Friday, 18 March 2011

Paris Peculiar ~ 'Macaroon And Croissant Loonies?'

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesCuriosities ~ Buildings ~ 6th

Macaroon And Croissant Loonies?

My original question on the Paris Photo Quiz was:

"No.4, OK, but MACL? What's that about"

As I said on the quiz, and just to make it a little trickier, there is more than one way to approach this.

The literal version is interesting but not particularly amusing. Happily, there is a naughty version too! Anyway.

Anyway, to put it in context, you may, if you're the eye-raising type, see these four letters, MACL, generally in a fancy little plaque, up high on the ground floor wall (OK, first floor USAers) on certain more imposing buildings in a couple of the central city quarters. But what do they mean?

We're back in the 18th century and you're right if you doubted my Macaroon And Croissant Loonies interpretation of the abbreviation. In fact, in those days, the concept of insurance was well developed in the maritime world and was starting to be developed to allow people to protect their buildings against disasters such as... fire.

I'd like to know if insurance against flooding was also an option, given the regular Seine uprisings, which occured roughly every 25 years apparently.

So some houses were starting to advertise, or just show off about the fact that they were, indeed, insured against fire, and stuck plaques up to this effect. 'MACL' stands for Maison Assurée Contre l'Incendie, or house insured against fire.

As I said, we're deep in the times of Louis XVI before the 1789 Revolution, and whilst the King is struggling not to lose his head, wifey Marie-Antoinette is no longer the most popular of queens either.

Revolutionary Sans-Culotte wags decided that MACL would be better interpreted as 'Marie-Antoinette Cocufie Louis', or Marie-Antoinette cheats on (cuckolds) Louis. Sans-Culotte is a derogatory aristocratic term for the revolutionaries who couldn't afford the flouncy knickers worn by the the upper-crust, meaning literally 'without pantaloons'.

But the story doesn't end there. During the restauration of the monarchy between 1814 and 1830, another meaning is invented for these four functional letters: 'Mes Amis, Chassons Louis' (my friends, let's kick out Louis), with the last of the Louis kings, the 18th, being the brunt of the joke this time.

Keep your eyes peeled for other fascinating plaques on the walls of the city (and here on Paris If You Please) and let me know what you find - there's quite a few if you look.

==>  COMMENT HERE!  <==

* I run Photo and Curios Weeks and Tours in Paris, and also manage a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. I write an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, run a Meetup group for Paris lovers, and even contribute to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what I get up to out there...

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, comments and requests are always welcome! J

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Book Review ~ "Paris In The Twentieth Century" by Jules Verne

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ Books

Buy this in the PIYP Bookshop!

Paris In The Twentieth Century
by Jules Verne
Balantine 1997
ISBN 9780345420398

Book Review
When I saw the words 'Verne' and 'Paris' on the same book cover I thought all my birthdays had come at once. Not only did I learn a lot of the French I know through reading his delightful novels in their original versions, but did you know that I'm quite a fan of the French capital too?

But  Paris In The Twentieth Century is not quite as easy to recommend as it might seem. It's a bit of an anomaly, in fact, and the best way to describe it is probably along the lines of 'a fascinating and prophetic historical and literary document'.

Verne wrote this just before his 5 Weeks In A Balloon made him famous, and for fans and curiosity seekers alike, it's an interesting read, if not the Jules Verne we are so familiar with.

Anomaly is one way to describe Paris In The Twentieth Century but another would be an anachronism in its own time. In fact Jules Verne offers us his vision of life precisely one hundred years on from when he wrote it, which was in 1863. He imagined the city a century later, in other words,, and we are now in the interesting position of being able to look back on the decade of the Beatles from the other direction and see just how close he got.

Well he didn't predict the Beatles in any case, but in terms of the the technological advances he was prescient indeed, although most of them were hinted at by the way developments were going as he wrote back in the mid 1800s.

The book didn't actually get published, as it was considered that no-one would swallow the prophetic vision he was proposing, and it's true that we can sense him finding his feet as a weaver of tales in this book. If we take it as the aforementioned historical literary document, it's intriguing to see the master storyteller's early attempts to hold a narrative together. It reminds me of how I feel when I stumble across some of my school boy creative writing in an old exercise book somewhere, and compare it to how I lay words down as an adult; you can sense the potential, but it's not quite there yet.

Unusually, I read the English translation, whereas up until now I've been proud to read Verne's canon in the original French. That gave me to opportunity, though, to enjoy the translator, Richard Howard's touching personal note from 1995:

"The twelve double volumes of The Works of Jules Verne became my imaginative life while all hell was breaking loose around me..."

The sixteen page introduction by Eugen Weber also valuably anchors the book firmly in its time and allows us to judge it on its true merits, and not as a contemporary piece as we might be tempted to do otherwise.

Verne's projected nowadays, effectively, is a grim one. Not only have machines taken over much of what we do physically, which is accurate enough, but they have also largely renderend emotions and sensitivity redundant. As war has become an inefficient waste of time, which you would think a good thing, unfortunately society has become one big fat boring drudge. People get off more on the latest technological advances (hey, wanna see my new iPad 2, anyone..?) than on some lacrymose verse or other, and those inclined to the latter are considered shameful losers and a disgrace to their families and society as a whole.

Well he got the technology obsession right, didn't he? As he often did later on in his literary career, he uses the book to inform the reader of some of the impressive advancements of the day, although thankfully not in too much detail. He also comes down firmly on the side of the arts, and hints at dark (and looong) passages in opuses yet to appear with lists of greatly lamented French authors, composers and the like.

I remember ploughing through mind-numbing pages of names of fish in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea I think it was, just because idiot had happened to look out of a porthole, and rocks and plants in The Mysterious Island and so on. This was an ingenious way of teaching the populace about the world around them, in a time when they couldn't just Wiki it, which was actually one of Verne's aims, with the main drawback being that it just got in the way of the story.

Usually, Verne´s stories and characters were so strong that this didn´t matter. In Paris In The Twentieth Century, however, it has to be said that there isn´t much substance to be found anywhere, and the interest of the entire book pretty much rests on this de-personalised future world which is ours and, for us, how uncannily true a lot of his predictions were.

Everyone loves a happy ending of course, and in Paris In The Twentieth Century, you... don't get one. The whole thing is very strange, because you can't help wondering what he hoped to accomplish, as an unknown novelist, in attempting (unsuccessfully) to publish a down-right gloomy and depressing view of the not-so-distant future, that ends on a real downer.

I enjoyed the book a lot though, but probably because it was short, unexpected, impressively prophetic and added a nice juicy chunk to my knowledge of one of my favourite story tellers. I haven't got a new iPad 2 by the way. Yet.

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Book Review ~ "Promenades sur les Lieux de l'Histoire" by Anne Thoraval

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ Books

Promenades sur les lieux de l'Histoire
D'Henri IV à mai 68, le rue de Paris racontent l'histoire de France
by Anne Thoraval
Parigramme USA 2008
ISBN 9782840963233

Book Review
Although there's a heck of a lot of competition these days in the 'beautifully illustrated and informative books about Paris' arena, the publisher Parigramme are still easily top of the heap as far as I'm concerned. And 'Promenades sur les lieux de l'Histoire' is a beauty - a shining example of what makes me love this series so.

It's in French, so you may want to switch off now if you're not comfortable with the language of Molière, as there's currently no English translation, although some of the others in this series are available in English. However, if you do read French, or are looking for an interesting book to use in your studies of this beautiful tongue, or just want to drink in the words of this fondly tapped review, let's march on.

And marching is one of the main elements of this book, in one way or another. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The meatily titled Promenades sur les lieux de l'Histoire - D'Henri IV à mai 68, le rue de Paris racontent l'histoire de France (anything else you need to know?) is a truly fascinating delve into the history of this city, and hence of France itself, through a series of cleverly constructed and well-chosen topics.

As we can see from the contents page, the book is divided into chapters based on the most significant, and often extremely bloody, events of the last 400 years or so. And boy-oh-boy were there a lot of them!

It's a book like this that makes me take a deep breath and admit how far I've got to go before realising my life-long goal of actually understanding French history reasonably well. But this book sure does help.

Not only does it break things down into nice, bite-sized chunks, but it also illustrates them, literally and lavishly, in a manner that makes what could be somewhat dry really come alive, which is the approach I enjoy most.

Added to that is a galloping narrative which sweeps us along and makes us feel practically present at these great events, from the revolutions to the funerals, passing by arrestations, executions and assasinations, just in case you were still doubtful as to just how bloody French history actually is.

It's not all gore and guts though, and we are invited to a handful of more joyous events too, such as Napoleon's coronation, World War I's Armistice Day and the entry of de Gaulle into Paris once the city had been liberated towards the end of the Second World War.

An excellent feature of this book is that the first couple of pages of each chapter are devoted to an overall summary of what happened during whatever tumultuous period of Gallic turmoil is being treated.

This concise intro is immediately followed by a blow by blow account of the key events in the order they happened. Marvellous. Too obvious and cartoonified for a serious scholar, perhaps, but for an avowed historical ignoramus like myself this approach is ideal.

I should once again say that the choice and variety of illustrations used is really top notch. There are literally one or two glorious pictures or engravings or photos on each and every page. This nicely chops up the text and makes the book much more managable, giving the sensation of moving swiftly along, which is vital for a slow and impatient reader like myself.

The icing on the cake, in my opinion, is that they've kept the spirit of a family of books which more commonly offers us real pavement pounding walks around the city streets.

Each chapter has its own little map, with the location of the main events labelled, and it is indeed possible to envisage a stroll between the assorted hot-spots as we peruse the paragraphs and imagine ourselves back in those revolutionary, royalist, empiric or simply chaotic times. (Quite a few of my actual Paris walks are rather chaotic come to think of it.)

Although I found the chapters on contemporary times, such as the '68 student uprising and the two world wars enlightening, it was the old stuff that really stirred my imaginative juices.

To be taken back so vividly, right here in the city where I spend my days, to times of courts and kings and empires and revolutions and emprisonments in gothic towers and gruesome beheadings and violent politics and betrayals and heroic returns is the sort of thing a sceptical school boy could still get fired up about. Unless he's already discoved Facebook or Twitter or other dangerously dumbing-down devices. Some might think our history no longer serves much useful purpose; I for one don't believe that to be the case, but you get the feeling it's struggling sometimes.

On closing the book, I felt I had just scratched the veneer of Paris and glimpsed a secret world of intrigue and conspiracy seething below the surface of the streets and behind the walls we walk past every day.

If I can just retain the basics of a few, or even a couple of all the events covered in Promenades sur les lieux de l'Histoire then I'll consider I have an excellent basis from which to continue building my still shaky knowledge of this special place.

In the meantime I'll continue offering you my little snippets of this vast panorama called Parisian history through what the French would charmingly refer to as 'clins d'oeil' (winks) of the the past as I stumble across them, on the facades and statues and stones of the city. Helped by books like this one. Vive la France!

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests, thanks.

Paris People ~ 'Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen' ~ Interview

POSTED IN:  ~ PeoplePublicationsInterviewsBooks

Photo: Stephen Zezza
 Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen
Author of 'Stockdale' & 'Next of Kin'

Whether it was Priscilla who found my Paris photos and poems first, or I who discovered her Paris web magazine and personal writing, I can't remember; the mists of time have taken care of that.

In any case, she's always encouraged me in everything I've done, and cheered me up when I've been down with wild praise for some questionable efforts, so she's certainly one of my best on-line buddies, as it were.

Now it gives me great pleasure to offer you a little chat with a charming lady and an incorrigible creator who always seems to be involved in some new project or other.

Priscilla has written two books, been running her own Paris web site for years and is a regular contributor to Expats Radio where she shares her knowledge and vision of the capital, not to mention being a devoted wife and mother of two lively kids!


Read 'Next of Kin'
Paris If You Please: Does Paris please you?

Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen: Yes, overall, it does. It's beautiful and ancient, and there are so many things to see and do that I wonder if I'll ever have time to finish my list.

PIYP:  Do you have a favourite place in the city?

PL-J: The Right bank. I like my neighborhood. I have the Parc Monceau, rue de Levis market street... I can walk to the Champs Elysées or Place des Ternes in less than half an hour. These are my favorite areas in all of Paris!

PIYP:  Your first novel, Stockdale, talked, amongst other things, of prejudice in the States. How does that compare to over here in France in your experience?

PL-J: Hmmmm. It's very different. Racism does exist here in Paris but it's not the same as in the deep south where I'm from (Alabama).

In my first book Stockdale, one of the central issues is biracial relationships and how difficult there were in the 80s. Here in Paris, there are many, many biracial relationships and no one seems to notice. French people don't have a problem with "color" as much as a problem with religion. I'd say when it comes to racism or discrimination, that'd be first on their list rather than skin color.

Of course I could be wrong but I've had this discussion with several American friends and they all seem to agree... but it's a huge topic and question and it's definitely worth delving more into.

PIYP:  You've just published 'Next of Kin', which is a short but very moving account of how you lost your dad. What made you write such a personal piece?

PL-J: I felt I had to sort of get it out there and out of ME. It was like therapy in a way. I also thought "Hey, I wonder if this could help someone else? Someone else HAS to be going through this or already has...."

I've since gotten many amazing supportive letters from people who said it DID help them and I'm grateful for that.

PIYP:  Your Paris-themed web site, Prissy Mag, presents your take on the city you've adopted. What made you set it up and what are your plans for the future?

PL-J: I loved writing for other Parisian lifestyle zines and then decided it would be great to create my own site, with my own ideas and I've loved it. Prissy Mag was launched in 2007 and I'm excited about it's future.

We're going to partner with more sites, expand our writing team, and try to broaden our topics a bit more. The feedback we get from our readers keeps me going and keeps it going. It's nice to know we are helping and entertaining lots of people.

PIYP:  'Expats Radio' have started broadcasting contributions from you on Paris - what's that's like to be involved in?

PL-J: That's great fun. Peter, the President of Expats Radio is a wonderful person, totally dedicated to what he's doing. It's nice to talk about life in Paris with him and to be on the radio making Prissy Mag available to even more people. It's good to have another medium to do that.

PIYP:  You are such an active person, as well as a devoted mother and wife. How do you find time for it all?!

PL-J: It's HARD but I try to get things done whenever I can and wherever I can. Sometimes I write an article on the metro or at the dentist's office (wherever inspiration hits me). The most important thing is family though, and then, when I can write or work on Prissy Mag, then life is truly, truly good.

PIYP:  What are your plans for the future - I'm sure there are some!

Photo: Stephen Zezza

PL-J: Write more books, expand Prissy Mag, travel more and enjoy time with my family!

As far as writing books go, I have a bit of promotion to do for Next of Kin, which is actually turning out to be quite hard. It's sometimes too raw to talk about, even though I wrote it! However, I'm determined to hand over a huge check to the American Cancer Center's Hope Lodge in Birmingham Alabama (half of all the book's proceeds are being donated there).

Afterwards, I'm looking forward to getting back to a third and fourth book which I've already started. One's fiction and one's non-fiction and I'm very excited about both. I don't want to give away too much, but I will tell you that the fictional story takes place in Paris! Now, I just have to buckle down and complete one of them instead of going back and forth maybe (ha ha). I love writing-articles, books, it will be fun, no matter what.

PIYP:  And finally, what's your philosophy on life, if you have one?

PL-J: I have many but the first one which comes to mind is this: 'Don't sweat the small things'.

Note: Many thanks to Priscilla for finding the time to answer my questions and her husband Michael for helping supply some of the photos I've needed from him from time to time. See you soon in Paris!
© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Sab's Fun Paris Mini Quiz ~ No.1

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesCuriosities ~ Quiz

Fun Paris Mini Quiz ~ No. 1

Welcome to my very first Fun Paris Mini Quiz!

Nothing serious, just 10 questions with multiple choice answers to see what you know about our great city.

If you've been following my Paris Photo Quiz regularly you'll probably know most of the answers, but don't get too confident: I've been a bit sneaky on some of the questions to try and throw you off track, so watch out!

It's the first time I'm trying this, so I hope it looks ok and works for you. Let me know if there are any problems and also let me know how you did in the comments section, which you can get to by clicking here:

==>  HOW DID YOU DO?  <==

You can right click on any of the photos and open in a new window to see nice big versions to check the details. Don't left click as you will lose your answers.

If you have problems with this quiz on this page, go directly to this page which should work ok. And let us know how you do, please! : Quizzes engine

==>  HOW DID YOU DO?  <==
This photo quiz uses the first ten questions from my Paris Photo Quiz blog, where you can test your knowledge of Paris curiosities and maybe win some cool bookmarks. I'd love to hear from you, with what you think and any ideas you have for future posers. See you in the comments sections!
© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and commissions always welcome!

Paris Places ~ 'Blue Door Bizarre'

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesCuriosities ~ Buildings ~ 20th

Blue Door Bizarre

My original question on the Paris Photo Quiz was:

"What's strange about this little blue door?"

As I said in the quiz, there are hundreds of blue doors in Paris, so why should this one be any different and any more special.

I'll tell you. Look closely at where it starts. Wouldn't you agree that we are, in fact, talking about half way up the wall? Not a particularly convenient place for a door to start, to the extent that they had to build a (rather cute) little staircase to allow access.

But that staircase wasn't always there. Once upon a century and a half ago the occupants of numbers 134 and 136 rue de Bagnolet (there's another door like this one next door) could saunter up to their house and skip straight in without so much as a hint of a hop or a jump.

The bottom of that blue door, you see, used to be well and truly anchored at street level. So what happened?

Well here we are in the 20th arrondissement of the city, and things used to be a lot... humpier than they are today. So much so that your average cart horse would have a few problems as soon as there were a few barrels or sacks aboard.

For this reason, the street was levelled off in the middle of the 19th century, leaving these two blue doors hanging in mid-air. Absolutely lovely little staircases they made though, don't you think, with their iron railings and twisting steps framing the little Hobbit-hole door leading to what would have been underground around 1840.

Both these pictures (including the much less sexy and far more realistic second one) come from a great walk I did recently with my Paris If You Please Meet Up group in the 20th arrondissement as one of a series we're doing taking us through every arrondissement of the city, spiralling in to the centre. I thoroughly recommend it, as the 20th has a ton of surprises if you wander around a bit.

Do let me know your favourite quirk of the 20th, or any other arrondissement for that matter, if you have one, as I collect them, you see.
==>  COMMENT HERE!  <==
This item first appeared on my Paris Photo Quiz blog, where you can test your knowledge of Paris curiosities and maybe win some cool bookmarks. Check it out, and say Sab sent ya!
© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and commissions always welcome!
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