Ali Baba’s cavern…

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.23 AMToday is the Fête des Voisins. Started in the 17th arrondisement in 1999, it is a day when neighbors are encourage to get out and get to know one another, with buildings hosting potluck cocktails in the evening. This year is the first year I have ever lived in a building the celebrates the fête. And since our building is also a convent, with a private chapel I have never visited I was VERY excited when the nuns invited us all to come celebrate on their side of the garden! VERY excited. SO excited that I decided I was going to bake an American treat to share with everyone. Cookies!!! Even if that meant I was going to have to cross town for American style flour (different grind, pore proteins, more gluten), which is how I found myself in the Marais yesterday morning, waiting for the American grocery store to open. I was umbrella-less, the rain pouring down in buckets 6 hours earlier than announced by the weather app.

Looking for shelter, I wandered into St Paul Village, a quaint warren of antique shops where I spotted a photography store that is always closed when I pass. This morning the lights were on and somebody looked to be home. That somebody was M Sylvain Calvier, a discrete gentleman who has a great eye and is clearly passionate about photos. Dozens of dust-proof boxes are stacked every which way, atop wooden cabinets with narrow drawers viewers can open to find stuffed full oScreen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.37 AMf 19th century snap shots. It is an absolute jumble that is a treasure trove of 19th and 20th century photography.

I asked if he had photos of artists in their ateliers. M Calvier came from behind his desk, weaving through stacks of stock, piles of art books, and random body parts with determination. He knew exactly what he was looking for, and where it in his messy tumble jumble of a bScreen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.33.07 AMoutique.

He pulled out a box, set it on another random stack and invited me to have a look. Twenty minutes later, I’d finished flipping through the images, looked up and  noticed a pattern; geometric spheres. Everywhere. In clay, glass and wood; lining bookshelves, wedged in between sculpture, taking pride of place in the back window sill. Doing some research this morning I read that rather poetically, M Calvier considers himself an “Eleveur des polyèdres”. In English, he raises polyhedrons, 3D forms of geometric shapes. The gentleman is obsessed with geometry in the world. Which may explain his keen eye for photography.The shapes are beautiful in their mathematical perfection, their purity inspiring a zen calm. A yin to the turbulent yang of his chaotic space. The church bell rang and it was time for me to head back out and buy my flour, but I can’t wait to lead Mr French into this marvelous little shop of delights and explore some more.

More on the Fête des voisins on Monday!!!

Des photographies… 13 rue St Paul, 4ème

more about his geometry Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.08 AM

Here’s to murder…


We toasted to murder over the pock-marked zinc counter top of the miniscule bar at the (exceptionally excellent) restaurant Le Pantruche in Pigalle. I was with NY Times best selling author Cara Black and we had just spent our morning visiting the neighborhood, discussing the most intriguing ways to kill someone. That is what Cara does for a living, she offs Parisians as they innocently go about their lives.

It makes for interesting conversation. When I read about about a murder in Père Lachaise cemetery, the first thing I want to do is send a text. Had she heard about the crime? Had she visited the scene? Has she ever killed anyone in a cemetery? As we visited Pigalle, Cara would burst out, “And this is where they shot her, bang, bang… she had to crouch down here…” She’d nonchalantly point out the spot where a murderer had hid his motorcycle, while I’d glance at the two Parisienne office workers taking a cigarette break just steps away. Could they understand us?

P1060168 In Paris, I am an intrepid explorer, refusing to take the same route home that I use to get to my destination. Cara is an adventurer, taking it several steps further as she does research for her murder mystery novels; opening building doors, entering private courtyards and ready to question everyone. I love exploring Paris with her aP1060181nd this visit was no exception as she showed me parts of the Nouvelle Athènes neighborhood I had never imagined.

We began the morning at the Braderie (jumble sale) of the Holy Trinity church. An hour before the doors opened there was already a line. The man in front of me was an art dealer, engrossed a trade magazine. The people behind us grew irate when Cara showed up, explaining there was no saving spots at a sale like this. It was clear that we were surrounded by people hoping to discover a discarded Renoir. When the doors opened they made a beeline to the housewares section and started turning over every vase, every piece of pottery looking for signatures. I didn’t hear in jubilant shouts, so I can only assume that they were as disappointed as Cara who did not find her dream leather jacket.

Out the door, into the sunlight we crossed the street to the rue de la Tour des Dames, which is when my private tour of Murder in Pigalle began. Somebody died here, another was shot there. I was fascinated by the story, but also the charming row of 19th century mansions, and tempted by the newly renovated Musée Gustav Moreau just around the corner.

Along the rather prestigious rue d’Aumale, Cara would push random buttons to private doors, entering enchanting courtyards and banale offices alike. Down the rue Taitbout to the private, yet open to the public, Square d’Orleans where a potential victim practices violin, I admire the jubilant fountain and imagine George Sand rushing down from the flat that was once hers, crossing the courtyard to find her lover next door, Chopin.

Aimee Leduc, the serie’s detective, heads to a park behind the Place St Georges, but we are there to admire the ancient lavoir where women once washed clothes. Cara brings me into the surprising Bibliothèque Chaptal with its ornate salon, and points out the George Sand infused Musée de la Vie Romantique before bringing me to the rue Ballou. An Art Nouveau façade announces the entrance of a bucolic neighborhood where Aimee headed to seek information on a possible victim. I just admired the Tivoli gardens.

Heading for lunch, Cara pointed out the apartment where the artist Vuillard once lived, over looking the park he painted in every light, through every season. There is the ornate casino where one of Aimee’s colleagues heads for clues, next to the ultra exclusive ave Frochot, where Jean Paul Gaultier is rumoured to live and where the gates are so intimidating, even the chief murderess herself, Cara Black dared not enter.

Here is a map of our adventure, if you’d like to follow in Aimee’s footsteps and discover Pigalle, well off the beaten path…


View Murder in Pigalle in a larger map

What did we do to deserve this?

Screen shot 2014-05-19 at 8.45.46 AMI didn’t write all last week because over the weekend I had had a very unpleasant, somewhat typical French experience that I needed to share. Having just written the Conasse article, I wasn’t sure how, without sounding totally down on the French. And then I saw the very popular, hysterically funny, incredibly brilliant film, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu?*, and I had my solution.

Last Saturday night Mr French and I were in Deauville enjoying a weekend by the sea. For dinner he had invited me to Augusto Chez Laurent (fantastic restaurant, by the way…), the lobster king. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a thing for lobster and in Greece, I discovered that a decadent plate of lobster may inspire total strangers to speak to you. Which is what happened during our dinner. Unfortunately, this stranger was a total jerk. Through the course of the evening he interrupted our meal several times, which is not typically French, at all. In fact, this never happens, which show just how inappropriate this guy was. He was trying to be friendly and make casual chitchat, clearly uninterested in a conversation with his wife. But his conversation was unbearable. Beyond insulting his wife and belittling Americans, he said something racist.

My face froze, I literally dropped my fork, lobster juice splashing over my very elegant bib. Mr French saw my hackles rise and caressed me under the table with his foot. I am not French, so intelligent insults come slowly to me and I was having a lovely evening I did not want to destroy with a fight with a man I was not going to educate. So I shut up. Which made me very angry with myself for the week to come. And left me thinking a lot about racism in France.

The French can be racist. So can Americans, and Asians, and every other population on earth. But living in liberal, politically correct San Francisco, it is not something I heard on a regular basis. In Paris, I hear it weekly. Sometimes, I will hear it coming from the mouths of guests in my own home. And it shocks me. Even more disconcerting, the National Socialist (yup, the origin of the word nazi) party is alive and well in France, a welcome part of the politically relevant Front National, that currently has several elected mayors in the country. There are people in France who are proud to declare their intolerance.

I’ve heard it on the bus, when a woman insulted the Chinese because my Asian friend was blocking her way. I’ve heard it at school meetings when teachers discuss the Portuguese students. I hear it on the news as city halls try to banish kosher/hallal options in school cafeterias, but defend serving fish on Friday for their Catholic students.

When I applied for French citizenship my (at the time) mother-in-law was missing some important documents related to her parents’ immigration from Turkey. “Oh, you people,” decried the exasperated clerk, speaking to me like I was an idiot “what is wrong with you? Those papers were im-por-tant, I can’t believe how many of you lost your papers!”. She had a point. “Us” people were extremely negligent with our paperwork back in the 40’s, ignorantly “loosing” government documents that marked “us” people as Jews. So short sighted to have save lives, not paperwork.

Sometimes I wonder if vocal racism isn’t a good thing. At least we know who the racists are. In the US, KKK members keep a low profile. You’d never know your mayor belonged to their club unless you were a member yourself. There may be actively racist senators in the US, and the voters would never know. In France, we know what we’re voting for.

While living here, I have seen that talking about it openly creates dialogue, which can lead to education and a new way of thinking. Mother French was genuinely sad for me when she learned that I hadn’t celebrated Christmas before meeting Mr French. Living in a remote part of France where everyone is just like her, it had never occurred to her that other cultures were quite happy with their own traditions and didn’t miss hers at all.

Which is what brings me to Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu?. Clearly, a team of folk much more creative than myself, has been grappling with the same issue recently and they came up with a movie that treats the subject with great humour and intelligence. A bourgeois, Catholic family from the Loire has four gorgeous daughters. The first marries Rachid. A French, integrated Muslim with Algerian heritage. The second is wed to David, a Sephardic Jew and the third marries Chao Ling. Imagine the parents’ ecstasy when the youngest announces her engagement to a Catholic man. At last, there will be a church wedding! Only, guess what? Charles is not French. He’s African.

The jokes are about food, religion, culture, with one minority teasing another, or two ganging up against another. They all come off as funny without being insulting, a remarkably difficult balance. Mr French claims there was literally a laugh a minute. I was too busy laughing to take note. What I did notice was that we; the Jewish-Italian me and the very French Mr French, are the very incarnation of this movie, and life in France today, with everyone waking up to race relations and trying to understand what is means for the future of their children and their grandchildren. It is about the French realizing that not everyone is thrilled to have a French daughter-in-law, and that living together respectfully enriches us all. I don’t know how this film could ever come out in the US. It is anything but politically correct and the slang would be hard to interpret, as would the local stereotypes. But if it ever does come your way, I recommend you go. It is wonderful, enlightening and healing.

* What did we do to deserve this? but literally, What did we do to the good lord?

The Other Man

Must be love... I'm seeing hearts everywhere....

Must be love… I’m seeing hearts everywhere….

Like any good love story, it began with a pair of new shoes. A stunning pair of orange and raspberry sorbet toned Nike Free. The salesman cradled my foot, his lips and his chocolate brown eyes promising me that these shoes were made for running. Like a fool, I believed him and within hours I was racing along Lake Michigan, the bright colors at my feet a delicious treat.

In the days to come they sweetened runs around the Central Park reservoir in NYC and the Berges de la Seine on Thursday, May 1, a gloomy Parisian Labour Day. Virtually every museum and shop in town closes for the day, martyred workers getting more respect than a certain baby born on Dec 25.

After the run, I showered and put my feet up for a moment. An incredibly long moment, because when I set them back on the floor, I found that I could no longer walk. The slightest pressure on my left heel brought undeniable pain. I headed to Google and had my diagnosis within seconds. Nike Free indeed… free of proper support. In just a few runs, my new shoes had given me Plantar Fasciatis, aka runner’s heel.

A two week ban on running was the general consensus. The ‘net being a bad place for good medical advice, I called my osteopath.

Osteo-what? a good friend from the US asked me. I’d had had an osteo in San Francisco, so I’d assumed they were common. Apparently not, so I explained that an osteo treats the musculoskeletal system. While considered alternative medicine, osteopaths in the US must be licensed physicians.

I discovered osteopathy after giving birth to the only baby who wouldn’t sleep in a moving car or in a baby seat atop a spinning clothes drier. Em was an insomniac and after nine sleep-deprived months, I was a wreck. A friend suggested an osteopath. I was desperate enough to try something that seemed weird and perhaps dangerous. After a standard check up, the Dr put her hands on my baby’s skull and just held them there. I was relieved that the treatment wasn’t extreme, but felt like I was paying for nothing as I wrote the check. Stepping out of the office on to bustling Market St, I glanced down, Em had fallen asleep in her stroller. Asleep! In public! I rushed to the parking lot, secured her into her car seat, locked the doors and tumbled in beside her, my first nap in ages. I was a believer.

Osteos, as we call them in France, are very common. There is one across the street from our flat, Monsieur Maury. I have been seeing him sporadically since first moving to Paris. I’ll walk into his office complaining of a sore hip or stiff neck, he’ll invite me to lay down, then touch the sore area gently, his permanently warm hands melting into me. Sometimes, he may adjust some pressure or change his hold. I lay there each time, thinking his is doing nothing. Once my body convulsed in an electric charge, releasing ages of pent up tension, usually I just fall asleep.

This week I hobbled in, totally crushed. Before the appointment a friend had told me I’d require shots and it would never heal, another had had the same and it had taken a year to heal (her heel!). M Maury scoffed at my bleak outlook. His wife runs marathons, his daughter dances classic ballet; he knew exactly what he was dealing with. I lay down as he gently cradled my heel into his two hands. After 20 minutes, with one embarrassing snore the only perceptible movement, he was done, and scheduled me for a follow up. By Wednesday afternoon I was walking pain-free. By Saturday, he assures me I’ll be ready to run. So yes, I am in love with my osteopath, and seeing another man, but Mr French doesn’t mind one bit. In fact, with no more tears of pain intruding on our Saturday afternoons, he’s a big fan of the other man!

M Maury’s contact information is available by request.

La voiture

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 6.11.37 PMParisiennes get to be a certain age and they start asking themselves if they wouldn’t be happier with a car. The arguments are sound; a private car is smells infinitely better, nobody is crammed up against you and they tend to be pickpocket-free. In theory, you can let your guard down (when parked, of course) for a few minutes each day as you savour a moment ALONE, nobody impeding on your personal space.

Recently, I had to slip behind the wheel to drop off a 100lbs stereo for repairs and I pulled out of our garage wondering if I this wouldn’t be a fun little habit to get into. I set the gps for the shop, just 1 km from our flat, but 1.5 km away, thanks to one way streets. I’d known before heading out that parking on the shop’s narrow, cobbled street would be next to impossible, so I’d arranged to have the owner wait for me as I pulled up. Within seconds he had popped the trunk and carried off the stereo, but I already had two generously patient drivers stuck behind me.

I now had to find a proper place to park. A spin around the block showed that every corner was taken by illegally parked cars with their hazard lights on. After the third tour I followed suit, stopping in a delivery zone just long enough to run in and sign for my drop off. There was barely time for a courteous. “Bonjour, monsiuer, merci, bonne journée.”

Whew. Mission accomplished. The way home was a direct shot. I headed up the longest street in Paris, veering left as a large AVIS van nearly backed up into me. I had a car behind me and he had a busy boulevard behind him. We finally managed to back out of the street and I saw that a construction crane had set up in the middle of the road. No signs had blocked off the street, there had been no warning.

Hakuna Matata they say in Swahili. No worries. I knew a detour. Back up the boulevard and left about a kilometer later. Again, a large van was blocking the road, and more importantly, the view. I missed seeing that the street was under construction, forcing me to back up into a busy boulevard for the second time in 10 minutes.

By now, I had traveled 3 km from the shop and was 2 km further from my home than when I’d started. Another left turn, this time the street was clear. Until a taxi stopped and an elderly lady spent 5 minutes getting out. Then there were two construction obstructions and a small traffic jam caused by exuberant shoppers.

I parked the car at home. It had taken me 33 minutes to complete a 1km journey that I could have walked in 12 minutes. No wonder I love being chauffeured around by Mr French, taxi drivers and the fine (wo)men of the RATP.

La Conasse

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 2.46.56 PMor, why the French are known for being RUDE.

Conasse is French for b*tch, and is an insult you’ll often hear on the streets of Paris. It is also the name of a very popular video series on the nightly TV news show, Le Grand Journal. La Conasse is a spoiled Parisienne the audience follows as she visits places common to a 30 something’s daily route; the playground, a bar, the gym. You wouldn’t want to be her friend. She refuses to drink from a plastic cup or take a shower before swimming at the public pool, and when she pops in to satisfy her nicotine fix she tells the tobacco seller that he is like one of Santa’s elves, but working for the Angel of Death. She berates the pharmacist for a broken scale that is adding an extra 200 grams to her weight. She is the French stereotype of a Parisienne. Terrifyingly enough, these are scenes that are inspired from real life.

Today, when an American mentions the rude French, they get shot down by a politically correct crowd of sophisticated countrymen who explain that it is the American’s fault for wearing white sneakers, speaking loudly, touching the merchandise, and horror, of horrors, not saying “Bonjour” when walking into a shop.

I am here to tell you, if a French (wo)man is rude to you, it is not necessarily your fault! While I don’t believe that Parisians are ruder than anyone else, they have their reputation for a reason and after 12 years of living here, I have developed a theory that they treat it like cheese or wine, taking something about to rot and turning it into a fine art.

The worse offenders can be the “filles de”; the wife, daughter, or remote off-spring of someone important. That someone may have died 200 years ago, but the de remains in the family name and a lot of these women are convinced that the rules apply to everyone else, just to make their own lives easier. Common rules, like speed limits, or waiting in line. I once attended Museum Night with the “fille de” of a large fortune. The line at the Rodin museum ran along the façade and wrapped around the corner, up the boul des Invalides. Mme “fille de” went up to the security guard, myself and our 5 children in tow, opened her bag for the security check, then walked right it. I followed her with the kids, in absolute shock. “But fille de,” I cried, “there’s a line!” “pffft,” she shrugged, “oui, but it is not for me. I don’t do lines.” The amazing thing is that no one stopped us. Not a soul dared utter a word. She had been so confident that everyone, myself included, had just assumed she was a vip with a special pass.

When you do try to call them on it, don’t expect an apology. Clearly, its your fault. “Mais, ce n’est pas normale!” They’ll scream at you. It’s not normal that you object when they cut in line. It’s not normal when you insist they give you the handicap seat because you are pregnant. It’s not normal that you hit their car with a very heavy bag of books, causing a minor dent because they were backing their car into your 5 year old child who is holding your hand, standing on the sidewalk in front of the Bon Marché. “It’s not normal?” you may shout back hysterically. “You are crazy!!!” he may explode, “I must get a Christmas present for my wife! I got gifts for everyone but forgot my wife. It is très urgent, and now, how am I going to explain this huge dent in my car? You are crazy.” And as you look for a little support, you may see all the waiters from the café across the street go into hiding behind the bar, hoping you don’t call on them for back up. Just because you live upstairs and come by two or three times a day does not mean they want to be bothered when your child is nearly killed. So the best you can do is scream back, “I bet you didn’t forget a gift for your mistress!”

Every one knows Parisians are perfect. They’re thin, excellent mothers, at the height of fashion and I hear they never need plastic surgery. I guess they have to be rude to keep from being absolutely perfect. Because if they were truly perfect, we’d have to hate them.

Une Parisienne à Chicago

Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 1.26.37 PMIn 1892 French sculptor Léon Grandin was hired to design the fountains for the Chicago World’s Fair that brought us the Ferris Wheel, Juicy Fruit gum and dishwashers. Being a brave, bold woman for her time, who had probably heard rumours about that dishwashing machine, his wife insisted on joining in the adventure. Knowing this was a trip of a life time, Marie kept a journal and later wrote a book about her time in the US.

Like Parisians expats living abroad today, she had a hard time with the food, missing quality breads, cheeses and “properly” cooked vegetables. She marveled at the differences in child rearing and was enchanted with the endless possibilities available.

Having recently read her book, Une Parisienne à Paris, Madame Grandin was with me on my latest adventure to the Windy City, as I wondered at America through her eyes. I imagined how she would have been surprised to see the solo woman enjoying a glass of white wine and a casual bite at the très Parisienne counter of the Bistro Zinc or enjoyed the modern (for her times) collection of Impressionist art at the Chicago Art Institute.

More than a century divides us, and I grew up in the US, yet I can relate to the cultural shock she experienced. I freeze as I go to open the door at the Tourist office and there is an icon indicating “No Pistols Allowed”. Ordering my morning coffee, I request a small cup to a confused server who only understands terms like Venti or Grande. Once we think we have communicated she arrives with her version of small and I think there has been some kind of misunderstanding at the supersized serving.

I jump back a step as the sales man, yes MAN!!! at Victoria’s Secret asks me my name. He is so friendly Mr French thinks he may be stoned, until his other colleagues act just as chipper. The salesman at Ralph Lauren hands me the business card for his blog. Its a familiarity I’ve grown unfamiliar with.

People look quizically as I stammer and stutter, clueless as to where I should sign with the stylus at the check out counter, or swipe my card in the taxi. “But you sound like an American, aren’t you American?” They query. “Oui, mais non” is the most appropriate reply.

At restaurants, our mouths drop as we are served ginormous portions. We plow through meals, desserts loosing their appeal. And there is food everywhere, students striding by, shoveling Asian noodles into their mouths between classes. At the movie theater bags rustle, chips crunch and entire meals are devoured, a chorus of bodily functions  accompanying the film.

Discussing our dismay at screaming kids being tolerated in diners and taco joints, a friend tells us that local Alinea, one of San Pellegrino’s 10 best Restaurants in the World recently expelled two guests with their screaming baby. The restaurant was chastised by the press for discrimination against parents with young children. The concept disturbs me on so many levels, it leaves even me without the words as my mind stutters to grasp the mentality of people who bring a baby to a $1000 meal and the culture that thinks this should be a right.

At Symphony Center we are astounded when late arrivals are allowed into the theater and shown their seats while the legendary Mavis Staples sings her heart out on stage.

While digesting our shock, we were also full of wonder. Imagine, a jazz singer in a symphony hall? And the zoo is a marvelous, open space, free to all. The city is investing in environmental projects along the entire lakefront and the public art is simply stupendous. There is a can do spirit of adventure, with the sense that anything is possible that is sadly lacking in French culture.

Much like Grandin, who returned to the US to settle there permanently, I was both shocked and delighted by the lack of rules in American society today. And I realized that while I may someday return, I will never truly go home again.

Jamais deux sans trois…

Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 12.18.28 PMLast week Mr French came home from the office a bit early, too tired to continue his day. Early, for Mr French means he walked through the door just before 8pm. It had been a lovely, sunny day and I had purchased the first heirloom tomatoes of the season with a loose ball of fresh burrata. It was the perfect dinner for a tired man; light and healthy with the creamy decadence of buffalo milk. The flavors of summer in early April. What a treat! Even better, M had been particularly entertaining, keeping us laughing over the exploits of French teens. We started to settle into a very relaxing evening and I was quite please with myself that things had gone so smoothly. Before opening the pages of his book, Mr French checked his email one last time.

“Putain. This is wrong!” he jumped. “Something is wrong.” he had seen an email from our bank and it looked like we were being robbed. An hour of panic ensued, as he tried to understand exactly what was happening and how. While dealing with this fire, the phone rang. It was his daughter, La Fashionista. She was calling to inform us that she was dealing with a a fire of her own. Literally. She was calling from outside her building at Les Halles, flames soaring out of the first floor flat, extending well beyond her home on the 4th floor. She was hoping desperately her Cocker Spaniel was safe while pompiers rescued her neighbors from their homes. Once it was sure the humans were saved, a fireman took her keys and rushed three flights up the smoke filled staircase to save her puppy. Our hero!

Astonishingly, we both managed to sleep that night. La Fasionista slept, too, safe with her puppy at a friend’s. Over the next few days, we were able to recover the stolen property and La Fashionista learned her flat had only suffered smoke damage. An annoyance, but nothing more.

On Sunday, we had a family brunch to lick our wounds and on Monday, we hit the ground running, our plates full as we were both slammed with work; the days a blur of words passing before my screen as my fingers fly across the keyboard. This morning, rushing out the door to face requests that are piling up faster than can be treated, I went to the closet to grab my shoes. There was water on the closet floor. ON MY SHOES on the closet floor!!! I threw everything into the hallway and discovered it was coming from our hot water heater. I have a tendency to take a short story and make it longer. I’ll spare you this time, but right now I am a prisoner in my home, keeping an eye on the heater to make sure it and its 200 litres of water don’t sink through the floor before the plumber can arrive at 5pm.

There are three boogey men hiding in the closet of every Parisian; floods, fire and robbery. In the last seven days, Mr French and I have had a glimpse of them all. When these things happen in our lives, the same thought always goes through my head, “We’re all safe. We’re all healthy. Thank you, universe.” And I feel blessed as we deal with the bank, the plumber and the insurance companies. But I think I deserve a holiday, so I am off tomorrow morning, leaving the pink blossoms of spring time in Paris for a week in the unseasonable cold of Chicago where snow is still expected. I don’t mind. I’ll be with Mr French and my girls and thanking the universe with all my heart.

Made in France

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 2.19.00 PMThere was recently a documentary on local tv following a 20 something journalist as he lived for 9 months using only things made in France. I did not watch the show, but I saw interviews on tv and read up on his adventure quite a bit. He had to do without a fridge, his phone died and couldn’t be replaced, an affordable car was not an option and he had to take a loan out to live like this for just nine months. He gains 5kg because a quick Made in France snack at home would mean bread and cheese, outside the home… McDonald’s!!!

HisScreen shot 2014-04-03 at 2.19.39 PM quest is not new. Last year over the holidays I gave you uniquely Parisian gift ideas, on a quest for something with a little more personality than mass produced goods from Asia. Like the journalist’s phone, being made in France does not ensure better quality. But there is some fantastic design out there an I ran across a few places while out exploring this weekend.

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 2.18.29 PMIt was the rooster in the window that caught my eye at Gab & Jo. Everything else pulled me in and kept me there. I found a lovely silk cotton nightie set (100€) was tempted by the antique phone lamp (1500€) and couldn’t resist the CHAT-nel tote bag (22€) for La Fashionista. This weekend I’m going back for the blue, white red security belt that keeps thieves from stealing a purse from a bike basket (30€).

I found Gab&Jo while running to the pharmacist, A Zagorski at 6 rue Jacob where I had recently discovered their house made shampoos and conditioners (9€). Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 2.19.22 PMI loved the new products so much I wanted to learn more, but they couldn’t tell me much, because they were afraid it would be considered advertising and it is illegal for pharmacies to advertise in France. Which means this is my new best kept secret. There are bath gels, hand creams and tonic lotions, too, with options a variety of special needs. My favorite fragrances are honeysuckle and verbena. So far, they’ve been great on my hair and I love keeping it local!

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 2.39.52 PMFinally on my journey, I passed by the Maeght Foundation on the rue du Bac. They have a collection of fairy tales illustrated by world class artists who use graphic symbols to tell their tale (42€). The books are abound like accordians, as enchanting to touch as they are to read. In my Fable of Fortune, the blue dot represents fortune, the brown curve a horse and the black lines a rich man and his wife.

As I write this it is not lost on me that I a quoting 9€ for a shampoo, 42€ for a book. Producing anything in France is costly, but when you buy Made in France you’re getting original pieces you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere and everything on this list, at least, offers high quality to go along with the hefty price tag, sometimes make it worth the purchase, but always worth dropping by to decide for yourself.


les Berges…

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.03.29 AM

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.09.46 AM

Last week was a blockbuster for the art world with the Salon du Dessin, Contemporary Drawing show, Paris+Art Design and Art Paris Fair. After three evenings of appreciating everything from European Masterpieces to a 2 headed calf, yesterday I was ready for a break. After a little poulet roti from the butcher downstairs, Mr French and I sat in the living room like Disney crows.


Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.05.24 AM“Whaddya wanna do?” “I don’t know, whaddya wanna do?” “I don know…”

The weather was very much like in LA, lots of sunlight trying to shine through a dangerous level of smog, calling us outside for a balade. “Les Berges, I want to go to the Berges and check out what that street artist was doing by the bridge.”

So much for being art-ed out. Les Berges is a rather generic concept. In theory, just a nice place to stroll along the Seine. When I tell visitors to head there, they ask me what there is to do. The easy answer is to check it out on the official website. But even then, its not always clear, so here is what we saw going on yesterday, for a bit of inspiration…

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.05.49 AM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.04.11 AMAll the inspiration from the week had me trying to create a bit of art for myself, as I stood under a bridge completely fascinated by the play of color and light. The street artist Baudelocque was creating some tremendous art, inspired by the rhino in front of the Musée d’Orsay just above. There was more street art, all of it sponsored by Les Berges, and then there are the street performers, two elegant gentlemen in their French sailor tops roller blading with a 1930’s flapper to Georges Brassens and Edith Piaf.

Boot camp was in session all along the way with very buff men shouting at troops of athletes, having them drop and give ’em 10, 20, then more. Kids climbing the walls (literally), and group having a blast as they threw swings at one another for a boxing class they had signed up for online. All the activities are free for the lucky few who think of signing up before the classes fill up. Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.05.36 AM Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 9.03.47 AM

There are cyclists, runners and skate boarders weaving their way through people out walking their kids, their pets and even, their toy trains! In the shadow of the Pont Alexandre III there are a couple of cafés that disappear every winter and have just returned this weekend. One of them looks like they have invested in a steam boat they will be turning into a restaurant that could welcome diners rain, or shine… Whenever there are two cafés, Parisians tend to pick a favorite. Are you a Deux Magots gal or a Flore fan? We develop this illogical loyalty to one or the other and stick with it, even if its a little nuts. On the Berges there is Le Faust or en attendant Rosa. En attendant Rosa is by far the more popular option, so I love Le Faust, despite the horrid service, and the unreliable stock. Yesterday they were out of beer. And lemon syrup and anything edible. But as I sat there on my classic bistro chair, savoring he seafront table, I could not have cared less. I was in Paris, with Mr French and it was simply gorgeous. Which is when the man with his train walked by. I mean, really, does it get any better than that?


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