Travels with Lois and Jason


November 23 - December 5, 2000

The motivation for this wonderful trip to France was an invitation for Jason to speak at a conference at the Universite Jean Moulin - Manufacture des Tabaca in Lyon for the deans and directors of French business schools. The invitation also included speaking to students at business schools in both Paris and Rouen. We took extra days at the beginning and end of the presentations, traveling by train around the country, giving us almost two weeks of fun and learning. Best of all, more than with almost any other trip, we had very close interaction with "locals" almost every day.

The theme of the Lyon presentation was change and the participants were challenged to think about how their schools might evolve in this new age. But the real story of the trip was the change we saw in the French people we encountered, and the many challenges to French culture in light of events of this new age.

In 1969 we traveled through Europe using the perennial Europe on $5 a Day as our guide (and we actually stuck to it for the almost four months we were there). We spent about a week in France, and, oh how it has changed from what we remember. In 1969, France was the low point of our travels. We felt so much negativity and had several extremely uncomfortable, and down right bad, interactions with many French citizens. If any could speak English, they refused. But our 2000 trip was among our best, with the warmth, openness and generosity of the French being palpable. People were incredibly friendly, going out of their way to assist or just be nice. The man who helped us with our bags on the bus, concerned about the zipper being open, and making sure we found our stop, was typical, and in stark contrast to the unabashed over charging for tea and pastries or sense of being shunned on our earlier trip. On this trip it seemed people looked for every opportunity to practice their English. One of our hosts suggested that perhaps some of the strong anti-American feelings we experienced thirty-one years ago were related to that being the height of the Vietnam war.

It seemed that every street had its bakery, its meat market, its cheese market, its wine shop and fresh fruit stand. Supermarkets, as we know them in the United States, or at least in Los Angeles, as vast stores with essentially every category of item under one roof, just didn't exist. Nor could we see how it could. People purchased items in small quantities. There was no mass purchasing. In Paris, there were no places for large parking lots outside a supermarket type environment.

But, French culture seemed under attack on many fronts. America influence was pervasive. American movies were the dominant ones being shown at all the cinemas we passed (and in English with French subtitles), McDonalds were located everywhere (two on the four block long Champs Elysees shopping area), the Gap had a chain, and we saw at least one Levis and Disney store. And next to every McDonalds there was a Quickie Burger (the Dutch response to the American fast food export).

And change was also slipping in in the bakery. While every day we saw people carrying one or two baguettes, "new" varieties of bread were being introduced. One bakery indicated "18 varieties of bread baked daily" across its store front while we were served a variety of different kinds of breads at meals. And new, glass and steel building looked so out of place next to the thousand palaces of stone and masonry build in the nineteenth century.

We understand that a Starbucks is coming to Paris. Fast coffee, in a large paper cup with a plastic cover, doesn't fit the image of a Parisian sipping coffee. People took their time with a simple, small cup of coffee. They would never drink coffee with dessert as each has its only distinct favor you wouldn't want to ruin by mixing them. You had your dessert, and then you enjoyed your coffee.

Some French customs seem firmly in place. Restaurants open late for dinner (7:30) and have only one seating -- no one is ever rushed. We came to wonder if people eat slow because service was so bad, or if it was the case that service is what it is because people eat slow. At any rate, going to a restaurant was for the evening, not something rushed before going on to the next event.

We were really impressed by the frequency of the trains, metro and buses. They ran literally every few minutes, making it possible for people to just use public transportation. They said there was no place in Paris more than 500 meters from a Metro stop. And the trains and Metro all had street musicians.  They board at one stop, ride for a while and then change to another car. But that didn't keep people out of their cars. Gas was about $4.50 per gallon, making it very expensive (at least by US standards where we complain about $1.50 a gallon). We could not believe how courteous people were on the streets. Although traffic was near impossible, with delays, single lane streets, etc., we hardly ever heard anyone honk.

We spent five nights in Paris, then on to Rouen for one night, then Lyon for two, and back to Paris for four. We wondered before arriving in France if that were too many days in Paris. Nope! Between sipping coffee at side walk cafés, exploring the side streets and museums, or strolling the Champs at mid-night, there was so much to do that the days (and nights) just flew. Our hotel was on a mixed residential commercial side street near the Arc de Triomphe, and from it we could walk everywhere, and we did! Our Paris hotel room was the size of a large postage stamp: when Jason showered, he had to step out to turn around!

Impressionist art is one of Lois' passions, and so we took advantage of being in Paris to visit many of the "copies" of the "originals" which hang in our house. At the Rodin Museum, we saw an enlargement of The Thinker which rests on our coffee table, while at the Monet Museum we saw several we would like to have. The Musée d'Orsay had our Renoir and Van Gogh, while the Louve, with all its splendor, contained none of our collection (but oh what a wonderful collection it has on its own!). The most satisfying aspect to our visit to The Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou was the building itself, a huge blue structure with all of the plumbing, electrical conduit, and air conditioning infrastructure exposed.

Speaking of the Louve, the I. M. Pei (of Anderson School architectural fame) Pyramid in the plaza was quite startling. In its own right, it is gorgeous. We came out from the Metro into a shopping mall, the end of which was this enormous open space with modern lines and sweeps, including a spectacular spiral staircase. This was the inside of the Pyramid. What a dramatic entrance -- one of the most ancient architectural forms, built of steel and glass materials -- posing as the entrance to 16th century buildings. But, when inside the Louve looking out from that 16th century window across to the other 16th century structures, what you saw was the glass top of the Pyramid sticking out of the ground, and it was distracting, seemingly totally out of place.

We also visited the Museum of Jewish History and Art in Paris and the Resistance and Deportation Museum in Lyon. While the focus was historical, the content was very heavy, leaving us feeling amazed that a single Jew is alive today. We learned so much about the history of the Jews in Europe, as well as the entire resistance movement in France. These museums were real eye openers.

The highlight of this trip were the people. We met a cousin who we had not seen in thirty-one years. We spent two wonderful evenings with him, as well as a trip to Versailles which included a tour of La Défense, the new high rise, glass and steel business district, and a driving tour of Paris to see the Moulin Rouge and the original Folies Bergere theatre. We learned about our distant family, and some of their history regarding the war and survival, and of course, many views of life of a "real" Parisian. One night we met with a group of Anderson alumni, learning about business opportunities of some of our recent grads (although they mostly wanted to talk about our presidential race, which at the time was still in limbo). We were invited to the home of the professor whose classes I was meeting in Paris, learning about the French university system and hearing his concerns toward the changes he saw. In France, the business schools were initially established by the Chambers of Commerce in each province rather than seen as academic departments within the universities.  This model continues today, with a few newer business schools affiliated with some universities.

In Rouen, following my late afternoon presentation, the director and three professors took us to La Couronne, the oldest continuous running restaurant in France, having been opened in 1345. Our five hour meal was a joy, and we learned so much about so many things -- the educational system, citizenship, home life, and of course, their views on who should be our American president. In Lyon we attended the conference dinner at the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine where we sat among the 2000 year old capitals of the Roman amphitheater, having a splendid discussion with several of the conference participants who were "half British and half French."  They too wanted to discuss American politics.

And how can we go to France and not talk about food.   In Lyon we ate at Leon de Lyon (a Michelin Two Star) and had an absolutely fabulous meal.  The next day we returned to purchase some of the chocolate truffles to bring back as gifts as they were among the best chocolates we have ever had.  In Paris, near our hotel we stumbled upon a restaurant called the Rotisserie (and learned afterward that it was a Michelin One Star). We ate there three time during our stay. On our last visit to the Rotisserie, the night we returned from Lyon, at the next table was a young couple who, as we waited for our wine to air, offered us a taste of their wine (which they said was much better, as indeed it turned out to be). Before the night was through, the four of us were great friends. These new friends, Florence and Stephane, then invited us to come to their apartment for dinner for our last night in Paris. They were a young couple (actually newly weds of only two months), both working in Paris but from the Normandy coast area. Our dinner with them on our last night was one to remember, with Champaign from their wedding for starters, great wine with dinner, and Calvados (forty year old "homebrew" to wash in all down).

Speaking of food, one of Jason's favorite soups is French Onion Soup, but it was really hard to come by. As it turned out, of all the restaurants and places we eat, none of the "real" French eateries had FOS. It was only where the tourist congregated did generally poor quality FOS exist (with semi-raw onions, hastily added to some broth). We learned form our newly found friends that FOS is traditionally reserved for only special occasions. Florence and Stephane said that they served it at 6:30 AM the morning after their wedding, as a special morning treat to give their guests the pep to continue partying.  They wedding party lasted for two full days.

There were only two things we constantly complained about during our entire trip: the smoking everywhere (and corresponding lack of non-smoking areas in restaurants) and the dog poop (we're amazed people put up with it!). But those inconveniences are part of the culture of a nation undergoing change. When next we visit, the French Franc will be gone, and the Euro will be in place. But the warmth and genuine friendship we felt will surly remain. This has been truly a trip to remember!

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Jason Frand
December 12, 2000