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(Article written by my darling daughter Sarah)

“Love is all around” , Wet Wet Wet first belted out in 1994, and yes, in fact, it is. Whether it dwells in families, friends, places, romances, partners, or pets, the Scottish pop band have a point. Love is all around: people sing about it, paint about it, write about it, sculpt about it, and make movies about it.  Even as a child, I understood that Love in whatever form is the most powerful force and human emotion that exists, even though I had obviously never experienced it in its romantic form. Love defines the way we live our lives; the way we laugh, cry, fear, smile, hope, and dream. It can bring us together, or tear us apart. It can be the most reliable force, or the most volatile one. Love is truly the Zeus-like figure in the Realms of Human Emotions; altering the way we live our life, and sculpting the paths we follow.

Valentine's Day in Paris?

Like every important event in life (the birth or death of Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed there is usually a day to commemorate it. Well, what a splendid idea then to commemorate this wonderful thing called Love! Thank you, Saint Valentine. However, as mysterious as love is itself, we know very little about the real Saint Valentine. Interesting. We only know that 14 saints called Valentine were martyred in Ancient Rome, and their personal attributes were often roses, birds, or a bishop with a crippled or epileptic child at his feet. (Sorry, just had to chuck that one in there!) The February 14 celebration of love and affection, which we today know as Valentine’s Day, was in fact created in 500AD by Pope Gelasius (sounds a bit like an icecream to me: “I’ll have a wildberry gelasius in a waffle cone please.”) It was removed off the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, but today has remained a popular mass-produced-greeting-card-way to say “I love you”. I sound pessimistic, but for a very long time I had every reason to be….

For the first two decades of my life, Valentine’s Day was the second-most dreaded day of the calendar year. The first: cross-country. (Obviously.) Bouquets of flowers, chocolates, stuffed teddy bears, rose petals, Hershey’s Kisses, real kisses: you name it, I didn’t get it. For me the highlight of Valentine’s Day was sitting in front of the television with my single friends watching re-runs of Friends or The Notebook, eating calorific feasts of popcorn, Cadbury Caramello chocolate, and downing copious amounts of Pinot Noir to drown our sorrows. (Just to clarify, I’m talking about my late teenage years here not my primary school ones for all those who may have been confused and sliiightly concerned…) Although there were glimmers of hope along the way, I was always alone on Valentine’s Day. And yet, I never ever lost my belief in the thing we call Love. Because, as the old men on the NZ Mainland Cheese ad say, “Good things take time, but they are well worth waiting for.”

It wasn’t until I met my Special Someone In Particular where this wise theory kicked into action. Funnily enough, our first date (or ‘courting session’ as my grandmother might prefer to call it) was in Paris, the City of Love. On Valentine’s Day. Swoon. I got whisked off my feet to a glamorous and decadent Indian restaurant on the Left Bank (a mere three days after recovering from a violent vomiting bug) where I would be wined and dined in pure Parisian style. Despite the stomach cramps radiating to my kneecaps, a flame inside my heart burned brightly and I realized what this wait had been all about.

Excitedly I waited until the next morning before emailing one of my bestest buddies (/relationship counselor) back home in New Zealand. I believe the subject line of the email read something like, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, my BOYFRIEND is so COOL and LOVELY.” I will never forget the response I got back that evening:

Sarah!

Ah, wuv.

In Paris. The city of wuv.

He does sound dreamy. (Sigh)

Could a more perfect potential-future-life-partner exist? Well, probably not short of Mr. Darcy. Or Clive Owen. Or Clive Owen playing Mr. Darcy.

The only real problem I have with all this is that I can see no possible way of us double-dating any time soon. I mean, how would that work? We could start saving now, but dinner and a movie is looking somewhere ’round $3500 for me and Bek, not counting baby-sitting…

Aside from the obvious hilarity of this email and the continuous giggles that followed, the real reason I have treasured it is because it was the first time I have felt complete as a person: I realized I had my precious friends on both sides of the world, my devoted family, and now a loving Special Someone In Particular at my side. Love, in every possibly form, actually is all around.

However, we all know that Love isn’t just fancy dinners, cheesy Hallmark cards and Whitney Houston ballads; I did in fact see something on the silver screen the other night which depicted all this love business incredibly and accurately. French photographer Pierre Thoretton’s first documentary L’Amour Fou (literally translating to ‘Crazy Love’) depicts the lives of Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner of fifty years, Pierre Bergé. Within five minutes of the opening credits, I was an emotional train-wreck. We see Bergé in front of the camera; a man who has just closed the eyes of the man he had loved for half a century. Quite simply, he intimately tells us their love story; they fell in love, move in together within two weeks, and stuck together through turbulent waves of depression, fame, fortune, and the burden of being genius. Spanish literary great Paulo Coelho once described Love as,a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it’s sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony.” And this is the exact reason why L’Amour Fou affected me so profoundly, as it highlighted the pure existence of Love, embodying all its beauties and its imperfections. Thoretton’s film is also a poignant reminder of the transient nature of life, and the importance of cherishing the one we love so dearly, for we never know what tomorrow may bring.

So…this Valentine’s Day, buy one of those much-loved mass-produced cards, a box of Hershey’s Kisses, or simply just tell your Valentine how much you love them. Although I will be 20,000 kilometres away from my gorgeous Special Someone In Particular this 14 February, we will still both be proposing a toast to Saint Valentine (whoever the heck he was) but more importantly to Love, because without it we’d be nothing. And as the Beatles once cranked out (albeit rather repetitively), “all you need is love.”

L’Amour Fou by Pierre Thoretton is screening as part of the L’Oreal Paris French Film Festival 2011 in New Zealand.

Screening times:

Wellington, Penthouse Cinema: Feb 15, 8.30pm

Auckland, Academy Cinemas: Feb 17 6.30pm; Feb 22 8.15pm; Feb 23 4.15pm

Auckland, Devonport Victoria Picture Palace: Feb 20, 6.00pm

Christchurch, Regent on Worcester Cinema: Feb 25 6.30pm; February 28 8.30pm

To read more of the NZ L’Oreal Paris French Film Festival 2011 you can click here.

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A traveller busy on her iPhone in the Paris metro!

Both the Interior Ministry and the local Paris train company (RATP) have warned that in the Paris metros there has been a large increase in pick-pocketing. An increase of 40% of reported thefts over the last year has astounded the French Interior Minister, Monsieur Hortefeux.

Of the reported thefts the majority of stolen items have been smartphones and in particular the iPhone. The Minister has encouraged the RATP to warn travellers of the risk of pick-pockets in the metros, as well as discussed with product providers whether there is a way of remotely and quickly disabling the use of stolen phones to make them worthless for subsequent operation.

In any major city such thefts are always a major issue and tourists in particular seem to have a “she’ll be right attitude” when touring around Paris. My family and I have observed on many occasions thieves in action. I hear often from my readers and travellers in Paris that they are safe carrying their handbags across their shoulders. However I have personally seen a number of handbags just ripped away from people before the thieves disappear in to the crowd. Once on Blvd St Germain near the St Germain metro stop a businessman was carrying his briefcase strapped across his shoulder and under his arm – a thief grabbed the bag and just continued pulling the man along the road until the strap broke and the thief disappeared with the bag including his computer into the metro never to be seen again!

Not everyone waits for their metro this way!

I always say to people to be security conscious. For men, never carry a credit card or too much money in your wallet – credit cards and excess cash should be carried in a security belt under your clothes. For ladies remember that a handbag is not secure – in fact it would be the least secure of anything! Now that you know that Smartphones are such a target, make sure you keep these well out of way – after all we don’t want thieves picking Apples in the Paris metro!!

But Paris is beautiful – enjoy it safely!

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It’s 6pm in the afternoon. A warm summer afternoon. My favourite time!

I’m sitting on a fine golden sand beach. I’m wearing swimming togs and a smile, with my wife. The sun is still high in the sky as we look across the bay from Tata Beach, in Golden Bay to the north of the South Island of New Zealand.

Across the bay we have waterskiers and jet skiers carving the water as we just sit!! Just sit! My perfect way of welcoming the New Year and discussing our travel plans for the year. My wife has just run across the hot sand with two large glasses – one a Gin and Tonic for me, and she’s poured a brandy for herself. This is heaven.

We’re lucky to have had our children with us as well, along with my daughter’s special friend from Paris. My daughter’s friend left us a week ago now after a rapid twelve day visit from France. He left here with a well-tanned face, a very pink sunburnt back (which is peeling now!) and confused memories of Christmas and New Year in the summer sun and heat of New Zealand. Now he’s back home and having minimum temperatures of minus 3 Celcius, and snow has again been settled on the Eglise St Severin opposite our Paris apartment. He experienced and was confused by our Christmas dinner which we traditionally have at midday, but which was delayed until later in the afternoon because it was too hot – but after setting up some sun shades we could commence! No mulled wine is served at our house here, rather chilled Champagne, wine and beer. With temperatures over Christmas and New Year being close to 30 degrees (Celcius) different between France and New Zealand you are certainly going to experience some changes. Some people just don’t think it right that Christmas dinner could be spent on the beach in your speedos! Whereas for NZers they can’t imagine heading off to midnight mass in all your winter clothes being careful not to slip in the ice. Traditional events seem so different when placed out of context in a different environment. When has someone in Paris seen Father Christmas in shorts and a T shirt!?

So even though I’m sitting here with sand between my toes in the heat of the late afternoon sun planning the year ahead, I have friends doing similar things like Caz and Craig on the beaches of NSW Australia, or people like Robin in the cold of Tarifa in southern Spain, or Mark exploring the depths of Tanzania, or Catherine in New York , or Julia in Turkey, or Jool who is freezing in Edinburgh! Everyone at a different place in time, night or day, hot or cold, planning their futures.

Meanwhile the ice is melting in my glass!

Best wishes to you all for the New Year!

Tata Beach holiday perfection!

Time for my G&T on the beach. I'll be back in the office soon!

This is the view from our beachfront house! You should all try and come here! Perfection!

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Christmas Greetings

The Christmas tree lights are blinking at me. The presents are impatiently waiting under the tree. The fridge is full of Champagne! 

Tonight in Paris (24th) the presents will finally be opened, and the Christmas feast will be devoured before well satisfied stomachs will make their way to midnight Mass. The magic of Christmas has arrived, and this gives me the chance to

 Wish you and your loved ones

A Merry Christmas

and All the Best

for the Holiday Season

Thanks for joining me on my travels through France during the year, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in 2011. For those travelling over the next weeks I wish you a happy and safe journey. For 2011 I hope that you have lots of safe and wonderful travel adventures.

Sur cette vieille de Noel je profite de ce blog de vous présenter tous mes meilleurs vœux pour le Noel et pour une soirée d’exception entourée par vos proches. Pendant le nouvel an j’espère que vous faites des découvertes magiques n’importe où dans le monde, et j’attendrai bien de partager avec vous mes histoires et mon passion pour la France en 2011.

Christmas Decorations in Galleries Lafayette

A shop window near Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre

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Snow in Paris

You sit in the window as the feathery snowflakes drift slowly to the ground. You become transfixed watching in awe as these flakes try to defy gravity as they make their way to the ground. You call out to your family to come and watch. “It’s snowing!”

You crowd around the window watching this spectacle in front of you. You watch first the bikes struggling, then the pedestrians in the street struggling whilst still wearing their elegant Paris shoes, then finally it’s time for the cars to struggle.

We’ve got to go out and enjoy this! You go outside, you scrape up some snow in your bare hands and throw a snowball at your nearest and dearest – several in fact! Then just to finish off you get a handful of snow and shove it down someone’s neck under their clothes!! Victory! I hate it when that happens – to me!!

You go back inside, to the warmth of your apartment, leaving your sodden shoes inside the door. Feet are frozen, cold and damp! You rush to the window again. “Oh isn’t it beautiful, but if this keeps up we’re going to be in trouble”.

Well over the last 24 hours it’s been snowing in Paris, and now they’re in trouble. There has been around 15cm of snow through the Paris region, and the roads are chaos. Last night there were 160km of traffic jams around the main roads and on the ring road. As well many train lines were closed, and the metro was significantly disrupted making peoples’ return home seemingly impossible.

But then the sun comes out, and the whole place seems like a scene out of a fairytale! It’s as if someone has thrown bucket loads of diamonds over your neighbourhood. Everything sparkles! If you can keep warm and not need to travel around for the day this is one of the most wonderful views. What is it about snow?

I love Paris in the snow!

 

Snow at St Germain Cafe, Paris

A wintery day in Paris

A sunny start to a snowy day

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What: You are invited for a Drinks Party, 18 May 2070 at 17h00.

Where: Alibar Bar on the banks of the Seine River, Paris

Dress: optional

Refreshments and Hors d’Oeuvres served

 Anyway it’s now December 2010, and it’s snowing outside in Paris, and it’s as cold as a Nun’s kiss!

 I’ve just been reading this week the results of ONERC, the French ministry responsible for the research on Global Warming and how it can affect France, as well as the future planning required to cope with any possible climatic changes through to the year 2100.

A cold winter day at the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

 A recent report released by ONERC states that they expect Paris in 2070 will have the same temperatures as in the south of Spain, and that the cold winter weather currently sweeping through Paris and France will be a thing of the past as this century comes to an end.

 I spent the summer of 2003 in France, when it was quite normal to have weeks on end of 40 degrees Celcius (104 deg F). I love the heat, but the effects of this heat were catastrophic in France with between 10,000 and 15,000 deaths recorded. Summers like this are going to become more and more “normal” and indeed governments will need to make provisions in order to cope with these changes.

 The government report also publishes some interesting figures that surprised me:

 Wine Harvest.

The wine harvest (vendange) in Champagne now commences two weeks earlier from when it did 20 years ago – this is a trend, not a one off inconsistency. In the Rhone Valley in the Chateaunuef du Pape appellation the wine harvest now begins on average three weeks earlier than they did 50 years ago. Another interesting fact here is that the alcohol content over this same period has increased by 0.8% – no doubt keeping some readers happy!

 Winter Frosts.

For those in the northern hemisphere, winter frosts are what you would expect now. Interestingly in the south of France in Toulouse they are having four days of frost less than experienced 10 years ago, and in the north in Nancy they are have 5 less frosts per winter than 10 years ago. When you are at home without suitable winter heating frosts can be most inconvenient but they also provide a valid control in orchards and vineyards for insects etc.

 So now heading back to the future you will want to know what to expect when you join me in May 2070 in Paris. Presently the average maximum temperature in the “City of Love” for May is 13 degrees Celcius (55 deg F), but when you join me it will be about 17 degrees Celcius (62 deg F). So it should be quite a pleasant evening outside on the bars that (by then) will all be lining the Seine River – we can muse at the families out fishing in the river, and all see if anyone can remember what a frost was like.

 So, put a note in your diary! Look forward to seeing you there!

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Not a very inspiring title I know.

It’s the number of a 1913 railway carriage in a white stone building on the edge of a leafy glade in Compiègne, near Paris.

Made of dark wood with brass fittings, the carriage stands enshrined in its ‘carriage-house’ like a ship in a dry dock, far from the railway tracks.

But why is it there?

French Tricouleur Flag

By the autumn of 1918, with an allied blockade biting deep into the civilian population and her troops being forced back towards the homeland, Germany was in a dire position. She sought an honourable armistice that would (hopefully) stabilise the government and stop the revolution that threatened.

In early November 1918 a politician, a diplomat, a soldier and a naval captain set out to negotiate an end to four years of destructive warfare.

After a difficult journey from Germany to Belgium and into France (latterly with a French escort who took them through the most devastated areas) they arrived at Tergnier in Picardy. There they boarded Napoleon III’s private train for an undisclosed location.  

Earlier, the chief engineer of the Nord railway, M. Arthur-Pierre Toubeau had been asked by the French government to find a discrete location where two trains could be accommodated parallel to each other. He suggested a clearing in the Forest of Rethondes, near Compiègne where an emplacement had been built for huge railway guns.   

And so on the morning of 8th November 1918 the German delegation felt their train stop and, looking through the windows, saw another train about a hundred metres away – that of Supreme Commander Allied Armies, Ferdinand Foch.

Over the next three days Foch and his team of senior allied commanders imposed armistice terms designed never to allow Germany to threaten France again.

Although the fighting stopped on 11th November (henceforth celebrated as Armistice Day) it took a further six months for a peace agreement to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The resulting war reparations crippled Germany.

The railway carriage went back into service with the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits, before being attached to the Presidential train. Between 1921 and 1927 it was exhibited at Les Invalides until moved to a specially constructed stone ‘carriage house’.

In 1940 France fell to a new German army and Hitler wanted to humiliate the French nation – much as Foch had wanted to do to Germany two decades earlier. Hitler had the railway car broken out of the carriage house and moved to the exact same spot where Foch’s train had stood.

On 22nd June 1940, he sat where Foch had and listened as the surrender terms were delivered to the French representatives. When the French agreed to sign, Hitler curtly left – posing only for a quick photograph – exactly as Foch had done.

Shortly afterwards he ordered the complete destruction of the site and the memorials around it. Strangely, only Foch’s statue was allowed to remain.

The railway carriage was sent to Berlin along with a memorial to Alsace-Lorraine and a huge inscription citing the ‘criminal pride of the German Empire’, where it was exhibited in the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) until 1943. After Germany’s surrender the stones were discovered and returned.

But what of 2419D?

As the bombing of Berlin intensified it was moved to Crawinkel in central Germany. Here its SS guards, under orders not to let it fall into Allied hands, blew it up and buried the pieces.

Restoration of the site was completed in 1950 and a sister railway car from the same batch (2439D) was renumbered and placed in the restored carriage building.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This article was kindly written by one of the readers of my blog, Richard Maddox. Richard brings to us his knowledge and his youth-like enthusiasm, and we hope to enjoy more of his well considered articles on important historical matters through Europe and France. If you don’t want to miss his articles make sure you “subscribe” to this blog – which means you’ll get emailed the latest articles that are published!

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