Still trying to become French… 3

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 8.55.19 AMFrom dealing with the woman at the Tribunal d’Instance, I finally understood what Freud was getting at with his definition of hysteria; the panic was rooted at the core of my being, twisting through my gut, setting my legs into tremble mode and propelling my voice as I called my husband.

I had just ruined his life. He was no longer French, we were in the country on false pretenses and we were all going to be deported. The choe of his foot stomp could be heard surfing the airwaves all the way from the conference room he was visiting in Dresden.

— Are you out of your mind?

Well, yes, actually, I was slightly out of my mind at that exact moment.

— If that broad thinks she is going to take our citizenship!  I am a citizen under article…

I tuned out as he started spewing legalize, his cold certainty reviving my spirit. I stalked home determined to prove “that broad” wrong.

To make a long, very long story short, I set to work hunting down papers. I found out online that Madame had, surprise, surprise, given me a load of false information. There was an official document with a list of all the papers I would require to apply for citizenship.

Another surprise, the list made it clear I would not need the grand in-laws birth certificates and their marriage license. Either both certificates or one license would do. I had photocopies of the birth certificates, so that seemed like the easiest option. But a visit to the Turkish Embassy made it clear that a birth certificate issued less than three months ago for man who had been born when Istanbul was Constantinople was going to be difficult. There had been earthquakes, there had been infernos, and, quite frankly, Constantinople had not been a city for a very long time now.

In France, all of your major life changes are recorded at your local Mairie. I set out to find documents at what may have been their Mairie, armed with the pertinent names, month and year, but no actual date, or place. The family had lived in the 11th, 12th and 19th. I started with the 11th. Prompt and professional, they quickly informed me they did not have the document I was looking for. Going tot he 19th was like traveling abroad. We sat there in a rainbow of colors, waiting for assistance, one with a thicker foreign accent than the next. The staff were crammed into a tiny, too bright office and could not have been more patient with our lost crew of bureaucratic neophytes.

Then it was off to the 12th. Gorgeous wood ensconced offices, light filtering through the 19th century glass windows. I sat on the comfortable bench waiting for my number to be called by a grumpy man with a peppered grey mustache. By now a professional, I explained my plight and was summarily dismissed.

Did I realize how much work it would be for him to look at all the records for any given month of any given year? No, I confessed, I didn’t know exactly what it entailed, but in the other Mairie I had visited, they had taken out large ledgers, and had scanned columns of entries listed by hand in an elegant scroll. Oui, mais non, he was not willing to do this. But they had done it every where else. Impossible. He’s have none of it. He wouldn’t even know where to start looking.

Of course, he knew where to start looking! I had just told him where his colleagues had looked! I was no longer afraid of the people behind the desks. I was angry.

— Bon, if you don’t know where to find the ledgers, I am confident you know where to find your boss?

Incredibility. Was an uppity foreigner really trying to have her way with the system? He hemmed and hawed and acted deeply insulted. I insisted on seeing his boss. He wouldn’t budged. I told him that if he didn’t get me his boss I was going to start yelling. Smugness. If I yelled, the security would swoop down. That, I calmly explained, was why I was going to start to yell. If he did not go get his boss now, I was sure to find the person myself if security had to be called in.

A perfunctory turn on his heels, and my man was off. I could espy him whispering aggressively to a woman. White blouse, red skirt. I could see her arm shoot out, her finger pointing. And then, nothing.

2 minutes later he was back with the cumbersome ledger in his hands. He spread the enormous volume out on a large filing cabinet, using a clear plastic ruler to guide his eyes. Two minutes later.

— And this, is this the name ?

Victory! I was once step closer to completing my dossier!

Or was I?

Fashion with a passion


Woot! Woot! Inès was in the house. Roger Vivier’s house for Vogue Fashion Night Out, that is. Absolutely stunning in white pants and a flowing white top, her equally gorgeous daughter in tow. No photos, although the lovely Melissa of Prête-Moi Paris was there and gamely offered to play photographer.

P1080047 P1080046This year, I went out with daughter E and the quite elegant actress/dance Thais, a Brazilian with her own Mr French. We started the evening chez RV, savouring the Ruinart champagne, great music by Yasmine Hamdan, Faty Sy Savanet et Alice Lewis, and mouth watering fashion eye candy. Good thing that stuff is calorie free!!!

It’s such a wonderful party, we could have stayed all night, but the place was packed and Paris is enjoying a very late summer, so we left to get some air.  Next stop Sartore. Like a bucket of ice water in the face, the doorman gave me a hard time about trying to bring along my own invitee (the invites are for two guest), but let us in, anyway. Their space is ab fab, in a cobble courtyard of a 19th century mansion, with plenty of air and the right accoustics to get the party rolling. But the crowd. So sad. There about 12 people trying to look like they were having fun to  sounds being orchestrated by an excellent dj at the plate. Where were the crowds of adoring Sartore boot lovers? Me thinks they’d gone elsewhere once they realized that the champagne was reserved for the owners and their personal friends. Why send an invite if the guest isn’t welcome? Not très chic, mes amis !

P1080049 P1080053Back out on the street, it looked like a Saturday night. It was such a fun crowd, in the greatest garb. Nothing could make us leave. Except maybe the promise of chocolate. Some really exceptional chocolate from the newest Pierre Marcolini boutique. The man may not be French, but he sure knows how to seduce a woman. There was a handsome greeter at the door, shaking guests hands and welcoming them in to the bright little boutique where we were plied with champagne, offered a taste of cocoa infusion and offered endless trays of chocolate, including his famous red hearts with a raspberry truffle filling. We were smitten.

Unable to resist the man’s sweet nothings, the situation became desperate, either we left, or we were going to explode. We left and head across the street to Moynat for some absolutely scrumptuous cocktails starring Henessey cognac. I was a big sceptic, but couldn’t resist the crystal tumblers sprouting funny thyme do’s. I have to say, I’m a fan! The cognac gave my drink a smokey hint that was almost creamy. Dreamy! And our favorite moment of the night was watching Moynat’s charming Japanese artist paint original icons onto their fun totes.

P1080061Ready for home, we headed on our way, passing an impromptu catwalk on the way. Fickle as 7 year old girls at recess, we decided that THIS was our favorite moment, watching hopeful fashionistas take center stage on the treadmill to strut their stuff for the world. And oh, what a big, glorious world it was last night!!!

more French… 2

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 3.21.28 PM

                                  First aid kit in times of crisis

If your face has ever served to stop a fast moving ball, then you know exactly how I felt while trying to apply for citizenship; simultaneously numb and in incredible pain.  My eyes fell to my lap, my hands busy gathering together the pile of official documents I had brought along for the application. I was getting ready to leave as the papers fanned out and my long term visa clatter to the floor, reminding me that as far as France’s Prefecture de Police was concerned, my husband was a French citizen.

— They are not any better than the French Embassy in Montréal. I am sure he is not French.

Knowing it was two against one gave me renewed courage. I leaned forward in my chair, half way across Madame’s desk.

— If I understand correctly, you can only deny my application once I have applied and I have the right to apply. I would like a list of all the documents I need to bring for my application.

She eyed me, huffed, then swiveled her chair 180*, grabbed a blank sheet of paper and swiveled back. Her eyes met mine, she opened her fountain pen and began to write a list in blue ink.

There wasn’t a print document with the steps to requesting citizenship? I was incredulous as she assured me that, no, there was not a list of what I’d need. She was going to decide what I needed.

I was going to require all my official US documents issued from the State of California less than 3 months ago. After being issued by the state, they then had to be returned to be apostilléd and then I had to have them translated by a court authorized translator; a bureaucratic marathon.

At this point I think some explanation is in order. Apostilléd basically means that the official government body who issues a document is confirming that it is indeed, an official document.  In France, deaths are registered on birth certificates and it takes about three months from the time of death until it is registered on the birth certificate. Anytime anyone wants to do anything official they are required to have a birth certificate that was issued less than three months earlier, so you can prove you are not dead. Being physically present to hand over the document is not a sign of life.

There was a second set of documents I’d need from the French government. When I asked where I’d go to get the paper work we fell into an absurd Laurel and Hardy routine and it suddenly made sense that Sartre’s masterpiece, Huis Clos, was written in France. Hell is others. I’ll bet he lost his passport.

Armed with all those documents, and a few more, I learned I would need a Certificate of Nationality for my husband, to prove once and for all he was really French.

How does one get a certificate?

Another swivel, another blank sheet covered with blue ink.

She was going to need paperwork. A lot of paperwork and much of it from the turn of the last century when my grand in-laws immigrated to France from Turkey. Marriage certificates, birth certificates (from a time when Istanbul was still Constantinople!), official nationalization records of people who stopped breathing decades ago.

I tried to explain, words coming out in irregular spurts… holocaust… collaborators… family of nine… save lives, not paper work…. She cut me off. And here is where my brain goes bilingual. In my head she huffed out an exasperated, “You people!”

But that is not possible, because the entire ordeal had been wrestled out in French. I received a torturous lecture on our family’s negligence, the important of keeping one’s official paper work, and keeping it in order.

I thanked Madame profusely, assured her she’d be seeing me soon, gathered up my papers and headed out the door. As my hand reached out, she stood, pronouncing, “But you’re never going to be French.”

I stumbled out the door, fled up a familiar street until the rage and fear rushing through my entire being refused to go forward. Propping myself against the nearest wall, my thoughts raced. Could she really take away my husband’s citizenship? my daughters’?

find out here…

On becoming French… 1

Screen shot 2014-09-12 at 11.42.13 AMWhen I announced I was marrying a Canadian, my grandmother went into a panic, grabbed my forearm and warned me that he was only marrying me for a green card. “That’s ok, grandma,” I tried reassuring her, “I’m marrying him for his French passport.”

15 years later, we finally had an opportunity to move to Paris. We told everyone that we were leaving for a two year expat package for work, but we both knew we weren’t moving. We were immigrating. I was married to an attorney and he told me that we’d have to live in France for 5 years before I could apply for citizenship.

A few months later we were at a cocktail party in the sunny garden of a suburban home in St Cloud, trying to meet people. And it is where I met Deborah, a sarcastic broad with a wicked sense of humour. She was a Californian, married to a Frenchman in Paris for over a decade and was look into getting citizenship for herself. I don’t know if the laws had changed, or if my then-husband had been confusing the laws of one of our two other nationalities, but she let me know that he was wrong, we only needed to have been married for 5 years. Where we had lived was of no consequence when seeking citizenship.

The very next morning, having already learned that how you dress really matters in all things bureaucratic in France, I put on my most professional outfit, and headed off to the Tribunal d’Instance to apply for citizenship. Clearly, when I had dressed that morning, I’d forgotten to take off the newbie-shine of a recent arrival.

I could hear the water gurgling by the lion at the St Sulpice fountain as I walked into the Town Hall, opening the heavy wood door into the intimate office space. Three waiting room chairs to the right were empty, as were the two desks to the left. I waited a bit, then stood at a desk and let out a rather loud, ‘Ahem.’

Une Parisienne, thin and slightly dried out looking, poked her head out from a stack of filing cabinets.

— Bonjour Madame, I am here to apply for citizenship.

— And what makes you think you deserve to be French.

— I’ve been married to a Frenchman for 15 years, I have two French daughters.

She finally surfaced from behind the cabinets, sat at her desk and invited me to have a seat with a nod.

— Before we waste our time with your application, we have to be sure your husband is French.

—Oh, he is. His mother is French and he has a passport.

—A passport does not prove he is French.

So we go into the details. Born in Montréal, mom born in Paris, passport obtained by the French Embassy in Montréal, military excused by the centre in Perpignan.

—I was right. Your husband is not French. Your children are not French. You will never be French.

to be continued next week…


The rising sun

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 10.05.36 AM

After my adventures at the Bon Marché last week, Japan stayed woven into my week.

Before sending E back to school in the land of polar vortexi, a quick trip to Uniqlo for their winter HeatTech under things was on our “to do” list. As often happens, a “quick trip” turned into an adventure when my stomach started to gurgle. “Would she mind if we stopped for lunch along the way?,” I queried. A starving college student, home for the holidays, you can guess her answer.

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 10.06.57 AMSo we headed to Kunitoraya, the best udon joint in the city. So good that even I don’t mind waiting in line. Not far from Uniqlo, in the 2nd arrondisement, Kunitoraya draw an ecclectic crowd of suits and fashionistas, providing great eye candy as you wait. I saw at least three women I was dying to approach and plead, “dress me… please show me how to dress like that.” As I stood there I noticed the latest fall fashion trend; long pants with flat, strappy sandals. Actually, I am not really sure if its a fashion trend, or a survival technique to deal with the cold, rainy, hot, muggy days we’ve been having. In any case, I liked the look and have made it my own.

We were soon at the counter, facing the street, the steam from our dishes blurring the not so picturesque view of motorcycle parking and a rather disconcerting pile of dog poop. Fortunately, the delicately spiced eggplant pickles and grilled beef distracted me into my bowl of perfectly prepared rice.

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 9.57.34 AMOn our way to Uniqlo, I stopped mid-stride in front of a small Japanese gift shop, confusing E and perhaps causing a bit of a traffic snarl in my wake. Cool Japan sells Wabofu, an organic cotton cloth that I use for make-up removal. They sell large cloths for bathing, but the things are magic, scrubbing you clean gently, without the need for any product.

At last, to Uniqlo for that “quick” visit. Often a bust shop, the place was hopping. My idol, Ines de la Fressange had designed an entire line for Uniqlo and our timing just happened to coincide with its arrival. Never mind HeatTech, we were facing an entire department of affordable fashion. Our basket filled quickly as we hesitated between simple cotton tunics or elaborate plaid shirts, wool coats, or rain coats.

We left only an hour later, ready for fall with some Parisian chic and a Japanese twist.

Feeling kawai at the Bon Marché

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.14 AMThe entire city is feeling something like Dorothy moments before her house lands on that witch; in a daze, with hearts thumping as we hurtle through space. “C’est la rentrée”, we say, the beginning of The Season. Theaters announce their calendar for the year, museums unveil their latest exhibitions, boutiques put out their new collections. Invitations roll in, galleries competing with shops, museums facing off museums, for a bit of attention from the general public. Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.56 AMThere is the Maison et Objets home design convention with Paris Fashion Week just around the corner, sandwiched between the Nuits Blanches cultural all nighter and the Journée des Patrimoines cultural heritage to weekend.

The Bon Marché hosted the very first event this week, putting on a soirée celebrating all things Japan. Arriving at 8:45 for an 8:30 invitation, I was surprised to see a long line of patient Parisians waiting to enter. Surprised because Parisians rarely wait in line, especially not the privileged fashion crowd with invitations to private cocktails parties at the Bon Marché. But everyone seemed clear that the night would be worth the wait. Or perhaps they knew that trying to cut in this line would be much like trying to swim with sharks in chum filled waters.

After a nearly fatal pile up at the escalator, we found ourselves on the 2nd floor in a mad crush of people, the air growing humid with body heat. Keeping our priorities straight, we hunted down some champagne before checking out the 9 minute film on Benesse Art Site Naoshima, an ambitious art project that covers three islands in Japan.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.44 AM Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.30 AMLarge, red globes evoking Japanese lanterns divided the sales floor in to a collection of pop up boutiques like a series of rising suns, featuring beauty products, gourmet specialty and home decor. At every cash register there was an opportunity to buy a good-luck bracelet, the proceeds going to help earthquake victims.

Guests had gone to great effort getting dressed for the event, brands had invested a great amount of time putting out their most exciting collections, but it was hard to see all the fashion through the crowd, and impossible to photograph it.

The rooms were hot, the crowd dense, but I was thrilled to be part of the history first created by Aristide Boucicault in the 19th century. He was the founder of the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché, and the one to dream up these extravagant cultural events celebrating the world to bring shoppers in, and stir them into a shopping frenzy. I felt like I was in Zola’s novel, Ladies Paradise, watching people gather around for a free taste of sake, an introduction to Japanese whiskey, a sample of sparkling tea.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.04 AMAs we left, a group of women were playing taiko drums in the fragrance department, their beats vibrating through my core, sending the blood rushing to my head, dizzy with excitement and I could feel the spirit of Boucicault nodding in appreciation.

Taking le cake

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.21.09 PMMr French decided that his birth day would begin the moment his mother stepped off a train from Germany. He was her first child and she was alone, obviously, she’d known he’d be becoming, but his due date wasn’t for another 10 days, so while it was a very welcome arrival, his timing was slightly inconvenient. Nothing has changed. His birthday is at the very end of August, when galleries are closed, artisans have fled the region and restaurants go under renovation. Not the easiest time of year to plan a birthday celebration. No matter how prepared I think I am, things invariably go awry. Every year. This year, Mr French’s favorite bakery was closed on his birthday.

Fortunately, France’s fetish for baked goods makes finding a cake very much like spotting puddles on a rainy day; hard to avoid. Even harder, on the rue du Bac, where several renowned pastry chefs have decided to open shop in the last several months.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.21.56 PMI started my quest for le cake at the Bon Marché’s Grand Epicerie de Paris. It may be a grocery store, but they have a talented pastry chef who turns out playful, modern desserts in the kitchen downstairs. His pieces often come with a tasty surprise that recreates the feeling of being a kid in a candy shop. But Mr French already knows the cake the hides under a chocolate box, so I decided it was too common for this special birthday.

The next pastries were at an outpost of historic Angelina’s. They are famous for their Mont Blanc, a chestnut cream concoction that Mr French has never ordered, so I suspect it’s not his thing. The other desserts were dressed in delicate puff pastries, enrobed in pastel icing. Their cakes looked pretty, but a bit too girlie.

Next, I headed to Le Bac à Glace. If Mr French had his way, he’d have ice cream everyday, and they make their own ice creams on site, with a reputation for the best chocolate sorbet in Paris. I was hoping they made ice cream cakes. Perhaps they do, I never found out, as they were still closed for the holidays.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.09.40 PMNot being a stickler for tradition, I headed up to Chapon, thinking a flight of shot glasses filled with a selection of their single estate chocolate mousses would be a fun, original alternative. It was August, they were mousse-less.

The favorite chocolatier of most chefs, Jacques Genin, also does wonders with pastry, making a remarkable lemon tart and an extraordinary napoleon. But again, I struck out, his shop opening has been post-poned to late fall.

Almost next door is Des Gateaux et Du Pain, the newest addition to the sweets of the street. I already knew Mr French adores their truly exceptional ice creams, but had never paid attention to the cakes. I eyed the pastry counter, full of sleek looking desserts featuring fresh fruits and unique flavors. Tempting, but I wasn’t sure which Mr French would love. I looked at the bread wall to think about it and there, I found what I’d been looking for! A peach tart, with juicy, large, peach halves with a verbena glaze. Feeling like Goldilocks, I ordered large cups of Sicilian pistachio and salted caramel ice cream to serve the dessert à la mode, savouring the Goldilock’s moment of having found something that I knew would be just right.

ps There is one more pastry shop on the rue du Bac, La Patisserie des Rêves. They’re famous for their Paris Brest dessert and breakfast pastries that tempt even the most disciplined Parisiennes.

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN2920photos and post by Karen Samimi

How is porcelain made, and what is it made of?
What’s the difference between porcelain and biscuit?
How hot does the hottest kiln get?
These are only some of the questions that will be answered during your visit to the National Manufacture of Sèvres that is part of the City of Ceramics.
The last time I visited the City of Ceramics in March, the porcelain Manufacture (Factory) was not open to the public. That’s not unusual:  guided tours are only available by reservation for groups, on specific dates for individual visitors, or on annual Heritage Days in September.  I was fortunate enough to have a reservation for one of the few guided tours for individuals in August.
DSCN2885The Manufacture was founded in Vincennes in 1740 by a group of craftsmen and was moved to Sèvres in 1756 by King Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Because of their great interest in porcelain, they wanted Sèvres to create porcelain surpassing the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden.  Sèvres is unique today in that the ancient crafts practiced there have been passed down from one generation to the next.  Each object is produced manually from start to finish, with each craftsman marking their work. Each Sèvres craftsman completes a three-year training program to acquire a French state certification in ceramics and usually stays in a specific trade for most of his or her career. There are currently 120 artisans at the Manufacture working at 30 different ceramic trades.
KilnsThe tour began in the reception area of the National Ceramic Museum at the top of the staircase at the main entrance. The tour guide took us to the Manufacture building directly in back of the Museum, and we entered the “welcome room”. Here, our knowledgeable guide taught us about the history of the Manufacture and explained the porcelain-making process. Porcelain paste and plaster molds are used to make dishes, figurines, vases, and contemporary art, and examples of all of these were displayed. Proceeding into the adjoining room, we saw a porcelain bust of Louis XV made in 1760 and several other examples of objects made in Sèvres, as well as a wall map of the buildings on the site.
The tour proceeded to the workshops and storage and display areas on the lower and upper floors. The first thing I noticed was how large the Manufacture building is.  Ambling through long corridors, our group passed by room after room of equipment, huge kilns, unfinished vases and plates, molds, and other production materials. We entered our first workshop which was for enamel glazing and were quickly welcomed by a young specialist who expertly explained her craft. She then gave us a demonstration by plunging her arm up to the elbow into a large bath to mix the enamel paste with water and then rapidly swooshing a plate through it with one hand. And, voilà! The plate was fully glazed and already practically dry, ready to go on to the next step in the long fabrication and decoration process. I really enjoyed this part of the tour.

After immersionAfter making a short stop in front of several display cases showing the different phases of the porcelain painting process and a series of objects commissioned by different French institutions, we arrived at the gold decoration workshop. Here we were, in a large room that looked at first like an administrative office, but upon closer observation I realized that there were neither computers nor printers on the desks, and artisans’ fine tools had replaced pens and pencils. One man showed us how he transfers tiny engraved motifs from a gold-brushed metal slab to tracing paper using a special press, proud to share his unusual skills with our amazed group.
19th century wood-burning kilnHis colleague, a jovial woman about to retire after a career of 47 years there, demonstrated how she meticulously aligns and applies the gold tracing paper motifs to various porcelain objects, kind of like decals.  It may take two or three days just to decorate a single teacup. On her desk and in a showcase nearby were examples of objects she had decorated. “Doesn’t this get a bit repetitive?” someone in the group asked. “The objects and motifs are always changing, so it stays interesting, and above all, we’re creating art”, she replied. I realized then that we were not just observing people working at their jobs. We were witnessing dedicated artists with a passion for using their unique “savoir-faire” to create lasting beauty for the world to admire.
We concluded our tour in front of one of the oldest kilns in the Manufacture, a 19th century wood-burning kiln which is still fired up occasionally. It gets so hot that it takes weeks just to cool it off to remove the objects inside. It was fascinating to be able to walk inside this kiln and imagine how hot the factory gets when it’s used.
If you love artistry and handiwork of any kind, and especially if you love porcelain and would like to learn more about it, treat yourself to a memorable visit to the Manufacture of Sèvres.


Sèvres – Cité de la céramique

2 Place de la Manufacture
 – 92310 Sèvres – +33(0)1 46 29 22 00

Manufacture and workshops:
Guided tours available with advance reservation for groups and individuals, from 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, including visits to 2 workshops.
Individual ticket prices between 12 and 14 euros, includes Museum’s permanent collections.
See website for specific visit dates and times.
For reservations and information call: +33(0)1 46 29 22 05
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

National Ceramic Museum:
  Open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except Tuesdays, January 1, May 1, and December 25.
Guided tours for groups and individuals available.
Theme tours available one Monday a month.
Free for visitors under age 18, ages 18-25 with European nationality, job seekers, handicapped, and on the first Sunday of every month.
Individual prices between 4.50 and 8 euros
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

How to get there:
Metro line 9 : « Pont de Sèvres » stop (exit train at front, then use exit number 2), then walk over the bridge to the museum
Tramway T2 Val de Seine : « Musée de Sèvres » stop
Bus at Pont de Sèvres : 169, 179, 279, 171, 26 ( first stop after the bridge : « Musée de Sèvres »)
Paid parking available in front of the City, at the Tramway station and at the entrance to Parc de Saint-Cloud.

We’re back!!!

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 3.58.12 PMThis morning, rain poured down relentlessly on harried commuters as they head in to the crowed Metro. The dieties of weather have decided it is time we all get back to work, the non-stop drizzle putting a ruthless end to any thoughts of stretching the season out just a little bit longer. There will be no lingering weekend escapes to the seaside, stolen moments tanning along the banks of the Seine, they are dreams to be neatly packed away for the year, along side our summer dresses, shorts and espadrilles.

The entire city is back and open for business as Parisians bid misty-eyed good byes to their carefully curated tans, consoling themselves with an evening visit to the nearest café in the hopes of catching up with friends and neighbors after a 3 week hiatus from reality.

Homes have become obstacle courses of empty suitcase, abandoned sports equipment, stacks of bills; reminders that tomorrow has arrived. Traffic jams of shopping carts clog grocery store aisles, spin cycles process 20 days of dirty laundry.

Our 90 minute flight from Ajaccio has taken us from endless summer to an undeniable automn. My skin rebels as I grab a wool sweater, my dermis knowing instinctively that it is too early for heavy knits. The transition back is a shock to my sun soaked being, and yet I am thrilled. Thrilled to be home.

Invitations flow in for art openings, catalogues announce theater programs, my in-box is full of news for upcoming runs. A friend calls asking if we’re interested in the outdoor opera at Les Invalides? This being France, the next school holiday is a mere 6 weeks away, so its time to start planning our next adventure… the perfect armour for facing “la grisaille Parisienne”.

Le grand départ…

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 12.20.12 PMFor reasons that totally escape my independent American way of thinking, French vacation rentals run Saturday to Saturday. From ski chalets to seaside villas, family apartment-hotels to luxury lodges, during peak holiday season, we are all expected to arrive and leave on the same day. There are, of course, a few exceptions. Some hotels are flexible, some property owners have a different agenda, but those places are a microscopic minority.

The result is Le Grand Depart, the first Saturday in August when everyone in France who is not adventurous enough to travel abroad or wealthy enough for a second home, takes off on holiday. It is sheer madness and Mr French absolutely insists on being part of the insanity.

Because another French tradition is going to the exact same place every year (another mind boggler for this curious soul), I have found a great place in Hossegor that accepts flexible dates. We could show up on a (gasp) Sunday! and they wouldn’t mind. But that would mean one day less on holiday. I once tried suggesting that we make that first day a stay-cation, enjoy Paris and then leave early the next day. The entire family stared at me in a mix of horror and disbelief at the blasphemous idea.

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 12.19.41 PMWith approximate 1/3 of the country hitting the road on the exact same day, joined by the Dutch and Belgians seeking warmer climes, traffic flows like a dammed up river. Last year it took us 14 hours to complete a 7 hour journey. There are some fun aspects to the adventure. The highway rest stops become party zones with the leaseholders organizing games like archery lessons and zumba classes, to keep drivers alert and their kids exhausted after a pit stop. At toll booths, cheerful young students hand out travel kits full of treats and this is the one time of year I allow myself a travel sized can of sour cream onion Pringles.

Mr French has decided that this year’s departure time is 2am. He plans to come home from work at 4, pack the car, have a bite, grab 6 hours of sleep and then slip behind the wheel. This is a man who is used to getting off a plane from China at 5am and heading directly in to the office for a shower and a full days work. I hope he can handle it, because no matter how hard I try to be the perfect, chatty passenger, the vibrations of the car ride as white dashed lane dividers pass rhythmically before my eyes, invariably hypnotise me to sleep. I’m getting drowsy just thinking about it…

FindingNoon is officially on holiday. See you August 25th. Bises!

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