Connect to Paris


Reflections on community and connecting:

In the midst of all the tragedies and absurdities far and near, I’ve been blessed to help my son with a citizenship project he’s working on. In the past week, we’ve written to our French senator Roger Madec for information about protecting nature (for a smile, see the correct salutation to use at the end of the letter below…), taken an emergency First Aid course at the Town Hall, researched ways to help prepare and distribute food to the homeless, and attended a town meeting in our neighborhood. All this turned our feelings of sadness and frustration into gratitude for the many people helping other people.

To feel connected:

Free First Aid Trainings:

This past Saturday, 3500 Parisians attended sessions led by Red Cross volunteers in the local Mairies to learn how to save lives in the event of further terrorist 1(Ivan with Mr. Bernard Jomier, Deputy Mayor of Mme. Hidalgo, and Red Cross training team, photo by Lucas Surel)

Because it was so successful, the Samedi Qui Sauve will be held again. To learn how to protect yourself and save others:

For other Red Cross trainings:

Feeding the Homeless, Emotional Support: Serve the City Paris

Current Serve The City Paris missions and campaigns:

Prêt A Manger food pick up and distribution
Monday – Friday 8:00am at Pret A Manger, 118 Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Neuilly
Pick up leftover food from the day before and then distribute in groups to the homeless. Also possible to meet at Concorde at 9am. Finished by 10:30am.
 Missions and campaigns in partnership:
Friday Mission Lunch
Every Friday meet at the American Cathedral 10am-2pm
Volunteers provide and serve a hot sit-down meal to those in need.
American Cathedral 23 Avenue George V, 8eme
Breakfast Mission
1st Saturday of the month in conjunction with American Church in Paris (ACP)
Prepare the Breakfasts Friday night 7pm at ACP; Meet in basement – room G7
Distribute the Breakfasts Saturday morning 8am at ACP; Meet at Reception
ACP 65 quai d’Orsay, 7eme
Sandwich Mission
3rd Saturday of the month in conjunction with American Church in Paris (ACP)
Prepare the Sandwiches Friday night 7pm at ACP; Meet in basement – room G7
Distribute the Sandwiches Saturday afternoon 1:30pm at ACP; Meet at Reception
ACP 65 quai d’Orsay, 7eme
SOS Help
The emotional support line in English is open from 3 to 11pm daily. They run two listener training courses annually. Listener volunteers cover 3 shifts and attend one meeting per month. Volunteers should be over 25 unless they have previous hotline experience. A 15 month commitment is requested. Visit or their FB page for dates of the information sessions, which are held at the American Church
La Soupe Populaire
Help the team at La Soupe Populaire, association centenaire, sert gratuitement, du lundi au samedi, des repas dans son local du sixième arrondissement de Paris.
Distribution de repas tous les midis, sauf dimanches et jours féries
4 rue Clément, 6ème
To sign up for any of the above, just email us your available date and time and number of people volunteering to


Local Town Hall meetings (conseils de quartier) are open to the public. You can find out about efforts to improve all aspects of local community life, including plans for city-wide composting to reduce the amount of garbage and associated pollution. Local reps record and respond to all questions and feedback. Information available on the local Mairie websites for all 20 arrondissements.

Now for the correct salutation to use when you write your French senator: “Avec mes respectueux hommages, je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur le Sénateur (Madame la Sénatrice), l’expression de ma considération distinguée.” (With my respectful hommage, I pray you to accredit, Mister or Madam Senator,  the expression of my distinguished consideration). This French art form is endangered by the informal “Cordialement” (Cordially)  we all now use in emails. There are entire websites devoted to the almost infinite variations required for different social and gender permutations. Enjoy it while it lasts!



(Église Saint Roch, near the Tuileries, on a recent afternoon)

“…this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire… What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world…” Hamlet (Act II, scene 2, p. 13)

Woke up Wednesday morning, realizing Brussels explosions were not a bad dream and I still didn’t have news of friends there. From the kitchen, I heard my husband’s voice saying, “3rd century BC, Rome wins the Punic Wars…” Right, he’s helping our son study for a history test. I hear the word “Carthage”…My semi-conscious brain forms pictures of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants to invade what is now Italy. My God, elephants in the Alps! Then I jolt awake. Carthage! That’s in North Africa, but where?  My thoughts start spinning back to an article I read after the Paris attacks, “What  Isis Really Wants..”* Wasn’t there something about “destroying the Army of Rome in Dabiq (Syria), to bring on the Apocalypse?” At the time, I dismissed it as fanatical delirium. Run to the computer: Carthage, present day Tunisia… Didn’t the Roman army raze the city and plough salt into the land so no crops would ever grow there? When I was my son’s age, that sounded so cruel, my mind couldn’t fathom it… “Roman Army”… Is this some kind of indelible ancestral memory North Africans still carry 2300 years later? Are these the roots of the conflict with Daesh today? If so the struggle for economic and military power predates Islam and Christianity… Centuries later religion became the rallying cry for both sides: Charles Martel at Poitiers, The Crusades, The Janissaries, the Moguls…More recently, the war in Yugoslavia began with an anit-Muslim speech by Slobodan Milosevic on the exact date of the 600th anniversary of Serbia’s conquest by Ottoman Turks.  If all of this is buried so deeply in our collective unconscious but still activates revenge strategies, how long will it go on? How will we ever get beyond it?

The complete quote from Hamlet is much darker than what I selected above:

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me.”

And yet… there are signs of hope, people protecting themselves, but responding to barbarity with love. All three Abrahamic religions teach us that forgiveness opens the way to grace. Some say grace can break the chains of karma (call it the weight of history if you prefer). Tomorrow is Easter for Christians. Renewal. Can we believe in noble reason, infinite faculties, expressiveness, angelic actions, divine understanding, for the beauty of the earth, this goodly frame, under this brave firmament?

I hope so.

Much more to say about this week….xxxx Aliss

*Article in the Atlantic:

Theatah, Dahling?

DSC02608(Curtain calls in tuxes)

As a newbie guest at the Williamstown Theater Festival last summer, I vowed to see plays more often, to keep getting my inner furniture moved around and my senses refreshed. On Friday, a friend in the cast, Xavier Gallais, got me 2 last-minute tickets to Splendid’s by Jean Genet. My favorite Irish-Parisian actress was free. As we hopped on a bus, she said she knew Genet’s work but not this piece so she’d checked it out on the website. She wondered aloud what the erotic subject matter and staging would do to her libido… some of the still photos looked very S&M. We talked about how Genet’s writing was censored in the 50’s when homosexuality was completely taboo, even in France. “Well,” I ventured in jest, “I guess we don’t go to the theater to see our own living rooms?”

You might say Splendid’s is about as far removed from my living room as it gets. The set is magnificent: a grand hotel hallway bathed in blue-green light like an aquarium, under a huge still from Un chant d’amour, Genet’s 24 minute B&W silent film about prison sexuality and voyeurism, projected as an intro to the play. The aquatic lighting intensifies a transe-like vibe created by the actors’ slomo choreography and languid delivery of the text, in a fluid medium for osmosis between morality and crime, straight and gay, bourgeois society and prison life. Recordings of Billie Holiday and Jeanne Moreau lend a female presence to the all-male ensemble, mostly clad in flesh-colored boxer shorts revealing full-body jailbird tatoos,  as they come and go between the hotel room “cells” brandishing tommy guns.

Reasons to leave your living room: Genet’s passion and hallucinatory flare for language, the cast’s charisma and commitment, time capsule of closeted homosexuality and Hollywood-gangster-envy… In English with French subtitles, good translation.

The theater itself is an example of Escher-esque contemporary architecture near the Place Gambetta. Inside the startling three-story glass showcase façade are zigzagging levels to the Grand Theater upstairs, café restaurant downstairs, and bookshop in between (plus a smaller venue still to be explored)…DSC02605

Directed by Arthur Nauzyciel

March 17-26, La Colline Théâtre National, 15 rue Malte-Brun, Paris 20

School Brunch with French Touch


Hats off to everyone who organized the 6th grade brunch! City employees, school nurse and helpers (above) (on the table: milk cocoa, yoghurt, 3 kinds of bread, butter, cereal, fruit jams, fruit compotes, bananas, kiwis, apples)DSC02594school chef (!), Hervé (above). It was great meeting you all and seeing how much love you put into preparing and serving meals (all on site) for our growing cherubs. Thanks for helping them tune in on nutrition and the importance of a good breakfast…Blown away by the quality of this humble neighborhood school… To be continued….

Dear Barbie,


Very few people over 10 seem to be the least bit interested in this subject, and the under-10’s don’t check my blog, but I need to clear the air. If I’d known that someday you’d have a show at one of the most gorgeous museums in Paris, I would have paid a lot more attention to you! My mom’s dream when she was a little girl was to have a beautiful, expensive, built-to-last-forever Madame Alexander doll, so that’s what she scrimped and saved to get me and my sister. Even though we weren’t well off at all, I always felt sorry for  you and thought you were cheap. Forgive me, that was unfair. Still, your mother, Ruth Handler, claimed there were no “adult” dolls for girls before your birth in 1959 and that’s blatant false advertising. I’ll send you some pictures of Madame Alexander and she’ll knock your pink synthetic socks off! Pure elegance. Because you were never part of my personal fantasy world, I didn’t get upset about your silly body proportions, but I now know there are a billion of you out there! So yes, I guess we all have to take you seriously! That’s certainly what Mattel is after: legitimacy and recognition. The exhibit shows how you and your clones have become more racially diverse since the first African-American Barbie in 1968. The new “fashionista” series (pictured above) features more varied figures and ethnic traits. You now have outfits and accessories for every imaginable profession and sport! Since I consider sewing a high art on a par with architecture and lutherie, I admire all the thought and imagination your team puts into your costumes and the big room with wall to ceiling color-coded ensembles.DSC02585

The doll factory staffed by more of your incarnations and the haute couture fashion show diorama are lovely make-believe worlds to explore:DSC02584

Queen Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette Barbies dressed in exact replica costumes dance magically out of the darkDSC02586like day dreams…

Truth be told, I only went to the show because another appointment was cancelled and I had a free pass, but I really wasn’t bored and will even go back, because my mind is full of questions:

Isn’t it ironic that your mother, daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants to the US, chose a sexist post-WWII German newspaper caricature as your template?

Also, are dolls supposed to reflect reality or are they for wish fulfillment and creative play? Looking at hundreds of you in display cases, I remembered another type of doll: prehistoric Venus figurines, possibly the first representations of a “female Supreme Creator”? On Wikipedia it says, “…they may be emblems of security and success, fertility icons, or direct representations of a mother goddess.” You’d be utterly horrified by their bulbous breast and buttocks! You were born in a time of prosperity and plenty when women were more worried about getting fat than about starving, just when the Pill was being invented, so does that mean you serve a social and physical purpose as women are taking their place in the work force, having smaller families, but also dealing with inactivity and obesity?

Russian Art studies also resurfaced. Since you’re an icon…did you know that in Byzantine iconography, “Although the icon represents the human form transfigured by grace in a stylized manner that respects realism, it never strives for naturalism. The person who is represented in any specific icon always refers back to the prototype. The human body is never depicted as carnal, but as transfigured. The terrestrial becomes celestial.” ( (The basic unit of measure is length of nose! “The Byzantine form is based upon the module that corresponds to the length of the nose.“) If Andrei Roublev’s John the Baptist was a real person, he would be tall, oddly shaped, and inhumanly skinny (as you are accused of being…So, maybe we should get you together? He’s much more interesting than Ken.)

Still trying to figure all this out…Will try to upload illustrations…… Feedback welcome!!! to be continued…xxxxx Aliss

Barbie, Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris, 107 rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris, Metro: Palais-Royal, Tuileries, Pyramides,

March 10-September 18, 2016


Navigating the Night


The 10th and 11th have come back to life… Now how do you find that party? (And more importantly, how do you get back out?)

Step 1: Invitation to Bon Voyage party from one of my favorite people, can’t miss it!

Step 2: Reread invitation…

          Address: 1 passage S….6th floor right, no elevator, door code 1, door code 2…

          Time: 8 pm

          What to bring: “Anything to mix Marguaritas ! (Cointreau, tequilla, pulco) or   anything else you want to get your fun on 😉 +  Any soul food !”

Step 3: Look up itinerary and map on Paris metro website: Line 5 direct to Metro Oberkampf!!!! Only 6 stations, could walk, if it’s not pouring…Then 2 blocks south, 2 blocks east, first left…

Step 4: But seriously, what to bring? I love margaritas, but don’t want to get blasted (I mean tipsy) and then have to get home alone on the Metro…. And what about food? Chips, baguette, quiche, pâté? Hard to transport… Cupcakes?  A lot of work and hard to transport… What do I like people to bring to my parties? Imagine I’m a guest at my own party… Suddenly riddled with guilt that I ask people to bring a bottle and something for the buffet… thinking about the creative gourmet food people schlep to my place….

Step 5: Mind is a blank… Decide to brainstorm with my male counterpart (whom I’m not inviting to the party because he doesn’t know anyone there and anyway I want to go by myself). My hero! Not only does he offer extra bottle of Mum he’s storing in the cellar, but he brings it upstairs and puts it in the fridge to chill! And then, on a shopping trip for something else, he picks up 2 bags of Tyrell’s gourmet veggie chips, lightly salted… for a party I haven’t invited him to… (Truly, I am unworthy!)…

Step 6: Don’t wan’t to get there early, but don’t want to arrive when everyone is blasted (I don’t mean tipsy)…

Step 7: ETD 8:00 pm, will arrive fashionably late-ish at 8:30. Pack Mum (bottle not person) in cooler pack, stow in back pack, put chips in separate bag so will not be reduced to powder in transit…

Step 8: Pouring, decide not to walk…Head to Metro, get on train, get off at Oberkampf, first time back since November. Cafés pretty full, no one sitting outside because of wet weather, but everywhere, clusters of 20-30 somethings on the sidewalk, talking, drinking, smoking, toasting. Very festive. Signs and streetlights reflecting on the shiny pavement. Glad to be here…2 blocks south, 2 blocks east, looking for Passage S. DSC02578Small blue sign on left side of street above covered archway. Cross, peer at sign, yes! Passage S! Great!

Step 9: Now… find Number 1… Should be one of first buildings because I am walking north on right bank and as everyone knows, Paris Street Numbers Are Even On One Side and Odd on the Other, Increasing As You Move Away From The Seine …

Step 10: No doors on right…Look at first building on left … What?

86 BIS? 

(Twilight Zone theme starts playing in my head… Did I read the map wrong? Is this street the exception that makes the rule about street numbers?  Am I at the wrong end? Plus, it’s a recent building, there’s definitely an elevator, can’t be the right building…)

Step 11: Venture a little farther? Next building on left looks like a restaurant converted into a residence? Iron grating around a small yard obscured with bamboo fencing… Hmmmm…..Padlock on gate… but it is NUMBER 1. But no entrance anywhere!  😦DSC02576

Step 12: Walk a little farther… Yes, next building with Porte Cochère (coach door) is ALSO NUMBER 1…DSC02577Juggle umbrella and bags, find phone, take pix for evidence, this is so bizarre…But, vintage building, probably no elevator, might be the place, key pad by door, try code 1, YES! We are in! Tunnel towards courtyard, another door on right, key pad, try code 2… YES! There are stairs! Here we go, up 6 flights (7 US-style)… As promised, party going on at end of hall on 6th floor (7th US-style). Knock, door opens, go in…

Step 13: THE PARTY. Warm welcome, laughs, hugs, champagne, congratulations, conversations…Connecting with my friend and meeting her friends. Lovely. Good thing I came as I am, we’re so packed together, can’t see anything but faces. My big  Mexican silver “guitar” earrings are perfect ice breaker. Time flies because I’m having fun. Yelled conversations, deafening music, lots of champagne, a few chips, getting up early tomorrow, maybe time to mosey. Goodbyes, exchanges of cell phone numbers and emails, find coat, find door, go out…

Step 14: Start down 6 flights (7 US-style)… LIGHT GOES OUT BETWEEN FLOORS!!! Almost as much fun as being in “Turkish” toilet with no light (see post from December)… In that situation, you risk INCURABLE SUPER GERMS AND RUINED SHOES… In this one you risk BROKEN NECK. Grab bannister and decide whether to go up or down to closest landing.

Step 15: Somewhere there on the wall should be a tiny flickering bulb in semi-transparent plastic switch. FIND. PRESS. DSC02574(Speck at bottom left of picture!) This is a French institution called “LA MINUTERIE” = the light timer.(Find phone, take photo!)

Step 16: Lights come back on! Life saved! Am on 3rd floor (4th US-style)! Now have a few precious minutes before pitch blackness descends on treacherous spiral staircase. Champagne not helpful. Tequila would hqve been catastrophic. Didn’t have this problem on way up. Maybe more people on stairs then?

Step 17: Safely back on ground floor. Ha ha! Another French institution: Door/light switch! At least  this one is clearly marked and very close to exit. (Find phone, take photo to warn US friends and laugh with expat friends !)DSC02575

Step whatever: Press “door” switch at bottom of stairs. Inside door open! Press “door” switch in tunnel near “coach door.” Street door open!

Step whatever continued: First right, 2 blocks west, 2 blocks north. Rain, but clusters of people, milling, having fun. Signs and street lights reflecting on shiny pavement. Metro Oberkampf! The neighborhood is alive, well, and partying… I’m happy all the way home…

Womenability! World Tour!

www.womenability.orgimage Happy International Day of Women!!!

More coming about this inspiring website and NGO but meanwhile, Bon Voyage Audrey and Julien Fernandez, off to Sweden for the first episode of their Womenability adventure…

Audrey Noeltner has degrees in urban planning from prestigious universities and could be raking in money working for governments or corporations. Instead she’s a social entrepreneur who has already created some cool stuff. The association she co-created, One,Two, Three, Rap! is sponsored by the US Embassy to help young people learn English using Hip Hop. She’s also organized forums between Paris  and NYC suburbs to foster grass roots community improvement in sensitive neighborhoods. Her latest brainchild, Womenability, has global ambitions. Thanks to crowdfunding and networking, Audrey and her team have set up a 7-month world tour to meet with female mayors and organize “exploratory city walks” designed to identify gender equality issues and find solutions.

Please visit the website and FB pages to see where Audrey and Julien are on their journey and how you can participate (contacts, couches, coin?)…Womenabiliy is also on twitter… To be continued!

Table as Altar?


For a special occasion this week, we were invited to Hugo Desnoyer’s new restaurant in the 19th:

33 Avenue Secretan, 75019, 01 40 05 10 79, Metros: Bolivar, Jaurès, Colonel Fabien

Intro on the menu: “Food is now vital to the future of our civilization, culture, and public health. All over the world, choosing what to eat expresses life choices. Hugo Desnoyer is one of the rare artisan butchers to direct and participate in the birth of this global phenomenon. He has committed himself to this cause, and to opening new avenues of development.”

From the website: “Let’s consume less, but better. By what we eat, we are all farmers by proxy.

Animal well-being, protected pastures and environment, open spaces and fresh air, limited noise and stress are the basis of quality cattle raising.

A cow grazing freely in a field maintains the landscape. This type of farming is demanding but traditional and can have a positive impact on nature.

– Water and soil are analyzed to avoid all chemical residue.

– Feed comes from natural meadowlands.

– A mixture of grains, without GMO’s, without soy, are grown in the same area (terroir).

– Breeds are preferably from the same terroir.” (my translations)

Food for thought: all indigenous cultures have rituals to sanctify food and thank living creatures for providing nourishment. The Temple in Jerusalem provided meat to the city. This custom survives in kosher practices (Judaism) and halal certification (Islam). I’m curious about why there is nothing similar in Christian culture? Instead we have industrial agriculture… When I was little, there were farmers on both sides of the family and I learned what it meant to sacrifice an animal to feed ourselves. My grandmother used to say grace at every meal, but when she passed that disappeared with her. Living in France has helped me reconnect with the earth and I’m trying to be conscious, to give thanks to all living beings, including people, who bring nourishment to my table. Every time we grocery shop or enter a restaurant we’re impacting policies and voting with our money. As for methane, a town in England powers its public transportation with this by-product. As for health and diet, I highly recommend the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. (see excerpt below)  So in a spirit of reverence:

DSC02562Planche de charcuterie: Chorizo, ham, bacon, pistachio and herb pâtés…

DSC02563Entrecôte and faux filet steaks, sautéed potatoes, rutabaga, chives, parsley, hollandaise sauce, mashed potatoes…

DSC02566Upstairs kitchen

DSC02561Maitre d’ Sophie greets diners

Was in an altered (altared?) state by dessert time and forgot to photograph the amazing chocolate pie and walnut cake. We drank “Côte de Py” Morgon AMC  Jean Foillard Villié 2013…

BTW There are memorable grass-fed viandes in New York State (and elsewhere):  Jack’s on main street in New Paltz, Adam’s on route 9 and Fleischer’s  at the stockade in Kingston, Emmanuel’s in Stone Ridge. Hugo Desnoyer supplies top restaurants in France. The meal was delicious and very expensive (as it should be?) Lunch menu 22€, reserve well in advance 🙂

“The cause of heart disease is not animal fats and cholesterol but rather a number of factors inherent in modern diets, including excess consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats; excess consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar and white flour; mineral deficiencies, particularly low levels of protective magnesium and iodine; deficiencies of vitamins, particularly vitamin A, C and D, needed for the integrity of the blood vessel walls, and of antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E, which protect us from free radicals; and finally, the disappearance of antimicrobial fats from the food supply, namely animal fats and tropical oils. These once protected us against the kinds of viruses and bacteria that have been associated with the onset of pathogenic plaque leading to heart disease.”
 Paragraph 4, page 13
 Nourishing Traditions, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.
To be continued…  xxxxx