Curtain drawn

Mr French and I do not have curtains in our living room. He finds this terribly odd, but it does not bother me one bit. We look out over a garden, the building across the street is full of nuns and with kids in the house we keep the private moments, private.

His mother also finds this incredibly odd. But not too odd, because the last time she came to visit she loved being waited on hand and foot by lil’ ol’ moi so very much that she stopped taking her medication and got ill just so that she could stay longer in my lap of luxury. Regardless, she now refuses to ever come visit again, unless we get curtains. Which strikes me as a very good argument for living without them.

But Mr French wants curtains and he has vetoed the lovely, linen IKEA ones I have had for the last 20 years, so I head to one of my favorite places in Paris, the Marché St Pierre at the foot of the Sacre Coeur Basilica.

I arrived on a rain day, which provided a bit of atmosphere as I made my way up the narrow, meandering cobbled streets. Umbrellas dotted the scene as I hopped around, avoiding murky puddles. The Marché isn’t really a marché at all, but a store on 4 or 5 floors that has been selling just about every kind of fabric you can image since 1920.

The magasin draws one of the most eclectic crowds you can imagine; African ladies in their brightly patterned batiks (which, in an odd twist of history, traditionally come from Amsterdam) sift through bargain bins elbow to elbow with funky clad fashion design students. Bourgeois women are there for home furnishing, or school projects standing in line behind men in suits. We’re all there for fabric and it feels like you’ve entered an exclusive private club when you enter the neon-lit, dusky space. Social barriers melt away as strangers start talking, then joking with one another, the entire exchange made possible by a mutual appreciation for fabric. And while it feels exclusive, the prices are anything but, this being the best place to come for affordable fabrics.

The store drew other fabrics shops to the area. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, Reine across the street most certainly will. Almost all the other, smaller shops have fold with the arrival of cheap foreign fashion and they have been replaced by costume shops selling some great fashions for the local trade; hookers and show girls and just maybe bourgeois Moms who are in the area looking for curtain fabric and decide that this may be fun excuse to send the kids away for the weekend and to actually need those curtains after all.


I’ll be staying in this afternoon, because last night I was out partying until the wee hours at the Paris Diner en Blanc. Last week I was taking a bus and started thinking to myself, “Gee, it should be the DIner en Blanc soon. I wonder if I missed it?” My mild curiousity was quickly washed away by desperation over the rainy weather. It simply will not let up.

Then two days ago, my friend Mary Kay posted the date on her FB page, asking if anyone could tell her where the dinner would be held. She was in something of a pickle because we already had cocktail plans with friends that evening. Our cocktail was set to be a picnic, under the gazebo in the Luxembourg gardens, presumably as rain would be pouring down all around. And while that sounded lovely, MK had a lead on the Diner. We decided to play things by ear.

Ears started playing started with a phone call the next day at around 17h, “I really don’t have the strength to sit outside in this pouring rain. Could we choose another place?” MK had a point. It had been pouring all day. My pants were soaked to my knee caps and images of Noah’s ark were never far from my thoughts.

Ellacoquine, our third date for the night, suggested the Marais. Young, fun and somewhere new to me, I was IN. MK requested something a bit more central so she could jet off at a moment’s notice. She thought something along the Line 1 would be grand. Le Fumoir, I blurted out. Le Fumoir is one of the most searched sights in all of Google Maps Paris. It is hippy, trendy and located strategically just behind the Louvre, next to the Mairie du 1e (thank you Ella, for pointing out that it was the Mairie, and not just a continuation of the church next door). Le Fumoir also serves corn nuts at cocktail hour. We had a date.


And then magic happened. The rain stopped. The clouds drew away and blue sky could be seen for the first time in days. Ella was the first to arrive at the café and she deftly scored us a table on the much coveted terasse. I was quick on her heels, motivated by the promise of a sun celebratory drink.


We savoured the moment, the weather finally letting us being proper Parisiennes, sitting outside watching the world go by. And then, like fairy dust coming down from the sky, they appeared. “They” being folks dressed in white. Ella noticed them first. I immediately called MK and told her to step on it while Ella, ever the practical one, went over to get more details from the men in white.She came back to report that this was the pre-meeting place until their final destination was revealed.


I feel fairly confident that MK will give full details of the event on her blog, but I will just say that it ended as magically as it that began; from an amber sunset glowing through the pyramids of the Louvre to 6000 sparklers reflecting the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There were opera singers, an oompa band and one of my favorite activities on earth; dancing.

Dancing under floating lanterns and a rain-free, star lit sky.

She aims, she shoots…. Goal???

In the anglo world we spend a lot of time thinking, talking and obsessing about our resolutions, but in my French life the subject rarely comes up. I’m not sure why that is, the concept definitely exists in French. Perhaps its that French discretion, or may be its the influence of Sartre’s Existentialism, or the ripple effect of all those gallic shrugs. I did receive one resolution tweet from a young entrepreneur thinking of opening the Resolution club de sport. The first two weeks of the year the space would be full of gym equipment, the remaining 50 weeks it would be a bar.

When I think about it, I don’t have resolutions this year, I have goals, and I started working to meet those goals throughout 2012, so 2013 promises to be a work in progress. One of my goals is to start writing in French, something I am really horrible at, and it gets even more complicated as I change my keyboard from qwerty to azerty on the mobile device du moment which does not seem to have a bilingual spellcheck, nor can it read minds. this could be a disaster.

Les anglos stressent à mort sur leurs bonnes résolutions. On en parle avant d’avoir terminé la bûche de Noël, qui n’est pas une bûche chez nous, mais un pie, même plusieurs avec le mincemeat de la tante Ruth et le Apple pie de grandmère.

Les deux femmes vous regardent avec l’oeil d’un aigle pour voir quel pie tu vas choisir, quelle femme tu préfères ; la tante qui t’a foutu la honte de ta vie chaque année quand tu ouvrais ses jolis paquets cadeaux, le papier couvert de santa et candy canes, et à l’intérieur les slips horribles, style vieille fille, fait maison dans d’un polyester qui gratte, ou la grandmère qui jetait le cadeau de tes rêves dans un sac en papier, mais cuisinait comme, comme… enfin, cuisinait pas, mais achetait ses pies industriels au supermarket du coin.

Pour leur distraire la famille aborde le sujet des résolutions. On veut tous perdre du poids et tiens, ce sera bien de commencer tout de suite, n’est-ce pas ? Les pies ont l’air délicieux, mais on ne peut vraiment pas, merci de votre générosité, mais les résolutions, vous comprenez….

En France on en parle moins. Je ne suis pas sûr pourquoi. C’est peut-être la discrétion française, ou l’influence de Sartre, ou bien les ondes de le haussement des épaules classique des Français. J’en sais rien, mais je sais que pour tous les tweets des résolutions que j´ai réçues cette année il n’y avait qu’un seule en français, celui d´un jeune entrepreneur qui souhaite ouvrir un club de sport, Résolution avec des machines de sport les 2 premières semaines de l’année et un bar en zinc pour les autres 50 semaines.

Quand je pense à mes résolutions 2013, ce sont plutôt des objectifs, des objectifs que j’ai commencé en 2012 et que souhaits réaliser en 2013. Comme, par exemple, faire un vf de mon blog. Un projet ambitieux pour une californienne qui a rencontré cette langue de verbes irréguliers et le subjonctif a 14 ans et le clavier français a 40 avec un spellcheck qui ne semble pas être bilingue. À voir….

I’d love to hear from you…. what are your resolutions 2013?

Et vos bonnes résolutions 2013 ?



As I was out gift shopping, I spotted something new. When you live in a neighborhood that is several hundred years old, spotted with cafés and shops that have been around just as long, you tend to do that. You notice the new.

On the boulevard St Germain, nestled between les Deux Magots and my beloved Café de Flore, was the iconic bookstore, La Hune, which had been around since the 1950’s. Open Sundays and until midnight, it was key addresses in the local literary scene, not to mention a major pick-up place for those who prefer books to beers. So I was somewhat stunned when I read that it was closing earlier this year. Not only were they closing their doors, but the space was being taken over by LVMH and NOONE seemed particularly upset about it. As an organic eating, leftist militant from a California village that successfully prevented Starbucks from setting up shop, I was actually more than upset, I was devastated. How had I managed to convince myselves (that was a typo, but I love it, so it’s staying) that Parisiennes were any more immune to globalization than the rest of the world? Why weren’t they hitting the streets to protect this icon and their patrimoine?

In the following weeks, the answer became clear. Noone was protesting, because they all knew something I didn’t. La Hune was not closing shop to leave the neighborhood. Quite the opposite, they were reclaiming a larger, brighter space just steps away. And they were giving DIOR the boot, a very elegant leather boot, I imagine, to do so. The tide of culture flooding out international labels. I’m down with that.

Which is how the prime real estate at the corner of the rue St Benoit and boul St Germain became vacant. Managed by LVMH you’d expect them open yet another luxury store, or expand the one next door. Instead, they launched a completely new concept. They opened a literary space.

A literary space? What is a literary space you ask? I had no idea either, and drawn in by the beauty of the space, I went to inquire. The quiet haven of casual elegance, with chocolate colored walls, mid-century designer furniture, and an art exhibit dedicated to Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is simply a space to read. Tables are stacked with books, comfortable seats with good lighting are available and people are invited to discover literature. Occasionally, there will be lectures. Nothing is for sale.

L’ecriture est un voyage (writing is a journey) is the current theme, with a collection of memoirs, fiction and adventures from across the globe. If you just happen to fall in love the book you started, and absolutely must know how it ends, you are welcome to walk the 49 steps it takes to get to La Hune to purchase a copy for yourself. Still open Sundays and until midnight.

L’ecriture est un voyage / 170 boul St Germain

La Hune / 18 rue de l’Abbye


Alms, alms for the…

 Today I present you with a guest post by my very own M. Yes, it’s true nepotism rears its ugly head. Guilty as charged. Add it to my list of reasons I know I’m turning French!

This weekend my best friend and I spent two days, one of them in the pouring rain, walking around Paris asking for money for an association for blind people. We volunteered to do this through school, having no idea what we would be dealing with: French people. 

        The multitude of excuses we were given cannot be put into words. The “I’m in a hurry” coming from someone smoking a cigarette, leaning on a wall were quite common as well as the simple but efficient “Non!”.

        The best would be when people would reply, with a strong French accent, “I don’t speak French”. We simply looked at them with huge smiles stating that it was no big deal. None. At all. The thing is, that’s what I do when trying to avoid people coming up to me on the street asking for money or selling something. What these poor strangers didn’t know is that not only are we both perfectly bilingual in French and English but we have also been studying Spanish and Chinese for several years. We were therefore ready for any type of excuses thrown at us. However, French people don’t always need excuses

        The best remains those who easily ignored our existence, walking off slightly elbowing us. 

        Some busy women or bored men would kindly smile, give us some change and walk away in the middle of our speech, one we had perfected throughout the day. 

        One young, obviously not poor woman laughed at our request saying she had no change and still asked for one of the stickers we were giving out. We didn’t know how to say no.

        We did however get a few positive responses. To try to make it slightly more fun we would quizz those who dared talk to us for more than thirty seconds. One of the questions we would ask was “Which superhero was blind- Batman, Daredevil or The Hulk?” (the answer; Daredevil). A young guy in his twenties answered “It’s obviously Superman seeing the way he dresses”. After being on our feet for a few hours we decided to take a little rest and sat down at a café. The waiter, impressed by our work, gave us 4 euros without us even having to ask. 

        Surprisingly, the most generous were the tourists. They seemed genuinely interested, which was quite a relief after hours of rejection. 

        Overall, we never stopped badgering people no matter how rude or dismissive they were and walked away with almost 200 euros to help the blind.

10 signs I am francisée

1/ I know that franciser* is a word. Further more, I know that its a verb and I can conjugate it without looking in Le Petit Bescherelle, because I know it is in the 1st group of regular verbs (those that end in-er). It comes up when you get your French citizenship and they give you the opportunity to francisé your name. “Yes,” I yelped, “I’d like to be Coco. Coco Chanel.” “Oui, mais non.

2/ I wear high heels. The first thing I did when I learned we were being transferred to Paris, was to try on a gorgeous pair of CFM heels (Prada, emerald green, croc print if you must know). I promptly fell on my ass in front the entire sales team at Neiman Marcus on Union Square, a team of 3 handsome gay men who nearly fell on the floor beside me in mocking laughter. I’d like to see them try and chase me down in a pair of stilettos today. (Now is not the time to remind me of my Vogue Fashion Night Out fall)

3/ I Dress, with a capital D, to take out the garbage. IN my building. I don’t even have to go outside, but I still put on a proper pair of pants and decent shoes, because I know that if I don’t, I’m bound to run into a neighbor. They’ll think I’m sick just because I’m in pjs at 4 in the afternoon (I work from home, clients contact me online, no one ever actually SEES me!!!). Then, I’ll hear about it from my butcher and my baker as they inquire after my health. And if it is a Saturday, Mr French will hear about it, too, and he’ll know I was in my pjs until 4 in the afternoon. Besides, it is no fun answering, “Non, je ne suis pas malade, je suis feignante.“**

4/ I love sitting in the sun. Preferably in a wicker bistro chair on the terrasse of some café as fabulous people stroll by. In California its all about SPF, sun hats and parasols. Who cares about skin cancer, I’m going to die of second hand smoke.

5/ I enjoy a glass of wine with my lunch. Not everyday, of course, but in my past life that was simply unheard of decadence that would have friends signing you up for AA.

6/ My bra matches my panties. At this very moment, even without planning it. I don’t have to plan it because even the Petit Bateau cotton underwear for kids at Monoprix is sold in sets. Recently a US based friend talked about buying plastic wrapped multi-packs of 10, and WHOOSH!!! was that a startling blast from the past. I don’t even know if those exist in France.

7/ Bad teeth. Yup, my teeth are going brown. Blame it on the café terrasse where I sit in the sun. Fortunately they’ve finally started importing Crest whitening strips, so I’ll no longer have to smuggle them in by the case load.

8/ Late dinners. I can’t imagine having dinner at 6pm. I am going to have to start thinking about it, because we are going back for a visit in a month, but the idea just strikes me as so odd. Mr French is rarely even home before 20h!

9/ I enjoyed Rabbi Jacob and several other politically incorrect jewels of French cinema. It was filmed in 1974, and I’d say the main character is something like Archie Bunker on acid. Even more hysterical is Tati Danielle, who kills her housekeeper so that she can go sponge off family in Paris. How is that for a nice evening in with he kids?

10/ I cut in line. I know, BAD Sylvia, Baaad. I usually try to do it respectfully, with pre-purchased online tickets, learning about side entrances, or getting VIP passes, but if all else fails, I walk to the front of the line like the rest of the world does not exist. To be honest, I don’t even think about it, at some point living in this city it just became Darwinian. Survival of the fittest and all that. (non, I don’t do it at the grocery store and I still respect little old ladies, I am going to be one soon enough!!!)

* To be made more French.

** I’m not sick, I’m lazy.

10 reasons I’ll never be a Parisienne

…even though I really, really want to!

1/ My smile. Not only is it rather large and somewhat goofy, but I’ve got big white teeth and it inevitably pops up spontaneously at the worst moments, like when I spot Inès de la Fressange at a cocktail party, and I should stay cool about it, but can’t help grinning like some kind of psycho stalker.

2/ Can’t smoke tobacco. Sorry, never have and never will. Its dirty and disgusting and kills the taste buds, which would have serious consequences for my chocolate habit.

3/ Will never appreciate Foie Gras. Its not a moral issue and I am not so worried about the gaggles of geese who line up to be gavé-ed, but the stuff just tastes like fat to me. The “gras” should have tipped me off.

4/ My bones are too big. Which is a Cleopatra, Queen of Denial way of saying I am just too fat. Have always been too fat and will never been thin enough to be mistaken for a local fille.

5/ I LIKE wearing bulky, thick fleece sweat pants. They are comfortable, even if they do make my ass look as large as the Louvre. So why most most Frenchmen get to come home to a neatly pressed, fully coiffed, high heeled Madame? Mr French gets slobby me.

6/ Too much hair. I don’t know if its the water, genetics, or perhaps all the cigarette smoke, but Parisiennes have thin, straight hair that looks absolutely perfect when twisted into a messy blob at the nape of their necks. When I do that, I look like Cousin Itt on a bad hair day.

7/ I don’t complain enough. I am not being judgmental here, it is a well known regional pass time. My Little Paris made a video about it and there is a popular t-shirt that reads, “I heart nothing, I’m a Parisienne“. Clearly these folks have never spent a winter in Montréal, or a summer in San Francisco, or they’d realize, they’ve got nothing to complain about!

8/ I like to work. The French like holidays. Nothing wrong with vacations, but when your kids get a 2 week break every 6 weeks AND 2 months off for the summer holidays, well, it makes you wanna scream, au secours!!! And I’m not even going to start on les grèves...

9/ I kind of think its ok to eat when you’re hungry. I am not talking constant grazing, but I suspect if it was ok to have a little snack at the heure du goûter Parisiennes might smile a bit more and complain a bit less. It doesn’t have to be fattening, an apple a day…

10/ Did I mention that damn smile of mine?


Right now, I am sitting in the offices of the Caisse d’Allocation Familial. These are the folks who give out subsidies to families with children, and help students pay their rent. We’re a motley lot; foreigners, people with handicaps and single moms. The woman at the ‘welcome’ desk is yelling at everyone as they come through the door, putting all her energy into turning us away. I am one of the fortunate ones; well educated, a proper breakfast in my stomach, and two kids safe at school. With decent prospects, I have plenty of confidence for the arguing and bullying required. Being very persistent, I am given a deli ticket. It is not golden, but it gives me the right to wait my turn and speak with someone who may actually be able to help.

At most of the places I visited this week: the tax authority, city hall and social security, there is a very similar UNwelcome desk, where a ‘host’ does everything possible to convince you that you are in the wrong place, missing certain essential documents and would be doing everyone a favor if you’d just leave. It is one of the most frustrating aspects to living in France.

I used to take it personally: it was my fault and I had to arrive better prepared. I was very relieved last spring when the über cool, totally French Ioudgine blogged about the 146 days she wasted unsuccessfully trying to get the local tax authorities to correct their own computer error so that she could actually PAY her taxes.

Its not as easy as it sounds. For example, you almost always need a phone, gas, or electricity bill that is less than 3 months old and has your name spelled correctly with an address that is the exact same as the one where you claim to live. But I no longer have a land line and our building is gas-free. This leaves the electric company, which has misspelled both of our names, and has the address they use to access our building, not the mailing address I need to use for administrative purposes. With an annual plan, I only receive a bill once a year, anyway.

So I wait patiently at the CAF, caressing my worry beads to the mantra, “thank god for Photoshop” and I breath. My number is called, the visit is brief and I leave the office with a pre-printed list of additional documents they require. This list is different from the one they mailed to my home that had me coming to the office to begin with and I am only here because they want to “regularize” my situation. Which, actually, does not involve them because they don’t give me anything and I have asked for nothing. Urgh….

The bright side to all of this is that I am convinced its the reason the French invented champagne and perfected chocolate. We need it!!

Da king…

While in Botswana the manager of San Camp, Mercedes, served pili pili ho ho, a Kenyan hot sauce made from chili peppers and gin. As much as I love French cuisine, I miss some heat, and I loved it so much that she shared the recipe. As soon as I returned, I needed to see a man about some peppers. A visit to the Saint Denis market was required.

At the market I treated myself to an ear of roasted corn and some oriental pastries dripping with honey. A holiday for my taste buds. Happily sated and the peppers safely in my bag, I took some time to visit the famous Basilique de Saint Denis, where the French buried their Kings and Queens. I hadn’t been in probably 25 years and on my previous visit I had not realized that this is where Dagobert had been laid to rest.

Miss Marie

Dagobert was the first king to be buried in the Basilique Saint Denis, sometime around the year 640. Ha was considered to be a good king and he made something of an impression on popular culture. Such an impression, in fact, that today 1400 years after his birth, in pre-schools across the globe, little French children sing about the Good King Dagobert who put his panties on inside out. He also had holes at his elbows, in his tights and was so filthy the grime looked like a beard growing on his face. Thankfully he had his good buddy Saint Eloi to point out all his little short comings and to give him the shirt off his back; along with the tights, the soap, and the money to replace whatever he needed. Its a long song. Dagobert needed a lot of help and Saint Eloi was a great sport, although I am not sure how he responded to Dagobert’s request to take his place by the devil’s side for eternity. The king’s privilege should only go so far….

Pili pili ho ho; fill a bottle with chili peppers, cover it to the top with gin, then let it sit for 6 months. Add dry sherry as needed.

Le Bon Roi Dagobert



La rentrée

There is not really a concept for the French rentrée in English. The Brits used to call it the beginning of the season, and Hallmark has turned it into Back to School in the US, but La Rentrée is not about school, it is about getting back to life, particularly a social life. After the long (in France, anyway) summer hiatus spent with family, everyone is back in town and ready to play. Businesses open their doors, parking spaces fill up, there is activity on the street AND the invitations start pouring in as cultural events go into full swing. The “season” has begun.

There is the Biennale antiquaires at the Grand Palais, Dali expo at the Pompidou, Parcours des Mondes at the galleries, FIAC, Dom Juan at the Comedie Française, Les Nuits Blanches, Journées de la Patrimoine and the list just goes on and on…

Today the excitement really began, when I received my very first ever invitation to Vogue’s Fashion Night Out. I have gone the past few years, but only thanks to friends and their extra invites. This year, it is My invite, in My name. I felt like Christmas had come early!!! Now, to get an invite, you really just have to be a client and this year I got a very special pair of shoes from a very special address (whose initials are NOT CL). You can also snag one by buying the Fashion Night Out edition of Vogue, so my invite is not really all that, but it makes me happy, all the same.

What do you do on Fashion Night Out and what exactly is it? Its just a glorified block party where fashion houses uncork the champagne until it flows out on the streets. Lots of young, gorgeous people are paid to show up and prance around in fabulous fashions to tempt the ridiculously rich, who are a sight to behold in their own right. If you’ve got the budget for plastic surgery, this is the place to come and collect names of which doctors do a fantastic, natural looking job for your senior years and which doctors you would like to hire for your ex’s 28 year old girlfriend’s boob job. Design students flock the streets wearing the most outrageous silhouettes to catch your eye and hoping to be ‘discovered’, or at the very least, score a spare invite.

Marketing fashion on fashion night

For me it is total eye candy and the people watching highlight of my year. I’ll be there with bells on. Perhaps even literally…

And if you’d like to join me, drop me a line, because I just got a second invite and I’d LOVE to share it with one of my faithful readers!!!

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