?” The answer: “Ten kilos”. The femme française as style icon has a long history, going back to Catherine de Medici, an Italian married off to the French king, who in the 16th century introduced high heels to fashionable Parisian society. The myth of French feminine perfection persists today. Parisian women, it is true, are always well turned out, impeccably dressed, and astonishingly thin. Even middle-aged Parisians,
Paris is famous for its cemeteries – Père Lachaise, Montparnasse, Passy – where many of France’s greatest artists, composers, writers and political figures are buried. Some famous foreigners, such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, died in Paris and today their admirers flock to their gravesites. Lesser known, Paris has boasted a world-renowned pet cemetery for more than a century. The Cimetière des Chiens, which first opened in 1899, is located on the banks of the Seine just down river from the spot where Seurat painted his famous pointilliste tableau of corseted women, top-hatted men, dogs and monkeys relaxing on a Sunday afternoon at the edge of the Seine on the Grande Jatte island. The cemetery was founded by French feminist Marguerite Durand, who got her start as an ingénue actress at the Comédie Française before shifting her ambitions towards
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
- Published in Paris
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.
- Published in Paris
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
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.
- Published in Paris
- Published in Paris
Photo of the Seine during the Exposition Universelle in 1900: This photo taken in 1900 when the Paris World Fair was on shows a view that I see every day as I live nearby. Not much has changed since. The photo, showing the Pont Alexandre III over the Seine in the foreground, could have been taken last night. Except of course for the spectacular buildings, no longer standing, constructed along the Seine specifically for the World Fair in 1900. The Pont Alexandre III was also built for the Exposition Universelle — one of the few vestiges of the event, along with the Grand Palais, still standing today.
Matthew Fraser’s Blog