“Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 258 variétés de fromage?” Charles de Gaulle. Rough translation: “How could you possibly govern a country where there are 258 kinds of cheese?”
I promised to end on a positive note so here is my top 5 list of raves about France and the French.
1. Service. Huh, did I just write that? Well, actually when you are willing to pay for it, the service can be the best you have ever had in your life. Next time you are over here, go to the Hermès store at Madeleine and buy a scarf for yourself (for my lady readers) or for your wife (for my gentlemen readers). You will not believe how good the service is. Oh, but one bit of advice, if you show up in bermudas and a coffee stained t-shirt, your mileage may vary.
2. The City. Yes, despite its many disadvantages (pollution, noise, Parisians), Paris is an addictive place. Someone once said, “Once you have lived in Paris, you can’t live anywhere else, even in Paris”. I feel that just about sums it up. I have a really hard time conceiving my life away from Place de la Concorde, La Seine, Le Canal St Martin, Le Favela Chic, Le Grand Rex, Le Max Linder, Le Louvre and the thousands of other monuments, cafés, movie theaters, clubs and museums. In 15 years, I have seen and done a lot but in many ways, have still only scratched the surface. There’s something about the light of early morning spring here on a terrace with an expresso and a newspaper that is hard to get elsewhere…OK so with two kids I am clearly projecting but you get the point. I feel that there are a handful of truly global cities in the world (London, Rome, Tokyo, New York City, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong…) but having been to all of them, I still have to give Paris the nod for the tops as a vibrant, chaotic, beautiful place to live and visit.
3. Freeways. I think I already mentioned this in a previous post, but driving on the freeways (while carefully avoiding the omnipresent radars) is a real pleasure. For the most part, they are cleaner, smoother, better marked and better maintained than other systems I have driven on.
4. The Mediterranean. Maybe not Nice and Monaco but more like say, Les Calanques near Marseille, Corsica, Sete…the quality of a swim in the transparent, translucent, turquoise waters is so delicious that I have a physical need to go at least once a year somewhere along the coast. There are destroyed bits such as the coast from Antibes to Monaco (with a few exceptions) but there is just pure paradise at the Calanques for example.
5. Food and Wine. As my quote from de Gaulle mentions, this country has a variety of cheese that boggles the mind. And ALL OF IT is extraordinary. If you have ever tried a morbier, chaource, saint-marcellin, or a camembert au cidre, you know what I am talking about. The fact that the “fromagerie” (cheese shop) still exists is a tribute to the high value the French put on their cheese. It does without saying that the wines of Bordeaux and Bourgogne are honestly centuries ahead of the newcomers from California, Chile, South Africa, etc. Yes, I love the Pinot Noir from Marlbourough in New Zealand but it doesn’t compare to an aged Côtes de Nuits. There is so much more history and tradition that, other than the spiked grape juice that you get at the supermarket, once you get into the “grands crus”, the palette becomes a symphony hall of taste and smell. Then there is the bread (life with out a baguette tradition or retro is inconceivable), regional sausages (oh yes, the Germans don’t have a monopoly on sausage or as we say here “saucisson”!), regional dishes (three recipes for cassoulet: Toulousain from Toulouse, Chaurienne from Castelnaudary, and Carcasonne depending on whether tomatoes are used and whether sausage is added or not)…I could go on but I will end here.
To my non-French soon-to-be-ex-IBM Colleagues: Welcome to my world and good luck here on the “other side” tomorrow!