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The Notebook Aisle

The French do a lot of things well. A few things that immediately come to mind are art, architecture, literature, fashion, the Paris Métro, technology (yes, technology), and of course, food and cuisine. I would also throw in the French art de vivre, in other words, their style of living. They work to live rather than live to work, and they take time for life in the midst of life.

By the same token, there are some things the French don't do so well. Examples include habitual cutting in line, the notorious less-than-friendly Parisian, innovation-numbing bureaucracy, terrible hair highlights, and politicians living like monarchs.

There is an even more mundane item I would add to the French 'do well' list: school supplies. You can see the French talent for organization in all its glory during la rentrée (back to school time) in the fall. The same gene that endowed the French with a spectacular eye for symmetry and order in architecture shows up in the tools students use to étudier (study). Enter any papeterie (stationery store) or the school supplies rayon (department or aisle) in Monoprix (the French equivalent of Target) or Galeries Lafayette and you will experience un régal (a fabulous treat) of the organizing kind.

Cahiers (notebooks), agendas (calendars), blocs-notes (notepads), chemises (folders), and classeurs (binders) of every size and shape line the shelves. Many notebooks and pads take on a mathematical air as the French prefer graph paper to lined paper. As I wander the aisles, I am on the verge of dreaming up projects to organize just so I have a reason to buy some of the paper goodies.

And then I spy the signature orange covers of the Rhodia brand of pads. Every time I am in France, I stock up on the simple yet oh-so-useful pads. I like the small ones that fit in the palm of my hand for grocery and to-do lists. The medium-sized ones are handy to keep in my purse for meeting notes or the spur-of-the-moment brainstorming ideas. And I adore the large ones (close to our 8 ½" by 11" size) for major projects. Did I mention they are made of graph paper?

I recently made a major find in the Rhodia section of Galeries Lafayette in Nice. Not only did they have a smorgasbord of pads, they also carried bound notebooks. And they even came in black. My favorite travel journals are of medium size to fit in my purse, black so they look new despite the wear and tear of travel, and thick enough to handle my musings on the highlights and lowlights of multiple days on the road. But at 14 euros apiece, I allowed myself only two of the fantastic journals-and crossed my fingers that I'll come across some more the next time I am in France.

October 15, 2008

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