The question I am asked about Paris the most is its restaurants – which could be a reflection of my image, or of my taste in friends, anyhow too late to change both. I am not home as often as I would like to be, and when I am here, I do my best to enjoy the city, to celebrate that I, even largely theoretically, live here, – and eating out is a big part of it. (There are also periods in my life when cooking at home simply makes no sense, because most of the things I buy over the weekend do not survive until my next culinary attempt.) So I have put together my top favorites in Paris, for you to savour.
For this week’s photo challenge Against the Odds, I have chosen a picture of French Normandy: a place called Etretat.
I love how nature can speak volumes. I remember in school (I was 10 or so), the literature teacher asked us why an author introduces a description of a landscape to a novel. (Literature is huge in Russian schools and questions like this one are not uncommon.) Most of my classmates came up with straightforward answers that made sense (to describe a setting, i.e. where the scene is taking place, or to communicate a change that is coming, i.e. that it is going to rain). When I was (finally and to my delight) asked, I said that the key purpose of introducing a scene was to describe how a protagonist is feeling at this moment.
While the oddity of this (and several others) cliffs is quiet straightforward, this picture has another meaning to me. It is very personal – and very happy. Normandy is probably the gloomiest region of France. Its most popular place is a city Deauville with its main attraction, casino. Sunny days are very, very rare. Yet when we came there with my parents, the sun smiled at us. Etretat was spectacular for the entire day.
That’s another fact about Normandy: when the sun finally comes out, it suddenly becomes one of the most spectacular places on Earth.
I am not someone who picks up on hot social topics, let alone politics. An expat for the last 10+ years, I don’t feel entitled to meddle with internal affairs of the countries I happen to live in. I am coming from a place way too big for things to change, so I know that great expectations often lead to big disillusionment. Plus, I am a millennial and by now, after hundreds of expensive consultants’ reports conducted on millennials, everyone should know that we only mind our own business and our own benefit.
One thing that makes me write this post: I love France. I have chosen to live (and pay my taxes) here, after having lived in Helsinki, London, Istanbul, South Korea, Munich and a couple of other places. It costed me multiple relocations (at my own expense), troubles of residence permit and a 30% salary cut once I moved out of Germany. And I am perfectly happy about it. Sure, paying 53% of my salary in taxes doesn’t make me French. But it does entitle me to have an opinion on the subject as vital to the country and as close to my heart is immigration.
In my opinion, immigration is good for France. Take me. I am a holder of an exquisite European Blue Card residence permit, the one reserved for the highly skilled, talented or in other ways rare workforce. I work for a multinational, and because of the nature of my job, I don’t compete with the local labour force, i.e. French people working for the French customers. I do, however, pay my taxes here. This makes everyone happy: I live in Paris, France gets 53% of my income, and I don’t take anything from the local labour market. It is a situation many countries would like to have. In fact, back in the days when I lived in Germany with a similar arrangement, German immigration sercvices used to send me letters, in English – people, in English! – to make sure I am doing okay and happy with the system. Germany also paid me a lot more, for the same job I am doing here. And yet I left for France.
There are people who don’t really care about where they live. I mean, they might care about the actual city, location, flights of stairs, driving distance from the office (or from the airport). But the actual home? Comes second, at best. I am not one of them.
At least, at this stage of my life. After I was born, I spent first several years in a concrete mini skyscraper next to the Gulf of Finland (that’s an area in St Petersburg, though the geo tags might be confusing), in the home that I barely remember. Actually, my only memory of that place is my own bed, inhabited by a maximum number of some adorable (or I so thought back then) stuffed animals. Some of them very big. We then moved to the first place that we owned as a family, in the city’s historical center, on Repina street.
This one I remember very well (I spent around ten years there, after all). First we had a room there (well, a room of 33 square meters with 4+ meters ceilings, but anyway) and were sharing the other facilities, like bathroom and kitchen, with other 3 families. Facing an option like that now would send me to a state of deep shock, but back then it was absolutely awesome. Our Tatar neighbors had a boy in my class (and his sister a few classes elder), he was secretly (or not so secretly) in love with my best friend, and soon the entire class was playing hide-and-seek in our long and not-always-so-well-lite hallways. Then we had one more room, which became my own. Russia at that time just emerged from the Soviet Union, and no one was clear how to go about the real estate. The property that belonged to the state for almost a century became private overnight, but who was to own it? And how to acquire more? In Soviet time, owning anything was not an option (even good books very rare and property of a library, or an item of a proud family collection, like in our case. We might not had much, but we had our books). One could only get an apartment (or a room) after some work history to support one’s claim: 20+ years working above the Polar Circle (my grandma), a few Doctorate degrees (my dad). And then suddenly everything became for sale, except that no one had any real cash to pay (and there was no credit system to sustain the alternative financing options yet). I lived across the street from my best childhood friend. It was the narrowest street in town. We were besties since six. And yet, we were economic worlds apart. My friends’ family were as bourgeois as one could possibly be during the post Soviet times. We were, well, my parents and their friends were a bunch of people believing in science. My bestie did not care. We were always together, on this or that side of the economic dividing line.
Here is an altitude view of Côte d’Azur. It probably is the best airplane picture I have taken.
Below lies Nice. Enchanting, captivating, quiet, magical and mysterious, under a sparkling carpet of lights, from here Nice is probably at its best. Back in the days when Côte d’Azur was my dream destination, I pictured it somewhat like that.
The real Nice, however, is far from all that. If a notion of mass tourism is applied to the South of France, Nice is the most touristic of all the coastline cities: airport taxi at 35 EUR (not to mention the buses) provides quiet an easy access to everyone lured by the glamour of Côte d’Azur. Proximity to the airport and, relatively to the next door Cannes and Monaco, high population and some historical heritage, attracts crowds and all that comes with them: construction boom of experimental architecture of 80s-90s, multilingual restaurants with long menu in pictures and high density on the narrow pebble beach stripe. That’s not to say that Nice is not worth its fame: the sea is still there and it captures imagination (and hearts) as soon as the plane lands on what seems to be from the window a water surface. Personally, I prefer small cities like Menton close to the Italian border or Eze village on the way to Monaco but occasionally give in to the allure of Nice or Cannes.
For two weeks a year, everyone in Paris remembers that they are very into tennis. Crowds flock to Stade Roland Garros to celebrate spring (theoretically, since the tradition of Roland Garros goes back to 1891, long before the climate became weird), get a grasp of latest trends and social gossip, drink champagne and catch up with friends. And to watch tennis, of course. Elena and I are no exception to the rule. Roland Garros became our personal tradition since – we were trying to remember it last weekend – 2011, when we were first invited for one of the Paris sport – and social – key events. “Do you two even like tennis?” – Stephan, then Elena’s boyfriend, was challenging our intentions.
We did like tennis: at 2011, Elena, a student of Panthéon-Assas and myself, a proud resident of a 22 m2 apartment under the roofs of the 9th arrondissement of Paris and an exchange at Dauphine, liked every social event we could get to in Paris. Let alone Roland Garros.
A lot of things have changed since then. Elena has defended the best in class thesis on political science and was then lured by the challenges of commercial sector. I have graduated from my Masters as well, went to Istanbul, then back to Finland and then returned to France for INSEAD. Elena and Stephan got married, moved to a new place and now have a daughter. I graduated from INSEAD, left for Munich and now have finally come back home, to Paris. When I think about 2011, everything has changed and only Fedya, Lena’s dog, remains a constant in our lives (and now a favorite toy of Jeanne). However, we still reunite every year to watch Nadal, make a ton of epic pictures and, naturally, to exchange news and reflections on life (and Paris public) over champagne.
To give you time to digest the exhaustive Chapter I of my story with geography, I have decided to lighten up the mood by a post with (well, mostly) pictures and to take a close look at one of my favorite stops during our lavender hunt, Roussillon. As I have mentioned in the overview post about that trip, Roussillon is special because of its ocher canyons which color this picturesque village in sanguine red.