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Half-Baked Holiday Bread

The weekend was filled with activity starting with La Fête du Pain on the “parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville,” where under tents, bakers from all over Europe came to show off their lovely loaves and granular techniques. Large ovens had been set up for French baguette artisans to display their prowess in rolling, dusting and baking to crispy perfection.

The aroma was deliciously seductive, satisfied by taste-testing small morsels at every stand. Everyone was caught with their hands in the bread baskets, but rightly so. After filling up on baguette, brown bread and “challah,” we slipped just around the corner, to the new exhibition, “Du Refuge Au Piège — Les Juifs Dans Le Marais,” that opened this week at the “Salon d’Accueil de l’Hôtel de Ville” (29, rue de Rivoli) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the return of the deportees to the concentration and extermination camps. The exhibition retraces the history of the Saint-Gervais quarter in the Marais that particularly suffered during the years of Occupation.

Open until August 27th every day 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Sunday and holidays, and free to enter, it is both fascinating and moving. Photos from the neighborhood prior to and during World War II offer a rediscovery of a “Paris Disparu.” Samples of some of the index cards cataloguing the deportees and a real yellow fabric star the Jews were forced to wear on their chests brings home the reality of the tragedy of the period.

I found it both ironic and serendipitous that the photo used as the “signature” on all the signs around town is of a “Boulanderie-Patisserie” at number 27 rue des Rosiers. Inside the exhibition, I spotted a photo taken from the north end of rue Caffarelli looking down toward rue de Bretagne with the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement on the right. At the end on rue de Bretagne, is an awning with the word “biere” plainly written, and I recognized it as what is now Chez Omar, my most frequented restaurant.

Saturday night, many of the city’s museums were open till midnight free of charge as part of the “Nuit des Musées” sponsored by the city hall of Paris. We entered the Musée Picasso with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people, and while it was too crowded to thoroughly and slowly enjoy the exhibit, I wondered how many of those people wouldn’t have had another opportunity to see Francis Bacon’s ethereal works of illusion juxtaposed against Picasso’s frivolous distortions. (If you haven’t seen this exhibit, try not to miss it — it’s open only until May 30th!)

The streets of Le Marais were hopping that night! And now the streets are unusually quiet for a Monday morning. That’s because millions of French are staying home in protest to the government decision to do away with Pentecost as a national public holiday.

The reason is an effort to generate more funds for elderly healthcare. Ever since the government was criticized for being unprepared to save lives during the August heat wave in 2003 when nearly 15,000 people died, they’ve been looking for a way to generate an extra two billion euros to be spent on healthcare for the aged. By “dumping” one of 11 public holidays, they had hoped to avoid raising taxes on individuals.

The estimated poll says 55% plan to stay home, anyway. It must be so…there’s not a car on the street, nor delivery truck, that I can ascertain. The five main energy unions have called a strike and the press say some parents plan to keep their children at home because although schools will be open, some canteens may not be.

All this controversy comes at a strange time before the May 29th referendum vote on the EU constitution, creating a new surge opposing the charter. Posters and promotion for “Oui!” vs “Non!” are everywhere, including on a small packet of seeds handed out at La Fête du Pain — symbolically representing a Yes vote for growth and prosperity. A No vote shows the French are afraid of the risks of losing their autonomy and their discontent with the Chirac government. But, it could cause a crisis of confidence in the EU that could unsettle financial ma

rkets.

To learn more about the EU constitution, visit http://www.constitution-europeenne.fr/ or pick up the free newspaper published by l’Hemicycle at any mairie in Paris.

We anxiously await the outcome of the vote on May 29th to see how the wind blows the seeds of the future of life in France.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. RED ALERT! Only 4 days left to register for the Working and Living in France Conference May 20 – 22!!! This is your chance to make your dream to live in France come true. Don’t delay. Click here or contact Schuyler Hoffman at [email protected] or call 1-310-427-7589.

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