June 18, 2014

Even the Water Fountains in Paris Are Beautiful!

Although it’s been cool in Paris for mid-June, the temperatures will rise eventually. And when they do, everyone will need more water. So, what will you do for a cool (free) drink while exploring, shopping, walking the (thirsty) dog, or out for a run? Here’s an idea: head for the nearest Wallace fountain. You’ll find them all over the city, Sir Richard Wallace’s namesake cast iron fountains.

These veritable Paris icons, designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg, were installed in the 1870s out of concern for both hygiene and access to affordable, potable water for everyone, including the homeless. Their installation was initially financed by the wealthy, English philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace. He called Paris home for many years, and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The most recognizable model (shown below) is tall, with an ornate dome-like top, supported by four lithe ladies in draped clothing, called “caryatids.” Not goddesses, but more like muses, the four caryatids represent Kindness, Simplicity, Charity and Sobriety. The water is fresh, potable, cold. Fill up, slurp, and splash! In days gone by, pewter cups hung on chains to aid in taking a gulp. They were removed in 1952 as more hygienic sensibilities took hold. It’s common now to see thirsty-types “going green” by refilling their reusable water bottles or canteens.

Most (but not all!) of the Wallace fountains are painted the same dark green chosen by Napoleon III to provide unity for ubiquitous, repetitive urban installations (such as benches, lampposts, kiosks, Morris columns, water fountains, etc.). They also have decorative details with aquatic themes: dolphins, fish, shells, tridents. Look more closely, next time!

Do you enjoy discovering esoteric little gems in the cities you travel to? Ever wonder how millions of urban dwellers almost miraculously receive millions of gallons of fresh water to their taps everyday? I recommend the little Pavillon de l’Eau exhibit space operated by the Paris water department. You’ve already seen the sewers!

Although the exhibits are in French, the excellent graphics (photography, charts, diagrams), displays and models tell their stories well even without words—from ancient Gallo-Roman times to the present, this is where and how Paris gets its water. The catalog of the 2012-13 exhibit on Paris’s fountains is here for viewing and downloading; pages 19-21 feature the Wallace fountains’ history; a map of their placement around the city is on pages 4-5.

And now the 17-syllable, “ah-ha!” moment captured in a haiku:

Haiku Wallace Fountain

May 23, 2014

Summertime is just around the corner!  Time to catch some rays … Parisian style.

Parisians enjoy their city gardens and parks year-round, but especially in late spring and early summer.  Sunbathing and napping in the gardens and parks is seen as healthy and stress-reducing.  Two little details catch my attention almost every time I stroll through these green havens.

The first:  In two of the larger gardens, the Luxembourg and the Tuileries, there are sturdy steel chairs painted green to sit in.  Although quite heavy (in spite of their thin-looking legs), most folks will drag a chair to a choice spot and then often drag a second one over to the first to use as a footrest.  Then comes the precise orientation of the chairs to receive the most benefit from the sun.  As the day wears on, subsequent sunbathers will re-position the chairs to align with the sun as though they were human sunflowers.

The second:  Rather than paving over every inch with asphalt, Parisians seem to  prefer leaving the garden paths and other ground surfaces bare or a bit rustic, with just a thin layer of chalky gravel over the dirt.  And, while I do respect this idea, it causes me much consternation when I exit the garden and notice my shoes.  Covered with tenacious chalky dust from the gravel, my black shoes are now dusty gray and will require brushing and rinsing to recover.  Don’t sport your new Jimmy Choo’s in Paris gardens!

I was initially inspired to write this:  “Heliotropes doze / Splayed across spindly-legged chairs / Stick out dusty shoes.”  But when I gave my photographer this assignment in August, there were only bare feet propped up on those green footrests!  How clever I felt when I devised a more appropriate five-syllable ending!

In a second haiku, I play with the form and tweak the syllable count–experiments very common among haiku poets today, writing in languages other than Japanese.

The happy result:


Love’s Locks Lost

Loving the bridges of Paris to death?

At first it seems so romantic … holding hands, sharing a kiss, pledging love together on one of Paris’ lovely bridges, writing your initials on a little brass lock, securing this seemingly harmless token to the bridge, then tossing the key into the Seine River below.

If this just happened only rarely it might not be a problem.  But trends catch on quickly in the most visited city in the world and now possibly millions of little locks are weighing down the bridges, becoming an eyesore to local Parisians, and spreading to other structures, causing damage.  What’s a city to do?

Subject right now of much debate, Paris city hall is struggling to find an answer.  The tourist office wants visitors to love the city (there has even been a recent campaign to instruct those in the tourist service industry how to be nicer), but not love it to death.  (Here’s one recent article.)

Before the locks are banned and photos of lock-laden bridges become history (my prediction), here is my 17-syllable ode to the practice, born of good intentions, but proof that you really can have too much of a good thing:


May 6, 2014

Say it with flowers!

Mother’s Day is coming up soon!  Can’t go wrong with a bouquet of flowers!  Paris florist shops are nothing if not glorious.  French florists take pride in their unique, artistic, floral creations.  Some shops display row-upon-row of seasonal varietals neatly arranged in buckets, while other shops might prefer rustic, country or cottage “looks” to their displays.

Floral gifts:  Always an appropriate gift for your mother, your lover, your dinner hostess, your in-laws, or your grandmother on Sunday!  Of course, you can buy them for yourself, too.  Buy a ready-made bouquet or select your own stems with the florist’s help.  You will always be asked whether it’s a gift, so the florist can select the correct wrapping:  Pour offrir?  C’est un cadeau?  If you say “oui,” then the gift packaging (un paquet cadeau) will often include a piece of colored tissue inside the clear plastic wrap, secured with a pretty ribbon tied in a bow, and the florist’s business card (or label) attached to the top.


Busy months ahead:  I am about to embark on a busy couple of months with lots of travel to and fro, so my blog posts will be regular (when I don’t forget), but quite brief—perhaps just the haiku with its photo, the way I started this blog back in October 2013.  I may occasionally refer to these as “haiga.”

Haiga:  When traditional haiku poets in Japan add a few brush strokes to enhance the effect of a haiku (a frog, a blossom, a bird, branch or mountain, for example), the work is called “haiga.”  A number of modern “haikuists,” many living outside of Japan and writing in other languages, now also use photography to heighten the effect of their tiny poems—and call them “haiga,” too.

Here’s my “haiga” post for this week, then, which I hope will remind my photographer and his brother that Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US!

Haiku Florists

April 28, 2014


We finally got some much needed rain this weekend (it always seems to come on a weekend!).  The snails are happy.  The photographers were out hunting rainbows.  The pattering sound on my roof was comforting.

I have only one haiku so far that mentions rain in Paris (but it’s not about singing in it), so I thought I’d post that one this week.

The sheets of gray zinc used on the roofs of so many Paris buildings gives almost any view over the city’s rooftops a uniform and rhythmic quality.  Add in the rows of clay chimney pots and topmost windows (often with flower boxes full of bright geraniums overflowing the railings), the ubiquitous shutters and cream-colored building façades–and you have another “icon” of Paris:  its rooftops.  The patterned effect is charming.  They look even better when wet!

(Note:  My photographer son shot this photo looking out from the Chimera Gallery up on Notre Dame Cathedral.  Many people also enjoy the classic rooftop views seen from the top steps of Sacré Coeur.  You might have a favorite rooftop view from your own balcony!)

My 17-syllable impression is below.  I encourage you to give yours!

Haiku Rooftops 2

April 19, 2014

Snails:  alive, cooked & gilded!

It’s been dry for weeks in the Paris metropolitan area, in the region called “Ile-de-France.”  The spring flowers have been exceptional, however, due to the long, wet winter and mild temperatures.  To my delight, the dryness means the snails have stayed sealed and “glued” to their hideouts and not eaten much in the garden, yet.  But clouds are blowing in and rain has come and gone in short bursts.  If it rains tonight, the snails will be out to feast and drink.  And, “crunch.”

Ugh, how I hate that sound and the twinge of guilt I suffer when I accidentally step on one in the dark when I come home late.  Crunch … sorry!  I don’t like living snails …

And I’m not fond of the dead ones either, but many people enjoy a plate of them as an appetizer, my husband among them.  I believe that cooking almost anything in butter and garlic makes it palatable, even delicious, so I do understand how folks can eat them.  More for you if I abstain.

At number 38 Rue Montorgueil is a traditional French restaurant called L’Escargot, and it has over the door the biggest snail in Paris that I know of—it always makes me smile.  A gilded mini-monument.   At number 51 is Paris’ oldest pastry shop, Maison Stohrer, which opened in 1730, and is famous for its baba au rhum pastry.

Rue Montorgueil is a typical, lively market street.  Other market streets worth a visit include Rue Mouffetard, Rue Daguerre and Rue Cler.  All are wonderful to explore and shop in, but this charming snail and the historic pastry shop make Rue Montorgueil one of my favorites.

And now to sum it all up in 17 syllables:

Haiku Snails

April 7, 2014

Coffee, please!

You’re in Paris!  And you want to sit in a corner café and people-watch all day, so you order “un café, s’il vous plaît.”  A few minutes later an espresso arrives at your table.  H-m-m.  You were expecting something larger, weren’t you?  Something more substantial around which to wrap all ten of your cold fingers, so you could sip, and sip, and sip … and maybe channel your inner Hemingway.  You politely inform the waiter that you wanted “a coffee” and not “an espresso,” and the inevitable confusion ensues.

I remember my first time. It was a bit of a surprise.  How could someone sit at a table “all day” with just an ounce or two of espresso?  Ordering un café(or any drink) at a table in France means that you have sort of purchased the right to sit at that table until you are ready to leave, even if your beverage takes only a minute or two to consume.  There are no free refills, no bottomless pots.

If you want a bigger beverage, you will have to choose one of these other options:  un café Americano or un café allongé (two names for the same beverage, made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to fill a larger cup); un café au lait  or un café crème (hot milk or cream added to an espresso shot); un cappuccino (typically a breakfast beverage, but now enjoyed more and more in the afternoons, too, with lots of steamed milk foam on top); un café filtré (rare; made in a drip-style machine with a large pot); or perhaps un café double (two espresso shots in the same cup).

Paradoxically, you will rarely see a “French press” coffee pot (un cafetière à piston), although they are used at home and sometimes presented to groups dining in hotels.  Waiters familiar with “intercultural coffee confusion” sometimes inquire about the size of the coffee you are expecting.  When I want un vrai café français, I’ll often reply to the thoughtful waiter (mistaking me for a café novice) that, yes, un espresso or un café normal would be perfect, merci.

Now, to distill this “haiku moment” into its 17-syllable essence:


Haiku Café Cups, rev