Teddy en Terrasse
Last week I had the surprise opportunity to meet and talk briefly with Ariel Weil, the newly elected mayor of “Paris Centre.” He has been the mayor of the 4th arrondissement since 2017 until the second round of the elections which took place last weekend. For the first time since 1983, the Socialists took control over the 1st arrondissement which is traditionally on the right.
We were at a neighborhood café having dinner with a journalist friend who knows him well. He was just hanging out, it seemed, but she told us he’s a resident in an apartment over the café. “Would you like to meet him?,” she asked.
“Bien sûr!” Are you joking? Of course, I’d like to. He strolled over to say hello to our friend and we were all introduced. His presence is like that of an old friend; very casual and easy with no pretense whatsoever. By coincidence, on the way over to the café, my daughter and I were discussing the plans to combine and pedestrianize of the four districts in the historic center, and how difficult that was going to be. It seemed so apropos to have encountered him at that moment and we had a chance to lightly talk with him about those plans. He has a big and challenging job in front of him which didn’t seem to worry him in the least.
For a glimpse into M. le Maire Weil, have a look at this Youtube video providing his own opinion on the subject (in French, although he does speak perfect English).
In wanting to learn more about this newly elected mayor of Paris Centre, a quick search pulled up his biography which was impressive. Born in Jerusalem, he’s only 47 years old, attended Harvard Business School (hence the perfect English) and Sciences-Po here in Paris. His experience is economics (good sign, for a Socialist!), having consulted for the World Bank in the early 2000s, but before that as a linguistic attaché at the French Embassy in the United States. And for nearly 15 years, he’s been teaching economics and leading seminars on financial crises. All this is good in my books — maybe a Socialist who has a more centric view that can balance the right with the left a bit better than most. (I am centrist with a firm belief that neither extreme works and a balance is necessary for a win-win for all parties.)
Then, I learned that his wife is France’s chief female rabbi, Madame Le Rabbin Delphine Horvilleur. At the age of 45, she is one of only three female rabbis in France, home to the second largest Jewish community in the diaspora, and co-leads the Liberal Jewish Movement of France. That impressed me even more…a Jewish woman with a progressive and feminist outlook. If you want to get to know her a bit more, here’s an interview with Madame Horvilleur on France 24 from last year about anti-semitism in France “a prelude to general violence.” Learning this has impressed me even more.
Paris Centre districts one through four will be officially grouped as of this week, July 11th. The new City Hall of the district will be housed in the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement on rue Eugène-Spuller, just across the street from the Café de la Mairie where we hold our monthly “Après Midi” gatherings. Our postal codes will stay the same, even if the districts will be administratively combined.
Proposals have been put forth to pedestrianize this entire historic center and I’m totally in favor of it. The easing of traffic within those borders will make it possible to widen the sidewalks which are so narrow throughout Le Marais, making them more wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, and allowing for more café life “en terrasse” with a whole lot less pollution and noise. Just since deconfinement, with the cafés and restaurants taking over parts of the streets to stretch their table capacity to allow for social distancing has been a big improvement to the overall atmosphere.
The idea is to eliminate “transit traffic” — traffic that crosses the center of the city in order to reach their destinations as quickly as possible. That traffic will be rerouted around the districts, while public transportation, taxis and residents will still have access. From first thought, one might think it “bad for business,” but the truth is that every street that has been pedestrianized has seen tremendous growth and popularity. Property values have increased as a result. After all is said and done, it’s a win-win for everyone and personally, I can’t wait!
July 4th didn’t seem to be the same this year. As an American, I haven’t been so proud of the country’s behavior, particularly this past year in light of the handling of the Covid-19 health crisis, the George Floyd murder and a host of other politically controversial events. During a friendly dinner among friends last night, a group of American men and women who have lived here longer than I have all had the same sentiment. Simply, we are embarrassed by what we feel is not the country we knew or grew up in. Sadly, we also realize it was there all along, just bubbling under the surface without our knowing it — the racism, the greed, the close-mindedness — until now when the current administration has made it acceptable to have this voice. We concluded that it’s not ultimately a bad thing to allow it to be exposed, so that real change will happen more quickly than it would have otherwise, but that a revolution or civil war is possible on the horizon. What frightens me most is the public militia of armed individuals who are ready to go to battle at the drop of a hat or the hint of The Word from the man who leads them and is currently POTUS (President of the United States, a term used as early at 1895).
In spite of all the bad feelings, I couldn’t ignore July 4th entirely. I dressed in red, white and blue (silly, I know) and met up with close friends for hamburgers at Joe Allen, an American restaurant known as a Broadway meeting place for working actors, theater staff and fans in New York. They opened a branch in the Les Halles district of Paris on rue Pierre Lescot in 1972. It’s not that their hamburgers are so good; it’s just that they are authentic and eating them here with your hands is “de rigueur” rather than just “unFrench.” Unlike most July 4ths, as I’ve spent many at Joe Allen’s, everyone around us was French. The Americans in Paris at the moment are only the residents, not the tourists…at all.
Paris is strange actually without the tourists. The language you hear on the streets is French, almost all of the time. The numbers of people are greatly reduced and it’s easy to see how different life in Paris is without them. We don’t mind it! In fact, it’s quite refreshing, even if they are eating their burgers with a fork and knife, or smoking next to you at an outdoor table.
There’s a new kind of Parisian at the cafés these days…giant teddy bears — Les Nounours des Gobelins (The Teddy Bears of the Gobelins). Cafés all over Paris are using them to ensure that their customers respect social distancing rules and they are already turning up all over Europe and even stretching to New York City. It started as long ago as October of 2018 when the owner of a book shop in the Gobelins neighborhood of the 13th arrondissement began lending out the oversized teddy bears. Philippe Labourel first posed a large teddy bear in his window and began making them available on request for 48 hours and posting the resulting photos on social media. Before long, the simple gesture became a popular craze, so much so that last summer 2,800 people attended a teddy bear wedding!
My daughter, Erica, and I lunched yesterday with one of the giant teddys at Le Choupinet, a café with a wonderful array of vegetarian dishes. We had walked from home in the direction of the Jardin du Luxembourg looking for such a thing, not finding much of interest in any of the cafés along the way until we came upon Le Choupinet, a three-kilometer 40-minute walk. Put this one on your list of nice cafés with a contemporary menu for alternative diners…vegetarians and the like. We stuffed ourselves on artichoke, leeks and a Salade Niçoise before resting happily contented upon Teddy.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(Erica Simone with Her Mom)
P.S. I want to thank all of you who wrote in response to Wednesday’s Parler Paris Nouvellettre® regardless of how “appalled,” “disappointed” or “dismayed” you were by my suggestion that if you really need and want to get into France, that there are a few “work-arounds” and it’s up to you to be clever. I thank you because even if you find my opinions or suggestions upsetting, at least you’re reading and you’re not indifferent. That would be a much bigger insult! Plus, it shows that what I have to say you take to heart and that touches my heart, too.
We all have our own ways of dealing with life and risk. I am personally a very high risk individual. I have learned over the years how not to live with fear, or expectations, and everything I do is a calculated risk. That doesn’t mean winning at every game, because yes, there are times when the loss isn’t a whole lot of fun. But, if I hadn’t taken certain risks, I would never have survived what it took to move to France, a divorce after 20 years of marriage with almost nothing in my pocket and a daughter to support. And, find a way not only to survive, but succeed. Life is for living once…and every aspect of that is a calculated risk.
If you’re traveling to France, I highly recommend taking Air France rather than an American airline. My daughter’s recent experience with Air France was perfect — the best flight she’s ever head. The airline was particularly vigilant as she had an entire row to herself and the plane was immaculate. Their systems were orderly and she was very impressed, never feeling for a moment that she wasn’t safe or that she wasn’t healthy herself. I was personally never concerned for a second.
A handful of readers also wrote to correct my reported statistics. Thanks for the clarification. I do my best to get it right, but I don’t claim to be a journalist and I don’t have a “fact-checker” on staff. I appreciate the corrections — and you’re all free to go find the facts for yourselves if what I report doesn’t seem correct.
Here are a few more just for “fun”:
- Leading causes of death worldwide as reported by the World Health Organization (heart disease)
- Leading causes of death in the U.S. (also heart disease)
- Covid-19 has now become the third largest killer in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer, according to Statnews.com
- Leading causes of death in France (cancer)
- SortiraParis.com has a lot of wonderful articles in English to keep you up-to-date on how France is dealing with the pandemic, including the government’s strategy to avoid a second epidemic wave in France with massive testing to define “sleeping clusters” and reinforcement of the hospital means.
- According to the Global Health Observatory, the life expectancy age in the U.S. is 76/81 (male/female) compared to France’s 80/86. The total expenditure on healthcare per capita in the U.S. is $9,403 compared to France’s $4,508.
Where would I rather live? You guessed it.