Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Best Neighborhoods: Make Up Your Own Mind


When Pittsburghers ask me about visiting Paris, some common questions are: What is the best neighborhood to stay in? Which are safe? Which ones should I avoid?

I usually answer that unlike U.S. cities, where the urban core is usually seen as unsafe, in Paris it’s the opposite. Here, central Paris is safe and well-protected by France’s security forces, partly of the importance of tourism. Because the city is so rich, the poor have been priced out.

You’ll notice that Paris is more multicultural than Pittsburgh, which still suffers divisions from a long legacy of redlining.* In France, mixité, loosely translated as diversity, is a national value. I’m not saying the country has reached that goal—far from it.

However, for a long time France has intentionally woven housing projects, called “social housing” here, throughout cities. In contrast, intentional redlining in the U.S. created ghettos in Pittsburgh and other cities that only deteriorated over time.
 
Even those Paris is through and through an amazing city, Parisians and long-time residents like me have maps in their minds of the “best neighborhoods” (see the one above by travel consultant Claire Robinson). When I moved to Paris, I wanted to live in the trendy Marais, but ended up in the staid 16th arrondissement, with a high concentration of pearls and poodles (so the joke goes).


What map do Pittsburghers have in their mind? See the one below by Judgmental maps, which I consider “ignorant” (rude) as Yinzers would say, but reflects what some think. My old neighborhood of Knoxville is now considered “old people and white trash.” (I told you it was rude!)


Knoxville was considered a second-tier or “blue” neighborhood according to the 1937 Residential Security Map (see below), which was the basis of redlining. Only new developments fell into the top “green” tier. My old 'hood started to develop in 1872 and its homes attracted many middle managers of the South Side steel mills as residents in the 1920s and 1930s.




Blue neighborhoods "… as a rule, are completely developed. They are like a 1935 automobile still good, but not what the people are buying today who can afford a new one,” according to the Federal Housing Administration's description of the tiers. Well that’s harsh! The guidelines then go on to comment that banks typically impose tighter mortgage terms on blue neighborhoods than green ones. Getting a mortgage in a red area, the worst, was either impossible or expensive. Geez, there was no way for a neighborhood to go, except down!

The silver lining to the long and horrible history of redlining is that housing prices in Pittsburgh have gone so far down over the decades that today the only way is up. Coming to Paris? Moving to Pittsburgh? Explore, break down the lines, make up your own mind!

*See Devin Rutan & Michael Glass (2017) The Lingering Effects of Neighborhood Appraisal: Evaluating Redlining’s Legacy in Pittsburgh, PA, The Professional Geographer.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Pittsburgh Pops Up A Parisian Dinner



For the third year in a row, about 1,000 Pittsburghers on Friday dressed up in white to attend a very Parisian pop-up “white dinner” -- a Dîner en Blanc.

The idea was born in the French capital in 1988 and has become a global phenomenon, with about 70 cities holding the event.

It’s a formal version of the très Pittsburgh tailgater, a food fad that informally gathers sports fans around the end of a truck or SUV for a spread. In the 'Burg, the dress code is black and gold.

The location of the White Dinner changes each year, and is kept secret until the last moment. In Pittsburgh this year, the flash mob assembled in Highmark Stadium in Station Square, the open-air room decorated with the city’s stunning skyline. Go here for video.

While in Pittsburgh the food was catered for people who registered ahead of time, diners usually bring everything from the three-course meal, to the wine, fold-up table, tablecloths and candles.

The first event started simply enough. The Frenchman François Pasquier invited friends to an outdoor dinner in a public park in Paris, the Bois de Boulogne. With a thought to practicality rather than refinement, he asked them to dress in white so they could find each other.

These days, the event has unfortunately become more exclusive and regimented as the crowds have grown. It’s hard to get an invitation, at least in Paris, where the dinner takes place in June. Registrations for new members are closed. The only way to attend is to know someone, a member or an organizer.

It’s easier in Pittsburgh, at least for now. Go to the website https://www.dinerenblanc.com/, choose your city, and pay: $34 for the dinner and $9 for the membership fee.

Maybe because the town is home to the federal government, the event in Washington, D.C. is highly regulated. Heaven forbid your white outfit is ivory, off-white, or beige and if your white square folding table isn’t between 28 and 32 inches! See “Why do people hate Diner en Blanc? The word ‘pretentious’ keeps coming up.”

Maybe I’ll just have a little old potluck at my place. Dress code: As long as you wear something, that’s fine with me. But please take your shoes off at the door.

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Rose Marie Burke,  an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.


Photo: Pittsburgh's Diner en Blanc (2015). Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

On Hurricane Harvey And Paddleboards




I watched in horror this week as “Harvey” turned from a hurricane into one of most devastating natural catastrophes to hit the U.S. Amid all of the destruction, however, were many acts of bravery. What warmed my heart was this paddleboard rescue. To me, the boarder symbolizes neighbors helping neighbors. I was going to say it symbolized Americans helping their neighbors, but in digging into the story I found out this man is actually a Parisian and moved to Houston only last year!

As a fan of the sport, I could almost see myself out there like this Frenchman, braving the waters on dangerous missions, saving lives.

In Pittsburgh this summer, I headed down the mighty Allegheny River on a paddleboard. I wasn’t there to pull people out of the water, but to enjoy it. We explored the beaches and calm coves of Allegheny Islands State Park, just a few miles upriver of the city, thanks to SurfSUP Adventures. The rowing was tough for me as we paddled against an undertow created by a small dam. Could I really rescue a person, even a small boy, against the worst that Mother Nature could throw me? Floods do occur in Pittsburgh. Over the course of its 250-year history, the city survived 15 severe floods that put downtown under water. However, since flood controls were put into place after the Great Flood in 1926, a 1-in-500-year event, the city has had only two 100-year floods since 1942.

In Paris, we live a stone’s throw away from the Seine River on a flood plain. Last year, we feared the Big One. In June 2016, the Seine rose more than 18 feet above its normal level, but crested without threatening our apartment (see my post about that here). The river’s record high was nearly 27 feet above normal during the devastating floods of 1910. Some say that means we’re long overdue for a 1-in-100 year event, which would probably come up to our first-floor apartment—and disable of the heating and electrical equipment in the basement.

We were assured that our apartment complex was designed to withstand a 1-in-500-year flood event. By contrast, Harvey is being called a 1-in-1000 year event. I can’t imagine either happening, but happen, I’m afraid, it will. These calculations aren’t forecasts, but are statistical averages that experts develop from historical data. But the times and the weather are a’ changing.

In Pittsburgh, my paddleboard was an inflatable version, but felt solid as a rock. I hinted to my husband something about a Christmas gift. I could stow an inflatable board in my tiny place in Paris (if I clean out a few closets). It would be fun to paddle around the Seine once in a while. And who knows, one day I might need to rescue a small child—or myself.

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Rose Marie Burke,  an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.



Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Tiny Country Between Pittsburgh And Paris: Wow!


Last year I wrote about an amazing layover between Paris and Pittsburgh. Iceland, with its lava and glaciers, called us back with the beauty of its unspoiled countryside and nearly alien landscape. Would we be able to afford it?

We did, partly thanks to Iceland’s new budget airline, Wow! (The exclamation point is part of the name.) We put the $1,800 we saved on our usual round trip toward five days in the country.
Like all budget airlines, Wow! can kill you with fees. We saved gobs of money because we opted out of carry-on bags, assigned seats, and food. We flew on the cheapest dates. We did spring for one checked bag—with a strict 44-pound weight limit—per person.

Warning: No free pretzels or drinks, or in-flight entertainment. It was actually a blessing! Our nearly full flights were eerily quiet. No flight attendants constantly walking the aisles. A good many people like me dozing instead of binging on movies in a zombie-like state.

The real wow factor is the country of Iceland itself! (This time, a real exclamation point.) This year we decided to book two tours to the furthest possible points doable in one day.

The first was a four-hour hike in the highlands of Landmannalaugar (see photo above), where we saw one of the world’s few “rainbow mountains.” The night before, we purchased gloves and leggings in Reykavik as there was a chill in the air. Hearing the weather report on the bus to the mountains, we added wool hats to our wardrobe on a pit stop. While we enjoyed nearly 90 degree F. weather in Paris, it was 32 degrees on the mountain with the wind chill. But it could have been much worse. Hikes like ours are regularly shortened by body-drenching Arctic rain and gale-force winds (waterproof jackets and boots are a must). Instead, we had sun and clear views from the mountaintop. We were lucky, as more than one Icelander told us.

Craggy cliffs in Snaefellsnes
The second tour was to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, scattered with fishing villages, rugged cliffs, glaciers, and lava fields. It was like the west coast of Ireland, though with sparse vegetation. My favorite stop was to Djúpalónssandur beach, featuring the untouched remains of a 1948 shipwreck—a memorial to the people who lost their lives there.

This is just one small example of what is amazing about Iceland: the people’s respect for nature, history, and of course, the weather. Streams in the outback that still boast drinkable water. Stretches of highway, beach, and countryside with no litter. Nature unruined by the erosion of animals or human activity.

Wow!

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

By the way, Iceland's heated outdoor public pools, featuring hot tubs, are a great inexpensive way to soak the feet tired from hiking or site-seeing. Before or after a cinnamon bun from Bread & Co. at the new Hlemmur food hall.


Part of a mural at Keflavik airport

Friday, July 14, 2017

Presidential Encounters


Yesterday I came this close to seeing U.S. President Donald Trump, here in Paris for Bastille Day, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

It wasn’t intentional. I was having my own presidential moment in a café in central Paris near Galeries Lafayette. You see, I was just elected president of my Toastmasters club, Paris Speech Masters, and I was meeting the past president for a formal transition of power. This amounted to handing over the club banner, and chatting about life as president over a drink and dinner.

Seriously, I’m proud to preside over the club, which boasts two International Speech Contest finalists. I definitely want to keep the bar high!

On my way to the meeting, I noticed a huge national police presence near the Eiffel Tower, but all was relaxed for the moment. The officers, in their vans, were being served hot dinner trays, airplane style. Baguettes graced the dashboards. They folded down their seat-back tray tables, spread napkins on their laps, and ate with cutlery. The only thing I didn’t see was the wine.

On the way back from my meeting, banner in hand, the police had long finished dinner. They were mobilized around the Eiffel Tower, their vans blocking all but two lanes of traffic to slow and check vehicles. It was an impressive show of force.
Source: AFP.

The reason? Up high in the Eiffel Tower, the two presidents and their wives were having dinner in the Jules Verne restaurant, one of France’s finest. I imagine that Trump and Macron, over drinks and dinner, were trading notes about their first months in office and life as president.

Photo above: Source: The Independent.




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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.





Saturday, July 1, 2017

Radio Days In Pittsburgh And Paris


Mired in a tedious task yesterday at work, I reached for some music therapy through my headphones. Via the internet, I usually tap into my favorite French station, but why not take a trip back home?

I tuned into Pittsburgh-based WYEP just in time for an unusual show, “Pairings with Chef Fuller.” On the sound platter was Son Little’s latest song, “Blue Magic (Waikiki).” The chef suggested, of all things, a frozen daiquiri. But hold the umbrella and blue curacao! Instead go for a mix of better white and golden rums. The cocktail definitely captured the '70s surfside vibe of the song. I was started to sway and develop quite a thirst, though Son's smooth style isn't my natural inclination. (For the amazing food pairings, why not listen to the rest of the episode yourself?)

What’s great about 'YEP (Yinzers say "why-e-pee") is that it’s independent radio. You won't hear the top 40 or commercials. You’ll hear a lot of alternative music from newer local and regional bands, as well as slightly better-known musicians like Little, an R&B-inspired “son” of Philadelphia. (I’m not sure how Son picked his name, but the word means “sound” in French. His birth name is Aaron Livingston.)

My husband has pulled many an all-nighter with WYEP in his ear, and counts as a contributor. Yes, listener-supported means the station is funded by its “members,” people like you and me. What's nice is the community that WYEP aims to create, going beyond programming to stage concerts and other events as well in its South Side studio.

In Paris, we listen to FIP, a similarly eclectic station, which was my mommy therapy of choice while raising my daughter. The three letters used to mean France Inter Paris, but now the station just goes by the acroymn. It's pronounced feep--like jeep. For the month of July the station is featuring Fredda, Babx, J. Bernardt, Charlie Parker, Dan Auerbach, The Rhum Runners, et Quantic. (Should I admit to knowing only one of those musicians?)


FIP is a public station, which in France means that is entirely funded by our French tax dollars. Every year we pay an audio-visual tax of about $150, which goes to a number of TV and radio stations. We think it's a small price to pay to avoid those annoying commercials. (Imagine watching a 90-minute movie in--90 minutes!) FIP is part of the Radio France group that also has its own orchestras and offers a full calendar of concerts. When my daughter was a child, we would walk down to the gargantuan Radio France building for low-cost classical family concerts on Saturday mornings.

In these days of Apple iTunes, what it is about radio? I definitely use it to set a mood and escape the mundane. I want the songs to surprise and come to me—but also to take me elsewhere. To Pittsburgh and Waikiki, for instance.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Bonus: Speaking of rum, see this boozy review of Pittsburgh’s craft cocktail scene; “Whiskey: Pittsburgh’s Fourth River.” You’re bound to find the right rum for your frozen daiquiri.

Photo credit: Classic frozen Daiquiri; Copyright: Ogione | Dreamstime.com

Source: http://www.electronicdesign.com/blog/future-am-radio

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Homes For $100,000 In Pittsburgh And Paris

A $100,000 home
in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Beechview.
The other day, I got sucked into an article about “What $100,000 Will Buy You In Pittsburgh.” Even though I’m happy in my apartment here in Paris, I often dream about moving back “home.”

I think about cashing in my chips, taking my little pot of gold, and settling into a cozy home in that place that’s neither south, west, east, or north in the U.S.--but somewhere over the rainbow.

It’s amazing what 100 grand will buy in the ‘Burg. You’ll find decent homes in solid neighborhoods like Observatory Hill, Bellevue, Troy Hill, and Beechview.

These homes are no exceptions. The median price of a home in the Pittsburgh region is $130,000, compared with a national average of $235,000.

Who knows how long house prices will remain so affordable in Pittsburgh, highly ranked for livability for many years, which is one reason it's attracting millenials. One of my favorite neighborhoods, Brookline, saw the highest increase in home prices last year at 8%.
Here's a 7th floor chambre de bonne.
Includes kitchenette, shower, but no elevator.
Toilet? Unclear. Sometimes that’s down the hall.
Sale price: 89,000 euros or about $100,000.

What will $100,000 buy in the Paris area?

French property consultant Adrian Leeds, whose work has been featured on House Hunters International, says this: “There is NOTHING in Paris for 100K except a chambre de bonne,” or a tiny maid’s room at the top of an apartment building.

“Change that to 500K,” Adrian says, “and then we can talk.”

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.