Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel. Joyeuses Fetes

Ah, itis so delightful spending Christmas in France with friends and family.  Finally. 

After the pagaille with all the snow at Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport, so many friends stranded or blocked on one side of the Atlantic or the other as they attempted to travel, I am blessed to be here in France, finally (after a 3-day cancellation), with both kids, for Christmas eve. 


Wishing all a peaceful and joyful holiday season. 

The lights in Aix-en-Provence on the Cours Mirabeau certainly got me in the spirit!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Packing for Paris

Before I lived in Paris, I had total packing-for-Paris anxiety. And invariably, I packed too much clothing -- inappropriate clothing  -- and wore less than half of what I packed.  Visions of needing endless dressy outfits for impromptu dinner parties in gilded salons: that measure of inappropriate.

Tomorrow I head to Paris, and I dunno, what the heck. I'll have whatever is necessary and if I don't, I'll wear a lot of att-i-tude.  But the recent spate of cold weather and snow in France does have me a bit flummoxed.   Comfort and warmth versus chic-enough?  But what I've learned is that it really doesn't matter... within parameters. 

Footwear is always the most perplexing. And given the cost and trouble of extra check-in luggage, I am determined to take only one suitcase for 2 weeks; so, lots of boots and shoes are not in the cards.  This despite the Christmas stockings, and presents for Miss Bee and Harry when we all reunite in Provence. (I'm letting Harry transport the Nestle's chocolate chips and Skippy peanut butter for his sister.  I'm bringing the stack of New Yorkers and her forgotten clothing items.)

Ah. Footwear. Paris. Anxiety.  Should I take (a) brown shearling-lined matronly, totally warm suede boots, (b) my tall black-leather equestrian boots, or (c) my favorite new over-the-knee grey suede Stuart Weitzman zingy-make-me-feel-hip boots?

Answer is: middle-of-the road (b).  Waterproof enough, not the warmest, but I'll stop at the basement of BHV and get shearling slip-in soles to keep my tootsies insulated from the French chill.

What else am I packing for 2 weeks in France?  Not that you asked, but here goes:

1) a few pairs of straight-legged black jeans and one pair of blue jeans.
2) one all-purpose dress that will work for both Christmas Lessons and Carols at the American Cathedral and zippity-splashy for New Year's eve (I learned the hard -embarrassing - way that that le Reveillon is the one event that is never casual in Paris.)
3) a few cashmere v-necks, to be worn over scoop-necked or v-neck T-shirts.
4) whatever pjs I take, There Will Be Slippers.
5) a variety of warm shawls for wrapping around the neck
6) my shearling jacket from Peau d'Eve
7) accessories: so lightweight and filled with variety
8) the earth's smallest folding umbrella
9) wearing the boots, taking a pair of black loafers and a pair of black ballerina flats.(Egad, no heels.  Will I regret it?)
10) a collapsible Longchamp bag for the return trip.  I always bring back more than I take!

Inflight, I'll keep it to the minimum:

1. All the technical requisites (laptop, Droid, noise-cancelling headphones, Canon Power shot, and their many cables and European adapters which still confuse me)
2. Flight spray (can't live without it)
3. Unisom sleeping gels
4. Toss-away cotton crew socks
5) mini-portions of mouthwash, hand lotion, and lip gloss.  No more.  Who am I kidding?  Full trousse de maquillage definitely not needed on board. I'm not going to meet the bachelor cousin of the King of Spain in flight or anything. Even if I wear pearls and try to get upgraded to business class. Hah. It ain't the same as the olden days.
6) my leftover euros and RATP tickets, for quick exit after clearing customs.

Have I forgotten anything?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paris is for walking... and for sitting

Paris is for walking.

Then after all that walking, it's time to take a rest.

I love the benches and other seats in Paris.  The chairs scattered in the Tuileries or the Jardin du Luxembourg.  And the benches just about everywhere. 

Some favorites:

Sunday in the garden of the Jardin des Plantes in the 5e

Square Ozanam in the 6e

Les jardins des Serres d'Auteuil in the 16e

Sitting is an art, of course.

 In Paris, anyway.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Doorway with identity crisis

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Christmas in Provence

My eyes are getting a bit rectangular these days as I scour the computer screen for hours, looking at on-line listings of vacation rentals in Provence.  Vacation rentals that will start in a little more than two weeks, mind you. Eek.

Yeah, yeah, I should have booked this months ago.  But coordinating a family vacation when one person (moi, the coordinator) is living and working in U.S. Pacific time, one (Harry) is studying on U.S. East Coast time, and the other (Miss Bee) is teaching on Provence time, it just ain't as simple as it might seem.  Plus, the family ideas seem to ... ahem, evolve.  At first it was all Riviera-Cote-d'Azur-I've-never-been-to-Monaco, then it became all let's-visit-charming-provencal-villages, then there was the maybe-we-could-spend-New-Year's-in-Paris.  And so it goes.  We're an adventurous, spontaneous trio, and I have no doubts that we'll have a jolly time.  And we'll never have enough days to see all the family friends in various provinces of France, because most are travelling away from home during the vacances scolaires.

So-- I'm excited about returning to Provence, which, despite three years in Paris, I haven't re-visited since I was a student there three decades ago.  Christmas in Provence is a very special time, laden with special lore, including the Santons de Provence (um, I'm still working on appreciating them) and a whole tradition which is very provencal and not very much parisien.

And, by the way, I have to disabuse the knowledge of friends who say,  "oooh -- the South of France!" and picture us sunning by the pool for this vacation. Today's top temperature in Aix was a frosty 8 degrees celsius.  Packing my woolies!

Here is my must-see list for my kiddos when we're in Provence:
Aix, Marseille, Cassis, Lourmarin, Les Baux, Manosque, Gordes, Arles, Avignon.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Et avec cela?

In conjunction with World AIDS awareness day this week, some 200 cafés across Paris are participating in the "Paris Capote" initiative, offering a condom with every coffee ordered from December 1 - 5.

The program, sponsored by the Mairie de Paris, has a simple driving principle:  for every café purchased, a condom (préservatif) is offered on the side.  The goal is to increase awareness of the health benefits of safe sex and to make condoms a more familiar and normal presence:  less [my words] ooh-la-la, and more a matter-of-fact part of everyday life.


"Au début les clients sont surpris et ça les fait plutôt rire, mais au final je pense que cela les fait réfléchir."

["At first customers were surprised, and most were laughing about it, but ultimately I think it made them stop and think about it."]

Photo via

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

School Vacations in France

If you live in France, you pretty much live by the calendar of school vacations -- vacances scolaires -- or ignore it at your peril.

But even as a some-time traveler to France, it's helpful to know when a given area will be on vacation.

Vacation times can affect everything from hotel/apartment rental prices to when you might be able to get together with friends who live in France. From experience, I can say that a majority are not at home when it is school vacation!

Divided into Zones A, B, and C, the school vacations are designed so that not all of France is on vacation at the same time.  Paris/Ile de France, for example, is Zone C (purple), with winter break February 12- 28.  Zone A (yellow), including Brittany and much of south-central France, will have its winter break February 26 - March 14. And so on.

So check the handy map and plan accordingly.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Future of La Samaritaine

photo via Wikipedia
More updates on Paris real estate news.

Famed Paris department store La Samaritaine is now 100% owned by luxury goods conglomerate  LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), which this week bought out the 40.1% ownership that had been retained by the Fondation Cognacq-Jay, according to an article in Le Nouvel Observateur. So that last speed-bump in the path of its renovation is out of the way, and plans will move forward.

I wrote earlier that the beloved department store was shuttered abruptly about five years ago by LVMH.  The website and signs on the building's exterior enigmatically announce "Department store closed due to works for the purpose of security."   It has been sitting vacant since 2005 (always a disappointing surprise to past travellers to Paris who haven't been in the city recently).  The building apparently will be transformed into a mixed-use complex: a luxury hotel filling out the historic facade with the fabulous view of the Seine, retail space on rue de Rivoli, offices and mixed-income housing, and a day-care center (“une crèche”). The renovations will be designed by the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa.

Shovels will go in the ground in late 2011, with a planned opening of the newly configurated spaces at the end of 2013.

I understand now how the building will be re-purposed-- but will the department store as an entity be resurrected?

Monday, November 22, 2010

There Goes the Neighborhood

I used to have a love/hate relationship with fashion shopping my Paris neighborhood.  I loved it of course because Le Bon Marché was there, but more importantly because there were two tres tres cool designer discount shops nestled in among some of the more mémé (matronly) shops.  One, Le Mouton à Cinq Pattes on rue St. Placide, was so incredibly inexpensive that I bought (among many other items) a Jean-Paul Gaultier blouse that didn't fit "but might someday," so I simply had to take it home.

Enter the "hate" part.  The thing hung in my closet, tags on, until I packed it up and took it with me to the States, and sold it at a US consignment shop for way more than I had paid for it.  "Hate" because I couldn't go into the shop without parting with my dwindling savings, which had been budgeted in les dollars.  Yes, it was that wonderful.

Moreover, there was La Piscine on rue de Sevres, incredible discount designer clothing and shoes in an old indoor hotel pool (drained of water, but with sand and fake palm trees, fabulous mosaic of tiny original turquoise tiles, and, well, just so cool and so very French.) Rows and rows of marques degriffees arranged by color.  A few white wicker folding screens that served as dressing rooms. I dropped some major euros at La Piscine, but it was a key spot in helping me shed my New England wardrobe for a more Parisienne look.  I'm just a girl who can't say no... to a fashion bargain. 

Finally, in an extreme fiscal move, I forbade myself from entering either beloved shop.  It simply was too much of a hit on my wallet, you know, "saving" all that money on bargains.  But when I walked down rue de Sevres, I would often gaze longingly at the entrances, imagining the enticing discounts beckoning me from within.

Then, one day I walked by La Piscine , and *poof* -- it had disappeared.  Boarded up,  just like that. La Mosaique next door had its windows soaped over.  I mourned, I asked the nearby shopkeepers, but no one seemed to know the fate of the store.  I imagined with horror that some luxe developer was going to turn it into a luxe spa. The sign on the door invited customers to visit another "La Piscine" location.  But I knew that wherever the location was, it didn't have a swimming pool and palm trees. I wanted my bargain-basement-swimming-pool in my neighborhood, even if I wasn't buying!

Now.  Guess what? The La Piscine space on rue de Sevres has just been resurrected, but don't go looking for bargains.  It is none other than the brand-new chic left-bank flagship store for Hermès. 

I love Hermès.  The rive droite side of me loves Hermès, but it seems that there is less and less of a distinction between the right and left banks these days.  Hmm -- the 7e and 8e arrondissements are becoming the 7.5e arrondissement??

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Coca Light

Here: a can of Diet Coke snatched from the fridge at the local convenience store or kebab take-out spot. 

Paris: a Coca Light savored at at the Nemrod on rue du Cherche Midi.  Not just oceans apart, worlds apart. Light years.  Universes.

 A cube or two of ice, a wedge of lemon, a long spoon.  Not to mention a completely different recipe for the beverage itself.  Not to mention the setting, people watching, and scanning le Pariscope for movies.

Oh yeah, not to mention price.

Worth it.  Every sip.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Who put the 'cozy' in Sarkozy?

France24 is a great news source for just about everything having to do with France, or world news from a French perspective.  Frankly, since I'm not in Paris I'm somewhat rabid about keeping up with French news, cruising the French dailies' websites, trying to keep au courant

Yet I fail.  Why, you ask?  Well, partially because when I start watching half-hour panel discussions such as last week's France 24 roundtable with top Anglophone journalists in Paris, I get... distracted.

I know, I know.  I should be following the substance of the discussion, and ... yet... in the mean time I am swept away by one persistent thought:  Why does Alison Smale of the IHT refer to the president as sar-koh-ZEE while Mark Deen of Bloomberg refers to him as sar-KOH-zee?  Didn't they referee the Proper Presidential Pronunciation before going on air? 

And secretly, I am delighted.  I love pronunciation battles, and this one is ripe.

On the one hand, of course, in French no syllables are accented.  So officially it's pronounced sar-koh-zee, equal emphasis on all syllables; but in reality it ends up sounding a bit more like sar-koh-ZEE. Americans, on the other hand,  need to find a syllable to stress in English, and somehow in popular US media, it's most often pronounced à l'américaine, sar-KOH-zee.

I still recall the mild sting of being reprimanded by my dear late friend Polly Platt for saying 'sar-KOH-zee' in mid-sentence.  "But, Polly," I pleaded, "I'm speaking in English right now.  When I'm talking in English, for example, I don't say 'Paree,' I say 'Pariss.' So in English I should say 'sar-KOH-zee,' as Americans do."

She didn't buy that defense, and told me it sounded ill-informed.  Since I deeply admired her, in all subsequent conversations with Polly I was on my sar-koh-ZEE best.

But otherwise, I was cozy with sar-KOH-zee.

Then. The ultimate revelation: French newscasters pronounce our president's name oh-ba-MAH when discoursing in French.

But of course they should.

You say 'to-MAY-toh.'  I say 'to-MAH-to.'

Let's not call the whole thing off.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hallucinoscope at the Eiffel Tower

What, the Eiffel Tower isn't enough of an eyeful already?  It certainly blows me away every time I see it even from a distance, much less up close and personal.  Never fails to take my breath away.

Be that as it may, for those who might have a jaded, been-there-done-that feeling about la Tour Eiffel, there is a new way of experiencing its majesty between now and the end of November:  Hallucinoscope!

Hallucinoscope is a new virtual-reality experience, created by magicien Gerard Majax, available (to anyone over 6 years old) on the 1er etage of the Eiffel Tower.  Equipped with a low-tech helmet and a mirror, apparently you get the illusion that you are walking upside down on the beams and arches of the tower.

The hallucination-moment is free -- but of course you have to pay the 20€ to get to the first level.

Methinks I'll stick with the view from the Trocadero.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Winter Hour

This weekend -- Sunday, to be precise -- is when France changes its clocks for the transition from what the US calls Daylight Saving.  In other words, France will "fall back" -- move the clocks back one hour -- on Saturday night.  Passage a l'heure d'hiver, it is called. 

In France, most of the population is on vacances de la Toussaint. Time to be away on school holiday, or to visit the cemeteries with chrysanthemums for the graves of the departed.

In the States this weekend, focus is on Hallowe'en and the World Series. We'll move our clocks back next week, on November 7.

So for this week, as every year, the time difference between France and the US East Coast will be 5 hours instead of the usual 6.  Just to keep us all on our toes!

Photo:  Le defenseur du temps, via Flickr.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Circus at Ile Seguin

Ile Seguin has always been a source of fascination to me. Located in the Seine next to Paris, just off of Boulogne-Billancourt, it was known for years as the location of the iconic Renault factory.

Then the factory was demolished, and there was talk of Francois Pinault establishing a museum there (fell through) then of relocating the American University of Paris to part of the island, to consolidate its campus, with urban housing. Then, in an about-face, it seemed decided that it would become a cultural center.

Latest news is that the Cirque du Soleil will make its home on the island, along with a 15-hall Pathé multiplex cinema.

Such a dynamic and prime location. Can't wait to see what finally unfolds.

Photo credit: Pierre Giron Photographies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Protests in France

1. Certainly no one has missed news of the current strikes and protests in France over pension reform.  Make no mistake about it -- the massive protests are real.  In a few locations, cars have been overturned.  One lycée torched, and burned to the ground.  All this makes for tremendous and powerful headline news.

And yet.  Life goes on.  It is a major upheaval, and travelers' plans cannot be 100% certain. The disruption of daily life certainly can't be underestimated. But it is unclear to me whether any of the limited violent activity at the schools originates with the students or with others who are simply hell-bent on joining in any protests:  les casseurs.

One thing is for sure.  Business people -- heck, everyday people -- are being inconvenienced. But, honestly, police barricades are a norm of Paris life, for whatever reason.  So, c'mon, folks:  this ain't French Armageddon. 

In Paris, the RATP forecasts normal service.  The SNCF and the airports have traffic reduced by about 25%. There are potential gasoline shortages, etc.  Annoyance, yes.  Inconvenience,  yes.  Life goes on anyway,  yes.

2.  Concerned about some alarming news reports yesterday, I called my daughter, who is working as a language assistant in a lycée in Provence.  "How's it going?" I asked, unnerved.  No big news -- she mostly detailed her efforts to get internet service at her shared apartment inside the lycée. Bureaucracy and telecommunications woes. The regular.  "But -- how about the protests?" I pressed.

"Yeah, there were some blockades last week -- they blocked the entrance to the school with dumpsters.  And it's been weird, with I-don't-know-who setting off Molotov cocktails sometimes. Bizarre. Oh gawd, there's one exploding now.  Well, Mom, I gotta run -- have to make a presentation for my class."

To me, this says it all.  Protests are happening. Noise is happening. Noise. Sure, things aren't as smooth as might be hoped, but life goes on. Work goes on.  Classes to attend.  Dinners to prepare.  Vernissages, movies, activities to enjoy.  Everyone makes do.  But that angle doesn't make headline news, does it?

3.  This all reminded me of my arrival in Paris in 2006.  There were protests then, too.  This blog was only a twinkle in my eye at the time, but here is the missive I wrote about those supposed "riots" which led me to create this here blog:

April 1, 2006-- Last night I was dining at the Cafe de la Paix (how ironic), when suddenly  dozens of police squads showed up, flashing blue lights, guys with helmets and plastic shields.  No, they weren't there to take me away(!), but instead to barricade the boulevard des Capucines so that the soon-to-be arriving protesters could march down the street.  It was about 10:30 or 11 pm, so fortunately we were through dining.  Because of the manif (protest), my dinner companion was not able to take a cab back to Ile St.  Louis, and so -- horrors!-- had to take the metro.

The gendarmes wouldn't let me enter the street there at place de l'Opera (silly -- so I just walked around the corner and got in that way).  And then I strolled home happily down the center of a very quiet boulevard with no traffic.)

Then I got back to my cozy pied a terre and kicked off my high heels.  About five minutes later I heard the approaching crowds chanting and shouting.  Peering out my kitchen window, I saw the throngs marching down boulevard de la Madeleine, filling a whole city block or two (or more?) streaming past my front door at place de la Madeleine.  The feeling was one of momentum and energy and not at all of anger or fear. They were waving banners and shouting as they headed around the corner to the Elysee Palace.  I would have gone down to the street to watch, but actually had a better view from my lofty perch. Mostly I didn't budge from the fear that, if I left my 7th floor apartment, by the time I got to street level the action might have all passed me by.  It felt like being part of a Victor Hugo script.  Huge adrenaline rush!

(Anway, the most angry mob of Parisians I've seen all week was the thousands of cars backed up at place de la Madeleine at rush hour on Wednesday... because the cops blocked the roads for -- ta-dah! -- Condoleeza Rice to get to the Elysee Palace for her nanosecond visit with Chirac.  You've never heard such klaxons, such muttering later in the supermarches ("Yeah, I hear she even traveled from the airport in an American car..." "I bet it was 'super-blindee' [armored vehicle] -- she'll need it after making everyone so pissed...")
I bet somehow the American press didn't pick up on THAT little Parisian police barricade!)
I remember distinctly at the time receiving worried emails from family and friends asking if I was all right, if I was safe. The media was reporting calamitous activity!   I couldn't afford to actually laugh at their worries, but tried nevertheless to reassure them that life in France did not equal what they saw or read in the news.

4. Not currently in France, I don't have eyewitness observations about the reform protests and their ramifications.  But I do check my Facebook page, check status of my friends in France, skype with them. Most are at max griping about transportation, either slow-downs in public transport, lines at the gas station, or worries about being able to leave on vacation as scheduled.  Hmmm, not exactly what I would call The End of Life as We Know It.    

School vacations for la Toussaint in France begin this Friday.  I'm waiting to see how that affects the protest activity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

France-Shaped Cheese Board

Why didn't I think of this?  I spotted one of these France-shaped cheese boards in the museum shop yesterday.  Naturally it's by Laguiole, one of my favorite French cutlery companies.  (Opinel being the only other French cutlery company I know off hand.  Are there others?)  Not only is it shaped like la Belle France, but it also has the names of some of the more famous cheeses carved in their respective regions on the map.

Laguiole is sooo very French, as I discovered at home. 

But did you know that the company also sells champagne sabers? Yours for only 290 euros.  Now there's a niche market.

If you're not the saber-rattling type, how about a Johnny Hallyday knife?

Never too soon to start holiday shopping!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'French in Action' - 25 years later

Boule-dogue, boule-dogue, waouh, waouh, waouh!?

I've always known that Yale has some great reunions. Been to one or two myself, and had a rollicking good time.

But here's the Yale reunion to beat all reunions, in my book: The 25th Anniversary of "French in Action", slated for October 30-31 in New Haven.

Either you know and remember all about French in Action, or it doesn't ring a bell. A revered French-language program aired on PBS and in classrooms across America, its language and cultural sequences are seared in the minds of devotees ...and less-than devotees, also, I dare say. I know students of the show who can still recite entire episodes.

Pierre Capretz will be on hand for the reunion, as will be the lovely Mireille. I was and am a big fan, and wish I could be there for the shindig!

Just remember, time doesn't stand still.

But for those who remember the antics of Robert and Mireille, the Man in Black, and Pierre Capretz giving the language lesson, you can join the reunion and rekindle all those fond memories.

Update: see photos of the reunion here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Salon de Provence!

Wow. Some people have all the luck, and get to spend a year in Provence.

One such person is my darling daughter.  Yes, at the end of September the lucky college grad is heading off to lovely Salon-de-Provence to be an English teaching assistant. 

Not that I am living vicariously or anything.  Qui, moi?

So, heck, what good is a francophile blogger maman if she can't post a notice?:

Lodging needed!

If you know of anyone in Salon-de-Provence with a chambre de bonne to rent, seeking a roommate, or other accommodation possibilities at grad student rates from October to May, please contact me asap at pollyvousfrancais [at] yahoo. 

Pollyvous et famille will be eternally grateful!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summertime in Paris

Thought I'd post a few photos of Paris in the summer.
The Seine can be cold and grey or serene and sunny.  Lately it's been the former. Ugh.

Paris closes down for vacation in August.

Place de la Concorde.  Some of these doors go to underground parking garages.

Tabac sign with geraniums. I wonder if these will disappear some day.

I never tire of blue doors.

But I am fed up with Blogger "improvements"!  I may be switching to a new blog platform.  This format is awful!!

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Paris vu du Ciel

Oh my.

If you're jonesing for Paris like me, take 15 minutes and watch this splendid video, Paris vu du Ciel, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Paris vu du Ciel de Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Uploaded by mairiedeparis. - News videos from around the world.

On the downside, it doesn't cure the itch. 

Not one bit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cultural Tidbits from and about France

It's summertime.  Ah, and I'm feeling weary, mes amis.  Weary of contemplating the iPhone4, of finding the Next Best Thing, of being cutting-edge and hip (or vaguely trying). Yes, I think a little nostalgia is in order. 

So here are a few new-but-old happenings from the French cultural scene. Or are they old-but-new?

1.  Step back in time and visit Jean Cocteau's house in Milly-la-Foret. which is now open to the public.

2. Every Sunday evening through August 8, you can (re)discover the tradtional guinguette -- bal populaire -- on the Canal d'Ourcq.  Dance the night away!

3. If you're inspired by the breathtaking television views of ancient architecture as the cyclists from the Tour de France speed by on the country lanes, well, you can dream of buying a chateau yourself.

4.  Remember the days of classic French cuisine without the guilt?  Remember the days of dining with silver and crisply-ironed damask napkins (or at least seeing photos of glamorous celebrities doing so)?  Do the names Elizabeth Arden, Tallulah Bankhead, and Emily Post ring a bell?  Would you like to know their favorite recipes?

You can re-kindle the flames of celebrity gastronomy of yore by picking up a copy of the recently re-published Spécialités de la Maison.  Originally published in 1940 by the American Friends of France (founded by heiress Anne Morgan), the book is now available in a new edition, with a foreword by VF editor Graydon Carter.  Still the same wonderful drawings by Clement Hurd and others.  Still the same old-fashioned recipes that we forgot we needed so desperately.  I drool:  Cold Roquefort Souffle (Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt);  Filet of Sole Veronique (Vivien Leigh); Mrs. George Washington's Crab Soup (Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The White House).  And on it goes. 

You need this cookbook.  You know you do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

24 Hours in Paris

So many times when my circadian cycle was off-kilter with the "regular" hourly schedule of my fellow Parisians, I longed for an hour-by-hour guide that might tell me where I could be amused or consume lovely French fare while the rest of Paris slept or ate breakfast or was busy with their charming cinq-a-septs.  To no avail.  "Ah, there's a book waiting to be written," I thought.

Well, wait no more:  24 hours in Paris is here!

I could wax poetic about Marsha Moore's quirky and lovable new round-the-clock guide to La ville lumiere.  But instead, I'll simply offer you 24 reasons why I love 24 Hours in Paris:

24. A turkish bath where you can order dinner
23. La Chapelle Expiatoire
22. Unmentionable!
21. She loves Deyrolle as much as I do.
20. Metro line 14
19. Chapelle de la Medaille Miraculeuse
18. O Chateau -- we love Olivier!
17. The Dog Cemetery
16. Merci
15. Fabulous factoids. "It would take 24 days, using every hour in the day, to briefly view all the exhibits in the Louvre."
14. Drouot
13. Drouot again.
11. A bar that is open from 9h to 7h.  That is not a typo.
10. Midnight movies followed by breakfast.
9. Going to see "Auntie."
8. Berthillon (I drool!)
7. "24 hours with the kids."
5. Polly Maggoo.  Because there's more than one Polly in Paris.
4. Eternal favorite Shakespeare & Company
2. Stripper School.  Non, pas wallpaper: oui, va-va-va-voom!

And -- drumroll please:  numero un is

1.  Cafe de la Mairie (a fave):  Marsha spells it correctly.  Not Cafe de la "Marie," people!

Great book, a must-have for anyone who loves and frequents Paris.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Le quatorze juillet

Happy Bastille Day!

By the way, no one in France calls it Bastille Day.  Or even Jour de la Bastille. Just le quatorze juillet or maybe la fete nationale. And of course, you know the proper way to say "Yay France!" in French.

Since I have the day off, I think I'll pick up a copy of France Today and dream of being in France today.  Or better yet, I'll just subscribe so I have a chance to win a fabulous luxurious trip to France.  (But shhhh -- don't tell anyone, because I want to improve my odds of winning.)

Then maybe I'll order some French goodies from French Feast.

And I'll finish the day singing La Marseillaise somewhere.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Meeting Ella Fitzgerald, part 2

So I ended up at an Ella Fitzgerald concert, totally, totally inappropriately dressed.  Read part one here.

I was entranced, thrilled, watching and listening to every Ella move, every note.  Thankful that the sun was setting, all eyes were focused on Ella on stage and hoping no one could see me in my grungy get-up.  Ella sang all the familiar favorites, and it really was a dream come true. About 20 feet away from my idol.

K no doubt noticed that I knew every tune by heart.  To her, Ella was someone famous that her father knew, but she clearly wasn't in the die-hard fan group with me.

Then.  Intermission.

All I wanted to do was cower in my seat, arms crossing over my lap.  I spotted the Deputy Mayor of Boston, a few other luminaries whom I knew vaguely and I just wanted to don the cloak of invisibility. You have to understand, I looked totally gross and shabby: windblown, unshowered, salty, sandy, wild mane of hair.  Everything unkempt one can look like at the end of a day at the beach.


"Let's go backstage!" says K. "With my VIP pass we can go back there, no problem!  You're such a fan, you can meet Ella."

Daggers of pain, angst.  "No, I can't possibly -- look at me!"

"Jeeeez, Polly, when will you ever have this chance again?  Don't be ridiculous.  Who cares?"

"I care."  Talk about being torn in two.  No. No. No.  Yes. Yes. Yes.

But I bit the bullet.  I rose from my seat, followed K past the "No admission" sign to the back of the stage, and after we waited outside the makeshift dressing room for a few minutes, out came Ella.  Elegant and larger than life in her long shining satin dress.  I think it was purple. Was it my imagination, or was there a halo-like aura about her?

I stammered.  What can you say to Ella Fitzgerald that isn't a cliche?  What can you say to explain meeting her while looking like a bum?  Nothing.  I shook her hand. And I said, "Miss Fitzgerald, you have been my idol since I was 12.  This is the greatest moment for me."

She smiled kindly and looked a little tired. I think she pretended not to notice my insultingly slapdash appearance. "Why, thank you, dear."  At least I think that's what she said. My ears felt filled with cotton.  My brain was in another planet.

"Could I have your .... signature?"  I had never asked for an autograph before.  Damn, that was the word I meant to say:  autograph.

"Of course."  She signed my program.  I think K winked at her or gave some other inside signal, and we left. 

My heart was pounding, and to this day, I don't know whether it was because I was actually meeting Miss Ella Fitzgerald, at long last.  Or whether it was from sheer embarrassment.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Meeting Miss Ella Fitzgerald

Starting a new series of summer posts.
Boston, 1982.

It is a steamy Massachusetts August evening, and I've just returned to my Beacon Hill apartment after a long weekend at the shore. The phone rings. It is my energetic and fun-filled friend, K.

"Hi, Poll. What are you doing tonight? Are you free?"

I'm always a sucker when questions are phrased this way.  I forget to ask "Hmm, what did you have in mind?" Instead, I quickly mentally prioritize the probabilities and give a hasty yay or nay.

"Oh, K, I'm just exhausted. I was with [new beau] at the beach house all weekend. And I simply have to go to Lewando's and do my laundry. Can we get together some other night?"

Then the killer.

"Oh... sure," says K.  Then, slyly, "It's just that I have two free tickets to Concerts on the Common, and Ella Fitzgerald is singing." Pause. "Do you like Ella Fitzgerald?"

My heart hurtles out of my forehead or somewhere, and my voice catapults from exhausted to panicked. "OH-GOD-OH-GOD!! I'd love to see Ella Fitzgerald in person! Forget laundry and everything else, this is a dream come true!" After all, I'd been faux-scat singing along with Ella at least since I was 12.  I knew all of her songs. I owned most of her Verve records on vinyl. She was my idol.

K sighs or snickers or harrumphs faintly on the other end of the line, I think. Like, "Oh thanks, you wouldn't want to get together if it was just me, but you will if it's Ella Fitzgerald?"

But wouldn't you?

So we hastily arrange to meet in half an hour in the middle of the Boston Common, outside the enclosed area for the concert.

"Concerts on the Common," to me, sounds like a picnic-and-blanket affair, so I stuff my red canvas LL Bean rucksack with an old tablecloth, some Triscuits and cheese, a swiss army knife and a bottle of wine, and climb up the hill to the concert area, wearing tennis shoes, ragged old shorts, and a faded polo shirt, my salty hair pulled quickly into a high pony tail to keep cool in the hot summer evening.

I circle around the chain link fence, looking for K. Finally I spot her, outside a gate marked "VIP entrance." She is bubbly and blonde and wearing chic summer whites. "C'mon," she admonishes, "we're the last to arrive."

She steers me over to the rows of seats (seats?? where on earth are our fellow picnickers and blankets? I'm wondering.)

But no. Are we to be sitting in an anonymous 18th-row seat where my abominable outfit will go unnoticed?

No, we are not.

Are we on the fourth or fifth row where I could at least attempt to hide my grungy get-up?  No, we are not.

Are we in the second row of the VIP section, with the silk-and-linen-clad dignitaries from the City of Boston?  Yes, we are.

Is it dark enough so that no one can see me? No, it is not.

Can I hide under a rock?

Not if I want to see and hear Ella.

K, um, has neglected to tell me that her father is Ella's Boston PR agent. There is no escaping.

I try to sit demurely on the folding chair and be incognito until the concert begins. Covering myself with the vintage tablecloth is a fleeting option that I quickly abandon. Blessedly soon, the lights go on, and the show cranks up. Oscar Peterson warms up the crowd, then Ella -- MY Ella -- arrives on stage. I am in heaven. She is dazzling, warm, fabulous.

-- to be continued

Friday, May 28, 2010

French Grocery List

In the French-American school where I work, lunchtime conversation in the faculty kitchen is invariably lively and spiced with the latest French news, gossip, and debate.  The dry-erase board's grocery list, however, is usually rather bland and limited to all-American staples such as sugar packets and disposable wooden coffee-stirrers.

Ah, but the end of the school year is upon us, and the crowds are clearly craving more adventurous fare, from all corners of the Hexagone.  I spied this list today:

1. Piment d'espelette, a spicy pepper from the Basque region.

2. Champagne.  Needs no intro, but hails from, duh, the Champagne region of France.

3.  Chocolate cake.  Universal.  Many of my French friends have a special family chocolate-cake recipe which they will never divulge.   Ever.  The "I-love-this-cake-can-I-have-the-recipe" ploy falls on deaf ears.

4. Calvados.  Ahh, Calva!  Now we've got northern France covered in this list.

5.  Pineau des Charentes.  A personal favorite. Try it some time in a sweet, tiny half-canteloupe as a first course.  From my beloved Ile de Re.

Glad I've got my shopping list.  Now I'm ready for the long weekend!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Grocery store confusion

Can you blame me for loading up on too much PT and not enough TP at times in Paris? 

(Hint: TP on the left, PT on the right).  I'm too accustomed to American branding!
Henceforth I will always be Cartesian and look at numbers on packaging.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Eiffel Tower, the documentary

Hoping for a little cultural edification tonight, I watched Modern Marvels:  the Eiffel Tower on Netflix instant play.  Granted, it was produced in 1994, so the documentary techniques seemed a bit outdated.

But what the heck. I was enjoying seeing footage of the Tower under construction in the late 1880s, the tower during the two World Wars, and so I even swallowed some of the rosy prose.  I love the Eiffel Tower, and this slightly geeky documentary was giving me some entertaining and informative background. Interviews with Eiffel's great-great-granddaughter.  Shots and engineering explanations of the underpinnings of the structure as it was being built.  Visits to the bowels of the tower, where the engineer showed that animal fat and leather were still used to operate the elevator machinery.

Everything was just peachy, and I bought the whole story, until they interviewed the electrical workers who spend all their days prowling the structure and repairing the lighting systems.

These guys gushed to the camera, "I love my job, working outdoors every day, on this wonderful monument."

Okay, fine, I can buy that.

But then they started waxing about les oiseaux charmants who sometimes build their nests in the framework of the Eiffel Tower.  "It's so great to observe pigeons making a home here. These days, it's so unusual to see pigeons in Paris."

N'importe quoi.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Champagne Corks

I was wandering around the French American school where I am now employed, looking for inspiration.  And it never takes me more than a few footsteps before I find it.

There is always something that stops me in my tracks, and this was no exception.  The second or third grade art class had been given the assignment of making works of art from des bouchons de champagne.  Finding the raw materials at home was no object, I guess. 

 But -- waah. 

By the time I returned to my office, dealt with administrative stuff, retrieved my camera, and returned to take some photos, most of the art project had been dismantled. Dang!  Being a newbie, I had missed the exhibit, which had been on display for a few weeks.  I quickly snapped these photos of the remaining chefs d'oeuvre before the whole exhibit was taken down.

Anyway, it's great inspiration.  Time to celebrate springtime with some good bubbly and create a bit of art in the process.  N'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Polly-Vous Francisco?

What, you call yourself a blogger? I say to myself in the morning as I peer bleary-eyed in the bathroom mirror. You haven't updated your blog in weeks! 

True, too true.

No excuses, but justifications aplenty.  I've been leading a rather nomadic life, not all the romance and adventure that some might imagine it to be. But I try to capture the day's fleeting joy wherever I am.

I do write constantly.  Really, I do!  Did you know, for example, that I still have a whole Longchamp-bagful of absolutely incredible prose that I produced in Paris which still hasn't found its way to this blog, or any other publication?  Well, I do, and here it is:

Observe it sitting coyly next to the Ed supermarket bag which I use for all my urgent correspondence.

But the real reason I haven't written much of late is that I am moving. I am moving to San Francisco. And believe me, if you can't be in Paris, there is virtually no more francophile city on the planet than San Francisco.  It is so verrrry French.

Well, I have to go pack (again!), but wanted to offer a little France-in-San-Fran photo essay from my most recent treks  -- the cafes, the Legion of Honor Museum, the boutiques, the pollarded trees, the government buildings.

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