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Category: travel writing

reminiscing far from home

Teevee Start

🥁This week I appeared on a talk show on the TV78 📺channel broadcast to the Yvelines region where my ⚜️Versailles tour takes place!

Author Joe Start on panel of TV talk show

They also showed a teaser about my Père Lachaise 👣 tours on @VoiceMap and allowed me to speak about my book📕 French License.

Fellow expats @Paula Branco and @Tony de Souza shared their creative activities and adaptation stories. Paula runs a very active Internations group with events for expats, and she’s been kind enough to invite her members to several of my in-person tours.

A big thanks to the host 📽 @Alex Viguier and her colleagues at @TV78.Officiel for the opportunity, and for supporting programming for anglophones in the Paris region.

To watch, click on the video above, or tune in here: 

Behind the scenes…

Paula Branco and Joe Start laughing in the green room

Laughing in the green room

Oh, dear, am I ready for my close-up?
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Getting to the bottom of it: how the French wrote Britain’s national anthem


The Figaro sets the record straight: “God Save the Queen” (or King) was written and composed by the French, when another hole was found in the anus of Louis the 14th. Here’s the back story…

They operated on the fistula in Louis’ derrière, butt it wasn’t clear the king would survive. Worried courtiers, including Fanny, wrote a ‘get well, soon’ poem, and Lully put it to music. The requiem to a rectum worked, and the monarch’s plumbing problems were behind him!

An Englishman’s brown eye piqued when on a trip to Versailles he heard «Grand Dieu sauve le Roi.» He high-tailed it home and shared it with Haendel, whose cheeks smiled as he envisioned a fantastic addition to his “Water closet music” suite. He kept the catchy tune intact, translated the words, and presented it to the one holding the highest orifice on his country’s throne. In thanks, the composer received quite a booty.

Royal British buttocks have been fit ever since, some sitting for up to 70 years, due to loud imploring of the skies from subjects’ pie-holes praying for the cleanliness of their king’s kiester.

Posterior plagiarism proceeded to America, where citizens appropriated the ditty to make “My country tush of thee” praising the natural beauty of the country’s backside. In hindsight, the writer omitted obvious places of note such as the Barringer Crater, Jackson Hole, and of course the Grand Canyon.

To continue the tradition supporting heinie health, may I suggest you celebrate the #Jubilee by getting a colonoscopy!

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Hierarchy of French Compliments

When you do something well, or you make a salient comment in the US, where I’m from, you can hear all sorts of positive feedback. From “well said” to “atta-boy” to “great job,” and so on.

Not in France. You may be wondering, ‘how do you know when you’ve earned esteem in the eyes of a French person?’ This list aims to help. It goes from neutral (#10), to exceptional effusive and hearty approval (#1)

Hierarchy of Compliments in France: 



8)”c’est du pareil au même”  

7)”ça m’est égal” 

6)”Mouais…” (ou ‘oui, mais’)

5)”C’est pas con, ça”

4)”Pas idiot”

3)”Pas mal”

2)”Pas mal de tout”

1)”Rien à dire”

When they tell you ‘nothing to say,’ you know you’ve reached the top and you won’t get any higher praise from a French person 🙂

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Car taxes fill state coffers

I wrote in French License that the automobile is the Number One source of income for the French state. Many of the figures I cited have now been updated in a comprehensive article by Erwan Benezet et Aurélie Lebelle in today’s Parisien clearly demonstrating that the situation has worsened for car owners. A sample:

-Fully 36% of all revenues to the government in France come from taxes related to car ownership

-The total adds up to €83.9 Billion, of which more than half comes from fuel taxes (averaging 65% of what you pay for per liter). 

-This figure would be even higher if it included €1.7B for radars/contrôles, and another €500M for VAT on fees collected by ‘auto-école’ driving schools, and who knows how much for levies on parking.

-No wonder it costs €6000 a year to own a car, because €2 619 of that are pure taxes

That’s not a license plate on your bumper. That’s your credit card which the state can debit at will for an unlimited amount.

Some of you, especially Parisians who don’t have a car and green advocates who wish to eradicate them from the planet, might say, “Good! Tax the drivers to hell!” However, when fully 1/3 of the money which pays doctors, teachers, police, firemen and all other public services here comes from the car, you realise how dispicably dependant the state is on automobile revenues. This dependance is absolutely the top reason that the transition to an environmentally healthier economy has been so slow.

The government is already thinking ahead how they can continue to generate car-related revenues as more and more people buy electrics to charge from home. Why else would they force you to sell the energy you produce from home solar panels back to the state? Why else would they promote the installation of Linky electricity monitors to ensure citizens don’t start becoming independent by making energy that can’t be taxed? The state is like a druggie which switches to heroin when cocaine becomes inaccessible.

The fisc should go cold turkey from the car, and instead create revenues linked to labor, by generating opportunities for the populace to further enrich themselves from work.

Read chapter 15 of my book French License for complete information:

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France’s national car museum

Musée national de l’automobile

In my book, French License, I detailed in the chapter on Car Culture how little France cared about the automobile. I contrasted French attitudes toward motorised vehicles with those of their neighbours and the USA, where I come from. The differences are stark and plentiful.

So, on a trip to Alsace this week, I was stunned to learn that France claimed the world’s largest, most prestigious and valuable car museum, the ‘Musée national de l’automobile’ in Mulhouse. I just had to see it. Perhaps I had sold the French short, and this place would be the exception to the rule.

First of all, where’s Mulhouse? It’s so far East, it’s almost in another country. You could throw a rock one way and hit Switzerland. You could throw a rock another way and reach Germany. Their international airport serves the three countries. When you land at EuroAirport, you can literally walk to exit in Mulhouse, France or Freiburg, Germany or Basel, Switzerland.

In fact, Mulhouse was a part of Germany from 1871 to 1919, and a couple times before that. During this period, in the 1890s, the automobile was born. Many French manufacturers participated in creating the industry. The Peugeot factory in Mulhouse is still running.

Pulling into the parking lot of the museum, we saw license plates from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and a few from France. Mind you, this is just after deconfinement from Covid-19, and the French plates were still a minority.

The brothers Fritz and Hans Schlumpf were brought up in this heyday of personal motor vehicle invention, and they never lost their passion for it. Swiss nationals, born in Italy, they moved to Mulhouse, Germany in 1908. They took over their father’s textile business in Mulhouse in the 1930s and became very rich. Neither ever married nor had any children, so they could consecrate their vast fortune on buying rare automobiles. They focused exclusively on European brands, especially those from the very early days of creation. Their greatest affinity was for the maker of the most luxurious and powerful vehicles in-between the two wars: Bugatti.

Ettore Bugatti was an Italian immigrant who worked for several car manufacturers before establishing his own factory in Molsheim, Germany, in 1909, now in the Alsace region of France. He obsessed over every detail, seeking perfection in both engineering design and style. While Rolls only ever aspired to luxury and Ferrari only to speed, Bugatti wanted it all for his models: class, power, beauty, sophistication and innovations galore. Bugatti vehicles were winners of races at the highest levels in the ‘teens 20s and 30s. Bugatti customers were royalty and heads-of-state across the world. Even when the depression, and war hit, he refused to make concessions, continuing to build the most exclusive cars in the world.

During WWII, his factory was requisitioned by the occupying Nazis. Ettore got back his factory, but never recovered, and died three years after the war. His brand and company changed hands several times since, today owned by Volkswagen. You can visit Ettore Bugatti on my first Chairfather tour of Père Lachaise: 

A buddy of mine from the area got to ride in several of the Schlumpf cars as a youth, including two Bugatti’s which were the most luxurious, and the fastest of their age. His parents were friends of the Schlumpfs, and Fritz would pop by and offer a trip to Seppala. The boy only found out years later just how lucky he was.

At the end of the museum tour, you’re invited to cruise in a classic car on a closed circuit. There are several Italian, German and French makes to choose from. Count minimum €40 for 7 trips around the track.  

So, to summarise, what I wrote in the Car Culture chapter about French disdain for cars still stands. The ‘Cité de l’automobile…’ 

  • is located in a border town that’s almost in Germany
  • represents the personal collection of two brothers from Switzerland
  • contains a large majority of cars from an Italian builder, whose brand is now owned by VW
  • attracts most of its visitors from outside France

I rest my case about the French attitude toward cars.

But the museum has a very, very good case to be made as the biggest and the best. More than 400 classic cars are on display, and more than 150 others are in storage, allowing the curators to rotate in some others from time to time. Nobody else has so many which can be seen at once. But what about prestige? Here’s just one example. The most priceless vehicle on the globe is the Bugatti Royale type 41 released in the late 1920s. Just one of these cars is worth at least €40M and probably closer to €100M. Nobody really knows because they hardly ever change hands through purchase. No matter which Rolls Royce or Ferrari you pick, you’d need to trade several Silver Ghosts or 250 GTO Berlinettas to get just one Bugatti Royale. They only ever made six of the Bugatti Royale. This museum has three. Oh, and 120 other Bugattis. And 14 Rolls, including Silver Ghosts. And 13 Ferraris including GTOs.

It’s well worth a visit. I came expecting to spend an hour, and ended up lingering for four hours… on an empty stomach during lunchtime. That’s how captivating I found the exhibits. I’m certain you will, too.

To plan your visit, here’s some practical information:

Cité de l’automobile

192 ave de Colmar, Mulhouse


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Album #5 of 10 albums which marked my life

Album #5: Jethro Tull living in the past 1972

Still my favorite band, and Clive Bunker my favorite drummer. Listen to him go wild on Dharma for one. It always seems like he’s about to go off the rails. Despite missing the skins on some hits, he stays on track, and keeps rising throughout his solo. What energy! My kinda guy. 

Discovered the group in high school, and this album about a dozen years after it came out. Since it’s a mix of a ‘greatest hits’ plus live album, plus a couple originals, it was a fantastic primer for me to acquire a taste for the group. I went on to buy 15 of their albums, 10 of which I really liked, and continue to listen to to this day.

This is in response to a challenge from Alain Cournoyer of the Homebuddies to post 10 albums which marked my life in ten days. 

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Just desserts at restaurant

turning the tables

When I was a teenager I was either a jokester or surly and holier than thou, pointing out the foibles of the adults around me.

I was in the latter mood on a family trip to Hawaii when we sat down at the restaurant. The waitress brought the menus and introduced herself as Carol. When she came back with waters and took our orders I looked at her name tag and noticed it read Susan.

“I thought you said your name was Carol?” I said.

“No it’s Susan,“ she responded.

When she left, I turned to my family and kept talking about the switcheroo. “Carol and Susan sound nothing alike,” I explained. There’s no way I could be mistaken.

Nobody else recalled what her name was and wondered why I was making such a big deal about it. My dad gave me one of those looks as if to warn me this was not going to be another of my incidents to ruin a family outing. But I just wouldn’t drop it.

“Something fishy is going on and I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” I said. She can’t pull the wool over my eyes.“

I got up to go to the bathroom and wash my hands, but what I really wanted was a closer peek at that sneaky Carol/Susan. She was happily chatting with her colleagues behind the counter and looking at order slips and plates as if nothing untoward was going on.

“What could be the purpose of this chicanery?“ I asked myself alone in the washroom. I couldn’t think of any advantage besides fooling the tourists. Even though it wasn’t my money, it was the principle of the thing. You don’t mess with people who come a long way and spend a lot of cash, a good part of it going to your salary. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you in a restaurant.

I came back to the table to see that Carol/Susan was setting down our plates. When she came to me I made sure to look at her name tag. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here I had caught her red-handed.

“Powtip!?” I exclaimed.

The waitress started cracking up.

“There’s no way your name was Powtip before! Just what are you trying to pull here?” It was the beginning of a tirade that aimed to be better than that of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

But I stopped when I looked around and all of my family was laughing too. I was stunned and didn’t know why they were guffawing when we were the object of ridicule. It was then I learned the joke was on me.

“We asked the waitress to change her name tag,” my Mom chimed in.

“What, do you mean from the moment we entered the restaurant?“ I said. “But that doesn’t make sense…”

“No,” Mom said. “From the moment you made such a big deal of it. You misheard her name at the start, or you just weren’t paying attention, and then you wouldn’t shut up about it. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard!“

Upon leaving, my father set down double the usual tip for Powtip.

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It’s turkey day in America, which means that most of us in France 
have to work.

However, we do get extra compensation in the office today in the
form of belly laughs when our French colleagues wish us a happy
Thanksgiving. They inevitably pronounce it as “apple sex giving,“
and who could refuse that invitation?

For added fun ask them to repeat this phrase back to you,
“We want you to focus on Thanksgiving now.“
When you respond, remember it’s your duty to “give thanks.”

Today, I’m thankful we don’t all speak the same language in the
same way. Vive la différence !
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I lost my Grandma Barbara recently, who passed from this world at 95 years old. In her memory, I’d like to share an episode of our lives together. It’s entitled:

Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

I’m going to break a rule here and reveal something that happened in Las Vegas.

Grandma Barbara was born on April Fools’ day, and me a day apart, in the same town, Van Nuys. This lent us a special affinity, and we would often call or see each other to celebrate together.

One day when I was 20, Grandma Barbara called a couple weeks before our birthdays to invite me to go to Las Vegas. 

So we set off in her car, just the two of us. I think it was a burgundy Chrysler automatic sedan, and she let me drive. It was a road-trip weekend to remember! She knew just what I needed to do my 21st right: gambling, gin+tonics, girls… and grandma.

Raising exclusively boys, and coming of age in a man’s world, Grandma Barbara assumed all males had these vices, and had no problems with them. Who better to introduce me to the world of 21-year-old legal sin than grammy?

We checked into our room, then went downstairs to the main floor. Grammy always played the slots, and I fed the machine beside her for awhile while we drank bloody marys. She generously paid for everything. 

I wanted a bit more variety and asked to play the roulette wheel. She agreed, dropping something like $200 on the table. She never complained when I lost it all, and it didn’t take long, either. We finished the day by gorging at the buffet table and getting a buzz on from more mixed drinks.

The next evening, Grammy had a surprise for me. She reserved a cosy table for two at… a girlie show. Picture a room with red velvet everywhere, arranged in half circles starting from and ending at a wide stage. Gram and I are in the middle. The table is so small, our knees and toes often touch. Needless to say, we’re the only couple of our kind there. 

In my mind, I’m preparing how to react when the curtain goes up. I want to show my appreciation for her kind gesture, but don’t want to come off as a lecher gawking at the gals. I want to be non-chalant, demonstrating that I have actually seen a breast in the flesh before this day, two of them even, but never so many all at once in the same place, for which I’m very grateful. However, I anticipate a challenge in conversing with grammy openly about my powerful passion for the appendages.

The show starts and thankfully we’re far enough from the stage, and there are so many sparkles and feathers that I can’t even make out if there is also nakedness. Acts rotate through, all in much the same soft-core nature. I feel relieved. I just may survive the night without an embarrassing incident.

The grande finale begins with much pomp, when in the middle of the number, some of the girls descend the stage to walk among the tables. No wait, ALL of the girls descend to walk the concentric half-circles, and they’re coming our way! I’ve got bouncing breasts to my left and my right, only one foot away from my face in both directions! Feathers brush my cheeks, ears and neck. There’s no decent place to turn my gaze, so I look wide-eyed straight toward Grandma Barbara, who’s looking back at me!

I needn’t have worried. Grammy enjoyed the show’s artistic merits and was open to whatever reaction I might have. That’s one thing which made her so great, she just let you be yourself, and always showed she enjoyed your company.

Now, I know there are quite a few grandmothers out there reading this, and at least a couple grandsons who are not yet 21. Why not go on a very awkward trip together? I’m sure Grandma Barbara would approve.

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Faure teaser video

What’s it like to go on The Chairfather tours? Here’s a taste, visiting Félix Faure at Père Lachaise in Paris. 

Look at the old boy’s sculpture, laid out almost as if his body was found this way, minus the ‘banane’ or enormous grin he must’ve had on his face.

Before Bill and Monica, there was Félix and Marguerite, the President and the female admirer who went down… in history.

Desiring a reprieve from those pesky justice-seekers calling for clemency in the Dreyfus affair, President Félix Faure asked his mistress to come over at 5 o’clock. Marguerite Steinheil arrived in the ‘blue room’ at the Elysée palace in the afternoon. Faure dropped his drawers as she applied the presidential ‘pipe’ or enthusiastic fellatio. Marguerite did her job only too well, as moaning Félix reached climax, and in the same instant, stiffly dropped dead.

Their screams brought the rest of the house rushing immediately into the blue room, where Marguerite’s head was seen twisting near his manhood, struggling to remove his convulsed fingers clutching her hair. There were too many witnesses to hush the scandal, and soon all of Paris knew what the papers couldn’t print. 

Rival politician Georges Clemenceau had a field day, joking of Faure, “He wanted to be César, he ended up being Pompé,” which used as a verb translates to ‘pumped.’ Marguerite was tagged with the nickname of ‘la Pompe Funèbre’ which is a double entendre with the act and a funeral ceremony.

That catty Félix showed us that you CAN have too much of a good thing!


It’s time to zip up our affairs, cross over to the other side of the Avenue Principale. Walk down six steps, then across the avenue and up the six steps on the other side and turn left. Counting from Le Bas column our next host is 7 down on the right.


I’ll guide you to 50 final resting places on my @VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and tell stories from the fascinating lives of painters, performers and pompous politicians!

See funny souvenir pictures and text from our picnic together in The Chairfather book.

The passed have never been more alive!

Book a lunch date with the fallen famous NOW!

Or later…

Really, it doesn’t matter. Their agendas are quite open.

#VoiceMap #WalkingTour #audioguide #atyourownpace #Paris #tourism

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