#16- Belgium: Brussels & Bruges

So, granted, this was ages ago (or what seems like ages ago), but since summer in Paris just keeps handing me visitors, this is the first time I have really had time to update here. This is from my trip to Belgium(the 16th country I’ve visited) at the end of May. Belgium is a tiny little country north of France that speaks French and Dutch/Flemish, and it kind of has a weird vibe because it is almost stuck between two cultures. It is the capital of Europe, which makes absolutely no sense, but hey, Belgium has to get some kind of recognition right?

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Jour J: The French Presidential Elections.

Today is the day, and I feel lucky to have had the chance/educational experience/language skills to follow another country’s presidential elections. It is actually a very interesting year to live in France because there is so much going on socially and politically. This presidential election has been the closest race in France in recent history, and maybe in all of history. Having a close race always makes it more interesting, but I am actually more fascinated by all their rules.

Coming from the States I was raised in an environment of free speech and the liberty to express yourself in a very open way. I never thought that wasn’t normal because it was my normal, but traveling throughout the world, and especially living in France (or Europe in general), has very much changed my idea of what ‘normal’ means.

Let me give you a low-down of what the French elections have been like this year.

First of all, the ‘Elysee’ consists of about a two month long period throughout which the nominees do their heavy campaigning. During the Elysee (at the end) there are two votes (le premier et le deuxieme tour), the first is kind of like the ‘primaries’ in the States where they take all the nominees (except of all parties) and narrow them down to the two top contenders. From there, most of the rest of the candidates either tell their supporters to support one of the two, or opt for a ‘vote blanche,’ literally ‘white vote’ or ‘blank vote,’ meaning they vote for no one. The second vote is two weeks later, and that is when most people vote for one of the two top dogs. In this case, Sarkozy or Hollande, and this vote is today.

One major thing I found interesting is how late Sarkozy announced he was running for president. Everyone pretty much knew he was, he has only served one term (5 years in France), but he announced, and started campaigning for it, around February 15th, less than 3 months before the first vote. I feel like in the U.S. even the incumbent president is constantly campaigning. As for the contenders, in the States they begin at least a year ahead, and here, they probably began a month or so before. This is partly because of the system of nomination. In order to run for the presidency, you must get 500 ‘parrainages,’ or sponsorships, which are received in the form of signatures from the mayors of the cities of France. The last day to hand in your parrainages was March 16th, so less than 2 months before the premier tour (first vote)! In the States right now, we are just short of 6 months before election day and we already know our main nominees, whom we will now have to listen (even more) incessantly to in the press until then.

Therefore, what this all means is that the nominees have less time to convince you because they aren’t even real nominees until mid-March, and they aren’t directly selected by the people of France, but by the mayors of the cities of France. Of course, the people choose in the first and second tours, but they didn’t necessarily nominate these people. That is also interesting to me.

At one end of the spectrum, I think it is great that there is less time throughout which the elections take up every last inch of the papers, but at other end, there is less time to decide who to vote for, also. Many people I have talked to have no idea for whom they will vote. Some of my friends cast ‘vote blanche’ and some simply voted for someone they knew wouldn’t win because they didn’t like the main players. This definitely explains the massive spread in the voting percentages.

Some more interesting facts that blow my mind just a little bit:

  • Francois Hollande, the current favorite and member of the Socialist party was married to the favorite of the previous elections, Segolene Royale (2007, ~26%).
  • Philippe Poutou, candidate 2012 and member of a far left party and long time worker’s rights activist and political figure, works in a factory for Ford Motor Company.
  • Hollande thinks he is going to eliminate France’s debt by 2017 and Sarkozy wants to reduce immigration by 50%…sweet dreams buddies.
  • Between the two voting tours, each candidate gets equal air time, completely dictated by the government. It’s great no one gets special treatment, but a bit controlling in my opinion.
  • On election days, so since midnight of May 6th today, it is illegal for candidates to do any campaigning and for any citizen to post online (Facbeook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) who they voted for in the elections. Exit polls are also strictly banned until after the ‘urns’ (voting) is closed in order to avoid polls from influencing the results. Americans would have a freaking hay day with this one. In any case, it is admittedly hard for the government to control, but there is always a risk that you could get a fine of up to 75,000 euros or even jail time. Belgium and Switzerland always come out with predictions though..after all it’s not illegal there!
  • 86% of the French population voted in the first tour, and 20% voted blank, meaning they voted for NO ONE. That is insane.

There is sooo much more I could add and write about because I find this fascinating, but now we just have to wait and see what happens at 8 p.m. tonight. In other news, Paris held the 18th annual competition for the best baguette in Paris. Requirements? Must be between 55-65 cm long, 240-340 grams, and are also judged on how they are cooked, the softness of the inside, how golden and crunchy they are, etc. And the winner is…between 1200 boulangeries…Pascal Barillon of Au Levain d’Antan in the 18th arrondisement. The winner receives 4000 euros and the honor of providing bread to the Elysee, or presidential palace, for the next year- so now the only question is, who will that be?

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“C’est Marseille.”

We had a joke throughout our trip to the Southern coast of France. There were five of us, a Spanish, Brazilian, English, French and me, the American. None of us are from Paris, but we all know that there is Paris, and then there is the rest of France. Paris is the NYC of France- everything is busy, people aren’t as friendly, there is always something to stress about, and if there isn’t, well, you should really find something.

In Marseille, there are several noticeable differences. First of all, it is the South and it is on the Mediterranean coast, so the weather is great, if not a tad windy by the sea. Regardless, coming from the incessent rain in Paris, we were happy. The second thing you have to remember is that it is the South, and if I thought Parisians could be slow sometimes, the South moves at a snail-like pace (no pun intended). For a vacation though, that is perfectly fine. The only time it is a problem is when your bus driver decides he would rather spend an extra 10 minutes smoking and socializing than getting you to your train. Mais, c’est Marseille.

You may have started to see the pattern here…every time something happened that we thought was odd, such as slow service, odd dressing habits, interesting people-watching…the phrase was…”C’est Marseille”.

I have been to Nice, and it gave me an interesting impression of Southern France because I had no idea how ghetto it could be, and therefore, I was expecting Marseille to be much the same- I was pleasantly surprised. I found Marseille to be really beautiful, with better upkeep than a lot of Nice. I know there are probably worse parts in Marseille than what I saw, but it was interesting because at times Marseille had a Parisian look, and at other times it was more Spanish or Italian. It is definitely a lot more colorful than Paris in terms of the architecture.

On Sunday, we spent the day in Cassis, France, and that was really wonderful. It gave me a taste of the smaller coastal Southern towns, and I really liked it. I definitely would like to explore the South of France more based off of these two cities. There is so much to see that it is hard to know where to start. What is great though, is that if you have the time, getting around in the area is very easy and extremely enjoyable. I will definitely be back to the South again.

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22 & Rainy

I wish it were 22 degrees Celsius….it feels like it has been so long since Paris has been warm, it is ridiculous! Especially with the record highs the U.S. is having right now. Paris is painfully hard to live in when there is bad weather considering the parks of Paris have been described as the ‘Parisian living room’. In any case, life goes on and you take refuge in good friends, good food, and good museums. I have had quite a bit of all three lately.

Last week, my friends and I decided to go to the grand re-opening of the Palais de Tokyo. Sounds fancy right? It’s not, haha. Let me paint you the scene.

As usual, we waited in line to get in, so despite the museum being 10 minutes from my apartment (a miracle for me), we waited 2.5 hours to get in. This was the place to be last Thursday. It was open from 8PM until midnight the next night, so over 24 hours, and it was a party. I don’t know who my readers are, but if you are the type of people who wear Timberlands because you think they make you look chic, and not because you work on a farm or in a factory, this is the perfect museum for you. Straight up hipster. I don’t even know what they did while it was closed for 10 months because the massive museum was mostly exposed brick and bobos in old sweaters drinking Kronenbourg out of plastic cups.

In the typical Parisian style, there was garbage everywhere and absolutely no organization whatsoever. It took us about 20 minutes to actually find the ‘main’ exhibit. I think everyone just went there to have a party all night, which is great if you don’t work everyday. Although, this museum is in the 16th…I’m not exactly sure if people have to work there.

Regardless, some of the art was kind of cool. It was very contemporary, and the people watching was primmmeeee. Check it out below.

Today, I went to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which was fabulous. It is a small museum hidden away in the heart of the Marais, and I have been meaning to go there for some time. It is free on Wednesday’s from 5-8PM, so I thought why not, it is raining again anyways. My favorite exhibition was by Paolo Pellegrin, who is obviously extremely talented and brave. It was amazing photography of all the recent major world events from about year 2000 onward. For example, the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina, the war in the Middle East, Darfour, Libya, etc. I highly recommend it. It really gives you perspective on all that has happened in the past few years.

Other than that, I turned 22 this past Sunday, and spent  great weekend with my wonderful friends and colleagues. Marseille this weekend, so don’t worry, I will be posting soon!

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Chantilly, Picardie, France

Sometimes you just need to relax. Chantilly is a 25 minute train ride from Paris, and the perfect way to get out of the city for a bit. It is hard to believe that there are such wide open spaces so close to Paris. Most people go to Chantilly for the chateau, and it is indeed majestic- right out of a fairytale- but I would go there just to breathe fresh air.

Chantilly is a little town situated in Picardie just north of Paris. It is known for its chateau, horseback riding and its Chantilly cream. This picturesque little town is full of families, bicyclists, runners, rugby players and people playing fetch with their dogs over wide open fields.

Being that my friends and I aren’t ordinary tourists visiting Paris for the week and looking for a day trip, we took our time. We began with food of course, stopping at a great bakery (one of the only places open) pretty close to the chateau. My roasted pork baguette sandwich, Perrier water, and chocolate eclair was like a dream lunch in France as we sat with the Chateau de Chantilly and its beautiful lake as our scenery for this mid-day picnic.

As families played and enjoyed their lunch around us, we ate a relaxing and satisfying lunch, and took a little siesta before we even went out to explore. The best part of being in Chantilly was simply the relaxing environment of the village, and I think we all needed a bit of a slower pace after a long week.

We spent the rest of the day wandering through the woods around the chateau, where there was a large path for people to walk along. I think we were all a little bit reluctant to go back to a Monday, but sun kissed and sleepy, we took the train back to reality at the end of the day. Back to Paris, back to work and back to another adventure of a different kind.

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Hunger Games Paris Premiere

Squealing with joy, I took the metro home from the Champs-Elysees on Thursday night, smiling like a fool. I think everyone on the metro might have thought I was slightly schizophrenic because no one, and I mean no one, smiles on the metro….unless they are crazy or intoxicated. Therefore, my behavior was quite uncharacteristic. Why you ask? HUNGER GAMES Paris Avant Premiere. I have no words, it was so fabulous.

Ask any of my friends, I am the last person to know what celebrity got married, who’s on the cover of ‘People’ magazine this week, who’s dating who in Hollywood, etc. When it comes to Hunger Games though, it gets serious.

In terms of the books, I love the fact that Suzanna Collins created an addictive series that, at the same time, has a decent amount of depth. I have really enjoyed reading series before, but there are few recent series, in my opinion, that have achieved this caliber of writing with such an addictive quality.

When I was searching for information about the movie, I stumbled upon the London Premiere….and then I searched for the Paris Premiere, and that is when I immediately decided to go. Among attendees: Director Gary Ross, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and the ever so beautiful Liam Hemsworth as Gail.

Let’s just let the photos do the talking for now:

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A Fashion-Filled Weekend: Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs exhibition & Colette Carnaval

Thankfully this week, we have had some very nice weather in Paris. Unfortunately though, the weekends are refusing to cooperate with this trend, but that just means more time to visit the indoor marvels and that is exactly what I did last weekend.

Louis Vuitton & Marc Jacobs exhibition

From now until September 16, 2012, the Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs exhibition will be taking place at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Since the weather was overcast and chilly last weekend, and the massive amounts of tourists that flock to Paris starting in mid-April have not yet arrived, some friends and I decided to go to this exhibition right away. I do love museums and history, but after I have been to so many, a museum/exhibition really has to be unique to catch my eye, so honestly, the LVMJ exhibition was a breath of fresh air.

This was one of the best exhibitions I have been to in Paris so far, and I applaud the creators because whoever designed it really put a lot of thought into the details, and made an effort not to overload visitors with too much design just for the sake of quantity. Instead, they focused on quality.

When you begin the exhibition, you are in the Louis Vuitton area. It begins be showing you the vintage trunks, allowing you to read a bit of the history, and see how Louis Vuitton came to be, and why he really succeeded. The exhibition continues to take you through the Louis Vuitton brand chronologically, and it ends with a really nice video of Paris in the late 1800’s, which was quite cool to see because it is the magical Paris that I think people always imagine.

Then, you climb the stairs…and you enter the world of Marc Jacobs, creative director for Louis Vuitton. Now, this is where it gets really interesting in my opinion. First of all, let me just say that the exhibition begins with a warning stating that this part of the exhibition may not be suitable for young children. We all know that Marc Jacobs’ work can be a little more racy, and it is really cool to see how he took the classic Louis Vuitton design and put his own twist on it, taking it far enough to be controversial, but not so far as to be disrespectful. What is even more interesting to me, is that he is an American doing this with a French brand, something that I respect him for because I think that it was probably very hard to do.

Both parts of the exhibition showed the cloths and bags that both Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs designed, and depending on where you were, the lighting and music changes, which is what I think made the exhibition great because these aspects really brought out the excitement and emotional value behind the designs. It was like the exhibition was playing to all your senses, which as a Marketing major, I loved.

The exhibition is 8 euros and free for students under the age of 26. If you happen to be in Paris in the next few months, it is a must-see! No photos allowed unfortunately.

Colette Carnaval

I read about 15 different blogs on Paris/Paris events/Paris exhibitions/Paris restaurants, etc. each week, and this was one of the events that just kept popping up, so I had to go.

Colette is a high-end retailer on the prestigious rue Saint-Honore in the first arrondisement of Paris. The style is kind of quirky and fun…there is almost a Mossimo vibe to it in my opinion. The past weekend, it was their 15th anniversary. For their 10th anniversary, they had a private soiree, invite-only, quite typical Parisian style. What they did this time….I think was a much more innovative and special way to celebrate their brand.

Instead of going all classy and posh and isolating the majority of their clientele from celebrating with them, they went fun and quirky, just like the feeling their brand exudes. They hosted the ‘Colette Carnaval’ in the Tuileries gardens…open to the public. Look at their site to see exactly who was there, but if you look at my pictures you will see that some of the sponsors included Nike, Barbie, La Duree, La Camion qui Fume (a Californian food truck that is all the rage in Paris right now), and so many more. It was full of games, dancing, food, photos, and fun little exhibits by different brands. It wasn’t about selling clothes for Colette, it was about celebrating what they are about: fun, and fun is was we had.

I think the photos will explain it all, so here you go:

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