Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Tonight Paris is having its Fête de la Musique, held on the summer solstice each year. There were a few posters around town but not much in the way of publicity that I could see. Still, the whole city knew about it, it's everywhere. We just came back from la Place de la Bastille, where there are between five and ten thousand young people rocking to concert bands from Quebec on a big arena stage. La Fontaine at the end of our block has an acoustic group singing original songs (mostly in English, oddly, in fact a lot of the music out there is in English), and the bar at the other end of the block has a rock and roll band that was playing "You Really Got Me" when we left our hotel and were playing their own bluesy version of "Tainted Love" when we came back. Every bar and street corner in the neighborhood has music -- there was a Jamaican guy with an electric guitar literally standing in a phone booth with the door open singing reggae songs, plunking and singing as throngs of people flowed around him. Salsa in the Cuban restaurant, music from Corsica in the Corsican restaurant, music everywhere.

It's Tuesday night, about midnight. I'm sorry for anyone trying to drive. The pedestrians rule the road tonight. People are drinking in the streets, dancing and singing and hollering along with the music, beautiful happy people jammed shoulder to shoulder, migrating in clusters from one stage to another, smiling and laughing as they squeeze past one another, stopping to talk to friends and blow smoke in each other's faces (I believe smoking is mandatory here).

The whole city is like this, there is music everywhere all the way across Paris. Everything is free, the bands are playing for free, people are pushing their kids in strollers and teenagers are goofing around, sneaking kisses and jostling one another, trying to be cool. The old people have a dance in their step, too -- oh, we did see two old ladies covering their ears and rolling their eyes, but everybody is in on this, the whole city is rocking with one rhythm. There are classical stages, punk rock, Latin music from various countries, hymns and symphonies, folk singers, jazz of course. We have the windows open in our hotel and you should hear the roar, chanting crowds, booming subwoofers, drums, cheering.

We are the classic American tourists, we don't know anything. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, shopped at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, pickpockets stole our credit cards and locals looked at us dumbly as we mispronounced the most commonly used words of their daily vocabulary. It is a blast. Generally there is someone everywhere who speaks enough English to accomplish the task at hand, but even without common language we have figured out how to determine the proper sizes of clothing, we have ordered meals and navigated the transportation system. People are happy to help, even if they give you a funny look. Ask for crème brûlée in a French restaurant and they have no idea what you are saying, until a French person pronounces it correctly. It sounds the same to me, but they really don't know what you're saying. Crem Brew-lay, what's so hard about that?

The architecture, the majesty of Paris is totally overwhelming. I mean it, you cannot absorb all of this. Gold-plated palaces, huge towering cathedrals, mansions with gardens and ponds and statuary -- every time you turn a corner another wonder bowls you over, something more stupendous than the last stupendous sight you just looked away from. I can't overemphasize this, there is so much incredible beauty in this city that the ordinary person is shaped by it, the Parisians walk in beauty and grace because they are surrounded by beauty and grace.

Of course the place is swarming with tourists, and I'm sorry for the poor locals who have to put up with this. You know how it is, clogging the escalators, standing there trying to figure out how the Metro works. We have asked a lot of people for help, and mostly they have been very kind. Yesterday we needed to know which direction to take the bus to get to Notre Dame, so I asked two older ladies who were waiting at the bus stop. As I started speaking you could see the fear in their eyes, some foreigner was babbling and it sounded like a question and he would probably expect a response from them. I said, "Can you please tell me if this bus goes to Notre Dame?" And when I finished the sentence they looked at me and then at each other, and then one of them said "Oh, Notre Dame!" -- pronouncing it correctly -- and then they pointed to the other side of the street and happily indicated where the crosswalk was.

Today we saw Oscar Wilde's grave. People have written all over the monument, scribbled thanks to him and signed the stone, and there were a bunch of people sitting around the gravesite, talking quietly. We saw where Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are buried, too, in the same plot. And of course we had to look at the probably empty gravesite of Jim Morrison, who I figure is living somewhere in the Midwest with a fat wife and a mortgage, working a straight job and glad to be alive. There were a lot of people at his grave today, and others clocked us as Americans on the paths of the huge cemetery and asked us where he was buried. In a cemetery with Chopin, Balzac, giants of history, Jim Morrison's grave appeared to be the one everybody wanted to see. Well, maybe there were more people at Edith Piaf's.

I have not been fair to Paris. I didn't learn the language, I haven't seen any of the famous museums, didn't see a show, attend the opera. I honestly can't tell you what Paris is really like, I know what the people sound like when they talk but I don't know what they're talking about. I can only report my experience as an alien crash-landed on a strange and different planet where the cosmic axis is shifted and ordinary things are oddly extraordinary. But this in itself is a significant and worthwhile experience, to find yourself among people who seem to have integrated nature and society in a way that is philosophical and beautiful and satisfying to them, people who participate in their culture as if they owned it, it is worthwhile to walk in a land where you don't know the ways and have to ask people the simplest things. To stand there stupidly reading the numbers on the coins while some wise-guy cashier looks past you disdainfully, this is good for you, it's worth doing. We have one way of doing things and it is not the only way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post, Jim

felt like I was there

if you haven't already, you might want to check out the latest Woddy Allen movie when you get back- it was a lot of fun and probably would be more so if you just visited

June 22, 2011 4:45 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Lovely post Jim, thanks.


June 22, 2011 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


oh brother

"Anderson Cooper called out President Obama on his Tuesday show for flip-flopping on gay marriage.

Obama is under increased scrutiny about his "evolving" views on gay rights in the wake of the battle for gay marriage in New York. Obama will be in the state on Thursday to attend a high-priced fundraiser with gay donors.

In his "Keeping Them Honest" segment, Cooper said, "New questions are being raised about what the president actually believes about gay marriage and whether his public opposition to it is real or just political posturing."

He then ran through the by-now familiar tale of President Obama's stance on gay marriage, from his initial written support for it in 1996 to his stated opposition to it when he began running for national office. (Obama advisers recently told The Huffington Post that his current position on the issue is that it should be left up to the states.)

Cooper played footage from the recent Netroots Nation Conference, where White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was grilled about Obama's shifting statements about gay marriage.

"Hard to see how the president's position has changed so much," Cooper said. "The only thing that has changed is his need for a wider audience to vote for him."

Cooper then brought on gay rights activist Cleve Jones and Democratic strategist Paul Begala to discuss Obama's flip-flopping. Jones called the president's moves a "political calculation, and sadly, I think it's the wrong one."

"You know, Paul, Democrats attack conservatives for being hypocritical on issues that they're hypocritical about," Cooper said to Begala. "But I don't hear a lot of Democrats attacking their own president for hypocrisy.""

June 22, 2011 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Democratic Party scandal of the week said...

A congressional ethics panel is looking into claims that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) sexually harassed one of his staff members, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The investigation comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Winsome Packer alleging Hastings made repeated unwanted sexual advances and threatened her job when she refused him.

June 22, 2011 7:15 PM  
Anonymous liberals blew their chance said...

WASHINGTON — Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and the way President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation's confidence.

Obama has hit new highs he'd like to avoid – in public disapproval over his handling of the economy in general and unemployment in particular – according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. In addition, more disapprove of his handling of health care and the federal budget deficit than in the past.

The poll shows that four out of five people now believe the economy is in poor shape. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, said Wednesday the economy was growing more slowly than expected but maintained that the causes were temporary.

The White House must hope so. A little more than 16 months before the November 2012 election, the public is split on whether the president deserves a second term.

It's the first time this year in AP-GfK polling that the respondents saying he deserves re-election have fallen below 50 percent, a demanding challenge for Obama. Economic concern has quickly stripped away the gloss he briefly gained after the death of Osama bin Laden.

Obama's re-election team is no doubt concerned as well. The president has been traveling every week for months to campaign battleground states to promote job initiatives. He acknowledges the sluggishness of the recovery, illustrated by May's uptick in unemployment.

Obama's overall approval rating fell in line with his ratings before the daring raid in Pakistan by U.S. commandos last month that killed bin Laden.

"I just think that he's not doing his job the way he should be," said Mary Perrine, a grandmother of three from Indiana who said she has had to struggle to pay her bills."

true that

June 22, 2011 7:20 PM  
Anonymous we have a bad President said...

WASHINGTON -- In a prime time address on Wednesday, President Barack Obama laid out the beginning of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, assuring the nation that 33,000 U.S. troops will be pulled out by the autumn of 2012.

The 33,000 troops being withdrawn were part of the "surge" that Obama announced in his 2009 speech at West Point. That will leave approximately 68,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, which is still significantly higher than the amount that was in the country when Obama took office.

What was missing from Obama's speech was a timeline for the pace of the withdrawal.

In an injection of domestic politics in the speech, Obama jumped in to the larger foreign policy discussions taking place in the country.

Obama said it was an attempt to strike a middle ground in "the debate that’s taking place in the country, and particularly in the Republican Party, between kind of this isolationist strain and this kind of perpetual interventionist strain."

"We must chart a more centered course," said the president.

Earlier on Wednesday, both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said they would accept the president's new strategy as long as it had the backing of military leaders.

Two administration officials told The New York Times that Petraeus did not sign off on Obama's decision, and it was a "setback" for the general.

While the decision on troop withdrawal was slated to be made since he rolled out the surge in 2009, the announcement of 30,000 troops has ramifications for the 2012 presidential elections. Opinion polls show the public is souring on Afghanistan, with many Democrats and some Republicans pressing the president to hasten the drawdown. The likelihood that politics was part of the strategic discussion remains high.

June 22, 2011 9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The crap you have posted has absolutely nothing to do with Jim's lovely post about Paris. Do you think you might be able to control that elephantine ego of yours just once and shut your mouth when you have nothing to say?

June 23, 2011 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that "crap" is important matters, of great interest to anti-TTFers

things are going well and you only "crap"

what does that tell you?

June 23, 2011 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers who have been pressing for a sizable and significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan almost universally expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama's speech on Wednesday night.

June 23, 2011 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yesterday, Obama put his own interest ahead of the country's, releasing oil from emergency reserves in the hope that gas prices will go down and help his underwater approval rating

btw, jobless claims were way up last week

"The standards of leadership have declined abysmally in the Democratic Party. In its upper tiers, there is not a person who could match Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, to say nothing of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 1960s generation - the Clintons, Gore, John Kerry, et al. - were a bust. They set the stage for an even more inferior generation led by Mr. Obama. Think of it. From Mr. Carter to Mr. Obama, the Democrats have led a motley string of trivial figures onto the national stage.

The Republicans have done markedly better. Richard Nixon, though flawed, led the opening to China, a tremendous achievement worth revisiting for those who have forgotten, and they can do it by reading Henry Kissinger's new book, "On China" (Penguin Press, 2011). What is more, Nixon and Mr. Kissinger managed affairs with the prickly Soviet Union remarkably well, until along came Ronald Reagan to finish the job without firing a shot. Reagan was a giant (known to liberals as a bumbling clown), and the two Bushes who followed him did not do badly, either. They were in the tradition of Truman and Dwight Eisenhower - prudent stewards of American interests.

That brings us up to this election cycle. At any other time, Mr. Obama would be challenged from within his party. Teddy Kennedy challenged Mr. Carter, and I had anticipated Hillary Rodham Clinton doing so this time, but now she says she won't. Mr. Obama will run and lose to the Republican nominee, but who will the Republican be?

Before the summer is out, Mitt Romney will pull ahead of Mr. Obama by 10 points. But that will not give him the Republican nomination. He will have to fight for it.

Rep. Michele Bachmann will make a terrific race of it, pulling most of the tea party vote. If the tea partyers are as energetic as they were in 2010, she has a very good chance.

Then there is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. By the end of July, we shall know if he is running. I think he will. Can he line himself up with the core of the Republican Party, which is still the conservative movement? It is made up of the religious right, the limited government types, the strong foreign policy advocates and, for want of a better term, the Reagan Democrats. He was a Democrat, as was Reagan. He has governed a state and it possesses the most vibrant economy in the union. It also has enormous talent. It is the new California. This will be an exciting nominating process and a very dirty presidential race. A community organizer with union support vs. a statesman (or stateswoman), but we all know who is going to win."

June 24, 2011 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah Palin for President!
2012 - 2014.5

June 24, 2011 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being so full of it yourself, you should know all about crap.

"that "crap" is important matters, of great interest to anti-TTFers"

"anti-TTFers"? You are referring to yourself, no doubt.

You are definitely in the wrong blog site if the "crap" is of great interest to anti-TTFers. We actually feel sorry for you - you are so misguided.

Like the pox of Medieval days...begone!!!

June 24, 2011 1:20 PM  

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