June 30, 2009

Il Fait Chaud.

It is hot in Paris. Hot. Sizzling sun, scorching sidewalks, roasting city. Yes, I love it. As a tribute to the heat, I have taken it upon myself to search out the best outdoor pool in Paris. Found it. (You see, the value of an outdoor pool in an urban space is inestimable. Scrunched people in hot spaces will kill for water outside - even if in getting wet, they get smashed by other bodies. If you don't live in urbania, my search might seem odd).

First, let's go through the contenders.


The famous pool that floats on the Seine. Its solarium-like covering is removable and on sunny summer days, this is an open pristine blue pool, surrounded by the murky waters of the Seine. Excellent. The pool is only 25 meters, so for lap swimming not ideal, but the very idea of the pool makes it worth going to. Plus, it is really in the city - it is in the 13th, just across from the Bibliothèque Mitterand. This one I discovered this winter and appreciated it because even though it was freezing and raining outside, it was still like swimming outside with the lovely glass ceiling.

As you can see, this pool is super popular. Lines like crazy:

Piscine Joséphine Baker
Port de la Gare, quai François Mauriac (13e) - Métro : Quai de la Gare


Our next two candidates require more work to get to. I'm afraid that is what it takes to get good outdoor swimming space in Paris. The Centre Aquatique in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the ever famous, swanky, bourgeois frenchie-french residential neighborhood of Paris, lives up to its setting. The outdoor basin (which, to be honest, is disappointingly small) promises lounging chairs, which are quickly filled by residents of Neuilly who have little else to do with their time than to perfect their tan. The pool itself is surrounded by the architecture of Neuilly and you do end up feeling posh even if you don't have a lick of it in you (me). The indoor basins are quite good with 25-meter lap pools and great basins for kids. I road a vélib' out here (because there are still stations) but it was a longer ride than I had anticipated.

Centre Aquatique Neuilly-sur-Seine
27/31 boulevard d'Inkermann 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine


The winner, the best and the last is the grand sports complex close to Neuilly, but still a bit further yet, on the Ile de Puteaux: Le Palais des Sports. (Merci Amaury!) This is a real outdoor swimming complex: 50-meter lane pools and two other pool basins for playing in, as well as a separate space for toddlers and kids. With plenty of lounging room, you actually end up feeling like you might not be in a city anymore (although the pool does get crowded). This one wins hands down. If you swim laps, you know the difference between a 25-meter and 50-meter pool. Plus, all the exterior pools are sizable. From the city, you can take bus 93 or a vélib' - there is a station across the bridge in Puteaux, but it is also quite a ride. (Plus, remember Bagatelle? It is literally just across the road/bridge from this pool...)

Le Palais des sports
allée Georges Hassoux 92800

And here is my lovely companion, Emma. She brought along tiny pears from Sicily. A better treat? It doesn't exist.

June 28, 2009


"Look at me today, no one could ever tell how much I've been through."
(Not sure about that sweetheart).

Voix Sur Berges

This weekend there were all sorts of voices floating across water bodies in Paris. First, we ran across these guys on Île Saint-Louis:

Then we were rollerblading by the Canal St. Martin (around which they close the roads to cars, so it is perfect for rolling about) and heard voices, chorusing all over the place. The first group, we thought, ah interesting - a choir by the canal. Then we kept going and there were at least 10 of these choirs performing. They called it Voix Sur Berges (Voices On Riverbanks).

Then we found this band of colorful singers who were singing Lucienne Delyle's Mon amant de Saint-Jean. All of the Frenchies around us, including Xavier, joined in.

Then there was this bike. What a creation and what a performance.

We were in high spirits.

Gay Pride in Paris

June 26, 2009

Monsieur Verdoux

Henri Désiré Landru: photo here.

One of the instructors (Jean-Pierre Constant) I work with teaches a course on haute couture and fashion in Paris. The study abroad students eat it up, and for good reason. This instructor is brilliant and his range of knowledge covers not only characters from Catherine de Medici to Yves Saint Laurent, but also more shady characters like a French serial killer named Henri Désiré Landru.

We were in the Jardin de Luxuembourg the other night and Jean-Pierre was painting the tale of this horrific specter in French history. Henri Désiré Landru would, apparently, hunt for his victims in the Jardin de Luxembourg. He would also hunt for victims using personal ads in Paris newspapers. The historical moment was his (his killings were all committed between 1914 and 1918) because, you see, being male in a country where an entire generation of men were being killed gave him an edge. So, in his ads, he tried to appeal to widowed women with assets, to swindle them, kill them, chop them up and then burn them in his oven. He succeeded killing 10 women and 1 boy, a child of one of the women.

How did he manage this? He kept a secret notebook. This was important because he had different names he used with each of the women and his scores of possible victims - he had to keep his stories straight. Ironically, love caught him. He fell in love with a 'butterfly,' as Jean-Pierre put it. She was young and beautiful and sincere and he got sloppy because he was enamored. He probably never intended to kill this love of his, but he was recognized by one of the other girls' family members and that was the end, just when he had found love. A monster and a butterfly. He was guillotined at Versailles in 1921. Then the butterfly found she was a monster for having loved such a man.

Orson Welles was inspired by the story and wanted to make a film based on it staring Charlie Chaplin. Monsieur Chaplin, not liking to be told what to do, bought the story and directed and starred in the film himself. Monsieur Verdoux - the tale of a bluebeard murderer. (Bluebeard is a 'fairytale' in France of a 15th c. serial killer. That it is called a fairytale is obviously disquieting). Thus, the basis for Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. The scene from the film below is a moment of doubt for the murderer because this sincere and charming woman, with whom he has fallen in love, has perhaps changed his mind about his favorite past time. Her soliloquy about love and why life is beautiful is enough to convince him to whisk away her wine glass before she drinks his poison.

While I was sleeping...

Sleep is a funny thing. Our sleeping selves experience all sorts of other worlds and rarely do we encounter those/us in our lived reality. I am not the only Johnson who has a strange way of sleeping. Some of us are insomniacs, some of us are super sleepers (me, Stephen, Marc, my Mom: we can sleep anywhere at any time. I remember being 12 years old, sitting in the front seat of the van with my Mom next to me driving. We pulled up to a green light and she turned to me and asked me to wake her up when the light turned green. She was serious. I did), some of us are super interactive/reactive during sleep...we talk, we shout, we sit up in the bed and take a huge gasp of air and cry out.

Last night, Xavier n'arrivait pas a trouver le sommeil (couldn't find his sleep - I love this expression in French) and was lying in bed. In the dark he heard me:

Me: "They are so pretty"

Xavier: "What are so pretty?"

Me: "Those boxes."

(A little later): "When I close my eyes I see boxes with numbers on them."

June 25, 2009

Cité de Trévise and the Motorcycle

We were taking a walk the other night. We came across the most charming cul-de-sac in all of Paris: Cité de Trévise (cul-de-sac is, it would seem, a French word...literally: arse of a bag; ironically, I think we use it more than the French do). In the middle of this lovely circle of trees was a fountain and the whole cul-de-sac was flooded with the sound of the flowing water.

The trees and the tops of the buildings meant shade everywhere. Xavier, gazing upward, suddenly cried out, "Look babe!" and there at the very top of a building was a motorcycle. A motorcycle out on a fifth floor balcony. N'importe quoi.

Staircase in Le Marais

rue de Braque

I teach in an old building (~18th c.) in Le Marais, which is on a tiny road (rue de Braque), which opens onto a big open courtyard when you push the heavy and imposing deep blue door of the building open.

The courtyard.

I have worked here for a year now and just this week I made a grand discovery. This staircase:

The staircase is original (so presumably 18th c.) and is a stunner. It is hidden, in corner of the courtyard I never go to, but once you walk through the doors, the staircase unfolds and shows its wonders.

Looking up.

And down.

June 23, 2009


My 4-year-old nephew dancing. (With his sister's warning in the background that I will put the video on my site! Elle avait raison). This is good. Two things are notable: his facial expressions, his timing.

This is for Margot.

These days, I am basking in the sunshine that visits Paris. When I first arrived in Paris and the gray and the rain were indefatigable, I read a story by Ray Bradbury called All Summer in a Day. It is a story about a class in which no one can remember a time when there wasn't rain. All but Margot. She can remember because she is from a place where the sun shines. Extraordinarily, the sun shines for a brief moment in the story, and, cruelly, the children lock Margot in the closet and bask in the sun while she is still in the dark. I think of Margot and her plight when the sun is cruel and doesn't shine. More aptly, I think of Margot when the sun shines. When the sun appears, he brings lovely apparitions everywhere, spaces of darkness and blocked light. I love shadows because they necessarily mean sun. They inspire because even if they are darkness, they signify light.

June 22, 2009

All Around

What has been on my mind recently? These things:

Scuba masked monas.

Urban giraffes.

Ornate frames for street lights.

Scowling ladies at odd church entrances.


Two men sitting at a table wearing the same tie. It is exactly the same. The photo does not do it justice. (Xavier and I walked past, he pointed it out - I was pouting at that moment for some reason - but I couldn't help smiling at the sight of it).

Little Marguerite and her doudou (the white piece of fabric she has hanging from her mouth). Doudou comes from doux = soft in French. All French kids I know have doudous. Sometimes the doudou is a little animal, but more often it is a small square of fabric like this one. Whenever there is a crisis at hand or Marguerite is fussy, she cries out "mon doudou!"

These three. My step-daughter and my niece and nephew. They are on my mind a lot. They are the best part of France (my France).

The scooter and the two dudes on it. Xavier and his Dad. They crack me up.

Paris weather this month. Crazy. Look close. There is brilliant sun - hot sun - and pelting rain - cold rain.

Frenchies. Frogs.

Remember this doe? She is still in her window, but look, she has been all dolled up:

There was an article in the Economist the other week which claimed that expats in general are more creative than average citizens. If this is true (and of course, we have to question the causal link there, for perhaps more creative people go to live in foreign countries to begin with), and I am becoming more creative because I live in a foreign country, it is thanks to all of this stuff that I process with my eyeballs and in my head all the time.
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