Hamming it up

Last week I was talking about Mr French’s Christmas present, which he only received in March. He also got one in February!

Every December someone in Spain sends Mr French some Spanish ham. Which does not sound like a major feat, but it is. Last year a wine bottle travel with the ham broke and created a bloody looking mess. This year, the ham got lost, stuck in a large warehouse, just a few miles from our flat and totally unaccessible. Because it is a gift, I could hardly call up the sender and say, “Thank you for the lovely thought, but your gift never arrived.” So the sender was not thanked, which he found odd and called to inquire, then learning about the mishap and setting things right.

So it arrived the last week of February, just I was stepping out the door to catch the Eurostar for London. I had my bags, Mr French’s bags and I was preoccoupied with some teenager mischief Em had gotten into when the guardian stopped me.

“Madame, I have a package for you!”

“Oh, Merci, can it please wait until Monday? I am headed out the door.”

“Uh, non, I am very sorry, it can not wait, it is taking up most of the loge.”

He opened the door to his office space and I saw what looked like a coffin for a very large dog. The ham had arrived. Mr Le Gardien carried the wooden crate to our door, I threw it in and let it sit there until our return. On the train, my phone rang. It was Em.

“Mom, the ham arrived.” The next day Mr French’s phone rang. It was his son who was staying at the flat because Em is only 15.

“Papa, I see that the ham has arrived.”

The ham is a major deal for our young’uns. Seriously, you’d think I hadn’t left the house stocked full of healthy pre-made food for them to scarf down. Everyone loves it.

My favorite part is that it comes with 6 bottles of some really outstanding Riojas. Mr French loves the elaborate hardware we’ve had to acquire to deal with the ham.

After London we immediately headed to the Alps skiing, so it was only recently we got to start hamming it up!

Bloomin’ Spring

When we first moved here, I wasn’t exactly used to winters. I’d done five years in Montreal, so they weren’t completely foreign, but I’m a third generation Californian and five years is not going to change what’ bred in the bone. We arrived on February 1, right in the thick of one of the colder winters on record. It wasn’t ideal.

I was distracted with all the details of moving in, so it hardly registered. What got me down was the early sunset with the dramatically shorter days in which to get things done. The lack of light was depressing, despite my overwhelming joy at being in Paris.

One day was particularly bad. My husband du jour was off on a business trip and the chauvinist principal of my daughter’s school was insisting she be held back a year before she’d ever set foot in a class room. And, oh, yeah, I had pneumonia. Leaving the neighborhood public school after our third discussion on the subject, I was absolutely furious with this fat, balding man who looked like Santa’s Mini Me with a rat’s tail up ‘do. I stormed across the street, talking to myself as I tripped over a pile of snow at the curb.

Even angrier now, I looked up and there he sat. A cheerful man, beaming up at me from his wheelchair, a basket of fresh violet flowers on his lap.

He held up his basket, “2€ a bouquet. Would you like one?”

My anger melted away, I smiled as I stuck my nose into the delicately fragrant bunches.

— Ah, oui….

It was exactly what I needed at the moment I needed it. Not only did I feel better about my day, but those flowers were a promise of spring and the light to come. I bought him out, filling our home with the fragile flowers, refusing to throw them out long after they’d faded.

Every year, I’d wait expectantly for the man and every year I’d buy a handful of violets, until one year, he was gone. But the violets still pop up and every year I am thrilled to see them as they remind me that soon the daffodils will be blooming, then tulips and soon it will be spring.

This winter has been particularly grim, the greyest in 50 years according to local weather reports, and March roared in before I’d seen a single bouquet, so I was particularly thrilled to spot them at our local florist this weekend. The sun’s gonna shine!

ps… My daughter did not get held back and earned top honors imstead.

Detox redux

A few weeks ago I wrote about my first delivery of Detox Delight. I had committed to a 5 day juice fast and I was excited about trying a new, healthy experience. I was hoping to shed some weight, and be one of those cool people who can say, “Oh, yes, I’ve done a detox.” It sounds so enlightened, n’est-ce pas?

Like the American expat I met last month who went into ecstasies about the 43 liquid fast she’d do every year when she lived in the US. I was totally impressed as she went on about the evolution and how your body adapts over time. I asked why she’d stopped her annual tradition.

“Are you kidding? We live in France now, honey. I am not going to deprive myself of French cuisine for 43 days!”

But exactly how enlightened was I? Or rather, how light had become?

First of all, let me say that I cheated. On the evening of the fourth day we had a dinner date that had been planned months earlier. There was no way I could cancel, or re-schedule. But with that one exception, I stuck to the program. I loved the first few days, feeling virtuous and all that, but by day three, my mouth was craving texture, my taste buds crying out for some variety, I wanted to cry each evening as I prepared the family dinner (yes, I still had dinner duty). What saved me was the authorization to eat a piece of dried fruit or a few nuts each day. I’d cherish my little snacks like precious gem stones.

The results? I lost 2.5 kilos, and put 1 back on almost immediately. The rest has stayed off despite a ski holiday that included a daily tea time treat, 6 units of alcohol and 1 fondue dinner. Which kind of gives you an idea of the true results; I am healthier.

Detox has made me super conscious of everything I eat, and inspired me to adjust some of my eating habits;

1/ I’ve been driven to drink. Detox Delight suggests drink 2 litres of water a day, in addition to your “meals”. Well, I am back on solids, but I’m still drinking like a mad women, which seems to have my skin looking healthier than it has in ages, pleasantly plump and hydrated. Last week a neighbor didn’t recognize me at the grocery store. “I thought it was you, but then I thought, non, Sylvia’s way older than that!”

2/ I’ve gone dry. All that drinking has me thinking about what I do drink, so my alcohol consumption has gone way down. On holidays I had the equivalent of a drink per day, but in Paris its now closer to 2 drinks per week. The hardest part was learning how to get around social drinking. At my “cheat” dinner, I had to excuse myself and explain why I wasn’t having an apéro. You’d have thought a green head was growing out of my left shoulder by the expression on their face as I explained the concept of Detox.

3/ Bye bye bread. I’ve nearly cut it out of my diet. Unless its an integral part of my meal, like that fondue I had in the Alps, a pulled pork sandwich from a local wine bar, or perhpas the wrappers around the gyoza I’ll be having for lunch today. I am not eating bread after breakfast and I am avoiding starches all together. Proteins keep me from being hungry, vegetables fill me up, so this seemed like the easiest thing for me to cut back on.

4/ Veg-o-rama! I was a vegetarian for much of my adult life. Then I moved to Paris and became a confirmed carnivore. I even love a good tartare now! But French cuisine is not a big fan of vegetables, considering both beans and potatoes a worthy substitute. While a hearty cassoulet is a scrumptious feast, and is just what the doctor ordered for hearty men working out in the frozen fields from dawn until dusk, it is not exactly on my prescription sheet, so I am re-learning to build my meals around foods that recently had roots.

I am loving all the healthy influences of Detox Delight, but those five days were torture for an undisciplined gal like me. Next time I’d be tempted to choose their option that includes salads, and foods with textures. But I think the best solution for me would be a weekly Detox Delight, allowing me to clean out my system and reminding me to stay on track for the rest of the week, month, year!

A day in the life

So, it has been an interesting couple of weeks… I’ve been getting more freelance as a copywriter for advertising, which thrills me to no end and which means I am up early, out the door running off to see clients. On the days I don’t have to see clients, I basically roll out of bed, over to my desk and I start writing. So going out the door means major changes for me. The most important one being that I have to GET DRESSED! To work with French chicks. Usually very chic French chicks who are about half my age. No pressure there.

It has taken some time, but I seem to have developed something of a uniform, a Paris chic look that works on my tragically American roundness; black, blue, or white jeans, a business shirt that I leave untucked, with a fitted sweater on top and three inch heels.

As I walk to the various offices I visit, I am jealous of all the Parisiennes and how chic they look. I could live here for 60 years, I’ll never have that casually elegant, thrown together look they have mastered. And I love the way they wear dresses. I would love to wear a dress from time to time, but have never learned to shop for anything but the LBD, everything else just seems too, too… Too something! Too dressy, too frumpy, too floral. I’ve never managed to get it just right.

At the agencies, I work with a scrappy crew. Most of my colleagues are half my age (yes, I’ve mentioned that twice, it seems to matter in Paris), and they’re dressed like students, earbuds in their ears, a can of coke from last night’s late night session on their desk. Since real estate is precious, they never have a desk for me and I often end up working in some odd corner, where people have to step over my extended legs each time they pass. I love being in the agency and having the creative energy buzzing around like atoms in space. Conversations about a book cover spotted over the weekend may lead to an entire campaign for a product like corn chips.

At lunch time, everyone goes their way. Some of the agencies have a cafeteria, others subsidize their employees’ lunches through Ticket Restaurants. Since I am freelance, and just pop-in from time to time, I can arrange for long lunches to run errands and attend other meetings with other clients. This Monday I had a meeting on the poshest avenue in the world, avenue Montaigne, at the extraordinarily elegant Plaza Athenée hotel for a treatment at the Institut Dior spa.

Now that you’re done laughing at me, yes, it was a meeting, because I have been testing spas in Paris for a couple of articles I am working on, and I have to test these spas in order to write about them. I will write about the entire experience in the weeks to come, but for now, lets just say it was lovely. This particular “soins” end with a full makeover; foundation, powder, the works. You may have noticed above, my morning routine does not include make-up. I’m a strictly moisturizer kind of girl. I may wear mascara and maybe some lipstick in a pinch, but that is about it.

I had left for “lunch” looking like a normal member of the team and I came back looking like a wanna be socialite. People were doing a double takes as they’d pass, no longer clearing my extended legs; twisted ankles became epidemic. I thought I should do something. Say something. My inner American wanting to apologise profusely, or at the very least, explain. But my Parisienne took over and I sat there having fun watching the expressions on the faces that passed, enjoying my time as a working girl.

An Accident

Last Friday evening I had a business meeting near the Grands Boulevards. I arrived early and being on Detox, I was feeling weak with hunger. Needing to be in top form, I dashed into a Carrefour City and treated myself to an organic carrot salad, which I wolfed down voraciously in the long hallway entrance of the grocery store before heading back across the street.

The entire mission took less than five minutes of my time, but in that time, an accident had occurred. I did not see the accident, but I saw a body laying across the bus lane, a man in a suit the color of oak. Another man was crouched by his side and I was relieved to see that the accident-ee had been wearing a helmet. A second man stood nearby on a cellphone, while a third was directing traffic. I could not identify it, but there was something very odd about the scene.

In retrospect, I realize that if any of the French folk I know had been involved in an accident, there would have been some serious screaming, involving some very colorful language being thrown about. An agitated fist, or six, would be menacing the heavens above. Friday night, everyone on the scene seemed to be moving, well, not exactly in slow motion, but in no motion, without being perfectly still, either. Not a single voice was raised.

I was very relieved to see that the man had been wearing a helmet. There were enough good samaritans onsite that I was clearly going to be of no help and a crowd was starting to form, so I scurried on by, glad to hear sirens arrive. The accident happened less than 10 metres from the door I had to enter. As I turned to ring the bell, I saw that the man, who seemed to be in his late thirties, had a beard and a disconcertingly large pool of blood under his helmet. The door opened.

I went directly to the first floor and from the conference room I heard a few more sirens, then things seemed to calm down below. When I left the office over an hour later, there were still policemen on the scene. And an odd looking ambulance. Then I saw the curtains. White curtains, hanging on metal poles, forming a neat white cube that seemed to be floating there, not really connected to the black asphalt on which it stood. That ambulance was not an ambulance, it was a morgue truck and the man I had seen was dead.

I did not know this man, nor anyone who did know him. But my heart went out to his family and loved ones as I thought of the ripple effect the loss of his life would have. The man and his death touched me, like haunting waves of air stirred by the flapping wings of butterflies.

I wasn’t going to write this post. But my good friend, Out and About in Paris suggested I should use it as a reminder to everyone to be safe on the street. She is right, and I do so in honor of this man, hoping that if he had to die in a road accident, perhaps the loss of his life would save another, by reminding us all how important it is to pay attention in the street. Cellphones, down, everyone. Heads up.
Please, everyone, listen to The Man and be safe out there!!!

How you do?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Rocky, our new chat. Kitten really. And its Rocky, as in the Horror Picture Show, not Stallone.

Getting a pet in Paris, you learn a few things. The most surprising thing is that in France, each year is assigned a letter and pets are given a name that begins with the letter of the year corresponding to their birth. Rocky was born in 2012, so his name starts with an H.

This tradition started in 1926 when the official dog breeders association wanted to get a better handle on purebreds to start a « LOF » (Livre des Origines Français). So basically this rule only applies to people that insist their wine be AOC, and not for folks like us who pick up a scrappy moggie (that is cat for mutt) from a lady in Dammartin-en-Goële.

And how did we find the lady in Dammartin-en-Goële? Well, “we” did not want a cat. Neither Mr French, nor myself, but Em was able to convince us that it was of most vital importance she has a cat. Convince is not exactly the word. She waged a battle and we survived under siege for four years! Our terms of surrender were clear; you’re not getting a pure bred, this is a cat, not an accessory. Pet shops are out of the question and it will be your cat, so you feed it and clean the litter box every day.

“Everyday? I though you can clean a box just a couple times a week?” No! Chez nous, it’s every day!!!

Em agreed, signing in blood before turning to the SPCA for a stray, but she had a hard time finding one accessible by metro that had kittens. Being a resourceful girl and really wanting a cat, she started calling up all the vets in our hood, which is when we learned fact number 2. There is a season for kittens, and January is not that season. I know, its logical when you think of farm animals and wild animals, but there are so many stray cats out there, who would have thought it applied to them, too?

Two vets recommended the cat lady in Dammartin-en-Goële (I love that name, tried googling where it came from because there is that tantalizing Goële, evoking jails and dungeons, but all I learned is that the once lord of the land was friends with Joan of Arc). So we called the cat lady to learn about her kitten. Instead of getting info on the cat, I was put through a rigorous interview to see if I was a worthy cat owner. She was spitting out rapid fire questions about the size of our flat, our work habits and vacation plans for the next three years in accented French as I walked past the construction crews on the rue du Cherche Midi, balancing my handbag, a computer bag and a box of cupcakes on my way home from work. We passed the test and were invited up to get the cat on a Saturday.

Madame lives with 14 cats of her own. She found Rocky’s mom early last fall. She was pregnant so she took her in and raised Rocky and his sister until we came along. When she is not taking care of her own cats, she has founded a charity to spay all the strays in her vicinity and she feeds about forty of the local strays up by the church, providing them with iso-therm huts she creates from boxes that fish mongers donate when they’ve off loaded their deliveries. She is with cats almost exclusively, so she was very happy to see us, nearly devastated when she learned we’d have to leave before lunch and cried when we drove off with Rocky.

Em has passed the two week test, which is how long Mr French thought it would be before she stopped taking care of her cat. He is adorable and we’re all charmed by his crooked smile. At night we watch him instead of the tv and he sleeps with Em, his paw in her hand. But I promise, unless he starts wearing Hermes or starring in a film playing near you, this is the last you’ll hear of the cat. Blame it on the detox, I’m feeling sluggish this week.

Detox Delight

My tongue is green, my head is spinning and my teeth are furry. I haven’t had solid food in over 24 hours. No, its not the plague, its Detox Delight! Which is really funny if you think about it. A delightful detox? Really?

Well, actually, yes… I’m only on day 2, but already I’ve lost 2 kilos. I know that this is weight that will come back if I return to my evil ways, but that is the other delight of this program. The two days I spent “prepping” have really help point out my evil ways. Particularly my habit of going into the kitchen for a little snack between the articles I write.

Its a break. I need to stretch my legs, and rest my eyes from the computer screen. I always choose a healthy snack; a clementine, a rice cake or a few almonds. But I must have skipped my math because those calories add up!!! Now I boil some water and grate a bit of ginger inside. Same break, zero calories.

Another delight has been the comments from my family;
“You’re crazy, Mom, you look perfect.”
“No toast for me this morning, I’ll just have a plain yogurt, I’ll do a mini-detox. Like you.”

And then there is the delight of having all my meals planned for me. Detox Delight delivers. They deliver your entire menu for the next to days. They’ll be delivering chez moi for five days. This week I will not have to ask myself “what’s for dinner.” Not even once! The family is surviving on leftovers I freeze, which means they are cleaning out my freezer, too!!! And since there is no cooking, there are no dishes to wash. Now that is what I call delightful!!!

The not so delightful part has been the rather large, water logged legs I had to hoist into bed last night with their sexy sock lines that had to hide from Mr French. And taking the metro home from a meeting last night, sitting next to a young man who was munching innocently away on his fresh out of the oven baguette as I used all of my resources to resist the urge to pounce on his snack and reveal my inner gluten glutton.

Bend It

M had a friend over for dinner on Friday night. Mr French had just flown back from Atlanta and after a week of Michelin star dining interspersed with popcorn dinners, I was looking forward to a quiet meal at home.

Not being in the mood to cook, I defrosted some of my infamous pesto and sent M out to the market for some angel hair pasta and a baguette. Which is a little idiosyncrasy I will never understand. How can anyone eat bread with pasta? Pasta is just bread in another form. The need alludes me and kind of revolts me, but in my rather Euro household it is a necessity, with the masses threatening a revolution of their own if I offer nothing but cake.

We sat down to a cosy meal, talking about our new cat, the vote for gay marriage (pro) and who we hoped would win the Superbowl (Niners). Mr French shared some news that he’d heard over radio when driving home, news that had M jumping in her seat, applauding with joy. The friend started to hyper-ventilate, her face turning red, her eyes and mouth opening into large O’s as she fanned herself. Her body went stiff, her back curved and I prepared to perform the Heimlich before remembering that this was angel hair pasta. The girl couldn’t possibly be choking.

It would seem the news that our neighbor, Depardieu, had sold his 40€ million mansion to M and Mme Beckham had the girls looking like dead gold fish in their bowl; rigid, their bodies arced and unable to breath. They’re not even soccer fans! He’s 37 years old!

I had visions of hysterical teens in every corner. I imagined having to tiptoe over the bodies of prostrate young girls as I made my way to the corner café, and catching fainting young souls in my arms as they heard the news at the bakery. I looked up through the pandemonium in our dining room and glanced at an all too amused Mr French.

It may not be April, but this was definitely a poisson*. The Beckhams did not buy, Depardieu did not sell and all will be well with the world. Mr French was quite pleased with himself and his little joke, M knows him and was not over-shocked, but I’m afraid that our guest will never trust him again.

Even worse she might, because these girls are in a bilingual school. A bilingual school that has doubled its security since the holidays. In the past the girls have had classmates with names like Sarkozy and His Honorable Highness…, so we just assumed the child of a VIP from Mali had enrolled. Can’t wait until Mr French tells them its a Beckham!

*poisson d’avril is an April fish, the French version of April Fool’s.

A Woman of Valour

When I was seven years old my rather devout, convent school raised, Roman Catholic mom decided to become Jewish. Her husband, my father, was Jewish and she somehow got it into her head that my brother and I needed religion. My Dad was not going to start attending church, so she signed up at the local synagogue and before any of us, not my Dad, not even the Rabbi, knew what had hit us she was organizing a conversion ceremony. I still remember that day, driving up to The City with a RABBI in our car, dressed to the nines, a gazillion bobby pins in my hair, ready to go to the Mikvah (a ritual bath).

Because we were already born, and to a shiksa no less, my brother and I had to go into the bath, too. There is not a single photo of this day, but I can tell you that I was wearing a polyester a-line pale pink, yellow, and orange dress that had a square neckline and white knee highs with patent leather mary janes (my fashion habit started at an early age). I had to take it all off, and then we had to remove every one of those bobby pins from my rather long, unruly hair before heading into the bath. I remember my mom being annoyed with herself for not having understood that when they said we’d have to be as naked as the day we were born, that included our hair. I was just relieved they p hadn’t insisted we shave it off.

Immediately after that, pork was banned from our house, those lovely crab dinners were out and a new tradition began; Friday night dinner. Every Friday night we had to be home for dinner. My mother would light the candles, we would sip some really horrible sickly sweet wine and we’d all say a prayer over the bread. Then my Dad would bless us. There is a special prayer in Judaism, asking that your children grow up to be healthy, good people. If you’ve ever seen Fiddler on the Roof, you’ve heard the prayer, you just didn’t know it was a prayer because they snuck it in there as if it was a Broadway melody. Finally, my Dad would recite a poem for my Mom, a hymn really, written by a king (Solomon) and fit for a queen.

Those dinners stopped a few weeks before my brother’s Bar Mitzvah and my 16th birthday, when my mother died. She was 39 years old.

A WOMAN OF VALOUR who can find? Her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, and he hath no lack of gain.
She doeth him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She giveth food to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laugheth at the time to come.
She open her mouth with wisdom and the law of kindness is on her tongue.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praiseth her;
“Many daughters have done valiantly, but thou excellest them all.”
Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.

Happy Birthday, Mom



When we first met, Mr French was a bit concerned with my lack of fashion and thought I needed lessons in chic. He did not get my California hippy penchant for large, clunky shoes in odd color combinations, like fushia trimmed vomit green. Or my handbags that could double as a stuffed animal which I alternated with my equally inappropriate ‘Eastpak’ collection. He has since ‘corrected’ my ways and helped me develop a rather unhealthy habit regarding both shoes and bags.

These days, he can not understand why I still insist on wearing my threadbare, black frock coat when I could wear my other, perfectly modern, black wrap-around coat.

“But it’s from the 1940’s.” I whine.

“Yes, and it looks like it.” he reposts.

He’s right. The lining is shredded, the sleeves are worn and there is no button hole, so the coat can not be closed to ward off the winter winds. It is a little nutty to be wearing torn, worn out clothing when there are practical, yet gorgeous alternatives just one hanger over.

I bought the frock coat at one of those rag dealers near Les Halles when I was a starving student here in the 90’s. I was with my brother, and being a fille from la Californie, I didn’t own a decent coat. I found this one and have loved it ever since I loved it a little more when a tailor taught me it was a redingote, a traditional  French style that draws its name from the French trying to say “Riding coat” around the time of Marie Antoinette. I still loved when that same tailor mistakingly removed 6 inches from its length.

I have, it would seem, a passion for vintage coats. Like my 1950’s Paris couture black velvet, A-line coat with wide 3/4 length sleeves and a zoot suit lapel, or my 1960’s baby llama’s wool coat with jet black buttons (and holes torn under the arms). I’m missing the 70’s, but the 80’s are represented by my purple, inverted fleece Norma Kamali wrap around coat that I bought new for a small fortune and have worn ever year since then. The 90’s I went classical with a Burberry trench.

Now that we’re on to the next century Mr French is trying to show me the evil of my ways. He has guided me in the purchase of a grey Max Mara; practical, but boring and its already fading at the sleeves after just a few years!!! IHe has even gotten me into a warm, sensible, yet dreaded for being totally un-stylish, yet heart breakingly trendy Moncler, which my daughters hope I tire of sooner, rather. And I’ve acquired a lovely black cashmire trench style from Paule Ka that I love and look forward to wearing as vintage some day!


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