A Royal Opera

Opera by (electric) candlelight

I’m a writer. I love a good story. The stories in operas are not good; Mimi wasting away of consumption in a Paris garret, Norma climbing the funeral pyre, Carmen’s ranting ex… the ending is always the same. She dies tragically.

Violetta dies tragically (photo courtesy of the Opéra de Versailles)

And to my ears, these gloomy tales us are told by hysterical screechers, their voices grating on my nerves like dry erase on a white board. I spend most of the show wishing they’d stop singing so I could hear the music! There have been some performances I have truly enjoyed, but more for the moment; seeing an outdoor performance of The Magic Flute with the Château de Sceaux as a backdrop (at last, a happy ending… although that high F6 drove me mad for days), or watching Carmen at Christmas, cuddled-up with Mr French over a steaming mug of hot chocolate (spoiler alert; she dies tragically). Someone once told me that it was a question of maturity and that I’d learn to love it when I was older which has only left me dreading the fit of depression I’ll fall into if I ever do start liking opera…

The King's Loge

So it was an incredible act of selflessness when I chose to give Mr French tickets to see La Traviata (you know the ending) at the Royal Opera House of Versailles for Christmas. The Royal Opera House was inaugurated in 1770 as part of the wedding celebrations for Louis XIV and his charming little Austrian, Marie-Antoinette. The Opera house was closed for restoration in 2007 and Mr French has had a hard time getting tickets since its re-opening in 2009. In walks moi. I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice and attend an opera, even if it meant taking the risk of actually liking it and spiraling into a fit of depression as I ponder my mortality.

Only a few souls were left haunting the château

The sacrifice was large when you consider the sumptuous beauty of the setting; royal seats designed for a king, exquisite chandeliers and ornately painted wood. And we had the entire palace to ourselves, with just 1000 other, well-dressed guests. Versailles at its best. I can’t say that I was suffering.

The show was spectacular, and even if I don’t yet love opera, I do love the music and I could appreciate that the soprano, Nathalie Manfrino, was truly fantastic. The purity of her voice moved even me during her final aria. But I’ll be honest; the best part was spending the two intermissions haunting the wings, watching the sunset over the deserted gardens, and entering the King’s loge, feeling like a princesse as I sat in the royal seats.

MORE INFO/ Opéra Royal de Versailles

A table

I was going to stop talking about dating Frenchmen after explaining the choreography of getting through the door on the first date. But last week, Mr French and I went out for a lovely meal and I was reminded that the dance continues while you’re at the table.

Okay, you’re sitting down, so it is not really a dance, but there is a routine. And you may, or may not want to follow this routine, that is totally up to you and your personal style, but like any skilled rancher, it is best to know the lay of the land before you start wrangling cattle (really bad analogie, but I’m having fun with it).

I realize that the year is 2012, not 1962, but if you are out for an evening with a traditional guy, you should not be surprised if he expects to place your order. Or not. At first, I thought that this was just happening because I am old and dating older guys and assumed that guys in their 20’s and 30’s do not do the same. I was informed otherwise by girls who would know. And because the French tend to love to confuse us (masculine and feminine nouns… ‘nuf said) your date may place your order one evening and expect you to order for yourself the next.

How’s a girl to know? If he asks you what you’re ordering before the waiter arrives, you can guess that he may order for you. Of course, he could just be asking out of sheer politeness and perhaps he is genuinely curious, or looking for a bit of inspiration for his own meal. You can’t be sure. Fortunately, the waiter will generally speak to Monsieur first, so your date will order for himself, and perhaps even for you and you’ll mercifully hear the order, which is your cue to order. Or not.

That bullet dodged, here comes one of those quirks of French etiquette that I have not yet learned to appreciate; a lady never pours for herself. Neither water, no wine. It is expected that she sit there and wait to be served. Love the concept. But in practice, I tend to get very thirsty, particularly at meals and I like to drink A LOT.  At dinner parties I find myself pleaing like Oliver, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Its only water I crave, yet I feel like an incorrigible lush after about the fifth or sixth request. On a date, this can be particularly bothersome. He may be gazing lovingly into your eyes, completely enraptured in the moment when you have to break the mood requesting that he serve you a drop to drink, feeling like a mother reprimanding her negligent son to clean his room. I have yet to find an romantic solution, but I was recently advised that holding up one’s empty water glass and shaking it works for women who have been married a very long time, so perhaps this would work on a date. I have me doubts….

Back to our dinner at Les Garçons. Les Garçons is a local café. Fun and easy with an impressively young crowd for our quartier. We were there for a casual Friday date and were enjoying the ambiance, food and wine immensely. Les Garçons serves traditional bistro fare with a decidedly international, modern twist. The have a burger of the day, with special sauces from across the globe and creative entrées that really follow the seasons. Like any true bistro, the menu tends to rely heavily on the meats. When it is quiet, the chef comes out of his kitchen to chat. He is very proud of his cuisine and it shows in the quality on your plate. We were having a lovely evening and Mr French was being particularly attentive. Which meant, he kept filling my glass. And filling it, and filling it… by the end of the evening I was hiccup-drunk!

If things are going well on a date, you may also let down your guard as he generously serves you glass after glass and before you know it, you’re dancing on the table tops and a complete stranger is sipping champagne from your mercifully new high heels. This is probably not a good idea in the beginning. I had to learn to sip delicately and keep careful tabs on the bar tab, oh, and I’d wear fabulous shoes, just in case things went too far and they ran out of champagne flûtes.

Les Garçons

The 21st

The 21st arrondisement, that is. What? You didn’t know Paris has 21 arrondisements? Understandable, given that it is never spoken of and not on any of the maps. It must be one of those French things, like knowing that you pronounce the city Paree, but my lawyer friend, Bruno Paris, is Monsieur Pareace. I’ve given up trying to understand.

But I do understand the 21st arrondisement. It’s a joke about the seaside town of Deauville, in Normandie. A short 2 our car ride, or a direct train trip away from central Paris, Deauville is a luxurious burst of fresh air for city rats needing to breath. With a casino, large luxury hotels, horse racing and the American Film festival, Deauville has the reputation of being quite luxurious, indeed. Having an Hermes boutique not far from Bruno Cucinelli and Louis Vuitton does not help dispel the thought. But this is only half the story.

Deauville is really not far from Paris, easy to reach, a great place to picnic and the beach is  free. Running along the beach in the early morning (early morning in France is 10am) this Sunday, we heard Vietnamese, Arab, Yiddish, Portuguese and a few African dialects, mixed with British, German and Dutch from every socio-economic class. Many of the people we passed were unloading their cars, having driven up from Paris that morning. Like us, the were in town for just the day.

Mr French and I do this trip fairly often. Getting up early in the morning, we dress in our running gear, throw two groggy teens into the back seat and head on up. As soon as we arrive the teens set themselves up in a café on the boardwalk, while we run. An hour later they dive in with us at the indoor sea water swimming pool before heading off to lunch.

Lunch always creates a heated debate. I love Les Vapeurs in the neighboring town, Trouville, just a 20 minute stroll away. Mr French is a fan of Les 3 mages in Tourgeville, 12 minutes further down the boardwalk. Les Vapeurs is on a crowded port and Paris socialites squeeze on to the terrasse with tourists and locals, everyone savouring the exceptional butter (butter HAS to be great for a Parisienne to dig, this one is legendary) before digging into perfect moules frites. It you’re feeling flush their grilled lobster is PERFECT.  Les 3 Mages has a large, wind protected deck on the beach, with exceptional seafood platters and good (not great) food. Both are a welcome break after our sporting frenzy.

Lunch is generally followed by a stroll into “town” or a siesta on the sand. This weekend we had a great time on the beach listening to some local (Parisian) kids playing soccer, as they made fun of the yuppy looking bourgeois Parisiens on the boardwalk with their Italian loafers, Lacoste shirts, long pants, Ray Bans and a sweater across the shoulders. These kids were of African decent, with one Arab friend, who they called the Hallal Pig. Who needs tv when you can go to the beach in France?

Les Vapeurs

Ohh la la lingerie…

Mr French likes to take me shopping. I know, totally weird, huhn? A man who likes to shop? Rumour has it that this is actually pretty common among French men and circumstantial evidence tells me its probably true. That circumstantial evidence being last week’s trip to NYC where every intelligent store seemed to have plenty of seating full of bored to tears (literally, in one instance) men folk.

As a result of all this shopping, my name is on the mailing list of some rather nice boutiques. One of these boutiques is Eres. I know, cool, huhn? I’ve been into an Eres store with Mr French. It was Valentine’s Day their collection had lace. ‘Nuf said about that.

Eres was founded by the Parisienne Irene Leroux in 1968, when she took over her family’s struggling bathing suit business near La Madeleine. At a time when women were liberating themselves and their fashions, Irene decided to revolutionize swimwear design by removing all the internal corsetry. And she started a winter collection for her affluent clients who would spend the colder months in warmer climates. This brilliant move earned her the scorn of the local competition who scoffed at her foolishness, until they realized she had  revitalize the entire industry while ensuring Eres’ foothold in the luxury market.

In 1996 Chanel purchased Eres and two years later they introduced a line of sumptuously rich, incredibly elegant lingerie. This season’s collection is particularly gorgeous; sensible lace trimming iced aqua blue or sunshine yellow silk. Pretty and girlie, yet practical. Things I can wear under my clothing without worrying about weird ruffles popping up or strange ribbons creating a deformed looking silhouette. Stunningly sexy, pleasing not only Mr French but the firemen of the quartier!

A couple of weeks ago I got an other treat from Eres… an invitation to the launch of their new nail polish collection. Sounded like the great way to get our minds thinking of summer sunshine to combat the gloomy spring we’ve had and who doesn’t love a girls night out; champagne, panties and polish!?! I invited my friend Kristen from Un Homme et Une Femme and we were treated to an evening of pampering. About three of the guests had thought to bring along their men folk, who looked very content to ogle the barely clad models as they filtered through the crowd. I was glad Mr French was not around to see these girls in their swimsuits before I get back into mine this summer! There was a lively cocktail bar, but I was too lazy to brave the clamouring crowd, so Kristen and I made do with champagne. And since eating anything substantial in sight of the bathing beauties would be something of a mental challenge, Eres provided fresh sliced mango, melon and strawberries, which went well with our manicures, Kristen chose orange and I went for raspberry.

The best part was leaving. We were given little gift bags and sent out into the balmy night. Balmy? Yes, balmy. The weather had turned and warmth was in the air as dusk settled, the city turned on its gold toned electric light and we strolled down to the Concorde, heading home, ready for summer.



A new art space

Last Sunday it was grey, and miserable and pouring rain, so we headed to the Palais de Tokyo to check out the newly renovated exhibition space that is now the largest contemporary art space in Europe.

My first impression is that the place desperately needs a face lift. I loved the space. It is really and truly phenomenal, but it is falling a part. Literally. Chucks of wall are missing, areas are roped off because tiny waterfalls are infiltrating the area, and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the art work from the repairs. I eventually asked Mr French when they were closing the space for renovations. Which is when he announced that this was the post renovation re-opening!?!


This is a humongous space, so there is a LOT of art. And reading the press reviews after the show, I saw that we missed a chunk of it, despite spending 3 hours in a maze that extended over three stories of art. Photography is allowed and I had a lot of fun playing with the interaction between the art and my camera. My legs + someone else’s sculpture = a new collaborative piece.


The Palais de Tokyo does not have a permanent collection, and I can not say I was overwhelmed by the exhibit, Triennial, that we explored. There were a lot of great ideas, but even the work by artists that I generally appreciate, like Ann Messager, appeared only half complete. Some of the art seemed like it belonged at the Quai Branly and other pieces were just documentaries or political protests disguised as art. Some of it was x-rated. But some of it was fun, too, and thought provoking. A small minority was truly great, belonging in the Pompidou collection, like the film of the girl who explodes herself into 6 easy pieces that detach and move about a black background (see top photo).

Regardless of the art, the space itself is a masterpiece, well worth the visit.

After the show we headed to the Palais’ restaurant, Tokyo EAT for a tasty lunch which has a serious Asian slant with an appreciation for food that once had roots and lots of tempting fruit/vegetable non-alcoholic cocktails. We invited a couple of Parisienne teens and they found it so good they had to finish their plates, even if that isn’t entirely chic with the ‘in’ crowd.

Le Tokyo Eat




May Day

Confession. I collect dolls. I have collected dolls since I was a very young girl, then I started collecting masks, and then I opened a portrait studio. I seem to be obsessed with faces. One of my favorite dolls when I was very young was from the Kiddie Kologne collection by Matel. Sour apple, Honeysuckle, I had them all, but the one I loved was Lily-of-the-Valley, for her charming blossoms and delicate scent. I still love Lily-of-the-Valley, but today I have to settle for the flowers.

May 1st, 1561, King Charles IX received a Lily-of-the-Valley for good luck. He liked the idea and offered the same flower to all the ladies in his court. It was a very good idea and 500 years latet the tradition seems to have stuck. Probably because the lady receiving the flower is obliged to give a kiss in return, which seems to inspire quite a bit of generousity. Every year, on May Day, the streets of every town are littered with people selling bouquets of muguets, while the forests are full of people harvesting muguet on the one day it is legal to do so and even the chocolatiers get into the act, filling plastic pots with chocolate soil and adding a plastic sprig of the bloom.

When we were first dating Mr French noticed that I like white flowers in general, and I may have mentioned the Lily-of-the-Valley specifically. The weekend before ‘our’ first May Day he showed up for a date with a huge bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley. No fillers, just lilies. There were probably 200 sprigs in the bunch. It was gorgeous. It swept me off my feet and made me feel like one of Charles IX ladies at a royal court.

Dating Mr French

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta is in the car with Samuel Lee Jackson and he is discussing his recent stay in Amsterdam:
Vincent Vega: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Jules Winnfield: What?
Vincent Vega: It’s the little differences. I mean they got the same sh** over there that they got here, but it’s just, just there it’s a little different.

Vincent then goes on to explain how the cheeseburger exists in the French McDonald’s, but it is called Le Royale. That is what made the movie great. Odd from the perspective of an incompetent gangster, but so true. Everything here is the same. We all eat, drink and sleep the same, but the French just do it with a certain je ne sais quoi.

I didn’t date very many Frenchmen before Mr French had earned my complete and undivided attention. There were more dinners and eventually, I let him pick me up at my front door.

This meant we arrived at the restaurant together, signaling my greatest “Le Royale” moment. Considering that the seven year old kid upstairs already insists on opening doors for me, and that my daughters’ boy friends make it a point of honor to be the last one through the door, its a safe bet that any Frenchman an adult woman would date expects to be the one opening the doors. This does not necessarily come as a reflex for independent girl from San Francisco, where men tended to be too busy flirting with her husband to even notice she was coming through the door. SLAM!

There is an entire choreography to entering a restaurant with a French man in Paris. You arrive together, then mademoiselle takes a half-step back as he opens the door, inviting you to enter. She steps in, the number of steps necessary to let him in the door, but then she must immediately step back to let him pass and be the first one to greet the maitre d’. Kind of like a back step, forward, forward, back, cha cha cha. It has taken me years to get the choreography down.

Once you’re in the door, you’re on your own, ladies. I’ve heard that French men say “je t’aime” immediately and then continue to shower you with the phrase, Mr French prefers to shower me with flowers. I’ve heard reports of men who grab you by the wrist and rush you home to meet Maman, while other men wait until after you’ve said yes to his proposal. I can’t generalize. I only know my own happily ever after, and I hope you find yours…

It’s a date!

Friday night was the beginning of the long Easter weekend and the end of a particularly full week which included an extended business trip for Mr French, so it was a special treat when he walked through the door at 19h, looking relaxed and ready to play. As is often the case, I picked up the phone and tried to get reservations some where. Anywhere.

But it was last minute Friday night, and Easter weekend means that half of Europe is in town anticipating a long romantic weekend. Everything in my petit livre noir was fully booked, désolé, madame. Even La Table d’Aki, which was still off the foodie radar as recently as three weeks ago.

A Maître Ouvrier de France at work

Mr French changed into something more comfortable while I racked my brain for inspiration. Restaurant 21, another favorite for fish, had a table at 22h, a bit late for my ravenous appetite,  so we headed out for a stroll as I proposed creole tapas from La Rhumerie, or the Italian wine bar Oenosteria, run by our friends Chicha and Simone.

Strolling through the festive crowds, everyone was thrilled to be on a long weekend, except the waiters, who were thrilled at the thought of the extra tips they would be earning. Suddenly I remembered a restaurant I had walked by earlier in the week. It was still under construction, but looked bright and welcoming and I already knew that it was part of the group that owns Cosi, Fish La Boissonerie and La Dernière Goutte, so bound to be decent. The menu boasted cheeses by Marie Quatrehommes and listed the names of their suppliers for meat, fish, olive oil and hazelnuts. A place that is proud of its suppliers is bound to be good.

Semilla bouquet

Not your average bouquet

The place was throbbing with energy as we arrived. The exposed pipes and high volume made me feel like I was in NYC, while the menu made me think of California cooking with starters featuring spring greens, mangos, green apples or shitake mushrooms. The mains are either grilled, steamed or in broth, making for light, healthy eating that was simply delicious. I was intrigued with the tangy sweet mango mixture, but loved the deep, woodsy flavours of the grilled shitakes, the bright flash of the gremolata with a monk fish osso bucco and the fresh, pure taste of the pumpkin purée that accompanied my perfectly cooked pollack.

The desserts took more courage to attempt. By this point, we had total confidence in the chef, Maître Ouvrier de France Eric Trochon, but we were not in the mood to brave the avocado ice or the aloe vera cream. We settled on the carmalised bananas, which were so good we both awoke the next morning, their flavour lingering in our memory.



A First Date

Meetic Sign















I was in something in a tizzy over my first, going beyond the café, date. This wasn’t my first date with a Frenchman, in fact I’ve still never dated an American. But, this was my first date in 20 years!!! Was it really like riding a bicycle? Would I fall off? I had no idea, but I felt ready to find out.

Before heading out, I turned to My Parisiennes for advice. I was a bit wary of les filles around this time, because they had set me up on coffee dates with some of the wildest guys, occasionally knowing that the men were married! “Well, its not like he is in love with his wife, besides you never said you wouldn’t date a married man.” I learned to be very clear with my friends about what I was looking for AND what I was avoiding like a case of rickettsia (been there, done that… Africa 1993).

But these women were my friends and they provided some really fantastic advice about what to wear. Hands down, the best suggestion was to wear my favorite, most comfortable clothing that made me feel the most self-assured and at ease, ensuring I’d feel the most like myself. I chose a pair jeans with a low cut brown wool Burberry blazer that I’d had in my closet for ages.They reminded me that shoes are crucial in France. Even busy CEOs take a moment to bend down and shine their shoes before heading out the door each morning, while placement firms have been known to take potential candidates on shopping excursions for new shoes before an interview. It would have to be heels. Sexy ones that had been shined recently.

Love, by YSL

Then for that extra bit of confidence, they told me, go out and buy yourself some really, hot, sexy lingerie that you love. It will give you a secret that adds some mystery to the evening. If you’d like a second date, keep those panties to yourself and wait for another night before unveiling your new look. Of course, if one date is enough, remember to play safe.

Since I was dating men I had met online, they were not coming to pick me up at my front door. I was in no hurry to give out my home address. I headed out the door alone. Nervous, but confident with my new best friend, Chantal Thomass at my side.

Chantal Thomass

Finding Mr French*

I get this question a lot; how do you find a French man in Paris? Uhh…. well, hmmm…. Seems obvious, but, the women who ask make a very good point. Its like being lost at sea; water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. The city may be teeming with local men but they are a shy crowd and a decent French man is very unlikely to randomly come up to you at a café and start a conversation. Don’t get me wrong, men coming up to unattached women in cafés is as common as a cold, but often monsieur has a madame, which goes beyond my definition of decent. Its caveat emptor, ladies.

Ask a Parisienne and the answer is clear. You’re introduced. At some point or another, during your lifetime you are bound to find your man through connections. That gets a bit tricky when you didn’t go to school here and even trickier when your connections are primarily expats. Married expats with married friends.

So what’s a modern, non-local girl to do? Go high tech! Online dating sites are a fantastic way to meet someone in France. There is a French J-Date, if you’re looking for someone with a Jewish mother, and AttractiveWorld for the gorgeous who don’t want to pollute the gene pool. But the practical, one-size fits all site that I used is Meetic. I highly recommend Meetic. In my tiny little social circle, with limited access to the expat world, I know of no fewer than 6 Franco-Anglo live-in relationships that began on Meetic.

This site fascinates me – I don’t understand how it works but who ever came up with the name is a genius. Gleeden. The first infidelity site developed for women.


How does it work? Just like the sites at home. Why does it work? Of course, this is only a theory, but as an Anglo, you stand out in the crowd, so you get lots of interest fairly quickly… my divorced 50 something friends had an easy time finding a date, or eight, as opposed to my friends in the US, who could go weeks without a reply. Who would you be dating? Like any place you meet men, there are weirdos out there, and married men, so you have to filter, carefully. I was surprised by the number of very young men out there who like older women because we are less likely to hassle them for silly little trinkets like marriage and children. But there are also a decent number of intelligent, well traveled, educated men (or women) who prefer to be with someone who has experienced the world. Its really not a bad pond to fish in and it is quite easy to unhook the undesirables, throwing them back into the lake. Just don’t use barbed hooks, that would be cruel.

How do you manage it? After the online chats and the obligatory phone call to the land line, its time for coffee. Cafés are a safe, neutral place to meet and I learned from experience that you can order, drink and pay for an espresso in seven minutes flat if you know things are not going to work out. My first weekend back in the dating pool (after 20 years on dry land) I organized a series of coffee dates. One for each meal, Friday to Sunday, making for nine dates in three days. That weekend I met a scientist from the Pasteur Institute, a National Assemblyman and a dis-honest to goodness Russian mafioso. It was fun, reminded me that I was attractive and eventually life-changing… Mr French was Sunday, lunch.

* for those with mostly attached friends and a serious lack of singles in the social circle.


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