White Picnic on the Champs Elysées

picnicblanc2.jpgIf you happened to be out on Thursday night at approximately 9:15pm, you probably wouldn't have noticed a large number (50? 75?) of tour buses pulling over on the Avenue des Champs Elysées. There are always tour busses on the Champs. But at exactly 9:30pm something extraordinary happened. The doors to the busses opened and approximately 8000 elegant Parisians and Franciliens dressed in all white spilled out onto the wide sidewalks where they proceeded to set up tables, cover them in white table clothes, vases of white flowers, and candelabras of white votives, and sat down to a modest feast befitting any French picnic. Bewildered onlookers stared as these men and women of all ages, many in tuxes and fancy oversized hats, poured Champagne into crystal flutes.

picnicblanc5.jpg"What is this?" asked one woman as I snapped some photos. This is the annual Diner en Blanc, an amazingly well-organized clandestine picnic sans permit, begrudgingly tolerated by the local police. Each year for over two decades, the location is kept secret, and the list of participants open by invitation only. Invitees are told only where and when to meet the network of busses around Paris (arranged by the mysterious organizers), which then convene together on a different surprise location each year (past picnics have been in front of Invalides, around the Place du Palais Royal, at the Arc de Triomphe).

picnicblanc7.jpgIt looks like a huge wedding party. Especially when, at 10pm, everyone starts dancing to the live band being slowly driven down the Champs-Elysées on the back of a truck. The white picnickers wave and cheer as open-top sightseeing busses pass by, and again when the police riot vans perform the obligatory drive-by, sirens blaring and blue lights flashing. "Go get some white clothes and join us!" says one of the party goers (dressed in his grandmother's chef's uniform). And considering the fact that the Gap, Zara, and many other clothing stores on the Champs were still open that wouldn't have been impossible, but alas, my friends and I were already on our way to another party. As we headed off at 11pm we could see the picnickers all lighting their sparklers in celebration of another successful soirée. And miraculously, it didn't even rain.


My American friends and I contemplated the myriad reasons this would not work as well in the US:

- Orange Alert forbids any public shenanigans that might be construed as terrorist acts

- Archaic "open container" laws prevent the drinking of alcohol on the streets.

- Out-of-control capitalism means that "someone" would find a way of making money from this event, therefore ruining the whole point

-  Most American picnics would never fit on a table that's small enough to carry (all that potato salad gets heavy)

- Most Americans would never do anything that might go on their permanent record (and maybe growing up in Arizona has warped my sense of American police mentality, but I have no doubt that all 8000 picnickers would be rounded up, charged, and fined).

I would love to be proven wrong here...anyone game for giving it a try in Central Park, er, I mean, "an undetermined secret location"?

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Any Given Tour Day

Yesterday was officially the first hot day of the spring, a toasty 25°C/77°F. And just Sunday I was wearing a scarf and telling friends it's too cold to sit on the terraces. The gods were apparently as sick of my pasty pallor as I was. Of course, I couldn't just hang out in flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt all day, because I had a tour, a family from El Paso. So Paris was still relatively cool for them, but jetlag and being squashed in city conditions (like the metro) makes it more unbearable, especially when you're walking around in it for eight hours. And the weather wasn't the only pleasant if somewhat inconvenient surprise of the day.

We strolled down the Ile St Louis and part of the street was blocked off for the filming of a foreign (ie not French) film. I could tell even before the tour client saw the crew's badges with the English title (something "Julia and...") because the French "street scene" was styled so stereotypically the way foreigners view France (gendarme in a kepi and cape, the overly cute butcher shop, the old guy in the beret, etc.) that it couldn't be French. I was trying to point out one of the historic private mansions, but we were scooted along by the crew.

After a trip to the open market, we went to the Place des Vosges to sit and eat in the grass (I even had a blanket to sit on), but there were only two inches of grass that were in the shade, and by then it felt a lot hotter than the thermostat indicated. Luckily, the Place des Vosges has a LOT of benches under the trees, so we quickly found a free one and enjoyed our lunch.  

Later, I took the family to the Palace of Justice (since one of them is a lawyer) and saw immediately that there was no usual line to get into Ste-Chapelle, which is inside the Palace complex. A handwritten sign said it was closed today and tomorrow. We passed quickly through security and on the way past Ste-Chapelle to get to the Palace of Justice entrance, we asked the police why it was closed, and who were the two people standing up in the spire. "They're the workers; they're on strike." I looked up and yelled to the unhappy workers, "Sautez pas!" (don't jump). I like to think even strikers have a sense of humor.

Luckily we weren't there to see the chapel, so the clients took photos of the strikers in the spire and we continued to the courthouse to check out the room where Marie-Antoinette was tried during the revolution.

Afterwards, we headed over to Notre Dame Cathedral, and we saw that no one was going in. Another strike?  We saw banners and moved closer to see what they said, but they were to welcome the pope, who happens to be visiting in September. And then we saw the police line going all the way around the building, blocking the side streets as well. "Suspicious package," said the policeman with the sniffer dog. They assured us it would be open shortly, but my tour guidees were pretty pooped by that point anyway, so they noted the poster promoting the evening organ concert and we headed back over to their rental apartment on the Ile St-Louis.

Some people might see this as a day of mishaps, but it was a great way for the visitors to see what life in Paris is really like. ;)

Later on, one of my friends who had gone out to the airport to pick someone up said that the RER workers were on strike (all's well today). That is usually not good, but apparently it was just the ticket takers, so they let everyone ride for free instead of stopping traffic like they usually do. So a big round of hugs for the RATP strikers, who are finally making their bosses pay, not the innocent (and harried) travelers.

Or are they?

Just saw today that the metro/bus ticket prices are going up 6.7% on July 1. Individual tickets will be €1.60,  the carnet of 10 will be €11.40, and the monthly pass will be €55.10. I guess someone has to pay for this excellent service.


Calendar Update

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out the updated calendar of events here.


Introductions, summer intern!

Andrea%20Picture.jpgHello, bonjour!  I need to introduce myself, because Heather is allowing me to tag along and learn about her life as a writer/tour guide in Paris.  I'll be helping Heather out this summer - updating her website, and tracking down exciting events to share.  So if you see entries submitted by me, don't be too surprised!

 A little bit about myself - in the fall, I'll be starting my junior year at Carleton College (Heather's alma mater!).  For the past ten weeks, I have been living in Paris, participating in a study abroad program.  Studying abroad in this wonderful city has been amazing.  I'm excited however to continue my "Paris experience" from a little different angle.  I found Heather on a list of Carleton graduates, and from the first email, she has been welcoming and encouraging of my interest in helping her.  She has been more than kind in allowing me this opportunity.  So, thanks Heather!

 I've thoroughly enjoyed my time so far in Paris, and I look forward to continuing my explorations, and to helping you enjoy your visits here as well!

 Nice to meet you all!

Andrea Rockwood 


CNN Series Profiles French Business, Culture & Politics

As much as I detest the simplistic news coverage of CNN, their Eye on France is a good place to catch up on "French News Lite": 

"As both the French and the international community reflect on Nicolas Sarkozy's first year in power, CNN International's "Eye on.." strand decamps to some of France's most iconic landmarks to put the nation under the spotlight as it redefines its place on the world stage."

I'm curious what you all think about the articles (and if I'm not the only one who noticed that all 17 of the people asked what it means to be French are men).


Naughty Paris Sneak Preview!

I've just spent the last week working on the new Naughty Paris Guide website, and this morning at 6am I finally finished the preview video so you can see how pretty the inside looks. Go have a peek and let me know what you think!