Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cheese!

Recently reviewing old receipts, I picked up this one from my local cheese shop. I stared at it dreaming about the two delicious cheeses I'd bought.

Then I looked closer at the price per unit and was transported from my revery into that hallucinating state of "how much did I spend on cheese?!?"

The prices in parentheses are the amounts in francs, which are always on every receipt, an interesting feature and worthy of a commentary on its own.

Mrs. Mayor, I have an idea!

Starting in the beginning of 2015 these posters have been popping up on various scrolling billboards throughout Paris. They say "Madame Mayor, I have an idea! Until the 15 March you can propose ideas for the participative budget."

I love this idea! I always have so many ideas that I think would improve "customer experience" (i.e. inhabitants) lives in Paris. Of course, posed with this opportunity, I am sadly drawing a blank as to what to propose! Have I adapted so much to differences in this city, country, culture that originally bothered me? Now there is a novel idea!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Life in Paris: My Name is Luka

When I moved to Paris in 2007 my friends, family and acquaintances all exclaimed at one point or another something to the effect of "how wonderful!" "Life in Paris!" "I've always dreamed of living in Paris!"

And it is. It's a gorgeous city. It's beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the parks, the restaurants, the cafes, the shops, the museums. It's all wonderful. I've truly adapted to my life in France and have come to love the full experience.

But what many people may not think about when they see pictures of shiny parquet floors, marble fireplaces, double "French-doors" opening out onto iron-work balconies, is that these beautiful old Haussmann buildings are not sound-proof.
     
In fact, at times it seems as if my walls, floors and ceilings (built in 1857) are all paper thin. For example, I can hear my upstairs neighbor's cell phone vibrate. I can hear pins (or other small-sized items) fall on the floor. Obviously they have no rugs on the floors. I hear them walking everywhere. (In my experience, French people don't take off their shoes and change into slippers when home.) My new upstairs neighbor (the one with the newborn) wears shoes all day long. Her partner rises early for work (5am - 6am), and they coucher tard (go to sleep late). The neighbor before had a toddler who ran everywhere when home from school until about 10:30 PM.

Next door I have a young professional Chinese girl who is usually quiet, until her family comes to visit, all staying with her, and staying up till all hours chatting, for weeks at a time. The only reason why this is an issue is that my bedroom used to be part of her living room. The prior owner of my apartment bought half of his neighbor's living room to create another bedroom for him. What used to be two 1-bedroom apartments on the same floor, are now one 2-bedroom (ours) and one smaller 1-bedroom. You can also see the division because, before, each apartment had two balconies, but now we have three and she just has one. And, because the wall between my living room and bedroom is about 17 inches but is probably only about 4" between my bedroom and her living room. In fact, my headboard is probably literally lined up with her sofa. Unlike typical French families we (my husband, son, and I) all dine and sleep early. With this new setup, I may as well just go park myself on her sofa and try to sleep. It's nearly the same thing.

None of the above situations are impossible to deal with. They are nice enough people; they are simply living their lives and so I don't let it bother me too much.

The one that is hard to live with, however, is my downstairs neighbor. It's ironic that she complains we are too noisy, considering we wear slippers all the time, are in bed by about 8PM - 10PM and wake at a normal hour (7AM) and never have evening guests. But what I will mention, in light of this post, is the heartbreaking fighting that I hear nearly every night. While the baby's crying upstairs, and the next door neighbor is entertaining, this woman is screaming at her 7-year old son. I hear him screaming at her to stop, to shut up. I hear her badgering him over and over and over again. She berets him incessantly until he stops yelling back and just starts crying. I hear thunderous running, banging, crashing and thumping. One time he broke a lamp. We've heard her threats to send him to pension (boarding school isn't viewed the same in France like in England or the USA). Regardless of what's said, I can hear the anger, the hate, the frustration, the pain underneath it all.

I've tried to pray for this woman, her situation, the boy. I've tried to be friendly despite her rude treatment towards us. I've tried to reason with her or defend myself when she attacks me in the hallway. Once, about three years ago, I even called the French protective services for children because I was so alarmed by the violence I heard each night. Nothing has changed. And I fear nothing will.

It's just a reminder that not only in my building in Paris, but in thousands of buildings in this beautiful city, hundreds of thousands around this country, and millions around this world, are stories just like this and even worse. Broken lives in the midst of beauty...in this fragile world...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bébé : French style

My upstairs neighbor has a new baby. It's her first. And, French style, they are letting this poor creature cry-it-out. I'm familiar with this style of parenting as I was informed of it by French nurses when I had my baby. I'm not a fan of this approach. It's painful to hear a newborn baby crying for an hour when, to me, its needs are simply not being met. :(

About a Boy

I'm reading a book called It's a Boy! by Michael Thompson and Teresa Barker. The book is broken down into chapters by age groups and includes all sorts of information on boys development emotionally, physiologically, socially, educationally, and more. I bought it before my son was born and read through the chapters that relate to his age.

I picked it up a few days ago and opened up to the Chapter titled: "Ready or Not, Here Comes School. Your son, Five to Seven." I started reading with some grim cynicism. Questions on whether or not my boy is ready for school are moot at this point. I did not have my choice (nearly 0.000000001%) on when I put my son into school. I live in France. In France, children go to school at the tender age of THREE! Granted, it's a preschool, of sorts. But in French terms, (by even American terms), it's a serious and very structured situation these children are put into.

Reading this chapter made me sad that I didn't have the option, really, to not put my child in school. My husband is French, I live in French society, this is what is done, what we did. He had a difficult first year. We knew it would be a shock: both his parents worked from home and he was never put into the other big French socialization system (the halte guarderie)(day care) until a year before school. Separation anxiety was a big issue for us.

Plus, being a bilingual little child, his language had not developed before he went to school. In fact, he really didn't speak until about a month before his first year of school ended. This did not go over well with his very old-school, very French, very brute teacher. We've heard from other French parents  that their children also did not bode well necessarily with this particular teacher.

In any case, the point is moot, as I said. Simon has been in school for three years now. I'm happy to report that after this first year he has thoroughly, totally, completely blossomed. He is fully fluent in French (and speaks English when he wants to in English-speaking situations). He is bright, happy, active. And, he is very social, popular with boys and girls. He's turning into a vrai Frenchman--coming home with typical French phrases and mannerisms. All truly adorable to witness!

Heartbreaking NYC "Home Video"

Looking at a post from Gothamist.com, I was compelled to watch this video, "Doin' Time in Times Square," by  Charlie Ahern. Filmed from his apartment window in Times Square, it took me about a week to get through it, due to other tasks I had to do, and its disturbing nature.

It's a compelling "view" on NYC life in the 80s and I was struck by a number of things:
- how today we are more or less the same in our violence
- how police don't just "amble" up to "peace disturbers" with the same casualness using just batons (not today's "guns-out-ablazin'" approach)
- and then of course the utter humanity of it: The lost souls. The hurt souls. The pain. The misdirected pain. The abuse of self and others...

I'm still gripped by the poor "boy" who was punched in the face rendering him unconscious... I wonder was he ever revived? Did it change the course of his life immeasurably? Did he turn from the life that took him into the middle of a fist-fight dead center in Times Square? Or did he continue further down a painful path as a result of his pain?

Of course, interspersing these graphic scenes with baby and toddler birthdays and family life, creates the contrast Charlie was going for: the life outside is heart wrenchingly sad.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Get me to the church on time...!

For the past two weeks, going to church felt a bit like a mouse in a maze. For two weeks since the Charlie Hebdo, and subsequent, attacks in Paris, we were met with roadblocks nearly at every turn. Looking at this map (complements of the metro station) gives a clear understanding of why it's probably the most well protected church in France! Not noted on this picture, but also in Sector E are the British and American Embassies and their Ambassador's residence.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oh Chanel!

Yesterday I was walking down Avenue Montaigne...

Normally I just walk with my head turned sideways, eagerly taking in the latest in high fashion as I pass Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Fendi, Valentino and Ralph Lauren.

This day, though, I could not help but stop and backtrack after I'd whizzed by Chanel. I stopped to look at these remarkable diamond-encrusted watches. I couldn't believe my eyes. I even paused for a moment to actually consider what it would feel like to have one of these resting on my wrist.

In the past I wouldn't stop and gaze at such decadent finery because I knew one of those lovelies would never be in my future. Plus such as my life is, I think my practical side would refuse something like this, opting for a car or something more useful!

I took my time and looked at each one, imagining them on my neck, wrist, fingers... I suppose it was a bit of a Breakfast at Tiffany's opening scene moment...

And then I got to the end of the window, and like a child at Christmastime gazing at department store animated windows, my fantasy broke and I was back out on the street, albeit a very nice and pretty street!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Capital Koala: a capital idea!

I've posted on social media sites quite a few times over the past year about my new favorite web site, Capital Koala, a loyalty program for families to save for their children's future, with the main objective to help prepare financing higher education. Through its plug-in (or site directly) Capital Koala reimburses up to 30% of online purchases made by its members directly into a savings account for their children. Members can invite as many friends and relatives as they like who can also contribute to the child's savings account through all their online purchases as well. It becomes a team-effort savings account. I think it's brilliant: I need/want to buy something anyway, why not buy it online and have my son benefit too?! (PS: name defined below)

INTRODUCTIONS: I'd thought about contacting the company to see about securing an interview, but it wasn't until after I was featured on the About.me site in an interview when my passion got into action. After I was featured on this site, I got a lot of views and compliments. Looking at some of the other profiles, I saw the co-founder of Capital Koala. Eureka! I didn't hesitate to let him know how brilliant I thought his site was and how much I use it. He got back to me and we settled on a date to meet.


As I approached their office building I was met with a common situation in Paris, or maybe for startups in Paris. Their name was not on the building or door. The unique-to-Paris part is that in order to get into most buildings you must have a digital code. And, digital code I did not have. Typically, my smartphone couldn't find any network so I called my husband to look on the web for a general number. As he did I waited for someone to either enter or exit. Finally someone left and as I ducked inside, I asked if they knew the company. They said they thought it was on the fourth floor. Sure enough, they had a small sign pasted next to the company they were subletting from... Ah, the life of a startup!

Heading up to the offices I smelled that familiar scent I've known since 1993: the smell of anticipation and inspiration brewed with success. And coming out to greet me was a handsome young man with a broad smile and easy-going nature.


Alexandre Martin-Rosset, the younger of the two founders of Capital Koala, is a bright, thoughtful man with purposeful determination for his company's future. Coming from a middle-class family in Avignon, Martin-Rosset worked every summer since he was 16, always thinking about saving for university. Granted, tuition fees are not nearly what they are in the United States, but students must shell out money for rent, transportation and living expenses. The idea of a company that helped people save money for school began percolating as he labored each summer. After graduating from Sciences Po (Aix en Provence, May 2009) he went to London for a one-year internship as a Marketing Assistant for a company that imported design furniture from France, Italy, and Denmark. Heading further West, Martin-Rosset went to Boston, MA to study e-commerce strategies at the Harvard Extension School.

In the United States Martin-Rosset discovered the "cash back" concept at Walmart and other stores and thought about bringing something like that to France. After school, Martin-Rosset went to work at Chaussons Finance, a consulting firm in Paris, for three months until he went to the ESCP Europe Entrepreneurship Specialised Master for seven months. It was here he met his future business partner Jean-Yves Bernard who had more business experience, and whom he pitched his idea after one month.

BEGINNINGS: They fine-tuned and hatched their idea in school, winning the Best Project Prize in March 2010, after which they integrated into the school incubator for two years. Starting in April 2012, they worked, gratis, out of Deloitte's headquarters in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where they developed their own proprietary technology. All along they were winning competitions throughout Europe.

With just one bank (ING) and 100 online vendors on board, they beta-tested the site with family and friends for six months. They moved into their present co-sharing space in April 2014 and currently employ eight people, three of whom are in Paris and five developers just outside the city perimeters. Each developer is devoted to all aspects of one browser (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) and one for the website. (I mentioned some problems my husband had using the plug-in on Safari and Martin-Rosset admitted Safari and the Mac OS were especially troublesome but that they were aware and working on it.)

BUSINESS MODELS: Based on their original business model (a commission for each savings account (Livret A) created with a partner bank), Martin-Rosset told me they had $1 million earned income. After four years they felt this model too limiting. Going forward in 2015, they've switched from a commission-from-the-banks to a percentage-from-the-vendors model. Now, each bank simply promotes them to all bank customers, and their revenue comes as a percentage of all sales from vendors.

Forgoing the formal contracted relationship allows for an easier engagement for the banks (usually reticent to part with their money) with Capital Koala as a simple marketing vehicle. And, as part of the marketing budget, vendors are motivated to promote Capital Koala as another win-win way for people to spend more. The more people spend, the more the commerçant makes, the more Capital Koala makes, and the more money that will eventually get versé (deposited) into your child's saving account.

SUBSCRIBERS: With 1,500 vendors it's easy to make nearly every purchase you could need or want online. I'm so in love with this platform that I confessed to Martin-Rosset that once, after having bought 100€ of face creams in a store, I returned them the next day so I could re-buy them online via Capital Koala and have my son benefit as well! He nodded, smiling, saying that he gets lots of emails like that and that they average 200 emails a week from satisfied clients.


Serving 70,000 families, 95% of whom are in France, Capital Koala also reaches subscribers in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Divulging more on the client profile, Martin-Rosset explained customers range from wealthy families with just two parents contributing to lower socio-economic families with lots of relatives and friends contributing. This is a good time to mention: you can add as many sponsors as you wish. They also added, in January 2014, a relationship with UNICEF so clients could donate a percentage of their cash-back savings to benefit this charity.

LOOKING FORWARD: We chatted about the business environment in France and what Martin-Rosset has lined up for 2015. Knowing France has had its challenges in change, I asked if it was easy in the beginning to sign on the banks. As to be expected in France, a country invested in maintaining tradition and traditional methods, it took about nine months to get a traditional bank on board compared to the online banks.

Martin-Rosset admitted, despite the past year's impressive efforts to help entrepreneurs and startups, starting a new company in France is hard. He spoke briefly about the size of the market in France versus the United States. (Here's an excellent review of the US vs France startup market/business.) Stating something I'd not considered, but see to be true, Martin-Rosset commented this generation is the first one that is very open to new business practices. He feels there still is competition between generations whereas in the U.S. it's easy to see several generations working together and accepting changing business and business models.

In terms of concrete developments in 2015, look for a much-needed website update, a mobile app (finally!) and other back-end developments for the site and proprietary technology.

COMPETITION: When asked if there were any other "cash back" programs like this in the world, Martin-Rosset cited Upromise (but which is a part of Sally Mae) and Kidstart in the UK. With an opportunity like this prime for the development, I asked him if they planned to expand into the US (and if I could help! ;))

Aside from having only two world-wide competitors, Capital Koala, isn't concerned about taking over and becoming a world-leader. Surprisingly, but refreshingly, they are simply focused on France with some ideas of later expanding into Spain and Germany.



NEXT BIG THING: Martin-Rosset's real interest lies in going offline. Eighty-five percent of all purchases in France are still brick-and-mortar sales. Martin-Rosset wants Capital Koala to be in the local boulangerie (bakery) as well as the boulangerie.com (not an actual partner site!).



He's very keen on digital payment systems and seeing this incorporated more in the B-&-M stores. He's currently working on "things" in area. Martin-Rosset feels this will be the "judge year" for Bitcoin and new payment systems will be changing a lot in years to come.



While he sees a world of opportunities, he has no plans to sell Capital Koala, which is also refreshing. Working during the first wave of dot-com where that was the 2nd question everyone asked (the first being "what's your business?"), I'm encouraged to meet young entrepreneurs who want to own their business, grow it and remain independent. Martin-Rosset feels this is important for customers too, of which he may soon be one (he's getting married in the summer ;).

WINNING COMBO: Martin-Rosset is the best combination of entrepreneur for France, and his particular business, today. He had a personal need for the product he's now created, he is invested in his home, homeland, country, business and its future, and he understands his constituencies. He knows the struggles traditional banks have in quickly adopting these new ideas, he knows how commerçants are eager to exert themselves in this increasingly crowded marketplace, and he understands the French mentality around money. Unlike the commercialism-buy-buy-buy attitude in the United States, the French are used to saving, and especially saving for children. A conservative culture, they are a society that generally doesn't spend a lot, and lives within their means. (This can also be attributed to, perhaps, until recently there were no credit cards.)

With 800,000 babies being born each year, Martin-Rosset is correct in feeling that he has an unlimited supply of new clients. If he captures even 1% of these families, this client relationship has the potential to last 18 - 20 years. With numbers like these it's hard not to see a bright and enduring future for this win-win, feel-good, profit-sharing, home-grown enterprise!

AWARDS

- Lauréat de l'ID d'OR "Transformation Sociétale" du Grand Prix Innovation Digitale 2014
- Lauréat du S.C.O.P.S. 2013 de Paris-Dauphine Université dans la catégorie "Programmes relationnels / Fidélisation"
- Startup de l'année 2013 à l'Internet Managers Club
- IMC Award
- Prix du Grand Jury Made in ESCP 2012 "Les 5 plus belles Start-ups ESCP Europe", Prix du magazine L'Entreprise, Prix Paris Business Angels, Prix Regus, Prix CJE, Prix Kitinova
- Lauréat du concours Graines de Boss 2012
- Coup de ♥ du Jury de la Startup Academy 2012
- Lauréat du concours Neuilly Labs Nouveaux Médias 2012 (Ville de Neuilly sur Seine - Deloitte)
- Coup de ♥ du Jury du Trophée des startups numériques 2011 (Telecom Sud-Paris)
- Lauréat Scientipôle Initiatives 2011 (Région Île-de-France)
- Lauréat BPI Innovation (anciennement OSEO) en 2010
- Lauréat du Prix Innover Entreprendre 2010 de l'ESCP Europe (Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris)


WHY KOALA?
Oh yes, about their name: As they explain on their website:
- "Capital" because they propose a new saving solution and because "it's Capital to prepare for the future."
- Koala because it's for children: a koala is sweet, soft, nice, and equipped with a marsupial pocket (like the kangaroos!) so it's a beautiful image to evoke a child's savings.
- Also: "Koala" is understood in all languages, and this sounds sufficiently "web", a little like the sites we know: "gOOgle", "yAHOo", "kOAla". Voilà! That's how "Capital Koala" is born, and that's it, you have already memorized @(*0*)@ ... (this is a smiley koala).

VIDEO INTERVIEW of Jean-Yves Bernard on Web-IT.TV, Télématin, France 2

Monday, January 19, 2015

#JeSuisCharlie web & public place solidarity

Over the past few weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I was aware of the use of the Internet and social media. Of course today using the web and social media in times of crisis is nothing new, but I had never used it as such. It also was interesting, for me, from a historical point-of-view.

I spoke with my husband about this when he came home from his business trip. I was telling him how I was, for the first time in my life, using Twitter as a news source on Friday 9 January to know what was happening in my neighborhood. The prior days I looked at Facebook to get the "big picture" news stories but I didn't bother with news channels (online or TV) or Twitter.  I knew it was too early to know what was really happening or what the real story was.

I asked him when the last terrorist attacks were in Paris. He was still living in Normandy and we looked online. The last major attacks (2 bombings) in Paris were in 1995. There was no Internet in France at that time. There was only the minitel. There was no social media. No Twitter. No Facebook. So it was interesting to see how all these venues were now being used during the attacks and in the days after. I, too, was using them in the way I've seen them used in other parts of the world during a crisis.

Every French website I visited had "Je Suis Charlie" on their masthead. The National Police page had crashed a few times during the afternoon. The city transit page listed all the metros that would be closed for the major manifestation/march on Sunday. From the afternoon of the attack to this day, most every website has either: "Je suis Charlie" as a banner or icon on their site, replaced their profile pic on Twitter/FB with the black square and tagline, or has their logo in black & white with a black rectangle diagonally across.

Another aspect I found interesting was how the whole country responded to the attacks visually. My husband was driving a company car* home from Nice and he said all along the highway there were images of solidarity with the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. 

* As an aside: He was driving home in a car used in the filming of his TV show Section de Recherches (http://www.sectionderecherches.fr and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/SECTION-DE-RECHERCHES-OFFICIEL/348738047268). Peugeot has a product placement arrangement with the show and my husband has driven cars on loan down to Nice, and returned others back to Paris. The drive is about 996 km (9 hours).

He commented that all along the highways companies (Ikea, highway and transport businesses) put their brand flags at half-mast. All along the highway digital signboards announced "Je suis Charlie" instead of with highway information. And as he arrived in Paris, one of the major expo centers (Paris Expo Porte de Versailles (www.paris-expoportedeversailles.com), which usually has colorful billboards announcing current and future expositions, were all black simply stating "Je suis Charlie." With three billboards on each side and he said it felt quite eery compared to the Piccadilly Circus-feel that part of the highway usually has.

Another site with more images of how public places throughoutParis "stood" with Charlie.


 

flickr album with full-scale images



Friday, January 16, 2015

#JeSuisCharlie

Attack

Living in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo attacks (starting January 7th) have been nerve-wracking to say the least. Not only as an American, but as a New Yorker who also lived through the 9/11 attacks, I've been especially on edge.

Thankfully, I suppose, I was oblivious to the attacks initially as I was getting my son out from school and taking him home for lunch. It wasn't until shortly before preparing to leave for a playdate when I was notified in quick succession of two messages people left for me on Facebook. They expressed concern for me and my wellbeing...I wondered why they would be mentioning this and thought "what could've happened in Paris?" I went to Google and typed "Paris news" and the results quickly listed the attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices.

Stunned, I wondered if it was safe to go just around the corner for this playdate. I looked out on the street. Quiet as usual. Senior citizens walking calming back with baguettes and other parcels in their hands. Younger mothers with trotinettes heading off after deposing their charges to one of the three private schools on the corner. Traffic, buses, everything seemed normal.

I figured I could safely get my son and I to the corner and the playdate without incident and if I saw police activity I could duck into one of a few options.

The other mothers at the playdate didn't seem too concerned. However, a family member called me with alarm, obviously because he is seeing American news channels, which are right in the heart of the conflict, and are experts at scare-reporting.

School

Thursday morning all the schools had the red triangle sign indicating Alerte Attentat "red alert", or literally "Alert Attack."

 

Thursday I stayed home for the most part other than taking my child to school. The perpetrators were still at large and even if I live in a "safe neighborhood" I didn't feel like walking around much anyway. I did laundry and parked myself on our sofa, checking out Facebook between finishing a mini-series (The Red Tent, if anyone is interested).

Friday morning I noticed the French flags still at half-mast. The day
was "quiet" until the afternoon. Normally I leave my son in for the after-school activities but this day I wanted to err cautious and get him at 3:00 like many other parents.

Flashback Friday / Times Gone By

Turning down his street at the same time as a police car, siren blaring, transported me instantly to 1940s occupied Paris. A man peered after the police from his doorway. I glanced at him and continued, picking up my pace. The policed passed my son's school and my heart-rate went back down from Fearful to just Elevated. I gathered my son, trying to keep my face happy and normal as he excitedly told me about his day, also noticing other parents with worried looks on their faces. We start our walk back home and stopped at our usual bench to eat his gouter (snack). It was after the third police car went past us the wrong-way down a one-way street, siren blaring, that I decided "enough of trying to act casual. Let's get out of here!" I told my son "oh, do you see the police cars? They must be going after a voleur. (thief) Let's get going and we can finish this at home."

We walked past a steady stream of students and parents and I realized one of the private schools changed their exit to the other side of their building (the street behind) as part of their Alerte Attentat (Elevated Red Alert) measures. One of our neighbors whose son is in my son's class asked if we heard about the event at Trocadero-- there were people with guns and they'd closed it down. I tried to act casual and minimize any drama in front of my son, who knew nothing about what was happening.

Acquiring Information, Releasing Tension 

At this point, safely home upstairs, I began following the news via Twitter. For the prior two days I'd just looked at Facebook and the posts people made about what was going on. With events possibly occurring in my neighborhood, and nearby Metro stations closing, I needed to know more what was happening. I apologized to my son for obsessively looking at my phone for the next few hours and explained there was some news I was trying to follow.

Going into my building that night I thought again about 1940s Paris. I thought how most of my neighbors, while not knowing me, know I'm American. I thought about one neighbor in particular who doesn't like me. And I felt, for a brief moment, like the Jews might've felt back then. Will my neighbor turn me in? Will they report me as American? Are the terrorists interested in finding Americans?....etc. etc. I decided this line of thinking isn't helping me so I switched gears to just generally not feeling safe. My husband came home late Saturday night and I finally began feeling like I could begin letting out the range of emotions and thoughts I had over the past four days. I wondered if, based on the latest US State Department alerts, terrorists would attack churches, what about anglo-saxon churches? I felt, for the first time in my life, scared about going to church. Now I thought about all those thousands and thousands of people who cannot openly worship, or who cannot worship without real fears for their safety.

Even my church, which originally posted online that they would be open Thursday and Friday afternoons as a sanctuary for prayer, announced on Friday that they needed to close their doors as well.


My grocery store (not kosher) put up a piece of paper stating they have the right to, and might, check bags as part of the Alerte Attentat. I was aware of how many times I checked various escape options (doors) throughout my shopping.







Celebrating Hope

Fast forward one and a half weeks later, Friday 16 January: my son's school held their annual "Balloon Release" and the night before visions of machine-gun toting vigilantes bursting into the playground invaded my mind. I remembered the underground labyrinth of rooms that were designated during WWII as shelter in case of a bombing.

Thankfully, the only screams I heard that morning were of 3-yr olds still scared at being in this new setting called "school," children who'd prematurely released their balloons, children whose balloons popped and other tender childhood traumas that only a mother's kiss or teacher's reassurance could provide.

These were quickly drowned out by cries of joy as the directrice rang the old-fashioned bell-on-a-rope signaling the children could finally open their tiny hands and let these instruments of happiness float up to the sky and beyond. The message within this ceremony is explained to the children that like their balloon, they too can go far in life--The Sky's The Limit--with their personal growth throughout their lives. Truly a sweet sentiment, aside from the ecological point of view (which has been debated for many years now).

  

Life in my neighborhood quickly resumed normalcy after the Charlie Hebo events. And while on the outside I'm getting back into the pace of things again, I gather it will take just a little bit of time for me to feel totally free from the fear again. Actually, as I write, the fear is gone...replaced, for now, with just a general heart-ache for our Time, our Days, our World. Knowing it is blessé (hurt), but also blessed.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Paris in "Red Alert" (Alerte Attentat)

Some little news on what Paris is doing after the horrible attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices...

From the Office of Education:

Among the precautions and information on new restrictions, there will be a 1-minute of silence at midi (noon) as homage to the victims.


And from my son's class representative:


All class outings have been cancelled. And we're in Red Alert now. School entrances are just through a single door and they've prohibited strollers and cars to be parked in front of schools. I don't know how they are going to control this in my neighborhood, filled with wealthy "entitled" families.

Paris designates the public schools for families within a 10-minute walking distance (not sure what this is in kilometers). We live on one of the outer limits and so our walk, well, my walk is 10-minutes and about 15 with my son. (30 going home because we dawdle!)

I know families who, even within this range, drive their children to school. And Paris is a city complete of small streets. So if even two people drive their children to school the streets are congested and there is no parking. But times this by 10 or more. The picture gets to be pretty hairy.

Anyway. I know I'm becoming French because my attitude towards this is now "not my problem."

And even though people clamor saying "continue your life as normal!" "don't change anything!" "don't let the terrorists win!" We, unlike these people, will not be going to museums as frequently as we did in the Fall...and for a few days I will not be moving far from my neighborhood.

Maybe some will say the terrorists won, as a result, but I don't care. I'd rather be cautious and safe than the alternative.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Cold, chalky Paris

I know, I know everyone dreams of living in Paris, and it is a dream in many ways, but there are lots of idiosyncrasies that snap one out of the dream quickly.

Like my super drafty apartment and the exorbitant heating costs.

Or when I take a shower the water is so hard it feels like I'm washing with chalk.

Or a neighbor who, is having some sort of "emergency" and leaves a note this morning announcing they will be shutting off the building's water between 18h00 - 2100 (6pm - 9pm), right when everyone is coming home from work, preparing dinner and washing up for bed. Harrumph! (Thankfully I am home during the day so I have three large buckets as reserve.)

* Endnote: the suspect neighbor just rang to say the water's back on! Grateful for small miracles!

Velib resto - "La Maison Velib"

Velib, the Paris bike-sharing program, has opened a restaurant, in conjunction with the healthy restaurant Exki earlier in 2014. It looked very interesting and I thought the concept was novel.

A few days ago, when I had to buy a new iPhone (thanks 5s for dying before Christmas), I spied the Masion Velib Exki outside the back of the bank-turned-Apple-store.


After dropping 709€ (sans plan) we headed around the corner to check it out. The first thing I noticed was the amazing smells from the moment we walked in. YUMMMMMMM!!!!! On our left and straight ahead were counters where delicious looking and smelling, fresh, healthy food was being prepared.

My 5-yr. old son noticed the bicycle seats with pedals right away. He wanted to try them out and we noticed iPads set into wood "tree" poles. So you can pedal away, zoning out on an iPad while eating... This impressed me as a significant statement on our culture and times these days.

There were two Velib bikes parked in the entrance, creating the line for people to order and barrier to the restaurant. There were bornes (terminals) where one could check their Velib account or do other Velib business. I liked the red phone where you could call into what must be a secret Velib office to file a complaint or speak about other Velib-related business.

I did have a few disappointments regarding the actual dining experience. When I first heard about this concept restaurant I had some naïve impression one could actually ride their bike up to a Take Out window, order and then bike off. I also thought Velib wasted an opportunity to have an actual Velib station in front of the restaurant. And, wouldn't it be cool if there were cafe tables outside (like so many other Paris cafés) where people could ride up to the restaurant, stay on their bikes (sit on their bike) and eat at an appropriate-height table, and then ride away (like a Sonic or those 1950s drive-ins).

When my wallet fills up again I'll head over another time and try it, even if I have to take the Metro and go inside!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saint James Inspiration

For Christmas I thought I'd ask my Mother-in-Law for this sweater:

For a number of reasons, I ended up with cash to buy the sweater online. Before buying, I looked more closely at the picture and when I saw the full sweater I realized it was much plainer, and less shapely, than I originally thought.

Upon more closer inspection at the detailing I began to think that I might be able to do something similar, cutting up a mariniere-style shirt. I took out some of my blue-and-white striped shirts and sweaters. Hmmm...nothing quite right. Then I thought about all the fabric swatches I had stored under my bed. I pulled them out and began laying them on an old Saint James sweater that I would use as my base.

This sweater was originally cream-colored but after a few food stains, I tried to dye it navy blue. That project didn't work out -- the sweater turned out a more slate blue. It was the perfect item ready for some "up-cycling!"

Among the scraps I found an old Jessica McClintock lacy shirt that I'd cut up and saved for a future project. I also pulled out all my old buttons and began the process of "which fabric" with "which buttons."

I'd come up with a combination that I was satisfied with and began sewing.

...And I'm happy to report I'm thrilled with the results! My son was very proud of me too...and gave me a big hug and little pat just before he started playing tennis with some soft "snowball" ornaments! Happy sewing and tennis tout le monde!

  

Friday, January 02, 2015

My kitchen is my nightmare

My kitchen is my nightmare but not in the way you would imagine. I love that I can access nearly anything I need with just an arms reach in my closet-sized space. When I visit family with large kitchens I feel like it's such a waste of energy always having to run back and forth all the while making a recipe. No, it's not the space that annoys me. It's the cold.

Typical old French apartments (and maybe even some modern ones) have a little box cut into the kitchen's exterior-facing wall where they store fruits, vegetables and potatoes. There is a ventilation "frame" cut into the exterior wall, and a little door that opens into the kitchen.

It's called a cellier. I use it occasionally and think it's brilliant. Until Winter comes. When Winter comes this little maison des legumes (vegetable house as I call it) become my nightmare.

The point of this cubby is to keep vegetables cool and fresh. Since there is always air coming in from the outside, and the little door on the kitchen side to access the vegetables is not airtight, there's always a little fresh air coming into the kitchen. And it's not winterized. So cold, icy, Winter air comes into the apartment all Winter long.

Because we live in an old French apartment, with all it's charming polished parquet floors, old marble fireplaces, super high ceilings and double-French doors out onto our balconies, we also have paper-thin walls to our neighbors (another post), and we have a freezing kitchen! 

I try to protect our home by taping plastic over the door, but the tape never sticks very well due to the slippery walls (and cheap tape). I keep the door to the kitchen closed to contain the cold in one room. And I've become a crazy woman reminding everyone to close the doors to every other room to keep the heat inside. But every time I go into my kitchen I freeze.

I guess I could think of it like those thermal baths to help me feel better?!

Here's the "ventilation" in the toilette room and my shoddy-white trash kitchen "fix" (more like a "fail"), complete with the white t-shirt stuffed into the gap between the counter and wall where there's a definite strong breeze. Have to truck all over Paris to find some duck tape!!