Monday, January 12, 2009

The Upside of Aging

CBIP is on Fire! Three posts in two days -- gee.

So this past weekend, Carol paid one of her semi-annual visits to Paris ... this time on her way to Marseilles. I last saw her 24 years ago when her Dad married Lora and me. And even then, we weren't exactly close. At Glenerie Chapel, she was the college girl heading off to school and I was the snot-nosed, strung-out-on-Ritalin, youth group punk. Plus I was hanging out with Jay a lot at the time, so ....

Anyway, not exactly the same social circles. But the upside of aging is that the meaning of our age differential (which is actually pretty small) shrunk over time. So given our mutual affection for Paris and a shared, long-ago evangelical experience it was cool to hang out at Musée d'Orsay (the Lévy-Dhurmer pastels were other-worldly) and Le Galway reminiscing about Kingston, Saugerties, Glenerie Chapel, Ray Newton, Alan Rowe, and whatever the hell we called that Tennis Club church thingy that had the strongest, loudest flourescent lights known to man (Jill described our wedding there as resembling a Hoedown -- not that there's anything wrong with that). Come to think of it, that was the very location where my Dad first heard Lolly effortlessly drop an expletive into conversation. Good times.

So keep an eye on Carol's blog and maybe even convince her to turn on the comment feature so you can ask her how the writing is going (oops!) And thanks Carol for hanging out - it was really fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Winter Light

It's been freezing here since I got back. The dusting of snow that fell a week ago is still hanging around. But I ventured out to try and capture some of that winter light. Most of these are in and around Les Invalides.

The man, the legend ... plus he even has a complex named after him. If I had a complex named after me it would apply to people burdened with the ability to see too many shades of gray.

Parisian snow

Le temps de Noël is over ...

... or is it?

Outside Le Bon Marché ...

A French roach-coach:

Culture Peace

... as opposed to culture wars. Heh.

It's been over 6 months since we moved to France and I paid my first visit back to the U.S. over the Christmas holiday. I'm back in Paris as of a few days ago and, happy to report, my luggage appeared just 30 hours after I did. That stands as an unqualified success for United.

In the U.S. I spent time in Oakland, Napa Valley, and the Seattle burbs. (I won't count the few hours I was in San Francisco and Pleasanton). It was a chance to play the cultural comparison game between France and the U.S. and between the individual towns. The truth is: I like all of these places for their respective good qualities. Of course, they each have their weaknesses too.

The scene that unfolded in Oakland starting with the Fruitvale BART shooting and the subsequent violent protest is nearly identical to previous situations in the Paris suburbs. American and French cities are opposites in terms of socioeconomics in the urban and suburban zones, but we share the racial tensions.

French cities and towns seem to have two consistent qualities: 1) they're built on a human scale (generally 7-storey buildings); and 2) they go to lengths to preserve beauty in architecture, public art, open spaces, etc. It seems to me that American cities give top priority to commerce. In fact, I would say that this prioritization defines the primary difference between France and the U.S. - not just in city planning but in the two cultures generally. In the U.S. we accept costs in other components of our culture if there is a commercial benefit. That doesn't seem to be true in France. I wouldn't say that one of these approaches is better than the other. But it makes for pretty interesting lifestyle differences that are worth experiencing - even if it's just a brief visit.

The French and American wine regions seem pretty similar to me: idyllic façades on top of rural foundations and lots of pride in their products. You run into snobs in both places and you also meet perfectly lovely people. I, for one, will continue to "support" both of them.

I've spent most of my life in American suburbs - even our house within the city limits of Oakland is in a pretty calm spot (the biggest challenge is wildlife related - deer falling in the pool). I like the peace and the space you get in an American suburb but, good Lord, if I never see another strip mall it will be too soon. Oh and Walmart too.

And one final, random cultural note: French people don't dislike Americans. It's a narcissistic American myth. Now, it is true that some of my French associates dislike self-centered, arrogant people whose minds are closed to dissenting opinions. But anti-American? Mais non!