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On the One Hand…A Wish or a Pish?

One of the locks at Canal Saint-MartinOne of the locks at Canal Saint-Martin

Window Sleeper in Paris, FranceRelaxing Sunday – window sleeper in Paris

Man at a PissoireMan at a Pissoire

The new Uritrottoir - Paris, FranceThe new Uritrottoir – Paris

Life in Paris. Is it really different than living anywhere else? The answer is yes. After living in New Orleans, New York City, Tel Aviv, Knoxville and Los Angeles, I can honestly say that even the most mundane chores, like buying a new dishwasher (which I did this week), isn’t at all the same experience as in any of these other cities.

Why is that? Because Paris is Paris.

What does that mean? How does one describe Paris and then explain why it is what it is? Don’t look at ME. I’ve been trying to figure that out for more than two decades. But let me give you just a little slice of Paris life (mine, as I know it) to give you just a hint of what I mean.

Sunday afternoon, we (we, being Georgi, a young guest staying with me who owns an apartment in Paris, but which is occupied with a renter; Martine di Mattéo, our illustrious interior designer along with her old, close friend from San Francisco, Jean, and I) decided to take a stroll in a different direction from our norm –– toward the Canal Saint-Martin. Georgi hadn’t ever visited the canal, in all her years of coming here with her family. The canal is a bit off the beaten tourist track, at least for high level tourists who have barely scratched the Paris surface. I hadn’t wandered over to the canal for a very long time, even though it’s a 10-minute walk from my apartment…it’s simply in the opposite direction from my usual routes.

What we discovered there was a world we hadn’t lodged into our psyches –– Parisians enjoying the beautiful sunshine and calming nature of the peaceful canal by sitting at its edge, picnicking perhaps; watching an occasional barge going through the locks as the waters rush in to raise the levels, a bridge opening to let the boats through; and just the idea that a Sunday afternoon can be spent doing almost nothing, but observing life. This in itself is already different…people doing nothing, without the guilt associated with doing nothing!

Along the canal’s edge, we spotted a “pissoir” with a young guy pissing in it. A pissoir was a French invention (surprised? no) that provided public urinals to help reduce men (I’ve never seen a woman attempt it) from arbitrarily marking their territory on buildings, sidewalks and the like. From a woman’s point of view, I can tell you that there is little more disgusting than watching a man being so blatant, especially when a toilet is within reach, or stepping over the foul streams on the sidewalk and worse yet, having to smell the piss (is that what they call “eau de toilette?”).

From my personal perspective, these are welcome additions to the Paris landscape, although why can’t men be trained to just find a loo like we do? The newest ones, eco-friendly open-air pissoirs, called “uritrottoirs,” recently installed all over town have gotten a lot of controversy from the locals. Housed in flower boxes, using straw as a filter to ecologically allow the piss to fertilize the plants, and painted a bright red with big signs pointing in their direction so there’s no way to miss them, the new little eyesores have not been received 100 percent in the Parisians’ favor.

Of course not. When were Parisians in favor of anything new? That’s just part of life in Paris. Expect anything new to be rejected first, then later accepted once the idea starts to penetrate their own tough psyches.

I just heard a joke this morning that’s come out of the debacle (if that’s what you want to call it):

“Hotels near the Parisian peeing device can at least advertise ‘pisseful surroundings.'” Yep, it’s a groaner…or should I say “a pisser?”

My mother used to say, “Wish on one hand, pish (Yiddish) on the other and see what you got.” I didn’t really know what that meant until yesterday. The saying struck me as Douglas Herbert, France 24’s International Affairs Commentator, was speaking at Après Midi

His topic: “On the one hand…on the other hand”: False Equivalence in the Age of Trump.

Douglas Herbert - by Patty SadauskasDouglas Herbert – by Patty Sadauskas

The crowd at Après MidiThe crowd at Après Midi

Gatherings like this are just a part of Paris life and contribute to what makes Paris, Paris. Here we had one of the city’s illustrious journalists, whose almost daily appearances on the national news channel enlighten us on foreign affairs with a heavy influence on American politics. In a community as closely knit as this one (Americans in Paris), we have the great privilege of being up close and up front. I was very thrilled to welcome him to our forum and by the size of the attendance, it was obvious I wasn’t the only one anxiously awaiting what he had to say.

He might as well have been talking about wishing on one hand and pishing on the other hand. His inside viewpoint of what it’s like to be a reporter in today’s world of “fake news,” a term he abhors, he explored the concept of “False Equivalence” –– when the media (another term he prefers to exchange with “news outlets”) bends over too far to appear “objective” or “balanced.” “False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two completely opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.” (

We see it every day in the reporting of news surrounding Donald Trump. The media bends over backwards to present “the other side,” when perhaps there isn’t “another side.” For example, he asked us, “Do we think there are two sides to the subject of Global Warming?” To which we all responded, “No.” So, how can the media give equal sides when the topic is so out of balance?

We had an overwhelmingly large turn-out to the afternoon event, not surprising considering the speaker and the topic. And it was emotionally charged as one might suspect. Douglas is an exceptional speaker who mastered the topic with complete clarity. He was brilliant in bringing the focus of the topic back on target every time the audience digressed…which was easy to do. We are all so filled with pent-up feelings regarding the media (news outlets) and how the public has lost trust in the truth in journalism as a result of “false or misleading statements.” This audience, primarily on the liberal left, was outraged by how so many supporters believe one man’s outright lies against mainstream fact-based news. The air in the room was electrified!

If you couldn’t be there, then you might want to read more about it and see photos on our Après Midi page. For more great reporting by Douglas Herbert, be sure to watch France 24 in English! You can watch it on your TV at home in France or live on their website.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - with Doug Herbert at Après Midi

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(with Douglas Herbert at Après Midi)

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OS Book Sale Oct 2018 Paris, France

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