The BAC is back!

Screen shot 2014-06-20 at 2.39.10 PMI briefly explained the French Bac a few years ago (yikes! I’ve been doing this blog for more than a year?), and it is that time again. A professor in Em’s school asked the class how baccalaureat was spelled, and none of the kids were 100% sure!  Em’s first exam was this week. A four hour written French Lit exam. She is terrified that she has done what they call an hors sujet, the fairly common mistake of misinterpreting the question. In which case, the student gets zero points.

Screen shot 2014-06-20 at 10.54.21 AMAnd while that is every French kid’s nightmare, students living in rural France had an even bigger nightmare this year; getting to the exam on time. In cities, there are enough bac candidates, that kids generally take the exam at their own school. In rural areas, several villages may be grouped together, with kids having to travel an hour or more, relying on trains, to get to their exams on time. The bac officially began this Monday at 8h30 with the 4 hour Philosophy exam, arguably the most important exam in the bunch. And this Monday, the SNCF decided to “respect” their on-going strike, keeping rail service at a minimum and disrespecting students in need, giving rather stressed out teens something more to worry about. Of course, the more affluent families could afford to put their kids in a hotel near the testing center the night before the exam, or a parent could take the morning off work to drive the student. The ones that were really hurt were the poorest students. Which means, the union leaders of France knowingly sacrificed the future of all the hardship students in an entire class. These are presumably the very people the unions were created by and for. It is infuriating!

Screen shot 2014-06-20 at 10.31.36 AMPerhaps as a reaction to the stress, the students have created a bit of humour for the nation, with their reaction to the Literature exam, that featured Victor Hugo’s poem, Crépuscule. “Victor Hugo, if I see you on the street, you’re a dead man.” one of them tweeted, and another put out a reminder that Hugo was under the influence of a particularly illegal substance when writing the poem, leaving the tweeter mdr (mort de rire, aka dying of laughter). Hugo himself would have loved the controversy, since he referred to the bac as “stupide” in “Les Misérables” and thought the authors that students were forced to study were all old and irrelevant. Not sure if he’d enjoy knowing that he is now a social media superstar, trending on Twitter.

In case you’re interested, here is the poem, about a blade of grass. My apoligies. I couldn’t find it in English…


L’étang mystérieux, suaire aux blanches moires,
Frisonne; au fond du bois la clairière apparaît ;
Les arbres sont profonds et les branches sont noires ;
Avez-vous vu Vénus à travers la forêt ?

Avez-vous vu Vénus au sommet des collines ?
Vous qui passez dans l’ombre, êtes-vous des amants ?
Les sentiers bruns sont pleins de blanches mousselines;
L’herbe s’éveille et parle aux sépulcres dormants.

Que dit-il, le brin d’herbe ? et que répond la tombe ?
Aimez, vous qui vivez ! on a froid sous les ifs.
Lèvre, cherche la bouche ! aimez-vous ! la nuit tombe;
Soyez heureux pendant que nous sommes pensifs.

Dieu veut qu’on ait aimé. Vivez ! faites envie,
O couples qui passez sous le vert coudrier.
Tout ce que dans la tombe, en sortant de la vie,
On emporta d’amour, on l’emploie à prier.

Les mortes d’aujourd’hui furent jadis les belles.
Le ver luisant dans l’ombre erre avec son flambeau.
Le vent fait tressaillir, au milieu des javelles,
Le brin d’herbe, et Dieu fait tressaillir le tombeau.

La forme d’un toit noir dessine une chaumière;
On entend dans les prés le pas lourd du faucheur;
L’étoile aux cieux, ainsi qu’une fleur de lumière,
Ouvre et fait rayonner sa splendide fraîcheur.

Aimez-vous ! c’est le mois où les fraises sont mûres.
L’ange du soir rêveur, qui flotte dans les vents,
Mêle, en les emportant sur ses ailes obscures,
Les prières des morts aux baisers des vivants.

A (very) quick get away

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.57.31 PMAfter two decades of being the chief travel agent for my family, it was a bit odd moving in with Mr French and having someone actually question my plans. Odd, and entirely wonderful not to always be the only one in charge; depending on someone else has become as lovely as a plush cashmere sweater. Sunday I was savouring that rich, cosy feeling as Mr French escorted me to the car, not a word about our destination.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.57.50 PM Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.58.06 PM Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.58.20 PM Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.59.17 PMScreen shot 2014-06-16 at 6.58.41 PM It wasn’t long before the gps told me we were going to the Parc de Vincennes. I suspected we were off to check out the new zoo, or perhaps take a row in the little lake. Instead, we drove to the very far end of the park to the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, roughly translated as the Tropical Agriculture Gardens, that I hadn’t even known existed.

The gardens were built in the 19th century as a place for botanists to cultivate vanilla orchids, cocoa plants, tea bushes and other tropical crops to develop the maximum of profits from the French colonies, seedlings and saplings were shipped to far off lands with romantic names; Indochina, Mauritius. Today there are historic photos of the innovative transportable green houses they invented to ensure the plants thrived during their voyage at sea, and the crumbling remains of the local green houses where teams of scientists once swarmed, busy as bees.

Paris’ 1907 Colonial Fair featured the countries that where the garden’s crops were grown, and after the fair, it seemed as natural as the non-gmo crops they were cultivating, to co-opt the exotic pavilions of these countries. The ornate structures were brought to the grounds and turned into housing,  workshops or labs, while others were simply left as monuments to the work at hand.

And then The Great War erupted. The grounds keepers realized they had a precious resources and offered the pavilions, surrounded by their restorative gardens, to be used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. But not just any soldiers, this became a healing space reserved for soldiers who had come to Europe from across the seas to fight alongside their French colonial masters.

Today, the grounds are dotted with powerful monuments to these men, with interpretive signs that bear photos of soldiers wearing fez, billowing white robes, wide, straw hats. The exotic pavilions have been left to weather away or burnt to the ground by negligent squatters. There is now an active organic garden where city gardeners sell the produce and offer classes on organic farming and composting. A refurbished green house serves as a conference center, hosting events like the one we accidentally stumbled upon, “Autour d’une rizière” (around the rice patty) which featured tropical fruit, chocolate and coffee tastings. And because you’re never very far from astounding art in Paris, the circus artist Johann Le Guillerm has created a poetic environmental piece of wood planks nested into one of the pavilions.

A handful of Parisians have discovered this nearly secret garden, strolling in for restorative picnics surrounded by impressive trees and colorful wild flowers. As we strolled through this delicious little day dream, I grabbed Mr French’s hand and thanked him for the unique moment in Paris,1000s of miles away from our world.

Ladies with an attitude


Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.30.40 PMThere is often a bevy of handsome young men standing outside the building next door. Occasionally, I will find myself alone in the evening, dressed up after a dinner out and winding my way along the narrow, romantic street I call home. As I pass, the neighboring door, the picturesque little clique stands up taller, straightening their ties, brushing back their carefully gelled hair, preening like peacocks.

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.14.32 PMIt would be flattering to think such good looking men were truly interested in me, but I suspect that they are much more interested in gaining access to the libertine club (high-end swingers club) that is just 10 meters away from the entrance they block. The kind of place where single men are not welcome and a last minute date most welcome, good chemistry not required. I have never been a customer and the only kind of swinging that tempts me is from jungle vines in African forests, but it does make me incredibly curious, wishing I could be the proverbial fly on the wall, safely out of range of any S&M whips that may swash through the air.

Which is why I was thrilled when I met Heather Stimmler-Hall the author of Naughty Paris, a ladies guide to the sexy city. Heather has just come out with the second edition of her book, updating addresses and adding internet solutions, so it will stay pertinent. What I loved about meeting Heather was seeing that an eloquent, elegant lady has her wild side and isn’t afraid to share it, giving confidence to more timid creatures. And while I’ll probably never sprout the wings required to fly into one of those clubs, I heartily approve of her choice of hotels, restaurants and shopping, while savouring a voyeuristic satisfaction of seeing a discrete insider photo, or two, of the clubs to feed my imagination.

The guide is not just for wild romantics, it is written for solo women looking for love (she mentions Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.30.58, the site where I found Mr French!) and gaggles of girls who just wanna have fun! Pole dancing classes, make-up tips, CFM shoes, NP steals a glimpse of it all.

As a loyalty card carrying member of a local “sexy costume” boutique where I shop for our weekend get aways, and a die hard fan of French stockings (modern silicon keeps them up at the thighs, no more slipping down, and they are SO sexy!), I can’t wait to visit one of the corset makers Heather recommends. I was thinking midnight blue silk with rolled satin trim, no lace. And her pages pushed me to finally reserve a romantic dinner at 1728.

Heather’s 2nd edition will only be available in the US in December, but you can get your own, personal sneak preview by contributing to the Kickstarter Campaign Heather is running so she can do an environmentally friendly print run of the books. Keep in mind, this is not a donation, you are getting what you would be buying normally, only a few months before anyone else AND her campaign has a bunch of special offers for some incredibly romantic moment in the sexy city. Keep in mind, Kickstarter campaigns only run 30 days, so its now, or never. And if NaughytParis doesn’t raise the entire 20,000 CDN dollars they are looking for, then you are not charged a cent, but you don’t get the book, either. Its daddy takes all folks, so step into the club for a fun, flirty visit to Paris. THE GOOD STUFF IS HERE

ps – all images stolen directly from Naught Paris. I figure they won’t mind a threesome for the cause!!!

Tip toe-ing through…

Feeling like a Parisienne in the Tuileries...

Feeling gorgeous in the Tuileries…

When I heard we were (finally!) immigrating to France, a daydream rolled through my mind like a Hollywood film; cycling through the streets of Paris, the pedals wedged under the incredibly sexy heels I did not yet own, a Burberry trench, also absent from my wardrobe, catching the breeze behind me. The sun always shone and the streets were cobble stoned in this fantasy. The sidewalks were lined with men who would stop and stare with Parisien connaisseur-ship.

a traditional Dutch lock

a traditional Dutch lock

Within months after our arrival I had the shoes, the trench and the bike. Not just any bike, either. Like the rest of the dream, my vision had been very precise. I had dreamed of a vintage black Dutch bike with a swans’ neck, large wheels and a willow basket. It was a great bike, but somewhat clunky on those cobble stones and so rusty, it didn’t survive many seasons. But I loved it, and it served me well, as I would pedal to the girl’s school every afternoon, passing the dozens of Gendarmes who guarded the Prime Minister’s residence next door. These handsome, uniformed Frenchmen would stop and admire, just as I had imagined.

IScreen shot 2014-06-06 at 1.47.58 PM have decided that it is time to return to that dream and now that the weather is cooperating, I’ve been shopping for a bike. Which is a very convenient coincidence, since this morning I was invited to discover TulipBikes. Which is how I found myself pedaling through the Tuileries on a gorgeous, Parisian morning. On Dutch bikes, the cyclist sits up straight, and the large wheels make for delightfully efficient pedaling. I was living the dream, and this time it was more stylish than I had ever fantasized.

Even cooler, your Tulip Bike is designed by you, each custom two wheeler put together in Maastricht, Holland by the handicapped and traditionally un-employable. What is that? Doing good for the environment, while helping others? Yes! And even better, the prices are surprisingly reasonable, which has made me a fan!

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 1.48.27 PMAs you design your bike, keep in mind that Dutch men opt for a black frame, while Dutch women prefer the white. French men choose the white and French women the red or green. As for me, they are so gorgeous that I am having a hard time deciding and would like your help. Green with a wooden basket, or red with a willow basket? Or is there something better? Even if you’re not in the market, it’s fun to dream with all the options on their site.



Falling in LOVE

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 5.07.54 PM

When it comes to sports, I am more of an athlete than a fan. Running, swimming, hiking, I want to be on the go! As a child, I learned to enjoying going to baseball games with my family and friends. In college, it was football games, rooting for the UCLA Bruins. Then I married a Montréal and discovered the accidental choreography of ice hockey. Living with Mr French, I started tramping out to the Stade de France in -0 weather to cheer on Les Bleus. Truth be told, I have loved every minute of it, but nothing has been quite as fun as last week’s visit to Roland Garros for the Women’s finals at the French Open.

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 5.07.12 PM

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 5.07.24 PM

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 5.06.56 PM Mr French and I were there as guests of a sponsor, so there was a delicious pleasure to walking up to a guard, giving our name and being invited in, without tickets in hand. We were early, but the grounds were already buzzing with true fans who were there to watch the seniors matches (remember McEnroe?) and the junior championship tournaments.

There is a booth, sponsored by Longines watches that lets people time their serves. Could they match the 200kmh of a male pro? Not many were up to the task, but a lot had fun trying. And, yipee for me, there is a tennis MUSEUM! Can you believe it? A museum at the arena? Not only that, but the collection is alot about fashion. The evolution of tennis shoes, the first sequined tennis outfit for an indoor match, and the history of the famous Lacoste logo. There was the beret of the Basque Bondissant, with air holes added for comfort, and a tin trophy made from scrap metal during the war.

There is also a more serious display dedicated to Roland Garros, a pioneer in aviation and valiant fighter during WWI. He was also a playboy, with a roll call of famous friends and a fascinating story. The final exhibit honors tennis during WWI, which began exactly 100 years ago.

Heading up to our seats, we were invited to touch the Susan Lenglen trophy that the Russian Maria Sharpova and the Romanian Selima Halep would be battling over in the afternoon heat. Our sponsor had invited guests from across the globe and it was a particular joy watching the match as cheers sounded out around us in Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, Japanese and English. There wasn’t a lot of French to be heard, because they are a much more sedate crowd and were complete drowned out by my Spanish neighbors. At one point I turned to the elegantly discrete French woman next to me and apologized for having made her jump when I shout in disappointment over a fault.

“Non, its is not a problem. I find it, uhm…. amusing.”

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 4.43.13 PMOur group was split evenly between those cheering for the prodigal Sharapova and the new comer Halep. It was an incredible afternoon, the second set going in to over time, and the entire match lasting more than 3 hours, bringing Sharapova to her knees when finally victorious, while Halep returned to her bench and composed herself under a towel.

Both women were extremely gracious during the awards ceremony, applauding each other’s efforts and skill and acting like the true sportswomen young girls can model themselves after. So now, I’m a tennis fan. Stay tuned for a visit to Wimbledon in the very near future…

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN0939Karen Samimi’s Thursday visit…

ADSCN0964rc de Triomphe

I’ve climbed the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) several times since I’ve lived in Paris, with visiting family members. It happens to be a 20-minute walk from my apartment, and I’d been meaning to go back for awhile. I chose a cool, dry April afternoon, even though the skies were filled with both white and ominous-looking grey clouds. That didn’t matter though: the skyline appeared even more drDSCN0980amatic than if the sun had been shining brightly.

The Arc was constructed from 1806 and 1836 to glorify the armies of the French Republic and the Empire. The single arch is located in the middle of a square with 12 avenues radiating out from it, all of which are named after battles and famous people related to France’s military history. Originally named “The Star”, this square is now called Place Charles de Gaulle.

To reach the visitor’s entrance, take one of the short underground corridors leading from either the Champs-Elysées (near the Charles de Gaulle Etoile métro exit) or the Avenue de la Grande Armée.

The only elevator in the Arc is for employees and the handicapped, so visitors must walk up all 284 steps of the spiral staircase to visit the mezzanine at the top of the Arc. About half of the Arc is currently covered with scaffolding due to restoration work, but daily visits continue. A few steps below the mezzanine is the attic room displaying the history of the construction work and architectural models and sculptures.

DSCN0965Every evening at 6:30 pm, a ceremony for an unknown soldier at the flame of remembrance on the ground level within the Arc is conducted by one of France’s 900 veteran’s associations. The colorful ceremony may be watched either from the ground behind the crowd barriers or with a bird’s eye view via a horizontal video screen installed in the attic room.

The platform roof offers an impressive unobstructed view of the nearby Eiffel Tower and the rest of the Paris skyline and leafy avenues below. Large sculptures in high relief adorn the exterior walls of the Arc, and names of battles and generals are engraved on the inside walls.

Visitor information:
Open every day except January 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), July 14 (morning), November 11 (morning) and December 25
From April 1 to September 30: 10 am to 11 pm
From October 1 to March 31: 10 am to 10:30 pm
It takes about 1 hour for the visit, excluding the waiting line.
I found the line to be shorter after 4 pm on a regular weekday.
Last admission is 45 minutes before closing.

Métro lines 1,2, and 6 or RER A station Charles de Gaulle Etoile
Bus lines 22, 30, 31, 52, 73, 92 and Balabus

Entrance fees:

6 – 9.50 € for individuals
30 € for groups of 35 students maximum, including 2 adults
Free admission for:
Minors under 18 (family visit)
18-25 years old (for people under 26 years old who are citizens of one the 27 countries of EU or are non-European permanent residents of France)
Disabled visitors and their escorts
General public, on the first Sunday of each month from November 1 to March 31

Garden party

Hotel de Matignon

That was what was going through my head, a elaborate garden party with elegantly clad madames and their equally chic monsieurs murmuring gaily over the clink of champagne glasses and bird song. In reality, we were just on a tour with a few hundred other very casually dressed Parisians, visiting the gardens at Matignon, the Prime Minister’s residence, which were open to the public this weekend for the Fête des Jardins.

photo 2The Fête is an annual event that encourages everyone in the country to get out and explore local gardens. In Paris it is a particular treat, as very few of us have gardens of our own. When the girls were little we’d take them to our secret garden, Square Catherine Labourré for planting workshops, bird house building and harvesting the potager (kitchen garden).

The girls are beyond that now, and I had forgotten about the Fête until we cycled by a small line outside a small open door in a very long, imposing wall. Mr French stopped pedaling and wanted to know what was going on.

photo 5The entrance to the Hôtel de Matignon is on the rue de Varenne, but the gardens end on the rue de Babylone, where I once lived, so I knew exactly what was on the other side of the door. We stopped in for a stroll and were enchanted by the gorgeous grounds. There were signs up all over the place, explaining quirky facts and interesting details. We learned about the dog cemetery from when this had been the Austrio-Hungarian embassy and the tradition of having each Prime Minister plant a tree on the grounds while in office. Past choices have included oaks, maples and Prime Minister Cresson’s ginko. Manuel Valles, the current Prime Minister will be planting his tree this fall, but has not yet selected a species. Looking like an abandoned war bunker, there was an old glacière, where ice was once stored for cool breaks on hot summer days.

photo 4There was a lot of staff around the place, too; police circulating on Segways to make sure everyone stayed off the lawn, gardeners answering questions and bee keepers introducing the monument’s most recent tenants.

The gardens are not particularly floral, but they a sumptuous place to stroll and dream of garden parties…

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN1221Every Thursday my friend, Karen Samimi visits an exhibition, museum or monument in Paris, researching the venue before she goes and taking photos as she visits. Sometimes I even get to tag along, and now, you can too, as she shares her visits on FindingNoon…

DSCN1228Maison de Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in 1802 in Besonçon and lived in this 280 square meter Parisian apartment on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, located on the Place Royale (now called Place des Vosges) from 1832 to 1848, before his exile to The Channel Islands. He was exiled for declaring Napoleon III a traitor to France. His Paris home is now a museum run by the City of Paris. I especially enjoyed viewing the numerous paintings of the important people in his life. The house also contains sculpture and furniture, books, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, and Chinese decorations from his mistress Juliette Drouet’s home on the island of Guernsey. The permanent collections can be viewed in approximately an hour. Also of particular note are the paintings, sculpture, and posters exhibited in the stairwells.

DSCN12436 place des Vosges, 4è

01 42 72 10 16

Métro: Bastille, Saint-Paul or Chemin-Vert

Bus: 20, 29, 69, 76, 96

Open Tuesdays to Sundays between 10 am and 6 pm, last admissions at 5:40 pm.
Closed on public holidays: January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, May 8, Ascension
Thursday, July 14, August 15, November 1, November 11, and December 25.

DSCN1230The permanent collection is free to the public.
Audioguide rental is 5 euros.
Temporary exhibitions are between 5 and 7 euros.





all photos ©KarenSamimi2014


The dark areas voted for the FN.

Appropriately, they used a dark color to show where the FN came out ahead.

That was the cover of Le Figaro Sunday night. France has just survived a political earthquake. The cover of the British Guardian paper was very similar in talking about the UK. On Saturday, three Jews were killed outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels. On Sunday two young Jews were beaten up in a suburb of Paris. But that is not what has everyone so upset. What is upsetting this week is racism and intolerance and a much bigger scale; the catastrophic results of Sunday’s EU elections, when several anti-EU parties gained seats to represent their countries in the European parliament.

The results have left much of the continent feeling the earth move under our feet. Not only are these parties against the EU, but they are against immigration in general, immigration from Africa and Asia in particular. With guerilla fighting going on around the airport in the Ukraine, there is an unsettling feeling of 1939 in the air.

In France, the results are a disaster; 57% of us didn’t even care enough to get out and vote against these intolerant racists.

My excuse? Everyone in my neighborhood was going to vote like I would, so my vote wouldn’t count anyway. Horrible logic, and now I regret it because the Front National, France’s racist, far-right wing political party has won the biggest part of European parliamentary seats in France. My vote would not have changed the results, but it may have sent out a clear message that the French care who represents them at the EU.

The truth is, many of us feel there is no one to vote for. The Socialist party that is currently running the government is an unequivocal disaster. They are consciously killing the economy to the point that very few French see things getting better for their children and there is a massive brain drain to countries where hope is encouraged. Or at the very least, not discouraged.

The UMP is the more right wing of the two major parties but they lack courage to make the changes that would be necessary for France to grow economically, or the foresight to foster tolerance in society. Even if they’d be an improvement, they are so deep in scandal over the misuse of funds that they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a federal budget.

There is a far-left political party, but communism didn’t work the first time around, and the French are not anxious to be the next guinea pigs. Which leaves the far-right Front National that is responsible for the recent seismic activity, winning more seats than any other party in France. The FN wants France to pull out of the EU and now they are representing us in its parliament. It boggles the mind. They are against immigration, would like a return to the franc and claim that the gas chambers in concentration camps didn’t necessarily exist. Their eleven mayors who were elected on the national level in April are doing really important things like outlawing hanging one’s laundry to dry out of one’s window, evicting human right’s associations and preventing the construction of a mosque. For the FN, France is a Catholic country, always has been, and really needs to be again. They are bad news and they are not alone.

UKIP, a similarly racist party excelled in the UK elections. It is a disaster with indifference among Europeans opening the door for intolerance. The crisis in the Ukraine, random violence against minorities and the current mood has some people very, very worried.



La Fête des Voisins

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.51.17 PMMaman French gets very angry when served oatmeal. I learned this last Christmas vacation when I pulled an apple-pear crumble out of the oven and she went into conniptions over the oatmeal laced topping, spouting out expressions like “donkey feed” and “during the war”. This little tantrum popped into my head last Friday afternoon as I started scooping oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie dough onto baking sheets, making the cookies I’d be bringing to the convent next door for the Fêtes des Voisins. I was assuming that the nuns would be about her age and suddenly panicked that they may have the same aversion to oats.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.53.08 PM Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.52.42 PMMy assumptions were wrong. The nuns are of every age and from diverse backgrounds; there is a British nun and a sister from Rwanda. They greeted us warmly, showing us a buffet table set up in their cafeteria and invited us in to discover their tidy garden.

Before learning more about the Société des Auxiliatrices des âmes du Purgatoire, I was anxious to see inside the Neo-byzantine chapel I admire from my balcony every morning. Built in the 1870’s it is now a National Monument and the nuns gather here for mass every Thursday morning at 8:30, the harmonious singing of their prayers vibrating on the air to create a concert with the tap tap tapping of the keyboard in my living room. The church is a peaceful symphony of pale stone and gold studded mosaïcs, with a glass door that announces “Hope” to all who enter.

Marie-Françoise was the first nun to greet me outside and I immediately began peppering her with questions; What was their order? What did they do? What did she?

The Auxiliary Sisters of Purgatory were founded by Eugenie Smet in 1856. Today they are 540 nuns in over 20 countries practicing the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuit leader, St Ignatius of Loyola. Among other activities, the nuns on our street teach catechism and run a hostel for religious scholars. They also use their hostel to welcome families who are in Paris to tend to their ill children at Necker, the Children’s Hospital that is just a block away.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.52.12 PMAs I got more personal Sister Marie-Françoise was very generous, sharing that she had been a teacher before entering the religious life. She is now retired, but works at a center near Montparnasse where homeless can get a fixed mailing address, spending a few hours each week signing people up and distributing mail. And she takes care of her one hundred and four year old mother. 104!

After our chat, we returned to our neighbors who were gathered around the table, sharing snacks and talking about life in the neighborhood. As we entered the hall, an elder nun pointed me out. “That’s her, that’s the American who made the cookies.” Was it praise or accusation? I held my breath a second as questions started coming my way about the spices I’d used, the cooking time and would I share the recipe. I blushed, I thanked them and the question turned to more important topics, like who owned the huge dog who never seemed to leave the balcony of the 4th floor. Wasn’t it sad the chocolate shop had left the neighborhood? Any sightings of our infamous neighbor, Gerard Depardieu recently?

We had a lovely evening meeting our neighbors. I befriended a Japanese journalist, got a list of some great new restaurants to try and have a date to hear the nuns sing in their chapel during mass a week from next Thursday.

La Fête des Voisins is so new that it doesn’t get a lot of press, but it is so successful it has now spread Europe-wide with cityhalls across the continent encouraging neighbors to get out and get to know one another. Its a lovely way to spend the evening. Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.51.30 PM


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