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An American in Paris and a Visitor in Paris

An American in Paris

Boston born Benjamin Franklin became more than just an American in Paris for nine years of his life as Ambassador to France from 1776 to 1785.

He was sent to France as commissioner for the United States and was such a favorite of French society that it was ‘cool’ for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a paintings of him. It is said that he was highly flirtatious in the French manner, but there is no report of any actual romantic affairs. Successful in securing a critical military alliance in 1778 and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783), during his stay in France, Ben Franklin became a freemason and was Grand Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs from 1779 until 1781.

The Musée Carnavalet honors him with a special exhibition that opened last Wednesday, running through March 9, 2008. Approximately 340 paintings, sculptures, documents and objects are on display as curated by the museum with cooperation of several other institutions, including the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Château de Versailles and the Musée National de la Coopération Franco–Américaine de Blérancourt.

This may sound strange to you, but in observation of those who were visiting the exhibit at the same time as us, during a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, almost every man fit the same description: medium height and middle-aged, gray hair with a small well-groomed beard, eyeglasses which were removed frequently to look closer at each object, wearing muted colors of browns, greens and grays.

At first I thought it was the same gentleman passing over and over again, until realizing the similarity between them. Does this mean that if a “fan club” were organized for old Ben Franklin, the members would be like “birds of a feather?”

Musée Carnavalet, 23 rue de Sévigné, 75003 Paris

Footnote: While we were perusing the bookstore at the Musée Carnavalet, the sole salesperson inadvertently left the cash register drawer open while assisting a customer…for quite a long time! No one seemed to even notice, except us! Is this an example of the French honor system or just plain negligence? I’ll bet it’s not the first time!


Foie Gras Seller
Photo by Erica Simone

A Visitor in Paris

About this time of year, the letters flood in wanting recommendations on what visitors to Paris can do during the Christmas and New Year holidays. I’m about the worse person in the world to ask, since although every holiday season is spent here in Paris greeting visiting friends and family, the only thing I want to do is stay in out of the winter weather to enjoy my heated apartment and the company of friends.

All you who have spent your hard-earned bucks to hop a plane and have an enlightened holiday season in the world’s most romantic city think that’s just plain boring. I don’t blame you.

Here are the hard, cold facts:

Christmas and New Year dinners in Paris restaurants are likely NOT to be offered in the little independent establishments (family-run restaurant owners are home enjoying their own holidays), and prices are hiked up to the max. So, expect to pay a lot and not get the quality you deserve. “C’est la vie.”

Transportation gets a bit tough. Thank goodness now, the Métro runs an hour longer on Friday nights (till 2:15 a.m.). But, for New Year’s Eve, there is nothing in the media yet about extended hours. Last year all transportation on the Ile de France was free from 5 p.m. the 31st to 12 noon the 1st, but this year, strikes are preventing any such positive news (strikes are predicted for this coming Wednesday). Don’t plan on getting a taxi, either, so if you’re smart, you won’t venture too far from your hotel or apartment during peak periods such as New Year’s Eve.

Christmas Eve is when families gather, so don’t even expect to take in a movie (they close early). Buy a block of foie gras, a good bottle of champagne and organize a little picnic at your hotel or apartment, then take a walk in the City of Light to see the beautiful light displays. Visit http://www.paris.fr for more information about the city’s festival of lights.

At midnight, take in the Family Christmas Mass at Eglise Saint-Germain-des Prés, the oldest church in Paris, first completed in 558, with the current building dating from the 11th century (3 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006). Lots of other churches offer the same, such as Nôtre Dame and Saint-Eustache.

Christmas Day is a day of rest for Parisians when they eat turkey and turn into stuffed birds themselves. You’ll be polishing off the foie gras, so to work it off, head to the ice…go ice skating at the Hôtel de Ville 4th arrondissement), or at the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (13the arrondissement) or in front of the Gare Montparnasse (14th arrondissement). For more information, visit http://www.paris.fr/

If skating isn’t your thing, you can also take in a concert at 4 p.m. at the Eglise Madeleine on the Grand Organ by François-Henri Houbart (8th arrondissement).

Between Christmas and New Year’s there is lots to do. Don’t forget, on the 27th, you can participate in a “Paris ChiXmas” and on the 29th, “A Vivid World.” The Office de Tourisme offers a list of things to do, too. See http://en.parisinfo.com/for the listing they recommend in English.

On New Year’s Eve, take in a cabaret show or dinner cruise. It will be pricey, but festive. See http://www.cometoparis.com/special.html for a good Web site where you can reserve your place. For all sorts of other “spectacles,” visit http://www.eng.cityvox.fr and end your evening on the Champs-Elysées with the other thousands of revelers, but watch out for drunkenness and rebel rousing!

New Year’s Day will be quiet, at least until early afternoon. Then, I suspect, weather permitting, people will take to the streets for a stroll and a “vin chaud” if nothing else.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about what’s happening in Paris during the holiday season, do what I just did…research the Web. It’s filled with valuable information! And while you’re out and about taking in the City of Light, you’ll find me home eating foie gras and drinking champagne.

A la prochaine…  

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

 

 

P.S. See you tom

orrow at Parler Paris Après Midi, 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. See /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more details.

P.P.S. Plan on coming to Parler Parlor December 22nd to practice speaking French or English, bring your cake or cookies and we’ll supply the “Vin Chaud!”…plus register that day and get 12 sessions for the price of a 10-session card and 24 sessions for the price of a 20-session card! (Closed only December 25, 2007 through Jjanuary 2, 2008. Reopens January 5, 2008.) See http://www.parlerparlor.com for more information.

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