Its easier to leave, when home is Paris

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.54.30 PMThe next morning was all about the Mucem. Louis XIV built Fort St Jean at the entrance of the port, with a second fort guarding the other side. Visitors imagine that the forts were built to protect the city from sea-based invaders, but the cannons were aimed on the town, the king as distrustful of southerns as a modern Parisian. Today the fort has been renovated into a glorious cultural space with a marionette museum, a miniature circus display and lots of herbal scented outdoor space for play, picnics and lounging around.

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.54.07 PM Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.57.02 PMA vertiginous pedestrian bridge connects the fort to J4, Mucem’s modern wing with a permanent exhibition on the Mediterranean region. The collection is, quite frankly, pathetic. There is no nice way of putting it. Cheap replicas are displayed in glass cases like valuable artifacts. The story, well, there is no story, logic or coherency. Which was great because it meant we could rush back upstairs and slurp down a few oysters on the rooftop terrasse before heading home to Paris. Oddly enough, neither Mr French nor I are major friends of the bivalve, but that was beside the point of the glorious, sun soaked rooftop area.

We were starving because before coming to the museum, which only opens at 11am, we had gone for a run, then tried to have lunch Chez Roger on the Old Port. Chez Roger specializes in seafood and all I can say is, “Do NOT eat Chez Roger. No matter how enticing the terasse may be, in full sun, with the port waters just a few metres away, do NOT eat there. It was, bar none, the worse seafood platter I have ever had in my life. The crab tasted like rotten eggs. Even the Pasits couldn’t was the horrid taste out of my mouth. Combined with horrid service and even worse clientele, this is a place to AVOID at all costs.

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.54.53 PMThe settling in for the flight home was a lesson in cultural studies. The plane was packed and except for me with my olive oil, everyone had opted for carry-on. Mr French sat in his seat, the paper bag with the porcelain doll on the seat next to him. “Monsieur,” the flight attendant gestured, “the flight is full, you’ll have to store your bag in the overhead bin.” Mr French ignored her. She persisted. He finally acknowledged her existence, “Non. This package is very, very fragile, its not moving.” She explained, he refused. I sat between them, my head going back and forth like I was watching a  ping pong match.. In the end, she agree to put it in the front of the plane, in a closet reserved for crew.

I had put my tote bag in the overhead bin and after that, every time a passenger tried to shove it my bag aside to squeeze in their suitcase, the same flight attendant would jump over, to reprimand them for crushing my things, and would force them to the back of the plane with their bag. In the US, the flight attendant would have written us off as jerks, but here, Mr French had earned some major respect. We were flying home with considerable street cred’ and I was more confident than ever that life is full of surprises living with a Frenchman.

A quickie

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The best view in town from La Residence du Vieux Port hotel

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.40.04 PMMarseille has a horrible reputation. There is a popular joke in Paris, “Hey, did you hear what happened in Marseille this weekend??? A man went to a café for the morning, enjoyed his coffee and walked home safely.” It kinda makes you think twice before heading there. Especially as you follow a Jefferson County Sheriff car with California plates in to town…

But if you don’t read the news, you’d never know there was a crime problem in town. Our first night in town we pulled ourselves away from the stupendous view in our room at La Residence du Vieux Port and strolled that very same port out to the Fort St Jean. The pathway narrowed, Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.42.00 PMgrew darker, rounded a bend, and yet we felt totally safe in the warm balmy air, walking pass lovers and fishermen and joggers as we rounded walked around the corner and were dazzled by the astonishing set of the Mucem museum. A lace work of concrete, built to look like the ripples of water was lit a sapphire blue, reflecting in the sea below. We couldn’t wait for our visit the next day.

This guy made me run even faster...

This guy made me run even faster…

For an urban destination, a visit to Marseille can be physical. There is a great run along the Old Port; a flower market and a fish market line the way and you pass under the surprising Norman Foster designed Pavillion before getting to the Palais du Pharo gardens and up the corniche which follows the sea, the Count of Monte Christo’s Chateau d’If in view. It was lovely, and I was thrilled that on the return trip we ran through the odor of sardines before hitting the mimosa scented air. Then there is the hike up the Observatoire hill to the Notre Dame de Garde Basilica. I loved the mobiles with giant model boats that hung from the ornate, gothic ceiling. And I had a blast watching out of shape visitors as they trudged up the stairs as we headed down.

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.41.11 PMMy body was telling me it was time for lunch. We headed to the beach where Chez Michel is known as the best place for boulliabaisse in the Marseille, which is known as the best place for bouilliabaisse in France. It was delicious and a well deserved break after all that running around!

As we walked through Le Panier and La Plaine, two dynamically creative neighborhoods full of young people trying to make a mark on the retail world with original merchandise in charming boutiques, we kept an marveling at what a great lifestyle was to be had at this very affordable city by the sea. But we also marveled at the number of abandonned shops and disenchanted store owners. And although we strolled the boutiques, Mr French had banned me from shopping still recovering from the shock of my purchases earlier in the week. Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 6.41.34 PM“Honey? You bought honey? As if you can’t find honey in Paris. And olive oil? Really? Now that’s the perfect thing to be packing in a suitcase for under a plane.” He was not impressed when I explained the apiculture had been a sweet old lady and the olive oil was rumoured to be some of the best in the region. So I satisfied myself with shooting everything in sight. Walls of colorful graffiti my target of choice and I was thrilled with the day.

As the sun was setting, we stopped in an antique store, and there, I spotted her. An 18th century doll that aristocrats used as models for the dresses they wanted to order, a delicate porcelain bouquet in her hands, nothing but wire frame and fragile (200 yr old) cloth below the bodice. I caught my breath at the beauty of it. Mr French asked the price. 60€. Even a fake would be worth 60€ but I didn’t dare ask. She was fragile and I had that pot of honey to schlep. “We’ll take it.” Mr French declared and I looked on in dismay as the antique dealer shoved her bubble wrapped form into a generic brown paper bag.

That night we were still full from our decadent lunch. We agreed on cocktails at the Intercontinental up the hill from the port. In an imposingly elegant 18th century public hospital, the hotel looks a palace. The bar is plush and modern, with great cocktails and even better live gypsy jazz music. We could have stayed all night. But we eventually rambled back to our room in the wee hours, the lapping waters of the sea below playing a lullaby as we fell asleep.

Just another day at the office

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 12.19.50 PMSt Tropez is a charming little town, that is still home to a local fishing fleet, with fishermen selling the catch of the day from a tiny, very picturesque fish market, then crossing the street to have their morning shot (of booze, not espresso) at Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 12.19.31 PMLe Gorille, the once favorite haunt of Picasso. Sitting there, eavesdropping on their chatter about which fish were biting, you can see why Brigitte Bardot and her gang fell under its charms while filming And God Created Women….

I headed off, yet again, to explore the Ramatuelle, where the classic French film was made and then into the hills, to the famous perfume town of Grasse. A perched village of ochre and amber buildings, wasting away under an alluring patina, I was seduced by the town before setting foot into a perfumerie. Fragonard is perhaps the best known, with shops all over Paris, but Galimard is where is all began in the 18th century. Until then, Grasse had been home to the very smelly leather tanning industry and the got to place for aristocrats requiring fine kid gloves. Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 12.17.43 PMWhile soft, and gorgeous, the gloves stank. Galimard tested the idea of adding a bit of lower essence to get rid of the stench and sent them off to Catherine de Medici, starting a royal trend that gave birth to an industry.

I spent my day exploring and only returned to the port late in the day, discovering the very chic, trendy café Senequier. The Senequier is outrageously expensive, attracting the designer clad, yachting crowd. Exactly the kind of place I usually avoid, but I decided to go for it, because the tables had full sunlight, there was a great view and it was one of the few places open in the off-season. It was also 16h and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day, too excited exploring the region to stop, so this would be my one meal of the day and I felt like I could afford to Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 12.19.41 PMsplurge. Given my decadent feast at La Table du Royal, I still wasn’t hungry. I settled on a “simple” crab salad (45€) that came with fleur de sel flakes and artisanal olive oil. One of the best salads I have ever had. I don’t know if it was from having fasted all day, or the winter sun warming my face, but this salad was worth every exorbitant centime. And the crisp white wine was the perfect counterpoint of citrus flavour meeting savoury sea. Not hungry, but needing sweets, I asked for a preserved fruit from their pastry shop. The very friendly waiter explained that the fruits were not on the café menu, but he’d be happy to reserve my front row, sunset seat while I went in to get a few fruits to enjoy with my coffee. Not only does Senequier have a great location, with excellent food, but the staff is genuinely nice!

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 12.18.40 PMAfter linner, I stopped at the boulangerie des Deux Frères to stock up on their incredibly deliciously, uniquely southern pine nut cookies before heading back to my room at the very cosy Hotel Pastis. The perfectly designed rooms are remarkably spacious, the perfect place for a post-beach nap before a night on the town, the peaceful, warm decor blending perfectly with the lovely provençal garden and aqua pool. I would have had a very hard time leaving, if it hadn’t been to meet Mr French in Marseille.


Zipping right along

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 3.12.23 PMSO I am in this teeny, tiny, little car, zipping through forest of mimosa and having the time of my life. But I am also working, so the days are long and I am often tired. Checking into the Royal Riviera Hotel was like a balm for soul on my second day out. I walked through the large, open doors and I never wanted to leave. A warm wood staircase, a cool stone floor, this place was not as chic as many of the places I have been, yet considerably more elegant, making it just right for the mood I was in. I was sad when I had to head out for dinner…

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 2.35.09 PMBut I was rewarded with one of those weird, incredibly wonderful dinners you can only ever have when you are on your own, because I was alone. There was not another soul in the rather large Ousin Bleu dining room. Just me, the staff and the coral. The manager, it turns out is a big fan of coral, the kind of fan that invests a lot of time and money into 500 litre tanks like the one I faced through out the evening. The stunning tropical fish were only in there to keep the algae at bay and protect the coral. This is museum quality coral, the kind of collection that has the team from the Musée de l’Oceanographie in nearby Monaco, coming over for dinner and advice. The food was fantastic, the company even better and loved having my inside scoop on a popular local joint (turns out there was a major soccer match that night and locals do not dine out on soccer night).

The next morning I used the 12km costal path around the Cape as my training ground for the Semi-marathon de Paris, running past a church, graveyard, lighthouse, the port and some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. It was spectacular, with the Mediterranean lapping just below. Hotel staff greeted me after my run and I sat down to a memorable lunch at La Table du Royal. The food was so good, that I quickly learned to trust the chef and his recipes to the point that I tasted tête de veau for the first time in my life! The gelatine texture is not my thing, and although he had breaded it into crispy goodness, I preferred the local wild fish with a jerusalem artichoke purée. Every dish was more delicious than the next, but what really sent me over the edge were his orange blossom marshmallows. Clouds on the palate.

I missed the opportunity to re-visit 7 stupendous gardens at the Ville Ephrussi and the stunning Greek Revival pieces of the Villa Kerylos on the Cap and at nearby Beaulieu sur mer, because, unfortunately, I had to rush off to St Tropez immediately after lunch. Doesn’t that sound divine? Unfortunately, I had to rush off to St Tropez?

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 2.57.14 PMBefore heading west, I made a brief detour to Menton, for their Lemon Festival. I have such a thing for citrus fruit, I simple could not pass up the opportunity of seeing enitre floats made of lemon, oranges and tangerines to the theme of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. To be honest, I was a bit let down by the floats. They were too perfect, lacking exuberance, but I was thrilled to see that the town had ordered custom-made citrus colored rubber bands to secure the fruits to their floats.

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 3.03.33 PMAnd because I was on my own and could focus my work what I like and how much I like it, I buzzed up to St Paul de Vence to visit the sculpture gardens at the Maeght Foundation, snubbing my nose at the indoor collection in a way that would have left Mr French a daze. The gardens are one of my happy places. I have been nearly a dozen times and I can not imagine being in the south without stopping by. You can feel the joy that Miro, Chagall, Calder and their contemporaries must have felt while decorating this space, their enegry still boucing in the air, where their work gets to hang out in sumptuous nature all day, every day, the scent of pine as bright as the reds in their art.

And while I could have stayed all day, I really did need to get to St Tropez, so I was off in my own good time, FIP radio keeping me company with their eclectic blend of jazz, classics and world beat music, the Alps to my right tumbling into the Mediterranean sea to my left and my future up ahead.




Black and blue

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A Jefferson county police cruiser on the French Riviera… pinch me, again!!!

Feeling a bit bruised these days, but in a mostly, very, very good way, as my mind reels from the imaginary pinches I receive after murmuring, “Pinch me, I’m dreaming!”. And I have been thinking it ALOT lately.

Last week I spent time exploring the largest private wine cellar in Europe at the Hôtel de Paris, with a charming sommelier who took out his keys and invited me to visit the private stock of the royal family of Monaco, and cradled and ancient Chateau d’Yquem so I could appreciate the smoky tobacco shade of the liquor. And while I hate the expression “the best” I think I savoured the best soufflé; the perfect balance of tangy lemon and carmelized sugar laced with butter at Le Grill as the above mentioned sommelier taught me more than I’d ever thought I’d know about appreciating fine wines. After dinner, we walked into a final dress rehearsal in the Royal Opera House in Monte Carlo, I watched the roulette wheel spin and slipped into a dreamy sleep at one of the finest hotels in the world.

And that was just the first afternoon of my adventures on the Cote d’Azur…

It would have been hard to come home, if home wasn’t Paris and if it wasn’t to write about about the Côte d’Azur and all the wonderful adventures for AFAR magazine and The Girls Guide to Paris. So, in another “pinch me” moment I am spending my week writing about my true passion; travel.

And as I sit here typing, I have just received an invitation to the Dior Fashion show this Friday. I was asked to reply quickly. I think they had my answer in a nano second. I am such a fan, I don’t need to see the invite to know that it is held in a white tent in the gardens at the Rodin museum.

I am off to finish my work. As soon as its done, I’ll be back here, setting the clock to noon and sharing it all with you…

NYE in Amsterdam

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.15 PMWhen we checked into our hotel, the bell boy showed the girls their room, announcing that they had the most requested room in the entire establishment. Not being a particularly generous person, I was having none of that and much to their dismay, insisted on a swap. It was a lovely room, but the real appeal was the 180° view of the rooftops of Amsterdam and the Rijksmusem. We unpacked, happy with our good fortune and headed out to explore the city.

Then, we did it. For the first time in our lives together, Mr French and I went out for NYE. We didn’t go out with high hopes expecting an extraordinary meal that would promise a better evening than usual. We have a lot of fun when we go out, anyway and we know the NYE’s drill; exorbitantly priced, very average meals, incredibly lousy service.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.52 PMWith that in mind, we were in an unfamiliar city, in a foreign country. We’d had several warnings that the Dutch go a bit wild with fireworks on the 31st.  And I mean several, as in every Dutch person we met, from our taxi driver to sales staff, to online advisors and waiters, told us to stay inside. So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. In a panic, I made reservations at the restaurant in our hotel. A Japanese fusion place that gets good reviews.

That morning, the fireworks began. Dutch taking advantage of the nation-wide 24 hour moratorium on randomly blowing things started lighting firecrackers randomly throughout the day, explosions like gun fire accompanying our adventures as Em and I jumped like giddy foals at each large “boom”.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.56.08 PMBefore dinner, the girls headed back to Paris to celebrate with their friends (gotta love high speed train travel) and we went to the Double Tree Inn on the port. Being the international traveler that he is, Mr French was certain they’d have a roof top bar with a decent view of the pyrotechnics going on at 17h. He was right (kind of gives you an idea of why I love the guy).

The fireworks were amateur but beautiful, and fun, and for the first time in decades I didn’t get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about all the money the government was burning up in smoke for 15 minutes of glory, instead of using it to feed someone. As we strolled back to our hotel for dinner, there were people shooting off fireworks at every square, bridge and (no longer) quiet canal. I jumped at every blast, sending Mr French into hysterical giggles.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.37 PMWe dressed for dinner (I wore Le Smoking) and headed down to a surprisingly delightful dinner at Izakaya. While I am sure that the service was slower than usual, the rest was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. The bar was crowded with hip men of every age with high hopes of getting “lucky”  with their dates (also of every age), all of the ladies wearing tight black skirts with a serious dose of sequins. At midnight the dj (yup, Izakaya has a dj, and its not just for NYE) led the count down and there was lots of kissing.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.52.43 PMSuddenly an idea popped into my head, undoubtedly inspired about the fireworks popping outside. I grabbed Mr French by the hand and pushed him to elevator as he tried to figure out what bee had stung me. Rushing out the doors and into our room, we were greeted by a marvelous display of fireworks going off in every direction. Like the proverbial kids in the candy shop, we opend the windows and stood there, ignorant of the cold air and complete mesmerized by the red, blues, greens and golds exploding in every direction. We ran from window to window until we were too exhausted for anymore. Curling up under the think down comforter, we feel asleep dreaming of our 2014, which had gotten off to spectacular start.

Amsterdam museums

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.30.50 AMThe reason I wanted to go to Amsterdam was rather devious. 15 years ago I had an Indonesian meal there that was of my favorite meals ever, right up there with Aquapazzo in Venise and St Placide in St Malo. Home sick for anything close to resembling serious spices in Paris, I’ve been wanting to return, so badly that it had become something of a obsession with me.

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.30.04 AMThere was no way I was going to tempt Mr French with a holiday based solely on the memory of a meal I had enjoyed over a decade ago; I needed to find a lure. Skimming the net, I found that the newly renovated Rjksmuseum had made it to somebody’s Top 10 museums in the world list. I had my bait! In addition to the fine art museum, there is a newly renovated contemporary art museum, a highly regarded science museum, a maritime museum, the Tropen museum on the Dutch colonies, the FOAM photography museum, Rembrandt’s house, Anne Frank’s house, a Jewish history museum and several private homes that are now open to the public. And unlike Paris, many of them stay open for New Years Day!

I booked my Indonesian restaurant, just to be sure they were open over the holidays and would have a table for us, then I cast my line and suggested we go to Amsterdam for a museum holiday. Mr French bit my squiggling worm hook, line and sinker. I booked the Sir Albert Hotel through the Splendia website, pre-purchased museum tickets, loaded up the car and we were off, the girls snoring in the back seat as we crossed borders and sped by polders. Windmills started popping up in the landscape… cyclists, grazing sheep and canals. We were in Holland!

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.31.10 AMThe Dutch spent an entire decade renovating their star museum and it is beautiful, featuring a large, glass topped hall that is flooded with lone of the country’s rarest commodities; light. Just before Christmas was a terrible time to go, the place was more crowded than the Louvre in July and without the infrastructure to handle it. Even with tickets in hand, our line went outside the building and around the corner, full of people anxious to see what was new. And there was plenty to see.

Every single work of art had been moved into a new space. Only Rembrandt’s Night Watchmen had kept its original space, dominating the central hall surrounded by masterpieces. The best part of the Rjksmuseum are the descriptions. There is an interesting text for almost every piece, explaining the history of the work or giving an interesting detail about the art. You learn all kinds of random facts; foot warmers symbolised love in Vermeer’s time, a sea captain once burnt his ship so it wouldn’t be caught by the enemy and some profiteering merchants then made a fortune selling bits of burnt wood from the “ship”, swan feathers look amazing when depicted in reds, blues and greens.

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.32.38 AMThe museum is huge and after several hours, the girls and I were ready for a break. We’d seen the entire 2nd floor, all of it fascinating, it slightly overwhelming, and we’d spent nearly 20 minutes just looking at the 4 Vermeers. It had been a feast for the eyes, but we were now ready to feed our tummies. Mr French could have stayed all day, but the cafeteria was overflowing and he relented when I promised we’d come back. And we did, on New Years Day, when we visited the fabulous Middle Age and Renaissance collections, as well as the disappointing modern works.

The Stedelijk, Contrmporary Art Museum was another disappointment. 20€ each for a rather small collection of minor works. I think this is quite possibly the first time I have ever given a museum a negative review. I usually just don’t mention them, but this one is on the Museumplein and it really is outrageously overpriced.

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.32.06 AMHappily, there were others that made up for it. FOAM had an excellent show that was installed by the 85 year old New Yorker William Klein, featuring the evolution of his work from the late 40’s to today. Across the street, visiting the private mansion of the Van Loon Museum gave an insider’s view on the life of Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.31.51 AMthe descendants of the East India Company and at the port the maritime Scheepvaart Museum shows the world how interactive displays can make any subject, even boats, come to life.

We missed the Tropen museum. I’ve been wanting to go there for 20 years, and I’ve still never made it. So happy for the excuse to go back!

Happy New Year!!!

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Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, prosperous 2014!

Like most adults we know, NYE stopped being a big deal ages ago. Mr French and I usually celebrate it at home, far from over priced meals and forced enthusiasm. But this year was slightly different. This year we spent Christmas at home taking care of an elderly parent. This year, we needed a holiday!

Like Goldilocks debating the options, a flight to Vienna seemed too far. Having already been this year, the Eurostar to London felt like déjà vu. A 4 hour drive to see the recently renovated Rjksmuseun and enjoy an excellent (spicy!) Indonesian meal sounded just right. It became the perfect fit when E and Em agreed to join us.

They could even take the Thalys home a day early to celebrate New Years with their friends. It sounded like the perfect adventure for our salad bowl of a family. And it was…

Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 11.56.45 AMAs we strolled the streets, I was constantly asking myself why Amsterdam is not a more popular destination. They have as much history as the French, with harmonious 17th century architecture that highlights an illustrious past and plenty of museums to explore. The dramatic skies shift and evolve, creating light infused scenery evoking Vermeer and Rembrandt. The city is small, easy to navigate and couldn’t be more pedestrian friendly. And the place is not a has-been; Holland is a leader in contemporary design and an important influence in the slow food movement. For the sporting, adventurous types, it is a short bike ride from the train station to N Amsterdam where dykes and windmills are still a common part of the cityscape. I really can’t imagine a better destination for a city break.

Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 11.59.38 AMIn the 9 Street district, eccentric merchants share their passions with the world. There is a button store, a tooth brush store and a clothing boutique that sells cupcakes!

That was the only neighborhood we had time to shop on this trip, as we spent our hours lost in museums and savoring food we could never find in Paris. This week I’ll be writing about those museums and those meals, but for now, close your eyes and imagine the bicycles providing a picturesque focal point for photos of bridges that span peaceful canals as swans glide by and ducks roost.

A murderous weekend

Cara Black

As we said our good byes at a bus stop, the successful American mystery writer, Cara Black, stumbled back, “Wait! your mother-in-law lives near Nohant, Mary Kay told me. I’m dying to go to George Sand’s house and I’m in town until Thursday. Are you up for an adventure?” Two days later I found myself alone on a dark autumn morning, driving through France with a woman I’d only known for twenty minutes. A stranger who spends her life plotting murder.

Maison George SandDuring our introduction over coffee, I asked Cara where she’s from and discovered that we’d been neighbors in San Francisco. She’d carpooled with my close friend (also a successful author) Allison Bartlett and she knows my aunt (you guessed it) Victoria Zackheim. Our connection was feeling spooky…

The sun just started to rise as we headed out of Paris. Three hours later, Cara’s ears were ringing from the incessant jabbering of her chauffeur (yes, moi) we pulled up to Mama French’s door in Chateauroux and whisked her off to lunch. Cara is intrigued by the rumours of withcraft and traditional healers in the Berry region. Over lunch she couldn’t resist peppering our hostess with questions… Was it true? Had she ever known of a witch? Solicited the services of a healer?  Mama French’s face went white and her mouth closed tight as a button. When Cara excused herself from the table Mama Fr leaned over and whispered that all those stories give the Berrichons a bad reputation in France. It was NOT a discussion to be had with outsiders, especially not in public and certainly not with published authors who may include that kind of damaging information in thier 15th mystery novel! We left our meal full of food, but without any leads.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 12.04.57 PMAs we drove along, Cara told me more about Amiée Leduc, her Parisian private detective who wears three inch heels, flashy nail polish and drives a pink Vespa as she solves morbid crimes in every quartier of Paris. I learned how to find the most mysterious crime scenes and plot the most gruesome murders.

Eglise George Sand NohantWe arrived in the tiny hamlet of Nohant, eerie bag pipe music wafting through the deserted square as we visited the graveyard and a church with wide ropes draped to the side, perfect for ringing the church bells, or hanging a man. George Sands home was lovely, but creepy, everything left intact, exactly as it had been when she died in 1876, despite living there herself, until 1971!

Chateau SarzayA small detour and we found ourselves visiting the privately owned medieval fortress of Sarzay where the owner has spent the past thirty years rebuilding the chateau, stone by stone, filling it with taxidermed animals and ancient weaponry. I think Cara’s knees went weak as we entered the Salles des Gardes, and there, spread out on a table the size of my living room was a collection of killing devices centuries old. There were no rope barriers, no supervision. Just a mystery writer, a photographer and an unlimited opportunity for gore.

The weather had been unseasonably warm, but the blue summer skies suddenly turned a vivid yellow, then black. Without warning, torrential rains start to pour down we found ourselves scrambling to descend the 14th centurywinding staircase, with narrow, uneven steps and without any light. There was a scream as a pigeon swooped past, a gasp as a step was missed. Outside, we made a mad dash for the car and headed into the prematurely early night to find our lodgings.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 12.08.12 PMThe rain turned to hail, pelting our windshield faster than the wipers clear our view. Large, swampy drainage ditches that lined the road made pulling over impossible. The GPS led us through twisting, hilly lands getting us to Vigoulant where we followed the sign pointing to the Moulin de Barre. We drove up the hill. And up and up, without seeing a single sign of life. A large tree branch (or was it a tree?) had fallen and barred the road. Cara ran put into the pitch black of the night and was relived to find that is was a light branch, easy to remove. The trees started to form a low, narrow canopy and tall grasses grew between the wheel ruts in the mud. The mud? We’d gone beyond the roads and were now on a narrow chemin. We called our hosts, made a u-turn and headed back down the hill where our host Geoff stood under an umbrella with his flash light to guide us in. We hadn’t noticed any lights because sometime during the day, someone had ripped the light fixture from their sign. Was it intentional? Had they known we were coming?

to be continued…

Friday Date Day – Chez Kiki

Virtual every night in Greece was date night. We’d left the “kids”* at home for this very reason, we were enjoying some very well deserved Monsieur et Madame time. We were so looking forward to it that Mr French had taken me on a little shopping excursion to ERES before our departure. So there I was, hiking through brush and brumble, sweat drip drip dropping from the nape of my neck to the small of my back, streaming down to my exclusively silk clad bottom. Très chic, non? Its one of those moments when you see yourself in a ridiculous NYer cartoon of your life.

Inappropriate wardrobe choices aside, dining on a schooner at sunset, in a remote harbour with the sapphire blue water lapping at your feet, its hard to imagine more romantic.

Before leaving Santorini Mr French had a little chat with Joy, the owner of Dimitri’s, asking for some restaurant recommendations in Mykonos. Chez Kiki’s she said without hesitation. Arriving at the Grace Hotel Mykonos our first order of business was to find Kiki. We went to the receptionist and asked her to make reservations for that evening.

“Ah,” said the receptionist, “I see you’re serious about good food.”

I nodded emphatically, my silly grin probably making me look a bit slow.

“Well, they don’t take reservations, and they only serve lunch, and you’ll need a car to get there. Its on a wild beach on the north side of the island. A bit difficult to find, you know, they don’t have a sign, you just have to follow your nose.”

The place was sounding more and more attractive. The next day, while I was up stairs at the pool, Mr French ran into a car rental guy in the lobby and immediately arranged to have a car brought to us Tuesday morning. Tuesday, everything worked like a dream, or like we were on a perfect holiday in Greece, and by 10am we were off, planning to visit the island a bit before hunting down our lunch.

The island’s main town reminded my of a Nevada ghost town. There was an itinerant artisan with reeds tied to his, advertising his availability for restring rattan chairs. The square was deserted, except for 4 local men sitting in a café slurping back Greek coffee. Sausages dried in a cage outside the butcher shop. A lone priest guarded the monastery, his indigo robes flapping on the laundry line behind him as he chatted away to some Israeli tourists.

“Israel! I was in Israel. Beautiful country!”

“Uh, yes, you went to Jerusalem?” assumed the Israeli.

“Pfft.” he waved the comment aside, “Eiliat (an Israeli resort town). I went to Eilat. The fish, they were amazing!!!”
We headed back to the car where I nearly knocked myself unconscious with the car trunk. Classic me. Then off to the “wild” beach the receptionist had mentioned. On Mykonos, a wild beach is a beach with out parasols, lounge chairs, a bar or Europop blasting out over the loudspeakers. We pulled up and were astounded with the Caribbean blue waters. Walking down the trail I spotted a preoccupied looking man sitting on a stoop. Kiki! We found him before the bbq had even started burning for the day. I was thrilled.

We hit the sand and Mr French spent the next 20 minutes putting together a shade producing lean-to for me before heading out to sea for a glorious swim. I loved the swim, but as soon as the clock struck one I was anxious to head up to the restaurant, but feeling I should just be savouring the moment. I lasted 1/2 an hour before Mr French burst out laughing at my angst and got up to shake out his towel.

The area in front of Kiki’s is just a patch of dirt with a wall to one side, a church to the other and a aqua marine sea below. There were already people waiting for a table, sitting patiently in a row of chairs. I ordered Mr Fremch take a seat and stood at the door waiting for Kiki to acknowledge our presence.

As the large man lumbered to the door a Greek woman cut in front of me, trying to secure a place before the rest of us. I’ve lived in Paris long enough to make it clear I had been there first. Kiki would have none of it telling me to get in line behind the man in the chair (my very own Mr French) and letting Mme the Greek know she’d be after me.

So what was all the fuss and was it really worth the trek? Chez Kiki is on a large stone paved terrace that hangs above the sea. The branches of a tree create shade for the entire space and there are two windows, each framing a still life of the Greek kitchen beyond. One of the six boys who are constantly buzzing by, serving the 40 or so places, stops by the table asking what you’d like to drink and advising you to go into the kitchen to order your salad.

It is cool and dark in the kitchen, a traditional looking Greek woman stands behind a large refrigerated counter with about a dozen salads, each more original (and delicious) than the next. We negotiate which four we’ll try and she asks about the grill. I’d seen shiny large eggplants being brought to the grill and insisted we try one, while Mr French opted for octopus.

Everything was perfect; the view, the crowd, and especially the food, slow grilled over glowing embers, the eggplant dressed in a finely chopped parsley salad before being brought to our table. Dessert? We opted for swim in the pristine waters below, kissing and splashing in the lapping waves.

* I think we need a new word in the English language to describe the modern phenomenon of adult children who have left the nest but still require regular maintenance.

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