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.
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