In training…

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 12.21.12 PMThe training schedule for the Semi Marathon de Paris, that I found here; Half Marathon training schedule at felt like a needle popping the balloon of my ego when I read that it wasn’t enough to run, I needed to introduce something called cross training into my routine.

Scrambling for a solution and a bit bored with the gym, I decided to check out the 1930’s historical monument, La Piscine Pontoise. Makes sense, no? You need to exercise so you search out a little bit of architect? The Montparnasse pool is just a few blocks away, the Piscine Pontoise involves taking the metro. But I figure if I am going to suffer, I might as well do it in style.

Like a turquoise jewel, adorned with two rows of blue doors and set in an ornate mounting several floors below a precious steel and glass ceiling. It is a beautiful space and for the most part, I love going there. For the most part, because the French are not exactly the best people on planet earth for following the rules and Parisians in particular seem to think they were created to keep everyone else in line so they can have their way with the world.

Managing the anarchy in everyday life requires a very precise choreography that took me several years to master. But I am new to it all at the pool, severely handicapped by my poor vision and pathetic paddling skills. Which means there are incidents. Incidents involving others that happen several times every session and leave me screaming, berating folk and spewing my outrage. Silently, in my head. It is a pretty hysterical place to be as I go back and forth and back and forth, having so much fun with my anger, I forget to count my laps.

Yesterday it started 1/2 way through the first lap. Well, actually, that is not true, it started while waiting line and the woman behind me tried to cut in front. As if getting into the pool area nano second sooner was going to help her win Olympic gold. We were on dry land, so I brushed it off. Handed in my ticket, got a dressing room, made it downstairs; took my shower, got my paddle board and found myself at that 1/2 lap when I found myself blocked by someone trying to run in the water and here is what happened in my head;

“Oh my god, its that guy really trying to run in the water? Doesn’t he know this is a lap lane? Wow, nice back, but still, he needs to get over to the retard lane. Whoah!!! Did you just think that, Sylvia? Retard lane? Seriously? You’ve been in France WAY too long. You can’t say OUCH. Now who just scratched me? What the??? What is that woman wearing on her hands??? Damn, can’t see.

So back to the whole retard thing. You really can’t say that, you’ve got to come up with a better term. Hmmm…. Chicks who chat lane. That’s perfect! Stick with Chicks who Chat lane, gives the perfect image of all those lazy chicks hanging on the side. What are they doing here, anyway? Addicted to the scent of chlorine?

Made it! One lap down, dozens to go. No, no, stop that, no backstroke, remember the last time you attempt the backstroke. You got head butted. Twice. Oh, whoa!!! That woman is wearing huge, black rubber gloves! Looks like she’s trying to wash away evidence after a chainsaw murder… Hey, monsieur! That black lane of the pool bottom is a LANE!!! Stay in your lane!!! Damn it!!! I know we lost Waterloo, but really, we’re not British, in this counrty you drive to the right. Same for the lap pool, folks? Don’t any of you drive? Oh, wait, probably not, what with the metro and all….

And so it goes, on and on for 40 minutes. I’d feel like most of this was my fault for being a slow swimmer and lame navigator, but since I’ve been on a roll, I’ve had lots of Parisiennes come clean and admit they’ve abandoned the pool because the Parisiennes are simply im-poss-ible.

Oh my darling clementine…

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 4.31.03 PMGrocery shopping would take me hours when we first moved to Paris. I didn’t know how to answer when asked if I wanted a yellow chicken, or a black footed one. I’d find myself completely flummoxed in the butter aisle and simply lost among the yogurts. It took an entire year for me to understand the cheeses and another year before I was ready to tackle a topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke).

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 4.30.45 PMHaving spent nearly half of my life as a vegetarian it is ironic that I have never completely conquered the produce aisle. There are some weird insect-looking vegetables that I can’t even name and the variety of fruits has just seemed like more than I ever needed to know. But last week, while shopping at the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché I didn’t know which tangerines to buy and I felt like an utter idiot. I don’t like feeling like an idiot, so I asked the charming gentleman who operates the scales for a bit of advice. He was my go to man for any produce question I had when we lived across the street from the Bon Marché nearly a decade ago, and he still remembers me. Mr French’s theory is that its because I may be his only French speaking customer who smiles.

Monsieur Produce recommended the Orri from Israel. Larger, and slighter paler than most of the others, it seemed as good an option as any. That night’s conversation revolved around the fruit. Dessert had not yet finished when M French suggested we do a tasting, a tangerine tasting of the 6 different varieties on the market today.

When I lived in Montreal I would wait all fall for the Moroccan tangerines to arrive, but there were none at the grocery store, so I know this list is not exhaustive. I also forgot to write down the price/kg, which is not a minor detail when the range runs from 2,95 to 8,95! But for the flavors, the results were clear;

Toi & Moi – a tad too sweet, missing a bit of acid and it was the least juicy of the bushel (or is it a bunch?)
La Violette – as fragrant as the name implied, the perfect balance of sweet and acid
La Soculente – really not bad, just a tad less flavorful than the Violette
from Corsica – another well balanced option, the acid was particularly nice
Orri – the juiciest of the lot with a solid ‘tangerine’ flavor
from Italy – too acidic, wimpy flesh and it was the only one with seeds.

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 4.30.31 PMThe clear winner was La Violette, but I also suspect it may be the most expensive, which makes the Corsican tangerine, one of the cheapest of the lot, a better purchase for everyday. The Orri came in a close third, but we wouldn’t turn our backs on La Soculente, either.

Now I ‘m looking forward to pear season… another fruit with more varieties I have yet to master!

in the mood…

Screen shot 2014-01-22 at 9.49.56 PMMy couch faces a series of 3 French windows, running the three metres from floor to ceiling. The night sky hides the chapel beyond, I see only the silhouette of a larger than life winged angel blowing her trumpet to the glory of god.

With Mr French at business dinner and Em fast asleep after a ight spent cramming for her Spanish class, the house is quiet. I can hear the cat padding down the hall, full drops of rain hitting the zinc on our balcony and the Louche Life.

The Louche Life is a free online radio station started by my very own Beast Cadet, the woman who referred me to Tempo Doeloe and who once spent an entire month with me in Paris taste testing every chocolate shop in the city. The sacrifice she made for our friendship still boggles my mind.

For years now, Madame BC has been sending me playlists, compilations she created for me to write by, dine by and live by and now those mixes are available to the world. Her music selection is (and I quote her station) “Eclectic & urbane: sparkling jazz vocals and R&B gems of all eras spiced w/instrumentals & offbeat/off genre surprises. Sinuous vamps that grab & pull, swinging voices, hypnotic polyrhythms, soulful performances – come slip into the groove!”

So now I invite you to slip into the groove, for a very diverse mix of music to ease your day.


This morning’s cuppa

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 6.20.38 PMEarl Grey is my favorite tea. It has been my favorite tea since I first tasted it, so long ago that I can’t even remember when. When I went through my purist Chinese tea and scorned any other flavored teas, I still loved a good Earl Grey.

Its the bergamot flavoring that I really love. What’s a bergamot? Its an orange! A tiny little orange from Southern Italy and it taste very much like a lemon. They don’t use the acid fruit of the citrus, but the fragrant oil that is in the skin.

A few years ago, while shopping at my local market, I came across a black slate sign with “bergamot” scrawled across in chalk. Without hesitating, I scooped a few of them and put them in my bag to see what I could do with a bergamot of my own.

Not much, it turns out. I have never learned how to make anything extraordinary with this fruit, except a nice, hot, fragrant drink the French call an Infusion. I boil water, pour it over the rind and let it steep for a few minutes before adding a bit of honey. A lovely, relaxing drink I look forward to every January.

Working in Paris

Yesterday I turned to a colleague and asked, “May I please take a picture of your dick?”

“Of course!” she replied enthusiastically.

In the US, that question would generally be answered by a resounding slap, either of the wrists or of the papers hitting your desk as a bailiff serves you with a lawsuit. In the oh-so-very French office I visited last week not a single eyebrow hair was raised over my perverse curiosity.

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It is not usually a subject that amuses me, but, in this office, I was surrounded by genitalia. The dick in question had an affectionate little note calling my co-work a little whore, too. Illustrated on desk tops, the back of chairs, and serving as screensavers, this week I was surrounded by dicks, reminding me

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 3.03.36 PMthat I am not Dorothy and I am most definitely not in Kansas.

Every day co-workers yell at each other, usually screaming across the open space. Sometimes it is a joke. Usually it is a not. And the language they use is far from professional. Arguments often end with one loudly referring to the other as a connasse, or a pute. Imagine a co-worker calling you a whore? I can’t wait to see how I react the day it happens to me.

Having immigrated to this country, I tried very hard not to judge and accept cultural differences for what they are. But it is very difficult for me to imagine that my educated, ambitious female colleagues are really ok with the locker room behavior that goes on in the work place. On the other hand, I think every abusive argument I have witnessed has been started by a woman, and before they dish it out, they must know how it is going to end.

Yesterday, two women were moving a bench and the receptionist stopped them in horror, commandeering the first man to pass their way and insisting that he assist in the manual labor. Is all the vulgarity the flip side of the chivalry? We know from history that the knights were not immune to lewd jokes and crude behavior. Is it possible to consistently expect different behavior from one gender in the social realm and then be treated like complete equals in the professional realm?

As soon as I have the answers to these questions, I’ll let you know. Don’t hold your breath, though. What are your thoughts on men opening doors and pouring your wine, yet acting like cads in the office place?

The gift

Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 8.18.17 PMAnd yes, when there is a birthday, there is often a gift. And this year I was particularly blessed.

It began several months ago when an editor from Afar magazine contacted me asking if I’d be interested in doing a mini guide to Paris for their online magazine. I have been courting Afar for ages, but they tend to hire writers who are already working for magazines like The New Yorker. I was not exactly on their radar. And then **blip** suddenly I was. And I know, its merely a blip, I have not yet set off any alarms and my words are not yet going out in print, but the traffic controllers seem to have seen that I’m in their airspace and they gave me a job to do…

And it was a real job. I was assigned to write about the entire city, giving readers a true sense of place, while mentioning all the usual suspects and some great off the beaten path alternatives. All this with a very strict limit of words per subject. All of Paris in the equivalent of about 7 blog posts!

I had two weeks to play with sentences; juggle adjectives, cut out nouns, add adverbs and find the right balance that would make readers want to book their next trip for Paris. I would arise early every morning and most mornings I’d even skip the gym so that I could run directly to the Room of my own on the rue des Beaux Arts, sit on the couch and start to type, checking info here, Google details there and constantly referring to a much longer guide I’d written for another client earlier in the year. I rarely remembered to eat lunch before 15h, when I’d look up from my screen, wondering why my hands were shaking, my head heavy and my stomach in knots. After a quick bite, I’d return to my spot and continue until dinner time when a desperate call from Em would call me home to make dinner.

I finished around the first of the month and sent it all in, one day before deadline. Several days later I received an email requesting a few edits and on my birthday, the perfect present arrived… an email stating the work was “excellent”.

The guide has yet to be published, but you can read the majority of the content in the Highlights here.

More birthday celebrations

Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 10.35.11 AMA few weeks ago I got an email from the Royal Monceau hotel, one of my favorite hotels in Paris.  I first got to know the Royal Monceau when I was testing spas last winter and it quickly became my favorite hotel in Paris. I am not sure what make s the place so special to me. The clean, modern decor is absolutely forgettable, but there is something in the air… perhaps it is their fine attention to detail, serving coffee in cups I’d love to have in my home… or the art book shop with the best (and most expensive) Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 10.34.53 AMsouvenirs of Paris… and certainly it must have something to do with the friendly staff. They even have a weekly newsletter called Art for Breakfast that fills me in on the highlights of the week’s local art scene. AND they happen to have the best spa in Paris with a somewhat serious lap pool!

Needless to say, I was intrigued when I learned they had a private movie theater that they would be opening to the public for semi-private screenings for a Sunday Night film club, to be enjoyed with a glass of champagne (or gourmet fruit juices) and Pierre Hermé popcorn. It seemed like a great story to cover, so I called asking for a press visit and was invited, with a guest last Sunday.

Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 10.35.40 AMMr French would be in China and I knew I’d be busy Monday night, so this seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my birthday with Em. The only hiccup with the movie night is that they can not guarantee the film you’ll be seeing until a few days before the event, so I had it in my mind we’d be seeing Chocolat, as announced in their program, but our invitation informed us we’d be spending the night with Bond in Skyfall. Not that I was disappointed about an evening watching Daniel Craig, but y mid took a few moments to make the leap from lazily romantic, provencial France, to sexy, hot Shanghai.

Due to a lingering good bye kiss with Mr French, holiday traffic jams and those horrible people who are still demonstrating against gay marriage, we arrived only a few minutes before the show. Our coats were whisked off our shoulders and we were shown to the ticket booth before being escorted to the drinks bar where a man with a wicker basket offered us sweet or savory popcorn.

Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 10.35.23 AMThe theater is large, seating about 100, with huge, leather arm chairs and tables that fold up to hold your refreshments. Em and I immediately felt like we were in our living room and sprawled out, taking off our shoes and even putting our stocking feet on the neighboring chairs for a comfortable evening in front of the big screen.

A film at the Royal Monceau is 40€. A film on the nearby Champs Elysée is 12€ and a glass of champagne in a luxury hotel is 20€, so would the splurge be worth it? I think its a great place for a cosy date on a freezing winter night, or a great option for getting the entire family out of the house. There is something to be said about feeling like you’re in the comfort of your home without the isolation of it. There is also the pleasure of being out in public while escaping the intense, Parisian cinema crowd.

The Royal Monceau offers a second option, even more romantic option, the Dinner Royale, which for 95€ includes the champagne cinema experience followed by a 2 course meal at the Michelin starred La Cuisine restaurant and I’m thinking that this maybe what we do around Valentine’s day season, which we never celebrate officially, but I like to honor in some little way, getting my girlie on… In the meantime I had a wonderful birthday evening with my dear darling Em who charmed my socks off by dressing up for the evening and then following me on a mad-capped adventure to buy an illegal laser beam (coveted cat toy) from the Africans at Trocadero, as the police looked on, a pickpocket gypsy made an pathetic attempt at thievery and an Eastern European souvenir salesman lent a helping hand.




Hanukkah: the 8th night

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Nothing is better over the holidays than a great story:

Once upon a time, in Paris there were two Parisiennes who were not quite like other Parisiennes. They did things like dye their hair blue and were perhaps called eccentric by their neighbors. The girls did not know that there was someone else out there very much like them in the world. And then one of the girl’s brothers met the other girl and knew right way that he had found one of his sister’s kindred spirits. He insisted they meet.

Over time, they began to see that he had a point, and they started collaborating together until one day, they designed a vase, the April Vase and they liked it very much. They liked it so much, they decided to make more and try and sell them. Some people loved them, too. Others were less enthusiastic, but the girls kept making their vases.

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 6.02.27 PMThen, one day, a man with a gallery decided he really liked those vases, too and he was going to feature them in his design shop. They were a smashing success, taking the city by storm. The girls were able to start designing other vases, and design objects, and after 20 years of collaboration, they finally opened a store together. And they did it all while traveling the world and keeping their hair blue!

Tsé&Tsé vases are a Parisian classic. They dress up wild flowers, dress down exotic blooms. You can pull out a tube, to have only a few, or line ’em up for an impressive display. And they give your partner, or yourself, the perfect inspiration to fill the house with blooms, making it a gift that keeps on giving through out the year.

Happy Holidays one and all.

Hanukkah: the 7th night

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I recently went to a nutritionist who heard 15 minutes of my lifestyle (the 20km de Paris, my Californian love for eating anything green), saw that I was 30% fat and declared, “Madame, you are seriously dehydrated.” He ordered me to drink 2 litres of water a day et voilà I was cured. It feels like magic.

Drinking water is important for everyone, but buying it in those plastic bottles is pretty hard on the environment and the jury is starting to debate if it’s so great for our health, so I’ve taken to drinking Eau de Seine!!!

The Mairie de Paris feels the same way about the importance of staying hydrated and keeping it local, so they have deigned these fun carafés so that visitors can feel like they’re getting a bit of Paris in their daily intake. And just last week, they made it even easier by opening their own eBoutique so that tourists who are no longer touring can still purchase some très Parisian holiday gifts for the Paris-ophiles in their life. The gifts range from Art books featuring recent exhibitions to Mariages Frères teas and include the Senat chairs from the Luxembourg gardens available in every color EXCEPT Luxembourg green. I’m guessing that’s for security reasons! And naturally, the Eau de Paris water carafés. So cheers, bottoms up and santé for a healthy, happy holiday season!



Hanukkah: the 6th night

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Talking about all those films yesterday had me humming to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the radiant smile of Catherine Deneuve like a benign Cheshire Cat in my mind. La grande dame was in another film recently, the light comedy, Les Potiches, which has he becoming the CEO of an umbrella factory. It’s a French thing, this obsession with umbrellas, probably directly related to the copious amounts of rain that fall from the heavens every year. Or perhaps its because in this style obsessed country, its just one more accessory to get excited over. One of the rare ones that men can enjoy as much as their Parisiennes.

For the ultimate in Haute Couture umbrellas, Heurault is the place to go. Each piece made with exotic handles and hand selected fabrics by artisans right here in their Paris atelier. The umbrellas are exquisite. They are also very expensive. Well beyond my mortal means, especially when the people I gift have a tendency to loose things. It would be a tragedy to loose one of these umbrellas, and nobody in my life needs that kind of stress right now.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 9.23.06 AMIts hard to follow in those footsteps, but for a practical, everyday option, the folks at the Piganiol umbrella factory have been protecting the French from the rain since 1884, making solid, quality products that they stand behind. When the leash on my foldable Piganiol came undone, they told me to send it in and they’d fix it for free, which the did in a matter of weeks, sending it back to me by La Poste at their expense. Even more unbelievable… they offered to repair my umbrella when the pole was bent in the closed doors of a moving bus headed for the Ecole Militaire. 100% my fault, or rather Em’s, but certainly not theirs.

The short, wide form of the foldable version fits easily into most handbags, yet opens wide enough to cover a couple walking arm and arm along the streets, admiring the holidays lights in Paris, London, or your home town.

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